Thinking Cap

Yes. I did go there.
I spent last weekend back at MIT for the annual MIT Mystery Hunt, a multi-day puzzle solving extravaganza that’s a traditional part of the Independent Activities Period. I’ve been doing the hunt since I was an undergrad, and for the past several years I’ve been playing with a team that’s based in Simmons Hall, an undergrad dormitory.

Overall, I had fun, because I was doing the Mystery Hunt, and the Mystery Hunt is fun. This year’s Hunt was one of the more difficult ones in recent memory, which was a bit frustrating and tiring at first for this casual puzzle-solver, but I do realize that I’m not really the target audience here so that doesn’t really matter. Besides, once I got past some Friday-afternoon issues with our team spreadsheets and more puzzles got released, I felt much happier and more like I could contribute something. I also was able to get plenty of rest over the course of the Hunt. Once it became clear that things weren’t going to end in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I felt free to go and get a full night’s sleep, as dictated by the T’s schedule.


The crew who organized our team did a very good job of going around and making sure people were having a good time/weren’t getting too frustrated/got the help they needed/were coordinating with our remote solvers, which also helped matters greatly. I enjoy being on a team that has a high percentage of undergrads, because you can always count on them to keep the enthusiasm level up. They’re also much more likely to play along and humor you when you’ve reached the tinfoil hat phase of the Hunt (for example: “OK, we have these 6 possibilities that are longshots, but might be right, maybe. We don’t want to annoy the organizers too much by repeatedly calling them in ourselves. Will you call this in in 20 minutes, and sound extra cute and innocent?” “Sure!”). I’m also glad that I didn’t quash their enthusiasm and veto the idea of calling strangers in various places for the puzzle Nationwide Hunt, even though I was very sure that no puzzle could ever work like that. I would never have been able to work up the nerve for that. Our usual strategy tends to be to collect as many metapuzzles as we can during the Hunt, but we amended that goal to simply solving puzzles and having fun. All in all, we held together pretty well, solving 41 or 42 of some 129 puzzles, and one metapuzzle.


I’m grateful to Palindrome, the constructing team for putting in so much effort into creating all those puzzles. The plot of the Hunt seemed interesting, although it did get lost in the deluge of puzzles. I might have liked a bit more interaction with the organizing team, but I do understand that they were a small group and had to deal with a lot of stuff on the fly. I also thought that a number of the puzzles might have been a bit more enjoyable with one or two fewer steps, but again, I’m just a casual solver, and overall I had a good time. There were too many neat ideas to name all of them, really. They even had a knitting-themed puzzle as part of the first round (link to follow if I remember when the puzzles get made public). As a Jersey girl and a chemist, I also found the Turnpike Black Book meta puzzle adorable. Finally, congratulations to everyone on the Evil Midnight Bombers What Bomb at Midnight, the team that brought the Hunt to a close by finding the coin on Sunday night. I’m really looking forward to what they’re going to put together for next year.

My weekend didn’t just involve theoretical, puzzle-based knitting. Since I knew it was going to be Seriously Cold over the weekend, I decided to knit up Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Unoriginal Hat. I didn’t have any of the original yarn used, or the original size of needle used, so I substituted 3 strands of Dream in Color Classy in Blue Lagoon on size 11 needles. I started on the bus to Boston, and ignoring the little voice in my head that was telling me that this hat looked awfully big, plowed on until I was nearly finished. When I finally finished it up on Friday afternoon, I realized that it was indeed too big for me. However, as the temperature dropped going into Saturday and Sunday, I also realized that I didn’t care. I was wearing every piece of outerwear that I had access to on my way back and forth from the T to Simmons.

This is the final version of the hat:
I decided that the major problem that I had with it was its height, and that if I could fix that, I’d be more likely to wear it when I wasn’t desperate for warmth. So as soon as I got onto the bus for my return trip, I ripped it all out and started again. My row gauge was such that I thought that the hat would be just about right if I took out the bottom half of the first repeat of the cable pattern, so that’s what I tried doing. As the bus pulled in to the Port Authority, I finished the last set of decreases and knew for sure that I had made the correct decision. This was one of the first projects that I felt a twinge of regret about ripping out (a very unusual sensation for me. I usually find ripping something out to be very satisfying), but in the end I’m glad that I did. Even though I got plenty of nice comments about the original version, the new hat is a lot more comfortable to wear, and tends to stay on my head better. Plus it gave me plenty of extra practice cabling without a cable needle. I can also see why this pattern has become so popular. I didn’t think of myself as a hat person, but it’s such a fun knit, with its chunky yarn and big, plush cables. There’s a good chance that I’ll be making a bunch more of these.


2 thoughts on “Thinking Cap

  1. That is an awesome hat and sounds like a great weekend. I’ve found that even if the hat is too big or a tad too small… sometimes it’s most welcome. Glad you had lots of fun and I wish I had a fun winter session like that. 🙂

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