Puzzle Hunts: The Underlying Metaphors vs Shinteki Decathlon 2

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Steven was telling a story about his high school graduation. From previous graduations at this school, he knew that a senior usually sang as part of the program. But as he was waiting for his graduation to begin, when he looked at the program, there was no singer listed. Steven is a musician now and was a musician then. He can sing, really sing, and I guess he could then, too. Anyhow, he sought out the principal and offered to sing. The principal thought that was dandy. Steven sought out another student, one who played the piano. Right then and there they agreed on a couple of songs they could do, ran through a little practice, and then went out and performed.

I am not a musician now, nor was I one back in high school. The part of that story that impressed me the most was the part where Steven and his fellow-graduate considered their repertoires and found a non-null intersection. There are a lot of songs out there. I tried to think: if I were one of these two people, trying to find a song that we both knew, what would happen? And then I started to sing:

"I'm Popeye the sailor man..."

Maybe you had to be there, but it seemed pretty funny at the time. Maybe you should have been there, because it was a surprisingly nice place to be.

At about 8:30am, I realized that we were way too early. We were the Underlying Metaphors, a team ready to play in Shinteki Decathlon 2, an all-day puzzle treasure-hunt game thing. Specifically, we were Emily Marcroft, Peter Tang, Steven Pitsenbarger, and me. Our team motto: We will not be understood until it is TOO LATE. When I'd proposed a meeting time/place, I'd figured that at least one of us would be late, it would take a while to get our gear assembled... but nothing had gone wrong, and now we were far too early.

[Photo: Emily, Larry, and Steven]
Emily, Larry, and Steven
(photo by Peter Tang)

So we had sought coffee. We had pulled into the Lincoln Square shopping center where highway 13 meets Redwood Road (not to be confused with Lincoln Square Park which is downtown). When you look for a cafe in some little random shopping center, you don't have high expectations. Cafe Galleria was much nicer than we had any right to expect. There were couches. There was a bookshelf with childrens' books. They served iced coffee.

And so we sat on couches and talked like civilized people. We discussed the idea of covering all of the car windows to better keep out sunlight. This idea had a drawback: we wouldn't be able to see out. We'd brought a GPS device this time so that we'd know where we were, so did we really need to see out? Of course we did: there was other traffic. Next time, we needed to bring along a RADAR as well as a GPS, so we could detect nearby traffic. "We could send out pings!" Nearby on the childrens' book shelf was the Story about Ping, which Emily remembered reading way back when.

Does it seem like I'm lingering overlong on this idle chit chat over coffee? Here's the thing: it really was seriously hot that day. Soon we would be out in that heat. Conversation would largely cease, replaced with lethargy. This was a puzzle-based treasure hunt game. We listlessly looked at puzzles, tried to concentrate, and mostly failed. The rest of this game report is going to consist of sweaty, slack-jawed confusion. So you might want to make a note of this little scene of caffeinated camaraderie to boost your spirits through the rest. I know I did.

I'm going to blame a lot of things on the heat in this story. But keep in mind that some teams seemed to handle the heat OK. I'm going to get all Jon Krakauer on you and say things like "If it hadn't been so hot, I'd like to think we would have noticed that blah blah blah, but the heat prostration made us stupid." The first-place team scored almost twice as many points as we did. You should take my scapegoating with a grain of salt.

You might wonder, "Are they sorry they played this game?" I was sorry it was so hot. But this game still seemed like the most fun we could have had that day. No matter how hot it gets, you can't stay in the basement all the time, you'll go stir crazy.

So here's how it went.


When we arrived at the Merritt College stadium, it was already a blazing hot day. Linda Holman of Just Passing Through, the game organizers, offered us game packets and donut holes. In that heat, donut holes held very little appeal, and there were plenty left in the box. I think Martin of JPT snapped a team photo. I think Brent talked about something. But that was all out in the sun's heat, and didn't stick in my brain. My memories don't really start up again until we'd made our way under the stadium bleachers where there was shade. I drank some water. We hadn't even started yet and I already felt dehydrated.

[Photo: {eter and Emily under the bleachers] [Photo: Steven, Larry, and Emily under the bleachers]

The game packet encouraged us to figure out which people on our team were best at certain obliquely-referenced skills. As usual, there was a Palm PDA computer dealie--we would enter answers into that and it would either say "wrong!" or "right, to get the next puzzle go to blah blah blah."

We talked amongst ourselves. Other teams were there. We talked with Team Desert Taxi. Between us, we mis-remembered what the Palm game application had been named in the previous game. Jesse was sure it was LEON. Later on, Emily would suddenly remember: ZEUS! But that was later. For now, the game was starting. It was time to emerge from the sweet, sweet shade and up into the harsh sunlight, up into the bleachers proper.

[Photo: Starting Announcements]

Team Coed Astronomy has a player named Yar. Team Briny Deep talk like pirates. When Yar walked past them, they said "Yar!" This has happened before. It had become a Game Tradition.

Then there was a game-ish relay. Emily, together with one player each from three other teams, solved a jigsaw puzzle. Then she ran a lap. She started out running in her flip-flop sandals. You might think "Who wears flip-flops to a Game?" I'm telling you, it was really hot. I was wearing sandals myself. Taking one for the team, she took off her flip-flops and ran a lap barefoot.

I wasn't doing much. I was watching from the stands. Before the start of the game, we'd been told to figure out which team members were best at certain kinds of tasks. Three of these four tasks had mentioned "stay on track," which implied running. My teamies had gently steered me towards the no-running task. Now all of the non-runners were sitting together. I asked someone, maybe Jessen Yu, how long it had taken his teammates to decide that he was least able to run a lap. But that was a dumb question--two of his teammates were Justin and Charlie Graham, long-distance runners.

After Emily finished her lap, she received a Rubik's cube which she handed over to Peter. Peter then gloriously failed to solve the Rubik's Cube. Before the game, the organizers had given all teams instructions on how to solve a Rubik's Cube and encouraged us to study them. A couple of team members had had some free time between then and the game. Instead of studying the Rubik's Cube, they'd bought shirts for the team. Though it cost us time as Peter now failed to solve the Rubik's Cube, I still think that folks spent their pre-game time the right way--they were awesome shirts.

After a while, the Just Passing Through folks took pity on gamers who were still struggling with Cubes. Pete thinks it was because they saw he was about to throw the darned thing. JPT announced: solvers were allowed to stop, but if so, they had to run two laps instead of one. Pete didn't hesitate, he was the first to stand up and relinquish his cube. And he was off.

When Pete finished his laps, he received a bag of crackers, which he handed to Steven. Steven's task was to eat a dozen crackers. With nothing to drink. On a totally dehydrating day. Yipe. Steven ate them pretty quickly. (His secret? "Crackers go down faster if you don't chew so much and just swallow.") We were catching back up! And then Steven ran a lap. Steven was used to running races! He was really fast! Steven picked up an almanac and a piece of paper. He handed them to me. It was my turn for a challenge.

The piece of paper was a list of questions whose answers were in the almanac. The answer to each question was a number. I was supposed to add up the numbers and get the right answer. I flipped through the almanac. My fingers left sweat marks on the rough paper. Sweat dripped off my nose, fell in the almanac. I suppose that librarians and archivists have some idea of how much abuse a book typically endures per year. I think that almanac experienced a decade's quota right then. But soon I had my numbers. I added them up, got a sum.

As in previous games run by Just Passing Through, when we had figured out an answer, we were supposed to enter it into an application running on a Palm. If the answer was right, the Palm would tell you where to go next. I entered the number 2337. Wrong. Oh no. I double-checked my addition, blaming heat-addled mistakes, got 2337 again. Entered it again. Still wrong. Went back, re-checked the numbers in the almanac--got the same answers. Then I started whining, asking the organizers if I could run a lap instead of trying again.

But they were even more merciful than that. By this point, there weren't many people left. Linda Holman looked over the numbers I'd found in the almanac. They were all right. I just needed to check my addition. I tried adding up the numbers again. 2337. Jeez. Martin stopped by. "You know, the Palm has a calculator program."

I used the calculator program. It added the numbers correctly, got 2347. I entered that answer. The Palm made happy noises, told me where the team would find our next puzzle. On the way out, I thanked Martin, "That was the best hint of all."

I blame my mistakes on the heat. No really, I swear I would have thought of the Palm's calculator. In fact, a week and a half earlier, I had thought of the Palm's calculator. I'd been with a group of Google interns, watching them play in a scavenger hunt organized by the Just Passing Through folks. When the interns were faced with an arithmetic-heavy puzzle, I'd pointed out the calculator in the Palm. Do I need to point this out: the Google Intern Scavenger Hunt had happened before the heat wave?

Baking Stone

We were heading towards Indian Rock Park in Berkeley. If you're not sure where Indian Rock Park is, it's pretty simple to get to. First you go to Zachary's Pizza on Solano Avenue. Walk east 1/4 mile, up the street and up the stairs. 1/4 mile. We were going to be 1/4 mile from Zachary's. There was nothing preventing us from calling up and ordering ahead, ordering one of the best pizzas in the USA. Since I'd started playing these games, I'd on more than one occasion thought that the ultimate life experience would be to solve a really elegant puzzle while eating some Zachary's deep-dish pizza.

It was waaaaaaay too hot to eat pizza. We drank water instead, deferring a dream. At the park, we clambered up the rock, visited with the nice game control volunteer, and eventually found the next puzzle. There was a a stack of puzzles: a puzzle for each team, labeled with the team name. We were the Underlying Metaphors. Our puzzle was underlying all of the others in the stack. I thought that was pretty awesome. "Are they in alphabetical order?" Oh, oh yeah. That was it.

We sat in the shade of the rock and started solving. The rock had been absorbing heat for days. Now it radiated heat at us. Heat heat heat. We remembered a shady spot back close to where we parked. We headed back there.

This was an acrostic puzzle, with a few blanks colored in. We muddled our way through the acrostic. Some parts we figured out. Some parts we had to buy hints for. This is my favorite part of Just Passing Through games--if you're out of ideas, you can buy a hint from the Palm. It costs you points. If you're a front-runner team who wants to win, then you should suck it up, not spend points. We were a casual team.

The acrostic wasn't solving to a quotation, but to a list of strange names. In hindsight, if we'd had some kind of mobile Internet device, we could have looked for one of those names on Google. We didn't have any of the names quite right, but automatic spelling correction would probably still have brought us to a useful site, telling us that these were the names of Olympic decathlon winners. Which makes sense in a game called "Decathlon". There was even a list of them in our almanac--if only we'd known to check that list.

But we muddled along, and eventually figured out that the letters in the colored blanks spelled out "NAVE ENSHRINES MY CODE". That seemed pretty strange, but we entered into the Palm. It didn't like that answer. Uh-oh. Maybe we'd garbled part of the acrostic? "NAVE ENSHRINES MY CONE" "NOVA ENSHRINES MY CODE" We started getting sillier. "NAVE ENSHRINES MY BONE" Hey, don't laugh. What about those icky artifact thingies? "LOVE ENSHRINES MY CONE" Some reference to the Coneheads from old TV shows? I thought maybe there was a anagram in which the scrambled letters MYCODE were surrounded by the scrambled letters of NAVE. Nope. Maybe the code was EVAN? Nope. Someone said, "Is this a da Vinci code thing? That was pretty churchy." But none of us knew much about about the da Vinci code except that the movie had got rotten reviews, so we let that slide. If a church is laid out like a cross, wasn't the nave the intersection point of the cross? Maybe the answer was "X"? Nope. This was nuts--we were so close to finishing, but we couldn't finish. Should we buy more hints? Surely any hints we bought would tell us something that we already knew. We drank some water. I ate a sandwich. Emily started entering random words into the Palm. "I got it," she said.

We looked at Emily. "Apparently, it was da Vinci." We gathered up papers, readied the car. Later on, Emily said that this was her favorite puzzle. At the time, I said, "Emily, I'm glad you're here."

It wasn't until I read Jan Chong's excellent report that I found out the message was NOVEL ENSHRINES MY CODE. My gracious, it's a miracle we ever made it to the next puzzle. Well, maybe "miracle" wasn't the right word. It was nice of game control to give us a puzzle that was so resistant to our garbles.

Pedestrians Cross

The strange thing when we arrived at the Rose Garden was that there weren't any team vans parked nearby. When we entered the garden, there weren't many people at all--and they weren't gamers. Oh wait, sitting on a shaded bench, there sat Ian Tullis and Darcy Krasne. Weird. I was pretty sure that Ian wasn't playing with the Burninators today, and I hadn't seen any Taftonymed team on the game roster. And where was the other half of their team?

Ian explained it: "We're here totally by coincidence. Pay no attention to this big time roster." But he was kidding--they were volunteering for game control. So now I know what (some) game control volunteers do: watch clue sites and note down the times that various teams arrive. Anyhow, they weren't playing that day. And there were clues nearby. So I was supposed to look for clues instead of chatting.

I looked around. Someone at the bottom of the garden was waving his arms to get my attention. He pointed at a spot on the ground. Then he walked on. And sure enough, when our team reached that spot of the garden, there was a folder full of clue envelopes.

Our clue was two pieces of paper. The first had a strange story about crash test dummies and a list of 17 strange fictional sports: Olympic drowning, cobra milking, and stranger things. The other piece of paper was a table of data. The table's row and column headings were Emeryville street names; the table cells contained letters.

Steven had brought a map from the car, and now we looked at it. Looking at the grid and looking at the map, there were some grid intersections that had corresponding map intersections--but not all of them. So we had a grid of letters, but only some of those letters corresponded to real places. But which ones? Maybe there were 17 of them, corresponding to the 17 sports?

[Photo: Steven, Emily, and Peter] [Photo: Darcy and Ian]

Our Palm beeped at us, letting us know that we had a free hint: The hint said "Looks like you're driving to Emeryville." Well, that explained why there weren't any other gamers here. On the way back to the car, I took a detour to chat with Ian and Darcy a little more: "So Avani the intern didn't talk y'all and Ari into joining up to play in this thing?" Nope, Darcy was going to be in a musical comedy that evening. Thus, Ian and Darcy had play-tested. Thus, they were not playing. Oh well. I wished Darcy a broken leg and quickly moved to catch up to my team.

Soon we were on San Pablo Avenue, pointed towards Emeryville. Later, we were still on San Pablo Avenue, still pointed towards Emeryville. Traffic was moving slowly. This was not good. If we were hard-core gamers, we'd think this wasn't good because we were losing time. But that wasn't the real reason. The real reason was: The car had no air conditioning. The coolest we'd been all day was when we were in the car, moving fast, the wind blowing in through all of the windows. Now we were sitting still in the heat. There was almost no wind. Yet, somehow, a smell of fried chicken wafted through the car. It was too hot for fried chicken, it was too hot to endure the smell of fried chicken. We had to get off of this street.

And so Pete hung a left at the next intersection. That pointed us in the wrong direction, but it rescued us from San Pablo. He pulled another couple of turns to get us pointed the right way, and we crossed San Pablo. As we crossed, we saw the source of the smell: a Popeye's Fried Chicken franchise. We had escaped its stench, we had escaped the stillness, we were moving, we were cooling off. This called for a song: "I'm Popeye the sailor man..." This song seemed pretty funny at the time. Maybe you had to be there. But we weren't there for long.

Soon we had stopped again, this time in the parking lot of Ofoto. This was the first of the grid intersections. We looked around, looking for crash test dummies. There was some cute art on a utility box. There was a cafe. There was a cardboard moving sale sign. Which of these was important?

Here, I made a bad suggestion. I suggested that we buy a hint from the Palm. I was thinking that I didn't want to drive all over Emeryville without knowing what we were looking for. This was dumb--the next Important Intersection was just a block away. I suggested this dumb idea. I blame the heat. The team went along with the idea. I blame the heat. The clue didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. We got back in the car, drove to the next intersection: and it had cute art on a utility box. Oh, we wanted that.

This example of public art in Emeryville was "Signs of the Times", a collaboration between Seyed Alavi and some Emeryville students. It was art on utility boxes, showing Pedestrian Crossing people doing strange things. Things which, if you were trying to describe them as sports, you might come up with phrases like "Olympic Drowning" or "Cobra Milking".

So we had a list 17 sports, in order. Each of those corresponded to a piece of art at an Emeryville intersection. Each Emeryville intersection corresponded to a cell in the letter grid. The letter grid gave us a letter. So we would have 17 letters, in order. But first we had to drive around Emeryville, spotting utility box art.

Peter drove. I snapped photos. Steven had the letter grid. When we reached an intersection, he called out the letter. Emily had the list of "sports." When we figured out what "sport" we were looking at, she wrote the letter in.

This was Peter's puzzle, because it had the best teamwork going on. Each person had a role.

This was my favorite puzzle, too. We weren't sitting still in some hot place. We were moving, and the wind of our motion carried our heat away.

We drove the streets of Emeryville, yelling and scribbling. Emily figured out that the last word was Peru. I put down my camera and started flipping through the Almanac. Emily figured out that we were looking for Ciudad something something Peru. I entered "LIMA" into the Palm. It said congratulations. We had our answer.

Oh no. We had solved the puzzle. Now we were going to have to stop driving around. Now we would have to sit still in the heat and solve a puzzle. (This worry was unfounded.)

[Photo: Signs of the Times] [Photo: Ofoto's Dumpster] [Photo: Signs of the Times] [Photo: Pixar Studios] [Photo: Signs of the Times]

Air Conditioning And Cube

On the way to Jack London Square, Emily with her young eyes was able to read a road sign long before it was clear to the old duffers in the car. Her vision was better than 20/20. This led to talk that she should be a pilot. Which led to talk of whether the military let women be pilots. Which led to talking about Alex, a guy who Peter and I knew from high school who'd joined the USN. This segued naturally into a chorus of "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man." At the time, this seemed incredibly funny. Maybe you had to be there. You know, Popeye was Steven's idol back when he (Steven) was five.

When we looked at the map of the Jack London Square office park, Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon looked pretty big, huge. Probably the kind of place that had air conditioning. We were picking up our next clue there, and the idea of sitting in a cool, shady bar and solving a puzzle sounded just about perfect.

Walking through the shopping area towards the Saloon, the sun beat on my legs. It was so hot. It seemed like a physical force. When I first heard about the idea of a solar sail, I didn't know which was least credible: that such a thing could work, or that anyone could think of such a thing. But on this day, walking through that sunlight, solar sails made sense.

The saloon was not huge, it was tiny. We had mis-read the map. The huge thing on the map was an underground parking lot. The saloon tiny, stuffy, hot, dark, and smelled like wee. Steven never wants to go there again. We picked up our puzzle, a piece of paper, and went in search of a shady cafe. Back at the shopping center map, someone pointed out a Ben and Jerry's ice cream parlor. This was excellent news. (People who know me might be surprised. "Larry, you don't like Ben and Jerry's much, do you?" To that I say: it was really hot.)

This cost us time: the Ben and Jerry's was on the other side of the shopping center. But when we got there, we found that it was air-conditioned. And there was a table free. This was heaven.

[Photo: Ice Cream Parlor] [Photo: Ice Cream Parlor]

As we sat and cooled off and ate cold things, I could feel the power of thought return to my brain. Unfortunately, as we began to think more clearly, it became clear that the bright ideas we'd had on the way over here were not so bright after all. The puzzle showed pictures of a Rubik's cube. The Rubik's cube was back in the car. Out of the air conditioning. Somehow, Pete worked up the will power to go back out into the heat, walk back to the parking garage, pick up the Rubik's cube.

I can sympathize because I, too, left the air conditioning for a while. I went out in search of a restroom, and that was in another building. And so I went out, walked through the heat, found a restroom, used the restroom. As I was reassembling my pants afterwards, there was some unexpected stickiness. It's not as gross as what you're thinking--it was just that the glue holding my belt together was melting. My belt had a front and a back, kept together with adhesive. Mostly. But not that day. That day, the glue needed some help. I slapped the belt back together, made my way back to the ice cream parlor.

We didn't figure out how to solve the puzzle. Instead, we broke down and bought hints. We would have to start out with a solved Rubik's cube. We had an unsolved cube. So we broke it apart and put it back together. Three cheers for brute force. With a big fat marker, we drew letters on the outside of the cube to match those in the drawing. Then we followed the instructions we'd bought and the clue diagram to make certain twists in the cube, noting down which letters had moved. Just following directions.

But that didn't work! I blame the heat. As we twisted the cube, our carefully-inked letters rubbed off. Sweaty, sweaty fingers just took the ink right... OK, I'll stop talking about the sweat. But it was an issue. We had to bust the cube apart again, reassemble it, re-label it, and this time protect the inky letters with pieces of scotch tape. And then follow the instructions. That worked.

Soon we had a message: CAPITAL OF TEXAS. We entered AUSTIN into the Palm. The Palm liked that answer and said that for the second half of the puzzle, we needed to go to the Crucible.

The Crucible? Wasn't that a place where artistic types made art with metal and fire? I hoped not. "Maybe this will be an air-conditioned crucible." It wasn't. It really was a big space for working on art. And after stepping back out into the hot hot world and getting back in the hot hot car and driving a short ways, we were soon there.

[Photo: At the Crucible] [Photo: Teams at the Crucible]

We were outside, looking at a big metal cube. It was painted so that its faces were those of a solved Rubik's Cube. A game control volunteer handed a piece of cardboard with a strangely reflective piece of clear plastic on it. We wasted a while holding up the shiny plastic next to the big metal cube, not sure what we were looking for. Then we peeked at another team. They were holding their cardboard flat flush against the metal cube. This revealed that there were some magnetically-sensitive thingies (iron filings?) under the plastic--we weren't supposed to use it as a reflector, but look through it at the magnetic thingies. Which were picking up some magnets within the cube. Which formed letter shapes.

These letters were at the same places on the cube as the letters we placed earlier. But these were different letters.

What we did next was a mistake: we carefully broke apart the cube again, put it back together, and re-labeled the faces with the new letters as suggested by the magnets. But that was silly: what we had now was a substitution cipher. Instead of repeating the twists using the cube with the new letters, we just needed to apply a substitution from the old letters to the new letters in "capital of Texas". But that gave us garbage.

We came up with some ideas that didn't work. We solved a bonus puzzle. We thought. We tried some things. They didn't work either. We bought a hint. Oh, we were supposed to apply the substitution cipher to "Austin". That gave us the answer: STRIPY. The Palm liked that, and told us to keep "stripy" in mind when we went to the next puzzle in Joaquin Miller Park.

On the Nature of Joaquin Miller Park

[Photo: LEON!] [Photo: Heat]

Joaquin Miller Park is high up, away from the cool air of the bay. It is full of trees, and if a clue site is in amongst those trees, then there is no breeze. It also features pretty hikes, great views--but those things did not catch the attention so much that day. On that day of record-breaking heat, you noticed the heat, the still air.

Martin of Just Passing Through and a volunteer were there, handing out puzzles, compact discs. They were also handing out ice cream treats. They apologized--the ice cream was getting kind of melty. Later on I would hear the story of that ice cream. They'd brought up some dry ice in the freezer to keep that ice cream cold. The relentless heat had clobbered the dry ice much faster than it had any right to. Such superhuman effort to give us ice cream. Oh, it was so worth it. We hadn't been gone from Ben & Jerry's for very long, but we were still plenty glad for that ice cream.

Then we sat in the car and listened to the CD. I felt my thoughts drift away in the heat. My teammates had some ideas about the meaning of the CD. I was very happy for them. I munched on a sandwich. I drank some water. A van drove up. It was Team Sharkbait from Seattle. They hopped out of the van, moved around. I felt like I was watching some hummingbirds. One of them paused, hovered, smiled at me. I smiled weakly back.

Did you catch that? Did you catch what happened there? Let me re-phrase what happened there: A Seattle person was quicker to smile than a Californian. That never ever happens ever. Except... I remembered the time when I was in Seattle in the summertime and it was sunny. I had thought I'd taken the wrong airplane, because people had smiled at strangers, smiled at me. Maybe this one Seattlite was so glad to escape the drizzle that they reacted to this heat with joy instead of lethargy.

I blinked. Well, maybe it was a long blink. Anyhow, Team Sharkbait was gone, as was their van. Instead, there were some mountain bikers attempting to jump bikes over things. And my team-mates wanted someone to look some things up in the almanac. Oh, I had the almanac. I started looking things up.

We tried some things. They didn't work. We bought some hints. We tried them. At one point, we saw "SGICY..." which didn't look promising to me so I said we should try other things. We bought another hint. It said we'd been on the right track. And sure enough, "SGICY" was just a garble of "SPICY" and we should have kept going on that.

It was a strange feeling. The overall feeling during a game for me is one of eagerness. Here, there was a strange feeling of distance, as if I were not lolling in a car seat, but instead watching myself loll in a car seat.

This is as good a time as any to talk about our awesome team jerseys. Steven and Peter had picked them up the day before. They'd gone to some sports store and picked up four identical sporty shirts. They breathed, they breathed well. Today, they were better than cotton. I was so glad to have this shirt, because like Godfrey Daniels, I live in the desert. Everything I wear is cotton. For the past few days, I'd been wearing cotton shirts, feeling them fill with sweat, lie plastered to my back... What? What's that? You're tired of hearing me tell you why I was so happy to have this team uniform? OK, well, suffice it to say that this joy was heartfelt.

Revisiting Old Haunts

Joaquin Miller Park is high up, away from the cool air of the bay. Now we were driving back down towards the flatlands, towards a mysterious address in San Leandro where our next clue waited. And for a moment there was a whiff--but surely that couldn't be... And then Peter said, "Wow, someone's brakes are--" And then he said, "Are those my brakes?" And we were at the bottom of the hill and smoke was rising up from the front tires, the air was full of the smell of scorch.

Peter steered us into the nearest parking lot, noting that the brakes were "mushy", and were stopping the car only slowly. We pulled into an empty slot, looked around. We were back in the Lincoln Square shopping center, where we'd had coffee that morning.

We hopped out. Looked at the brakes. Listened to the advice of the people in the next parking spot. Peter had a theory that made sense: These were air-cooled brakes. We'd been sitting in hot air. Then we'd gone down that steep hill, and he'd been riding the brakes all the way. And the car was heavy, with three passengers and all of our gear. Now we were in a cooler place. So let the brakes cool off. Go along the highway to San Leandro. Let air blow over the brakes, cool them off some more. It was after 5:00 on a Saturday--no auto shop was going to be open.

Pete took all this a lot more calmly than I would have, working through the possibilities, working through the things to test.

Pete took the car for a test ride around the parking lot, occasionally working the brakes. Emily explored the depths of our Palm. Then she visited the local supermarket's restroom. She reports: I used the facilities at the Safeway - which was a bad idea as far as morale goes, since it was sooo nice and air-conditioned in there. Even at 7-something at night, the difference was astounding. I didn't really want to leave. ;)

Steven and I tracked Pete's progress around the parking lot while we could see the car, listened for sickening crunch noises when we couldn't see the car. Pete came back. The brakes weren't totally better, but they were better than they had been.

We piled back in, and were soon on the highway to San Leandro. The brakes did fine. Soon we had reached our goal: a miniature golf course which also featured a little arcade. Out in front sat Linda Holman.

You know how earlier I said that you should take my whining about the heat with a grain of salt? Because other teams handled it better than we did? Also consider this: Linda Holman was pretty pregnant at this time. And she'd been out in this heat just as we had. She'd probably spent less time driving from spot to spot, enjoying A/C and/or wind. You didn't see her whining. I didn't, anyhow.

Anyhow, Linda Holman gave us some arcade game tokens and pointed us at the arcade, telling us to Follow the Money Trail to get our next clue. We stumbled around in the arcade for a while until the nice fellow behind the counter said, "Looking for this?" He pointed at the front of the counter. Like many arcades, this one had games that issued tickets in reward for good play. These were redeemable for prizes. This arcade on this day had a strange prize available: a little plastic box labeled "SHINTEKI", costing 400 tickets.

We divvied up tokens. Here, my veteran game experience would finally pay off. From talking with other players after a previous game challenge, I knew that the lighty roulette game thingy was the key to quick tickets. It wasn't fun, but it was quick. Not only was this machine not fun, but it was in the arcade's back room. That is, in the part with less air circulation. There was a fan going, but it was still plenty hot. Still, I was on a mission. I started feeding tokens into the machine. I didn't even know how to play, but Emily showed me, and won some tickets herself before wandering off in search of a game that didn't bore her to tears. A few minutes later, we were counting up tickets. Am I absurdly proud that I contributed more than my share of tickets? You bet? But I got over it, and handed over our leftover tokens to a family with a young kid.

With our tickets, we bought the little packet, which turned out to be our next puzzle. This was a stack of fake baseball cards. These photos were of other players, sent in to game control in the weeks before the game. None of the Underlying Metaphors' baseball photos were in there, which was too bad; we'd got professional photos from Elizabeth Graves Photography. (Later on, I found out that the Just Passing Through folks never received my mail with the photos.) Oh well. I'll just put those photos here:

[Photo: Emily's Baseball Pose] [Photo: Larry's Baseball Pose] [Photo: Peter's Baseball Pose] [Photo: Steven's Baseball Pose]

Before starting on the baseball card puzzle, I decided I needed a cold soda from the soda dispensing machine. Someone walking past this machine said "Were they worried it would get away?" They said this because the machine was locked in a metal cage. I soon learned why. After purchasing a beverage, I was dismayed when the machine did not, in fact, dispense a beverage. Where by "dismayed" I mean, "If that cage hadn't been there, I would have kicked that machine pretty hard."

So, back to the car for water. When I got back to the table, there were two sodas there. Steven had bought a soda. It hadn't quite come out of the machine, so he'd wrestled the machine, and two drinks came out! Somehow, neither of these was the one that I'd purchased.

Emily pointed out that the Palm was running low on batteries. So I sought out Linda Holman, to ask if she had any recharger cables with her. She gently pointed out that the game was almost over, and that the Palm probably would last for the next few minutes just fine.

Back with the team, I relayed this information. We looked at various timepieces. Sure enough, the game was almost over. And so we started buying hints, hoping to finish this puzzle before it expired. But we didn't make it.


[Photo: Afterparty] [Photo: Afterparty] [Photo: Peter, Emily, Steven, and Larry]

During the day, we'd been comparing performance of mapping software versus paper maps. Paper maps kept winning. I would power up the laptop and wait for it to decrypt the operating system. Meanwhile, Steven would pull out the right map, find our goal. The computer would start up, the mapping program would appear. Steven would call out a route. I would activate the GPS, and acknowledge the disclaimer that the GPS wasn't accurate and that trusting it too far could lead to dire consequences. And then I'd ask the computer to calculate the route. And then I'd shout "done!" By this time, we were already halfway to our goal, thanks to the route that Steven found with paper maps.

But on the way to the ending party, the computer had a chance to shine. I accidentally directed us towards the wrong exit, and sent us far north of our goal. OK, in that part, the computer map doesn't sound so great. But while Steven was fumbling with maps to figure out where we were now, I just pressed the "recompute route" button of the already-running map program. And it quickly got us pointed the right way. And though I called out some more wrong turns along the way, we still did eventually reach the after-party.

I'm usually too tired to do much during an after-party. This one was at a place called Porky's Pizza. I got a lemonade. We had a chance to meet a couple of volunteers, who claimed to be Martin's parents. They seemed to be handlng the heat OK. Did they say they were from Arizona? Maybe. Winners were announced. Afterwards, the Porky's Pizza intercom announced: "Congratulations to the Five Blind Boys!" I talked with Greg deBeer about this game and upcoming games. Many people ate pizza. I don't know how they forced it down. My lemonade was gone. And then people were getting up.

Soon we were back in the car. We were at the Bay Bridge Toll plaza, stuck in the almost-midnight Saturday night party traffic. Next to us there was a van blaring out loud music on its stereo. We achieved consensus in our judgement of how that music sounded: not good. And somehow this turned into the song "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man..." And this seemed pretty funny at the time. Maybe you had to be there.


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