The Zotmeister - May 2nd, 2012

solving the puzzle of life one entry at a time

May. 2nd, 2012

04:27 pm - Puzzles 61-7: Seeking Syren^WScotchy

See Puzzle 14 for instructions; you can ignore the little gray letters. That will get you through the first six, anyhow; Puzzle 67 is "some assembly required". Permit me to explain.

For all of my puzzle followers that are not familiar with the MIT Mystery Hunt, here's a brief rundown for the both of you: Every year since 1981, during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (which coincides with their Independent Activity Period), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been the home of a puzzle competition, which over the years has grown into the largest gathering of its kind. Dozens of teams with dozens of members stay up all night solving puzzles and metapuzzles in their quest for "the coin", with the prize being the honor - and heavy responsibility - of running the Hunt (and making all the puzzles for it) the following year.

Although I'd known about the Hunt for some time, it wasn't until 2009 that I actually got around to attending. As a member of the very appropriately named team Beginner's Luck, I found myself up at 3 AM Monday - after having trudged through snow and corridors for hours - when we located the Covertly Operational Inversion Node (or C.O.I.N.) and won. I created two "puzzles" for the 2010 Hunt; the seven grids below all constitute just one "puzzle" in Hunt terms. (I also created one "subpuzzle" for another's "puzzle". I'll stop putting that word in quotes now.) The graphics for the puzzles are the exact same ones originally used for the Hunt.

All Hunt puzzles reduce to a single solution phrase - often a single word - to be determined by following some manner of uncovered logic. I say "uncovered" as instructions are usually intentionally lacking, typically only alluded to by titles or flavortext, leaving solvers to try to find some internal consistency or pattern to follow in order to "extract" the final answer. You've probably noticed if you've peeked below that the first six grids all have peculiar titles; the seventh has a title as well, but you'll have to solve it first to learn it. That is the solution phrase for the entire puzzle, the one word all this reduces to. (Incidentally, this puzzle was made around - and inspired by - that answer word; in creating a Hunt metapuzzle, certain phrases are called for to be answers to puzzles, and this particular word is one of great significance to Zotanna, which is why I jumped at the chance to make its puzzle.)

Now I know what you purists are thinking: "I'm here for true DEDUCTIVE LOGIC, and I can't have that if I can't have RULES! I don't even know you anymore!!". You can relax: despite my apparent redefining of 'puzzle' in that last paragraph, I'm not changing the style of my journal puzzles one bit. This is still seven puzzles to me, which is why I've numbered them as such and am presenting them the way I am. I've felt for some time that these are fantastic little grids that deserve to be considered independently, and so here they are. However, I also find a certain beauty in the reveal of putting it all together to make that last grid, so I compromised with myself: I'll post the puzzles all at once as a heptaptych, and leave the final puzzle disassembled at first, letting those who are interested try to piece it together. Over the next few days, I'll add hints in the comments for those who want to put it together but are struggling; within the week a full set of instructions will be given, and lastly a week from today I'll put up the fully assembled Puzzle 67 without the answer-extraction bits so that both camps can appreciate the puzzles for what they are. I will likely only be doing this sort of thing again if my team wins the Hunt again.

So let's get to it, shall we? The rules are unchanged, but for thematic purposes (and for the final puzzle) I need to point out that instead of seeking Syren in these first six, you're seeking spirits - that is, bottles of alcohol (I'll explain later) - and the given title of each of these grids is the name of the spirit hiding within.

Puzzle 61

I made this first one with the fact that it'd be the very first Seeking Syren most of its solvers will have done in mind as I was making it; I kept it very simple and tried to make it as interesting an introduction as possible by squeezing in as many nodes as possible.

Puzzle 62

This one is actually my favorite of the bunch. I felt it important to show off a key nuance of the rules early on, while the grids were still on the easier side; this is probably the greatest "S-reveal" that can possibly be made. You'll see what I mean.

Puzzle 63

It was around here that I decided I'd try to make each of the six lead-in puzzles two-color, using each of the possible combinations once. I also figured this was the right place to put the requisite "backwards" puzzle, especially given the nature of the preceding one. There needed to be at least one of these to drive home the importance of actually solving these completely rather than just finding the spirit and moving on.

Puzzle 64

Things start to get technical around here. The constraints I had to adhere to forced some things about the nature of the later grids, which naturally led to harder puzzles as I needed to use more tricky techniques to get them to work. Figuring out the logic of the "islands" starts to become a greater driving factor here.

Puzzle 65

If I recall correctly, this one was actually the last of these initial six I made, but I felt it was the easier of the two, so I presented it first. This is probably the most Nurikabe-like puzzle here.

Puzzle 66

It had to get truly difficult sometime.

Puzzle 67

And so we arrive at the final grid...

...which obviously has seen better days. What happened to the node count? For that matter, what happened to the givens?! And not only is the 'S' showing, but it's freaking PURPLE! Well, when you're an alcoholic starship engineer that gets drunk, passes out, and then needs to appear in a Mystery Hunt puzzle, this is apparently the result. Who knew.

Scotchy was but one crew member of the Brass Rat that successfully escaped from Zyzzlvaria during the events of the 2009 Hunt, and the 2010 Hunt paid homage to some past Hunts, that one included - which entailed giving each crew member another puzzle. Upon blacking out whilst celebrating the previous year's escape, Scotchy dreamt e found emself in a parody of my old Sanctum Puzzler contests (which I've mentioned before [Detritus - please excuse the broken image link in that entry, that's Cox's fault]). Es envisioned conversation with our classic protagonist went thusly:

     Lady Lyght apparently isn't here. Perhaps I should return to my Sanct- ...What in my father's name...

    Stupid transporter malfunction! Captain, are you okay? Look at all this mist everywhe- wait, you're not Captain Blastoid! Who are you, where are we, and where's the rest of my crew?

     Uh... you may call me Lady Terran, we are on an astral plane, and 'not here' is the best I can do for that last one.

    A plane? I don't see the controls anywhere...

     ...It's not the kind that flies. This is a magical dimension, not a physical location - and it would seem your presence has corrupted it. Has your spirit been traumatized recently?

    I just got BACK from being stranded - this is far too sobering for me... wait, where's my booze? I've lost it all! NOOOOOOOO!

     ...Ah! That explains it - it's your spirits that have gone astray! They must be on parallel planes interlaced with this one... Indeed! I can sense them. Six bottles, yes? Give me a moment and I'll recover them for you.

    Thank you! I'm not sure how I could repay you...

     Oh, no need. There is knowledge to be had from any journey, even errands such as this; that is sufficient reward for myself. I warn you, do not move from there until I've repaired the plane - trust me, you wouldn't want to wander into a deadly cloud of ambiguity. Once I'm done, I should be able to reveal the safe way across to me here, and in following it you will attain what you seek.

    Thank you very much - will do. But please hurry - I must be hallucinating from withdrawal, as I swear we're talking in colors...

Contained within that purposefully garish text lies all the information needed to reassemble Puzzle 67 - you just have to think about it the right way - and solving it will reveal its title. Fair warning: this sucker is TOUGH!

One last bit of business needed to be carried out: since I made a Sanctum Puzzler, I had to award a Puzzling Otato, traditionally given to the most curious response the puzzle generated. I was going to offer it to the first person that got the reference at the Hunt, but no one did, so I decided to give it to Mike Selinker, who sort of inspired me to make a latter-day Sanctum Puzzler in the first place (and to be fair wasn't at the Hunt that year, so wouldn't have had the chance otherwise). Long story short - ambiguity intended - e asked for it. The game of Sanctum may be gone now, and who knows if it will ever return, but the memories shall remain.... - ZM

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