Stuff about, you know, puzzles

2013 in Review

Ack!  DASH 6 is tomorrow.  I had meant to do a quick writeup of each of the events I played in last year so I wouldn't forget them.  I apparently, have only done one!  Let's see if instead I can get a quick paragraph in for each one.

DASH 5 – Didn't actually play live.  My team dropped out on me the day before, real life somehow overriding puzzle events (pfui).  I did end up solving the clues with my Thrusday night puzzle group, about 1-2 a night.  Was a lot of fun, maybe even more so since we could take (nearly) all the time we wanted and didn't feel the pressure of the clock.  There's something nice about being able to fully experience a well-written clue and not try to look for ways to short-circuit it… like sipping wine instead of downing it all in one gulp.

Shinteki Decathlon 8 – My "quick" writeup from before kinda got away from me.

Berkeley Mystery Hunt 3 – Our team came in a close second to the League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen. We were actually minutes ahead of LXP – which included incredible crossword champion Tyler Hinman – as we went into the final puzzle… Which turned out to be a crossword. Giving a puzzle like that to Tyler is like give bacon to a dog: Finished in a blink. Our team could only look on with a heavy heart as we watched them defeat HAL 9000 and win the hunt minutes ahead of us.

It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed spending the day hanging out with puzzle friends like Jonathan, Brent, Rich, Eric, Laura, and more. But with a powerhouse team like that, I did not feel like I contributed much. I love the feeling of having a key insight or finding a shortcut to solve a clue, neither of which I really felt during this hunt. Not that I wouldn't play again with the same people… Just need to figure out a way to contribute more.

Palantir Hunt 3 – This one caught me by surprise and made me long for the return of the BANG.  I had skipped the first one, not knowing anything about the producers and didn't even know there was a second.  For the third one, I joined the powerhouse that is the Shinteki version of The Smoking GNU:  Jonathan, Kekoa, Cynthia, and Eric, as well as Laura.  With such a skilled team, I figured I would do a lot of watching of amazing solvers in action.  This was partially true.  For example, on one clue, we did the standard you-work-from-the-top-we'll-start-at-the-bottom method of solving a list of crossword clues.  However, the from-the-top side sub-team had finished the entire list by the time the bottom solvers (including me) got more than four.  I think our team solve time was under five minutes for that one.  

I was able to contribute some key insights on several puzzles and even figure out the technique to solving the meta.  There is something very satisfying about having the "aha" on a clue your team has been stuck on for a while.  We ended up coming in second behind "Juiced", who beat us by just thirteen points.  Still a very fun, very satisfying hunt.  I was figuring it was going to be my favorite for the year… until November.

Escape from the Bank – I was excited to see SCRAP's newest real escape game, having been working on a heist-themed hunt for a while (more on that later).  Bob invited me to join him in this one.  Our records were exact opposites:  He had never escaped from a SCRAP event, while I had always escaped.  One of us was going to have their streak broken.  SCRAP games are always well-produced and fun, and this was no exception.  I always enjoy the variety of clues.  Of the ten main clues, I was worked on two.  First one was a cinch.  Second was a Nikoli puzzle type I'd never tried before; nobody else had either, so I spent too much time trying to figure out the rules and erasing the grid several times.  By the time I solved it, the information was no longer needed.

One drawback to SCRAP's escape games is that they don't tell you if you're done.  We had gotten what we figured was the solution to the meta, but hadn't used all the information.  Turned out, the stuff we didn't use was a mid-step for another part of the clue; we didn't need it.  In the end, we escaped!  I think we were the first to do so, but it was close.

My 40th Birthday Hunt (aka BATH 5) – This really deserves its own post.  Suffice to say, my wife convinced the right people to convince enough people to throw me a Doctor Who-themed 40th birthday hunt under the guise of BATH 5 (or is it vice-versa?).  I was and continue to be very touched and amazed by all the effort that went into this hunt and being able to see such good friends.

E.D.D.I.E. – My wife's co-worker heard about my birthday hunt and asked if I could write something similar to get her husband out of the house for a surprise birthday party.  I agreed.  "What types of puzzles does your husband like?" I asked her.  "Oh, he doesn't do puzzles." was the reply.  So I used some of the heist-themed clues I had been developing and made them much much easier and gave him a two-hour hunt in the greater Sebastopol area.  It ended with a safe-cracking at his home, just in time for his surprise party.  My first paying puzzle gig!

I got a lot of positive feedback at the party.  One conversation with a lady in her 70s was "You should do this for a living!"  I told her I was currently a full-time dad.  "Keep it mind for the future then," she said.  She was by the door as I left.  "Don't forget this!  In the future, it could be what you do.  Don't forget!"

Good way to end the year.