Congratulations to the 181 teams that finished the hunt! Special congratulations to H(erm)ans C(margaret)hristian Anderson for being the first team to finish the hunt in 6 hours, 57 minutes, and 19 seconds.
Thank you as well to all the puzzlers who took part in our third hunt! Out of the 768 teams registered:
- 580 teams solved at least 1 puzzle
- 450 teams solved the first meta
- 90 teams solved all 36 puzzles
Special shout-outs to:
- the card game hunts will continue until morale improves for being the first team to solve the Intro Meta
- Crazy About Punishment for being the first team to solve the Creatures Meta
- య TELUGU LETTER CINDERELLA'S CARRIAGE AFTER MIDNIGHT for being the first team to solve the Silence Meta
- H(erm)ans C(margaret)hristian Anderson for being the first team to solve Transmutation Station and the first team to solve any puzzle in the entire hunt (Characters just 3 minutes and 8 seconds after the hunt started)
- Barf for having the last correct submission, solving Long Cube just 3 minutes before the end of the hunt
The rest of this wrap up may contain spoilers for various puzzles.
- First solve: Characters by H(erm)ans C(margaret)hristian Anderson at 3 minutes and 8 seconds
- Teams that solved 🔄️ by submitting:
- A LOUDSPEAKER: 208
- 📢: 25
- Teams that solved 175+ nodes on 🤫:
- -------🥇金牌线🥇------- (💯)
- ...and they all lived Vehemently ever after (💯)
- 1e308 (💯)
- concert fantasy on the betrayal of coby tran (💯)
- Decrypt This Hunt (💯)
- H(erm)ans C(margaret)hristian Anderson (💯)
- Hee-ho (💯)
- inter oves (💯)
- Nameless Chronicles
- Not A Hunter
- The Whiskers (💯)
- The Wobs 🔮
- య TELUGU LETTER CINDERELLA'S CARRIAGE AFTER MIDNIGHT (💯)
- 🍎 (💯)
- 🥦 Broccoli Brawlers 🥦
- Times IT was submitted for Fencing: 171
- 3539 hint requests from 422 teams
Solves and Guesses per PuzzleBack solves were approximated as any feeder solved after or less than five minutes before its meta.
Fastest Solve per Puzzle
Comparisons with Recent HuntsBelow is a chart comparing the relative length/difficulty of some similar online hunts. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of all hunts - it is simply a list of some recent hunts from which we could easily get relevant data.
*Note that the CMU hunt was only open for 29.5 hours.
The Huntinality III staff included about 25 people from the Cardinality MITMH team, similar to the size of the Huntinality 2.0 staff. This included 9 new authors and a new leadership team. Many previous Huntinality staff members were much busier this year than in previous years and we also wanted to give more people the opportunity to learn how to run a hunt, so many roles were filled by people completely new to the position.
Goals and Reflections
Our goals for Huntinality III were similar to previous years' goals. Since our leadership team and most of our staff was new, our top priority was getting everyone experience across the board. This meant getting new authors acquainted with the writing process in a more hands-on fashion, with more experienced authors and hunt leads on-deck as mentors.
We also wanted the hunt to remain beginner-friendly. This meant having an expert and a casual track, as well as having generous hint availability.
46% of this year's website users came from outside the US with 1 in 6 users from China, compared to 31% and 1 of 35 for Huntinality 2.0. We're not entirely sure how this happened, but it probably means that puzzle hunting and our reputation have grown significantly, which are both good to see. Welcome! For non-native speakers, we hope the heavy presence of English-language wordplay didn't deter too much from your enjoyment of the hunt. We didn't anticipate this many foreign teams, but had we known, we probably would've tweaked the intro round to be a bit more international-friendly.
Hunt Scope and Design Philosophy
Getting newer people involved was our first priority and drove most of the design choices in this hunt. Initially because of this, we aimed for the hunt to be smaller than Huntinality 2.0 and more "standard" without any gimmicky rounds, to make it more approachable for beginners to write. However, this proved difficult to satisfy, as the first ideas that gained steam only had a limited number of puzzle slots or were too large or gimmicky to be beginner-friendly.
Eventually, "mushroom" puzzle slots in the Witch's Hunt round were created to allow for newer authors to write puzzles. These slots were meant to be smaller in size to allow for beginner proto-puzzles to find a particular home with a shorter or more clueable answer.
This resulted in a hunt that was about the same size as Huntinality 2.0, albeit with smaller puzzles and a narrower average width. The hunt length was what we expected, even with the narrower width. (The narrower width was the primary reason why this year's team cap was 6 instead of 8; with only a few puzzles open at a given time, we didn't want teams to have too many people working on too few puzzles.)
In retrospect, a smaller hunt with fewer bottlenecks would've been ideal. However, the number of new authors and staff we were able to get involved was a tradeoff of the additional size that we were okay with taking. Also, we wanted Witch's Hut to feel like the culmination of the hunt, which justified unlocking it later than the other rounds and thus having narrower width.
Rounds and Theming
Similar to last year, we put out a call for proposals and ended up with 4-5 proposals. The fairytale proposal quickly picked up steam, especially with its basis being Into the Woods and with the intro meta already written to be a story beat with a witch cursing the solvers. Each post-intro round represented a curse that the solvers would then have to figure out how to undo.
During early round proposals, the Creatures Hollow and Trial of Silence rounds followed naturally from common fairytale curses (you get transformed into an animal and you lose your voice, respectively). We had a lot of trouble finding a third curse, though. (One source claimed that a common non-Creature non-Silence curse was "death", which would've made for a pretty nonsensical story.)
The Witch's Hut round was eventually written for the third curse to be flexible (and to have mushroom puzzle slots); we thought at the time that its general magic theming could justify any third curse. That round was then pushed back in the unlock structure once we decided that it wasn't going to be themed around a curse. Instead, we made it themed around figuring out how to break the other two curses.
While the Creatures and Witch's Hut rounds are more or less "standard", the Trial of Silence was intentionally proposed and crafted to be a gimmicky round without any words and consisting primarily of interactive puzzles. This may be the boldest thing we've attempted, especially with the meta being written after most of the feeders were constructed. While this added a lot of overhead and didn't make for beginner-friendly puzzle slots, we definitely thought it was worth it (and hopefully you did too!).
The endgame concludes the story with you curing yourself of the curses once and for all. We initially wanted the endgame to involve transforming yourself with each power you gained from the main rounds, similar to what happened in the meta for the Witch's Hut. However, this was challenging to write well after the main round metas were in place, didn't fit with our timeline, and as mentioned, would've overlapped mechanically with the Witch's Hut meta which solvers would have just completed. Instead, we opted for a flexible endgame where solvers would have to revisit previous puzzles. Our intention was for this endgame to be short and sweet, though this understandably confused many solvers in thinking this was a "true" metameta that used previous answers.
No fairytale is complete without a story. We wanted something relatively lighthearted in the same vein as last year. We also wanted to make sure that the story wasn't a red herring by making the story generic and not based on any particular fairytale, similar to how Into the Woods blends multiple fairytales together.
We had a skeleton of a story in place for a very long time, which usually involved improvising during our full-hunt testsolves. Eventually, Benji offered to write the entire body of the text, and we lived haphazardly ever after.
For difficulty balancing, as is common in hunt writing, our main issue was puzzles being too hard. For our internal hunt staff testsolves, we settled on a goal of 30 minutes-1 hour for most intro puzzles, 5 minutes-30 minutes for mushroom puzzles, and 1-4 hours for other puzzles, assuming a single solver. We wanted authors to aim for something in the middle of this time range at first if possible.
However, these times were mostly informal targets. The main action we took due to them was adding more helpful flavortext or nerfing steps and extractions where people seemed to get the most stuck. A few puzzles also ended up getting moved to our puzzle repository for future endeavors. In the end, a few puzzles ended up on the higher end of the difficulty range (Weaving and How Many Reps come to mind), but we're generally happy with how difficulty ended up.
Puzzle Type Diversity
At a certain point, we noticed that we had a lot of puzzles themed around video games and put a quota on how many more we would include. In the end, we feel like this generally worked, though we may still aim to have fewer next year. As for other topics, we did not intervene too much. In retrospect we think we had slightly more crossword-style puzzles and slightly fewer logic puzzles than most hunts, but both puzzle types still fell in an acceptable range. We also had some puzzle mechanic overlaps in different rounds. For example, Link's Final Stand and Steering Committee (both in the intro round) both had rebuses, and The Bakery and Missing Members both had sets with a missing item. These were slightly unfortunate, but overall since the puzzles were enjoyable and ended up feeling different, we thought it was okay.
We used Puzzlord to let people claim answers and track puzzle status. This helped us easily determine how many puzzle ideas were in progress, both throughout the hunt and in each round. At first, some rounds were fairly full and we were worried that prospective authors would have trouble finding answers to claim, but as some proposed puzzle ideas ended up not working out, the main issue shifted to rounds not having enough puzzles to fill their open slots. A few answer slots started, ironically given the hunt theme, to feel "cursed" to some members of the writing team as replacement puzzles themselves turned out to not quite work. Fortunately, in the end, people stepped up to eventually fill all the slots.
The three post-intro rounds are staggered throughout the hunt to reflect the story progression. The first puzzle inside the Witch's Hut unlocks after solvers have made enough discoveries in the other parts of the forest (Creatures Hollow and Trial of Silence).
In fact, the structure was mostly dictated by how the story evolved. We initially wanted to unlock all three rounds at the same time in a similar way to Huntinality 2.0, but after shifting the Witch's Hut from breaking a specific curse to finding a method to break the curses, it made more sense to stagger the round openings, especially with the advent of mushroom puzzles.
This eventually made for a much more constricted hunt. Puzzle width was lower and there were multiple potential bottlenecks.
Like last year, puzzles in each round (apart from the mushrooms) are unlocked roughly in order of the longest puzzles first, shortest puzzles last. However, there were a few exceptions. In most rounds, we tried to put one easier puzzle early in the round (Characters, Twisty Path, ⚫, and the first couple of mushrooms come to mind, though some of these did not end up as easy as we hoped) to give solvers an early boost. In The Trial of Silence, we put 🤫 last because it put the most strain on our servers. In the Witch's Hut round, we mostly ordered puzzles for meta reasons rather than based on difficulty. We also attempted to put puzzles by newer writers earlier in rounds where possible, so more people would get a chance to solve them.
In most of our rounds, puzzle unlocks depended on how many puzzles your team had solved within that round. For the Witch’s Hut round, we used a hybrid unlock system where puzzles would unlock based on a combination of number of solves within the Witch’s Hut round and your overall progress in the Creatures and Silence rounds.
Our unlock requirements led to more bottleneck situations with small width than we expected. To help mitigate these bottlenecks, on Sunday evening, we relaxed some of the unlock requirements to help unlock 1-2 more puzzles for many teams. In retrospect, given the overall size of the hunt, it might have been worthwhile to hardcode the unlock structure so that it was easier to understand and predict how it would play out, as opposed to needing to notice bottlenecks in real-time as hunt played out.
To couple the mushrooms with the hunt structure, our goal was to unlock the mushroom puzzles over the course of the hunt to give solvers smaller bite-sized wins, in a way similar to the 2021 MITMH Students and 2015 School of Fish rounds. These puzzles first unlock before the main Witch's Hut puzzles unlock, and solving each only contributes minimally to the overall unlock structure (roughly a quarter as much as non-mushroom puzzles). Six of the mushrooms appear on the main navigation page to show that you're unlocking them as you continue to solve puzzles. These build up to the eventual reveal of the Witch's Hut and the puzzles that lie within; four more mushroom puzzles which unlock over the course of solving the main Witch's Hut puzzles.
For those familiar with this "fish" structure, this worked as intended and made for some nice breaks from the "meatier" main round puzzles. However, for many who weren't, much solving power was spent on a difficult mushroom step or two, and solving a mushroom would create confusion when they frequently wouldn't unlock any other puzzles. We regret not signposting this more.
Timeline and Process
- Late January 2023: Started assessing interest in writing, choosing a theme and assigning people to needed roles.
- Late February: Started work on metas and matching new writers with mentors upon request.
- Late March: Executing on meta ideas turned out to be hard. By late March, we had finally gotten two meta ideas that were mostly developed, and let people claim answers for them.
- April: Developed the intro meta, but we didn't have feeder puzzles drafted yet.
- Late May: Drafting feeder puzzles remained hard. After two months, we still had basically no puzzles drafted.
- June: We came up with and iterated on the Witch's Hut meta, and by early July it was ready for answer claiming.
- June-October: Over time, we eventually started to get puzzles written. Once all (or almost all) the puzzles in a round were written, we did full-round test-solves. We intentionally tried to focus first on finishing intro round/Creatures Hollow, then Witch's Hut, and then Trial of Silence, rather than working on them fully concurrently (though this was not hard-and-fast). In late July, we started having team meetings every two weeks (previous team meetings had been intermittent); this helped us progress more quickly and helped somewhat in keeping people on the same page.
- Early July: Intro round test solve
- Early August: Creatures Hollow full-round test solve
- Mid-September: Witch's Hunt full-round test solve
- Mid-October: Though it needed to be scoped back slightly, Trial of Silence got its full-round test solve
- Late October: first full-hunt testsolve
- Early November:
- Second full-hunt testsolve, with an emphasis on testing the unlock structure and puzzles that had changed since October.
- Most dev/art work was also done in the month and a half before hunt (the website only launched at the start of November, a month before hunt).
- The endgame was conceptualized and continued to be improved upon.
- For most of this last month and a half, due to all the things that needed to be done, we bumped up our meeting timeline to weekly.
- A week before hunt: last full-hunt test solve, primarily just for testing puzzles that were most sensitive to change when being put on the site or had gone through last minute edits.
As in previous years, we had three types of testsolves; individual puzzles, full-round, and full-hunt. For testsolving individual puzzles, we had a #testsolving Discord channel where people could ask for testsolves, but we tried to make sure that a few people remained mostly unspoiled on each round. Those unspoiled people (who in some cases were not fully unspoiled and knew one answer, but usually did not know more) would do the full-round testsolve (and would of course avoid puzzles they personally knew the answer to). For full-hunt testsolves, as last year, we enlisted help from some members of the wider Cardinality team or other kind folks from the wider puzzle community who could not make the hunt date; some of our full-hunt testsolvers were interested in helping with dev, and went on to help a lot in the final month of hunt writing.
From the Desk of the Art Lead
Once the storybook theme was finalized, we realized the asset generation would be much harder than last year (oh we miss the days of looking up ye olde gifs and clipart for Huntinality 2.0). For the creation of these assets, we leveraged PowerPoint, gimp, and Canva. For the first pass, the website looked drastically different than it does now because we thought we would adopt an illustration style inspired by The Little Prince:
We realized soon that this style would not align easily with the intro round, with "Into the Woods" being fairly dark. For the logo, we wanted to incorporate a bird, but decided, hey since this is our third hunt and we're talking about the woods, we could write it as Huntinality III with the I's representing trees.
For the meta art, we created the intro round art and couldn't decide on which filters we liked better; hence, we leveraged some of the most extreme versions for the Creatures and Silence rounds with subtle changes. Overall, we are happy with the artistic improvements made across our hunts.
Thank you to my friend Will for blindly submitting prompts to Midjourney with no context to provide inspiration ("recursive mushroom"). A special thank you to Julia for stepping in the last couple of weeks to help with the intro round icons, the meta and hunt leads for communications and guidance, devs who brought it all to life, and the overall team for being flexible on art bandwidth restrictions. Also, thank you to the solvers who provided feedback on the art during the hunt! Please send us fanart :)
The Huntinality 3 website built on top of the Huntinality 2 codebase without major modifications. See our 2022 wrap-up notes for the full tech stack.
During the first few hours of the hunt, we experienced exciting moments of panic with ⚫, first fearing that teams with the correct solution were not being credited, and then realizing that some teams were getting shown the correct solution without solving. For more details of what happened here, please read the ⚫ Author Notes.
Before each Huntinality, we run a series of basic load tests using k6 to determine an appropriate allocation of our Heroku resources. For Huntinality 3, we found similar results as Huntinality 2 last year, notably these minimum requirements to sustainably service ~800 virtual users simultaneously:
- 40 Heroku Dynos Standard 1x
- 🎲 Testing in Prod: We hypothesized that we over-provisioned last year and that fewer individuals would start right at hunt opening this year, so we actually only used 20 Dynos to start. We decreased that count closer to the end of the hunt and were satisfied with the overall performance.
- Heroku Postgres Standard 2 (400 concurrent connections)
- Heroku Redis Premium 2 (200 concurrent connections) for our interactive WebSocket-based puzzles like 🤫. This was decreased to Premium 1 (80 connections) and Premium 0 (40 connections) in step with decreases in the dyno count.
In total, our Heroku costs were ~$300 for Huntinality 3. The total cost of the hunt, including other infrastructure like SendGrid and Vercel, was ~$400.
Similar to last year, we wanted to provide freeform hint responses to our solvers, to uphold our goal of making Huntinality a beginner-friendly hunt. We once again had authors prepare prewritten hints for each major step of their puzzle, as well as writing up full solutions. As we responded to teams throughout the hunt, we customized every response to where the team was in their solve path. Over the course of our hunt, we responded to 3539 hints with an average of 11 minutes and 10 seconds response time, with our top 3 hinters (out of 18) handling ~51% of the responses. Whew. Time for a nap.
We felt that giving expert teams 2 hint credits every 12 hours had gone well last year, so we didn't adjust that. For our casual teams, as mentioned in our FAQs, we are always trying to fine tune the right balance between giving enough help (so that solvers feel like they're having fun and making progress) while also keeping our hint duty scalable across hundreds of teams and thousands of hints. We tried to set expectations prior to hunt that our goal would be to help each team with up to two hints per hour; during hunt, we reminded teams of this and also reiterated that the more detail they put into each request, the more we would be able to help them with a suitable nudge to the next step.
We tried to encourage teams who were using hints to check a single clue or confirm an (often already promising!) hypothesis that they should feel free to experiment and test out their own theories, as this would unblock them faster (and honestly likely be more fun, as they'd get more aha moments themselves). Wherever possible, we attempted to teach teams how to fish instead of giving them individual fish: we would try to point out parts of the puzzle that are self confirming, like alphabetical ordering or things that all clue answers have in common, rather than give specific answers.
With only 54% of this year's users located in the US (as opposed to 69% during Huntinality 2), we also had an unexpected influx of non-native English speaking teams this year (an estimated ~17%, compared to Huntinality 2's ~3%). This created a few additional challenges: the difference in time zone meant that many of their requests came in during overnight stretches in the US, when our primarily US-based (predominantly west coast) hint staff was already mostly asleep, and the teams understandably often requested more help with word/pronunciation-based puzzles. For puzzles like cryptics, which were a challenge not only for non-native speakers but also beginner teams, we tried to find an appropriate middle ground between simply introducing the general concept and breaking down individual clues into definition and wordplay sections, but this balance was tricky to get right. Other noted challenges included hints that were written in a punny way (which sometimes worked great but at other times were less clear than some teams would have desired) or idiom-based cluefill.
We often tried to mirror the tone and energy of the hint request. Sometimes, this meant writing back in rhymes or emojis (or even Chinese!) when the incoming hint took that form. This also meant that teams who provided extensive detail about their ideas (whether right or wrong) and progress would likely receive lengthier responses; this was because the more we knew about what they'd tried, the more specific we could be about where to go next, without risking stealing any satisfying aha moments. We also appreciated the teams who asked us how best to communicate with us or explicitly let us know whether they wanted a small hint or a huge shove. Some teams were apologetic about needing help; we did our best to reassure them that as long as they were putting effort in, we'd truly be happy to respond. (After all, we did have an internal hint answering competition going again.) We chuckled at the memes, marveled at beautifully organized spreadsheets, smiled at the greetings and thank you's sprinkled into various correspondence, and sometimes lurked for a moment with fingers crossed to see if hopefully our hint had done the trick, cheering when teams got the next step.
Hints Over Time
Hints Per Puzzle
We don't know. We're quite tired and need some time to rest before we'll be ready to consider another adventure into the woods.
A general note: If you would like us to change/remove the appearance of your name below, please let us know and we're happy to fix it.
Head EditorsBryce Cai
+ First-time hunt writers
Hint StaffAlison Chang
Test SolversAlborz Bejnood
...and most of our puzzle authors
Shout out to people who went above and beyond including David and Bryce who handled most of our overnight hint requests, Ali for once again dominating our hint answering competition, and Max for finishing in a distant, but still respectable second.
This section contains spoilers for various puzzle answers.
|BABA and GOAT solve HUNT
|Chicken & ROFLs
|🐧 Penguinality 🐧 and Dirty Bayes / 🐧 Penguinality 🐧
|Revolutionary Girl Utena, Qrs Tuvwxyz, Chicken & ROFLs, showerpomelo, 🅱️uzzle idiots, The Ptrocanfers, Kinship Of Evil Queers
|Into the Woods (META)
|Into the Woods (META)
|Help, I'm stuck in a textbox!
|Puzzly and Wild
|The Builders' Guild
|Persistent Puzzlers Plus Plus
|Puzzles are for Slovers, Ceci N'est Pas Une Harvard Team, RSVPuzzle
|Isotopes Puzzles United
|Chicken & ROFLs
|Front and Center
|Audio, Video, Disco
|Are You The One
|geronimo stilton: the hunt for the golden book
|Are You The One
|A Rimer to Nitting
|GOURDitas, 1e308, Giants' Realm Inhabited by Massive Mathemagicians
|Exploring the Countryside with r/PictureGame
Beyond the answers, here are some assorted screenshots and quotes from our own hunt planning and hint requests.
As always, if you are not comfortable with something quoted here, please let us know and we will remove it!Meme by Pichu:
Hot Pot Art and HintsFrom the astronaughts ඞ traded their original name for some magic beans:
Information Relay HintsFrom Puzzle But Lunch:
Twisty PathFrom The Whiskers s :
Silence Round Art and HintsFrom the astronaughts ඞ traded their original name for some magic beans:
Heroes HintsFrom 🃏:
Are You The One HintsFrom Puzzkill:
Candies and Stories HintsFrom 闲散解谜！（Laid-back Puzzling）:
How Many Reps HintsFrom Pepsimen:
Out of the Woods HintsFrom 1e308:
Meme Hint Responses
Around the World
From Team Sam: Bears Indahouse: we have absolutely no idea how to now order our extracted letters! We can't sort by length of game title, either in words or in letters, since there's overlaps.
Hint Response (Tim): What year is it? meme
The Transmutation Station
From concert fantasy on the betrayal of coby tran: hi we don't know what goes in the yellow blanks. we think it has to do with the 5 words we extracted from the red blanks, and we think we have to apply transformations to them
Hint Response (Ali): We had one, yes. What about second breakfast? meme