2014: Tempus Retexit
The 2014 midwinter puzzle hunt was somewhat thrown-together -- owing to a very short solstice visit, I didn't really have the design or construction time of previous hunts. (Though, looking at the 2013 description, I guess there's never enough time.)
This hunt is about time flowing backwards. The theme was clued by the answer to a pre-hunt puzzle, which I gave to Mike and Yomei to solve on their flight:
(Or, well, it is somewhat clued; my latin is incredibly rusty.)
On the day of the hunt (the day before solstice, actually), at precisely 12:30 or so, Mike, Yomei, and Kathleen gathered for the introduction to the hunt...
The puzzle hunt team is welcomed to the hunt by a strange man.
"So good of you to come. I assure you it will be a great hunt. Now if you'd just ste--"
[The world shifts slightly. Everyone is in a different room. One of the puzzle hunters is now holding an empty mug with an herbal tea bag in it.]
"--ontradulations on making to the end of the hunt! Unfortunately, I can't let you look at the meta puzzle yet because you've been far too slow -- it's well past 5pm already."
(The team expresses surprise and disappointment.)
"Well, there is a solution."
"Can you remember the last four-and-a-half hours?"
(The team cannot.)
"Fantastic. Just as I'd hoped. This is the retexit device. It rolls back time, and pre-erases any memories of the time it is about to be reversed."
"There's one wrinkle, however -- you'll need to retrace your footsteps properly or the device will fail. And may cause permanent... damage."
With this, the team had their mission: figure out the solutions to five puzzles arrayed on the first floor of the house, as well as their temporal order.
Actually, as presented during the hunt, this puzzle was slightly buggy. The version here has -- as far as I know -- been fixed.
This puzzle consisted of eight small speaker-integrated MP3 players, each playing a different short (reversed) audio clip, and a mysterious paper with colored squares:
As an audio environment, it was pretty darn cool to walk through:
(Here are the drive contents, named by color. The white and black keys were in silver mp3 players; the others were in blue players.)
I think this was probably the most satisfying puzzle in the hunt just to walk through. I'm also amazed that one can get an mp3 player with integrated battery and speaker for ~$14 (including USB media).
Unfortunately, this puzzle also contained a small error as presented to Mike et al. I have fixed the error in the files linked above.
This was a laptop running a simple login screen, which you can play by clicking the image below. (Two notes: looking at the source code for this one is considered cheating; also, this might not work in non-chrome browsers.)
Ricochet Robots Puzzle
The use of "LACE" in this puzzle was a reference to a KGB puzzle hunt that I really enjoyed, for which one clue was to "Ask Ace about Lace."
This one traded heavily on backwards time making things more complicated (specifically, the puzzle needed to be "unsolved" before the team could travel backward in time). A sheet of paper held five petri dishes, four empty, and one containing a mix of the contents of the other four.
This puzzle was suggested by Lea; it's a great fit for a backwards-time-themed hunt.
Ordering the Puzzles
In order to run time backwards, the team had to retrace their steps through the puzzles, using evidence on the puzzle sheets themselves:
Not all evidence is pictured above. Here's a summary:
- Legos: black tea stains, orange peel
- Sound: herbal tea stains
- Login: Lipton black tea bag wrapper
- Robots: black and herbal tea stains; herbal tea bag wrapper.
- Science: black tea stain, orange slices
Making this puzzle, I realized it's actually pretty hard to get tea stains on things.
The Final Puzzle
Once time had been rolled backwards, the team (very quickly, as you might expect) solved all the puzzles and arrived at the final puzzle: a box closed with a combination lock, with a mysterious note taped to the front:
Continuing the unfortunate theme of this year, this puzzle has a spelling error in the solution, which I haven't corrected above.
After solving this puzzle, and a quick search through the house, the intrepid puzzle team had a note that said "Black-McKellar Bill Signed Into Law", which they used to open the combination lock on the box.
Inside the box were two UV flashlights and a note saying to "start where the treehouse was". So the puzzle team ventured out into the (now dark) forest:
What they found was several strings of UV-reactive beads hanging from trees, which they decided to place in a certain order:
They didn't actually find all the beads (and they broke one string that they did find), but were still able to solve the puzzle.
After a bit more decoding work (which, excellently, involved my father's old radio training), the team dashed off to a book shelf to look behind the dictionary:
There were several packages there, which contained snap-together kits (one of my current research projects) -- which everyone seemed to have fun putting together while munching on solstice-eve snacks.