Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Top Ten Reasons I Love MIT #9

Mystery Hunt

"Please do not endanger the life of the duck at any time."

Every January, MIT holds a special four-week term called Independent Activities Period - IAP, for short. IAP, in my humble opinion, is one of those crazy things that really epitomizes the unique way MIT looks at education, entertainment, and life in general. Basically, it's MIT's idea of a breather between the fall and spring terms, where "breather" means anything from doing research to taking accelerated classes to playing with boffer swords to going to Charm School. ("All of the above" is also an option.)

Really, I'm serious.

Although I have yet to experience firsthand the beautiful craziness that is IAP, I'm eagerly anticipating that glorious day. And my excitement is primarily due to what what might be the most famous IAP event of all...

The Mystery Hunt.

On the surface, it's a seemingly simple proposition: solve a series of puzzles and riddles to find a "coin" hidden somewhere on campus. Yet the Mystery Hunt itself is actually anything but simple. There's well over 40 or 50 puzzles to solve, some of which require some truly arcane knowledge and/or some really inventive guesswork. Many of the puzzles are somehow related to MIT's campus or culture, and there's almost always a puzzle or two that involves running around various buildings searching for the next clue. One popular type of riddle, called the Duck Konundrum, involves using a "live duck" to help you follow a ridiculously detailed set of instructions to produce the correct answer. (The quote at the top of the entry was from the 2000 version of the Duck Konundrum.)

One of the most interesting things about the Mystery Hunt is the prize - which is nothing more nor less than the honor of writing the next Mystery Hunt. It's totally intangible and, from a pragmatic standpoint, utterly worthless - yet for anyone deeply devoted to the Hunt, it's the greatest prize possible.

But I think the real reward of the Hunt goes even deeper than that. The Mystery Hunt is as much fun to play as it is to win. The ridiculously mind-boggling nature of the puzzles, the sense of competition with the other teams, the inside jokes your team inevitably will create, the buzz of stretching your sleep-deprived body and mind as far as they can go without breaking, the thrill of testing your wits and your knowledge against a nearly insurmountable challenge. That's the reward.

I know it sounds crazy.

I love it anyway.

Blogger's note: For more information on the Mystery Hunt, the interested reader may enjoy perusing the official Hunt site, the MIT blogs, and this excellent article in Discover Magazine.

1 comment:

shawest said...

Oh man, I'm so excited for the Mystery Hunt, you have no idea. Well, maybe you do, but that's besides the point.

And that 2000 Hunt looks amazing. I hope next year's is equally amusing. It must be hard to come up with the hunts, though. No idea how I would manage to write it. But it seems so much fun!