Stuff about, you know, puzzles

DASH 1 – Get Along Lil’ YAKies

(Note: I only took around five photos during this hunt, therefore many of those below are thanks to Amy aka amster_girl, who holds the copyright. Used with permission.)

When the Different Area Same Hunt (DASH) was announced, there were a few things our team needed to sort out before registering. Many of the teams we were familiar with would be playing in Palo Alto; however, since DASH was to be on a Sunday, driving up was pretty much out of the question for Jonathan. Since L.A. was one of the hosts, he figured it’d be better to just stay down south. He didn’t have a team there, but as luck would have it, my brother David in Long Beach decided to make this his first puzzle hunt. Jonathan decided to tag along with David’s team, solving puzzles solo and offering help to the newbies.

So with the GNU’s captain sticking to Southern California, I signed up our Smoldering YAK team and got Given, Andrea, and William to join me. And since it was closer, we chose to play in the San Francisco hunt.

We arrived fairly early; there were only a couple other teams around. More and more showed up, until we had a small crowd in front of City Hall. As we stood there, some guy on a bike came speeding past and told us to stop “f****** protesting” and get some lives, or something to that effect. An unexpected attitude for a city that has practically made protesting an art form.

Debbie Goldstein got up to give the introductory talk. I’d met her when we joined a couple other people to playtest an event for Alexandra a year or so ago. I thought it was pretty awesome that she came up with this idea to have the same event in several cities across the U.S.; talking with her during the playtest, it was pretty obvious how passionate she was about hunts in general and puzzle hunts specifically.

Desert Taxi and Lowkey, the teams that we playtested the most excellent Ghost Patrol Game for, were on GC/staffing duty. It was pretty cool that we’d be seeing them throughout the event.

In Debbie’s introduction, we found out that there was a western theme and that this wasn’t to be a competitive hunt. There were to be no rankings at the end, though they would be keeping track of data for those who were interested. I think this fact may have contributed to our team’s relatively slow pace through the hunt.

Clues 1 – 3 – Gamblin’ with Sandwiches

Our first clue dealt with solving three crossword clues, chaining the overlapping letters into a single fake word/deli sandwich name, and then extracting random letters, in order, to make a new word that matched a clue on the side. We didn’t have to figure this out, though; it was given in the instruction. Us YAKs went slow on this for a few reasons: One, we definitely had trouble figuring out some of the crossword clues, especially the ones that relied on having solved other parts of the clue first. Two, it was challenging extracting a word from each deli sandwich name, as it was kind of like unclued indexing. Three, the numbering of both the sandwich name clues and the extracted word clues implied that they were in the same order. Since the final step was to alphabetize the extracted words anyway, I’m not sure what point the disparate numbering system served. Anyway, we worked with incomplete data, and then it finally dawned on me to ignore the order the the extracted word clues.

For the next puzzle, we were given poker hands, with each card having a label from a different casino. We spent far too much time trying to figure out a way to find patterns in the casino names and how to group them accordingly. We found some patterns, then found some that overlapped, but never were able to come up with an all-inclusive grouping. Eventually had to ask for a hint. Ignore the casino names, came the hint; instead, order the hands. So we did that and noticed that indexing the card value into the casino name gave us several words: SPADES CLOVERS HEARTS ROYALS and PRIMES. So we mentally crossed out cards that fell into those categories, which left us with cards with STIRP as letters. STRIP certainly seemed like a viable answer, given the poker theme and it kinda maybe matched the location-finding crossword clue on the map (“A type of dance”). The staffer grinned when I told him and said we weren’t the first team that come to that conclusion, but it was wrong. So we drew lines between cards for each category and that revealed the letters for the solution.

Our next clue had pictures of random people and clipart. We quickly caught on that the pictures represented numbers (Bishop Desmond Tutu = 22, Trinity = 3, etc.). Some didn’t fit that pattern, though, until someone realized that Jack Black was a jack. Ah, more cards and given the casino in the title, more poker. Andrea thought early on that a cartoon devil might represent 666. “But 666 is actually the number of the beast, not Satan, and probably is meant to be a stand in for Emperor Nero…” I started to argue/lecture and got a somewhat exasperated look in return. So we went (correctly) with 666. It took us a few tries to get the right sort and index method right, but eventually we did. It was probably our quickest solve for the day.

Clues 4 – 6: Slim Musical Crackers

At the next stop, we received a pamphlet containing Slim’s catalog of several different items that might come in handy in the Old West. After each one was a colon and a single letter, as if extracted. Only not every letter was in the item. Several other words were included with each catalog item, only with question marks instead of letters. We set about trying to figure out the extraction pattern to apply it to the others. Some were fairly straight-forward, such as using the middle letter of a palindrome, or taking the double letter. Others were a bit more challenging, such as taking a word that’s also a team name, and using the first letter of the city where that team plays. One in particular was confounding us; I finally decided that the G extracted from CART meant the first letter of a word that could go in front of it, in this case I thought it was GO. It wasn’t until the next day talking it over with Jonathan that I found out that it was supposed to be GOLF and finally noticed that all of the words were from the NATO phonetic alphabet. You would think SIERRA Mist and SIERRA Nevada would have given that away.

Since each puzzle was coming from a different city, I’d been guessing which city had designed which puzzle. For some reason, I was thinking Palo Alto for this one. In the end, it was the only one I got right.

The average solve time for the next puzzle was 24 minutes. For the top ten teams, it was 12 minutes. The fastest team took 2 minutes. We took 43. It was pretty much my stubbornness that kept us that long on a relatively simple clue. We were given paper Graham crackers, with marshmallows, chocolate, and an image of an actor portraying a cowboy on each. The flavortext hinted at putting together Graham crackers by pairing actors who were in the same western and using the resulting chocolate/marshmallow alignment as Morse. The problem? None of us watch westerns. Given and I knew the two from Blazing Saddles, both being Mel Brooks fans. I think William knew one of the others. That left four crackers to be paired, plus we had no way of ordering it; I guessed (correctly as it turned out) that we would order by title, which we didn’t have. Luckily, one of the pairs translated to RR, which we were pretty sure couldn’t start a word or end it.

So instead of, say, going to GC and asking for the information we were missing, which would have been the smart thing to do since all hints were free and we knew exactly what to do, I decided instead that we could figure it out by going through all the possible iterations. After all, each cracker pairing yielded two letters, so once we had the iterations, anagramming the letter pairs should be a breeze. We went through it once and didn’t find any letters that would make a word. So we went through it again, more meticulously, found that we’d missed one iteration, and sure enough, that one was our answer. Oddly enough, finding a way around our ignorance felt satisfying… maybe not as much as being able to solve the puzzle in ten minutes with the right information, but satisfying none-the-less. (Photo copyright Debbie Goldstein, used with permission.)

We were led inside an audio business for next, and then further led into a home theater room that would be a wonderful thing to convert my garage into. In the darkened room, teams were listening to short clips of music. The team in the front row of seats had just vacated as we arrived, so we took advantage of that, sat down, and started identifying songs. We had been given two columns drop-down letter pattern to fill in. The song titles didn’t match the available spaces, although they did match the number in parentheses. We had about ninty percent of the songs identified, but still none of the spaces filled in, when I began to get a suspicion in the back of my head. The song title “Sweet Dreams Are Made of These” described exactly, almost crossword-clue like, the artists of one of the other songs, R.E.M. Nah, I thought, that’s thoroughly impossible. Then the song title “Barracuda” caught my eye… it reminded me of the ska band Reel Big Fish. I mentioned this to Andrea and we looked at the song below it, “Stayin’ Alive”. “Survivor!” I said. And the letters matched! We finally had our in.

The thing is, though, that we were solving the second column of drop-downs. The first column, we could not find a starting point. Eventually, we filled in all of the second column letters and it came out to _ _ _ _ DOCTORS. SPIN seemed like a good fit, but we needed the three letters in front of it for a complete answer. Somehow, the word TOPSPIN popped into my mind and it matched the “Employed in tennis or baseball” location clue. We couldn’t figure out what five letter band named would end in TOP, but I tried our half-guessed answer on the staffer anyway… it was right! Midway to our next clue, it suddenly hit me. “ZZ!”

(A few days later, I explained the how the clue worked to my wife and we went through the first column of drop-downs together and verified that.)

I tried to figure out which city came up with the clue. It was impressive, well-done, and was cool that GC found a sound theater for us to work in. One of the clues stuck out in my mind: The “Jizz in My Pants” song had matched the band “Cream”. That brought to mind something that Jan from coed astronomy had said to me in response to our confusion to a slightly ribald clue during the SF Mini-Game: “That’s just my husband’s sense of humor.” This one felt similar, but I had already mentally assigned Palo Alto to another clue, so I went (wrongly) with Seattle for this one. It was Palo Alto’s second contribution to the event, I found out later, though I’m not sure whether Yar was behind it or not.

Clues Seven through Nine – Dead Dolls with Occasional Meta

We crossed a winding pedestrian bridge to reach our next clue, where many a gravestone had been set in a field. I was so impressed with the setup that I ran back up to the top of the bridge and snapped a photo. Meat Machine, a team I’d test solved with for the most recent Shinteki Decathlon, was wandering through the impromptu graveyard as we approached Jesse of Desert Taxi to get our clue. It consisted of a visual representation of the graveyard before us, only with all the gravestones blank. The actual ones in front of us were all engraved with a name and a year. But not normal names.

We have this game, Mad Gab, that we’ve played perhaps twice in the ten years I’ve owned it. We’ve also have You Don’t Know Jack, which features a Gibbersh Question. We suck at them. Which didn’t bode well for this puzzle, since all of the names were likewise mondegreens of English phrases. It took us a long time to sort them all out, even after we noticed that each phrase was also a clue who’s answer was a single letter. CONSTANCE ‘FERG’ RAVITY was one of the easy ones, as the constant for gravity was G. Other ones weren’t so easy to decipher or translate into a single letter. I had been trying to budget our time for the two remaining puzzles, but was failing as we passed the hour mark. We’d found out we needed to use the years on the gravestones as Cartesian coordinates. We tried made several failed attempts using the origin in the wrong corner before finally getting right. As we left the site, I razzed Given for this, but he just grinned at me, knowing that I was really criticizing myself.

We only had a half-hour left for the last puzzle and then the meta. I was really hoping that we could blast through the next one, but as we pulled it out of the envelope, my heart sank: It was a logic grid puzzle. I was never good at them when trying the ones in the back of Discover magazine as a teen; that hadn’t changed, and I didn’t think the rest of my team had that much experience either. This was going to take us some time. The twist in the clue was that we were given paper dolls to help us keep track of which one was wearing what when. We tried to go through the logic and pin things down, but kept getting mixed up. After a bit, William decided try it on his own while Given, Andrea, and I continued on. We were beginning to get a good feel for it when large, fat drops of rain began to fall onto us and the clue. Debbie came up to our table: Time was up.

We decided not to let that stop us, though. At the restaurant where everyone was gathering, we grabbed a booth and kept working on the doll puzzle. William’s solo work ended up providing us a good springboard and we turned in our answer to Greg about ten minutes later. Even though the event was over, he gave us the meta and said he’d be around for a while for hints and checking answers. We decided to take him up on that, as did a few other teams, as I saw by looking around the restaurant. So we didn’t hear the ending announcements, the non-ranked rankings, or anything else as we dug into the meta.

Which we had fun with. We worked out that all the answer words had had Rock-Paper-Scissors moves hidden in them and when dueling with standard Old West RPS moves, they yielded a ternary code. This was supposed to be the secret of what ruined some Old West town, but the answer, HABANERO, didn’t seem all that likely to cause death and destruction. We gave our answer to Greg and got part two of the meta.

We got stuck on the second part when none of realized that the two half-red squares were actually semaphore flags. A hint was called for and our ignorance was reversed. “And,” Gred told us, “when you re-arrange the RPS battles, you need to look at the letters… differently… to get the answer.” It was kind of cool using the semaphore-encoded message to figure out how to arrange the semaphore points. Yet, when we extracted the letters again, we, or at least Given and I, tried to come up with all sorts of strange orders to read the letters in. Greg came by to see how we were doing, since it was over an hour after the finish, and basically let us know that he’d meant instead of reading clockwise like before, this time read counter-clockwise. And thus it was DYNAMITE — not ANDY TIME, MANY TIDE, or any of the other strange orderings that we’d come up with — that destroyed the town.

Yeah, it wasn’t a very fast DASH for us YAKs, but it was fun and we were happy that we’d stuck it out and at least crossed the finish line… even if the race was already over when we did.

  • Marie

    Wow. I've never been on a puzzle hunt. Sounds fun.

  • Skott

    They totally are! You should convince someone near you to host DASH 2 on April 24 so you can play :)