Cryptex Hunt 2022 – 67th… But at least we finished!

Cryptex Hunt 2022 is over! After a furious few hours of puzzling, a winner was crowned- congratulations to team Cryptex for Hidden Herrings for finishing first!

As for my team, All My Exes Live in Cryptexes, things were looking great. We completed the first half of the metapuzzle with a solid lead over the competition.

We were really excited! Then the wheels fell off. After getting stuck for a little while, the team disbanded for the day. I went to dog training class and saw the new Batman movie, and while the Riddler’s games got me in the mood to figure out the final puzzle, I still didn’t have any luck picking apart the final puzzle before heading to bed.

After sleeping on it, I found my way to the right path in the morning. I thought back to a design quirk from last year’s Cryptex Hunt and used that as inspiration, and lo and behold, it panned out! By that point we had fallen to 67th place, but it was still nice to finish before the deadline.

We had been so close! We had been on the correct path very early but ruled out that path when it looked like it was returning garbage, and there were a lot of other deep rabbit holes for us to dive into featuring various combinations of Caesar shifts, letter indexing, and binary.

Still, I had a lot of fun- there’s something special about racing to the finish, and I personally prefer hunts where my team can be in contention without sacrificing a full weekend or more.

The hunt was much simpler this year than last, but still enjoyable. The amount of work that went into last year’s hunt was staggering, with over a dozen fully illustrated text adventure games, so I don’t blame the team for dialing it down a notch this year. There were still plenty of puzzles and a lot of great moments along the way.

The final five non-meta puzzles were released simultaneously, compared to last year when the final sequence of puzzles needed to be completed in a sequential order. For one or two screen puzzles like the ones this year, this worked well since the assorted puzzles lend well to divide & conquer tactics for teams willing to get creative. It also prevented less experienced teams from missing out on puzzles due to running into a wall.

Just like last year, I’m rank ordering the puzzles in the hunt from my least favorite to favorite, listing the key points of why I ranked each the way I did.

This Wordle Is Messing with Everyone’s Heads

I appreciate the opportunity to learn about a new puzzle tool, but the bulk of “solving” this puzzle is transcribing many, many characters and pasting them into an online tool to see what it spits out, which isn’t a very enjoyable experience. I also didn’t like that even though the puzzle censors out an F bomb, you still ultimately need to punch it into Google to solve the puzzle, which might be awkward for parents playing along with younger solvers.

This Strange Crossword Makes No Sense

The cryptic crossword was fine, especially since it was advertised in the rules that puzzle hunters would need to do one. From the number of solves per puzzle, though, I see this was a wall for many participants- it may have been a better experience to simplify the clues a little – Huntinality 2021 included cryptic clues in its final metapuzzle that were more accessible for newbies.

I may have missed something, but the extractions for both halves of the puzzle seemed a little imprecise. My team got there quickly but both seemed to involve some form of trial & error of equally valid options until something reasonable gets spit out.

Can You Crack This Cryptex

I liked how the final puzzle involves manipulating a Cryptex to get the final solution, which is very appropriate for the hunt. It’s satisfying unraveling a message little by little.

It could be frustrating for teams that the puzzle doesn’t clue the element of recursion at all. All the other puzzles in the hunt include something extraneous that doesn’t quite fit until the players have an “Aha!” moment leading them to part 2. With no nudge in the game text, teams are forced to test ideas until something sticks, which is also a little painful when there are some meaty false paths teams can go down.

Discover Your True Puzzle-Solver Name

Of all the puzzles, this is the one that probably provides the most immediate utility outside of the puzzle hunt (I guess I’m Mystery Captain now). The final extraction was enjoyable.

The second half of the puzzle involves some trial & error, and since it used information specific to Cryptex Hunt, it fed a large number of people to a page that couldn’t support the traffic at the same time. It wasn’t a gamebreaker but it keeps this puzzle from being higher on my list.

We Know What You’re Watching

The gimmick for this puzzle was fun. It requires some pop culture knowledge but not nearly enough to be a serious blocker for most teams.

It’s hard to say how I feel about the second half of the puzzle. The logic itself was fun, albeit simple, but most of the challenge came from an effect that, while looking neat, made the puzzle disorienting to look at.

Are You Smarter Than a Robot

A neat puzzle- if I had to share one of these puzzles with coworkers to explain what this hunt is, this is the one I’d use. It has a fun aesthetic and a subtle yet distinctive way of cluing the second half. It really captures the idea of a puzzle hidden within a puzzle and elegantly uses its space to have two clean, distinct puzzles sharing the same limited space.

Report to the Wizarding Academy Immediately

This is a very polished puzzle that wouldn’t be out of place in a real-life escape room. I like how cleanly the clues map – the icons are all easy to interpret so groups aren’t likely to get mired down in wrong interpretations of the characters.

Test Your Babysitting Skills in This Realistic Scenario

This puzzle gets bonus points for being so interactive and having a little story that plays out in a comical fashion on the screen. It’s very creative, and the design does a good job concealing the nudges toward the second half of the puzzle.

The second half is dependent on references to something I had never heard of. However, the designer left a nice amount of breadcrumbs throughout – it’s clear that there’s an external reference happening and typing any of the loose threads into Google quickly leads to the right place, so ultimately solvers should find this rewarding rather than frustrating.

Only a Music Maestro Can Figure Out This Melody

This puzzle weaves in a lot of content in a small amount of space and teaches an interesting type of cipher that was new to me. I admit I haven’t really read musical notes since grade school but the part 1 extraction is clued well, as is the direction toward part 2.

Part 2 may be a little painful for some teams given the work involved to read up on musical notation – there are online tools, but you need to still be able to read and understand elements like what key a piece of sheet music is in. Thankfully the designer seemed to understand this and kept the message to be translated short and simple, and this allowed the puzzle to be informative yet not tedious.

Can These Weird Clovers Tell Your Fortune?

I give many, many bonus points to this puzzle for a great little pun woven into the secret extraction. This puzzle was a strong lead-in for the hunt and gets teams comfortable with the idea of searching for elements that don’t seem quite right. The secret message isn’t completely obvious, but once you see it, you know you’re on the right track.

What Could Possibly Go in These Blanks

This puzzle lands right in the middle of the hunt’s batting order, but it was the standout puzzle to me. What first appears to be an extremely simple puzzle has a lot of content baked in. The cluing is clear without beating you over the head, and the surprises don’t stop.

The designers also did a phenomenal job anticipating the player experience and stopping red herrings and false paths dead in their tracks. All elements of the puzzle come back to the same core concept yet they’re different enough to feel satisfying with each subsequent “Aha!” moment.

As this was only my second year participating in the Cryptex Hunt, I see how dramatically it can vary year to year. Let the speculation begin on what 2023’s Cryptex Hunt will look like!

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