The MIT Mystery Hunt is an annual puzzlehunt, held at MIT (and 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 for the past few 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 a 30(0)th 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 it did originate as a non-web puzzle, it is now primarily a web hunt with non-web components (i.e. the kickoff, the MIT campus runarounds, endgame and wrapup).
- 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."
- 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.
- Guide Dang It!: The entire point, really, is that you're supposed to figure all this out as a team. Also, there is no guide until the end.
- Only Smart People May Pass: Topics you may need to know to solve the puzzle include:
- 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: Examples of this played straight and averted: In individual puzzles, you can often figure out the solution without figuring out all the pieces, by inference. 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; the organizers will not put it there until someone's gotten to the point of doing the final run-around.
- Shout Out: Nearly every single puzzle contains pop-culture references...which you need to know to solve the puzzle. Arguably this detracts from the puzzles as simply never having heard of some obscure webcomic or other that the designers love may well stop you dead.
- 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.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: See the Only Smart People May Pass entry above.
- Wiki Walk: Finding the solution to Walkthrough from 2011 requires you to do this.