• "Cookie Monster": One of the puzzle clues in the 2005 IAP Mystery Hunt, by Marcy Levey, Brian Tivol, and Roger Barkan. SOLUTION: First: Recognize the various cookies used to make the cookie monster. Second: Count how many of each cookie is used in the picture. Third: Turn the cookies at the bottom of the picture into letters. If a cookie appears N times in the monster, then replace it with its Nth letter to spell the message: CAN BE EATEN. Fourth: Determine that CAN BE EATEN is a clue for EDIBLE. These are the cookies: (C)hessmen, Mil(a)no, Lorna Doo(n)e; Lis(b)on, Fudg(e) Stripe; Fig N(e)wton, Circus Anim(a)l, Nutter But(t)er, Or(e)o, Ge(n)eva.

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Sleepless in Cambridge, they hunt the mystery coin

Sleep was scarce for close to 1,000 people on dozens of teams who logged more than 50 hours searching for a "coin" hidden somewhere on the MIT campus over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.

At 54.5 hours, the 25th annual IAP Mystery Hunt was shorter than in past years. The hunt begins at noon on a Friday and continues until the coin is found, sometimes late into the following Monday night.

"People fly in from all over the world for this," said Tufts University chemistry professor Chris Morse (Ph.D. 1998), a member of last year's winning team, and one of this year's organizers.

Started in 1980 by a physics graduate student and puzzle-lover, Brad Schaefer (S.B. 1978, Ph.D. 1983), the legacy of the hunt asks each year's winner to assume the task of creating the following year's hunt. After winning three times (in non-consecutive years) and creating three hunts, his team is ready to leave the winning to someone else.

"Creating this hunt was like having a full-time job on top of my full-time job," said Morse. Like many other teams comprising mostly alumni, Morse and his team return for the hunt every January. Team sizes run the gamut, some with upwards of 100 people and others as small as two inidividuals. The winning team this year had about 130 members.

Each year the puzzles fit around a certain theme. This year, the theme was "Normalville," a utopia-esque town that had been hit by a meteor. Each team must solve a series of puzzles that open the door to another series of puzzles until the final prize--or coin--is found. This year, the coin was a fragment of meteor hidden behind a fire hose across from Room 10-250.

"Physical Plant," the winning team, claimed victory early Sunday evening. "They have been wanting to win it for many years," Morse said about the team of people who have all lived in Random Hall at one time or another. "The torch has been passed," he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 26, 2005 (download PDF).

Topics: Contests and academic competitions, Education, teaching, academics

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