A fakeout is a way for hunt writers to fool solvers into believing one thing will occur during a hunt, when it will in fact not. Fakeouts can be performed on both the individual puzzle level or the round/theme level, with the latter happening more often in recent years, particularly within hunts that opening with a skit or other performance such as the MIT Mystery Hunt.

Background[edit | edit source]

Fakeouts in puzzle hunts, particularly the way that the MIT Mystery Hunt does them, date back to the 1997 MIT Mystery Hunt, wherein solvers were presented with an opening plotline implying the year's theme was Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, before replacing them in the rest of the opening with Beavis and Butthead. Furthermore, the puzzles attached to the story were all impossible-to-solve. Solvers had to find another way to "solve" the impossible round to move forward with the eventually-Elvis-themed hunt.

Once the hunt began opening with live skits, more opportunities to present these kinds of fake themes emerged. One of the most notable uses of the skit-swap fakeout is in 2018, when the writing team began the skit by presenting the 2018 "Health and Safety" hunt, only to then pivot to the actual hunt's theme (Disney's Inside Out) by showing that the solvers present in the auditorium were actually inside an MITMH participant's mind, and the actual hunt was going to be taking place inside there as well, while the fakeout theme would be going on in the "real" world.

Application[edit | edit source]

As mentioned previously, fakeouts can come in multiple forms. The most common of these nowadays is the skit-swap, in which a particular theme is presented during an opening presentation or skit, only to be swapped out for the true theme of the hunt.

Theme fakeouts can also take place after a round has already been completed. For example, in the 2016 MIT Mystery Hunt teams encountered a round themed after a dog show. Completing this round led them on a small runaround the culminated in the reveal of the true theme of the hunt (the movie Inception). The 2022 MIT Mystery Hunt managed to do both types of theme fakeouts by releasing a set of prologue puzzles prior to the hunt using a theme of super-powered rodents (known as Star Rats), only to have the opening skit both acknowledge it as the hunt's theme and introduce a new theme (Books) to overwrite it.

Fakeouts can also be done for individual puzzles. The most common way of doing this is by presenting solvers with a puzzle that appears to be a well-established type (such as a crossword, sudoku, etc.), but not having it be solvable as that type. Instead, these puzzles need be solved either by interpreting it as a different established puzzle type (such as a 9x9 crossword actually being a sudoku puzzle), or by eschewing established puzzle types entirely and treating it as a unique solving experience (such as a wordsearch that is actually just a string that needs to be decrypted, with no word-finding necessary).

Strategy[edit | edit source]

The best strategy for identifying (and then approaching) fakeout puzzles is to simply try solving it as normal. Usually fakeout puzzles will contain some kind of clue that they are not what they seem. However, one can begin their deductions by seeing if the puzzle really can't be solved normally.

In most cases, solving a fakeout puzzle normally will have one of two results. Either the puzzle cannot be solved as it is presented, with that being a high indicator that it's a fakeout, or it can be solved, but by doing so it presents further information on how to properly solve it to get the final answer. Either way, attempting a solve will usually have a net gain of information on how to get the final answer.

Notable Examples[edit | edit source]

Theme Fakeouts[edit | edit source]

  • Galactic Puzzle Hunt 2019 (web) - Initially a simple archaeological dig in the Antarctic, the hunt quickly pivoted to be about interpreting an alien language and stopping intergalactic war.
  • MIT Mystery Hunt 2003 (web) - Presented as a corporate mystery, solvers eventually unlocked the revelation that the hunt was taking place in The Matrix.
  • MIT Mystery Hunt 2022 (web) - The prologue puzzles presented a sci-fi theme about rats, but pivoted to books and libraries during the opening skit.

Puzzle Fakeouts[edit | edit source]

  • No Clue Crossword (MITMH 2020) (web) - The puzzle looks like a crossword; however, there are rather notably no actual clues. Click to revealThe clues don't even match up with the grid! The solver has to assemble a second grid using the clue numbers, diagramless-style, before proceeding with the puzzle.
  • Screen Debuts (MITMH 2020) (web) - The puzzle appears to be a cryptic crossword. Click to revealHowever, none of the clues resolve to anything--and the enumerations obviously don't all fit in the row/column! Instead, the solver must take the first letter of every word in the clue and note that they spell out the name of a color, while the enumeration is actually the position they have to place the color in the row/column.

See Also[edit | edit source]