“The 2021 Cryptex Hunt is an online puzzle hunt for beginners.”
While I had heard of the famous MIT Puzzle Hunt, I had never heard of an online-only one before a friend posted about the 2021 Cryptex Hunt on Twitter. In a really fortuitous coincidence, this year’s hunt was designed to be a good on-ramp for beginner players and the theme was 8-bit adventure games. It felt like it was literally designed just for me!
Every day new puzzles were released at 5pm (PST), with one puzzle released the first day, two puzzles the following four days, and then a grand finale that started on Saturday morning and featured five puzzles.
In each puzzle you needed to figure out how to beat an 8-bit adventure game, which would then lead you to the actual puzzle hunt puzzle that you needed to find the answer for. The game kept track of the exact moment you entered the final answer into the website, populating a leaderboard that ranked you on how quickly you solved the puzzle.
I missed the puzzle launch on the first day, but was able to finish Puzzle 1 in time for the puzzle releases on day two. I did pretty well on some of the earlier puzzles, my best rank being 22nd on Puzzle 4. For the Grand Finale I got off to a rough start with the first puzzle, getting stuck on the meta puzzle at the end due to a transposition error I made. I was pretty pleased though, I was in 119th Place for that puzzle, but managed to get 50th place overall when I finished the final puzzle, four puzzles later!
In addition to the puzzle solving, there was a community of incredibly nice and helpful people running the show. There was a Discord setup for the Puzzle Hunt, with people offering hints and helping people along in the various channels. While it was a competition, I never saw a single disparaging or aggressive comment in the community; everyone was just incredibly nice. It was a wonderful balm in a year that has been marked by rampant division and cruelty—the whole puzzle hunt was, really. I’m super excited for next year’s Cryptex Hunt and will likely be taking on some of the previous year’s challenges as practice before then.
Each adventure puzzle had a really fun theme, from classic adventure themes like Egyptian tombs and derelict spaceships to more novel ones, like meditative reflections on loss and grief or trying to wake up out of a recursive dream. My personal favorite was the one set in the food court of a mall staffed by a bunch of cute monsters looking for love and friendship. You play a mall cop who needs to help them with their problems and solve the mystery of a food court break-in. It was delightful and even without the meta-puzzles to solve on top of them, I would have really enjoyed the experience.
In another nice touch, there were eleven different authors, thirteen different adventure games, and nearly as many genres; but all of the games were fairly consistent in their functionality and presentation. I would presume that some of that falls on the shared use of the Adventuron platform, but clearly a lot of work was done behind the scenes to ensure a great experience for the players.
The puzzles in the adventure games were mostly classic adventure game fare: search locations, collect items, figure out where to use them, repeat until finished. Some of them were relatively easy and others were fiendishly clever. They were relatively short experiences, wrapping up before they even risked wearing out their welcome. The in-game adventure puzzles were all solvable in-game without the need for any outside knowledge. The game command vocabulary was fairly intuitive and I didn’t run into many issues getting it to do what I wanted.
As far as colorblind accessibility goes, two of the puzzles required you to be able to distinguish between red and green. In one of them it is obvious that you are meant to be able to distinguish between the different colors and so can easily be worked around with tools like the macOS Digital Color Meter. On another puzzle, The Bamboo Forest, it’s less obvious and lead to a mild frustration point near the end game. If you’re red-green colorblind, you may want to play that game with a non-colorblind partner.
As this was my first puzzle hunt, I really appreciated that the meta puzzles started somewhat easy and then gradually ramped up in difficulty. There came a point in the hunt where a certain meta puzzle required me to use information outside of the game, in a way that blew my mind a little (as someone who is used to primarily doing puzzle games that don’t require such things). Thankfully the community was there to nudge me in the right direction, better preparing me for the next time I needed to go outside the game for a solution.
The final meta puzzles were pretty tough, but in a well-written, fair way. They really made me feel accomplished when I was able to solve them, though I definitely needed some outside help to get there. Though, it still took me nearly 7.5 hours on the final day to get through all five final puzzles
For the big old cost of free, you have nothing to lose by trying Cryptex Hunt 2021. The puzzles are pretty clearly demarcated, so you can try just one or two out and see how you like it. I think you’ll find them to be a lot of fun and, if you’re able to finish by the end of March 2021, you’ll be eligible to win one of the draw prizes. So get out there and get hunting!