No Country for Old Me

No Country for Old Me

Good morning! This past weekend was the MIT Mystery Hunt, written and hosted by my team, Palindrome. It was an exhausting, thrilling year, and the end result was a spectacular hunt around the theme of Bookspace, about the inner world of books. The hunt, which will live in posterity at, featured close to 200 puzzles, all of which are now viewable for anyone curious. Below, I’m linking to the six puzzles I wrote or co-wrote. (Click “Public Access” if you get confronted with a login screen.) I’d love if you gave them a shot, but you’re welcome to skip straight to the solutions if you’re curious. You’re always welcome to email or DM me for hints.

Stay tuned in future issues for more stories about the process of creating the hunt. We have officially passed the baton to the winners, teammate, a team of clever young puzzle writers, who have crafted two awesome hunts over the last two years. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

The Puzzler

In honor of the upcoming Oscar nominations: Name a movie that was nominated for Best Picture in the ’90s. Add one letter to the end of the title to get a movie that was nominated for Best Picture in the ’00s. Which movies are these?

Co-written by Mike Nothnagel, Ben Smith, and myself, The Salt-N-Pepa Diner was born out of a self-imposed challenge to somehow turn John Mulaney’s Salt And Pepper Diner sketch into a puzzle. I have to say, I am super proud of what we created: a mashup of Tom Jones, Salt-N-Pepa, and light wordplay. This should take less about an hour to solve. If someone wanted to forward this puzzle on to any of Mulaney, Jones, Salt, or Pepa, we certainly wouldn’t mind.

For me, the Mystery Hunt was a chance to build out a couple of really meaty, complex, elegant puzzles for a crowd that I knew would eat them up. This  one, Curious and Determined, has at least four layers of a-has. I don’t want to spoil the main mechanic, in case you’d like to give it a shot. A small team should be able to get through this puzzle in 2-3 hours.

The other one of my meaty puzzles came very late in the hunt, so very few teams got to see it, but I’m equally proud of how it came out. (I’m going to spoil this one a tad, but I promise it’s something you would figure out in the first few minutes.) This puzzle came about after reading Eric Chaikin’s post on Scrabblegrams, stories written with just the 100 tiles in a Scrabble bag. Again, this is a 2-3 hour solve for a small team. (Easter egg: that’s a sketch of me atop all the Whoston pages, thanks to my friend and hunt Art Director Justin Ladia.)

My daughter Zella wanted to help me with a puzzle this year, and this is our result: an absurd short film about two friends kibbitzing over dinner. There’s a lot of content — it’s a 112-line script — but once you get into it, things fall into place pretty quickly. This one was also co-written with Ben Smith. It’s a pretty light puzzle, as these things go. Bravo to Zella for playing two parts so well that some folks were fooled into thinking she was two different actors!

This co-creation — written with joon pahk, Shai Nir Hana, and Steve Kaltenbaugh — was a goofy puzzle about a strange sports bracket, and a collection of inscrutable images of the contesting teams. (Very minor hint:  this requires some outside information that you have to find online, but it’s a very rewarding thing to find, I promise.) This one was such a joy to create, and from the testsolves I witnessed, a real joy to solve as well.

I love a blackbox puzzles, where you are given an input field, and you have to figure out what hidden rules are transforming your input into an output. This is my go at a blackbox puzzle, in the guise of a training tool for young wizards learning how to ensorcell. I heard lots of positive reviews about this one after the show. Thanks to Suzanna Roberts for making it really shine with awesome art.

Solution to previous puzzle

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