Last year I had my 30th birthday party. I wanted to make it a little more of a shindig, so I decided to plan a puzzle hunt. And what was the theme? You guessed it, it was the International Space Station. I had never run a puzzle hunt before, so I decided to get some help from my friend Catherio. She was on the team that created the 2015 MIT puzzle hunt, and I knew she’d help me avoid a lot of puzzling pitfalls.
I’ve written out the full instructions of the puzzle hunt here so that anyone who wants to reproduce the experience can do so. But I also want to give the reader something of a chance at participating in the puzzle themselves, so I’m going to write this post from the perspective of a puzzle-solver, and split it across a few pages to hide the answers. You can pause reading at any time to try to figure out the next step. If you just want to read the instructions to reproduce the puzzle, skip to the last page.
You and your 20 closest friends show up on site, at the entrance to the Doe library on UC Berkeley campus. It’s raining a little bit. You are split into four groups, representing the four space agencies of the ISS: NASA, Roscosmos, ESA, and JAXA. You end up in the ESA group, representing the European Space Agency. The mission director gets everyone’s attention and begins to speak.
“Welcome everyone! We’ve got an important mission to complete today. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been going so well. A routine resupply capsule has been sent up to the ISS. Just as it was docking, a collision occurred that broke up the capsule, sending the payload spinning away. You job now is to survey the area to collect pieces of the capsule, with which you will attempt to recover telemetry data to locate the payload.”
They hand out four binders, one to each group. The binders contain the following:
- This diagram, printed on a transparent overlay, overlaying this map of campus
- This list of coordinates
- This list of satellite images
“This is your mission briefing booklet. The ISS overlay shows the relevant search areas; capsule debris will not be far outside the colored areas. There will be no debris inside campus buildings. You’ve been assigned to different regions of the ISS depending on which space agency sent you up. The map in your mission guide shows you the bounds of your region. This division helps you efficiently parallelize your search; the overall mission is best completed as a team.
“Your mission packets contains other useful information. You have internet access on the ISS. Catherio and I are mission control; if you have any questions, message us on Messenger or some other platform. You’re encouraged to send me messages about your progress or struggles, so I can help get you more resources.”
With this, you are released.
If you’d like to inspect the mission booklet, take a closer look at the documents linked above. To go outside, go to the next section.