Other Smogon Puzzle Hunt 2 [Wrapup]

Level 51

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is a member of the Site Staffis an official Team Rateris a Forum Moderatoris a Community Contributoris a Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Battle Simulator Driveris a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past Smogon Snake Draft Champion
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- this wrapup approved by Da Letter El -

First of all, congratulations again to Team Galactic for winning the Smogon Puzzle Hunt 2019, and Dongmin Fan Club for being the first Smogon-registered team to complete it! In total, we had 93 teams competing this year, with 84 completing at least one puzzle, 71 solving at least one metapuzzle, and 41 teams completing the hunt. Thanks to everyone for your enthusiastic participation!

For those of you who missed the hunt and would like to work on the puzzles, the full set of puzzles and solutions can be found at https://spo.ink/sph19archives.

This wrapup post will discuss the hunt, the process behind it, and how we thought things turned out in the end, from a staff perspective, so (many) spoilers are incoming! If you haven't tried all the puzzles and still intend to—especially the metapuzzles—you may want to skip over this post before doing so.

PLOT AND FORMAT
There's many directions from which to approach a discussion of this hunt, but most decisions we made this year were framed by our goals for the hunt. Based on how last year's hunt turned out and some feedback we received, we had some aims for this year's hunt:
  • Better portion out Pokémon-related puzzles—fewer regular puzzles that require Pokémon knowledge, but more integration of Pokémon in the theme and metas
  • Better integrate the theme into the hunt's structure
  • Have the difficulty curve peak higher, but generally feel smoother
  • More substantial Round 1, so completing Round 1 feels like more of an accomplishment for more casual teams
  • Wider variety of puzzles; specifically, fewer word-heavy puzzles, especially "here's a list of clues"-style puzzles
We think we did pretty okay with the goals we set! We did note some concerns about increased difficulty: for example, only 6 teams of Smogon regulars completed the hunt this year, as compared to 9 last year, and a significant number of Smogon teams wound up finishing around 100 to 150 points away from unlocking the meta. From our perspective, based on what we saw of teams' progress and activity within their individual team channels, the hunt appears to be well-balanced for teams of 5 to 6, as intended; one significant difference we observed between the teams which successfully completed the hunt and those which fell short was the number of members who actively contributed to working on and solving puzzles. While difficulty is, innately, always tough to estimate, we think we did a pretty good job of hitting a good balance on the difficulty curve this year, making the hunt interesting and challenging for some of the stronger teams but not completely inaccessible to the average Smogon solver.

THEME AND STRUCTURE
Work on this year's hunt began fairly early on: soon after last year's hunt concluded, we spent some time thinking about hunt themes in general. We thought last year's hunt theme was rather weak in the sense that it barely affected the structure of the hunt, and was pretty much never mentioned outside of the preambles on the metapuzzle documents. This is, probably, a weakness of Discord-based hunts in general, which don't have the opportunity to use site design to advance the theme and story of the hunt, so we knew the theme had to play into the structure of the actual hunt in order to feel more visible.

In addition, we wanted the themes to play closer with the metapuzzles, which meant bringing the general theming away from Smogon-specific domains and more towards general Pokémon content, so it would feel a little more familiar to solvers who might not be super familiar with Smogon culture or competitive Pokémon in general. Pokémon Contests fit the bill almost perfectly: they're a mildly competitive facet of the Pokémon games which isn't really explored in-depth much by the average player, but are pretty much instantly recognizable by anyone who's played RSE/DPPt/ORAS before. The interlocking structure of conditions and the stepped Contest levels also played naturally into an interesting non-linear unlock structure.

By this point we were pretty much locked in on our theme, but what about our structure? At first, we thought the 20+1 puzzles afforded by the main contest structure would be sufficient space for a single-round hunt (21 vs last year's 24 puzzles), but it was difficult for us to reconcile what would presumably be a four-difficulty-level hunt with our aim of a smoother difficulty curve... and so, Round 1 was reborn out of necessity.

We originally planned to theme each puzzle within the same Round 2 category—for example, solvers may have happened to notice (much to their chagrin, in some cases) that the Beauty round comprised 4 crossword-based puzzles. Similarly, the Coolness round was meant to contain 4 hybrid-word-based puzzles (which sort of happened); the Cleverness was meant to contain round 4 research-heavy puzzles (a la Tweets About Jane); the Cuteness round was meant to contain 4 puzzles "presented interestingly" (e.g. the video of Let's Explore the World!, or the random-looking strings in String Theory) that had atypical solve paths; and the Toughness round was meant to contain 4 logic-heavy puzzles (A Regular Crossword, Regional Tours and arguably Totally Free Puzzle fit the bill; Did You Know? most certainly did not). Due to the way the timeline got tight near the end of the hunt-writing process and our slight lack of familiarity with some of the puzzle types, this ultimately didn't materialize, but we thought it would have been a cute idea, and we hope some teams had some fun with realizing the theme in the Beauty round.

META DEVELOPMENT
The original Round 2 meta relied on a pool of 20 feeder answers, one for each category-contest level, along with 4 "judge" feeders, intended to reveal the mechanic of the metapuzzle. There were a couple of reasons it didn't fly: it featured a mechanic essentially completely unrelated to Pokemon, and it wound up being unfortunately similar to the Maniacal Merchants meta from the 2017 MIT Mystery Hunt. Still, for completeness' sake, you can find a reproduction of it here.

Eventually, after shuffling through the Bulbapedia pages for Contests and Super Contests for altogether far too long, we stumbled across Spectacular Talents and almost immediately knew this was what would form the basis for our meta—interesting and exploitable word choices, innately related to Contest categories, and lots of data points to work with. The meta mechanic was developed from there, and after cutting out some rejected pun-answers, we were ready to build the meta!

One significant sticking point we foresaw, even after teams found the table of Spectacular Talents on Bulbapedia, was the idea of transforming the category of each one. In an effort to make this more obvious, I (that's me, Level 51) spent a few days tacking down a set of answers such that each puzzle-category contained talents from the other four categories. This didn't quite have the effect I had hoped for, as a few teams got lost in the (admittedly very promising-looking) fact that these now looked a lot like the 20 non-neutral natures in Pokémon. In fact, the metapuzzle was, at some point, going to use a table to try to make the transformation step even more obvious, but it's probably a good thing we didn't end up there, firmly behind the borders of Red Herringland.


crisis averted!

On the other hand, Round 1 was developed almost entirely in a Discord PM conversation between myself and lovemathboy.


how to ideate a meta in 1 easy step
We originally started working on a set which involved a far less obvious connection to berries, using entries such as PRISON CAMP, MARGINAL COST, RECORDING STUDIO, and SPECIAL EDITION (left as an exercise to the reader). This, of course, required us to use an external index, since we couldn't figure out any other reasonable way of extracting single letters from each item, and generally just looked really un-fun and inelegant to solve. Eventually, I realized this much better way to couch this meta, and thus Meta 1 was born!

PUZZLE WRITING
We developed this hunt, like last year's, through coordination via Google Sheets and a lot of pinned Discord messages. This year, we had 8 prospective writers instead of 3, so we split into 3 groups (2/3/3); the idea was that any given group could write a puzzle, and the puzzle could be sent to another group for testsolving; after tweaking the puzzle based on the testsolve feedback, it could be sent to the last remaining group for a second testsolve. (This system broke down later in the writing process as we began to rush for time, but if we had better managed our time, it would likely have been quite effective.)

Apart from this general structure, we left puzzle writers with total freedom on their timelines—besides occasionally bugging them and asking about the progress of their puzzles, they were left to write and testsolve puzzles at their own pace. In retrospect, of course, this was a poor idea; several puzzles which were reserved early on were never completed, leading to some fairly last-minute puzzle writing. This is something we can definitely learn from and improve on next year.

MOVING FORWARD
With the expanding numbers of solvers attempting our hunt, running it on Discord has proved to be significantly less viable this year than it was last year. We're strained in two ways: the infrastructure used to run this hunt, and the number of staff we have writing and running it. With some users suggesting that we advertise our hunt even more widely next year (say, on http://puzzlehuntcalendar.com), we're expecting an even larger turnout in years to come, which does lead to some logistical problems.

The infrastructure, as it stands, is something of an elaborate labyrinth of Google Sheets, Google Drive PDFs, and an omnipotent Discord bot. The system works, and some solvers have expressed their fondness for this format, but at the same time many have pointed out some very valid issues with cramming everything into a single Discord channel: !status, for example, got really spammy near the end of the hunt when the list of puzzles became very long, and having to do !puzzle to get a puzzle link also became somewhat troublesome. The main trouble was that the Discord channel had to house both discussion as well as bot commands, making the latter generally disruptive to cohesive teamsolving. A website would, of course, help to remedy these issues.

There's a few reasons running this hunt from a website would be more pleasant for the staff, too: primarily, we wouldn't keep getting pinged for dumb stuff, and the fact that we're not in the same server as (most of) the teams would lead to decreased pressure to respond to hints particularly quickly (we answered a majority of hints within 5 or so minutes, especially in the earlier part of the week). Given some of the events that transpired over the course of this hunt, we suspect that this may prove to be vital for our combined sanity.

This leads into the issue of staff numbers. This hunt, with 31 puzzles, was written by a total of 5-6 of us, of which 3 users authored or co-authored 3 or more puzzles (exact numbers: 8, 8, and 24). Simply put, the team running this hunt is small enough that to divert further resources to setting up a site instead of just running with a simple Discord setup may not be a viable solution at this current juncture. It's probably best to expand the team in some way, but of course, here the issues of group dynamics and so forth come into play.

Essentially, while it's great to receive validation that we're on the right track puzzle-wise, there's many questions to be answered about the "how" of keeping this hunt growing. There's no real correct answer on what the next step is as of now, and we're not even sure if SPH 2020 will be a thing, but we'll be sure to keep everyone posted! :)

STATS
We've put together a compilation of some stats for your viewing pleasure! Ever wondered how your solve times matched up against the best? Or who was the first to the buzzer in the hunt, or who had the quickest Round 2 meta solve? The answers may surprise you! A compilation of various statistics is available at https://spo.ink/sph19stats, containing these sheets:
  • Overall: An overview of some stats about the hunt in general.
  • Puzzles: Each puzzle's solve/guess stats, plus how they fared in the feedback form.
  • Guesslog: The full guesslog for the puzzle; answers are stripped of all non-alphanumeric characters.
  • Wrong guesses / puzzle: A list of the most common wrong guesses for each puzzle.
  • Wrong guesses / overall: A list of all wrong guesses which were guessed by at least five different teams.
  • Guess lengths: All teams which submitted at least one guess, sorted by the length of their single longest guess. See who wrote us essays via SPH Bot!
  • First solves: The first three teams to solve each puzzle.
  • Fastest solves: The three teams which solved each puzzle the fastest (least time from unlock to correct answer).
  • Solve timings / puzzle & Solve timings / team: The amount of time each team took to solve each puzzle. "/ puzzle" sorts by puzzle; "/ team" sorts by team.
    • Note that for teams which joined halfway through the hunt, the time for the first 4 puzzles is probably way inaccurate, since the "unlock time" for those puzzles is all the way back at hunt start.
  • Accuracy: Each team's accuracy (correct answers divided by total guesses) across the hunt. Teams which completed the hunt are sorted together; teams which did not complete the hunt are divided into bands based on how many questions they answered.
  • Big Board: A replica of the final state of the Big Board we used to track teams' progress.
  • Additionally, we made a graph (300 KB) showing the progress of the 41 teams which finished the hunt! (It's rather large.) If you'd like a graph with different parameters or with your team specially highlighted, let me know and I'll see if I can make the graph for you :)!
STAFF HIGHLIGHT REEL
The staff had a lot of fun during this hunt, mostly by reading really weird answer submissions. Here's a compilation of some of the more, uh, "unique" answer submissions we received, as well as some fun moments which teams sent to us via the feedback form!
Punctuality
  • grill ready submitted the names of 32 punctuation symbols as guesses for this puzzle before eventually solving it (a while later, and in the intended way).
  • Negative One Twelfth tried to get into the spirit of the hunt a little too early, including among their guesses CHARIZARD, EKANS, and RALTS.
A Suitable Puzzle
  • grill ready guessed OSMOSISJONES, which I thought was hilarious until I found out it was a real movie
  • Small Brain guessed CLUBPENGUIN (which was, to be fair, an original inclusion in the puzzle)
Serial Number
  • Dan City guessed 5610169272354, EFJPIBGBCED, and of course, SIXTYNINE
  • grill ready guessed YOTHEORYTAX
  • puzzle gang puzzle gang guessed 56101292112354
Craftsmanship
  • puzzle gang puzzle gang guessed SWEARONTHESEA
  • Small Brain guessed TESTICLES
Counterattack
  • AoPS Squad guessed the names of 14 fish-like Pokemon, as well as, for some reason, FARFETCHD
  • Bhad Bhiatches guessed DELETEYOURSELFYOUSTUPIDBOT
  • [META] and Reborn's Most Trusted Citizens guessed EVLOS
  • Mishi Society, Psyduck Confit, and Small Brain guessed YAWREHTOEHTEVLOS
Nostalgia
  • Mishi Society guessed TRUDIEMCGUINNESS, TRUDLEMCGOODNESS, and UNSIGNEDCENTRUMS
Hyperlinks
  • AoPS Squad made 20 incorrect guesses including HUFFINGTONPOST, WASHINGTONPOST, MIDLIFECRISIS, and OROBANCHEMINOR.
Perspectives
  • Dan City guessed (slightly worryingly) CHICKENAWAKENS. What do they know that we don't??
Union of the States
  • Small Brain made 36 guesses which were approximate variants of CALL IN WICKING, including CXXXLINWICKING, COLLINWICKING, and 11 guesses of the form CALLINWI[C/L/M/N/P/R/S/T/X/Y/Z]ING.
    • (Other answers included JOHNWICK, FORTNITE, EPICVICTORYROYALE, and DONALDTRUMP.)
  • AoPS Squad's guesses included BETSYROSS, BENJAMINFRANKLIN, and ROBERTKASDAN.
Showtime: Tasting
  • ✈ guessed OSCARDOWNSTREAM
  • Team Bright Powder guessed THEELDERSCROLLER, about a year too late.
  • Team Quick Claw guessed DYNAMICCREATIVEOPTIMIZATION, which I'm not entirely sure applies to Pokeblocks?
  • Small Brain submitted, one after the other, FEED THEM, THROW THEM, TOSS THEM, and SNORT THEM.
We were slightly concerned.


On the bright side, SPH now has a new theme song:


Chain Letters
  • Everything Caught by r/PictureGame spent a few hours attempting to backsolve this puzzle, with 61 incorrect guesses including QUECHUANANDAYMARANSPELLINGSHIFT, QUADRATUREPHASESHIFTKEYING, and QTECTONIC.
The New Wave
  • AoPS Squad guessed 265704106067361792
  • Small Brain guessed PIKACHUUSESURF
Scramble for the Stars
  • grill ready guessed SPORTSWISEPORN
  • Pepsimen guessed BINDINGOFNEWTON
Triple-Crossed
  • A few teams guessed S or TILDE, but Team Galactic was precise enough to guess STILTEDABOUT90DEGREESCOUNTERCLOCKWISE.
  • National 3rosion Service also did their best to be specific, guessing SIDEWAYSS.
  • blazing idiots followed the SPH example by guessing SMOGONSPUZZLESHUNT.
  • Looks like this puzzle brought out the mathy side of people!
    • AoPS Squad guessed 69 (and, perhaps to their credit, 96)
    • blazing idiots guessed 5
    • [META] guessed 666
    • Team Quick Claw guessed 576226788133437447RIGHTNOWHTTPSS2VNDBORGSF41124141JPG (please don't try to find the original image from this.)
Standard Form
  • Continuing with the numbers theme,
    • puzzle gang guessed 142, 161, 20, 3333, ONEHUNDREDANDFOURTYTWO, and ONEHUNDREDFOURTYTWO, and in doing so did a really good impression of me when I'm called on in math class.
    • Scoop Troop guessed 545 and 925.
  • Team Quick Claw made 7 gazelle-related guesses, including GAZELLEFAMILY and, soon after, GAZELLEFAMINE.
  • We Don't Play Witcher Card Games (Anymore) guessed EVERYTIMEHESEESAFLAGHEDIESINSIDEAPPARENTLY
Exploration
  • AoPS Squad's guesses included 19 different books of the Bible.
  • [META] guessed HEROICOLDTESTAMENT.
  • Small Brain guessed LEVEL51WILLYOUMARRYME (no.) and ARBYSISMYRELIGION (this is why.)
  • Team Quick Claw guessed 51SHADESOFSPHBOT and at least one other guess I can't reprint.
Upgrades
  • Decrypting Deoxys guessed various iterations of IDEALGROUND, and eventually FLIPPINGANIDEALTABELONTOTHEGROUND.
Crossed Crosses
  • Bhad Bhiatches guessed ANOTHERGODDAMNCROSSWORD
Counterparts
  • We Don't Play Witcher Card Games (Anymore) guessed PULMONARYEDEMA
Let's Explore the World!
  • Small Brain guessed LETSEXPLOREEMINEMSROD (I'd rather not, thanks.)
  • Cent guessed OLYMPICAUTISM and OLYMPICRACISM, overturning everything I thought was true about the Olympics
  • Westlife guessed OFFICIALANTHEMOFTHESMOGONPUZZLEHUNTDISCORDSERVER
String Theory
  • Small Brain guessed ANIMECRISTEMAPOLISDIASAMINADIBESICOMPRESSEDDIABETICWATERMELON
  • Team Quick Claw guessed EGGPLANTPARMESAN (nice try.)
Laser Sokoban
  • Dan City guessed IFTHEACTUALANSWERTOTHISPUZZLETURNSOUTTOBEREDHERRINGIHOPEYOUALLFEARFORYOURCONTINUEDPRESENCEINTHISMORTALCOIL
  • Team atrocityhannah guessed STORMAREA51
  • Team Quick Claw guessed YOURPRINCESSISINANOTHERCASTLE
  • The_Underscore_Sean_Gardiner_Fanclub guessed WEBEATTHEGAMEGIVEUSPOINTS
Musical Expression
  • AoPS Squad guessed EDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERANEDSHEERAN
Tweets About Jane
  • [META] guessed DROPTABLEANSWERS
  • Small Brain guessed INTERNATIONALPORNSTAR
Reaction Time
  • Small Brain guessed IDONTSEEAFEEDBACKFORMSOIMJUSTGONNASAYTHATIMVERYDISAPPOINTEDINTHISPUZZLECHOICEIWANTEDTOLEAVECHEMISTRYBEHINDINHIGHSCHOOLALONGWITHMYMEMORIESOFAFAILEDLOVELIFEBUTNOYOUHADTOREIGNITETHESEPAINFULMEMORIESHOWCOULDYOU
Scenic Route
  • Everyone was surprisingly well-behaved on this puzzle! (Except Small Brain, as usual, but I don't feel comfortable reprinting their answer.)
Did You Know?
  • blazing idiots logged 64 incorrect guesses on this puzzle. (None of them were particularly funny, though.)
  • de[light]fully [devil]ish guessed MISTRESSMIME
  • Team Quick Claw guessed ROTODEXHASBEENGIVINGSOMEPRETTYSHITTYINTELLATELY
  • puzzle gang puzzle gang guessed IAMELGINOWETMOLVO
A Regular Crossword
  • Nerd Herd guessed UNTITLEDBLACKONGREY
Totally Free Puzzle
  • Dan City guessed ISTHISAFUCKINGONIONHOWMANYLAYERSAREINTHISPUZZLE
  • [META] guessed THISPUZZLEISNOTTOTALLYFREEWHATFAKEADVERTISING
  • Small Brain guessed LOVEMATHBOYSMINECRAFTFARM
  • Westlife guessed EXQUISITECADAVERISAGOODDESCRIPTIONFORMYBODYRIGHTNOW
Regional Tours
  • Dan City and Team Trespacito both guessed WHATAGAUCHOYOUARE
  • AoPS Squad guessed EROTICVOLCANO
Showtime: Tampering
  • [META] guessed WELLDOCUMENTEDBRIBES and ACTIONREPLAYABUSESMH (imagine their surprise when they finally solved the puzzle).
  • AoPS Squad guessed NOTBEINGFUCKINGDENSE
  • blazing idiots guessed INFINITYGAUNTLET
Overall
Small Brain was so taken by two particular consecutive entries in Chain Letters that they guessed LAGOON SEX, or some variant thereof, in 8 different puzzles:
  • LAGOONSEX in Chain Letters
  • LAGOONSEX, LAGOONSEXDESPACITOSNORTINGPOKEBLOCKS, and just in case, LAGOONSEXDESPACITOSNORTPOKEBLOCKS, in Standard Form
  • SEXINTHELAGOONTOTHESOUNDOFDESPACITOINTHEBACKGROUND in Upgrades
  • LAGOONSEXBYDESPACITO in Counterparts
  • LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in String Theory
  • LAGOONSEXDESPACITO in Reaction Time
  • REGULARLAGOONSEX in A Regular Crossword
  • LAGOONSEXDESPACITO in Totally Free Puzzle
We pray for their speedy recovery.
de[light]fully [devil]ish: "I used to be quite active in the Pokemon community (including Smogon!) in the Gen 3/4 era, so it was interesting for me to be doing a Smogon-related event a decade later. Makes me feel old in a way." [welcome back! - the staff.]

Showtime: Tasting
I got Horseas in the bacc:


Scramble for the Stars
(looks like this title may have certain associations attached to it.)
Dongmin Fan Club:


Team Galactic:


Triple Crossed
Team Galactic: "One of us put "SEVEN-POINT TURN" in Triple Crossed at first. When later asked about it he just said he didn't know how to drive."

Eternal Busters: "One of our (American) solvers accidentally misspelled colour without the "U" in Triple Crossed and couldn't figure out what "D or B le agent" meant."

Counterparts
Smogon Penguin Henthusiasts: "Shoutouts to my teammates during Counterparts, for mistaking parts of the "Stairway to Heaven" lyrics for "All Star," something made even better when I found that the puzzle still had Smash Mouth... just not the song everyone was expecting."

Team Quick Claw: "Some alternative song lyrics"


Did You Know?
AoPS Squad: "We believed Fun Fact 15 for an entire 15 minutes or so."


Totally Free Puzzle
Tiralmo:


Dongmin Fan Club:


AoPS Squad: "guessing erotic inferno, not knowing the meaning of the word erotic, thinking it was a close relative of the word exotic"


Showtime: Tampering
AoPS Squad: "concluding that the final metapuzzle was a reference to GPH 2018 and that Team Galactic was just a fake cheater team in league with the staff to make the final metapuzzle work"
As always, we had some puzzle ideas that were cut from the final product! Here's one such puzzle, in case you'd like to give it a go: 1-X Hook, Line, and...


CREDITS
This event wouldn't have been possible without the hard work of our dedicated staff members! Thank you to everyone who helped make this project a success, through all the late-night puzzle writing, the early morning hinting, and the random anagramming. I'm grateful to have had this opportunity to work together and I hope everyone's as proud as I am of what we've created :)

Project Lead
Level 51

Project Co-Lead
talkingtree

Tech Lead
CheeseMuffin

Puzzle Design
Level 51, talkingtree, lovemathboy, Mistrals, ALT, danielbunchie, ggoh

Testsolving
Level 51, talkingtree, lovemathboy, Mistrals, ALT, danielbunchie, ggoh, holydust, Nia

Spriting
Level 51
Additional credits to Superjustinbros from The Spriter's Resource for the ripped Crystal tileset

Special Thanks
- Yoshiap for providing the original code which SPH Bot was built off
- talkingtree for the original original code which that code was built off
- Da Letter El for approving and helping to assist the event to completion
- The Dutch Plumberjack for coordinating the prizes
- P Squared and Smogon's social media team for their help with publicizing this event
- My brother for designing this amazing logo
- All our solvers; we couldn't have made this event a success without you!
 
Last edited:

Level 51

human spreadsheet
is a member of the Site Staffis an official Team Rateris a Forum Moderatoris a Community Contributoris a Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Battle Simulator Driveris a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past Smogon Snake Draft Champion
Moderator
ASK US ANYTHING!
- this AMA also approved by Da Letter El -

Got any questions about the hunt you'd like answered that weren't addressed in this wrap-up? Feel free to ask them in this thread! We'll also be answering some questions from submitted feedback forms here. (If your question is addressed to a specific staff member or puzzle author, do mention who!)

I'll start off this AMA (of sorts) with a few questions from the feedback forms:
Feedback form 1 said:
Did you expect players to find errors in your puzzles during the hunt that weren't picked up on play testing?
I think we always sort of hope that we did manage to find every error during testsolving and that we can actually have the mythical legendary errata-free hunt. Unfortunately, with the scale of the hunt as compared to our writing team, we realistically have to be prepared for the worst. I think this year we did pretty well, and most of the errata was picked up before it became a serious problem, but as always testsolving can always be more rigorous, so I guess that's the direction we'll need to go in!

Feedback form 4 said:
If the starting time was deliberately chosen, what were some reasons for why it was picked?
Two of our users who were the main writers for last year's hunt (myself and lovemathboy) live in GMT+8, so last year the hunt started at night for us and we weren't able to stay up too long to help manage the early burst of activity and deal with any errata that popped up as teams started battering away at our puzzles. Especially given our primary audience is Smogon users, we didn't expect the hunt to be completed so quickly—we were looking at a ballpark of 24 hours for the first finish, which we thought would be Dongmin Fan Club, before a bunch more seasoned puzzle hunt teams started signing up. Therefore, we didn't feel the need to cater to any timezone in particular, so we thought it would just be more convenient if we were around to deal with errata.

As it turned out, the hunt start time was indeed a problem for the seasoned users who did show up due to our underestimation of general solving speeds. We're sorry if we made any solvers choose between sleep and winning right from the start!

Feedback form 7 said:
I'm always curious as to the timeline, process, number of authors, etc. When did you start writing? What was the testsolving process, etc.
A potted history of SPH 2:
  • 9 Aug 2018: Contest theme suggested. Everyone ignores it
  • 17 Aug 2018: Contest theme brought up again. Conversation immediately swings towards the Hunger Games
  • 18 Nov 2018: Contest theme brought up again; everyone seems to like it. ALT suggests the puzzles within each category should be themed.
  • 4 Feb 2019: Round 2 feeders finalized
  • 8 Feb 2019: Round 1 feeders finalized
  • 11 Feb 2019: Meta testsolving concludes, regular puzzle answers open for reservation
  • 11 Feb 2019: First puzzle (Nostalgia) is written and sent out for testsolving!
  • 14 Feb 2019: Second puzzle (Punctuality) is written and sent out for testsolving!
  • 24 Mar 2019: Level 51 describes his naive hope that all puzzles are done by "May or June"
  • 3 Jun 2019: 17 puzzles have not been completed
  • 1 Jul 2019: 11 puzzles have not been completed
  • 12 Jul 2019: 10 puzzles have not been completed
  • 15 Jul 2019: 7 puzzles have not been completed
  • 20 Jul 2019, 8:23 AM: The last puzzle is compiled and the corresponding spoink url is made
  • 20 Jul 2019, 9:00 AM: The hunt starts!
We had 7 writers who contributed to at least one puzzle, plus another 2 users who testsolved some puzzles (though they didn't write any). I'd say a bulk of the work was shouldered by 3 members of our team, though.

The puzzle-writing process was somewhat top-down; puzzle writers would reserve puzzle answers by telling me, and then would send their puzzles to me when they were done, to be sent to whichever of the other test groups seemed most likely to be able to finish a testsolve. Since we're all friends, I didn't want to put too much pressure on people to get stuff done, especially in the early months, so everything sort of ran slowly in the background as people worked on writing and testsolving puzzles at their own pace. Unfortunately, this came back to bite us in the final few months where, as you can see above, we had to write quite a few puzzles in quite little time.

Feedback form 9 said:
How long did it take you to put this hunt together from start to finish?
Feedback form 20 said:
How long did it take you all to prepare all the puzzles and organize this hunt?
Feedback form 23 said:
How long did each aspects of this hunt take to put together? (i.e, the bot, puzzle writing, testing)
Feedback form 26 said:
How long did you planned this?
Technically about a year, but most of the work was done in the last 2 to 3 months before the hunt started. If we had actually worked hard at it we probably could have gotten it done at a comfortable pace, without inducing health hazards, in about 5 to 6 months.

Feedback form 11 said:
level 51 are you a big fan of paramore
No? I'm surprised this question isn't about Ed Sheeran instead.

Feedback form 19 said:
Who comes up with the clever double-meaning meta answers in your group, and what are some of your favorite meta answers from any hunt?
Me!! In fact, I have a list of Round 2 meta answers for this hunt that got rejected:
  • "What potentially misguided method would make sure you score highly in this contest?": VIA APPEAL TO AUTHORITY
  • "How did the cheaters hide their misdeeds all throughout the contest?": BOOKED A JUDGE FOR COVER
  • "What key piece of information do you point to, and what do you do to expose the cheater's acts?": CONTESTS FINAL RESULTS
  • "How did the cheater cause his opponents to slip up in the contest, causing the masses to favor his entry?": HE HAD WIDE-SPREAD A PEEL
  • "What's an appropriate punishment for the cheaters?": FEED THEM TO GAME SHARKS
Favorite meta answer is a toughie. I'd have to go with the 2017 Mystery Hunt meta answer for The Curious Cube, which has a really great plot setup and very clever answer (ROT13 for spoilers):
"Gur Svtugre qenjf ure fjbeq naq fzbbguyl phgf gur phor qbja gur zvqqyr, ohg jvguva frpbaqf, gur gjb erfhygvat fznyyre phorf zretr onpx vagb bar naq pbagvahr gb oybpx lbhe cngu. Gur perngher frrzf rdhnyyl vzcreivbhf gb zntvp naq gb nyy bs lbhe bgure nagv-phor fpurzrf. Guvf vf tbvat gb or n ceboyrz."
"Jung pna lbh hfr gb qrsrng gur phor?": SREZNG'F YBFG FREHZ
That was absolutely fantastic. I knew in that moment I would never be able to create a metapuzzle answer as good (I try, though!)

A close second is the 2019 Mystery Hunt April Fool's Day Town meta answer, which is (ROT13 for spoilers) "Jung vf [gur Ncevy Sbby] cynaavat arkg?": WRFG VA GUR GVZR BS AVPX.

Feedback form 19 (cont'd.) said:
Also, if someone on the creative team is capable of designing and hosting a website for this hunt, would you do it? (I *do* like how the hunt's run on a Discord server, though)
Why, is someone offering???? :D (In all seriousness, probably yes—I do find the clunkiness of running a hunt on Discord gets in the way of the solving experience sometimes, so an upgrade would be nice. Definitely sounds like a lot more work to maintain, though.)
 
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CaffeineBoost

Puzzle Hunt Champion
ED SHEERAN
ED SHEERAN:
ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN (ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN) ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN.
"ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN?" ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN. "ED SHEERAN, ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN" ED SHEERAN.
ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN. ED SHEERAN? ED. ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN.
ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN ED SHEERAN:
189161

All Ed Sheeran aside, it's been a fun ride. Our team was so efficient that they didn't leave much for me to do when I woke up, but I did something so I'll accept the banner without any guilt. Thanks to the team for arranging this, looking at the logs it seems like it was a stressful time for you so I hope the payoff has been worth it.

Thanks to all the teams that submitted the funny answers, especially grill ready for Sportswise Porn, the long awaited sequel to Porn Controller.

Here's to having two puzzle hunt experts on my team in 2020. Cheers!
(ed sheeran)
 
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Isa

I've never felt better in my life
is a Tournament Director Alumnusis a Smogon Social Media Contributor Alumnusis a Community Leader Alumnusis a Community Contributor Alumnus
Puzzle Hunt Champion
banner gang banner gang

thanks for hosting! this was very fun and the overall quality of the hunt certainly increased compared to last year. kudos.
shoutouts to aops squad and [meta] for 100% completion, next year we'll have all three podium spots.
 

Level 51

human spreadsheet
is a member of the Site Staffis an official Team Rateris a Forum Moderatoris a Community Contributoris a Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Battle Simulator Driveris a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past Smogon Snake Draft Champion
Moderator
ASK US ANYTHING! (PART 2)
Aw, no one asked any more questions. Good thing we still have a bunch from the feedback forms to go through!

Feedback form 23 said:
Any plans for Smogon Hunt 3?
Feedback form 82 said:
Are you gonna do this again next year?
We don't really have any plans yet! We're pretty tuckered out from the entire process and we do have the MUMS hunt coming up, so we're not really thinking about writing puzzles for now. I have a couple theme ideas somewhere but whether they're actually workable is a completely different matter. Additionally, a few of us are going to be significantly less free in the coming years due to life stuff, so we may not have as much time to write puzzles as we might like. If we do do this again next year, some plans I can think of are probably "expand the writing team" and "implement stricter deadlines".

Feedback form 26 said:
Is it hard to come up with a puzzle?

Generally, I'd say yes? My goal in writing puzzles is that when an experienced solver opens up a puzzle I've written, they shouldn't think "oh, this is just like ____ from ____ hunt"; I think we did pretty well with this hunt, but with more puzzles being created every year, it's also getting harder and harder to explore new ground when it comes to puzzle mechanics. I do have a fairly decent-sized list of topics that could reasonably be used as puzzle datasets, but actually coming up with a compelling puzzle that isn't just "identify, sort, index, solve" is pretty rough sometimes.

Feedback form 26 said:
For "Totally Free Puzzle", how many submitted Jojo related answer? (Dio etc.)
Only two, I think! (Though one team did submit the entire instruction string as a guess, which may or may not count.) Either no one got the joke, or most people figured the joke wasn't worth making, I guess? But it makes me happy that there are people out there who appreciated the sly (and sometimes not-so-sly) jokes we slipped into our puzzles :P

Feedback form 27 said:
How hard was it to make Totally Free Puzzle?
Feedback form 42 said:
how long did it take to design TFP?
The longest part of the process was actually trying to poke lovemathboy until he got around to writing the Pokelink. The construction of the rest of the puzzle was pretty comfortably settled within one or two nights, which is comparable to some other puzzles like Chain Letters (two nights) and Reaction Time (most of one day). It's quite a constrained construction, but not quite as difficult to put together as some might think, and there was a good deal of serendipity involved.

Feedback form 27 said:
Which puzzle did most teams struggle the most with?
Feedback form 49 said:
Is there a puzzle you expected to be fairly easy but people had difficulty with? And vice-versa?
Right out the gates I'd say Totally Free Puzzle was the hardest puzzle in this hunt, and the one most teams had a tough time solving—its Pokemon-heavy focus didn't exactly play into the strengths of most of the more experienced solving teams, while its later sections required a good amount of very typically puzzle hunt-y intuition (e.g. writing strings into Pokelink paths; interpreting OSAREGAPS) which made it a little out-of-reach for most Smogon-based teams. It was a pretty monstrous puzzle and absolutely the hardest one, though I still think it was really cool (and not all that poorly-designed, as the "least favorite puzzles" stat might suggest).

Difficulty is a pretty slippery concept to pin down in puzzle hunts, especially during the writing / testsolving process, where the writing team's own biases tend to sway our judgment on puzzle difficulty and placements. For example, Hyperlinks flew through testsolving fairly freely, and we thought it was really going to be one of the easier puzzles in the hunt, but this was likely because "descriptions of one-letter-off items from a set" is a pretty common and standard puzzle type to us, but not to many of the Smogon teams in the hunt.

On the other hand, there were a few puzzles which fell a bit more easily than we expected: I thought Scramble for the Stars might trip up some teams which hadn't encountered the "mangled clues" archetype before, but most teams got through it fine, it seems—just 23 hints were requested on it, and I imagine a few of those were refunded too. Upgrades was another puzzle which wound up more intuitive than we thought for the better, thankfully)—our testsolvers stumbled a bit on the "stepping" and indexing steps, so it was a relief to see most teams get them fairly naturally. (We attribute this to our enhanced flavor text.)

Feedback form 39 said:
who realized that there were 26 women in the girls like you music video. that is purely genius.
...and it would have been perfect, if it wasn't for Cardi B ruining everything! (I noticed this like last August; I'd been holding this idea in my puzzleideas.txt file for almost a year and this hunt seemed like a perfect time to pull it out.)


===

Wow, that took longer than I thought it should have :P If your question hasn't been answered yet, fret not! We're hoping to go through a few of these every day, in order, until we get through all the submitted questions. See you tomorrow!
 
From the game designers behind famous puzzle game BABA IS YOU comes another game destined to be a classic...
BAKA IS ME​
Join forces with The Ed Sheeran in this action-packed puzzling adventure as you pilot your Aries starship through the wilds of an unknown Discord server! Available for Nintendo Wii U and PS4.
 

Level 51

human spreadsheet
is a member of the Site Staffis an official Team Rateris a Forum Moderatoris a Community Contributoris a Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Battle Simulator Driveris a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past Smogon Snake Draft Champion
Moderator
ASK US ANYTHING! (PART 3)
Picking up where we left off yesterday!

Feedback form 27 said:
Which puzzle are you the most proud of?
talkingtree: Even with only about 24 hours to go, due to some unforeseen circumstances we still had to ideate and write Scenic Route. Level 51 and I threw around a few ideas, but the best one we'd had was extremely prone to red herrings and would be difficult to fine-tune in our time constraint. With maybe 10 hours until the start of the hunt, we settled on the final version, but it was late at night for Level 51 so he had to go sleep soon after. We settled on the style together by each writing up a couple movies and used an extraction method similar to a previous version of the puzzle, and then I finished writing it up while he rested and prepared for the hunt start.

We had very minimal time to write this, so we knew there wouldn't be any time for testsolving. This presented a bit of a dilemma since we knew it'd be a 4th-tier puzzle in Round 2, so it couldn't be overly easy, but the main worry was making a puzzle that wasn't realistically solvable. Considering the time constraints, I think we did a pretty good job of balancing the puzzle and adding enough steps to make it interesting, yet fair, and worthy of being in Round 2. I'm pretty proud of the result; it might not have earned any "Favorite Puzzle" votes, but it was still generally received well.

Level 51: Oh boy, writing Scenic Route was a trip and a half. Overall, though, I'd have to go with Triple Crossed—I was particularly proud of how it turned out since it was a pretty ambitious idea to begin with, and it turned out really smooth in the end, with a bunch of really gorgeous patterns built into the puzzle to boot! It was really fulfilling seeing everything work out and having everything fit together so beautifully.

lovemathboy is asleep but I'm going to take a guess that he's (deservedly) very proud of Regional Tours. Check out his Author's Notes for more of his thoughts about the puzzle :D

Feedback form 44 said:
Do any of your personal tastes make it into the puzzle? Like when you use songs, books, and other media as part of the puzzle. Or do you mainly go for titles that are convenient to use?
In the interests of fairness, and as long as we have a choice, we mainly go for things we think the average solver is more likely to be familiar with or recognize, since it's far more fun to identify things you're familiar with than to be forced to do extensive Google research in order to identify each one. You might have noticed some of the songs in Musical Expression being on the uncommon side; that's what happens when we run out of options⁠—there are only so many albums titled "2". (I'll point out that we did do our best, despite the limitations to choose what we thought might be the most accessible albums possible!)

Feedback form 78 said:
no qn but y'all have good music taste XD
Thanks! Though most solvers seemed to disagree >_>.

Feedback form 49 said:
Which puzzle was the longest to create, and which was the toughest?
Level 51: I can only speak for the puzzles I wrote, but Crossed Crosses actually took a while—I think it was the longest or second-longest in terms of actual construction time. (Standard Form also technically took a few months to write, but that was mostly spent smoothing out the grids, which isn't as exciting to talk about.) The cryptic grids were basically completely unconstrained except for the 12 overlapping letters between the two grids, but I still managed to have some trouble with it as I tried to include only common or easily solvable words (the one notable exception being ELASTIN, which I made up for with a easy clue and a very straightforward and specific definition). The clues themselves were written over the span of 3 or 4 days; about a third of them were written on my first pass, and the rest slowly fell over a few days. I'd take a few words at a time and think about them while I went around my daily life and errands, trying to break them up and figure out smooth surfaces. It's a pretty effective method, but thinking about cryptic clues for what essentially amounted to like 6 hours a day was pretty draining.

Also, I didn't personally write it, but judging from lmb's description of it, I feel like Regional Tours probably beats out all of my puzzles in terms of writing complexity and overall toughness. He wrote a pretty account of it in his Author's Notes regarding what kinds of chimeras are easy and not-easy to write, so check it out if you have some time!

Feedback form 49 said:
I assume it must be hard to watch people struggle on things that are sometimes right in front of them. What was the most painful thing you had to sit through during the puzzle hunt?
After last year's hunt I made a concerted effort to try to detach myself from the teams more and not get upset by people losing the plot. The only time I recall feeling genuine frustration was when Decrypting Deoxys got the extraction correct on Upgrades, but missed APRIL → MAY and had GOLD → LEAD instead of PLATINUM → LEAD, so they extracted IADLE GROUND instead of MIDDLE GROUND. Instead of re-checking their work, they decided to try to re-arrange their letters, and so spent the next two hours randomly anagramming into everything from IDEAL GROUND to LOUD READING to OLEG DUDARIN. Almost eight and a half hours later, someone finally decided to check if they missed any upgrades, and found the missing upgrade on literally the first clue of the grid.

Feedback form 49 said:
What is your obsession with Ed Sheeran?
I maintain my stance that anyone who names their albums after mathematical symbols is practically begging to be the centerpiece of a hunt puzzle.

Feedback form 80 said:
Are there any tips on solving puzzles quicker, or any resources that may be available for certain types of puzzles?
  • Practice!! Exposing yourself to a wide variety of puzzles really helps because you get a better feel for what puzzle writers tend to do or tend not to do.
  • Working in Google Sheets is really good and conducive for teamwork, since everything's just in one place that everyone can see and work on together (personal preference for small hunts is a single sheet, one or more tab(s) per puzzle, fronted by one overview tab). I personally prefer Sheets to standard Google Docs since you can basically arrange the data however you want, which is great for when you just kinda want to stare at the data and maybe jiggle it around and sort it in one of 14 different ways in case one of them is correct.
  • Writing puzzles and getting into the mindset of a writer can also help, because you gain more intuition about what kind of stuff is (generally) a viable or unviable path in a puzzle. I say generally because now and then some magician of a writer will produce an absolutely stunning puzzle which is so ridiculously constrained you can't see how they got it to work, but they did. Somehow.
And a couple of resources:
  • The holy trinity of dictionary searches: Nutrimatic (nutrimatic.org), OneLook (onelook.com) and Qat (quinapalus.com/cgi-bin/qat). They really help with stuff like crosswords especially, but they're good for wordplay puzzles in general, and for filling in final answerphrases quicker (For example: Suppose you solve grids 2 to 5 in Craftsmanship, leading to ?TARO???????. Searching .taro....... on Nutrimatic serves up some great suggestions for the final answer pretty readily!)
  • Have You Tried? is probably a little outdated (when was the last time a puzzle employed Palm graffiti?) but it contains a lot of solid suggestions and is great for learning about what kinds of stuff pop up often in puzzles.
===

I'm hoping to clear up the rest of the questions from the feedback form tomorrow, which will primarily focus on writing puzzles, as well as some of our favorite puzzles (in this hunt and beyond)! See you tomorrow :D
 
I loved this hunt, despite what my feedback form may or may not have said we really did enjoy the beauty round! Thank you all for sacrificing your health so we could sacrifice ours through this super cool experience.

If you guys could run this hunt again, what would you do differently?
How do you compile the crosswords after having made the grid?
Why wasn’t patriot a feeder answer?
If Ed Sheeran and Level51 had a baby, which team would it hunt on?
Are there plans to write another short hunt for WGO? If so, would it follow the same system as last year?
 

Level 51

human spreadsheet
is a member of the Site Staffis an official Team Rateris a Forum Moderatoris a Community Contributoris a Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Battle Simulator Driveris a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past Smogon Snake Draft Champion
Moderator
ASK US ANYTHING! (PART 4)
Warning
: quite a few regular puzzle spoilers in this post!

Feedback form 31 said:
What were some of your guys' favorite puzzles, and what were your inspirations for them?
Feedback form 42 said:
what was your favorite puzzle to design?
Feedback form 67 said:
What were each of your favourite puzzles to create and testsolve?
Feedback form 69 said:
What is the staff's general opinion on:
The best puzzle in the hunt:
The worst puzzle in the hunt:
Most fun puzzle to solve:
Most fun puzzle to create:
Most difficult puzzle:
Best puzzle / Favorite puzzle in the hunt
Level 51: Probably Triple Crossed for best puzzle, it has a pretty smooth transition from words to logic and back to words that I just find really compelling, and the grids and the final extraction pattern are also really really good-looking. (I also think the flavor is fantastic.) For favorite puzzles, Chain Letters is pretty high up there despite being easy, since it just felt really neat and compact by the end, and has I think a nice variety of steps. Also, Crossed Crosses!!!!! crypticssssafnjkgwengjn

lovemathboy: I also loved Triple Crossed, don’t have much to say about it except it's a cool puzzle!!!

talkingtree: Triple Crossed combines many of my favorite things: crossword-style clues, logic puzzles, and neatly resolving numbers. Testsolving this was one of the best parts of planning for me.

Worst puzzle
The general consensus: probably Standard Form—the actual extraction step is mildly interesting, but getting there is poorly hinted; the flag clues are somewhat ambiguous, particularly the "in the UK" clue, which many teams paired with other clues, and even with AROUND BIGRAMS and SEMAPHORES gotten, it's often hard to see exactly what to look for.

Fun to solve
Level 51: Like, in terms of testsolving or our perceived view of solving the puzzles? I think Reaction Time is probably one of the most fun puzzles in this hunt, mostly because the final step has a really nice pop to it. I didn't really testsolve many puzzles (mostly because I ended up writing most of them), but I did get to testsolve all the puzzles in Regional Tours, which I enjoyed a lot!

talkingtree: Among the ones I testsolved, Scramble for the Stars. I think that Punctuality and Reaction Time are up there in terms of being fun to solve for solvers!

Fun to create
Level 51: Spending a couple of days messing around with cryptic clues and wordplay breakdowns for Crossed Crosses was tiring but fun and sort of fulfilling (in a weird way, maybe)... I just sort of like cryptics in general, I guess, so this one was fun for me. I also enjoyed writing the metapuzzles; I like writing metas in general because seeing everything fit together nicely (and making up dumb puns) is very satisfying for me.

lovemathboy: The Nuribaka for The New Wave and screwing around with Puzzlescript for Laser Sokoban. Turns out I like trolling solvers :thinking:

talkingtree: The New Wave! I also think Scenic Route could have been here without the time crunch pressure, but otherwise I don't think any other puzzles I worked on belong here lmao

Most difficult
When I asked this in the server, no one answered because everyone knows it's Totally Free Puzzle.

Feedback form 81 said:
What are your favorite puzzles of all time (whether written by you or somebody else)?
Level 51: Unsafe from Galactic Puzzle Hunt 2019 is probably my favorite! I think it strikes the right balance between two of the main features of most text adventure-format puzzles⁠—optimization and exploration⁠—without really leaning too heavily on either, so it ends up being just very fun in general. I think this puzzle was the most fun I've had solving a single puzzle ever. Honorable mentions: Mark Halpin's 2018 Labor Day Extravaganza just for the sheer ridiculousness of the construction (I'm still not sure how this puzzle manages to physically exist) and Let's Play Minecraft from UVPC just because it's hilarious and still manages to be an interesting puzzle despite its seemingly simplistic appearance.

talkingtree: I've only really done GPH outside of our own hunt, so...
- from GPH2019: Ministry of Word Searches, 50/50, and Race for the Galaxy
- from GPH2018: Anagram Solver and Now Get Ready For...

lovemathboy: Adventure from GPH18. The programmer in me just loves this puzzle, doing the task presented in an effectively new “coding language” was definitely way too hard for the average puzzler, however, I really loved the aha moment when I finally saw the solution. The solution might look long and messy to some, but the idea behind it is really neat!

Feedback form 65 said:
What are some tips you would give on MAKING puzzles?
Feedback form 80 said:
How do you create a good puzzle hunt?
Wow this is suddenly a relevant question to me. There's a few things that are on my mind regarding making puzzles, so I guess I'll just write about them here. Since I myself am a fairly new constructor, you may wish to take what I say with a pinch of salt. These are general guidelines I follow when it comes to making puzzles, so if you thought my puzzles were good then I guess these are good guidelines too.

Keep puzzles relatively light on busywork / tedium. It's not really fun when solvers have to wade through, say, transcribing hundreds of data points, or identifying dozens of celebrity photos, just to get to the first interesting step. Admittedly, this hunt did mis-step on this a few times (Counterattack springs to mind), but I thought it was an important point to bring up. Even if the tedious step is interesting to you, as a writer, the solver doesn't necessarily share the same interests as you.

Don't mix up logical leaps and puzzle difficulty. Often, the fun of puzzle hunts comes from overcoming a challenge and arriving at the solution, but this only feels nice if the solution is clean and well-signposted⁠—that is, the solver should be able to find the steps to get to the answer independently (or with built-in guidelines), and know that it is the correct answer once they've found it. Making a puzzle too straightforward might underwhelm the solver or bore them, but adding unnecessary twists and turns will confuse and frustrate them, which is arguably worse. (This is also why unclued anagrams are awful; if a solver extracts out a bunch of gibberish and can't find any mistake in their working, they'll assume that they extracted incorrectly and move on.)

Make testsolving a priority. Testsolvers are so, so important, because often the author will be absurdly comfortable with their own datasets and puzzle structures and will sort of take this familiarity for granted, because they know their way around their own puzzle; testsolvers can help you find the awkward logical leaps that you can patch up with flavor or with a more explicit construction.

These guidelines focus more on actual puzzle structure and design. In terms of content:

Feedback form 82 said:
What was your design process for many of the puzzles? A lot of them had interesting ideas and I'm wondering if there was a specific way you came up with those ideas.
Thinking about my puzzle-writing methods a bit, I generally latch on to a starting point that I find interesting and then go from there.

A starting point can be an observation about a dataset, like in Musical Expression ("Hey, all of Ed Sheeran's albums are operators. That sounds puzzle-like.") or Tweets About Jane ("Hey, there's 26 cameos in this video. That sounds puzzle-like.") I'll discuss the latter; since I had the extraction mechanic down from the start, I began to work backwards through the puzzle. I figured that I wanted to use an identification mechanic which really tried to put forth the "Girls Like You" concept, to keep it thematic, and eventually settled on this idea. (I was pretty happy about it, too.)

The somewhat-thematic answer of TARA STRONG just happened to exist, too, which was a nice coincidence and a suitable thematic answer. (Sorry for the ambiguity, by the way—it was quite hard narrowing down a character voiced only by Tara Strong, and I really thought I had it since Googling "Voice of Unikitty" gives just her.)

Most puzzles, though, start from a mechanic, especially those that aren't really data-heavy (read: most of the puzzles in this hunt). For example, Perspectives was born from a passing interest in liar-logic puzzles, which I thought would be cool as a simpler puzzle. However, I lacked the ability to construct one interestingly, since logic puzzles aren't exactly my strong suit, and I didn't know how I could come up with a reasonably interesting extraction from a pure liar-logic puzzle that wasn't just binary or ternary or something. I jotted down the idea in my "puzzle ideas" file as "Knights and knaves but it's somehow word-based", and proceeded to forget about it for a few months until, close to SPH, I needed a substitute puzzle to fill in a gap that had recently opened. The first draft featured the word ANSWER as a way to orient who was a liar and who wasn't, but I figured that was a little dry. The key idea, "what if everyone's telling the truth?", came a little while later.

It'd be amiss to downplay the degree to which other puzzles can act as inspiration for one's own puzzles. As a couple of examples, Crossed Crosses was inspired by Mystery Hunt 2017's Stackuro, while Scramble for the Stars was a result of enjoying mangled clues. Of course, it's important to put one's own spin on puzzles; in the above examples, Crossed Crosses took the idea and applied it to a significantly different medium, transferring the emphasis away from the actual numbers and merely using it as a shell to spice up a cryptic crossword a little. Scramble for the Stars presented itself as a simple set of mangled clues, but took it a little further, turning the extraction into a two-dimensional affair.

Finally, the answer itself can also be a great source of inspiration for puzzle-writing. Quite a few of the puzzles in this year's SPH were inspired by their answers, such as Punctuality (FALSUM), Crossed Crosses (CELL DIVISION), or Scenic Route (JURASSIC WORLD); a number also had their themes influenced by their answers, like Let's Explore The World!, which could have been set anywhere but drew on its answer (OLYMPIC ANTHEM) to theme the set of locations.

Essentially, I think a key part of coming up with puzzle ideas is just looking at things and seeing how you can turn them into a puzzle. In summary:
  • Every dataset can be a puzzle if you try hard enough (if you have to try too hard, though, it probably won't be a good puzzle.)
  • Think of a cool idea? Write it down somewhere so you don't lose it!
  • "Aha" moments are as important in construction as in solving; mull over your puzzle, turn it sideways and upside-down, and see what feels good
  • Use answers as inspiration for puzzles!
Hm. I may have gone a little off-track on writing this answer, so if there's any particular puzzle you're interested in hearing more about the inspiration for, do feel free to ask here or just drop me a Discord DM; I'm always happy to chat about puzzles! :D

Feedback form 82 said:
Did you come up with the meta puzzles first, then the feeder puzzles, vice versa, or both simultaneously?
Some of our feeder puzzle ideas were definitely on our minds before the metapuzzles (and thus the feeder answers) were finalized, so in that sense we already knew what we wanted to write; however, you kind of have to write the metapuzzle first before the feeder puzzles are fully written, since the metapuzzle constrains what answers you can use for your feeder puzzle. It's way harder to stare at a bunch of feeder puzzles and try to figure out what they have in common (and will often lead to a fragmented, nonsensical, or dry meta).

If you guys could run this hunt again, what would you do differently?
I think I speak for all of us when I say: start setting deadlines more seriously earlier on in the hunt, and treating timelines more seriously. Essentially, spread out the work so we didn't have to kill ourselves in the last month or so getting everything ready.

(Also, move Totally Free Puzzle to TG-4.)

How do you compile the crosswords after having made the grid?
I use the free compiler Qxw (I think it might be limited to Windows, but idk). It does pretty much everything you'd need a crossword compiler to do. (It has so many functions that the user manual is 1.3MB.)

Why wasn’t patriot a feeder answer?
Name one interesting thing about the word PATRIOT. (Okay, I guess it has TRIO as a substring, so it could be used in a hidden-number-related-word meta, which does open up a number of doors... *frantic scribbling*)

If Ed Sheeran and Level51 had a baby, which team would it hunt on?
The Edplant Parms, of course!

Are there plans to write another short hunt for WGO? If so, would it follow the same system as last year?
We haven't made any plans about this yet, but I'd say it's "likely to happen". The system (Discord server + answer submission via PS) worked fine last year and it'll probably be the same? Like I said, we haven't thought about this much.

===

Sorry for the delays on this last part of the AMA! (There's some excuses for it, but none particularly worth writing down here.) I hope you found some of these answers interesting, and I look forward to maybe seeing some of you around in other puzzle hunts and around the puzzle hunt community :) Thank you to everyone for sharing this wild ride with us!

Love,
The SPH writing team
 

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