confirmation

When filling out a spreadsheet of “skills” potentially relevant to the 2014 Mystery Hunt, I wrote: No, seriously. I know like all the words to a bunch of Taylor Swift songs.

Cut to hunt when someone makes an idle comment to which I say: Oh, that’s “Mean.” It’s like my favorite Taylor Swift song.

That’s why “Mean” is my favorite Taylor Swift song. That video. Seriously. Banjo, mandolin, fiddle.

Banjo.

I get pulled to the next room to a big sheet on the wall and asked to highlight the lyrics, mixed up, sometimes one letter at a time, with Alice in Wonderland.

Easy as eating pancakes, I say.

Except, it’s not. This has nothing to do with there being a twist, but rather someone else reading them out loud from a webpage. It was hard for me to balance singing the song in my head while someone else was reading the words–slightly mangled by a fan’s transcription–slightly faster than the song goes. Plus, people wanted confirmation. They didn’t trust my knowledge while there was a way to confirm on the internet.

My role in the puzzle was entirely pointless. I was not only redundant, but a bottle neck for the process.

For a long time, it was considered impossible to run a mile in under five minutes. Times were kept to the second, and the five minute mile was broken in the late 1800s. In 1999, Hicham El Guerrouj did it in 3:43.13, 1.26 seconds faster than the previous record holder. Hicham wore shoes and clothes completely incomparable to those of his forefathers. He had a better understanding of aerodynamics and how the body moves. Where to strike his foot.

Puzzle writers are also competing for times. There is a sweet spot of hunt length, and a balance of difficulty of puzzles and number of puzzles is sought to create this. When early hunts were solved too quickly, a puzzle was famously written in Linear A (citation needed), and all relevant books checked out of the school library. It was solved, rather quickly, by participants tracking down a professor with the relevant knowledge. Poor guy.

The year reverse image search arrived changed how a whole category of puzzles are solved. Being able to quickly identify photos is useful, but if your person who can do that isn’t around yet (or speaks slower than the person searching), you can work your way through a page of unknown celebrities anyway. One year, a Boston location puzzle (travel around the city, see things) was solved by at least one team using Google Maps. My knowledge of Taylor Swift lyrics was quickly trumped by someone with a laptop and a working wireless card.

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