OGIC: Play with your words

A nice, expansive four-day weekend just came to a close, and I’m utterly exhausted. I spent the holiday weekend, and then some, doing something completely novel: competing in the MIT Mystery Hunt. Fellow blogger and ALN blogroll mainstay Eric Berlin was one of the veteran players on my team and has related his experience of the weekend in typically eloquent and entertaining fashion here. The MIT student paper covered the event here.

So how did I end up spending my weekend in an MIT classroom with 46 bigger brains, taking on approximately 150 elegantly constructed, thematically interwoven puzzles? It’s not exactly a situation one just sort of stumbles into, as you might guess. As frequent readers know, I’m a regular at the National Puzzlers League convention held each summer–in Indianapolis, Cambridge, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and, about six months from now, Ann Arbor. Every year I return from the Con exhilarated, happy, and with a few new friends. The NPL and the Mystery Hunt have significantly overlapping constituencies, and it was the wish to see some of these far-flung friends that landed me at the Mystery Hunt this year. For some reason, puzzlers, and especially the ones I’m closest to, tend to concentrate on either coast. Vanishingly few make their homes in the middle of the country, a fact regarding which I’ve been known to get a mite peevish on occasion and an excellent reason to travel to Cambridge last weekend and find out what the mystery is all about. And now I have some idea. As a thing, the MIT Mystery Hunt is a magnum opus of its kind, an elaborate, smoothly running machine whose enormity would seem to belie its elegance but astonishingly doesn’t, and vice versa. As an experience, it’s a more intense, more claustrophobic, grubbier NPL Con, from which I’ve returned…utterly exhausted.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time, because I did–thanks to the quality of the puzzles and especially the quality of the company. It surely wasn’t the scenery: most of the weekend was spent in an MIT classroom whose notable features were approximately 20 fully wired, furiously worked laptop computers and three walls of blackboard that progressively filled with chalk marks as we solved puzzles and recorded the answers there (in a puzzle hunt of this magnitude, almost no answer is sufficient unto itself; it nearly always has an afterlife as a clue in another, second-order puzzle). An adjacent classroom was reserved for less critical activities such as eating and sleeping, though some of the other than perfectly dedicated among us opted for alternative quarters (mine in nearby Somerville were friendly and comfortable).

And we won! On the backs of a couple of brilliant teammates who were the first in the entire Hunt to crack the diabolical meta-puzzle (involving the answer words from ten other puzzles, as well as additional clues gathered from a video we’d been given) that had had us and several other teams stumped and stalled near the finish line for hours, we triumphed around 2 o’clock Sunday morning (would it have occurred to you immediately to use the U.S. Senate seating chart as a grid for a double-crostic?). Not a moment too soon, mind you, since the gargantuan task of running next year’s Hunt now falls on us. Personally, I’ve never constructed a puzzle in my life, so my role is likely to be that of test-solver. Even from that humble perch, I’ll be fascinated to see from the inside how one of these marvels comes together.

For the curious, the complete set of 2007 Mystery Hunt puzzles (and solutions) can be accessed here. One that might particularly divert readers of this blog is “Writing Nerds,” here.

UPDATE: Edited to fix broken links. Sorry!!

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TT: Almanac

“In Washington, success is just a training course for failure.”

Simon Hoggart, America: A User’s Guide

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TT: Notes from the road

– A reader writes, inspired by yesterday’s list of the best Hollywood films of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties:

Strong list. I agree that Robin Hood trumps Casablanca as Michael Curtiz’s great contribution, though I imagine you’ll get arguments. I’d put Big Sleep over To Have and Have Not for Howard Hawks. You really ought to consider a Disney picture in that pantheon: Pinocchio, probably.

In fact, I thought about Disney, though I would have been more inclined to include Dumbo. What I really regret, though, is not having had room to include one of the short cartoons that rank as a genre high among the greatest achievements of Hollywood’s Golden Age–but which one? Chuck Jones’ “Bully for Bugs”? Tex Avery’s “King Size Canary”? I feel another list coming on.

(Incidentally, OGIC, I wouldn’t mind hearing from you about my little list.)

– I took the train to Washington, D.C., yesterday afternoon, dropped my bags off at the hotel where I’ll be spending the week, had dinner with Laura Lippman at the excellent Caf

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OGIC: This just in

And not a moment too soon! Rachel Ries, the Chicago singer-songwriter about whom I have been going on these last months–and whose work Terry admires as much as I do, Terryphiles–will be interviewed on XM Radio this morning by former “Morning Edition” host Bob Edwards. The details as dispatched to Rachel’s mailing list late last night:

I was delighted (terrified & tongue-tied) to be interviewed by Bob Edwards last month for his program, The Bob Edwards Show, on XM Public Radio. Our little chat is airing tomorrow morning, Wednesday the 17th, at 8 am ET (with encores at 7, 9, 10 am and 8 pm ET). If you don’t have XM Satellite Radio, never fear! You can listen in at www.xmradio.com. After the fact, it will also be available at audible.com.

Alas, I myself am XM-less and will have to catch it at audible.com, sigh.

However: for the benefit of all you Chicagoans out there, Ries performs at Uncommon Ground tonight and every remaining Wednesday in January from 8:00 to 10:00. Catch her before her sweet and salty “prairie swing/city folk” (a perfect description, presumably hers, that I blatantly stole from the Uncommon Ground web site) sweeps the nation! Today Bob Edwards, tomorrow the world.

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