Personal Background

I’m a big fan of puzzle hunts. My first hunt was Galactic Puzzle Hunt in 2017 (when I was in 9th grade), and I was hooked. I participated in almost every online hunt since then, often dedicating entire weekends to them.

Despite all this, I somehow managed to avoid writing for one of these events I so enjoyed. Given that, when teammate won the MIT Mystery Hunt in 2022, I jumped on board to build next year’s Mystery Hunt. I didn’t really know what to expect from the process, except that it would take thousands of person-hours. The massive workload was certainly true, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process, the people I got to meet, and the final product.

City Placement

I wanted to write a puzzle that involved looking at maps, which became City Placement. We had a Puzzle Hack Weekend over the July 4th long weekend, during which I ideated this puzzle and built its first prototype. The editors and testsolvers suggested great tweaks to the presentation (removing the color gradients I had in an old version; placing the city hall image first for each city; fixing errata about which streets were colored; adding a pin at the center of each image), but its central content did not change.

The puzzle was originally titled City Planning, but we renamed it to give a better hint at the final ordering, a key sticking point during testsolves. I’m also grateful for the factchecker’s suggestion to change the line styles to be colorblind-friendly, and I love the final version with different dashes for each color.

Writing Retreat

teammate held an in-person writing retreat in late August. The energy and people were amazing, and I’m very glad that I flew out to attend. As someone unspoiled on most of the hunt, I spent most of my time testsolving various puzzles and events. One morning, I woke up and got ferried into a room to finish the previous day’s testsolve of Act 1… but it was actually an infinite loading puzzle! I also worked with some teammates to write Zambonis. One of the highlights of my stay was playing Just Two, a variant of Just One where you need to come up with a word used by exactly 2 players at the table.

Apples Plus Bananas

Over Thanksgiving break, I had spare time to construct a puzzle. Andrew drafted me into Apples Plus Bananas, which at the time was just a puzzle idea about systems of fruit-puzzle equations, where each fruit solved to an integer PLU code. I suggested the current mechanic, and with the blessings of the editors took over construction from there.

Constructing a valid set turned out harder than expected, especially given the constraints on the number of occurrences of each emoji. It seems like I subconsciously really enjoy writing code, so I was too eager to keep toiling at the idea I had rather than coming up with something more simple or smaller in scope.

I knew that this was an Act 1 puzzle, but was not expecting it to be one of the first puzzles in the hunt. In retrospect, this puzzle should have probably involved a simpler mechanic like image ID to save both solving and constructing time, especially for the many teams who could not code. I saw firsthand how making the flavortext more obvious did not ruin the puzzle’s fun or ahas, even if it seemed to make it less “interesting” to me as a puzzle hunt veteran.

One benefit of the puzzle’s early placement was that we received emoji cookies!

Final Month Crunch Time

The nice thing about being a university student is that you get a month off in winter, which neatly coincides with the days before Mystery Hunt. This is where I spent the majority of my time working on Hunt.

I took on various miscellaneous tech tasks, as other teammates had more experience with the infrastructure and core story gimmicks. One of my major contributions was making the chatbots able to translate various encodings. I also postprodded the puzzles I wrote and a few others (a process involving converting them to React code to display on the website, often with lots of CSS tweaks). One of these was the interactive Hall of Archaeology, which I also helped author.

Beyond this, I factchecked 13 puzzles. This is the last step in puzzle creation, where someone verifies that everything in the puzzle and solution is correct, solvable, and properly displayed. Factchecking was a great way to experience more puzzles in the hunt, and I also fixed some broader issues in our postprods, like the behavior of flavortexts when copied to clipboard.

The Monday before Hunt, I took Amtrak up to Boston, where we had an AirBnB for the week. Our full days of work continued, but with the added benefit of toiling alongside a dozen fellow teammates. Unlike the writing retreat, we unfortunately didn’t have time to play games together. It helped to take breaks, such as going out to eat, testing parts of the final runaround, and collating tissues for a physical puzzle.


This was my first in-person Mystery Hunt. With the privilege of being on the writing team, I tried to experience as many parts of Hunt as I could:

  • Painting museum columns for the kickoff set
  • Meeting up with some cool puzzlers I knew online
  • Visiting teams both virtually and in person
  • Setting up and running the Two Friends, One Troll event
  • Carrying stuff from main campus to Kresge/the Student Center and back
    • It turns out that I did this on all four days of Hunt!
  • Answering 109 hints and Contact HQ requests
  • Coding up a filter in spoilr (our HQ tool) to hide hints claimed by others
  • Proctoring Think Fast for the onslaught of mid-sized teams who unlocked this interaction in the middle of Sunday
  • Nodding disapprovingly at teams during midpoint interactions
  • Cheering on the final runaround, and standing in for a game to make the number of players even
  • Compiling Hall of Archaeology stats for wrap up

Still, Hunt is such a large endeavour that I only saw a fraction of it. I took the 6 a.m. morning shift (in a successful ploy to avoid jet lag in Europe on Tuesday), so I missed out on much of the craziness around making sure Hunt finished on time. Even with all the puzzles I saw, I remained unspoiled on about half of them.

Closing Thoughts

It was nice interacting with the smaller teams, which I didn’t appreciate as a part of the Mystery Hunt community until working with them firsthand. They had some of the best moments, and were on the whole lovely to talk to. Seeing hunters in person has also given me a better sense of who I’m writing for. I’m looking forward to better getting to know puzzlers both inside and outside teammate, putting all my newfound free time to good use.