On Friday, May 10 at 1:30 PM, four sleepless Harvey Mudd Mystery Makers entered Shanahan 3481. They carried with them assorted snacks, puzzle paraphernalia, and their laptops. In just an hour, the first HMMM (Harvey Mudd Mystery Marathon) would begin.
The Zeroth Harvey Mudd Mystery Marathon
We five mystery makers (Celena Chen, Jon Hayase, Cole Kurashige, Ricky Shapley, and Brandon Wada) were brought together by a shared interest in solving puzzles. We wanted to make our own puzzle hunt, inspired by hunts we had done in the past, like the MIT Mystery Hunt and Galactic Puzzle Hunt. When we first decided on hosting a puzzle hunt some months ago, we only had a name and aspirations.
About a month and half before the first HMMM, we decided to make a smaller puzzle hunt in two weeks for our admitted students program, where current students could host events for prospective students. This puzzle hunt was meant to serve as a trial run to prepare to construct larger hunts. We designed five puzzles and one meta puzzle, bought prizes and snacks, and hosted the hunt on April 7th.
The 40 prospective students who participated, most of whom weren’t familiar with puzzles, enjoyed the hunt. And nothing went horribly wrong with any of the puzzles or organization, so we considered this trial run a success.
Interlude: What is a Puzzle?
Any article discussing puzzles has to go through the difficult task of explaining what a puzzle is. Essentially, puzzles are a very opaque method of communication. The solution to each puzzle is a word or phrase, and part of their appeal is that they are ill-defined. You can read more in-depth explanations from the MIT Mystery Hunt and Galactic Puzzle Hunt.
Puzzles thrive off of implicit communication and standards. Meta puzzles, for example, are puzzles which use the answers of previous puzzles in their solution.
The First Harvey Mudd Mystery Marathon
The first HMMM had spontaneous origins. I was sitting in the lounge of my dorm, passing time between problem sets, when a friend of mine asked me when I would be hosting a puzzle hunt. “Uhhh, how about dead week?” I responded. Dead week, for context, is the week before finals when there is no class.
As it so happens, Microsoft wasn’t able to host their annual puzzle hunt (CPC) this year. Thinking this would be a good opportunity to fill the gap it left, I reached out to them to see if they would sponsor a puzzle hunt at Mudd. They were very receptive, and agreed to not only sponsor prizes, but to also send swag for participants. And so, Celena, Ricky, and I got roped into organizing another puzzle hunt.
I’ll skip the behind the scenes details for this post, but if you’re interested you can read about them in the hunt recap here.
In total, we had 11 teams (around 44 people) participate for over 3hours. There were 12 puzzles for teams to solve, and 1 meta puzzle. These puzzles were released in two timed waves of about 6 puzzles. There were 82 solves total, with the top team solving 11 puzzles and teams solving 7.5 puzzles on average.
We changed a few things between the zeroth and first HMMM. In the zeroth HMMM, the mystery makers walked around the room and gave out hints on an as-needed basis. In the first HMMM, teams gained hints on a timer and had to submit hint requests to us via a form. We handled 50 hint requests during the 3 hours that the hunt spanned. This kept us pretty busy.
HMMM was a lot of fun and we look forward to hosting another puzzle hunt soon. Our plan moving forward is hosting a longer one online, à la Galactic Puzzle Hunt or the Caltech Puzzle Hunt. Perhaps we will see you as a participant!
I’d like to thank Microsoft once again for sponsoring our event, especially on such short notice. And this event wouldn’t have been possible without the help of all of the people who put their time (and traded sleep) toward making it happen.