Maybe my LJ/DW/whatever goal for the year should be to write at least something about all of the puzzle hunts I do this year.

So last week was the Galactic Puzzle Hunt, an all-remote week-long thing, "in the style of SUMS or mezzacotta", which are, of course, hunts I had heard of, but had never done. The idea is that there's some number of puzzles -- in GPH, there were 30 -- released over the course of some number of days -- in GPH, it was over 6 days, 5 puzzles a day -- and there are complicated scoring systems about when you solve the puzzles to determine a winner. GPH's rules were that you got full credit for puzzles no matter when you solved them, but if you took longer than 24 hours on them, you would get an "average adjusted solve time", which was the average time over 24 hours that you took divided by the number of puzzles you solved.

Only four teams solved the entire hunt in the appropriate 24-hour period chunks. We were 11th place since we didn't solve the very last two metas until Wednesday night.

I didn't really know what to expect for this hunt -- when I first heard about it, my inclination was to just plan to print out all 25-30 puzzles over the weekend and get together a bunch of people then to solve them, but I figured that maybe we could at least try the first day or two puzzles and see if it was going to be worth trying to solve them and go for a good score/time. As a result, my team was all people who work at Google MTV (me, Chris, Richard, Ken, Sean) or nearby (Glenn) or work at Google but decided not to actually meet up with us (Channing). I was originally going to recruit 2-3 more people but ended up not doing it. Team limit was 10 and we had 7, so. I figured that with a pool of 7 people we'd end up with an average of 4 who could make it on any given day, which is about what happened.

I reserved a conference room at Google that was close to a cafe and a printer and in a quiet side of the building where we wouldn't disturb anyone, and on Tuesday the 14th we got together to solve.

Actually there are lots of puzzle spoilers within so I should probably cut this just in case, even though the hunt is over now, you could still go look at the puzzles if you wanted. )

Since this was my first time doing one of these hunts, I'm not sure what to think. I mean, I enjoyed having puzzles to do every day, and getting together with my friends to hang out and do puzzles is always fun. But I think we got pretty frustrated later on in the hunt when the slogs and leaps got harder, and I also think people got pretty burnt out after a while. (But only kind of. I mean, you could see us in the conference room later in the evening just like "aaaaaaaaaa what IS this stuff", but at the same time, people were always peeking in at the hunt spreadsheet during work hours and exchanging emails around the clock about solving ideas. So.)

Overall I'm glad we did it -- I'm always complaining there aren't enough puzzle hunts anymore and so I'd be a huge hypocrite for not taking advantage of the ones there are. I'd heard about SUMS/MUMS before but wasn't sure this format would really excite/motivate me (no physical component and not really interacting with other teams), though I think the leaderboard aspect here helped a lot because we kept looking at other teams like "argh, everyone else is solving this, it's clearly solveable, what's wrong with us?"

Ok, well, I've been writing this entry over a couple of days and I'm not sure it's entirely coherent or will even be interesting to anyone besides me. So.

This is going to be a weird write-up because this was kind of a weird Mystery Hunt weekend. As most of you know already, Hunt "ended" at 4:30am Saturday when Death and Mayhem found the coin, making it the shortest hunt in history, and even the team I was playing on finished on Saturday evening, leaving us with an extra day in Boston to fill.

But anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

This year I decided to switch Hunt teams for a few reasons, and I think for the sake of everybody it would be better if I don't go into a discussion of it here. The upshot is that after the dust settled I ended up joining Metaphysical Plant, which I guess is a move most people expected to happen at some point anyway after I married Chris. Plus, half the team was involved in my wedding anyway (even some of whom weren't there in person, because we asked people not to give us gifts and instead to write us puzzles for our wedding, Iron Puzzler style, and had a board games and puzzle hunt party the night before the wedding, so that we could have pinball machines at the actual wedding, but that is another story and shall be told another time).

Many people on Plant this year greeted me like "So you finally decided to join us," and I'd reply, "Yeah, now that Chris and I are married, it seemed like I could finally make this kind of commitment..."

(It was funny the first few times, at least. I pointed out that he'd brought me home to meet his Mystery Hunt team waaaaay before I actually met his dad or any other relatives.)

As always, this is going to be long. )

Also, I feel like this would be an appropriate time to put in a plug for Francis Heaney's Progress for Puzzlers, if you haven't seen it yet (make a donation to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and such, and get puzzles)

And on a less political note, Palindrome's practice hunt that they wrote is available online as well, if you have a Panda Magazine account.

And on a non-puzzle note, I'm going to hopefully get my act in gear and move over to Dreamwidth one of these days.  Maybe I'll even start writing more than once every 2-3 months again, who knows.
dr4b: (pop'n'music space dog)

Just kidding, I don't think that even factored into this year's hunt. But that said, I wonder if I'll outdo last year's entry on length. Probably not, since we didn't finish this year.

If I was going to sum up this year's hunt with a meme, it would be more like...



I should probably edit this entry down, but it's already taken me bits and pieces of almost a week to write it, so I think I'll just post now and worry about coherency later.
I miss having entries about puzzle hunts to look back on after hunts. It's funny, but in Seattle we never had the notion of something being rebroadcast, so there was no reason for me not to go home and do a braindump about the day.  Now, it's like, if I do a hunt, usually we're not supposed to spoil people on anything because the hunt may be rebroadcast, or will be rebroadcast a week or two later.

But I mean, I'm feeling really good about how we've been doing at events lately.  It's funny because I'd gotten used to being part of a team (Liboncatipu) known for being one of the top teams in Seattle, but down here I feel like people are still surprised when Ducky Charms does really well in things.  (But we've been one of the top teams in pretty much every event we played in this year.)  My team won Palantir's hunt in early November, and won the Iron Puzzler in late November as well, and there were plenty of the usual suspects around to beat out in those.  We were 2nd or 3rd place in the final Shinteki Decathlon depending on how you count as well.  I dunno.  This past week Chris and I went to Puzzled Pint with just the two of us and finished all 7 puzzles in under an hour.  I still certainly enjoy it, but there are times where I have to remind myself that "these only seem easy because you have been doing this for 12 years." and also to keep perspective when we're feeling like "we can't solve this, it must be broken" (though Iron Puzzler is, of course, the exception to that).

I still think it's a good stretch when we have puzzle events every 2 weeks for a while, though.

On Oct 17 we played in the Mastermind Hunt with Corey and Melinda.  It's funny, I go into every Mastermind Hunt with an expectation of something being broken, and this was no exception.  Worse, this time it wasn't the puzzle that was broken so much as it was the staff that was broken - they told us to leave a site when we didn't have all of the information necessary to solve a puzzle.  Very frustrating.  (It was a boat display in the window of a game store on Pier 39, and there were strings of nautical flags hanging which spelled out the instructions; the staff member handed us a sheet of paper with the positions of the boats and said "This is all you need, you don't need to stay here", which was patently not true, as there were also pluses and minuses on the boats which were integral to the puzzle.)  Turns out we wouldn't have won anyway because we screwed up another answer, but the taste in my mouth from that hunt was unfortunately all about the one puzzle mishap, since that's pretty much how we spent the last hour -- trying to figure out what to do with this puzzle that seemed broken because we just hadn't gotten the information from the site, and we weren't about to go back a mile to get it at that point, though we did work out an info trade with Dan and Doug.  It's a shame, because up to that point it was pretty fun; we were mostly just doing the wander-around-SF-looking-for-stuff thing, and I do think puzzles are always a great excuse to get out on a nice day with friends and be active.

So on Oct 24 we played in the Telegraph Hill BANG.  Chris signed us up while I was in Japan and organized, which meant that it ended up being only me and Chris and Sean.  I think we were 5th or 6th place.  I can't even remember any particular things that slowed us down, puzzle-wise; everything was fairly solid and all involved Morse code in some way or another.  Even though I have the Morse alphabet memorized, there were a few that tested my brain on that (one involved all sorts of operations to letters, like reversing or flipping or shifting (like L flipped is Y because .-.. becomes -.--) which turned out to be really hard for me to do mentally for some reason).  We did have to climb up to the Coit Tower from the Embarcadero, which really sucked.  I did that climb a few years ago with Takuma and Kosuge and was clearly in much better shape back then because I don't remember it being nearly as awful.  One funny thing about the day was that the opening "activity" had asked teams to show up wearing either solids, stripes, or spots (for a Morse activity, being stripes as dashes and spots as dots).  Our team got spots.  But we weren't sure what to do about that since none of us own spotted clothing.  So Chris and I put little Chrome stickers all over our Ducky Charms shirts to be spots.


The stickers kept falling off anyway, so halfway through the day I started "chroming" the GC staffers.  Every start code had an O in it, so I'd take off one of my Chrome stickers and put them in the O.

At the end of the day we were hanging out at the final location.  Richard had mentioned to me that Palantir was doing a hunt on nov 7th at Stanford, which he had discovered while looking at their Berkeley hunt.  So, since we were standing there, and Bruce was talking to Sean, I was like "Well, we have 5 of us right here, why don't we be a Palantir team?"

So I went home that night and registered us.  I also invited my friend Ken to come play since the team limit was 6 and Glenn was busy.  Ken works at Google and we met in the ballroom dance club, but he's also into board games and puzzles and stuff, and I had him join our Berkeley Mystery Hunt team the past two years since he's a recent grad from there and ostensibly could help us get around campus (but in reality he is a pretty solid puzzler.  I feel bad because he said that as an undergrad he'd try to do the hunt and his friends would flake out on him), and so I've been trying to invite him to puzzle events when I can; he also joined us when we did the Houdini escape room back in September.

Nov 7th was the Palantir Stanford hunt.  They run it from noon to 6pm or so, with lunch beforehand and dinner afterwards since it's technically a recruiting event for college students so they have budget for all kinds of stuff (but they let some non-student teams play too, which is nice of them).  I think in past years it's been in Octoberish, but this time it was in Novemberish, with sunset at 5pm or so.  Anyway, the crazy nutso thing here was that we completely blasted this hunt.  I mean, every single puzzle, we'd find some way to shortcut it.  Like we'd have three letters and say "LAS?  Must be LASERS!" and enter that.  Some were even worse offenders of having like 3 out of 8 letters and nutrimaticking out an answer (I think we did that having D_C___P_ and figured out DUCKTAPE from that).  Apparently we also just got lucky in some -- like there was a thing with transparencies and squares and words and stuff, and I immediately said "we're making a QR code", and I was also lucky in that my weirdo Japanese QR code reader app managed to read the thing on the first try -- afterwards a lot of teams said they had a lot of trouble getting it to read even after they had the whole thing done.  We short-circuited a Lego-themed puzzle by basically knowing letter sets based on the position of some squares and coming up with valid words.  We paralellized things really well too.  Almost every puzzle had some moment where someone would finish up the part they were doing only to find out that we'd just solved the entire thing from letter-guessing.  I dunno.  The puzzles were actually totally decent puzzles, just that since they were meant for college students and not necessarily superpuzzlers, we were able to blaze through them like that.

Towards the end of the day, we were That Team that arrived at every site first and left before any other team got there, and pushed GC to arrive early for us.  One of the sites was outside a gym, and we arrived at the same time as GC and basically said "well we'll go to the bathroom while you set up?" and did so.  And then we finished the puzzle and were talking to the GC guy, who told us to wait until the next site opened -- he was asking about other puzzle events and I said "Oh, you should see", and he's like "What's that?" and I said "It's a website that lists puzzle hunts like this but all over the place -- in about 2-3 minutes the Burninators will show up here and a guy in a Trogdor shirt, that's Dan, he runs the site.  I think this hunt was on it too?"  And sure enough, about 2 minutes later the Burninators showed up, and GC guy was like "How did you know that was going to happen?" and I said "Well, usually WE'RE 10 minutes behind THEM... this is a weird day."

We finished the final meta before 4pm.


Sean went off to hang out with some of his friends at Stanford for a little while, and in the meantime we weren't (well, Chris wasn't) sure if we wanted to hang out until the endgame.  Dinner wasn't going to show up until 5:30pm and prizes weren't going to be until 6:30, which seemed like a long time to be there with nothing to do (and we hadn't brought games or anything).  But then, like... the Burninators wandered over to our table, as did LXP, and so we compared notes about the day and then people started telling funny stories about other puzzle things going on (the SUMS puzzle hunt was going on at that time, which I think Wei-Hwa and Derek were both playing in).  And so we hung out and talked puzzles.  And it got dark.  And so we got out our flashlights and put them out on the table like candles.  And eventually food did show up, and we got sandwiches and continued nerding out about puzzles and other things.  Bruce said it was like "puzzle hunt camp", kinda like space camp.

Sure enough, we won!  (And LXP and Burninators were 2nd and 3rd place).  Of course, this year the prizes were not towels but instead were water bottles.  Not nearly as interesting.  There were frisbees for getting the first place time on a puzzle, and we picked up a few of those for our team as well.

Afterwards, Dan invited us over to his house to play boardgames, so we (well, Chris and I) did that!  We played a game of Alchemists with Wei-Hwa and Derek, although the main thing I enjoyed about it was having my cellphone check the chemicals, the rest of the game play wasn't as interesting to me.  I might get it a little bit more on a second play now that I get the whole picture about how the game works, at least.  And then we played a game of Codenames, where one team was Wei-Hwa giving clues to Thomas and Derek, and the other was Chris giving clues to me and Dan.  That was pretty fun.  It is often weird how things you think are "obvious" associations with words are not obvious at all.

Hm, I'll write about Iron Puzzler some other time.
(Warning: Super-long.  Took me about a week to write.  Full of mercifully-LJ-cut photos.  Contains spoilers.  You may not want to know this much detail of what went into bringing you all DASH 7 in San Jose.)

Prelude, or Entering My Own Name Into The Cup

I haven't actually played in a DASH hunt since 2012, when I went to DC and played DASH 4 with Matt and Kenny from my MIT Mystery Hunt team.  In DASH 5 I playtested puzzles in SF and staffed in Seattle (the Pandemic hunt, and Seattle-style, so I was dressed as a zombie in doctor's scrubs staffing outside the Overlake Hospital).  For DASH 6, I knew I wasn't going to be able to make it to the real event due to being in Japan, so I was part of the Game Control planning staff in San Francisco, along with Megan and Mike and Allen, and I spent around 40-50 hours over the course of 3-4 months playtesting puzzles and scouting locations in the city and running playtests.

I wasn't sure what I'd do for DASH 7 in all honesty, and then at Puzzled Pint in December, Yuan asked if I'd want to get involved, and at the time it sounded like there was no GC for the South Bay yet, so I said I'd get involved as "I'll co-GC in the south bay... and I'll co-write a puzzle... but I don't know if I can take on any of those on their own..."

Which is pretty much what happened.  The Hunt theme was determined to be the Harry Potter themed Triwizard Tournament sometime before I joined.  By the time I got to the signup sheet for writing puzzles, in mid-December, there was only one or two open, so I chose Quidditch.  A day or two later I actually came up with what I thought was a pretty decent idea for it, and even better, it was something that wasn't going to factor in with possible puzzles for the BANG I'd still like to write one of these years.  My original plan involved a play on words with beaters (which I thought would be drummers), chasers (which I thought would be alcoholic chasers... though I realized that'd have a problem with Junior DASH), snitches (like Snowden and such), keepers (wasn't sure but figured it'd be goalies of various sports).  I figured people would either find these things in a word find or a crossword grid or photos of the various people or whatnot.  I wasn't quite sure how to assemble this into an extractable puzzle though; one idea involved listing various "teams" of people and you had to make the associations with the Quidditch terms and points (chasers would be worth 10 points, keepers would be worth -10 points, snitches worth 150, something like that) but that seemed like it just wouldn't be that fun.

Anyway, cue mid-January when two things happened: 1) Channing asked people to please step up their puzzle drafts and get in first drafts soon; so I asked the national GC list if anyone wanted to collaborate with me as I had "a pretty neat idea but needed someone to help with mechanics" and 2) MIT Mystery Hunt weekend.

Dustin Foley from the Washington DC GC contacted me because he'd wanted to get in on puzzle-writing but didn't have any ideas and hadn't joined the party until too late anyway, and we were both going to be in Boston for MIT Mystery Hunt.  So, I outlined my idea to him briefly in email and then we chatted for about half an hour outside the Hunt wrap-up.

And Dustin came up with the brilliant word find that you actually got to play if you were in the DASH hunt last month (or if you weren't, look for the Quidditch puzzle on this page:  Infact, for a while I felt kinda guilty even mentioning myself as a co-writer on that puzzle as he pretty much really MADE the puzzle, I just had the idea.  However, I sort of redeemed myself a month or so later when I came up with the Quidditch broom activity which eventually turned into the Triwizard Challenges.

Teaming Up with Tom&Merry

In the meantime, I should also mention how the San Jose DASH trio of Tom, Merry, and myself came to be.  Essentially, I signed up as "I'll help GC south bay".  Merry Choi had been co-GC for Cupertino in DASH 6 with Channing, who became the national GC head for DASH7, so she similarly said "I'll help GC South bay".  Sometime in January, Tom Tabanao got talked into ACTUALLY GCing San Jose.  It's not too surprising as he works in the same area as Channing and Corey and Richard and other puzzle folks at Google.  So at Dr. Bob's ETPH3 hunt at the end of January, I came up to Tom before the hunt started as teams were milling around at the golf course, and we kind of had a conversation that from both sides went something to the effect of "I'm not sure you know who I am, but I heard we should work together for DASH 7 south bay GC.  Great, why don't we set up a meeting at work sometime this week?"

Fun thing about having your GC all work together (we're all Googlers) -- it's pretty easy to have GC meetings for an hour at lunchtime or things like that.  I think at first we were worried about these meetings looking weird on our work calendars so they were set up with backronym tech names like "Different Algorithm, Same Hashtable" or "Discuss Aerial Scouting Hunches" or "Ditching Administrative Suburban Headaches" or "Distributing Administrivia & Scheduling Huddle".

Actually, you can totally guess what those meetings were for.  Like, the aerial scouting one was when we had decided we wanted to use Campbell as a site but weren't sure where to start so we met to look at the map and figure out prospective places to scout out.  Suburban Headaches was our meeting when we realized that the city of Campbell was NOT GOING TO WORK without some serious administrative nightmares and a lot of money.  The scheduling huddle was to plan out our playtests despite that some subset of the three of us were out of town on almost every weekend in April.

First Location Attempt: Campbell

So yeah, we had discussed basically "Sunnyvale or San Jose" as possible locations and in an early meeting decided to try Campbell, as mentioned.  Without any idea at all about what the puzzles were like, Tom and I took a walking scouting trip around Campbell on a weekend afternoon in mid-February and totally thought it was awesome as a site.  Our route went between the Campbell Community Center and the Pruneyard (see if this map link works).  The community center had ample parking and a bunch of fields, plus picnic tables.  We were going to use sites like Psycho Donuts (small, but next to a Subway and across from a field with more places to sit).  There was a historic water tower with a park nearby.  The Pruneyard was an obvious destination with tons of tables and food places.  On the way there was a city park near highway 17 where we could have some kind of Quidditch activity, which I was already talking about even back then; I was joking we could even use their basketball court somehow (for the thematic having three hoops on each side).  Ainsley House was this lovely old historical house with a garden in front and in back; the idea of even using it as Hogwarts occurred to us.  There were multiple coffeeshops and such in downtown that would have worked for locations, and we wanted to finish at the Sonoma Chicken Coop, which Tom said had a large upstairs area that could be reserved.

Mid-February is also where I have my first email sent out to national GC where I suggest that for a Quidditch activity (the sign-up spreadsheet originally said something like "would be great if Quidditch puzzle has physical component"), cities could print out the start code on a snitch-like thing on the other side of a field and make teams send someone out on a broom to get it.  As usual, my initial concept was not what ended up happening...

Anyway, there ended up being several issues with Campbell.  First, the Sonoma Chicken Coop said we couldn't use their upstairs space because they'd be renovating in April and May.  Then, the city of Campbell completely failed to understand what we wanted to do (or maybe they did understand and were just being jerks).  There were all kinds of requirements like port-a-potties, security guards, a deposit for the fields... when all we wanted was a gathering place for like an hour.  It was going to cost upwards of $1500.  Getting the Ainsley site and the water tower were going to be similarly annoying.

We debated the idea of reversing our route, so I contacted the Sports Basement at the Pruneyard, which was happy to work with us (I described DASH as an "event that gets nerds to go walk several miles in the course of solving puzzles" as a way to appeal to their "we support events that promote physical activity" side), except that of course... they already had a race scheduled on May 30 and we couldn't use their meeting room until at least 10:30am.

Scouting the Second Location: Almaden (San Jose)

So after a week of this nonsense we scrapped Campbell and decided to try Tom's neighborhood, Almaden.  He suggested a route around Almaden Lake Park; we had a meeting to look through some potential locations/routes and we met on March 1 to walk through it.

As an aside, while Merry and I were well-versed in Harry Potter, Tom had never read the books or seen the movies or pretty much anything, which was occasionally a running gag... like when he suggested it be around a lake Merry and I were both like "Oh yeah, there's a lake outside Hogwarts in the books, with the thestrals and..."

Which makes it all the funnier that one of the better thematic things of our route was actually Tom's idea -- he suggested we have teams meet at the Oakridge VTA station and take the train one stop to Almaden.  "It can be like that Hogwarts train or whatever," he said.

Doing the route actually made us feel like we'd be in decent shape.  The city of San Jose had a bunch of the picnic locations at Almaden open on May 30.  The train station would be a lot easier than having people park at the park and have to get back there somehow.  There was, ironically, a Sonoma Chicken Coop there as well, which was totally empty at 3pm on a Saturday, so we figured it'd make a GREAT lunch stop.  The only catch is that we'd have to change the order of things a little as I'd found a picnic area that I thought would be ideal for Quidditch -- some tables with a big flat clear running ground next to it.

To get between the park and the mall area we walked both the walking trail, which had no potential real locations on it (I mean, we could have put out a picnic chair and had teams sit on the ground but that would SUCK), as well as Winfield Blvd, which ALSO turned out not to have any reasonable locations.  Google maps claimed there was a coffeeshop along the way but it totally wasn't true.  Still, using the train one way meant that if we had to have people walk from the park to Emerald Hills Golfland, a 10-minute walk or so, we could have the one really long walk, it would be fine.

Golfland was also super nice to us.  We went in, looked around at their patio/golf area, bought Icees (which I promptly manage to drop mine twice and spill it all over the place), and talked to the manager there, and he was basically like "you want a few tables for a few hours in the middle of the afternoon with no golf for a scavenger hunt?  Yeah, we can do that, we've been a scavenger hunt location before.  No big deal."  So that was awesome too.

Getting a final location turned out to be harder.  We talked to BJ's (which Bob had used in ETPH3 in Foster City so the manager said he thought he could do something similar) and Buca di Beppo in the Oakridge mall, but neither of those panned out and in the end Tom got a deal with Round Table Pizza.

I don't know the exact cost of our locations in the Almaden route, but they weren't bad at all.  The picnic locations in the park went for about $130 each IIRC.  Probably the most gratuitous cost for us was buying train tickets for people to go one stop.

(Also, as a funny aside; Tom and Merry and I playtested the Monsters hedge maze puzzle at the food court in Oakridge that day we walked through the route for the first time... and that food court is where the puzzle really ended up being.)

Playtests and Iterations, Part 1

Something I should probably mention is that I had very little to do with registration itself.  I helped Tom edit the FAQ page for the DASH site, but I believe Merry did all the work to get us set up with Eventbrite.  I also did very little work on Cluekeeper as well.  While I certainly feel like I put a whole ton of work into DASH this year as always, I know Tom easily did twice as much.

Onwards to playtesting, where we tested the validity of our route, recruited some staffers, and had other hijinks in order to improve DASH for everyone.

First, I was out of town from March 23 to April 13.  Tom was out of town for a portion of late March as well. And all three of us were out of town on April 18-19.  So we ended up doing two playtests in April -- one on the 11th and one on the 25th.

I wasn't there for the one on the 11th, but they ran it with 3 people on the broom for Quidditch, so that's where the 3-person broom was born from.  I don't know whose idea that was (I have an email from Channing who suggests it) and I still felt like it might be dangerous and/or people wouldn't want to do it, but the rest of GC insisted, so there you have it.

I was, however, there for a meeting on April 14th which I'll call the "OMG WE NEED COOLER STUFF" revelation.  This came from a playtester that might not want me mentioning their name here, where their basic feedback overall after the playtest was "This is a pretty good hunt.  You could run it next week for real and you'd be fine.  The only problem is that as a player I'd be like 'What did my $40 actually get me?  Every puzzle is just on paper and I don't really see a lot of extra production value."

So we brainstormed some ideas.  Quidditch had an activity, why not add in activities somehow for the other two tasks?  For potions, our initial idea was to have digusting jellybeans (Bertie Botts) and players would have to "show their skill at choosing ingredients wisely" by eating 5 jellybeans.  Tom also came up with the idea to have people go to the arcade in the mall and play the Whack-a-mole machine to "defeat the Monsters" for the third task... which got changed to "here's some tokens, get us some tickets and prove you can defeat monsters" so that the one or two thematic machines wouldn't just get tied up or have a long line if there was a bunch of teams hitting it at the same time.

Also, for stuff: why not have a real rubber duck at the end?  And real Snitches with the start code on them?  We brainstormed having better spell books (maybe even tying in puzzle 1 and the final meta, but eventually decided to just present the final meta as a spell book).  We hoped to get tetrahedron blocks made for the Potions puzzle, which fell through, although it seems many teams solved it without actually assembling the triangles anyway.

If you played in San Jose or a few other cities, the Potions activity in the end was a lot cooler: a piece of paper that you had to make an "eye-of-newt potion" to reveal the start code written in invisible ink.  This came out of Seattle and I don't think it propogated to all the cities; myself, I met up with Cathy from Seattle GC while staffing Shinteki Decathlon the weekend before DASH so they could hand off the envelope of invisible ink papers to me.

Other cities brainstormed other ideas for Monsters on the national mailing list; I know one city did a thing where players had to draw monsters to defeat them, and another had a pin-the-tail-on-the-monster sort of event, and another had a throw-beanbags-at-monsters sort of event.

Another cool artifact that happened was the Marauder's Map, which came from Kenzie in Austin GC.  They sent a template out to other cities to create our own.  I started working on this -- so if you played in SJ, the map you got, I came up with all the location names, but Tom made and printed the real file because I had rotated the map sideways.  It was sort of funny to come up with thematic locations for both real locations in the hunt and just other nearby places.  For example, the Petco near the mall was marked as "Magical Menagerie", a bank down the street was marked as Gringotts.  Beauxbatons and Durmstrang were other shopping centers on the other side of the area from Oakridge, and the final location was the Ministry of Magic.  The lunch location was the Leaky Cauldron, the start was Platform 9 3/4, the wands puzzle was at Ollivander's.  I think the only two that were real hunt locations that threw people were Madam Puddifoot's (the Tea shop) and Slug & Jiggers Apothecary -- during the actual hunt someone did ask me WTF that was when they showed up at Potions, like "I know all the other Harry Potter references on the map but not this one," and I was like "It's a shop in Diagon Alley."

Playtests and Iterations, Part 2

By the second playtest on April 25, we had a few of these things at least determined.  Another funny thing about this playtest was that since I had been out of the country I hadn't seen any of the puzzles except Rita Skeeter, Monsters, and of course Quidditch.  We had 2 teams playtesting that day, both experienced.  One was Pretty Pretty Pandas -- 5 people wearing panda hats -- and the other, that was Francis and Dan (who I knew from other hunts) and Michael (who I didn't) and they were called Leviosaaaaaa or something like that.  Anyway, since I hadn't done most of the puzzles I warned them in advance that "I'll be wearing my GC hat about 20% of the time and the other 80% of the time I'm just doing puzzles with you guys.  I'll let you know when I have to be GC.  Is that cool?" and so I was effectively the fourth member of their team.

I only really remember a few key times of the testing itself.  We got surprisingly stuck on the wands puzzle (for some reason we had a number wrong in the anagram one and couldn't get iphones, sadly).  Quidditch was fun to watch.  The Sonoma Chicken Coop was pretty empty for lunch, and the Rita Skeeter puzzle went much better than I remembered it being.  I hadn't seen Potions before, or Tea Leaves... we got annoyingly stuck at the end of Tea Leaves actually, with the right letters but unable to figure out how to anagram them properly (since looking for a name, not a word), and I ended up putting on my GC hat for a bit there since "we're at the point we would go ask GC for a hint if this was the real hunt, probably."  We made the same mistake in House Elves in playtest that most people made in the real game, not noticing the back side of the paper.  Alas.

Funny thing about the final meta in that playtest: the Pandas beat us to the final meta by like 20-25 minutes I think, but we solved it either faster than they did or around the same time.  They had kinda skipped most of the first part by guessing Triwizard Champions really early, so we had more of the mini meta puzzles done when we started the second part.  It was a very long slog but we had it down to like 4 possible antispells for Minotaur and then I noticed the flavor text about sealing a box since I'd done the two puzzles involving that.

During the wrap-up for this playtest, Rich (being the cofounder and primary engineer of Cluekeeper) asked if it would be possible to add "Cluekeeper" into the Quidditch puzzle as one of the keepers, which was a brilliant idea.  He even found a place in the grid where it would go.

A few pictures from the playtest:

LJ-Cut Playtest Photos )

Solving the Constraint Satisfiability Problem of Staffing

Having two weeks worth of playtests, we started coming up with a plan for site opening/closing times, getting together our lists of volunteers, and trying to figure out how to fit all of their constraints.  Like, "These people want to show up at 1pm and be indoors, so we'll put them in the food court from 1-7pm", or "these two people have to leave at 12:30, so we'll put them at the starting sites," and so on.  We were lucky to have 9 volunteers not counting us or Channing, which gave us a lot of flexibility in having two people at every site (plus we had 4 people at Quidditch for the peak time).  Well, Merry was assigned alone at the Tea Leaves site for a while, but Tom and I would be only a few minutes away at Potions incase she needed a break, so that worked out.

We also had to have people at the reserved sites in the park at 10am for when the park ranger would come by and check the permits.  Fortunately those were Wands (Lakeview picnic area) and Quidditch (Tamien), our second and third sites, due to open at like 10:15 and 10:30am anyway.  Our 5th site, for Potions, was an unreservable picnic site called Greystone, so Tom was due to go there ASAP after the opening skit, basically.

Some of you know that I have a particular interest in making sure volunteers don't end up in certain particular undesirable circumstances, specifically
1) being alone somewhere staffing for hours with no bathroom, and
2) staffing for a shift for hours with no break for food (and/or sleep, if an overnight hunt).

As a result, all of the volunteers for DASH7 in San Jose either had an hour or two break in their schedule for lunch, and were either in a place with a convenient bathroom OR were in a place with 2 staffers and a bathroom within a 5-10 minute walk, usually in the park...

...well, except Tom and I.  My staff schedule was basically 9-10:15am at the train station for the opening, 10:15am-1pm as primary on Quidditch, 1pm-5:30pm as secondary on Potions, 5:30pm onwards at the final location.  And Tom was similar except he went from the opening skit straight to the Potions site to stake it out.  As organizers, though, it's not as terrible when we give ourselves bad shifts like that as when we put it on people who have graciously volunteered their time.  I brought granola bars along, too.

Revenge of Sonoma Chicken Coop

Speaking of our sites in particular, our 4th site, for Rita Skeeter and a lunch break, was the Sonoma Chicken Coop in Almaden.  Which we kept saying how it was a great location because it was huge and relatively empty so there'd be plenty of room for puzzlers, right?

Well, guess what... the Sonoma Chicken Coop closed down at the end of April, 5 days after our last playtest there.  I don't think there was ANY warning of this whatsoever.  And Tom had even emailed and confirmed with a store manager there about our event (we like telling places when we're going to randomly bring in 200 people on a Saturday afternoon and all), and they didn't tell him about this either.  We found out about it literally 8 days before DASH, on May 22.

So we had a brief OMGWTF meeting that day -- well, just a general meeting as well, with Channing and everyone to talk about the state of things.  I had just gotten in my Harry Potter robes that I ordered off Amazon, and we talked about dressing up Rich Bragg as Hagrid (which BTW worked awesome, see pics below), and then we had a "okay, WTF do we do about the lunch stop".

Keep in mind that the Sonoma Chicken Coop was at a small shopping center that also had Legends Pizza, and a small Thai place and a sushi place.  So we decided that our backup plan would be Legends, and that we would warn teams that the lunch and dinner places were both pizza and that they should plan accordingly.

Tom went to talk to the people at Legends the next day while I was sitting in San Mateo giving out Shinteki puzzles and waiting for Cathy to show up.  Corey and Melinda were replacing me and Chris at our Shinteki stop anyway so I let them know what was going on, as they were in the food court stop and so could tell teams about the food situation at that point in our route as well.

Week Leading Up To DASH... was Google I/O

Something else about this entire week was that May 28 and 29 were Google I/O, so I was up in San Francisco staffing codelabs there, and thus unable to really do anything to help out DASH during the week.  The only thing I remember doing was meeting up with Tom at some point to get my DASH staff t-shirt and to give him the papers for the Potions activity; other than that my week was crazy with getting stuff pushed out before the I/O keynote Thursday morning.  I guess I contributed to a few emails about the opening skit, which believe it or not (and of course you'll believe it if you've worked on events like this before), we were still hammering out up until Friday.

And then DASH day itself happened!

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As I mentioned, I had been planning to dress up as the Gryffindor Quidditch captain for quite a while.  So when my costume stuff came in, I sent out a photo to SJ DASH and it inspired Tom to get a Slytherin scarf, Channing and Lizzie to pick up Gryffindor and Ravenclaw robes, and Richard got the Hufflepuff robe and tie, so we had some people from all schools.  Another thing we did in San Jose (not sure if this was national?) was that, since the opening puzzle required teams to talk to other teams to acquire four separate sheets, we decided the best way to divide up the packets was to have teams pull their house name out of the Sorting Hat when they got to Hogwarts and were greeted by Hagrid and their professors, by which I mean Richard had a hat with house names in it and Rich Bragg was accompanying people off the train.

So, I showed up at 9am at Almaden station, where I hung out with various staff members waiting for players to join us.  Merry and Mike were staffing the registration table, but that was up at Oakridge station, by the mall, where players would park for the day, and then the players made their way down to where we were in three separate train trips.  To entertain teams that got there early, Tom and I wandered around telling bad Harry Potter jokes and trying to play up the house rivalries.

Eventually everyone was there and we were able to start up.  I have to admit, I had a script to follow, but I didn't want to just stare at the paper the whole time so I kind of got some of the things I was supposed to say wrong.  I don't think it actually mattered.  Mostly Tom gave the "boring" pre-game speech about rules and regulations and the lunch/dinner pizza situation and Cluekeeper and all that, and Rich (as Hagrid) and I announced the Triwizard Tournament theme, gave out the hunt start code, and told people to open their packets and figure out how to enter their names into the cup.  (This was the first puzzle, unscored, and involved players having to trade papers with 3 other teams.)

We spent about 30 seconds taking photos of players at the site and then Tom and I got in his car to get over to the park to set up sites 3 (Quidditch) and 5 (Potions).

A few photos from Site 1 )


Joe had already been waiting at the Quidditch site from 10am on to greet the park ranger; we got there around 10:20.  On the way over I also walked past another picnic site that was setting up a party and warned them that people might think their site was a puzzle location "so if some people come over and ask you about Harry Potter stuff, please tell them they need to keep going, and I'm sorry in advance."

Now, getting over to Tamien, the problem with the site that I hadn't realized before or in playtest was that there wasn't a really ideal way to set up the Quidditch run when lots of people would be arriving.  The nice flat stretch of grass there pretty much went along the route players would be walking from to get there, so we could either greet them in front and have them run to the picnic tables and back (and then go to the picnic tables again to solve...?), or have them walk past people brooming in progress, or... well, Joe suggested that he'd just wait out at this tree across the field and people could do that.  I was a little bit concerned about having teams running on brooms across the actual path where muggles would be walking dogs, jogging, and riding bikes all day, but it looked like probably the best layout to have given the space we were in.

I realize this is a little confusing so here is a diagram:


As you can see, the proposed path is along the flat grassy area (and part of the site we had reserved) but the actual path we ended up using worked out (mostly) better.  Players could come back and solve at the picnic tables and/or sit under the trees nearby.

(I realize the labelling there is a little misleading in one way: "where players came from" just means the path they were walking on; in reality the site before this was a 5-minute walk to the north along the lake, not right next to it)

We had a brief goose emergency too as a bunch of geese were napping in the area I was hoping to have people run through!  I was worried they'd be in the way but eventually when lots of people showed up the geese ran away.

Mike also showed up from the opening site, and Joe went out to wait with Snitches at the tree, and I put on my Quidditch gear, and the first team to show up was ReD'oh (aka the Guys on Scooters, aka Jessen and Stribs) at 10:40am, with the Burninators about 2 minutes behind them, and the Judean GNUs about 2 minutes behind them, and then after that there was the normal flood with a team showing up every minute or so.  What shpiel of mine the teams got was largely based on how many teams showed up at the same time as them and how far in they were; I kept refining my speech as I kept giving it (but some teams got an abridged version).  Also, as later teams could see the teams on the brooms before them going with 3 people it was easier to convince them that they also needed to go with 3 people.

Rich (as Hagrid) also showed up to help out about 10-15 minutes in which was really good as we eventually did run into a bottleneck where there were more teams waiting than there were brooms.

My speech went something like:
Me: Hi, newcomers!
Them: Hi.  Can we have the start code?
Me: Ha!  You think it's that easy?  This is the FIRST TASK of the Triwizard Tournament!  As you can guess by my getup and equipment, you're going to have to play Quidditch!  However, as you know, this is a very dangerous sport... have any of you flown a broom before?
Them, usually: Uhh... well... no...  (Them, sometimes: Oh, yeah.  I fly a broom to work every day.)
Me: Didn't think so!  Well, I can't possibly let you do the task until you show that you can get on this broom and make it fly... however, these are special 3-person brooms, and they won't fly unless 3 people from your team get on.  So, I'm going to need you to get on this broom and fly it out there.  See that guy in the blue shirt and red shorts out there?  He's one of our house team's keepers, and you're going to have to go get a Golden Snitch.  The start code you seek is on the snitch.
Them: [some way of determining who goes, usually nose-touching]
Me: Also by the way, those of you not on the broom are totally welcome to follow them and take photos and videos.  Good luck!

Then when they got back I'd usually be like "I'm so sorry, I was wrong, you were totally able to fly that thing.  I guess you can play Quidditch after all.  Here's your puzzle."

Teams that showed up when there were already teams getting the shpiel or that all showed up at once would usually get some abbreviated version just because we'd have to try to get them in line for a broom ASAP.  Rich helped with that a lot.  So it'd be like "Hi welcome to Quidditch we need you to fly a broom to get the snitch which has the start code uh talk to Hagrid thanks!"

At our peak we technically had 5 people staffing the site.  Charlie joined Joe out in the field, at which point my speech changed to "See those guys working out there by the tree?  They're on the house Quidditch team... a chaser and a keeper... I mean a beater and a chaser... whatever, you're going to have to fly out there and get a snitch away from them!"  Rich continued keeping teams in line recycling brooms as they came in, and Mike separated out puzzle pages and gave them to people after they'd entered the start code (which was really hard for me to do anyway since I was wearing gloves).

Some amusing things happened while staffing the site:

- With the Burninators, Wei-Hwa started entering the start code while they were flying back from getting the Snitch, so we were like "Dude, you shouldn't be texting and flying!  That's dangerous!"
- One of the teams actually did get almost run over by a bicycle, so they changed path to avoid the bike... then they signalled left when turning back onto the real path by waving their arm out to the left like a bike signal
- One team decided to fly their broom by having the broom bristles side out in front instead of in back
- Some teams got really into this and actually sort of fought Joe for the snitch with feints and things.  And some would come back triumphantly holding the snitch in the air
- One broom group high-fived another broom group as they passed each other

And, there was only one team out of 44 teams that I didn't make fly the broom.  This is because they were a couple holding a baby.  Up until that point, for almost any team where someone didn't want to fly (or in one case couldn't), the rest of the team would fly, but in this case I had a conundrum because I wasn't about to make them do something that might endanger their small child BUT I also felt like just giving them the start code wouldn't be fair AND they wouldn't get one of the snitches to keep AND it'd throw off our count (we knew how many teams and how many snitches, for when to close the site).  So I told them to take a broom and walk out and get a snitch and come back and that seemed fair all around (and they took a very cute picture of their baby holding the snitch)

Quidditch Pictures )

Around 12:15pm I left the Quidditch site to head over to help Tom out with Potions.  By then all of the teams had shown up and gotten their puzzles and many had left already, so Rich and Mike said they'd stay there for a bit before heading out.  It was sort of awkward carrying a bag of snitches and the three brooms and my bag and stuff through the park, but I eventually got there unscathed.

Potions and Sabotage (Mostly Potions)

By the time I got to the Potions station, about 7-8 teams had come through (and infact, my normal team, Ducky Charms, was still there solving the puzzle).  I ditched the robe and scarf and gloves because it was 80+ degrees out by that point, and switched to my DASH staff shirt, ostensibly also changing characters from being Quidditch captain.

So, I've heard varying reports of how this task was run in other cities.  We had gotten goldenrod-printed slips of paper from Cathy in Seattle which read: "Show your mastery of potions!  Make an eye-of-newt solution and brush it onto this sheet to reveal the start code for your second tournament challenge."  I think a few other cities did as well.  The idea was that teams would make a "potion" of baking soda and water and that would reveal the invisible message.

However, Tom went one step further with this.  He set up a mini laboratory with a cauldron of paper slips, another smaller cauldron of baking soda (aka "eye of newt powder") and then four flasks.  Three of them had water in them and one of them had vinegar.  They were colored red, yellow, green, blue.  If all went well, teams would get a little plastic cup and a q-tip and would reveal the start code without any hitches... but...

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The green one was the one filled with vinegar.

So when teams would come up, and as usual say "Hi, start code please?" and we'd be like "Hi, not so fast, this is the SECOND TASK in the TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT!" and tell them they'd have to prove their ability at Potions to get the start code.

(As an aside, with some teams I would say how this was the second task, and they'd be like "Wait, what was the first one?" and I'd be like "...Quidditch...")

We'd have them take a slip of paper out and read it, and hand them their "cauldron" (really a small plastic cup) and their stirrer (a q-tip) and tell them to use their "best knowledge of potions" to make a mixture to reveal the start code.

Some teams would just be like "ok, well, I like [color] so let's do that!"

Some teams would go "Oh, we're in [house] so clearly we should pick [color]'.

This led to an abnormally high number of Slytherin teams getting the vinegar and having the mixture explode on them.  Infact, by the time I showed up, Tom said "Don't hint, but if they choose green, please get them to step a foot or two back from the table before they mix it so we don't have to clean it up again."

Some teams would immediately say something like "Oh, I see, this is baking soda, so let's see which flask contains vinegar," and start sniffing them to decide which one to use.

Some teams didn't actually want to do the potions thing and they would get the slip of paper and hold it up to the light and be like "Hey, I can kinda see letters on it... this says Elixir, guys..." and I'd be like "Well, that's no fun, is it?" and/or say that they were clearly cheating their way out of Potions class.

One team had two children on it, a 14ish girl and a 10ish boy.  The boy had been super enthusiastic about Quidditch and likewise was super enthusiastic about Potions.  The kids started fighting so I was like "Whatever, we have a few extras, you can both do it."  Naturally the girl examined the flasks and picked blue and got the word to show up, the boy took green and got the mixture blowing up in his face.  And then after that he was like "CAN I DO IT AGAIN??"

I felt a little bit bad for this kid as they had a team of 6 people anyway and he didn't really have much to do.  I told the team about DASH Junior, but they said "well, she's a seasoned puzzlehunter already, we don't really need to put them on a junior team."  Which I don't think is entirely true if they were dragging around the younger kid all day and he was bored, but whatever.

The only downsides of our location were that 1) it was unreservable and another party had showed up, so we only had half the tables we thought we'd have and 2) there was a lot of wind since we were next to the lake still, and so every now and then a gust of wind would blow away the cauldron and our puzzle papers and stuff and it was quite annoying.

Other than that, I dunno, I spent about 3 hours at the site.  At one point Tom wandered down to check on Merry, who was a few minutes away at the corner of the park and had been alone all day, so she could get a break for a bit.  Channing and Lizzie also wandered by at some point.  I ate a few granola bars and Tom ate some leftover pizza that one of the teams accidentally left with us.

Potent Potables )

We thought we'd seen every single team come by at around 3:40pm so we started cleaning up the site, spilling out the water and taking out the trash and all... and then the very last team did show up.  They had switched people around so a different set of 3 had been there in the morning, which is why nobody recognized them.  We gave them the puzzle and Tom's Google Voice number just incase they got stuck, and were on our way.

Winding Down

First we brought all of the Potions and Quidditch stuff back to Tom's house (remember, part of why we used this location in the first place was that Tom lived 2 minutes away) and then we went to the mall to check in with Joe and Charlie at the arcade and see how things were going, and then to see Corey and Melinda in the food court, because it sounded like we'd completely lost a team somewhere along the line.  However, upon investigation what we realized is, the reason we were seeing teams sometimes skipping over site 5 to be at 6 was that despite our city having reordered our route to go along with the puzzles, Cluekeeper still had them in the normal order.  So there were teams that were at site 7 that had gotten skipped over what we thought was 6 but was actually 5 and everything was (mostly) okay.

In the meantime as we were heading up there, I got two funny chats from the final location on the GC hangout, one of which was "a team has finished the whole thing but their phone died and they can't enter it", and then the next was "Ducky Charms has won!"

Which was kinda crazy because Ducky Charms is MY team!  Well, or in this instance it was Glenn, Chris, Jill, Sean, and Matt Wright.  I thought they were in 5th or 6th place when they passed through Potions and I figured the Burninators and scooter guys were sure to be at the final location first.  Turns out though that Chris or Sean or someone shortcut half of the Monsters puzzle by guessing "creature trapped" and just putting in Minotaur.

Ducky Charms, the winning team in the Expert division!
(I took this from Jill's facebook page since I'm not sure anyone else got a team photo)

Anyway, so Tom and I finally got to the final location, Round Table Pizza, around 4:30.  Apparently there had been a few issues with the restaurant in that lots of teams had been coming in and taking up tables but not really ordering food.  This was clearly from a combination of a few things: 1) having pizza as the lunch and dinner stops, 2) having the food court right before Round Table, and 3) the earlier teams were getting there at 2pm which was way too early for dinner.

Since Tom and I hadn't really eaten all day, we figured we'd get there and get a pizza and at least alleviate part of the problem.  Or maybe we'd just throw some money at them from our DASH budget to keep them from kicking players out. But what ended up happening is, we got there, and my fiance Chris was waiting for me (by himself; the rest of Ducky Charms had all left), and I was super-hungry and wanted to eat, and he said "Why don't we go somewhere like Cheesecake Factory, since I already had pizza earlier?"

Chris and I got dinner and cheesecake at CF and then stopped back in at Round Table before heading home (I just wanted to make sure they didn't need any more help there, but it sure seemed like everything was under control).  So I ended up not really sticking around to see everyone solving the final meta but instead went home and chilled out for the first time in weeks (given that I'd spent all of May stressing out about Google I/O and DASH)

Few more photos from the last part of the route )

Final thoughts?

I certainly had fun organizing stuff this year just like last year; I feel like I usually spend as much time staffing/organizing puzzle events every year as I spend playing them so I'm pretty sure I got in my year's quota working on DASH.  It was great actually being there for the real event this year and seeing everyone enjoy it and feeling like I had influenced that by co-writing a puzzle and co-organizing a location (as opposed to either missing the day-of and/or just staffing a site as I had in the past).  And it was good getting to know Tom, and hanging out with the rest of the "local" GC too.  (While our GC meetings always involved me and Tom and Merry, it was convenient to also invite Channing and Richard and Yuan to some of them as well, so we did.)

Yuan and Channing are not returning as national coordinators next year and need someone to take up that helm.  I can tell you there's no way that's going to be me, because I have my wedding to plan and still want to write my own puzzle hunt, which had to take a backseat while I was working on DASH.  I may step up to help organize the South Bay location next year too, who knows.  It would be interesting for someone not in the Bay Area to do this, to be honest, although it would certainly be a lot less convenient for all of us around here.  (It's really nice when you can just walk 20 feet over to the desk of the national GC head.)

Organizing DASH for five months while living with my boyfriend-then-fiance who was playing in the event and keeping it all secret from him also took a chunk of effort.  For meeting up for scouting, without giving away the location, I either borrowed his car or got rides to places.  When my Harry Potter quidditch costume stuff came in, he caught me trying to get a good selfie to send the team, and I was like "well, this supposed to be a secret but..." and he joked like "You're running a Harry Potter event and there's Quidditch involved?  OMG SPOILERS!" and helped me take the photo.  But other than that, he saw absolutely nothing of the event beforehand (aside from he'd occasionally hear me allude to things like "one or our sites just imploded" or "I need to go scouting again because our original place won't work" and such.

I was a little bit sad when reading blog posts saying that people thought DASH was too hard this year, and that certainly might be true.  I didn't see a lot of changes in the puzzles between Expert/Novice, and I know in past years we've taken the "novice" version of things and made that "expert" and then made an easier version of it for novices.  I think this year's puzzles may not have lent themselves well to that.  Paul Rundle contacted me at some point to ask how to make Quidditch into a Junior puzzle and I said "Take out all the references to things you think 10-year-olds won't get, make a smaller word find, have the remaining letters spell out the answer."  While I think that might have been overkill for the adults, we probably could have done that a little more with some of the puzzles for novice, at least.

Another super-sad thing that happened was that Thomas Gazzola, who was the Portland DASH lead, was hit by a drunk driver a few days after DASH and passed away.  I didn't know him, but I have a few emails from him, including saying how he thought he'd have a good site for the Quidditch puzzle.  So if you're reading this from Portland and somehow didn't know about his passing, I'm sorry :(

Oh, one last thing...

Epilogue from the Sonoma Chicken Coop

Remember I said how the Almaden Chicken Coop that we were going to use for a site closed?  Well, it turned out the Campbell one (that claimed they'd be "doing renovations in April and May" so we couldn't use it as a site) ALSO closed.  I was in Campbell a week after DASH and saw this...

"Renovations", huh. )

Sonoma Chicken Coop is dead.  Long live Sonoma Chicken Coop.

I hope you enjoyed reading my ridiculously long entry from the "other" side of the event, as it were, and I hope it gave some insight into what GCing an event like this may be like (and hopefully didn't scare anyone off of it :) )
A writeup! Only 3 days after hunt!

There are spoilers within. Random asked us to refrain from them since the hunt is going to stay online and be playable for a year, plus they are going to publish a book with the puzzle from one of the rounds. I can't spoil that round, since I saw very little of it, but the overall hunt... let's just say, if you are thinking of playing the hunt on your own, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS ENTRY IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS.

Also on that note, a warning: This entry is EXTREMELY LONG. I started writing it on the flight home and continued braindumping for a few days. I enjoy reading people's long hunt stories so I hope you enjoy mine.

Okay, I warned you. On several axes. )
(written in bits and pieces over a week or so)

I never wrote an entry about MIT Mystery Hunt when it happened, and that may or may not be a good thing.  I kind of do want to capture a little bit about this year since I rarely write up puzzle events anymore (either because they'll be rerun and there's not supposed to be spoilers, or because I just get lazy, or especially last year, because I've been staffing way more than playing lately).  I'm on team Up Late, if you don't know; got hooked up with them while I was still living in Seattle, bizarrely enough.

This year, thanks to last year being The Hunt That Would Not End, rather than scheduling a flight back on Sunday night, I scheduled one back on Monday afternoon.  (And after talking to people, I clearly wasn't the only person that did that.)  I also went and got a hotel room, figuring that whatever, I work at Google now, I can afford it even if I don't split it with anyone.  (Of course, in the end I split the room with Matt, Kendra and Jess for the first 2 nights and Kenny for the last night.)  This time, I'd even been to Boston inbetween hunts and met up with a lot of the core members of my Mystery Hunt team when I was there last summer, so it wasn't like an entire year and coming back like "wait who are you guys again?"

Anyway, so I showed up on a redeye Friday morning super-early, and realized that the best thing I should do was to go to the Google Cambridge office, which is across the street from MIT.  Found a cafe, got some breakfast, charged my phone and laptop, and even actually did some work for a bit.  After an hour or two I realized I should go visit friends in the office and I had coffee with David Rochberg, who I hadn't seen in YEEEEEEEEEAAAARRRSSS so that was really cool.  After that it was time to go to campus and help unload the cars, so I did that.  (You'd think we were moving into a dorm if you saw us unload for hunt -- people bringing in sleeping bags, a fridge, a computer and printer, tons of food, etc etc.)  Went to visit Left Out across the hall from us since I have a lot of friends on that team.  All the normal pre-hunt stuff, really.

Kickoff was in the Kresge Theater I guess (we have a few other CMU alumni on our team although it's largely MIT, obviously, but we were like "does EVERY college have a Kresge Theater?") and I spent a while going around saying hi to all my friends there, which took a REALLY LONG TIME although I couldn't find Sarah and Ross until right before the presentation started!  And I apparently missed a whole bunch of people too, evidenced by getting emails afterwards by one or two like "I saw you at kickoff but you were too far away to talk to".  I know that people joke about MIT Mystery Hunt being the Burning Man of the puzzle hunt scene, but it really is in a lot of ways.  All the teams are the different camps and you're all in weird numbered areas and planning to keep weird sleeping hours for several days and... well, at least I'm pretty sure there's less drugs at MITMH unless you count caffeine.  Sarah's team even had an entire room full of tents and beds and sleeping bags despite the warning at the beginning how "you really shouldn't PLAN to sleep on campus".

So anyway, kickoff starts as this presentation from John Galt on how there shouldn't be puzzles anymore.  And then he gets interrupted by the Cheshire Cat, who explains that Wonderland has invaded MIT and we have to go solve puzzles to fix the holes between the two worlds, and then the reveal of their actual team name this time -- Alice Shrugged, which is probably the most perfect pun in puzzle hunt history, aside from my own amusement at having come full circle since my first ever puzzle hunt was the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 7, which was ALSO Alice in Wonderland themed.

My team had decided beforehand that we were going to get a photo with Tim the MIT mascot, so we went to do that first... it was pretty funny since there were all these people in singles or doubles getting photos and then we run in with like 15 people.

Up Late Meets Tim

Good times.

So we grab some lunch from the student center, get back, and miraculously, the hunt has actually begun on time!  Whoa.  There were 3 puzzles to start, which we finished pretty quickly, and got some more, and we finished some more of those, and I was mostly just kinda helping out (I mean, with like 5 puzzles and 30 people that's how it goes).  Then a puzzle was unveiled called "Upstairs, Downstairs" which we realized was a runaround.  Despite that I didn't actually go to MIT, I love doing runarounds, because I figure, well, I flew to Boston, why the hell would I want to sit in a room the whole weekend?  So me, Ryan, Noah, and David set off to start looking around at some of these places, especially because we're in building 1 and some of them are nearby.  We very quickly realize that these descriptions are all a little bit... off.  That is, the first one we did was around the corner from us, and it said "An Athena printer can be found in Building 1 in an alcove directly across from Dr. Schuhmann's office", except that the printer is actually across from some other guy's office down the hall.  We take note of that and also notice there's a staircase between them and write down the number, and the first few we check out are all kind of like that -- two places with a staircase inbetween them.  (Which we only were caring about because the title was Upstairs Downstairs, which turned out not to matter at all.)  Off we go (minus David) on a campus-wide wander to find all the locations.  Some were definitely easier than others -- like some refer to distinct places like "as I go across the bridge from 16 to 56..." where others were just like, "does anyone know where there's an alcove with laserdiscs?"  (The answer: Building 16, 6th floor.  Someone on our team said "I think it's in 16, but I dunno where", so we started at the top and worked our way down.)  Actually the laserdiscs is notable because that was where we actually broke the puzzle mechanism.spoiler )
Armed with that insight, we plan a route around campus to go to a few more places and to try to get the 2-3 letters we think will break the answer string for us, and sure enough, we solve the puzzle a little while later.

By this point it's around 4pm and our team has solved a good chunk of the MIT round puzzles (which we found out later were purposefully supposed to be fairly easy).  Around then we received a puzzle called Black and White -- you had to go to HQ to get this because it was a huge sheet of letters and a tiny sheet of letters.  So I'm watching people go "hey, look, there's this passage from Alice in Wonderland but there are some other words in there too," I Google the other words and find out that it's a Taylor Swift song.  So we're highlighting the Alice stuff and the Taylor Swift stuff in green and red (happen to be the markers we pick up) and about 7-8 lines in I'm like "OMG THIS IS GOING TO BE A QR CODE" and everyone's like "naaahhhh" and I'm like "yeeeaaaahhhh" and then having had the insights to solve the puzzle I really didn't feel like going through more Taylor Swift lyrics :)  So I helped David enlarge the smaller one by taking a photo with my camera and gimping it up big and print out so he could do the same thing, since it was another combination of lyrics and another QR code.

A Swift QR code

I was signed up to do "Auditions" at 6pm anyway, so I left for that with Kenny and Kendra.  It had said to send "musical members of your team".  So what happened is, we got redistributed into 8 tables, and every table had a bunch of notes on it -- musical notes -- with little notations to clue you to where the next note may be.  The "puzzle" part of this was putting the notes together and figuring out what song it was.  A lot of other tables were singing Disney music so we figured it was a disney song, but... we somehow got stuck with Following the Leader, from Peter Pan, while EVERY other table got easier things like "When You Wish Upon A Star" or whatever.

Then we got sheet music to the song we were doing, and we were told to do the audition "Wonderland-style" which meant that every person would sing one word of the song, in order.  Of course, our song was ridiculous and we had this discussion of whether "teedle-ee-dee" was one word or three, but figured it didn't REALLY matter.  We choreographed it in such that the guy who actually figured out what song it was was the "leader" and he would just do various things like march or pump his fists and we would also all do that.  So every team got up and performed their song in their own fashion.  In the end, it turned out there was no puzzle to be solved by the songs themselves -- each group had one person get a "callback" and those people each got one word and we got a phrase as the "answer" for the entire activity.  This, as it turns out, was also to set the stage for the entire weekend of events that were not supposed to be stupid or frustrating although possibly embarrassing.

Notes puzzle


(Other events during the weekend that I did not go to involved Cards Against Wonderland, and the one I regret missing, Wonderwang, a word-based version of the British comedy gameshow parody Numberwang.)

Ian and I were originally supposed to sneak out for dinner on Friday night to a nice place, but I think since Lokie was sick and wasn't there, and a few other suspects that'd normally do that, we just got dinner from the student center instead.  Doh.  I decided to take that opportunity to run off and check into the hotel, too, since they didn't have rooms ready that morning.  I also took a 2-hour nap or so.  Matt texted me to let me know that 1) Kendra and Jess wanted to get into the hotel room and 2) we were ready to do another runaround.

See, during the original runaround, we had come across several QR codes with playing cards.  When we tried to do anything with them originally, we got a "sorry, your team can't access this yet" error and didn't think much of it.  Well, these were the runarounds for the MIT round.  We were told to split into 3 groups -- a Spades, Diamonds, and Clubs team, and to start in 3 separate places.

So I came back and gave Kendra a hotel key, and then we grouped up for this runaround.  Matt and I decided to take Spades, Ryan and Zach took Diamonds, Jeff and Dave took Clubs.

Spades was pretty reasonable.  We had to solve a bunch of riddles mostly.  There was one that required you to look through a spaceship photo and find some words, another had you sorting through faces on the staircase outside Lobby 7 (we came back to our room to finish that), another wanted you to find certain words on the sides of the buildings in Killian Court (it was nighttime so we just googled them), then we had to go up to Stata and find one by the Digi-Comp.  Let me stop there for a second because several things happened at that point:

1) We found Ryan and Zach looking TOTALLY FUCKING CONFUSED in part of Stata.  There was this thing on the wall with a satellite dish and some words and they were like "we're just not getting anything out of this".  We tried to help them for a bit and were then like "...sorry but we've got our own puzzle to find."
2) Bizarrely, we had a bit of a misadventure finding our puzzle.  See...
2a) we found this "Digi-Comp" thing which was like a pinball machine with pool balls showing you how mathematic operations work.  It was cool.  We played with it.  We took photos.  Etc.
2b) then we realized we had no fucking clue where to find our puzzle.  We thought it was in the Gates Tower, so we went up stairs.
2c) We found Nerd Crossing!  But no puzzle.
2d) but get this, the QR code was actually RIGHT NEXT TO THE DIGI-COMP AND WE JUST HADN'T SEEN IT.  I had even taken a photo of it.  Sheesh.
3) So we found the QR code at the same time as these other undergrad-looking kids, and all of us set out to figure it out.


Nerd Crossing

Eventually it turned out to be a list of donors at the front of the building.  Yay.  We went onwards to our next puzzle, checking back in the lobby, and Ryan and Zach were gone, so we figured, yay, they solved it.  We went up to a hall in Building 26, where first we had to double back to find our QR code, and also, those same undergrad kids were there.  We found it and found the thing it was referring to (cosmic ray chandeliers) and then went onwards to the Humanities building, where again, we pretty much walked there with the undergrad kids.

HOWEVER what happened there was pretty funny.  There was this weird poem that made absolutely no sense and it said something like to enter the major name over a "being that emerges from a poem".  We found an oyster, and on a whim I entered the department over it (I think it was Philosophy) and it was CORRECT?!  The undergrad kids, and Matt, were still wandering back and forth going WTF, so I called Matt over as subtly as I could to show him that we had the right answer and were leaving and to be quiet.  So we snuck out, never to see those poor undergrad kids again.  Ha ha.

Well, except really, the joke was on us.  I forget, I am skipping one of the puzzles as there were 8 total, but anyway, we ended up outside the Green Building and had to read a QR code outside it and use a plaque INSIDE it, only we couldn't get inside, AND it was FREEZING outside by then, so I took some cellphone shots of the plaque and we ran for cover in the nearest building we could find to solve the puzzle.  Which we did, and it was the final one!  Yay!  We were about to head back when...

...we ran into Jeff and Dave and the Clubs team.  Who were also apparently kinda stuck.

So we all regrouped back at Team HQ, where we found Ryan and Zach, and they ALSO were stuck and hadn't finished their runaround.  Doh!

Well, being as I am Queen of Runarounds and all, I was like NO THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE WE ARE HEADING BACK OUT.  So I joined the Clubs group, while meanwhile Rena solved the Diamonds puzzle (turned out you had to index into the word from the beginning, not from where the lines pointed to the word).

So our Clubs puzzles from there involved, let's see.  There was a bunch of little hero figures in a hallway and you had to figure out how many weeks it had been since they'd been there, and I'm like "look up the hacks page!"  Then there was a thing where we had to find these stickers on a door... in a hallway that Ryan and I had already gone to for the Upstairs Downstairs runaround, so I knew exactly where they were.  Then we had this really weird thing in Building 13 involving a bunch of professor's names.  This one was kinda clever -- they had 5 names but 6 spaces for the answer.  We were stuck on this for a bit because we had failed to notice that one guy was "W. Craig" instead of just Craig, and we thought we had the string "Lecin" as the answer.  We tried anagramming it, entering words like "Nicely", etc.  But with the W, I had the string "Lewin".  So while the other two were looking around for other ideas, I googled "MIT Professor Lewin" and found out there was a guy named Walter Lewin, entered "Walter", and it was correct!  BAM.  Our last puzzle involved a bunch of rhymes to clue things in the historical posters in the "150 Years of MIT Engineering" hallway in Building 1, and the Diamonds guys had finished so they joined up with us and we all solved it together.

Having solved the three runarounds we got invited to come to 26-100's basement at like 3:30am, so we went there, unlocked a big case using the three words as the combinations (That was cool), and got out a vorpal sword so we could defeat the Jabberwock.  Only thing is, when we met the Jabberwock he was like "DON'T FIGHT ME!  EEEEK!  I AM NOT THE BAD GUY, YOU NEED TO SOLVE THIS PUZZLE TO FIGURE OUT WHO THE REAL EVIL PERSON IS", and we received a Jabberwock deck of cards, which was essentially the overall MIT round meta, and what we find out is that "The Beast Is Ms Alice Liddell"... which meant from this point onwards the hunt was going to be in Wonderland, and we were going to be figuring out how to defeat Alice.  Whee.

I stayed up until around 6-7am and then went to the hotel to sleep for real, waking up around noon, grabbing lunch at Chipotle, and I guess I got back to the room between 1-2pm.  I helped out on some random puzzles and then we saw one called Oyster Card!  It was a London Underground puzzle combined with a Masyu!

Well, several things made me imminently qualified to do this puzzle:
2) Masyu!
3) I had JUST GOTTEN BACK FROM LONDON and infact still had a Tube map in my bag.

Oyster card!

As it turns out, unlike every other team in the hunt, not only did we have the CORRECT Tube map -- from May 2013 -- BUT since I had just been there, I even knew exactly what the various errata were.  "Oh, yeah.  They're fixing the escalators at Embankment station as of January 8th, so that no longer transfers to Northern and Bakerloo."

Don't get me wrong, the masyu was still not that easy even armed with all that, but we still had a much easier time than many other teams from what I can tell.  Matt and Jess and I hammered out 2 of the 3 masyu puzzles and then we got the final answer by just kind of anagram-bitching the heck out of the trinary.  Woohoo.

Also, it was snowing that day, so I went out to frolic in the snow for a little.  It was actually a surprisingly warm mystery hunt, all things considered.

After we finished Oyster Card, someone said "Hey, there's a Japanese subway puzzle too, have you seen it, Deanna?"


So this puzzle was called 1!2!3!4! 4649! which I immediately recognized 4649 as the word "yoroshiku" and the title as a song title, and as the solution even says, "This puzzle involves 3 things: (1) some massive and massively popular Japanese pop idol groups based in three Japanese cities; (2) the subway systems in those cities; and (3) a numeral encoding that links them together."

Yes, it was an AKB48 puzzle combined with a Japanese subway puzzle combined with goroawase.  Seriously.  I heavily doubt there was ANYONE else at Mystery Hunt this year who has as indepth knowledge as I do of all three of those things off the top of their head.

(If you are somehow reading this entry and don't know me, you have to understand that I taught junior high school English in Japan for several years, that I am a GIGANTIC TRAIN NERD, that I have been to 46 out of 47 prefectures in Japan by taking the trains, and that I'm pretty much fluent in Japanese, as long as you either like baseball or are a teenager.  Not that I like AKB48 that much on my own, but you have to understand that I was teaching JHS the year that they really exploded to fame, and so I heard SO MUCH ABOUT THEM from my 13-15-year-old students that I seriously can probably name almost the entire original team A lineup and recognize most of the popular ones by face.)

Seriously the only way this puzzle could have been MORE in my wheelhouse was if the people part of it was Japanese baseball players instead of teenage girl idol popstars.

So I sit down and distill out the entire puzzle before anyone else even really gets a look at it.  Immediately knowing it's AKB48, SKE48, and NMB48, I identify all the people, and quickly fill out the numbers for all the letters in the grid (I mean, every single 5884 is a Kobayashi for crying out loud), and then I get to translating back the subway stations from letters to numbers, and I quickly even see that "usv" is 758 or "Nagoya", which I know off the top of my head is H-08, Higashiyama line.  I got almost all the train stations and got stuck on maybe 2 -- especially Yaominami because I was convinced that 80373 should have been "yama minami" somewhere but couldn't find such a station.  So I call in Ian (who is Taiwanese but also speaks Japanese to some extent and we both have "kanji" listed under our "special skills" on our team website), and he double-checks my work, also gets a little confused with the subway stops, but we basically manage to figure out the answer to the puzzle and then I back-get the subway stops.  Entire puzzle done in less than an hour.

It's funny because a few people were later like "...yeah... that puzzle took us quite a while... we thought of you because of the Japanese baseball teams..." and I'm like "but it wasn't even baseball related!"

I can't really remember exactly where the next few hours went.  I think I spent a few more cycles on the IAP puzzle (THIS PISSED ME OFF TO NO END BUT MAYBE I SHOULD WRITE A PARAGRAPH ABOUT IT LATER) and helping identify songs for Compose Yourself, and things like that.  I do remember that I went off to grab food after doing the AKB48 puzzle, and there was some kinda pizza thing going on later on, and our team was in the midst of the Duck Konundrum at that point, and... the next thing I remember doing for sure was going to the Ice Cream Social that was being held between Illegal, Immoral, and Fattening and Left As An Exercise For The Reader.  This was Saturday night at midnight in Building 26.  Bizarrely, I was one of the only people there who wasn't on either of those teams or also in their hallway.  We found out that this was because a lot of the teams where we had friends were in the midst of getting to the final runaround then.  (Like we called a friend of ours on Death and Mayhem and were like "WE HAVE ICE CREAM" and he was like "THAT'S NICE BUT WE'RE UH... BUSY")

But on the other hand it was nice to take a break and see people and eat ice cream.  I hadn't seen a lot of the people on those teams up to that point so I could hang out with Sarah and Julia and Mark and Ross and Helene and everyone for a while and that was good.  And it gave me an excuse to get out and walk around again (since we hadn't had any runarounds in a while at that point).

Ice cream social

Ice cream social

I also used this opportunity, since I was in building 26, to go downstairs to the 2nd floor and visit the Rage of the Quebecois team, aka "the half of Manic Sages that I actually was friends with".  So I saw Sean, and Mr. Wright, and Glenn, and various other people that at this point look familiar even if I can't remember their names.  Seems I missed Dave&Jill and Darby and all but that's okay.

Also on the way there (or way back?  I forget) I saw where they had set up part of the final maze in the lobby of building 7, a thing where Alice and the Rabbit would be moving around with various objects.  Ankur was there with it so I took that opportunity to say hi and to complain that he wasn't around for Berkeley Mystery Hunt this year.  It's a very weird thing in that I know he recognizes me as someone he should know from puzzling but I dunno if he remembers that I was his computer science TA at Governor's School :)  Many of my PGSS students have been involved in MITMH in one way or the other (Keith STILL goes back every year with the Simmons team) and it's very cool.

So, back in the room.  We apparently had a puzzle called "Obsessive-Compulsive Dickishness" where they wanted us to call HQ to get it, so we do, and Dave and I go off to building 13, where we meet Zoz and another guy I don't know.  They show us a series of papers -- I immediately recognize it as The Oatmeal comic strip about Sriracha and make a comment as such ("It looks like spicy oatmeal") -- and then put it through a paper shredder right in front of us.  Since Jeff had apparently asked for "extra dickishness", they also threw it out of the paper shredder onto the floor, kicked the strips around, and then ran out of the room, throwing a freezer bag at us on their way out.  So we gather the strips up into the bag and come back to the room like "Well, at least it's not that fucking jigsaw puzzle", and then Jeff and Kenny and I and whoever else were around spend a while reassembling the comics.  There were XXXXXXXX's all over it instead of the real text, and every now and then a number (like "XXXX3XXX X12X"), so you had to find out the real text and get the real letters, all 30-something of them.  At that point it spelled out something like "juicy cock sauce that sounds like cocovan", which we read out to the other room and Ian immediately is like "dude, the answer is Coq au Vin" and we're like "ohhhhhhhh."

Jeff displayed intense OCD by completely taping together the final comic page, which was the "I love you.  -- the Oatmeal" in the real one but said "I love you.  --Alice Shrugged" in our version.


Reassembled oatmeal

Now let's see if I can remember all the crazy stuff that led up to me taking a nap around 6-7am.

So we finished that (and later on Zoz visited us and was like "nicely done.  send us a pic of that and maybe we'll include you in our wrapup slides.") and then I helped with some other puzzles, like some insight into Mashed Potatoes or whatever the mashup puzzle was called, and helping people fill out a crossword in Korean, and more attempts at putting together songs in Compose Yourself, and then... it got into those hours of the morning when only 10 or so of us are still there.  And we decided to tackle the Tea Party meta, since we had something like 9-10 of the 12 answers going in after I helped break mashups.

At this point we'd figured out that like, some of the things were part of 12 days of christmas, and some were Chinese zodiac, and some were full moons, and I'm like "wait, then we could totally backsolve some of this.  Like look, we're missing 7, that's "swans a swimming, right?  It's totally going to be Natalie Portman or something like that."

The phone rings 5 minutes later as we're still trying to get letters out of the proper places and it's like "Natalie Portman is correct for a Rose by Any Other... Deanna did you backsolve that?"

No, it turned out someone in Seattle who didn't even hear me say that had actually front solved it.  Ha!

So while we're still banging our heads on this thing and marvelling over my HILARIOUS BACKSOLVE, the phone rings another 5 minutes later and Mat or whoever the hunt manager was then says "uhh... thanks?" hangs up, and is like "guys, WHO THE FUCK SOLVED THE TEA PARTY META?  YOUR ANSWER OF GIVE HIM A HAND IS CORRECT"

Turns out it was Rena.  Sitting over on the other side of the room listening to us but ostensibly solving something else, she just kinda looked at the letters and at a 12-letter phrase and decided that the best way to help the hatter happened to be to give him a hand.


Still, that epic guess pretty much eclipsed every single other epic guess during this hunt.  Seriously.

I should probably mention that it was our third or fourth meta at this point?  So we're like "OMG WE MIGHT ACTUALLY FINISH THE HUNT?"

Now, keep in mind that we were in building 1 and the final runaround went right past our classroom.  So like, Random actually went by while we were still finishing the Oatmeal puzzle, and I stuck my head out to hear the noise.  An hour or whatever it was after that I stuck my head out and saw Nick Baxter, and I was like "WTF!  what team?" and he's like "Luck!" and I'm like "congrats!"

And around then our buddies across the hall Left Out also went to do the final runaround (Dan and Corey told me that's what they were up to as they went off -- and I think we even passed by them when we went out to meet the Mad Hatter at 5am, they were still doing the final maze.  There was a lot more backstory behind that, that I found out the next week when I had lunch with them back at Google -- apparently they were asked to step aside and let Codex play through part of the final runaround because Left Out explicitly did not want to win the hunt but Codex might).

We saw Codex go by as well.  What a huge team.

Anyway, the Left Out guys got back around 6am and so Todd looked at our solved status for me since I was like "I want to take a nap but I'm worried we might actually be somewhat close to the end?"  We'd even had some GC visit us and tell us that we were doing well for a non-winning team and all.  But Todd said "you guys have several more hours -- go to sleep, you look super tired."  So I did, though I helped Left Out clean up and they gave us some of their snacks and stuff.  Rena and I both wrote our phone numbers on the board like "going to sleep, call us if the final runaround happens".

...for the record, no, we did not finish the hunt.  A whole lot of people didn't come back on Sunday once the coin was found.  Shrug.

So I slept until 1pm?  I came back, ate some bagels that were going to go stale, and then said "I want to see what's up with the vinyl record we got from the White Queen", so I went to the MIT Music Library in building 14, where they have record players.  It turned out that you really only had to listen to the record for the final runaround, which we didn't know.  The librarian was all like "Are you an MIT student?  You are totally not supposed to be here," but I explained Mystery Hunt to her and gave her my driver's license in return for headphones and a music machine password.  The record was just some words forwards and some words backwards.  I figured out how to record it to an mp3 file, emailed that to my team, and went back to HQ.

Did I mention that there was this IAP puzzle that I thought was a runaround but people told me it probably wasn't due to nothing being in the rooms mentioned on it?  I had an idea on my way back to the room when I saw an MTG poster, since we had picked up a clue from the puzzle of "put shows in chronological order" and just didn't know what shows.  So we went and looked at that... but yeah, that was wrong.  It really was an epic runaround, which is what I found out the next day at wrapup.  So sad.  I can't believe I didn't go check the classrooms myself.

Anyway, so hunt ended not with a bang but with a whisper.  We packed up the room and put stuff into people's cars, and then 10 of us retreated to John Hancock's for dinner, and the Patriots had already lost and we got to see the 49ers lose too.  Hooray?  Went back to the hotel, and Kenny was splitting the room with me that night, and we played through something like 15 levels of a puzzle called Walk Across Some Dungeons before deciding we were too tired and went to sleep.

I could write more about wrap-up, but that's online somewhere.  I did get my Legal Sea Foods fix beforehand, and the funny part was my flight was at 3:35pm and wrap-up ended at 1:45pm.  I RAN to the Kendall T stop (with Eric, kinda) and I did manage to make my flight, which Nick and Darby were also on.

I know it's already been said by a lot of people, but this really was a great hunt all around, definitely in terms of people having fun, which you would think would be the biggest requirement.  I don't feel like I was necessarily as productive as I have been in past years, but I also don't think I ever got to spend 18 hours straight doing runarounds, and I think that's actually pretty awesome.
I don't have a lot to say about this week actually. The weirdest thing may be that Chris went to Comiccon and I had to actively seek out random people to eat lunch with. Also I made a cool Stig one-page programming sheet thingy. And D&D was a loot session. And I went to see Singin' in the Rain on Thursday night on the big screen! It was really neat and they had a pre-movie short film segment with interviews with Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor and such.

Anyway, I am right now in Seattle, at Carl's place. It's Saturday night and it's already been a pretty crazy trip. Friday, I got delayed but got into town and got to Rock Box JUST in time for our 5-7pm reservation. Carl got there about 20 minutes after me, so I had a little bit of warmup time and then more singing. Oren also dropped by, and unfortunately we had the really tiny 1-2 person room, so he sat on the floor and hung out in the AC basically. Lots of good singing though, I got through trying M and Fushigi and Minato Uta and some other stuff. Shrug. Then we did dinner at Taste of India for old times' sake, and I had too much chai and lots of paneer palak masala and all. Yum. Afterwards, we tried to see Oren's dog but failed... and then came back here to hang out.

Today I did Puzzle Safari at Microsoft. I kinda want to write a long entry about it but I never have the energy for those anymore. The upshot is that Mike, Ryan, Adam and I entered as Liboncatipu and we GOT SECOND PLACE! Which means we got real prizes and called up front and everything. Wacky. After Safari we met up with Andy and got dinner at Red Robin, then I got a ride back here with Adam, hung out with him and Rehana and Carl for a while, and now I should sleep soon to go to Tacoma tomorrow morning.

But... more Safari:

So we showed up and I got to see several old friends, like Kevin B, Andy Y, Derek L, the Silly Hats, some of our interns from our PH playtest last summer, etc. Yay. They had mispelled my name on my visitor badge as "Runin" and bizarrely Martyn came up to apologize to me -- I kind of keep forgetting sometimes that people actually know who I am now. And then even crazier, during the opening ceremonies -- err, the closing ceremonies, this was Timeline-Reversal themed -- when they were saying all the "Who is playing in their first Safari today?" and so on, and then "Who flew in from out of town for this?" and I raised my hand and nobody else did, and Martyn's like "...Deanna! Now see, that is the dedication I have been lacking from the rest of you!"

But anyway, so we got our puzzles and went back to our room and pretty much blasted through them. I did nothing but solve, snack, drink, and pee, for about 2.5 hours straight. By my count afterwards I was sole responsible for 21 solves, plus 3 activities and a meta -- not too bad I suppose, and that's not even counting partial contributions. In the first round I did a word find shaped like a perfume bottle with time words, a double-letter word arranger, a balance-the-scales thing with algebra, a short airport codes puzzle, a word find of also finding proverbs and extra words with a dr. who twist, a maze with no end (you had to find the loop in it and it was hourglass-shaped), a typewriter puzzle, a word logic puzzle that was more spammable than anything, a cities/capitals puzzle, a food/city puzzle, a binary/morse puzzle, a stupid index-into-colors rainbow puzzle, and I basically did a Boggle meta and helped with a comics meta.

We solved 36 out of 37 puzzles in round 1. No joke. There was exactly one we did not solve, though I'm unclear on how many stamps we actually got. (For Safari, you don't only solve puzzles, you have to take a physical log book to locations all over MS and stamp the books with the appropriate stamps for the appropriate puzzles.) Ryan was running and I think he got a LOT of them though.

After the mid-day break, we set out for Round 2 with the idea that Ryan and I would do activities, Mike and Adam would start off solving, and then Mike would run once we got back with activity stickers. So, that's how it went. The activities were decent, not as memorable as in past years I suppose though. One involved me having to describe paintings to Ryan but I couldn't say certain words. The other one he did involved hourglasses. I did the other 3, one of which involved identifying songs that were playing backwards, another that involved doing something in a minute (for us it was stacking cups and cards and then pulling the cards out so the cups would come together), and then I did "timestamps", which was a puzzle involving a fake logbook supposedly left behind by "this year's champions" or whatever... to which I said "This year's champions? You mean the Brute Squad?" and they're like "no! Reverse the Polarity won, everyone knows that!" It was actually the only activity that required solving, you had to separate the letter stamps by color and they spelled out a message ("Stamp third letter of your team name"), you had to find the right letter stamp, and got your sticker for that.

Then on to solving. In the second round I did a word find with clocks subbing for some letters, a pop culture puzzle involving "changed movie timelines" such as being "Harry Petter" or "Groundhog Gay" or "Planes of the Apes", a timeline box search of sorts where you could increment events by 1 year, so had to know that Dos 1.0 was the year after Reagan was elected, or Chernobyl was after BTTF, etc. I did a Bill-and-Ted themed wordsearch with missing letters that was cute, a "magnitude" word-grouping puzzle for things like "small medium large", "finger hand arm", a nicely condensed Digital Times puzzle that involved breaking down times in various ways even such that the colons between the hour/minutes were Braille, a "number crunching" one that just involved describing sequences, and then after that I got into the one that took me the last 30 minutes of solving (by then we weren't knocking off any easy solves anyway), which was basically an unsolvable Nonogram that was a QR code! They gave us a 25x25 grid, and then gave us 5x5 chunks of it, and so we figured out it was QR, and then I just sat and did the entire thing. It barcode-scanned to a location on campus, but by the time we got that done it was slightly after 5:30 and our logbook was already turned in.

So we went to the closing ceremonies, visited friends. I ran into Noelle, who was staffing -- I met her at WHO last year and she was so nervous about puzzling then, and now she actually helped make puzzles for Safari and run the event and seems very psyched about it, so that's great! I bought a Safari 007 shirt because that was my last one before I went to Japan, and it's an embroidered polo shirt, and it's a way I can donate to Safari too. We sat down to listen to the finals and yeah, they first talked about there being a tie between 3rd and 4th except that then in double-checks it turned out 4th had mis-stamped an answer so the 3rd place team really WAS the Partially Gelatinated blah blah team, aka Derek's team! So I was all excited for Derek!

And then Martyn starts saying how "You wouldn't believe how close the 1st and 2nd teams were to each other for a while, since you all can't see the number of solves everyone has. This pair was neck-and-neck the entire time through round 1, and the 2nd place team solved more puzzles but the 1st place team got more stamps. I mean, most of you did very well and we are proud of you, but you have no idea how far ahead these two teams were of everyone, it was quite crazy."

Anyway, so... yeah, we were second place! We got "Time Traveller's Handbook" books and some hourglasses as our prizes. (Derek showed me his 3rd place Dr. Who sticky notes.) Then they announced the first place Brute Squad! They got weird Star Trek noise-makery-like dashboard thingies. And they were SERIOUSLY ahead of us! Like 847 them, 710 us, 615 Gelatinated, everyone else below that. It was pretty nuts. I caught up with Jeff W afterwards and told him how I'd said the Brute Squad was going to win and he laughed like "You always predict that my team will win! But thanks, and good job you guys too!"

We caught up with Ross, an intern from last year who had playtested for us, I talked to him a bit about his puzzles for IG, he wants to get involved with Safari too. Good for him but I hope he doesn't burn out. He did us a favor and took our team photo, too.

Oh yeah, the solutions were out and I green-dotted a lot of them, very few red dots. I thought the puzzles were pretty good, even the duck conundrum that involved time travel and coins, it was just tricky. It was weird seeing people give red dots to puzzles that were just "not trivial", basically. I dunno, though, that's how it goes, red dots usually mean either "I didn't solve it" or "I solved it but it was BAD". Green usually means "I solved it".

Anyway, yay. It's so crazy that we placed so high, though someone did point out that a lot of the more power teams don't do Safari anymore because they can't get together a team of 4 people where 2 are still working at MS and able/willing to run.
Long periods of time go by and I don't update this. It bothers me not to have the updates, but I don't feel like writing a lot.

So yeah, there was Mystery Hunt. I went to Boston for the weekend and played with team Up Late, who had merged with the group that usually does a remote team in Redmond (but basically Mike and Matt and Robb and I were the only ones from the MSPH community to go to Boston). We had about 30 people there in Boston, maybe? Everyone was amazingly nice and smart and cool and funny and I really had a great time puzzling with them. And they had a great puzzler-friendly dog too (she seemed to sense when you were stuck on a puzzle and would come over and puppy-nudge you). The puzzles were very high-quality IMO, at least the ones I did significant work on. The events that I went to were fun too, especially that I got to basically sit there and play Wheel of Fortune Ricochet Robot for half an hour at one point. It was also super-cool to meet a lot of people or see old friends -- bizarrely the team across the hall from us had a bunch of assorted puzzlers I know from elsewhere.

I'm glad I went, aside from the silly downsides like only sleeping 11 hours in 3 days, or getting mild frostbite from the freezing weather, or eating approximately 8239482394832 pounds of chocolate over the weekend. I should probably go back next year when gwillen's team hosts, because he came out to Liboncatipu's puzzle hunt this fall :)

(If you also played through it, I'll just say that my two favorite puzzles were "Written Down" and "Yo Dawg, I Herd You Like Puzzle Hunts")

Aside from Hunt, I did nothing in Boston. Matt and Mike and I got lunch/dinner from Legal Sea Foods by Kendall station that Sunday, and then caught the train/bus to the airport. I do have to admit that after I spent so long writing the Magical History Tour puzzle, it was funny to be going around on the T.

(I hope to add to this more after the 28th, if I remember to.)

Lenincatipu posing by the statue.

Most of us from Liboncatipu went down to Fremont on Saturday to participate in DASH 3 ("Different Area, Same Hunt", a day puzzle hunt event being hosted among 12 cities -- see Though, the actual team registed as Liboncatipu was me, Mike, Drew, Ryan, and Jamie. (The Fords and Adam and Rehana played as 7 of Diamonds, Jen and Chris entered with Chris's sister and brother-in-law, and Andy played on Sports Racers (with Shane and other IG people).

Short version: We came in SECOND PLACE!!!! The only group ahead of us was "Briny Deep", which is basically one of the most stacked teams in the event, and they only beat us by 10 minutes.

The meeting up spot in the morning was right by the Impinj/etc building off 34th and the bridge. I saw tons of random people I know there, and also various people I don't really know but know their faces, at least.

Things got underway a little after 9am. The way things were organized this year, different teams had different numbered maps, so while we'd all be going to the same places and doing the same puzzles, we wouldn't be doing it in the same order. I think several groups did have the same loop -- there were definitely a few teams we saw at most of the places we ended up -- but overall mostly we just passed friends we knew along the way in various places, randomly.

Also, the way things worked for this event, your score was your solve time, so at each place you had to sign in and sign out with stuff so they could log how long it took you to solve things. Travel time didn't matter (probably to compensate for the differences in travel routes for the various groups).

So like, we were literally one of the first groups, if not THE first, to get out of the original puzzle. The theme was fairy tales and the first puzzle was a bunch of "poems"; we had to extract various numbers of things from the lines, like punctuation or number of S's or number of words or whatever. It spelled out a phrase "shooting star", we had to then figure out a corresponding thing in this numbered nursery rhyme book we had, and go off to the next location. We started running for all of about 10 seconds before realizing... hey... we don't need to run... travel time doesn't matter.

Our second location was "Rapunzel", under the Fremont bridge. We were given two papers, one of Rapunzel's "hair" and one of her "combs", which we had to cut out and assemble; when done properly you'd see letters in each comb, and there were plusses and minuses. At first we did not realize that we had to add or subtract the number of tines in the comb, but we got that pretty quick and got our answer and went on our jolly way.

Third stop was "hansel and gretel", which was basically a little further down the canal, slightly past Google's building, by a cement circle clearing. This was a word find that apparently stumped a whole bunch of other groups. You got a whole bunch of candy clues with several missing in alphabetical order, and as you found those words in the word find, some had missing letters... and you also found the non-clued words in there, which were all kinds of breads (hinted as "bread crumbs that we left to help us get out of the forest" in the flavor text). We managed to find all of the candy words and all of the bread words fairly quickly -- then the issue was figuring out what to DO with them. It was clear that they made a path from the house to the forest exit... and that there were missing letters at intersections... so it was just a matter of connecting that all together. But the letters didn't make sense. It was only when I grabbed another paper to write them down, and did so by writing down the intersection single and paired letters and was like "HEY GUYS IF YOU TAKE OUT USELESS LETTERS THIS STARTS SPELLING SWEET SOMETHING" and they were like OMG SWEETBREAD and that was the answer. Shrug. The "useless" letters were the ones in the grid instead of the missing ones, basically, you just had to substitute them.

Onwards down the canal a bit more until we got to the Dinosaur Garden (a place where they have mad topiary skillz and have made these huge plantform dinosaurs), where we got Cinderella's "wandagons", which were these hexaflexagons or whatever, with up to 6-letter words, but you could fold them in several ways to see several different words. The puzzle was not particularly complicated as long as you knew that there were a whole buncha words to get out of it, basically, and we solved this one pretty quickly and moved onwards.

The next stop was by the statue of Lenin, outside the cafes on that corner. We also got a photo with the statue, which we were supposed to tweet as part of the event, basically. Then we got the puzzle that probably took us the most time of any at the event. It was a combination word ladder and tantrix puzzle (the things where you have to put hexagons together to make paths; I forget if there's a better name for that). The theme was Jack and the Beanstalk, so the words at the bottom were beans, and you put together stalks to go up to the clouds. Each step, you changed or added a letter and then anagrammed the word. Assembling the stalks wasn't trivial, but we were able to do that in a reasonable amount of time. The problem was what to do with them once they WERE assembled. We were at this place long enough to be given TWO hints when we asked -- of course, the hints were USELESS to us at that point. But I guess we were there half an hour total. We were trying to figure out how to fill in the clouds at the top... eventually Ryan noticed that one of the stalks, if you took the letters that were being changed in each word, you got "Shenanigan", and we're like "HEY THAT CAN'T BE A MISTAKE LET'S TRY AGAIN" and Drew, who had gotten "ORSEGOD" for one of the stalks suddenly realized it was actually "NORSEGOD", or Thor... whoops. So we solved it and left, feeling kinda silly.

Next stop: Troll.

The funny part about this was... we got there and the staffers weren't there yet! Oops! So Mike climbed the troll and I took a photo.

The puzzle there was Rumplestiltskin, which was basically a movie actor rebus type thing with pictures and letters and stuff. This didn't give us much trouble, we all contributed to it, solving the names and then finding them in the thingy. They just all made letters, which spelled a word. Cute puzzle. Onwards.

The next location was the Big Bad Wolf, aka Matt Lovell, who gave us this Three Little Pigs puzzle which was basically a crossword with a sudoku-like thing. Embarrassingly, Jamie and I completely couldn't do our sudoku (we'd split them up) because we forgot there were zeroes involved. Instead, we solved about 2/3 of the crossword before people figured out what to do with the solutions. Then we had words and we had numbers, and the directions said to pair the diagonals together. Which took us a while to figure out what to do with... this was all Mike, who noticed that the letters and numbers corresponded, and got a word from 0-9.

(The memorable things at this location for me were that there was this guy unrelated to the event who had a really cute dog hanging out... and gave up and left after the puzzlers took over the area. Also, Andy and Shane's group showed up and we got to be like "Haha you guys are slow" as we ran off to the next location.)

The last stop was at Dusty Strings. It was also after noon by then, so we decided to stop for lunch. Because, OMG HUNGRY AND OMG LAST PUZZLE. Drew didn't want to get lunch, but the rest of us did. We went to Blue Moon Burgers, where I had a salad and milkshake, which was a mistake -- the salad was disgusting and full of bacon. (Shush.) The milkshake was good and the waffle fries were good, though.

And so, the last puzzle was an audio puzzle. We downloaded it to our various smartphones and listened -- and it was basically a combination of songs done by bands with animals in the band name (ie, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sheryl Crow, Def Leppard) and then along with the track was also animal noises. We had a paper that had animals in two lines of points, and letters in the middle, and essentially if you could pair the animals into a chain, you'd get a bunch of letters to spell things out. Once we had "orche" we just ran back and submitted "orchestra" and were right. Onward!

We'd received square papers at every puzzle, sometimes two squares, as well as once or twice these other clues (which were basically from puzzles that had been cut, so gimme answers needed for the meta), and so we came full circle to the original location, found a patch of cement, and went to work. You had to make a "path to the tower" on one side of the squares, by using the answers to all the puzzles from beforehand to connect symbols by a "legend" that we were given -- it gave you hints for words, which you could take out of the answers. Ie, if you had a word that hinted at "you need something to ward off vampires" and "you need a vegetable found in salad", we might look at the answer word "CELEBRATING" and take out "GARLIC" and "BEET" and be left with the letter "N" and write that in the intersection between the two symbols that were hinted, and tape those squares together. We figured this out very quickly as a pair and then had to go just find the clues -- and somehow we just came up with them all very quickly as a group. The path to the tower said "SHUN GIANTS" as a clue; we turned it over and got this maze with letters and symbols in it. On the "codes you may need" paper, these symbols were there representing planets -- with hints saying the planets were "terrestrial" or "gas giants" or so on. So, taking out the planets that were "giants", we had a path through the maze. We stared at this for a few minutes, with the flavor text saying "When you get to the tower you will know how to defeat the guard there", wondering exactly what that meant, until Jamie's like "HEY THERE ARE 17 SYMBOLS AND 17 NUMBERS ON THE PATH". Indexes are easy! Jamie went from the end and got "him", we went from the beginning and got "throw the b" and then said "THROW THE BOOK AT HIM!" and ran up and submitted that. We were done at 1:50pm. For an event starting at 9am and going until 5:30pm, I guess that's not bad, especially with our lunch break.

And overall, I was pretty happy with the puzzles in this event. I really liked the way they fit the theme and also were fun to assemble, weren't ridiculously difficult but weren't trivial for the most part either, were all actually possible to work on with 4 or 5 people at a time, etc. I thought the meta was really clever, and even was thinking how I wish we had some stuff as cool as that for our event. The locations were also pretty good, most had reasonable places to sit down and work on stuff. The fact that it was in Fremont and so we passed by a lot of food places and other neat things was also a bonus. Good times. And I'm not just saying that because WE KICKED ASS.

We spent the next few hours playing board games in Ballard; first hanging out at the Ballard House and then once Seven of Diamonds finished, we went to Adam and Rehana's and played Seven Wonders with them and the Fords. They all went to some bridge party and we went back for the wrap-up, where we confirmed that our posters were up, although -- they were a little TOO subtle given that the wrap-up was in the History House. Seriously, they looked like they belonged there for something else, not for something special, and we actually had to hint at people "HEY LOOK AT THIS... CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT IT MIGHT BE FOR?"

But yeah, the wrap-up was short, and they announced the top 3 teams -- and WE WERE SECOND! Our solve time was 3 hours. Briny Deep's solve time was 2 hours and 50 minutes, and they won overall. We don't feel too bad because they're basically the best of the best -- Jeff and Merrie from ScruBBers, Peter Sarrett, etc, superheroes of the puzzling scene.

Actually, we went up to talk to Jeff W and Troy and Pavel and some others, and Jeff told us that their team used a listening room at Dusty Strings to do the music puzzle. I'm betting anything that they gained 10 minutes on us there -- our problem was that we checked in, got the puzzle, and then left the store, crossed the street, found a place to sit down, got out our phones, had to deal with background noise... if we could have gotten the puzzle and just walked 10 feet to a room and had silence and so on, we probably would have solved it a lot quicker too!

But anyway, we talked to them about the entire OMG NEXT PUZZLE HUNT factor. And now that we've announced a date, I hope we can get our acts together in time...

Oh, for those wondering: September 10-11. Coming to a train platform near you.

Here's a bunch of photos. Would it help if I interspersed them with the text more?

I have been asked to put in an LJ-cut )
After a 2-year hiatus, I did Microsoft Puzzle Safari today with a subset of Liboncatipu. Mike and me and Jamie and Ryan entered as Liboncatipu (and Jeff and Jonobie and Chris and Jen entered as Seven of Diamonds).

Ryan was our runner in the morning. What was weird was that we seemed to be just MOWING through the puzzles. I mean, it was like, I'd grab a puzzle and do it in a few minutes and by the time I was done, everyone else had finished their puzzle as well. And then repeat. And repeat. And then Ryan went out.

My first few, I did one that involved making 9-letter words with 3-letter chunks in a circle, and then I oddly took a logic puzzle that involved a Survivor-like voting history where you had to determine the order the people were eliminated. I did a puzzle that involved reality TV show names with another word attached to combine it with a movie or TV show (think "Real World of Warcraft" or "Dirty Dancing With The Stars"), and I grabbed a Chutes and Ladders game that took all of like 2 minutes to solve. Another silly one was called "Gordon Ramsay's F-Word" and it was basically a crossword that involved lots of words starting with F that I had to figure out the proper locations for. (This was amusing in that Mike and I thought Feather Fall isn't a 1st-level D&D spell. Also, does anyone know an F----- F----- that would be a "candied popcorn and peanut snack like Crunch'n'Munch"? I solved the puzzle without actually solving all of the clues, as usual, and forgot to check this one.)

Mike and I did a meta together called One Rack Scrabble, where you basically have to reinact a Scrabble game. Since we had all of the racks (they were meta clues), it was really easy.

I finished up the first round by doing a puzzle called Patchwork, which I thought was actually one of the best puzzles in that round in terms of being new and different (to me, anyway). You had a grid shape (kinda like a #) to put words into, some colored squares as hints, and clues for words, with the words being broken up into shapes that you then had to fit into the grid and find the overlapping letters. I got stuck just because I had one wrong answer, it turned out I really had done 95% of it just right. I showed Mike what I'd done, he corrected the wrong answer and BAM, finished puzzle.

Jamie and I worked out a puzzle involving sign language finger-spelling -- he was really close and then when I went to look at it with him, and asked him tons of questions like "wait why do you go that way?" or "why is it that letter?" he realized where his mistake was and we solved! Yay.

In the lunch break, we solved a treasure map metapuzzle and we also ran out to get slices of a circle for another puzzle that we'd neglected to notice that morning. By the time the dust cleared we basically had exactly one puzzle remaining from the morning bunch (and it was kind of embarrassing when we solved it at 5:15pm, too late for a stamp anyway).

Lunch break did not actually involve lunch. All we had for food during the day was Krispy Kremes, cherries, strawberry cookies, and Jamie brought granola bars that we never touched. Brilliant we are not exactly.

Mike was our runner in the second half. So the first hour of that part, he was with us solving stuff and rewriting our logbook (we forgot which stamps Ryan didn't get of our solves in the first round, whoops) and he left around 3:30. I think I was about 3-4 puzzles up by then -- my first one was a Set puzzle which I snagged in the "DUDE SET PUZZLE" phase before anyone else got to it. My second one was a math one -- a variation on the game 24 where you had 3 sets of 4 numbers, and had to figure out which one could NOT make 24 using their new precedence rules which were simply left-to-right, no parentheses, and all operations had to make whole positive numbers. It was surprisingly simple and surprisingly difficult all at once :) I also did a logic puzzle (why was I taking all the logic puzzles? who knows) that involved, again, figuring out the lineups of teams of Survivors and who their alliances were with, and drawing a word out of their alliances.

Mike did one called "Moon" which turned out to be a text adventure in the freaking answering system. You just had to basically keep submitting words from the return "hints" you got for your "incorrect" answers and eventually you got to a phrase that you could get the real answer from. Moon. Just type it.

I have just been informed that there was a puzzle where the text says "There's an immunity idol hidden on campus. If only I had a map..." and the idol was marked in the map in the logbook and we forgot to write down to ACTUALLY GO THERE :(

Somewhere around this point, with Mike out running, and us already having 6 tickets to the Challenges from the first round, I said we should go do some challenges, so Ryan and I headed off to do that.

There were 6 of them. Two involved two people:
- A water-throwing thing where you had to fill a cup with water... by having two people about 15 feet apart and one of them throwing water from the fountain at the other person's cup so they could put the water in the other cup. This SUCKED because the way they had it set up, you had to use your right hand to do it, and both Ryan and I are left-handed. I kept bashing my right hand into the fountain side because I have less coordination over there, and as a result I tore my right thumb open and went into the cafeteria bleeding. Not cool. I guess we coulda insisted on switching it but by the time I realized the problems inherent in the system it probably would have taken too much time to switch.

- A Tangrams thing where you had one person blindfolded and making the tangram picture, and the other person could see but couldn't touch the pieces and had to direct the first person how to put the pieces down. Stupidly, Ryan was blindfolded and he is good at tangrams. I am not good at tangrams and kept screwing up which piece you were supposed to use in the first place. The guys "judging" kept pointing at pieces and mouthing to me "use THIS one".

The other four involved one person. I did two:
- Horse dressing, which basically, you had paper clothes with letters on them, but different letters for different papers of clothes to cut out. You had to "dress" a horse legitimately, the horse still had to stand up and be recognizable as a horse, and your outfit had to spell out a word of at least 5 letters long that was related to either fashion or horses. (Mine was "finish", which could be either.) Amusingly, when I was getting the explanation, I said "Let me confirm this: a horse is defined as having four legs and a head, correct?" "Correct, although there's no particular restriction on what items count as a hat..." "So tailshoes are okay?"

- Prison Break -- they had these plastic "keys" hanging on a wall about 7 feet away, and gave you 5 dowels and some masking tape. You couldn't step over a particular line (your jail cage) but you could reach over it (like through the bars) and you had to retrieve the key. Most people made long sticks and reached through the key ring to get it off the hook. Me, I made a long stick, then put tape on the end of my stick and jabbed the key to stick it to my stick and brought it over that way, which got a look of "I'm not sure whether to be impressed or disqualify you." from the guy watching. Then you had to use the "key" to read a secret code, which meant super-imposing it over a quote and getting another question.

Ryan did two. One involved watching a TV screen for some quotes or things being spoken and then you had to fill them into a grid. He was one or two letters off and came over to me like "hey, can you think of a word that would fit if I had this and this letter wrong?" and I figured it out. And fortunately it was okay. The other one he did was "sing for your supper", where you had to actually sing a song with a carrot as your microphone, and then eat something they gave you. Like the guy before us had to sing a three-little-piggies song or something and was given some "pig snout" to eat. Ryan had to sing "Hungry like the Wolf" and was given "eyeballs" to eat, which he said were just grapes.

Then we went back...

I quickly did one that involved chat acronyms that were missing letters. About 2/3 I knew off the top of my head, then there were a few that I had to confirm, then there was one I'd never seen before -- using "9" for "parent is watching"? Anyone actually know that one? I'm probably simply too old to have ever seen it, back when I was 11 and started on BBSes my dad and I didn't tend to look over each other's shoulders anyway.

Then I quickly also did one that involved a bizarre menu. It was another one where looking at it on the wall I wasn't sure how to do it, but as soon as I sat down with it it was obvious. We had a few of those where I'd deliberate which puzzle to do for 5 minutes, then spend like 2 minutes actually doing the puzzle I chose... another one involved finding little chunks of words to add "real" to either on the front or end. I did about half the clues and then just used a word solver to get the final answer.

The last one I worked on, which we solved around 5:15pm but was too late to get the stamp for, was an audio puzzle. I usually hate them, but this one involved music I actually knew! Like Beatles, TMBG, Police, B-52's, even School House Rock. Ryan figured out the hook, which was that you had to take the repeating word in the lyrics -- you didn't even need to look up the actual info about the songs. Though we did need to look up the answer that was spelled out by the repeating lyric we got as a solution.

At that point, we realized we should just start gathering up stuff and meet Mike at the cafeteria with the stickers from the challenges. So we did.

The wrapup started at 6:20 or so. In the 50 minutes interim, we walked around, saw solutions to puzzles, rated them by green and red stickers for good and bad, compared notes with friends. We saw the Fords and it sounded like they had a similar experience to us, what with solving a ton of puzzles and getting almost all the stamps for them too, and I ran into my friend Brian M, whose team was in "we did a lot of puzzles but we don't feel like particular superstar" state. And Derek Leung was there too, so we chatted with him for a bit.

One weird thing about this event was how OLD I felt. I mean, the typical older puzzlehunters were there, of course, and at 33 I was by no means the oldest person there, but I would bet the average age of people in the room was more like around 27ish. Maybe I am underestimating.

Oh, so anyway, we tied for 5th place out of 80-something teams... we were listed 6th but we had the same amount of points as the 5th place team. It was kinda scary because I thought there was a vague chance we MIGHT have finished 3rd, given how we'd solved like all but 3-4 puzzles and gotten so many stamps. But then another group was called 3rd, so I figured we were out. In a bizarre twist of fate, The Brute Force actually finished 2nd, and they've won Safari for like the last 238943824983 years or whatever. The first-place team was called S-Words, I forget what Puzzle Hunt team they are parts of.

Seven of Diamonds placed 9th. We had 665 points and they had 649. It was pretty close. So both of the Liboncatipu teams did pretty well, really.

Embarrassingly, I heard some people saying things like "no no, the whole weekend thing is called Puzzle Hunt. I have no clue when the next one is going to be, we haven't heard anything..."

Afterwards we just cleaned up the room and headed our separate ways. I guess it makes sense, after Safari half our team will be pretty sweaty/tired. So, we went home so Mike could take a shower, and a bit later headed out to Whole Foods to get salad bar (seemed like a good idea after all the junk food).

Overall I enjoyed Safari this year, if anything it actually seemed too short -- like we were going home and it was a feeling of "already?" We did so many puzzles that it seems like it should have been a longer time, but it wasn't.

I brought my camera and completely forgot about it, so I have zero pictures. Though I believe they probably have footage of me doing stuff in the challenges, I know they took a photo of me building my horse if nothing else.
dr4b: (abstract)
(Mike doesn't tend to write much on LJ or FB, so it's my duty to chronicle it ;)

As explained in Part 1, my gift to Mike for Valentine's Day was a surprise mini puzzle hunt, which I wrote in my spare time over two weeks or so, mostly while sitting on the bus. I got the idea one day while riding the bus out to Redmond, and my original idea was that I was going to just hide some Valentine's Day cards somewhere in his bookcase (he has a gigantic wall of books in his living room, basically three huge bookcases full of (mostly) science fiction paperbacks) and clue the location. However, after we watched The Princess Bride and he said he'd never read the book, and I confirmed it wasn't in his bookcase, I ended up getting it for him too. (Which is what I meant when I said last Monday I was "reading all day"; I had bought the 30th Anniversary version, started leafing through it in Barnes&Noble, bought it, and then spent the rest of Monday reading the entire thing, pretty much.)

The idea I'd had on the bus was that I was going to hide the cards behind his copy of Heinlein's "To Sail Beyond The Sunset", because I had been thinking of ideas for words that sound like other words, so I broke that phrase into "2 Sale Bee Yonder Sons Yet" -- six words that if you had them all or most of them would make the obvious title, but each on their own would not be particularly obvious.

So I wrote up 6 puzzles, none of which were TOO tough, although they were apparently harder than I thought originally. While on my random shopping expeditions I found some interesting heart stickers, too -- candy hearts and some sparkly hearts -- and some cards, and I even found a ridiculous chocolate puzzle heart, which just seemed too perfect for this:

(puzzle 5 is blurred out on purpose)

We originally planned to go for a walk around the west end of Ballard on the waterfront on Saturday, but when we woke up, the weather sucked, so I pretended to be super-grumpy and told him to go take a shower first. While he did, I basically got all the stuff out of my bag, put the Princess Bride book in the bookcase turned down like he turns the books he's currently reading, hid the Valentine's Day cards behind To Sail Beyond The Sunset, along with another heart note saying "By the way, have you read anything by William Goldman?", and put the puzzle papers in a red gift bag about the right size for 8.5x11 papers and a puzzle heart and stuff. I was going to go fake running around downstairs to try to make him think I might have hid something down there, but then his cat Inky tried to eat the red bag, so instead I just sat with it and waited for him to finish his shower and come out to the living room.

And he did, and so I told him that I had a Valentine's Day present for him that he should work on while I took a shower. He looked at me kinda funny, I handed him the bag, he took out the puzzle heart, took out the papers, read them, and basically had a double-take of OMFG-SHE-DIDN'T-REALLY-DID-SHE-HOLY-CRAP! on his face as he realized what it was, which turned into a huge smile as he sat down gleefully to solve them like a kid in a candy store. I told him that if he managed to solve it all during my shower to at least wait for me to come back before going to the next step. I had no clue whether it was going to be that easy or that hard, really.

When I came back, though, he had basically solved two of the puzzles and was working on a third, the one that required cutting out puzzle pieces:

So I goofed off on his laptop for an hour and let him solve, mostly keeping quiet but occasionally giving vague hints :) He kept saying all kinds of things along the lines of "This is the coolest present I have ever gotten in my entire life" and "I can't believe you made this for me" and "how the hell did you keep this as a surprise?" and the aforemented "I got out of the shower, and there was a puzzle hunt waiting for me!"

The puzzles were, in brief:
1) "I ♥ My Pet" - a logic puzzle involving Jess, Zach, and Mike's cats and dogs, with a bunch of clues about how many toys, treats, and bones they had, with the final question being "How many treats does Sherlock have?", the answer being, of course, "Two". Mike did this one fairly quickly, except that having only met Jess's pets recently, he forgot Omni was a cat instead of a dog, and had the wrong numbers for a few pets. :)
2) "Freely, Purely, And With Passion" - a cryptogram of Elizabeth Barret Browning's Sonnet 43, aka "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways". The trick here was that it was a caesar cipher with different ciphers for different lines, which spelled something out.
3) "You're Amazing!" - a maze made out of glittery red heart stickers. There were several pictures I'd drawn around the outside, like a duck, a car, a boat, a bee, a flower. But the maze led to the bee. Not too difficult.
4) A word puzzle that I'm not sure I want to give away the hook for here, as we might try to work it into a PH thing in the future.
5) This is the one that required cutting stuff out. I also don't want to talk about it too much since we're pretty sure we're going to turn it into a PH puzzle for real. Let's just say that it was cool and Mike's favorite puzzle of the entire lot, as far as I could tell.
6) "Candygram" - see, the set of candy heart stickers had 8 sheets to them and 31 stickers per sheet. There were no messages that were unique -- ie, for each message like "Super!" "You did it!" "Hooray!" etc, there'd be say, a purple one and a green one... or a yellow, pink, and green one... or an orange, white, and pink one... so what I ended up doing was making letters out of duplicate hearts -- like, for example, 4 hearts that were all identical message/color, like orange "Wow!"s, could make the vertices of a "Y". So some letters were hidden in with the other hearts as noise... at first it would just look like a big paper full of heart stickers.

Mike took about an hour and a half or so to finish five of the puzzles -- he didn't have #4 done when he realized the phrase so far was "Two sale bee ___ sons yet" and said, bouncing out of his chair, "I KNOW WHERE IT IS!", ran to his bookshelf, pulled out the book, didn't see anything in the book, saw the cards behind it, found the cards, found the Princess Bride book, and then was like "But these aren't the gift, milady, THE PUZZLE HUNT WAS THE GIFT! These are just extra!" Then he went and backsolved Puzzle #4 just for completeness' sake. Then he gave me lots of hugs and I kind of lost track of the rest of the afternoon. Apparently I am an epic girlfriend, whatever that means.

In the evening we came back to Ballard since I needed to get some stuff and he was going to take me to The Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner since it's one of his favorite restaurants and I hadn't been there in years, having not been too impressed the other time. However, once we got to the house we ran into Zach and Jess, who were like "Do you guys have plans for dinner?" and we told them, and while Zach said he thought the Spaghetti Factory sucked, he'd only been there once, so why not try it again, just like me. We got Carl to come along too and emptied all 5 of us into Jess's car and went down there.

As it is, I wouldn't say that the Spaghetti Factory sucked, but it still has the problem of NOT BEING THE SPAGHETTI WAREHOUSE, which never fails to make me sad, as that's my favorite Italian chain restaurant ever. (Not my favorite Italian restaurant -- that would be Del's, in Pittsburgh.) However, I had lasagna and was not unhappy with it, which seemed to be generally how people felt about what they were eating. And it was nice to get to hang out with everyone, which we don't do very often. So it was still a pretty awesome dinner regardless.

When we got back to the house, I suggested playing a board game, and so Carl and Mike and I played Starfarers of Catan, which I had not played in YEARS, and Mike had never played. However, before the game even started, Mike managed to drop one of the spaceships on the floor and completely shatter it, which was pretty impressive, it totally came apart and the colored balls came out and everything. We had just been talking about how brittle the plastic is and how the blasters always break the plastic holders off, but that was pretty crazy. Once we got over that, though, the game was kinda fun; Carl got screwed over by space encounters a lot, and I managed to get pretty lucky mostly through having a TON of laser guns on my ship, and won the game.

And so that was Saturday. To be continued...
is over as far as I'm concerned. I don't think this kind of event works very well for me. I think it works great as intended: a bunch of people actually in Boston who get together to solve puzzles and do a silly brainiac scavenger hunt.

For me, I joined a few of my Liboncatipu buddies (Andy, Jamie a little, Mike, Jeff but not Jonobie, Jen and Chris) who had teamed up with various other Microsoft Puzzle Hunt groups -- we mostly had people from the Silly Hat Brigade, who were organizing the effort, as well as some superstars from groups like the ScruBBers, and Toast and stuff like that. During the day, it was just 4 or 5 of us in a small conference room, but by the evening it had grown to a huge gathering of a bazillion people in two huge conference rooms, and was no longer a group I was comfortable with but was more like one or two people I knew and a lot of people I had just heard of or seen on stage at PH events, who probably wondered what the hell I was doing there.

I worked on a colors-wordfind problem for a while in the afternoon, with Andy and Derek. What sucks is that we did a fairly good job of getting through to the penultimate step, and THEN got totally truly stuck, so that was annoying. But at least that part felt a lot more like real Puzzle Hunt -- just a few random people in a room telling jokes and being dorky and working on solving stuff.

The thing is, basically, we had stuff set up in Google Spreadsheet and Google Wave to communicate between stuff in Boston and stuff in Redmond, but what kept happening is that the people in Boston would just kind of solve stuff ahead of us or over us and we would have no clue who was doing what at any given time. The first puzzle that I ACTUALLY helped solve was a transit map one, where you had to teleport between Boston and DC subway systems. We spent 20 minutes talking through the thing, solved it, only to find the group had already solved it, without telling anyone they were working on it.

This came to a head after dinner when Mike and I basically sat there for around 4-5 hours and managed to beat the crap out of a particular weird open/n-tris crossword puzzle. We were at the 95% solved point at 4am, after some REALLY brilliant twists on our part, and figured we just had a LITTLE bit more to go -- and then -- with NO prior knowledge that ANYONE ELSE was working on it -- suddenly out of nowhere, our team had a solution for it. There was NOTHING in wave and NOBODY had touched our spreadsheet, so WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK!? It really pissed me off.

So I made Mike drive me home, and now it's 6:30am and I should sleep, but I'm still feeling kinda angry. I don't think I should be angry at the event per se -- everyone knows what they're getting into, really -- but I just don't think this kind of thing (not many puzzles, but MANY PEOPLE, and a lot of coordination between places) works for me, is all. From what I saw of the puzzles they were really neat and interesting, and if I was on a smaller team and actually on location I bet I would have had a blast, really.

Oh yeah, so dinner was a mini-goodbye party for Jason, since he's moving to SF on Sunday to be with Drew. It was me and Mike and Andy and Jamie and Jonobie, and Arjun and Jen who I don't really know. We went to the Purple Cafe in Bellevue, where I had some fantastic sweet potato fries that came with a not-quite-fantastic sandwich. Most people drank wine and seemed pretty happy about that, though. The place seems nice enough but not really my kinda place... not bad per se, just that since I don't really drink, places that specialize in wine and cheese kind of are wasted on me. The atmosphere seems very classy while not being ridiculously expensive/upscale, we were sitting inbetween several huuuuuuge wine racks that stretched two floors up. But people kept coming in that looked like they had just walked off some MTV video shoot, the girls were wearing huge high heels and tight tank minidresses in the dead of winter and the guys had accompanying wear that I dunno how to describe; as a fashion it kind of struck me as "upscale pimp wear". Every time they walked by I did a double-take like "Am I in a nightclub or something?"

I also got to talk to Jason for a while afterwards at MS, and I should see him on Sunday too. It's kinda sad, really, though I mean, I can't ACTUALLY blame anyone for leaving Seattle.
dr4b: (abstract)
What a totally overwhelming weekend.

The short: Team Liboncatipu, aka "Unclued Publication" for this event, consisting of me, Mike, Drew, Lahut, Jason, Jeff, Jonobie, Andy, Jamie, Jen, Dave, and Matt, managed to get second place in Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 12/13. Only one team solved the entire hunt, and they did it at 1pm Sunday -- we were on the verge of getting there at 5pm Sunday when it ended, having solved the meta but not the final problem. However, we solved enough puzzles and got enough extra points to place second in total score. After being with this team (at least the core few people) for 5 years and however many puzzling events, I can't even begin to express how cool it was to walk onto the stage as one of the top 3 teams in the biggest Hunt ever.

Here are photos in my Facebook album. I highly recommend, however, if you're going to read the long explanation, either read it alongside or before, because the photos will help a lot of the puzzle stories make sense.

The long:
Loooooooooooooong. )
I'm a bit too tired to talk about it right now -- while I guess I slept around 2-3 hours today in the process of taking several impromptu 15-minute naps, I have largely been awake for the last 38 hours...

BUT, Liboncatipu placed second at Puzzle Hunt. Out of 84 teams. SERIOUSLY. We actually got to go on stage and get photographed and they gave us little Puzzlehaunt! second place trophy plaques to take home with us! Holy shit! ScruBBers pretty much had run away with the hunt fairly early on so we just hoped to place second -- and we did, though we didn't actually solve the final puzzle, we were with it at 5pm when the time ended.

I felt bad because I was kicking a ton of puzzle ass for the first half of the hunt -- seriously had my hands in a good portion of puzzles we solved, whether I did them entirely or just stepped in for a bridging step. At the debriefing I was even counting and was a primary solver in something like 11 out of the first 50 puzzles we got... which is a really good involvement rate. But I can't remember a damn thing I really contributed to the final set of puzzles, beyond doing half of a board scramble with a few other people, and walking to some buildings to do some physical puzzle searches (where I ended up falling asleep anyway). After about 8am I ended up falling asleep sporadically for about 15 minutes every now and then when I wasn't actively doing something, which made me a very bad puzzler.

It was a seriously overwhelming weekend in a lot of ways, mostly good. Sigh. I'm sad to leave Seattle again.

Anyway, I should probably write more when I can actually sit at my keyboard for more than 3-4 minutes without wanting to just fall over.
dr4b: (abstract)
This year's Puzzle Safari, being as it was on July 7th -- aka 7/7/7 -- also accordingly had a James Bond theme as well as a casino theme going for it.

There were several new features this year:

1) answers did NOT necessarily solve directly to a location on the Microsoft campus -- mainly because it gets dull always expecting a XX/XXXX answer. So this year answers might be random phrases or words as well.
2) to facilitate that, there was actually a website where we submitted answers, rather than just the logbook. when you got a correct answer, it'd tell you the location of the stamp.
2a) occasionally, and leading into the next point, it'd also show you a picture of a place where some casino chips were located.
3) there was a casino in the building 9 cafeteria, where they had several "casino games" going on. The thing is, while from a distance it might have looked like people were playing the actual game, in reality, the games were just puzzles that you had to solve. You needed to have found the specific chips to play certain games, and you would "cash out" after solving the puzzle by handing in a sheet with the right answer on it, and they would give you a sticker, which had to be put in your team's logbook.

Usually with Safari, you have a four-person team, and will generally at any time have 3 people solving puzzles and one person, the "runner", running around Microsoft campus collecting stamps for the logbook. Your group has one book, and you turn it in twice during the day, and get an event score based on how many puzzles you solved from each puzzle wave at each timepoint in the day. So the runner's running around, and say we solve something and it says the stamp is in building 09, room 2357 -- and we know our runner is near there -- then we'd call that person on their cellphone and be like "hey, the answer to That Puzzle is 09/2357, can you go get that one?" and they go to that room, find the stamp, stamp the logbook, and keep going.

But because of the casino -- where you didn't actually need the logbook to get the stickers, you just needed a chip to play the game -- I think a lot of teams ended up doing what we did, namely 2 people solving puzzles, one person running, and one person in the casino. This might have been a bad idea, I'm not sure.

Our team was a subset of Liboncatipu, so we just used that as our team name. It was me and my favorite puzzlehunt buddy Mike Janney, and Ryan Roberts and Steve Henry. A few of the others from our last PH team were also in Safari in various ways -- Andy and Jamie and Matt were a team with their friend Arjun, Jeff was on a team with Jonobie and two other friends of theirs, Drew and Jason were actually involved in organizing the event and running the casino. (So wait, if I count correctly that means the only people from PHA Liboncatipu that weren't at Safari were Matt Lahut, who's in Pittsburgh, and Brian Railing, who's off climbing mountains. Wait, I forgot that Ryan actually missed PHA and was last in PH9 with us. I remembered him being awesome so I figured he must have been part of the most awesome Liboncatipu squad ever :) Our 12th PHA guy was Ajay, who I don't think did Safari this year.)

Puzzle details )

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, the day was over sooner than anyone thought it should be, we cleaned up our room, chatted for a while about various stuff, and went down to closing ceremonies, where I should have been looking at solutions and rating the puzzles, but instead I ended up talking too much and catching up with several friends that I hadn't seen in forever. Our team placed 24th out of 75, or so I was told. Everyone else from Liboncatipu did much better than we did. :( I blame being stuck on stupid metapuzzle hints like getting "brother" out of a phrase like "contra sister".

Oh, other funny story: so they announced that Puzzle Hunt 11 is going to be on October 6-7, and Mike and Ryan immediately went to go reserve rooms for it, and were already finding that several places they wanted were taken -- by people on Safari staff, heh -- and anyway, they were all picking on me because I won't be here for it, there's just no way I can fly back from Japan for it. But then I realized a few things:

  • Puzzle Hunt starts at 10am Saturday, which is 2am Sunday in Japan.
  • Puzzle Hunt ends at 6pm Sunday, which is 10am Monday in Japan.
  • My "weekend" days off are Sunday and Monday
  • There's no rule saying all of your PH teammates have to actually be on Microsoft campus

    I think we were totally kidding about it, but I told Mike that if anyone ducked out of Liboncatipu at the last minute or something, feel free to Skype or IM me and I'd somehow figure out a way to net-conference in to help solve puzzles :) The best part is, if our team hit what's usually our "dead time" at 1am, that'd be 5pm for me!

    Anyway, it's a little disappointing a result for what'll be my last puzzling event for a while, but I'm glad I got to do it and see everyone. I'm really lucky that I totally adore pretty much everyone in our Puzzle Hunt circle, so I always have a blast at these things.
  • Uh, if I put off writing an entry until I feel like I can properly write out Puzzle Hunt I will never write another LJ entry. I do promise more details soon, with pictures, which will probably crib from this post.

    Anyway, Saturday morning I went to Microsoft and got there just in time for the opening presentation. I found Brian, Drew, Jason, and Matt easily enough, and I also ran into some other people I know, like Sheryl, and [ profile] dleung8, and my friend Brian M, who I don't think I had seen since the last Puzzle Hunt 15 months ago. Talked to Kevin Babbitt for about two seconds as well. Didn't run into a bunch of people I usually see, sadly.

    Our team this time was fearless leader Mike Janney, [ profile] agh, [ profile] garzahd, Jason Lucas, [ profile] bpr, Steve Henry, Ajay Kang, Andy Rich, Jamie Eckman, Matt Travis, [ profile] jeffford, and me. A pretty good gang all things considered -- we lost a few people who couldn't make it this year and/or were out of town and picked up a few people who were superstars from other teams, basically. And in other funny things, I think over half our team has first and last names which are both first names. But anyway.

    And thus, we dug into the puzzles immediately and pretty much never stopped. I mean, we had momentum the entire time, everyone was pretty much always working on something. There were a lot of really nicely done puzzles in there, and a lot of pretty funny ones too. At my best count I put in significant contributions to 11 of the 42 puzzles in the hunt, and put in small contributions to some others. It was funny, the solving was going so smoothly there wasn't quite as much of the "I HATE this puzzle, does anyone want to swap?" stuff. We'd often have two people work on something -- I worked with Mike, Matt, and Brian a lot -- but most of them didn't require ninety people to complete. I don't know if the puzzles got easier or if our team has just gotten so much better over the years. I mean, we're still nowhere as good as ...cking Good Toast (heh heh), but I actually felt like we were really a top-ten team this time for real.

    I even got to go on a few meta puzzles, including a cafeteria in Red West and a kitchen in building 4, which sucked, but I'll get to why in my actual detail post if I ever write it. I'll also explain the quinoa and the swimming gear. Maybe.

    So yeah, we finished at 5:45am -- with all twelve of our team members there to see it. Craziness. A few of us stopped by to congratulate the team down the hall from us, who had finished 15 minutes before we did, and then packed up our conference room and went home.

    (Funny part is -- A lot of us had brought a ton of food, and a lot of BREAKFAST FOOD FOR SUNDAY, which then became totally irrelevant :)

    I got to sleep a bit after 7am, and I woke up at like... 3:30pm, with a text message on my phone from Drew saying board games were happening in the Building 40 cafeteria at 3pm. Let this be a hint to everyone reading: if you want me to be somewhere and you're not sure I'll be awake -- GIVE ME A CALL, DON'T SEND ME A TEXT MESSAGE, I'M NOT GOING TO WAKE UP. Anyway. So I went back to Microsoft, and by the time I made it to the cafeteria it was 5pm, and Brian, Jason, Drew, Matt, and Andy were finishing up a game of La Citta.

    We went to the closing ceremonies, where we found out that 12 out of 76 teams finished all the puzzles. Also, we were disappointed to see that the top team -- which had a name we hadn't heard of before, "Death to Dr. Zero" -- turned out to ACTUALLY be the Staggering Geniuses in disguise. Aw.

    In another bizarre event, there was this woman there with a really cute puppy -- which we'd noticed all weekend -- and so a bit before the actual ceremony thing starts, the puppy lady comes up to us, and is like "Hey, is your name Dianna?" and I'm like "Yeah, I'm Deanna," and she's like "Did you teach me at Governor's School?" And suddenly I'm like "HOLY FUCKING SHIT! MERRIE RINGEL! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?" That was a crazy coincidence -- so yeah, Meredith Ringel was one of my students during my first year as a CS TA at PGSS, in 1996, and I swear I hadn't actually seen her since then. She went off to Brown, then Stanford for grad school, where she played The Game and met a bunch of the SCRuBBers people -- one of the top teams in PH -- and then came to Seattle to work for MS and ended up on their team for PH. So wacky. I'm astounded she recognized me after like 11 years.

    After dinner, a subset of our team -- Drew, Jason, Mike, me, Matt, Brian, Steve, and Steve's girlfriend Kim, ended up going to dinner at Firenze or whatever the place is called in Crossroads, an italian food place. It was a fun way to celebrate. Usually after closing ceremonies, all we want to do is go home and sleep, but see, this year was a little different :)

    I came home and watched my doramas for the weekend, including the second episode of Yukie Nakama's Hellish Wedding, couldn't even make myself finish the entire thing, and just decided to completely give up on the series.

    Unfortunately I couldn't get to sleep much. I think I first finally fell asleep at 3:30am, but I woke up at 5am with my arm hurting, and then fell asleep again, and woke up again at 6:30, and fell asleep again, and the next thing I knew, it was like... noon. Oops. So I didn't get to work today until like 1:30. But I did stay there until 8:15pm hacking on code. The good part is I feel really close to done on my project. The bad thing is I'm still not done.

    I got a BBQ sandwich for lunch from this little place on Marion between 2nd and 3rd as I was walking up the hill. It was cheap, fast, and tasty -- but kind of messy. I didn't even try to eat it without a fork, because I like there to not be BBQ sauce all over my keyboard.

    I sort of want to write a baseball-related mini-Puzzle Hunt, but I don't know how many people would be interested in it.

    EDIT> Pictures from Puzzle Hunt 10 are here.
    Get this. It's almost 7am, and I am at home getting ready to sleep not because we hit a slow puzzling time and I wanted to come take a nap, but BECAUSE WE ACTUALLY FINISHED THE ENTIRETY OF PUZZLEHUNT. We finished 6th out of 72 teams. HOLY SHIT, I've been waiting like three years for this.

    This is awesome, now I can nap for a few hours, go back to Redmond just to hang out and play board games or something for a few hours until it's time for closing ceremonies at 6pm.


    dr4b: (abstract)
    Iron Puzzler was a pretty neat event.

    The idea was: from 9am Saturday until midnight, groups would work to create puzzles. Each group had to create a paper-based puzzle (one that could be wholly duplicated on a copier), and a non-paper-based puzzle (one that could not). They had to incorporate some "secret ingredients" that we were told at the start of the event (which prevented people from going overboard creating puzzles beforehand, in theory). Afterwards, from midnight until 3pm Sunday (which turned into 1am-4pm with collating time), we'd have to solve as many puzzles as we could.

    A group's score was based on:
    1. Puzzle-solving score
    2. How many people solved your puzzles
    3. How people rated your puzzles

    Since I know nobody's really going to read most of this except Matt and maybe Jeff, I'll say straight up: our team placed third overall in solving and third overall in puzzle rating, but we had an issue with solvability such that everyone solved our paper puzzle and only four groups out of thirteen solved our non-paper puzzle.

    (The way the solvability scoring worked, it was on a curve where ideally you wanted 8-11 teams to solve it, 10 being ideal. Nobody solving it was bad, everybody solving it wasn't particularly good.)

    Our paper puzzle was a crossword that Jeff and Jonobie wrote, and our non-paper puzzle was a Lego-word-building-unbuilding puzzle that... I forget who came up with it originally but Mike definitely pushed it through.

    okay, yeah, this is a lot of stuff about the event )
    dr4b: (abstract)
    I got home at 6:30pm yesterday and have pretty much been asleep since. Unfortunately, I still feel like crap.

    I came up with this in about an hour on Saturday as a prototype for a possible puzzle, and then our team managed to make a much more complex version in the next few hours, and then we ended up not using it anyway in favor of Jeff and Jonobie's crossword (which was the plan all along and worked out much better, we just wanted to have a backup plan). It's not hard, but I was proud of myself for thinking it up on the fly.

    The reverend wants to know when you lined the feed.

    A mood faker (4):
    Rightens the broom (5):
    Dot noun (2):
    Plate granite (5):
    Gran's couch (5):
    Pro nice (4):
    Cakes the mall (9):
    Reaps off the cane (8):
    Bitter Harry (5):
    Putts the caper (8):

    July 2017

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