Hunt elements

Hunt elements are elements that transcend the boundaries of individual puzzles, and instead affect how a puzzle hunt appears and functions on a larger scale. This means that the elements can relate to administrative choices made by hunt runners, individual round functionality and gimmicks, or the way that solvers progress through the hunt.

Core Characteristics[edit | edit source]

Hunt elements are unique among all other elements, as they usually cannot be applied to individual puzzles. Instead, they apply to a hunt's structure, presentation, and function. For example, if a hunt presents all of its puzzles visually with flavorful icons or a map of an area, that would be a hunt element.

The key characteristic for something to be a hunt element primarily is for it to have large-scale effects. Something that is only ever used for single puzzles, or only affects a certain subset of puzzles within a hunt (without affecting an entire round) cannot be considered a hunt element. This is partially why these elements aren't used in individual puzzles: changing the structure of a hunt for a single puzzle can be difficult, and that risk/reward balance is often unfavorable to hunt writers.

There are some exceptions to hunt elements not being used in individual puzzles, such as puzzles that actively involve parts of the hunt structure like MITMH 2020's puzzle 'Concierge Services', which made use of the just-phased-out system of submission callbacks. However, these are rare occasions that tend to be treated as special or unique puzzles.

History of Use[edit | edit source]

Early puzzle hunts, primarily those run as MIT Mystery Hunts, lacked notable hunt elements, or at least any major variation in element presence between hunts. These hunts had similar formatting: solve puzzles on a printed piece of paper, use the answers to solve a final runaround, and finish the hunt. Many of these hunts were also themeless, instead focusing on having difficult challenges.

Once hunts gained themes (one of the primary types of hunt element), they also started gaining more variety in structure, allowing for hunt writers to experiment with how hunts, hints, and puzzles were presented to their solvers.

The advent of internet-based hunts also brought more variety, as hunts could then be hosted on sites, have digital answer submission (albeit with manual answer checking for a while), and play with different ways of getting the puzzles to solvers (including Timed Unlocks, Adjacency Unlocks, and others).

Subtypes[edit | edit source]

Hunt elements can be broken up into a few categories based on what aspects of a hunt they relate to.

Basic Hunt Elements[edit | edit source]

These elements involve things that are (at least today) considered key parts of a hunt existing. Hints, leaderboards, team signups, all of these are core structural elements of a puzzle hunt, and making changes to their format constitutes the involvement of various hunt elements. However, a basic element just being missing is not usually relevant enough to be listed, while a major change to how something function (such as a leaderboard containing fake teams) is notable.

  • Difficulty Rating - Ways for hunt writers to indicate difficulty of puzzles, either ahead of time or providing hunt statistics while the hunt is running.
  • Hints - Ways for hunt writers to help teams that are stuck on particular puzzles, without compromising the difficulty of the entire hunt.
    • Canned Hints - Pre-written hints intended to anticipate problem areas for a given puzzle, allowing teams to get hints without the writing team being 'on-call' to write them.
    • Custom Hints - Hints given in response to requests made by solvers, allowing writers to give hints that address a team's specific sticking point on a puzzle.
    • Hint Currency - A way to ration hints throughout a hunt by giving solvers a way to trade in something for them. Often earned over time or by solving particular puzzles.
  • Leaderboard - A way for a solvers to see their placement among all of the other teams in a hunt, usually comparing solve count, point total, and/or solve time throughout the hunt.

Hunt Interface[edit | edit source]

The hunt interface is what is presented to solvers as they are solving the hunt. This includes any taskbars, counters, puzzle presentation methods, and website navigation methods the hunt has implemented.

  • Puzzle Maps - A way to present puzzles as physical locations or objects within a space. Does not have to be a map, but theming it as such can benefit in immersion.

Submissions and Answers[edit | edit source]

Submissions and answers, as hunt elements, involve how a hunt chooses to accept answers, and the results given back to teams. They also involve any round-wide gimmicks based on answer types (such as a round that only has emojis as answers). Changes to how answer submissions are made, as well as what teams get in response to these submissions, are very common, particularly with regard to how a hunt handles intermediate submissions (where a phrase is extracted from a puzzle indicating a task must be done or an extra step needs to be taken, and the submission box either accepts it and gives a special response, or just marks it as wrong).

  • Meta-matching - A system where puzzles are not pre-assigned to rounds or metapuzzles, and instead must be sorted into groups based on the metapuzzles they contribute towards.
  • Multiple Answers - When puzzles have multiple solutions or give two or more answers over the course of their solve path.
  • Multi-use Answers - When puzzle answers can be used on multiple metapuzzles without being excluded from the possible use pool.
  • Non-Word Answers - Final answers that go against the norm of 'dictionary words/phrases and proper nouns'.
    • Images - Emojis, Unicode characters, and images created or given to teams during the solving process.
    • Numerals - Numbers, usually found in math-focused hunts.
    • Physical Objects - Objects may be used for their properties, or assembled into a larger object or device.
  • Submission Callbacks - A system in which solvers would receive a call from the hunt organizers to confirm whether a submitted answer was correct.

Themes[edit | edit source]

Themes are what set two otherwise-identically-structured hunts apart from each other. They tend to inform visual aesthetic of a hunt, the plot (if there is one), and sometimes the style and size of flavortext. Individual themes aren't commonly reused (at least not exactly), so they tend not to be notable enough to be elements on their own, but the way that a hunt tells a story or changes themes throughout it are much more applicable as elements.

  • Theme Fakeout - A hunt presents a theme that is quickly overturned and replaced with a new theme after the first round or so. These fakeout themes could be boring, unassuming, or just as cool as the real theme.
  • Story Arc Hunts - A hunt follows a specific plot, with each puzzle, round, and meta progressing that plot forward to some degree (as opposed to a hunt that is just 'X-themed')

Unlock Structure[edit | edit source]

Unlock Structure refers to the conditions a hunt uses to determine what puzzles unlock and when. The norm for this has changed quite a bit over time, but particular 'types' of hunt and certain hunt writers still use unlock structures that go against this norm. Commonly, unlocks are based on behind-the-scenes point systems, meaning that solvers just get to see a pattern of 'solve a puzzle' followed by 'unlock a puzzle', with some variation on whether or not zero, one, or two-or-more puzzles unlocks as a result of a solve.

  • Adjacency Unlocks - Solving a puzzle unlocks some or all of the puzzles directly next to or connected to it.
  • Hide and Seek Puzzles - In order to unlock puzzles, solvers have to actually find them. This may be in a virtual world or out in the physical setting of the hunt.
  • Navigation Puzzles - Smaller puzzles that prevent solvers from accessing the 'true' puzzles of the hunt.
  • Puzzle Packets - Teams receive all puzzles in a hunt at once, as opposed to unlocking them over time or with each new solve.
  • Puzzle Trails - Teams only ever have a single puzzle to work on: when it gets solved, they unlock the next one in a linear sequence.
  • Timed Unlocks - Puzzles are released on a timer, often dropping a batch of puzzles every hour/day/etc. for a period of time.
  • Unlock Juice - Solving puzzles raises a counter. When that counter reaches a certain point, a new puzzle/round is unlocked.