["Beyond Tetris" is a column from Tony "Tablesaw" Delgado about puzzle games that transcend mere abstract action and instead plunge deep into the heart of problem-solving. Today is the conclusion of a two-part article on one of the most grueling puzzle marathons available, the MIT Mystery Hunt.]

(In Part I, I gave a brief overview of the MIT Mystery Hunt, written while I was still in the middle of helping to run it. Since then, Dr. Awkward won at 2:14 a.m. Sunday morning, and the puzzles were made available. And now, the rest of the article, about the 2007 Mystery Hunt itself.)

Welcome to Other-People.com

To open this year's Hunt, teams gathered in Lobby 7 to watch a badly planned introduction. But before teams could be roped into tedious groupwork, Michael Fauntleroy, a dashing man with infomercial panache, told them there was an easier way. By signing a simple contract, all teams would be able to find the location of the hidden coin after solving only five puzzles. And sure enough, the teams were given access to a set of five relatively easy puzzles that led to a location on campus.

But when they arrived, Fauntleroy was there to tell them the truth. The contract that they'd signed only told them to the location of the coin (safe inside his own pocket); it didn't give them the right to take it. And in return, each team had bargained its collective soul, which now belonged to Mr. Michael Fauntleroy (M.F.) Stopheles. They were working for Hell now, and so they had to complete M.F. Stopheles's infernal instructional videos to become "really, really evil," find their way into Hell proper, and maybe have a slight chance of becoming as evil as the Devil himself.

They were then given their first video course, and a link to the Hunt's real puzzles on the website of Hell: http://www.other-people.com.

By watching the instructional videos and solving the puzzles, teams would learn what really, really evil actions they would have to perform to prove their worthiness to the minions of Hell. For example, after the course that taught teams "How to Succeed at the Performing Arts by Being Really Really Evil," they were given the instruction to "Create a bad sequel to Wordplay." (Wordplay, of course, is last year's documentary about another yearly puzzle event, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Several of the major and minor characters in the film also attend the Mystery Hunt every year.) The "Writing" round told teams to "Almost plagiarize Dan Brown work," and the "Mass Manipulation" round asked teams to create an Illuminati card for the current president of MIT.

Adding to the theme was a schedule of special "sin events," each thematically tied to one of the seven deadly sins, where team members would take part in a real-time puzzle event. At Lust, "dominants" given cheesy pick-up lines had to find "submissives" who'd been given irreverent responses. ("Baby, you take my breath away." "Finally, somebody else into erotic asphyxiation!") At Sloth, solvers had to lie down in a dark room at 4 a.m. and listen to someone spell "somnambulist" very, very slowly in between a bad MIDI version of "Rock a Bye Baby."

Serves Us Right

As I mentioned in part one, although most of the puzzles in the Mystery Hunt are meant to be printed out and then solved, there is quite a lot of technology running behind the scenes making that happen. The process goes something like this: At the beginning of the Hunt, all teams get access to a certain amount of puzzles. When a team believes they have an answer, they click a button on the puzzle's webpage marked "Check Answer." The server then puts that team in a "call queue." In HQ, callers can see which teams are in the queue, for how long, and for which puzzles. From the call queue, the HQ minions pull up a page with the team's phone number and an entry field for the answer to a puzzle. The team is called, and the answer is taken. The server logs the guess and tells HQ whether the answer is correct or incorrect, and then the caller informs the team. If the answer was correct, the server then goes about seeing whether or not it needs to make more puzzles available to that team. And thus the spiral leads down into Hell.

When The Evil Midnight Bombers What Bomb at Midnight won the 2006 Hunt, one of our biggest concerns was how we were going to put together the complicated server technology to make this work. Our team's greatest strengths lie in the realms of trivia, wordplay, and logic, not in engineering or programming. Thankfully, the team that ran the Hunt in 2006 graciously lent us their Hunt-running software to use as a base for Hell. Then, the co-captains rounded up a web-savvy Hunt newbie to adapt it to our needs.

We had some minor problems. At the opening of the Hunt, although teams were able to see the puzzles easily enough, the "Check Answer" mechanism had collapsed under the weight of teams solving puzzles very quickly and at the same time. But once that was cleared up, everything moved smoothly. In fact, most of my time in headquarters was spent manning the call queue: pretending to be a demon and asking teams for their answers.

Breaking It Down

One of the things we tried to do this year was make the Hunt more accessible to more teams. In recent years, every Hunt has had some events packed in at the end of the Hunt: a campus runaround, an elaborate endgame, and the location of the coin. But because these things only happen at the end of the Hunt, and because Hunt HQ traditionally shuts down after the coin is found by the first team, only a few teams ever get close enough to see these things.

So we moved all of these events earlier in the timeline of the Hunt. Finding the coin happened first, and every team got to take part. (Small and first-time teams that were having difficulty were given hints or possibly even "put on the fast track of success" to ensure that everyone knew the true theme of the Hunt on Friday.) The runaround occured in the middle of the Hunt. As teams solved puzzles and attended sin events, they filled their "Evilometer"; and at a certain point, they were deemed evil enough to gain access to the directions to Hell.

The endgame was a massive puzzle that spanned the entire length of the Hunt. When they completed a course, each team received a finely crafted certificate recognizing their acheivement. They also got a certificate when they reached Hell, along with seven blatantly unsolvable puzzles (like a sudoku without enough given numbers). But by completing a sin event and then completing five of seven sin-themed puzzles, teams unlocked instructions that made one of the Hell puzzles solvable. The answers to these Hell puzzles combined to create a series of instructions regarding the twelve certificates. Without giving away the intricacies of this beautiful puzzle, the instructions guided teams to create a dodecahedron out of pentagrams found on the certificates and then to throw the "snowball in Hell" at the Devil for their souls back.

Finally, instead of closing HQ after Dr. Awkward found the coin, we continued running the Hunt until late Sunday afternoon. Our hope was that many "middle tier" teams would take advantage of this extra time to work their way to the end. Fewer took advantage of this then we'd hoped, but long after the top teams reclaimed their souls, an intrepid group of solvers calling themselves Team Lactose completed another eleven puzzles and two courses. They ultimately completeld the entire endgame at about 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Oh Yeah, There Were Some Puzzles Too

The majority of the 2007 Hunt is currently archived on the MIT website. There are still a few things missing, most notably the course materials which include videos and other information necessary to solve each round's metapuzzle. But there are about 100 individual puzzles available for solving. Clicking the "Check Answer" button will lead you to a page that tells you the answer and explains how the puzzle works.

There was only one playable applet this year, a golf game called Going Out Clubbing. But there were a few puzzles that required special videogame knowledge. The first was Unsound Effects, which reveals itself to be about a particular game after decoding the massive cryptogram. (I won't spoil it here, but you can check the answer to see which one. Incidentally, the creators of the game were also on a Hunt team, this year.) War Dances has one of our co-captains dancing in a manner that should be instantly recognizable to some readers. (If not, the Eastvale Logging Camp shirt is a good a tip-off.) And text adventures make another appearance in Embezzler's Quest. Finally, the Notpron style of website riddle makes its Mystery Hunt debut in The Domino Theory.

As for the others, there are a lot of good puzzles to work on. If you're new to Hunt solving, the first round of easy puzzles is a good place to start (though you'll need to know the MIT campus to understand how the answers fit together). Fans of cryptic or British-style crosswords will like solving Pyramid Scheme. Cinephiles shouldn't have much trouble with The Continental DiViDe, sports fans will appreciate Rewriting the Record Books, and music buffs will enjoy Got It Covered. I personally enjoyed (and recommend to you) Negative Ad Campaign; The Usual Suspects; and One, Two, Three, Shoot! And finally, there's the one puzzle that I worte single-handedly: You Don't Need No Stinkin' Cue Cards

Running the Hunt was both stressful and rewarding, but I'm glad to have my life back. Of course, shortly after the hunt was over, I agreed to help write a smaller online puzzle hunt with Greg Brume for the fall, so maybe I speak too soon. Regardless, I'm glad that it will be my friends at Dr. Awkward, and not me, in charge next year, so that I can just solve the puzzles.

[Tony Delgado is a member of the National Puzzlers' League, and a solver and creater of puzzles of all sorts. He also works as the copy chief of The Gamer's Quarter.]