Death and Mayhem wins Mystery Hunt

Ninety-seven teams competed in Dungeons and Dragons-themed Hunt

MIT’s annual Mystery Hunt, a puzzle-solving competition, took place over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. Ninety-seven registered teams competed to solve puzzles in order to find a coin hidden on campus.

Mystery Hunt is designed and run by the previous year’s winning team so that no team may win two consecutive years in a row. The team “Setec Astronomy” took charge of this year’s hunt and titled it “Monsters et Manus.”

The hunt followed the general theme of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. An evil being named Mystereos Cantos, an anagram of Setec Astronomy, possessed the Dungeon Master, imprisoning the players in the game.

The hunt could be completed without solving every single puzzle, which allowed both large and small teams to succeed. Puzzles were released in rounds, allowing teams who had not completed enough puzzles to progress and to still see and attempt most of the puzzles in the hunt.

Metapuzzles (metas) were divided into character, quest, and item categories. Solutions to individual puzzles in a round provided the components to solve the metapuzzle. The solution to a metapuzzle was in the form of a phrase. Once a team solved enough puzzles to figure out the solution to the metapuzzle, the team could unlock new puzzles or gain rewards.

Setec Astronomy designed 14 metas. Typically, puzzles and metas cover a broad range of topics but often include themes of MIT culture and history. This year’s metas required knowledge of chemistry, Shakespeare, and musical modes, among other things.

For example, the solutions to the individual puzzles in the Despondent Dynast metapuzzle were words whose letters could be arranged into winning hands, sans one letter, of the Chinese game Mahjong. The missing letters spelled out the solution, “Find a fourth.”

Because teams varied in size from nearly 200 to less than 10, with an average size of 30, the design team needed to write puzzles accessible and enjoyable to all teams. Setec Astronomy emphasized writing solvable puzzles, with average solve times ranging from 32 seconds for the puzzle “Fruitless” to 21 hours for “Tree Solve.”

Generally, larger teams progressed farther into the game. Overall, 29 teams completed the character end game, which required solving all the character metapuzzles. Seventeen of these teams completed the entire hunt and found the coin.

The winning team, Death and Mayhem, took only 18 hours to find the coin, faster than that statistic’s average over previous hunts.

Setec Astronomy also included personal interactions in puzzles and visited teams to help with puzzles and keep track of progress. Some metapuzzles needed to be completed in person at a specific location and involved interaction with Setec Astronomy members.

Mystery Hunt began in 1981 and brings alumni from all over the U.S. to participate. Setec Astronomy selected the theme in March of last year and put approximately 25,000 hours into designing and running the puzzle hunt.

Mystery Hunt’s budget typically runs in the range of $10,000. This year, sponsors included Empirical, an artificial intelligence startup; Jobcase, a job search company; and Your Move, a moving company. The hunt was also sponsored by and hosted on Amazon Web Services. In addition, the MIT Large Event Fund and the UA Finboard provided financial assistance.

Puzzles and solutions may be accessed at