If this is your first time participating in a puzzle hunt, it might seem confusing--even overwhelming--at first. Don't be scared! You'll quickly get a hang of what to look for to solve a puzzle. If you ever feel discouraged, please talk to Headquarters. We want you to have fun, and we're eager to provide help and encouragement.
One of the hardest things to get used to may be the lack of instructions. If you're looking at a puzzle without instructions, here are some general things to think about:
And here are some further tips and tricks to think about:
1) Try things.
If you have an idea, try it out, even if you're not certain it'll help. Whenever you're stuck, try all logical ways you can think of to work with the data you have, and don't be discouraged just because one doesn't work. For example, given two sets of letters ABC and EQJ, we could try subtracting the second from the first, and we'd get VKG, which is gibberish. But don't give up! Try subtracting in the other direction (the first from the second) and voila! The answer is DOG. (Keep an eye out for similar processes that can work in two directions. Given a gibberish phrase and an encoding scheme, try both encoding and decoding. Etcetera.)
2) Everything is important.
The puzzle title might be important. All the text in the puzzle might be important, even if it looks like cute "flavor text". When you get stuck part way through a puzzle, ask yourself, "What information haven't I used yet?" and look for a step that would involve that information specifically.
3) Guess a bit.
Often you can solve a puzzle without figuring every single clue, particularly when a puzzle involves identifying a long list of clues, all of roughly equal importance. If you get stuck with two thirds of the clues identified, try to figure out what you'll do when you have them all. You may be able to solve the puzzle without all the clues, or perhaps you'll find a pattern that makes figuring out the rest of the clues easier. Similarly, feel free to start looking at the meta-puzzle before you've finished solving all the puzzles that lead up to it.
4) A common trick: Indexing.
One specific trick that comes up frequently is to use a list of numbers to index into a list of words. For example, if you have the list of words CHEESE-PENGUIN-MONEY-RUFUS-TICK and the list of numbers 5-1-2-1-4, take the 5th letter of CHEESE, the 1st letter of PENGUIN, and so on, to find the answer SPORK.
For an even more extensive list, we recommend this list of Things To Try put together by an MIT team for use in the MIT Mystery Hunt.