A Math Guide to the MIT Mystery Hunt

I love the MIT Mystery Hunt. I like the adrenalin rush when solving problems under pressure. Plus, I like the togetherness of doing problems with other people. During the hunt I usually do not have time to look at all the puzzles: some of them are solved by my teammates while I’m sleeping and others are solved before I get to see them.

I’ve never tried to go back and check out the puzzles I missed nor the puzzles from the previous hunts, probably because without the goal of winning and without my team, I might find them boring. Often the solving process involves tedious Internet browsing to identify the images of different people or objects. I would only be motivated if the puzzle were related to something I am very interested in, such as Ballroom dancing. But I’m not thrilled at the thought of browsing through all the problems in order to find one that is relevant to the Tango.

In short, I need an index to the puzzles. For example, it would be nice to direct the lovers of square dancing to the Do Sa Do puzzle, or fans of Star Trek to the Alien Species puzzle. I hope that nobody blames me for hinting that those aliens are from Star Trek. I’m convinced that Trekkies who only want to solve Star Trek-related puzzles would immediately recognize them anyway. I do believe that I am not revealing too much by saying that the Facebook puzzle will appeal to the aficionados of the television show “24”.

It would be extremely useful to humanity to at least mark the MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles that are self-consistent, and do not require activities. For example, some of the puzzles involve interaction with headquarters, so you can’t solve them after the hunt. Some of the puzzles might expire, as for example the puzzle with pictures of different announcements in the infinite corridor.

Unfortunately, such an index doesn’t exist, and I do not have the time or expertise to create one myself. But I can fill this void at least partially by presenting a guide to math puzzles from the previous four hunts. I can’t promise that my guide is complete, as navigating the MIT Mystery Hunt website is very tiresome.

Before going into the math puzzles, I would like to list Sergei’s favorite type of puzzle: Duck Konundrums. The first Duck Konundrum puzzle appeared in 2000. It was created by Dan Katz, which is why his initials are in the title. One really needs to follow the instructions for this puzzle. This is very unusual as traditionally hunt puzzles do not have instructions at all. Do not be relieved: the instructions are really very complicated. The next Duck Konundrum puzzle appeared in 2002 and was considered to be even more amusing. People loved it, and this type of puzzle became a tradition in subsequent hunts. Here is my list of Duck Konundrums:

Many Mystery Hunt puzzles appeal to mathematicians. I have to warn you though. Puzzles often are divided into two stages. In the first stage, you need to solve a puzzle, like solving sudoku, a crossword or finding all the wedding dates of the people in the pictures. The second stage requires you to produce a word or a phrase that is the answer to the puzzle. The second stage might be as simple as listing the people in chronological order of their wedding dates and then taking the first letters of their last names. This second stage could also be quite difficult. Depending on your tastes one stage of the puzzle might be much more rewarding than the other. If you love solving sudokus, you might find it more fun to just stop with that solution, instead of continuing on to the second stage.





It would also be nice to have some ratings for puzzles. I am not sure how to persuade the webmasters of the MIT Mystery Hunt page to do the index and the rating. Feel free to send them an encouraging email.



  1. Foggy Brume:

    One other Duck Konundrum style puzzle was Tea Party from 2003…the basic setup was the same.

    And thanks for listing three of the logic puzzles I wrote (Sexaholics, Troubled Teen, and All I Get Is A Measly $200).

  2. Chris M. Dickson:

    You’re in luck! One of the constructors of this year’s hunt announced a couple of days ago that he had put together this index to MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles by theme, which does something very similar to what you want.

  3. Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog » Blog Archive » Math at the MIT Mystery Hunt 2010:

    […] DeVincentis heard my prayers and created an index for MIT mystery hunt puzzles. He created it not because I requested it, but […]

  4. Audrey Phillips:

    In ballroom dancing, my favorite dance is Rumba and the Flamenco.`~’

  5. Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog » Blog Archive » A Math Guide to the MIT Mystery Hunt 2011:

    […] I did for 2010 and for previous years, here are math-related puzzles from the MIT Mystery Hunt […]

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