Hunt Wrap-Up/Epilogue

1) Hunt Summary

A big well done and thank you to all the solvers and teams that took part in SGPH2022. Great job to all the 14 teams (especially the 5 partial ranking teams) that solved the Montauk / Round 1 meta, achieving the milestone of defeating the Invisible Stalker and entering Inside Out. Like the MIT Mystery Hunt, Round 1 (comprising a set of easier/shorter puzzles and meta) was structured as a mini-hunt which we hoped most casual teams would be able to complete, while Round 2 was a more challenging stage with harder/longer puzzles closer to an actual puzzle hunt that teams with more regular solvers or time could complete. So congratulations to the 4 teams that solved the Inside Out / Round 2 meta (in order Eggplant Parms, White Maria, Space-Goats, Hee-Ho), completing the entire hunt and helping to close the Montauk Anomaly. And of course, top props to Eggplant Parms who finished the hunt on Sun 17 July 7:41pm. They were the fastest team by far, solving the Round 1 meta after less than 2 hours (despite being held up for 50 minutes requiring a 6th feeder answer first). The dark horse Amongoose caught up two hours later, and (together with White Maria), kept a close distance of 1-2 Round 2 puzzle solves behind Eggplant Parms for most of the first day. The solve progress graph of the first 10 hours (for these 3 lead teams) is shown below, and the detailed solve timeline until Eggplant Parms first finished the hunt is included after that.

Date/Time Hunt Timeline
16 Jul 12:00pm Hunt kickoff
16 Jul 12:10pm Initial puzzles released
16 Jul 12:29pm Eggplant Parms first to solve a puzzle - Beast Master
16 Jul 12:45pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Ooze puzzle
16 Jul 12:51pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Minotaur puzzle
16 Jul 12:54pm Plain Vanilla first to solve Aboleth puzzle
16 Jul 1:09pm Amongoose first to solve Displacer Beast puzzle
16 Jul 1:14pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Beholder puzzle - first to unlock Round 1 meta
16 Jul 2:02pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Ropers puzzle
16 Jul 2:07pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Round 1 meta - Invisible Stalker
16 Jul 3:34pm Space-Goats first to Alduin puzzle
16 Jul 3:51pm Amongoose first partial team to solve Round 1 meta - Invisible Stalker
16 Jul 4:05pm Amongoose first to solve all Round 1 puzzles
16 Jul 4:58pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Ghostly Fields puzzle
16 Jul 6:42pm Amongoose first to solve Devilish Casino puzzle
16 Jul 6.44pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Top Secret Research Facility puzzle
16 Jul 7:53pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Derelic Broadcasting Tower puzzle - first to unlock Round 2 meta
16 Jul 8:07pm Amongoose first to solve Abandoned Fallout Bunker puzzle
16 Jul 10:08pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Deserted Mall puzzle
17 Jul 11:02am Flourous Powerous first to solve Collapsed Domes puzzle
17 Jul 12:59pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Infested Lake puzzle
17 Jul 7:36pm Eggplant Parms first to solve Round 2 meta - Mossy Trails
17 Jul 7:36pm Eggplant Parms first to solve all Round 2 puzzles
17 Jul 7:41pm Eggplant Parms first to solve endgame puzzle - Escape from Inside Out

2) SGPH Foundation Awards

Commendations for MTF insigniasKeep Calm & Just Tikam, Phoenix, White Maria
Honorary mention for partial ranking team - Amongoose
Most entertaining team interactionswdntwtbtnpjssa
Favorite alternate hybrids - DORAEMON by Sort Alphabetically, SPIDERMAN by Han Wei & Koh, LIONFISH by Kaya/d
Favorite alternate clue phrase submission – CLUMSY GOON by ._.
Favorite alternate backsolve/answer submission – LUNCHEON MEAT by White Maria
Buzzer-beater answer submission - By Phoenix for Alduin on Sun 24 July 11:58pm

Thanks to everyone who took the time to provide us with your hunt feedback and to share your hunt experiences! We have tried to cover some of the questions in this wrap-up, and rest assured that we have read all your submissions and will also consider the suggestions made.

3) Hunt Philosophy

A solver asked about our hunt philosophy, and it’s a good topic to start off this year’s wrap-up, especially given the number of new solvers who joined us. Being the constant, SGPH’s hunt philosophy for me hasn’t changed since its inception:

a) Expose solvers in Singapore to a proper puzzle hunt and hunt puzzles – 7 years ago when SGPH was first started, there was a dearth of opportunities to solve puzzle hunts. Now, there’s a plethora of online puzzle hunts available, but the challenge for solvers shifts to sieving out the proper ones written with solvers in mind, versus those that don’t help solvers because they are problematic and require you to use unintuitive or brute-force techniques. Whether a hunt puzzle is “good” is usually subjective (often depending on whether the solver managed to solve the puzzle), but we can assure you that the SGPH puzzles follow the standard conventions to help with an intuitive solve path, and have gone through the necessary editing and test-solving before we are okay to release them. Because only by solving proper hunt puzzles intuitively can you similarly tackle the hunt puzzles in other proper puzzles hunts. Proper hunt puzzles also mean puzzles with an aha. The aha could be easier, but there’s always the possibility that solvers get stuck at an aha and the puzzle. So while SGPH has less puzzles than other hunts and is relatively easier for regular solvers; similar to other proper hunts, teams will still need to have sufficient solving experience and spend proportionate time solving, in order to make good progress and/or complete it. So new solvers/teams should not feel demoralized or discouraged by the number of puzzles solved.

b) Give solvers an experience similar to the MIT Mystery Hunt – Mystery Hunt (MH) is, to me, the definitive puzzle hunt. It is one of the oldest and original puzzle hunts, well-organized, with puzzles rigorously written, edited and tested using proper methodologies, fun, and often with high production values. It attracts the most number of participants every year, but there is always a barrier to entry to many given the size of the hunt. Thus one goal of SGPH is to replicate the MH experience – having a strong theme and storyline, interactive event puzzles, submission tasks, even on-site solving and role-play elements in past years.

c) Bring together solvers and foster a local puzzle hunt community – Again back in 2015, there were only a handful of puzzle hunt solvers locally. While the number of SGPH participants every year is decent and encouraging, there remains only a handful who solve puzzle hunts regularly and are experienced enough to solve them well. We hope solvers don’t see SGPH as just an annual puzzle event with your usual group of friends. The hunt Discord and interactive event puzzles are good opportunities to know hunt enthusiasts from other teams, whom you can form larger and/or more dedicated teams to take part in other puzzle hunts, and SGPH as well too. Because puzzle hunts generally require teams of around 8 experienced solvers to bounce off ideas and make good parallel progress. And that will greatly increase your enjoyment of puzzle hunts as their difficulty and length will be much reduced.

4) Hunt Writing and Theme

As usual, organization of SGPH started around November of the preceding year. Celestine came up with the initial idea for this year’s Stranger Things hunt theme, while I added in the complementary SCP Foundation theme and storyline of solvers being MTF teams sent to investigate the Anomaly, and later being trapped in Inside Out. This provided the round structure and context (as well as plot urgency) to the puzzle solving. The source literature is referenced in the epilogue that teams received after they completed the hunt. Celestine contributed both the metas, and after editing and testing them, the feeder answers were used as the basis for our thematic puzzle ideas. Writing stretched a little longer this year, but overlapped with internal test-solving as usual. We spent June on the scheduled external test-solving, and made some further adjustments to puzzles where necessary before finalizing them.

5) Hunt Tech

Celestine as usual is our tech chief, without whom the hunt website would not have been possible. In previous years, the website was based on CMU’s puzzlehunt_server, but customized significantly. Unfortunately it was running Django 1.8 which was deprecated, so this year, with a bit more time on hand, it made sense to attempt to upgrade it. gph-site was a good choice, as it came with many features available, including a full-fledged hint system and leaderboard (which teams in previous years have asked for). One nice thing that eased migration was that gph-site is also based on Django (the updated version), so moving over the settings, Apache webserver, and MySQL database integration was fairly straightforward. Also, Celestine only needed to make minor customizations to gph-site, mainly to support the full and partial ranking tracks that SGPH introduced this year.

Another first this year was the first server-side black box interactive puzzle, Devilish Casino. This required some rate limiting, and it was great that gph-site already came out of the box with redis support. Our main concern was whether the increased load from this puzzle would take down the server, so the server was bumped up several tiers for the hunt – fortunately it survived :) We are glad that the ease of implementation and out-of-the-box support of gph-site allowed us to incorporate black box puzzles SGPH quite easily and hope solvers enjoyed the experience.

6) Challenges of SGPH Teams

From the feedback and our observations, here were the two main challenges for SGPH teams:

a) Hunt experience – It was unsurprising that the first two teams that completed the hunt were the only ones who participate (and finish) regularly in other online hunts. Almost all the other teams only take part in SGPH, and the last time was a year ago. The experience and practice from participating regularly in other proper online hunts can definitely make solving hunt puzzles and SGPH much easier. So we really urge those who enjoy solving hunt puzzles to take part in some of the other recommended online hunts throughout the year.

b) Number of experienced and active solvers – Almost all teams had only 2-3 experienced solvers, and again their last experience could have been just SGPH a year ago. While most teams also had 2-5 other new solvers, it is still clearly going to be a little challenging for teams from the onset to tackle this year’s SGPH which expanded to a recommended team size of 8 experienced (more ideally regular) solvers. Also factor in the drop in solver activity after the first 8 hours, which is not uncommon for other online hunts too, but is just further amplified here as teams are already under-strength to begin with.

Note: The expansion in SGPH team size to 8 this year was to help teams expand and be viable to take part in other online hunts, which typically have a similar recommended team size. With the previous SGPH team size being 4, we recommended the easy and ideal solution for pairs of teams to merge and combine their solver experience and numbers. And we expected some of the more competitive teams might naturally do so. Unfortunately, none of the 25 alumni teams really went down this route. There were shifts of a few solvers across teams, which I guess is a start. Most just roped in new solvers to fill out the quota. So the unintended effect was that we gave a lot more new solvers the opportunity to be exposed to a puzzle hunt, which is also a good thing. As usual, I was initially a little concerned if the experienced solvers would be able to take time to guide them and help them have fun, but from the feedback, it was good that hear that a number of them enjoyed the experience. Apologies though that as the hunt souvenirs had to be custom-made in advance, I hadn’t expected the eventual numbers and prepared enough for everyone in teams which signed up later.

7) Hints

This year, we requested teams to use the website interface for hints, which we felt was useful as it forced teams to first describe their progress and lines of thought. As solvers, we have sometimes found ourselves realizing the aha during a hint submission, thanks to the clarity needed in the process of putting down our progress and thoughts in writing. By the end of the hunt, we answered about 200 hints requests in total, around half of which are unique, with the rest being follow-up questions. Each of the 3 of us in Puzzlesmiths answered hint requests. We usually answer those related to our puzzles (due to the familiarity), but will also answer others to provide a faster response to teams, since we know all the solutions and already have the write-ups available for reference if necessary. Follow-up questions are generally addressed by the same person for consistency, although again sometimes for a faster response someone else could reply too. We were generally quite glad and encouraged that teams were still trying to solve the puzzles, even though they were stuck and needed hints – because solvers probably get more practice and learn more working through the whole puzzle even with hints, as compared to leaving it unfinished and reading the solution.

A solver asked about our guidance to partial ranking teams. Our hint responses to teams did not really differentiate between full and partial ranking teams, but rather by their progress on that puzzle. In general, we try to give slight nudges by pointing teams along the right line of thought, often through questions or suggestions. Teams will often describe the long list of ideas and approaches which they had considered or tried, and ask if each is correct. We typically will not address such questions individually, given that there can only be 1 right idea and it is not likely amongst their list. Even if the right idea is amongst the list, we may not sieve it down for them, but guide the team to confirm the right idea by themselves. We will generally help teams to confirm a step or approach directly, if they made a mistake that prevented them from confirming it themselves. For new solvers, we understand this puzzle hunt style of indirect hinting could be unfamiliar and possibly even frustrating. So in cases we do emphasize that teams can submit a (free) follow-up request if after some time they are still stuck. We are not trying to be cryptic or out to make things difficult for you. Coming up with indirect slight nudges actually take a lot more time and effort than just telling you the solution. We just hope that solvers gained more satisfaction and learning value solving the puzzle with such nudges, instead of always more direct instructions to the next step.

From the solve progress shared by teams, I observed a number of teams getting stuck because of two similar reasons:

a) Not knowing what the puzzle wants you to do next – Proper hunt puzzles have an intuitive solve path. So there would be signposts or hints to guide you on an entry point, and the logical next step. The advantage (and importance) of regular hunt puzzle solving is building the ability to recognize these clues or conventions in a puzzle, and to quickly triage a puzzle and break-down roughly the steps needed to solve the puzzle (including assessing its difficulty). Similar puzzle types also often have similar steps and approaches, so having experience solving more hunt puzzles is helpful. New solvers can try reading the here.

b) Chasing too many theories – Many teams seem to have spent a disproportionate amount of time and energy considering or even exploring different theories in depth, including fruitless online trawling. Like the final answer, it should be pretty clear when you get the right idea/approach to a puzzle. Generally, look for another clue to corroborate the approach, and any other signs that might disagree with that approach, before you even try it. For SGPH puzzles, the aha or reference is usually thematic, so that’s another helpful clue as to whether you have the right idea. Another useful way to avoid chasing or being stuck in a theory is to discuss ideas as a team – with more views and insights, it becomes easier to decide which ideas are unlikely, and figure out the correct approach together.

8) Spoilery Tidbits on Some Individual Puzzles

a) Displacer Beast Unexpectedly, many teams got stuck at the slightly technical solving step, even before the extraction aha step. Also did not expect some teams to try brute-force methods like dissecting the pretty-looking hunt souvenir card!

b) Aboleth Running a scheduled MH-style interactive event puzzle is always something we try to do in SGPH, despite the logistical challenges and difficulty coming up with a suitable thematic one each year. The event provides a fun opportunity for solvers to interact with those from other teams, as well as with us. We are glad that feedback on the event was positive, and again hope that solvers do not simply participate in SGPH in their own teams to solve puzzles, but also make it a fun social event, get to know solvers from other teams and potentially build bridges to form dedicated teams to take part in puzzle hunts together.

c) Alduin Quite a number of teams missed the extraction indices in the images and ended up stuck or trying different ideas. On hindsight, this was not really a thematic (or even necessary) means to incorporate the indices. Though if anything useful - one moral of the story for new solvers is to look back at the original puzzle again for ideas whenever you get stuck. Sometimes there could be something you missed, or someone had made a transcription error copying data over to the Google sheet.

d) Top Secret Research Facility Again I had not expected a couple of teams/solvers to go for the (futile in this case) brute-force approach of trying to search for every Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavor. First of all, a hunt puzzle that looks familiar (like a text adventure) is never as standard as it seems. Secondly, a proper hunt puzzle would never require a brute-force approach. I have encountered though puzzles in some hunts which may have encouraged, or even required a brute-force or “try-all” approach, because they are not sufficiently clued, or the writer is not familiar with hunt puzzle conventions. That is also why earlier I mentioned selecting the proper hunts is important (in building a good solving foundation), otherwise you might subconsciously gravitate towards such approaches, instead of trying to find the solving intuitive path.

e) Devilish Casino Incorporating different varieties of hunt puzzles is something I try to do progressively for SGPH every year to give solvers exposure to common puzzle types that they might encounter in other online hunts. This year, we had a text adventure, audio tech puzzle and this black box puzzle, which we hoped solvers enjoyed. Not so much by design, but these also inevitably added to the length and difficulty of Round 2 overall.

9) Final Note

If you are keen to take part in more puzzle hunts, definitely join the SG Puzzlers Discord server (and the SG Puzzlers Facebook group) to keep in touch and hang out. In the Discord server, I post details of upcoming recommended online puzzle hunts you should sign up for. Many of the SGPH alumni are already in that server, so you can also use it as a platform to gather others to form a team, or to look for a team or additional team members. We look forward to seeing you all there, and hopefully active at other online puzzle hunts. Till SGPH 2023!

Hunt Editor
Ong Kah Kien
on behalf of Celestine Lau and Sim Hong Jhun (Puzzlesmiths)