The MIT Mystery Hunt is an annual puzzlehunt, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, these days, with an online presence as well.
Teams must solve puzzles, the solutions of which help to solve the meta-puzzles, which then help to solve the meta-meta puzzles, and so on. There are also some events that take place on the MIT campus. The goal of the Hunt is to use the solutions to the puzzles to help find a coin of some sort somewhere on the MIT campus.
Early Hunts were around 30 puzzles long, but they have since grown to be around 100 puzzles long, with 10 to 20 meta-puzzles. The winners of the hunt gain the right to design the next year's Hunt. A general intro to the Mystery Hunt can be found here. Puzzles can involve a variety of elements, from traditional puzzles/games like chess and (cryptic) crosswords, to a huge variety of trivia that can be recombined to spell out answers in certain ways.
The hunt is unique among many puzzle hunts in a few ways. There is no cap on team size, leading to a lot of really large and really small teams participating. Also, most of the puzzles in recent years have been available online, meaning that people who can't be at the MIT campus in person can still participate.
Hunts these days often come with an Excuse Plot in the form of an Alternate Reality Game to explain why people are going around solving puzzles. Past plots have included a murder mystery, a journey through hell, and an anniversary celebration of the Hunt.
The Hunt is held every January during Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, beginning at (around) noon on Friday, and running continuously until a team recovers the coin, usually 40 to 50 hours later. In recent years it's been customary to keep running the hunt a little longer after the coin gets found, if the coin gets found relatively early.
Beware, the tropes list below spoils the solution to some past puzzles. If you want to solve them on your own, you may want to avoid reading the list.
The MIT Mystery Hunt contains examples of:
- Alternate Reality Game: While early Mystery Hunts didn't have a specific theme, more recent hunts generally have some sort of theme "explaining" why everyone is solving puzzles. The gradual shift to a mostly-online format for the Hunt has facilitated this.
- Blessed with Suck: Congratulations! You won the Hunt! Now design next year's Hunt!
- Excuse Plot: The reason teams are solving puzzles. "The path through the Mushroom Kingdom is full of puzzles." "You don't say."
- Expy: Not of characters, but of puzzles. Every year there's at least one "tons of tedious and confusing but technically unambiguous directions about modifying a sequence of letters" puzzle, as well as a puzzle involving box puzzles (such as nurikabe or thermometers). Puzzles containing smaller Mystery-Hunt-style sub-puzzles are also popular.
- Mini-Game: Some puzzles come in the form of little games or even little puzzlehunts themselves. Each Mystery Hunt also generally has a handful of events, which require a few participants from each team to attend, and contain activities with some puzzle elements but are generally easier than the normal puzzles.
- Moon Logic Puzzle: Some puzzles require you to take....interesting trains of thought. This sometimes means realizing that something familiar is being presented in a very unusual way (e.g. representing car models using chemical elements).
- Only Smart People May Pass / Viewers Are Geniuses : Not necessarily "smart" or "geniuses", but tons of trivia will be involved, and sometimes more formal "book knowledge" may be useful too, especially (but not limited to) mathematics and computer programming (unsurprising given the Mystery Hunts origins). However, this trope is somewhat zig-zagged in that participants are allowed to look up any resources on the internet to help them...though this still requires people to know what to look for and how, which is in turn a puzzle-solving skill, and being familiar with a thing may make it more likely for a solver to jump to the realization. Anyhow, here are a variety of examples of topics/skills used in puzzles:
- prescription medications
- words with different meanings
- more "traditional" puzzles
- a song by the Bloodhound Gang
- mapping out a dungeon
- Russian figure-skaters
- movie quotes said in Mac OS voices
- Absolut Vodka advertisements
- Chinese astrology
- Amazing Race participants
- measurement units
- more lolcats...and Frontier Airlines jets
- the show Look Around You
- biology/anatomy (in this case, neurons firing)
- board games
- the webcomic Problem Sleuth
- Overly Long Name: The name of the team that won the 2013 Hunt is the entire text of Atlas Shrugged. For their succeeding 2014 Hunt, based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, they renamed themselves "Alice Shrugged".
- Sequence Breaking: Hunts contain examples of this trope played straight and averted. In individual puzzles, you can often figure out the solution without figuring out all the pieces, simply by inferring from how other clues work and filling in some blanks. You can also often solve meta-puzzles without figuring out all the solutions to their component puzzles. However, you can't find the coin early by accident; it's typical for the organizers to keep tabs on how close teams are to finishing, then only place the coin in its proper location when a team has reached the final run-around.
- Shout-Out: Many puzzles contain pop-culture references...which you need to know to solve the puzzle. This may prevent you from breaking open a puzzle if you've simply never having heard of some obscure webcomic or other thing that the designers love, though since you're allowed to look up as much information as you want, there are often ways to get around not knowing a thing — almost all pop culture stuff has fan wikis or other databases covering them these days. Furthermore, the sheer number of puzzles is often used by Hunt writers to cater to a large variety of niches, so given over a hundred puzzles you're likely to find something you can work on. Anyhow, examples of shout-outs include:
- The solution to Toto, I Have a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore requires the solver to recognize the pictures are referencing rock bands who took their names from movies.
- The images depicted in the 2005 MIT Mystery Hunt puzzle called "Telephone Pictionary" uses Beatle songs as the thing that's being illustrated.
- In addition, Hunt themes are often shout-outs to something, either an entire genre (e.g. the murder mystery) or a specific work (e.g. The Producers or Inception).
- The Team: The Hunt, which generally spans a weekend with a hundred or more puzzles and involves people working continuously until the coin has been found, is pretty much specifically designed for a team solving effort to be finishable in time. Solving teams often have members taking on more specialized roles based on their knowledge of different fields and trivia. Teams can even be of unlimited size, though at some point adding more people doesn't help.
- Wiki Walk: Finding the solution to Walkthrough from the 2011 Hunt requires you to do this. More generally, consulting Wikipedia and other wikis for information is a pretty much core part of the standard toolset of an experienced solver.
- World of Pun: Puns and other wordplay are extremely common, with many puzzles bearing Pun-Based Titles and even puzzle mechanics that involve and/or were inspired by puns. Puzzle flavortext is frequently written in the style of a Pungeon Master, with the puns likely being meaningful clues to the puzzle's mechanics.