I woke up at 7 this morning (after three and a half hours of sleep) to shower, get dressed, pick up Annelise and Josiah and lots of assorted things at 8, and set up and run the 2012 Berkeley Mystery Hunt for the rest of the day.
Participants started showing up around 09:30. Annelise checked off which teams arrived and gave them their t-shirts. Special thanks go out to Intel for sponsoring the event, which allowed us to hand out over 150 t-shirts. Steven Herbst was there with one of the teams! He and I debugged Verilog for the Happy Boards for MIT's 6.270 back in January 2010. I hadn't seen him since then, but he works out in the Bay Area.
The kickoff went swimmingly. Some teams had a little trouble logging in to the website; next year I'll want to be able to have teams test their logins in advance without gaining access to the whole hunt.
It was fun to watch the team solves go up on our leaderboard.
I wound up spending most of the day trying to keep the website from catching fire. It was a true test of on-demand bugfixing - the hunt was live, and every time I got emailed an exception, that meant that someone on one of the teams was hitting a bona fide website bug. In the morning, I knew I had a bit over 2 hours after kickoff to implement the hint-earning event pages. There were a bunch of things that we changed in the last week (after our playtest) that didn't get properly QA'd before today. We made 24 commits that day, some of which were features being implemented just before they were needed, some of which were load shedding by adjusting refresh times, and some of which were somewhat serious bugfixes.
Pizza for everyone (~170 players, ~7 organizers) arrived on schedule in two batches at 1pm and 2pm respectively (again, thanks Intel for the sponsorship!). Teams were a bit behind in the hunt at this point, so we nudged them all along so they could get to the more interesting puzzles (and we could get all the people we had out and about back to HQ and fed).
As I noted before, I spent most of my time at HQ - it's very helpful to have someone who's intimately familiar with all the puzzles helping out with the answer queue, so you know when to give comments like "Check your work." and "Keep going." to teams that have either made a small recoverable mistake or are on the right track but need to keep working.
The site remained fairly healthy over the course of the hunt. A couple of teams wound up doing partial bruteforcing on one of the puzzles. When one team started submitting all possible bigrams, we called them on the phone and told them to knock it off. In their defense, we had sorta taught them to bruteforce with an earlier puzzle, and we never exactly mentioned that all the submissions were being graded by hand. In fact, another team submitted a guess of "DOESSOMEONEREADTHISORISITAUTOMATED"
I got to lead an interactive puzzle which was pretty fun. The looks on people's faces when they finally figured the puzzle out was fantastic. Even better were some of the guesses that I got to see after the event ended.
The coin was found by Perspicacity (the team formerly known as PhDestroy (aka my team from last year)) at 19:55. Three more teams completed the endgame before we shut HQ down at 21:45, which was great. Probably three more teams would have started the endgame if they'd had another hour. And we had seen continued submissions from basically all the teams throughout, which suggested that they all remained engaged over the course of the day.
Evaluating a hunt's success or failure is a nuanced task - it really comes down to whether people are having fun or not. Solvers seek a challenge, but not an impossible one. From what the people who hung around all the way until our 22:00 wrapup told us, everyone had a blast.
At some point, I intend to generate some pretty graphs of who solved what puzzles when, and some other pictures that illuminate the overall shape of the hunt. We're also going to send out a survey to get more detailed feedback on the hunt - which puzzles people liked, which ones they didn't, how hard/easy they found puzzles, and any other comments or suggestions they may have. I'll call it a win if no one complains about the website being broken in various ways. It's also still a win if that's the big thing they have to complain about - it means that we did a great job with the rest of the hunt.
We're planning to rerun the hunt for a wider audience some time in late June or July (which is why I've again been pretty vague with puzzle specifics). We're also thinking about ideas for how we can make the rerun work well for both local and remote hunters, as well as hunters of different experience levels.
I have lots of thoughts on how I could design better software for producing the hunt and running the hunt. Which, as I discovered over the course of the past couple months, have very different requirements!
I guess I can mark another item off my bucket list now. :)