Once again, I wish to start by thanking everyone who has contributed to the successful Singapore Puzzle Hunt 2018, in particular to my team members Celestine, who actually wrote most of the hunt puzzles and contributed a lot of his time in other areas such as the art and tech too, as well as Jack, whose help during the hectic running of the hunt I am very thankful for.
As usual, the hunt would not be possible without the participation of all our fellow puzzle friends, old and new. We always appreciate all of you spending a day of your time to join us in this event, and making it a fun day for us and everyone too. It heartens us that there were even those who joined us right after arriving in Singapore, or right after important events, and those who were leaving for flights out soon after the event. We hope that you had fun solving the puzzles, and enjoyed your onsite hunt experience. We would love to hear your personal and team experience, do share your hunt anecdotes and post-hunt thoughts on our Facebook page, especially any on the hunt changes introduced this year.Or you could let us know through the feedback form you will be receiving from us soon.
Jun Han and Kee Wei from Random Invaders only managed to join the hunt at around 2pm, joining straight from their convocation!
Work on the hunt had started since November 2017, after firming up the hunt theme as Ready Player One and the round structure. The story is well-known amongst the US puzzle hunt community as it revolves around a hunt and puzzle solving, and also because of its 80s pop culture setting, which is an era with many famous references and fans. The scheduled release of the blockbuster film adaption directed by Steven Spielberg in April 2018 should also make the theme a recognisable one here. Unfortunately, it turned out that both the novel/movie and 80s pop culture were somewhat unfamiliar topics with most of our solvers, and that evidently delayed the solving to some degree when thematic references were not picked up.
In keeping with SGPH tradition, all the puzzles were custom written for the required answers and fit with relevant themes, rather than starting with any desired puzzle ideas. Credit is due to Celestine for gamely rising up to this challenge despite being a first-time puzzle constructor, with many great ideas and well-written puzzles. This hunt is written and organised for the fun and enjoyment of our fellow puzzle friends in our local hunt community, not to showcase the puzzles. Hence every effort was taken to write, edit and test-solve good fun clean puzzles which are reasonably clued and solvable - just like any hunt puzzle should be. If you enjoyed yourselves and took something away from the experience, then the time and effort we have put in would have been well-spent.
This year, we had a large number of new solvers (about half the total) taking part in SGPH for the first-time. I would like to specially praise and commend all the new solvers who attempted solving their first hunt puzzle yesterday. Hunt puzzles are a totally different breed and difficulty from other puzzles that most puzzle lovers in Singapore would be familiar with. There is a steep learning curve to even get to the point of knowing how tackle hunt puzzles confidently. Yet across the room, we witnessed enthusiastic and determined solvers, even when the puzzles were not yielding.
There were 8 brand new clans taking part in the hunt this year, featured here in clockwise order from top left are Siang Meng FriendsOfChampions, weareyoung and Lvl2 Chaotic Good Wolves of Welton. Great to see the new clans already getting into the spirit of things with their clan names - two trolled their friends in another clan, and one is thematic. weareyoung did the best amongst the new clans this year, with a relatively fast solve for The Copper Key antemeta, congrats!
I also need to explain our hinting philosophy to our new solvers. We do not wish to short-change the smarts of our solvers, and only step in to offer assistance when really required. And when a clan needed help, we also made sure that we understood their progress first, and then just nudged them in the right direction through subtle hints on what would be the intuitive solving line of thought clued in the puzzle, and hence what they could have missed or not tried. This will hopefully serve as a learning point which you might find useful in future hunt puzzle solving, and also allows solvers to just get past the stuck point and continue attempting the rest of the puzzle. This style of hinting is probably not one which our new solvers are used to, and we hope that we did not cause undue frustration or distress to anyone in your desire to finally get that puzzle solved and out of the way! I hoped my conversations with individual solvers had helped you in some small way going beyond solving a particular puzzle. Something useful which I had shared before the hunt, but would probably be more relatable and easier to understand now is the Puzzle Hunt Guide, which contains tips on how best to tackle hunt puzzles and how to become a better hunt puzzle solver.
Besides the new clans, there were also 4 clans that comprised a SGPH alumni, who roped in 3 other friends to join for the first time! These were, in clockwise order from top left, Puzzle Cats, Tomatoms, SMS and Not-So-Tricky. It is great to see puzzle hunt enthusiasts sharing their passion and expanding the community to their circle of friends. We hope the new solvers in these clans had a fun time and come back next year!
Another thing which solvers new to SGPH would be unfamiliar with is the solving rate of the hunt. New solvers should not be too shocked at the lack of any clans completing the hunt, or that their clan only managed to complete Round 1. Round 1 was intended to be a mini-hunt (read more on this below) for clans with newer solvers, so the completion of Round 1 is certainly a planned and credible milestone achievement. Given the limited time duration of SGPH, and the possibility for clans to get stuck at any point in the hunt, it is always challenging to get the hunt puzzle lengths right.
Always good to see the familiar faces of friends from previous SGPH teams too! Featured here in clockwise order from top left are Keep Calm and Just Tikam, Heeho, WOLS, and Big Whoop. It is clear from their results that their solving skills have improved with experience, but most importantly, I could see everyone having fun even as the time wore on and fatigue set in.
Every year, we strive to make improvements to the hunt and introduce additional hunt elements to our relatively less experienced local hunt community. I would like to highlight a number of changes which were introduced this year (some Round 1 puzzle spoilers follow), some of which were less successful than others, and wish to hear your thoughts on these as well:
1) Pre-Hunt Interactions
The theme was released 3 months ahead of the hunt this year to give everyone something to look forward to, and time to read up ahead on potential book/movie and 80s pop culture references (which could have proved useful). Two short videos were also filmed and released - one as a thematic Hunt Invitation, and another on the Sixer Attack introduction to the pre-hunt event. The intent is get everyone more immersed and invested in the theme, with another unseen video originally scheduled during onsite hunt as a cutscene on the Sixer Espionage. The filming and editing involved substantial planning and effort, and we hope it was worthwhile providing some thematic entertainment to everyone. A thematic chatroom was also set up as a platform for clans to interact with us and other clans before the hunt. Response for this was rather poor though, it seemed that many did not read the emails and also the Hunt Info pack (which again could have proved useful during the hunt). Even those who did join the chatroom were quite reserved, so will probably chalk this one up as a failed experiment?
Another interaction introduced this year is the task submission for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy puzzle. Here, Diga from Cent recites his clan's poem to us at Hunt HQ. Solvers unfamiliar with the MIT Mystery Hunt were generally surprised by the task, and the need to exercise their poetry skills! Everyone took to the task quite gamely though, and we hoped you enjoyed it as much as us hearing your creations. There were indeed some great compositions, which we hope to compile and post here, so do send us your poems again please!
2) Pre-Hunt Event Puzzle
The usual in-hunt event puzzle was held in the morning just before the hunt instead this year. This addressed the time constraints always associated with the event puzzle, be it for us running the event, as well as for solvers participating in the event worrying about it taking away time from their puzzle solving. Event puzzles are intended to allow solvers to interact with fellow solvers from other clans (whom they would otherwise not have an opportunity to meet), and with Hunt HQ too. They are a characteristic of the MIT Mystery Hunt, which underscores the difference in the fun elements between an interactive onsite hunt, versus an online hunt which focuses only on puzzle solving. There are many other fun non-puzzle aspects that make up the onsite hunt experience, and we hope to continue to reinforce this message and build this foundational culture and bonding amongst our local hunt community. That being said, the events this year could have been improved perhaps, though the eventual turn-out was definitely heartening and the buzz and interactions prior to hunt kick-off this year was good, and is much closer to the hunt atmosphere of the MIT Mystery Hunt.
The first group of gunters in the raid event attempt to find eight 80s passwords to unlock the security systems of the Sixers in order to take down their shields blockading the Hunt Almanacs.
Meanwhile, the second group of gunters in the raid event try to infiltrate the Sixers defense by navigating a hexagonal maze with invisible walls.
3) Addition of a mini-round 1 with 5 mini puzzles
In a two-round hunt like the past two years, clearing the round 1 puzzles and meta took a significant amount of time around 3-5 hours for most teams, which was a long milestone. This year included a thematic mini round 1 which all teams should clear relatively quickly within 30min-1 hour, and would serve as a quicker milestone and morale booster. Having a quick opening mini-round is also gaining popularity in recent MIT Mystery Hunts, often with a plot-twist after the round. The mini-round ended up taking longer than expected for all teams. Besides being stuck on the antemeta, part of the reason for the mini-round taking longer could be because solvers generally had less familiarity with 80s pop culture references used in this round, like Magic the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons and Discworld, and hence took more time to figure out those puzzles and do not recognise the references which could have allowed them to solve the puzzles faster.
Kaya/d submits the first correct hunt answer for The Elfstones of Shannara puzzle after about four minutes!
4) Metas changed from pure metas to shell metas that simply extract from answers, and use of antemetas
Clearing the pure metas in the past was a hit-and-miss affair. Some teams got the aha quickly, while others might be stuck on the reference for a long time, even with almost all the round answers. Given the tight time limit for this hunt, this introduces too much variability to the potential solve time from the hunt design perspective. I also did not want teams to be potentially stuck on a meta, getting frustrated and not being able to proceed. So straightforward shell metas were intentionally used this year, which teams could reasonably clear as long as they have solved 70-80% of the puzzles in that round. This would allow more time to be spent on more challenging round puzzles.
One related new hunt element introduced is the use of antemetas, which simply means a puzzle that comes before the meta. This was used once in the 2006 Mystery Hunt, where the antemeta puzzle was incorporated as shell elements to the presentation of the round puzzles, and was quite well-received. I decided to introduce antemetas this year as the hunt theme appropriately involved a two-stage task for each round, so it was thematic to the hunt, and provided another way to tie together all the puzzles in each round by theme as well. Unfortunately, it turned out that the antemeta negated the meta change, as all the teams got stuck on The Copper Key antemeta. This was unexpected as that antemeta was a standard ISIS identification puzzle, and did not really require a major aha. On hindsight though, for SGPH at least, it would be less desirable to include antemetas as it introduced another possible point in the critical path where teams could get potentially stuck at. And this is probably worse than being stuck on a meta, as solving more round puzzles would not help. This also highlighted to me the importance, especially to new solvers, of building strong fundamentals in hunt puzzle solving, such as familiarity with hunt puzzle conventions. Another example is that a number of clans got held up at the final extraction for The Elfstones of Shannara and A Spell for Chameleon puzzles, because they did not use all the data they have after tabulating their data in two separate sets, rather than as a complete chain. So do refer to the Puzzle Hunt Guide linked above and practise more puzzle solving during the other online puzzle hunts held throughout the year!
White Maria deserves mention for being the only clan to have identified the Rubik's Cube variants in The Copper Key antemeta. All the other clans had missed that step, and had to be hinted to do so. On hindsight again, we should have just made a decision to broadcast this direct hint to all clans much earlier during the hunt once we discovered the situation. That could have saved the 30-60mins which probably a significant number of clans spent stuck at that particular point. We had not reacted well in the past too, to similar situations arising which would likely impact the overall hunt duration. Part of the thinking is to preserve fairness for those who might not have been stuck at that puzzle. Another consideration is that the puzzles are not broken, and releasing a direct "global" hint would not be really be justifiable just to have teams complete the hunt. And with unsolved puzzles being available post-hunt, there is also less concern about puzzles being "wasted" when solve progress is slower than expected.
5) Not showing the solve count for puzzles
The solve count artificially skews behaviors by steering solvers towards attempting easier/more popular puzzles, which resulted in a poor spread of puzzles solved. While the solve count might be somewhat helpful to new solvers in identifying potentially easier puzzles to tackle first, this might not be so accurate either, given the snowball effect of the statistic. The difficulty level of puzzles are generally quite similar within a round, and steps up with each round. I understand why solvers would probably like to have this statistic back, but it is questionable if it is really a good thing culture-wise for solvers to pick/prioritise what they perceive would be easier puzzles to solve, rather than a puzzle they would like to solve.
After obtaining the clue phrase for A History of Middle-Earth puzzle, a few clans came round to Hunt HQ and offered us back their souvenir tokens to try and "pay to win" (randomly I guess). Again not something we had anticipated, but we definitely enjoyed the creative out-of-the-box thinking!
6) Limit on number of answer submissions
The MIT Mystery Hunt had a culture and live-callback system which discouraged teams from guessing answers. Even when teams had a reasonable guess on the answer, they would usually carry on solving until they could confirm most of the answer letters. With an online answer submission system, it is easy to lose this discipline and solving integrity. Couple this with powerful online word/phrase solvers, and there is a genuine concern that teams might stray from genuine puzzle solving to derive the solution, to making use of technology to brute-force the answer faster. Hence a limit is set on the number of answer submissions per puzzle, to artificially prevent teams from being tempted to take the easy way out to quick guess their answers, and in a way, lose out on much of the fun of solving the entirety of puzzles.
Clans solving their puzzles in ernest. Regardless of the progress, everyone were giving it their all and having a good time cracking their heads over the puzzles with their friends.
7) Use of meta answer phrases
Another new hunt element introduced to SGPH solvers this year is using phrases as meta answers, which is the typical style for the MIT Mystery Hunt. In Mystery Hunt, these answer phrases help to immerse teams in the thematic backstory, and provide a progression in the story which culminates in the final runaround. Having answer phrases is much easier for Mystery Hunt though, given the larger number of puzzles overall and in each round. So to introduce this in SGPH, I had to extract multiple letters from each round answer for the meta, which is not ideal, but still possible in thematic fashion.
SGoats ended the hunt at the top of the Scoreboard after gaining the bonuses from solving the Jade Key first and the Copper Key second, and from some first solves for six puzzles. Well done guys!
To round off, do join the SG Puzzlers Facebook group to keep in touch. We share information on other international puzzle hunts throughout the year, and organise teams to take part in together for the larger ones like Mystery Hunt. The best way to get better at hunt puzzle solving is to take part in and practise more. Solving hunts can take up quite a bit of time, but the fun and satisfaction of solving a puzzle together with your team members is great! So do make use of these good opportunities to gain more puzzle hunt exposure and to improve your skills by solving with and learning from other experienced hunters. Look forward to seeing everyone again at next year's SGPH! In the meantime, here is the usual collection of memorable snippets from this year¡¯s hunt. Enjoy!
Ong Kah Kien
Thank you all gunters, well done to everyone! Hope you had a fun time and see you again next year!