Editor’s Note: Alex Calhoun shares his experience participating in the 2011 MIT Mystery Hunt in this guest post. Calhoun’s team, Codex Alimentarius, was the first to finish this year’s Hunt, earning the privilege to design the 2012 Hunt.

The time is 12:17pm on Friday, January 14th, 2011. A string quartet is playing in Lobby 7 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. Hundreds of guests are present for the wedding of Mario and Peach, now in motion. But as any video gamer might expect, just as the couple begins to recite their vows, Bowser sweeps in and kidnaps Peach: I’m sorry Mario, but your wedding is in another Chapel!

Attendees to the opening ceremonies for the 2011 MIT Mystery Hunt were greeted with this disrupted ceremony, kicking off an annual competition that pits teams ranging in size from five people to over a hundred as they attempt to solve more than a hundred puzzles in a race around the clock to find “The Coin,” the amorphous victory trophy that signals the end of the year’s Mystery Hunt. Every competition is guided by an overarching theme. For the 2011 hunt, teams were tasked with assisting Mario rescue his bride-to-be. “Mario is great at jumping on mutant mushrooms but lousy at solving puzzles,” we were told by the representative from team Metaphysical Plant, the 2010 Hunt winners.

Puzzles in Mystery Hunt are structured in rounds. As teams solve puzzles, they unlock additional puzzles and additional rounds. Each round has one or more meta puzzles, formed from the answers from each regular puzzle. Mario World had three rounds and the first was “World 1-1”, with seven regular puzzles. The answers to those puzzles were all types of mushrooms or other fungus (Oyster, Orange peel, Charcoal Burner, Panther, Cannonball, Jack O’ Lantern, Fried Chicken). By looking up the genus names of each of these species and reading the first letters down vertically, the following word appears:

OYSTER: Pleurotus ostreatus
ORANGE PEEL: Aleuria aurantia
CHARCOAL BURNER: Russula cyanoxantha
PANTHER: Amanita pantherina
CANNONBALL: Sphaerobolus stellatus
JACK O’ LANTERN: Omphalotus illudens
FRIED CHICKEN: Lyophyllum decastes

“PARASOL” is another species of mushroom, and the first meta-puzzle solution. My team, Codex Alimentarius, eagerly attacked the twenty or so puzzles in “Mario World,” unlocking the World One castle in a few hours. In doing so, we learned the Hunt ranged far beyond the domain of the Mushroom Kingdom.

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