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Loading Solution...

by Alex Irpan, Catherine Wu, Ivan Wang, and Jacqui Fashimpaur


Throughout the course of the museum, a brief loading animation is displayed before each puzzle “loads”. The loading time for the animation slowly increases with the number of solves, until it becomes infinite. At any point, we might become suspicious that this is in fact a loading puzzle (as opposed to loading a puzzle), through clues such as MATE’s expression changing from happy to sad, MATE’s dialogue as puzzles take longer to load, or even a response when you ask MATE via chat, “is the loading animation a puzzle?”

To solve the puzzle, we observe that the puzzle pieces of a particular color fall in the same pattern in a loop. As clued by MATE’s dialogue, each “shade” of color “traces” out a letter, spelling out STOP. (The four loading dots are colored the same shades to provide an ordering.)

Arrow tracing out letter S in MATE's loading animation

Arrow tracing out letter T in MATE's loading animation

Arrow tracing out letter O in MATE's loading animation

Arrow tracing out letter P in MATE's loading animation

Submitting this answer while the puzzle is still loading will trigger a short animation of the pieces falling, revealing a void in the puzzle page. Clicking this void brings us to part 2 of the puzzle.

The second part is a collaborative team-wide interaction. The goal is simply to put together a virtual jigsaw puzzle! Upon doing so, we see an image of the factory, and clicking on it leads us to the Puzzle Factory.

Authors' Notes

The “breakout” puzzle, as we called it internally, was one of the pivotal parts of the hunt theme, in which solvers would realize that the museum is just a front for the main acts of the hunt. Our high-level goals included:

  • Allow teams to break out and discover the factory within a range of puzzle solves, rewarding the astute;
  • Ensure that all teams will break out by the end of the range;
  • Hide puzzle content “in plain sight” in a format unusual to most hunts.

We discovered in our first big testsolve that the loading puzzle was too well-hidden. After all, puzzle hunters just want to do one thing: solve puzzles! Unfortunately, the loading times were attributed to technical issues rather than an intentional design choice. In order to make the “aha” more gettable, we revised the subtlety of the animation and added textual and graphical hints, including MATE’s facial expressions.

Note to Javascript web devs: beware giving your puzzle the slug (or codename) "undefined". We had a delightful experience debugging an issue where answer submissions were incorrectly routed to this puzzle because we had forgotten to set the slug (for the blissfully unaware, undefined is the key word given to the primitive value meaning "no value" or "unset").