MIT hosts first in-person Mystery Hunt in three years
Over 4,000 people participated, 38% virtually
MIT’s 43rd annual Mystery Hunt was held on-campus over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend from Jan. 13 to 16. The annual puzzle hunt was organized by Brad Schaefer in 1981 as a one-day event; it has since evolved into a multi-day challenge with more than a hundred puzzles per event.
Mystery Hunt Structure & Theme
Mystery Hunt, one of the oldest and largest puzzle hunts in the world, is open to MIT students and the public. The goal of the hunt is to find answers to a series of puzzles “to lead the teams to the location of a coin hidden somewhere on the MIT campus”, according to the MIT Puzzle Club website. Puzzle Club is the executive group that organizes Mystery Hunt.
The coin has been hidden in a myriad of places — from the lighted diamond sculptures near Building E62 in 2017 to a cup in bushes near Building 57 in 1993. Due to the puzzles’ complexity, it usually takes more than 48 hours of hard work for a team to reach the end.
“We had around 4500 participants split among 300 teams,” Puzzle Club president Walker Anderson ’23 explained. Of the teams, 32 teams reached the “halfway” mark and 8 teams completed the hunt.
Per tradition, this year’s theme “Museum of Interesting Things” was written by “teammate”, the 2022 Mystery Hunt winner, and consisted of over 152 total puzzles. The initial structure involved six museum exhibits—atrium, science, natural history, art, world history, and innovation. Each exhibit was made up of several unique puzzles; for example, the art exhibit showcased puzzles titled “Graffiti”, “Collage”, and “Cute Cats.”
Gabriel L Mintzer ’21, a Mystery Hunt participant since 2018, recalled, “I really wasn’t sure what to expect based on the opening ceremony […] and figured there had to be some sort of twist.” Upon exploring the museum and solving enough puzzles, teams discovered the true theme of the year: the puzzle factory.
Despite the initial museum exhibit theme, Anderson stated, “the theme is more centered around the factory [...] the factory, the puzzles it makes, and the AIs [who create the puzzles] behind it.”
After “reactivating” these AIs and completing their respective challenges, the winning team would find the 2023 coin in The Bush Room at the organizers’ headquarters. This year, the coin was found by “The Team Formerly Known as the Team Formerly Known as the Team Formerly Known as the Team Formerly Known as the Team Formerly Known as the Team to Be Named Later” (TTBNL).
TTBNL has been participating in Mystery Hunt for many years, with some members writing for previous Mystery Hunts in the past, explained Anderson.
Transitioning back to an In-Person Hunt
The last two Mystery Hunts were held online due to the pandemic. Mintzer shared that while he felt the organizers “did a nice job handling the remote nature of the hunt,” which included a virtual recreation of the campus in 2021, “this year’s return to in-person hunting was very much appreciated.”
“[It] was amazing and helped foster a feeling of return to normalcy that was very welcome,” he reflected.
The changes due to the pandemic were also felt by the executive team. From the planning side, Anderson noted that some of the planning knowledge was lost over the years.
“[It] was a really big change from being online for two years, since we needed to remember to do things like reserve classrooms, and rent AV equipment to use for kickoff,” he wrote.
As a result of the pandemic, the structure of the Mystery Hunt also shifted—notably, towards a more online nature.
“We always try to make sure there are physical puzzles and events to make Hunt more a cohesive whole [...] but the stuff that can be digitized we’ve been putting extra effort to digitalize the last three years,” Anderson emphasized.
This digitalization meant that many of the members this year were participating virtually. Of the 4450 participants, 1689 were online. The number of in-person participants was roughly the same as prior to the pandemic.
The 2024 Mystery Hunt will be written by this year’s winner, TTBNL.
Readers with feedback or questions for the Mystery Hunt organizers can email firstname.lastname@example.org.