Well, if anybody got that impression, let me immediately nip it in the bud by saying that I adored this year's Hunt. If I disqualify Hunts I've helped write (which I can't judge objectively), I'm pretty sure this was, in fact, my favorite Mystery Hunt ever. Solid and innovative structure, great theme and story, solid mostly-clean puzzles, and a tremendous website that was both visually impressive and completely user-friendly. There was really very little to complain about and a whole lot to admire.
I noted a lot of similarities between Evil Midnight's 2009 Zyzzlvaria Hunt and this one (a shout-out at the beautifully streamlined wrapup confirmed this). Particularly there were the unlock system based on points/dollarbucks accumulated by solving puzzles, and the "structure mash" (I think that term was coined by Tablesaw) of having different rounds structured independently in the same Hunt. And yet this Hunt essentially eliminated all negative aspects of those concepts and accentuated all the positives. In particular, I think we overwhelmed teams a bit with Zyzzlvaria by cramming seven different structures down their throat in just the last half of the Hunt; having five larger rounds, all with structures that included both metas and supermetas, made the overall structure a lot more intuitive and easy to navigate (and again, the extraordinarily streamlined website helped a lot with the latter).
I hunted with The Team Your Team Could Smell Like, the very large mostly-EC-resident/alum team that was previously The Internet, SC Johnson, and lots of other names, most notably known as Kappa Sig! when they won the Hunt and ran a Time Bandits Hunt in 2004. We went in very psyched and apparently did very well; I haven't seen solving stats yet (data please!) but I'm told we were in the top three for most of the Hunt.
We got stuck on two pinch points. First, we got stalled in Zelda; we had leads on two of the three meta mechanisms almost immediately, but ended up with those two metas left to go and 4-5 answers missing from each of them. I'm pretty sure I slowed the team down by vetoing an early right answer to the Inspiration Triforce (it wasn't a noun, and I totally missed the thematic nature), but hopefully I made up for it when Jackie and I got the Fellowship Triforce in a "corner solve," which was my nickname for the couple of times when no one was looking at a meta and we stood in a corner and came up with a guess that happened to be right. Anyway, since metas were worth so many points, solving two basically avalanched all of Civ onto us, and I think that break in rhythm probably cost us.
And then there was our big bottleneck meta, a combination of Da Vinci's Workshop, which we had the primary idea on but couldn't interpret (and I'm still not crazy about the interpretation) and the Civ supermeta which we somehow couldn't solve with that one answer missing. I was due for a bottleneck, because I've run quite a few Hunts with them, and I'm not sure I've ever been stuck on one meta for hours when solving before. (Unless you count Paris from 2006. Or about twelve issues of P&A.) While Da Vinci was the only meta that didn't sit well with me, the Civ supermeta was fair, clever, and well-clued. Frankly speaking, we should have gotten it earlier. But most of the struggling on this happened after Codex found the coin, so I'm still betting Zelda is where we got knocked out of contention.
I will say that I think the Hunt is veering in a direction it was heading in 2004/2005, in that I don't think a small team, even of ringers, would have had a shot at winning this Hunt. There was simply too much to do. Now, I happen to be on a giant team right now, but I'm not sure I approve of that direction, as it leads to bigger and bigger teams, and there's only so much space on campus. But then, I also don't really see a way to avoid it. I'll be curious to see what Codex unleashes upon us next year. (And congrats to Francis on his new soldier of fortune role, as he has now joined a team, won the Hunt, and immediately abandoned his new team for two years in a row. If you want to continue that trend, Francis, I'm sure we can find a spot for you.)
So now I'll talk puzzle experiences (spoilers will be prevalent). I have a tendency to roam during Hunt, so there are plenty of puzzles I worked on or glanced at but don't have much to say about; these are just the ones for which I have some opinion to express.
Karaoke Night: I loved this Hunt by the end, but boy, did the beginning suck, as we put a ton of time into Karaoke Night, and I'm not sure we ever solved it. I think the sticking point was the "trying to use the most canonical original recording" element of the solution; it's tough to get exact lyrics using approximations like that, to the point where we assumed it couldn't be the lyrics for a while.
World 1-2 Meta: After a long initial spell of roving to puzzles and not being useful, I got my confidence back up by noticing the significant others with flower names that were the key to this meta. Before we got Echo as an answer, somebody on our team had a pretty good "characters in #1 grossing films" theory, although I much preferred what it turned out to be.
Flat Head: You'd think I would have solved more of this than I did; Jackie and I immediately picked it up when it came out, but then we got distracted by the Mario supermeta and I think Erin and Anand did most of the work. I helped in the last stages though, and found the end to be reasonably satisfying.
Bowser's Castle: Looked fun, but was torture to solve, particularly when we finished exploring every leaf of the decision tree without getting a valid order. In fact, we never did... we got to the order that came closest to valid (a couple Koopalings ended up with two cards) and I suggested ordering them by age, since that hadn't been used. The result was close enough to AIRSHIP to call it in.
Timbales!: A few people were struggling on this without picking up on the gimmick; Jackie and I walked over and I got RARA AVIS pretty quickly, and then we all buzzsawed through the rest in short order. Nice punchline (nice puzzle in general).
Redundant Obsolescence: Didn't work on this, but great idea.
Expletive Deleted: We got very hung up on the "shift-number" symbols, which seemed clearly bold compared to the other symbols (except for the exclamation point). Looking at the solution, I'm kicking myself for not picking up on it.
Where's Antoinette?: The last thing I solved on Friday night, and a showcase for Seth Bisen-Hersh's theater knowledge. I wasn't surprised that he could identify many of the shows, but once I got the a-ha that we should connect the dots between the theaters, I was disturbed that he could determine most of the *theaters* without references.
Mega Man Supermeta: My favorite meta of the Hunt, and I'm still reeling from the Bebop-to-Helical transformation. Once somebody actually read the flavor text and pointed out that the weapons should be used on the bosses, I figured out BAKER and SCRAPS, but we were missing two weapons and were hung up on the fact that BEBOP becomes ADANA when Caesar shifted back by one, which felt like it could be either ALPHA DECAY or BLUE SHIFT. I'm not sure who decided to interpret them more literally, but yay them. This is, in my opinion, the best Mystery Hunt meta that has ever been, and I will likely use it for years to describe to people how bonkers my friends are.
The Word: I came to The Word after somebody had already solved the bears portion; I noticed the number clues and decided to transcribe the whole thing, which was an unpleasant process in a loud room. Unfortunately I never picked up on the states or the previous Words, despite thinking "old line" and "superegomaniac" sounded thrusted in (Google it, Dan! Google it!). So sadly, I got more frustration out of this than satisfaction.
Forsaken Fortress: Helped with the extraction after the diagramless was already solved. My only complaint is that METER is too general in my opinion... there were some very metric multiple-dactyl clues, and iambic meter is not the only type of meter. (Oh, wait, they were all iambic PENTAMETER? Okay, that's a little stronger.)
Build Your Own Acrostic: We did. It was fun. The way in which the columns answer came out was a nice touch.
Technological Crisis at Shikakuro Farms: A nice mechanic, and deceptively nasty to solve! Nasty enough that, once someone noticed the clue to the extraction mechanic, it was more effective to guess the second half of the answer from the fences in the second grid than to try to work out the numbers. Sorry, authors.
Laureate: Ugh. If the British invented cryptics, why can't they write good ones? Got a little enjoyment out of this, but everyone who worked on it classified it as more trouble than it was worth.
Hints, with a bit of love!: When I abandoned Laureate, Jackie and I took a look at this puzzle, and were surprised to find that it did in fact revolve around more cryptic clues. (We had a lot of non-cryptic solvers who got stuck on it, and once we broke in, they kept coming by wanting to help, and refused to believe that they needed more background to tackle it.) As we were solving, I did a lot of complaining about clues that seemed to almost work (often because they were almost right) and words that felt interchangeable. Yet, when we finished, all the clues were complete, and when I read them looking for something to complain about, I couldn't find anything. So well done.
Puzzle Box: Our team went down a long dead end based on identifying all the objects as alliterative phrases. When someone explained this to me, I bought KARATE KICK, COCA COLA, MARINE MAMMALS, but when they got to CANARY CAGE, I suggested this might not be the way to go. This was eventually one of our 100-coin freebies, in an attempt to nail down Da Vinci's Workshop.
Fascinating Kids: Apologies to the author (not currently listed on the website), but this was the one puzzle in the Hunt I've seen that I thought was truly substandard. It's a nice idea, but the aha is severely underclued. If your solution contains "the title also mildly clues this" and "near-integer grade level," it might be time to re-assess the puzzle. Or as Erin said after the fact, "This puzzle looks like it came from our Hunt!"
Plotlines: This looks way fun. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to work on it during the Hunt.
Toto, I Have A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore: Got the a-ha instantly, identified all but two bands quickly with Jackie's help, but then we ground to a halt, mainly because there's a band called jj that named themselves after Jules and Jim, and having a two-letter answer in the third slot makes it hard to consider the diagonal.
Study Materials: Other people gathered all the data, and pondered for a while. I looked at it, got the TMBG connection, and everybody ganged up on it and quickly got an answer. Step aside, Kyra Sedgwick, I'm the closer.
Katamari Metas: The SI prefix patterns, which someone else found, were a really nice touch. We were looking at Katamari, having already solved the small meta, when Codex found the coin, and my brain went, "If we don't solve a meta soon, people are going to leave." At which point I forced my brain into a position where it could get the aha, and together with a bunch of team members we quickly polished off both the Medium and Large. Now if only we could have then quickly finished Civilization. Still, our roundabout approach made us the only team to solve all the metas, and the only team to solve the supermetas out of order. Yay achievements!
Zombies vs. Zombies: I came to this for a while, and it seemed way fun in theory. In practice, we desperately needed a huge number of coins to give us another answer toward Da Vinci (for which we had the resistor colors for a long time, but were exploring nine different interpretations and needed more exact numbers to limit us), and the nature of the event meant getting coins quickly and having fun were not really correlated. I really wish I could have stayed longer and enjoyed the strategy game (and groaning), but it was too frustrating right at that moment.
All in all, thanks to MPP for a great Hunt, and thanks in advance to Codex for next year's great Hunt. If you're looking for something to tide you over in the interim, watch this space later today for a link to my 2011 minihunt. It's like the Mystery Hunt, but shorter and not as cool. (I learned my advertising technique from Crazy People.)