Congratulations to the 210 teams that managed to buy out Waluigi’s entire roster and finish the hunt! Special congratulations to substituTE MArio for being the first team to finish the hunt in just 4 hours and 23 minutes.
Thank you to all the puzzlers who took part in our very first hunt! Out of the 493 teams registered,
Special shout-outs to:
Times displayed in your local timezone.
Full puzzle stats are available here.
Back solves were approximated as any feeder solved after its meta.
The Huntinality 2021 staff consisted of twelve people from the larger Cardinality MITMH team handling puzzle writing, story, website development, artwork, and hint support. Most of us were writing puzzles for the first time. Even amongst writers with experience, Huntinality 2021 was the first time writing a puzzle for a hunt of this scope.
Cardinality has long been an active member of the puzzling community as solvers. Throughout the years, we have enjoyed many online and offline hunts -- it was about time we gave back to the community!
We wanted to run a clean and accessible hunt that was enjoyable for puzzlers of all experience levels. In doing so, we valued cleanliness and tightness over complexity -- we deliberately erred on the side of removing ambiguity and other potentially frustrating steps. We wanted to keep solvers from becoming overly stuck/disinterested during a puzzle, but part of this decision was also motivated by our relative inexperience in puzzle-writing. This may have come at the expense of lacking more complex and potentially interesting puzzles for seasoned solvers, but we hope that our hunt was enjoyable for everyone nonetheless.
In addition to above, we also implemented:
We were also aware that our hunt had a number of color-heavy puzzles, so we added things like hover text for color-blind accessibility.
We aimed for Huntinality 2021 to be a hunt similar in scope to Puzzle Potluck 3 and REDDOThunt. We expected the top teams to finish within the first day and most competitive teams to finish within the extended weekend. We are happy to have landed squarely in that spot.
Below is a chart comparing the relative length/difficulty of some similar online hunts from the last year. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of all hunts from the last year -- it is simply a list of recent hunts from which we could easily get relevant data.
*Note that the CMU hunt was only open for 24 hours.
We decided on the Waluigi and Smash theme via an internal vote early on in the hunt-writing process. Nobody on Cardinality is actually a big Waluigi or Smash Ultimate fan (Melee's a different story), but the idea was well-suited for a puzzle hunt and easy to work with. As part of the theme's proposal, a rough sketch of O Bro, Where Art Thou? was completed, making it the first puzzle idea in the hunt. Initially, we didn't have a sense of how many puzzles or rounds we wanted. However, we knew we wanted to theme one round around peripheral Nintendo characters (using O Bro as its meta) and potentially theme a second half around characters from non-video game franchises that would be nonsensical to include in a Smash game. The latter would reflect how Waluigi's game would balloon out of control.
Because O Bro was so substantial, we determined that it was best to write a preceding round with a simpler meta. The "purple" meta, which would later be named Wah-llet, was written not long after. The first round was initially themed around superfluous amenities one may find at a typical tech start-up (e.g. Wah-rcade was initially supposed to map to an arcade, we'd have a catering puzzle, etc.). The general idea was that Waluigi was putting together a business that would eventually develop the Big Bash Siblings game. We later re-themed the round around failed business ventures whose names all began with "Wah".
For a while, we were satisfied to keep the hunt at two rounds since the scope was very manageable, and O Bro could serve as a decent finale because of its size. However, we realized that our hunt would be on the short side and brainstormed ways to include a runaround-type finale. We eventually conceived of a final round built on the incremental game and drew upon our original idea of having nonsensical non-Nintendo characters for theming. Playing on cryptocurrency's salient presence in news at the time, we framed the round as the story of Wario buying out Waluigi's company by bribing various ridiculous additions to his game.
In the Huntinality story, Waluigi sets out to create a game that will surpass Super Smash Brothers, hoping to exact revenge for years of neglect from Nintendo. In the first round, he creates a business. In the second, he recruits an initial roster using eight minor Nintendo characters that would never be the stars of a smash game.. And in the final round, the scope of his game exceeds all reasonable limits and he recruits a hodgepodge of random characters across different media, and Wario must put an end to his madness.
Why did we go through this story just to see Waluigi fail? Must we witness his idealism get crushed beneath the unrelenting heels of gritty realism? Well, the saga of Waluigi and Big Bash Siblings, much like Breaking Bad, draws heavily upon the Greek and Shakespearean traditions of tragedy. The story itself was largely conceived and written in a series of fever dreams induced by extreme asceticism and various tantric rituals.
In all seriousness, the final parts of the story were hastily assembled to prioritize wrapping up more important things like puzzle editing and website development. The story was never meant to be taken very seriously in the first place, though this is perhaps self-evident from the premise. In writing the story, we tried to inject the right amount of seriousness and lightheartedness to keep things entertaining but at least a little compelling. We did believe Waluigi's memetic status and the fan outrage over his exclusion from the Smash roster could make for a genuinely interesting story.
Outside of the character stories that were relevant to O Bro, Where Art Thou?, the story was intended to be optional content for those who wanted to enjoy it. We recognize that, in the middle of a competitive live hunt, many solvers would just never read the story or wait until the end of the hunt to read it. It was mostly just a lot of fun to put the story together, though, so we didn't really mind this. We also believe the art and puzzle theming had enough information for solvers to get the general picture (literally) of what was going on. We hope that those who did take the time to read the story enjoyed themselves.
We started planning in Jun 2020 and wrote meta 2 and most of its feeders through the fall, followed by round 1. We began running playtests in March 2021, made ourselves finish our remaining feeders, and wrote round 3. We had biweekly syncs for hunt planning and dev work throughout, we and periodically scheduled half or full day working sessions for puzzle writing and artwork. (Before and after MITMH, progress slowed down as we shifted focus to our rapid team expansion and then almost chickened out of hosting this hunt altogether because we weren’t sure it was good enough!)
As each puzzle was written, we first ran a number of internal playtests where puzzle writers and other hunt staff would test each other’s puzzles. We tried to keep each other as unspoiled as possible for playtest integrity, but this proved to be hard as 1) a number of us had seen other puzzle answers during meta discussion, and 2) we realized at least 1 person had to know about every single puzzle to be able to avoid redundancy.
We aimed to have two clean (hint-less) internal test solves first before subjecting any external friends to our creations. We then had 3 groups of playtesters do an end-to-end playtest of the entire hunt, plus a few additional playtests for round 3, where we had seen a number of teams get sidetracked by the characters and therefore were still making flavor and presentation tweaks up until ~2 weeks before hunt.
We weren’t sure how art was going to work for this hunt, but it happened! We had two (self-proclaimed) pretty inexperienced artists who did the majority of the artwork for the puzzles using Inkscape, Photoshop, Gimp, and ... Microsoft Powerpoint. A huge thanks to Shuxin for helping out with the interactivity of the displays to make it all come to life!
Round 2 art for the characters was actually well underway during September as an exercise to learn digital art (hence the general soullessness whoops) and basically locked us into sticking with Meta 2 (sorry Benji :/).
As for Round 3, we wanted to make it a collaborative effort across Cardinality to assemble Waluigi’s team for Big Bash Siblings (special shout out to Ali, Derek, Max, Ryan, and Sushi, most of whom had to learn digital art from scratch). We wanted the roster to feel chaotic and have enough characters to discourage anyone from trying to identify all of them for some deeper meaning. Roughly from back to front, left to right, we have No-face, the Magic School Bus, Catbus, the Chrome error dinosaur, Waldo, the Powerpuff girls, the Untitled Goose, Red and Yellow M&Ms, Peppa Pig, Tahu, Little Miss Sunshine, Perry the Platypus, the Red “Sus” crewmate, the Monopoly Man, the Knight, Master Shake, Tom and Jerry, Lisa Simpson, Catdog, King Onion, Angry Birds, Android, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Kevin, Stewie, Gudetama, Doraemon, and Bloo. It was very fun to compile a list of suggested characters for people to “adopt” and “upset” due to the crowded conditions of Big Bash Siblings.
Huntinality’s website code is forked from the open-source gph-site written in Python/Django by the Galactic Trendsetters for their hunt. We are very thankful and impressed that Galactic was able to open-source their code, as we would be worried for our professional careers if our code were to ever be released to the public.
We made the following changes on top of gph-site:
Throughout the process, we found Alex Irpan’s A Puzzlehunt Tech Checklist blog post incredibly helpful.
We ran our website on Heroku, mostly out of convenience and familiarity. Anecdotally, we suspected that ~10 dynos would be more than enough for a hunt of our size, but we were paranoid and were trying our darndest to make sure our site did not crash at the beginning of the hunt. So we ran a loadtest.
We used k6.io to simulate 800 simultaneous users accessing the home page and logging in, retrying as soon as a response came. At the end of the loadtest, we settled on starting the hunt with a whopping 50 dynos as well as upgrading to Heroku's Standard 2 PostreSQL tier (allowing for 400 simultaneous db connections).
It turned out that we severely overestimated our load and were massively overprovisioned, at least until the 3rd hour or so when we reduced our dyno count significantly. Apparently, not everyone spams F5 at the beginning of a hunt (certainly not every second). On the plus side, we did get feedback like this:
Ultimately, we did not detect any team gaining a competitive advantage by hacking the game. We did encounter one team (ironically named Dogs Bound By Rules) who managed to exploit the game (quite easily...), but only after they finished the hunt.
We knew that the night shift would be the hardest timespan to cover. But due to a mix of heroic efforts (shout out to Melissa who got up at 5 am every day) and general aversion to sleep, our response times were always far below the promised turnaround. We saw a number of comments on fast response time in hunt feedback, which made us very happy.
For speed and consistency, we had each puzzle author prepare a handful of hints ahead of time. We also decided to compete to see who could answer the most hints, although we’re not sure what possessed us to do that.
We did not want to steal any aha moments, but we also wanted to make sure teams never felt that they had wasted hint credit. We tried to match the level of detail that a team put into their hint request in our response, as a way to balance giving too little or too much info, and we often encouraged teams to follow up if they wanted a larger nudge. (Sometimes teams would even ask us for a “shove”).
Likely, but we aren’t promising anything. We are definitely going to take a few months off and enjoy the upcoming slate of hunts (GPH, Puzzle Potluck, etc.) before we start any substantial discussions. There are other members of Cardinality who have already expressed interest in trying their hand at puzzle writing. With more writers, more experience, and the foundational tech stack out of the way, next time, we can hopefully pursue more ambitious, more innovative, and possibly even purpler ideas.
Over the next few weeks/months, we are aiming to make the site entirely static. This means we will remove the log-in/registration page, and all puzzles will be available for everyone with a static answer checker. For Wah Street Bets, our goal is to keep the game playable with a few modifications.
This hunt would not have happened without a long roster of awesome puzzle/story writers, devs, artists, hinters, and test solvers (names listed below).
We are super grateful to various artists across the internet, Nintendo, all creators of our round 3 characters, and various Youtube channels for giving us material around which we based our stories and our own art. (Nintendo, please don’t sue us!!!)
We are also super grateful to all the amazing puzzlers who put together previous puzzle hunts. The creativity and quality of your hunts inspired and motivated us throughout and also taught us a lot about puzzle hunt best practices. The full list of hunts we’ve done and enjoyed is too long to remember, but some special thank you’s go to:
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.
Note: If you would like your team name to be redacted (or your entry entirely removed), please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anything in parentheses in the guess is an editor’s note.
Especially during the early hours of the hunt, we were glued to the stream of incorrect (and correct) answers as they flowed in. Here is a list of some of the answers that made us laugh:
|Juice Factory||Eggplant Parms||THISPUZZLEISAWARCRIMEWTF|
|LOLO||Doomsday Asteroid||LADIES (after GENTLEMANPARTNER)|
|O Bro, Where Art Thou||ƧO⅄ BO⅄Ƨ||OKAYBROMER|
|O Bro, Where Art Thou||Arcana||ALLMENAREBROTHERSOFJESUS (well, this is a different meaning for “Cardinals”...)|
|O Bro, Where Art Thou||🇰🇼🇦🇷🇬🇪🇷🇸 (Kwargers)||ALLMENAREBROTHERSFIREFOX|
|Wagyu Stakes (Mini)||Time Vultures||HARRYOTTER|
|Wagyu Stakes (Mini)||CA/TX Alliance||WORTHLESSBASEMENT|
|Wah Street Bets||🇰🇼🇦🇷🇬🇪🇷🇸 (Kwargers)||OHSHITOHSHITOHFKPLEASEWHATISASYNONYMFORMOTELCOIN|
|Wah Street Bets||(Several teams)||SHITCOIN|
|Wah Street Bets||The Funky Town Monkey Pimps||EPICCHIN (Waluigi does have quite a chin)|
|Wah-llet||Culms of Munj||WALUIGIEXPLOSION|
|Wah-llet||Nintendo's Evildoer Sibling||WAHNDOLLARBILLS|
|Wah-llet||Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult||WAHDSOFCASH|
|Wah-llet||(Several teams)||WALUIGIOPENSINN (Turns out if you assign SHEETS to Microsoft, you get ONENOTE for purple and end up with Waluigi Opens Inn. This led to…)|
|Wah-llet||(Several teams)||HOTELWALUIGI (See Waluigi Opens Inn)|
|Wah-shington Post||(Several teams)||THEDRESS|
|Wah-wwa Wia||Taboo "Smasher" Building Incorporation||LINMANUELMIRANDA|
|Wah-wwa Wia||(Several teams)||PIRATESOFPUNZANCE (We should have made this the answer!)|
Note: If you would like us to change/remove any screenshots here, please let us know at email@example.com.
As we watched teams progress, we cheered when we saw correct answers and wept when our hints didn’t unblock anything. We appreciated all the greetings, jokes, and memes in everyone’s Google sheets, as well as the creative ways various tabs were named (including “pain” and “suffering”). Some of our favorites below:
Spoiler for Dating Sim:
The intermediary phrase for this puzzle told puzzlers to “go think”, which sparked much amusing (and sometimes self-deprecating) sheets commentary. Some of our favorites below:
A nice welcome from Pepsimen:
(Spoiler for Mother Earth) From Constructed Adventurers:
Other original mock-up of our site logo felt more like Church of Waluigi...
Meanwhile, our actual logo ended up striking an uncanny resemblance to the California Lottery...
Note: If you would like us to change/remove any screenshots here, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.