Like I said, On June 6, 2004, Alexandra Dixon pulled into the parking lot of the new Googleplex, the Google headquarters. (When I say the "new" Googleplex, I mean that the company had moved since my previous visit.) I was riding shotgun. We had arrived at the 7th incarnation of BANG, the Bay Area Night Game, a treasure hunt.
The Burninators, the team that won BANG V, were hosting a BANG. They were (mostly?) Googlers, and were holding the game at the Googleplex and its environs, a business park.
David Walker had arrived first. He spotted us and came over to meet us. David had recently joined Mystic Fish, and I knew him only as a mailing address. He was the third member of our team for BANG 7. (Being a subset of Team Mystic Fish, we played as Team Fishstick Mess.) David was finishing up a graduate degree at Stanford.
David had begun the Registration Process. This was a puzzle, our pre-game activity. Whichever team completed the Registration Process first would start the game first.
David told us the story so far: He had gone to a table. A Game Control person at some table had given him some papers and a token. One of the papers was a colored slip of paper which said that the bearer should take it to the Registration or Payment table.
(I am not being accurate here. I don't remember which table[s] it directed us to. I only remember the general scheme of this puzzle. So I will write stuff like "We brought the goldenrod-colored form to the Registration table" when I mean is "We brought the lavender-colored (which I mis-remembered as goldenrod) form to the Registration table... or maybe it was the Information table... I forget which, and I am too lazy to decipher our notes.")
As David explained this, Alexandra wandered off and schmoozed. She chatted with other team captains. After seeing how things were going on the Genome game, I knew this was a valuable team skill, but that is another story.
I looked around the courtyard. There were five tables with signs nearby: Information, Hints, Materials, Registration, Payments. We wandered over to, let us say, Payments. There was a long line of people waiting for the Hints table. Other tables had no lines or short lines.
We went to the Payments table. Burninator Corin Anderson was there. He took our colored slip and gave us another colored slip. It was Blue and said we could turn it in at the Materials or Information table. We handed over our registration fee. Corin asked for our damage waivers. Had we filled them out yet? We looked in the initial packet of papers--there were damage waivers. We had not yet filled them out. Corin said that we should turn them in, perhaps the next time we visited the payment table. He was pretty confident we would be back.
David started taking notes: the numbers of the forms. He thought those determined the rules by which a table-sitter decided which form to give a visitor. He was right.
Alexandra re-joined us as we went to the Information table, turned in our colored slip, and received a colored slip which we could turn in at any table except Materials. We filled in our waiver form and wandered over to the Payments table to turn it in. And we gave Corin our colored slip, and he gave us another slip.
By now David was sure that each table's sitter followed the rule: look at the color of the form turned in. Based on that, choose the form to give them in return. At some point, if we brought a ____-colored form to the ____ table, they would say that we were done. But it would take a while to map all of this out. Maybe we should go wait in the hint line. When you turned in a colored form there, they gave you back a hint along with another colored form.
The hint line was long. As we neared the front, I saw something clever--Justin Graham ran up with a form, handing it to a team-mate waiting in line. While his team-mate had held a place in the long Hints line, Justin had run forms around to short-lined tables, probably taking notes the whole time. They had made good use of the time spent in line, getting more information about this maze.
And this was a maze. As I stood in line, I read the hint which David had already picked up:
2. Unfortunately for you, we made the maze harder than Bob's original design. You may have noticed that there are four possible forms that you can get at each station (well, not really; there's a small exception). The maze is quite solvable without knowing how the form number works, but in case you're curious, the last letter represents the color of the form, and the other text is stuff we use "for internal purposes".
I asked, "Should I know who Bob is?" and got to hear about the famous maze-maker Robert Abbott (a name which I vaguely knew), and his Bureaucratic Maze. We were in such a maze.
We got up to the front and picked up a new colored form and a hint:
3. By now you've probably figured out that the first letter represents the color of the form you gave to get the form you're holding. The colors are Puce, Lavender, Cyan, Goldenrod, and Teal. The only thing that determines which form you get is the color of the form you give. By the way, don't take a Cyan form to information.
This did not tell us much new. What was the quickest way to map this maze? More importantly, what was the quickest way to find the goal?
Burninator Wei-Hwa Huang, over at the Hints table announced that team Desert Taxi had completed the Registration Process. Did that mean that our goal was to turn in a form (of some color) at the Hints table?
Wei-Hwa megaphoned an announcement to the Game Control folks. Soon afterwards, one of the GC people at the Materials desk said, "I no longer accept yellow forms". I thought They closed off loops, leaving us fewer wrong choices, speeding us to the finish. We wandered around, traded forms at tables. David took notes so that we could create a map.
We took a green slip over to the long line at the Hints table. I watched people up at the front of the line. One of them tried to turn in a green form and was told "We are no longer accepting green forms". So we wandered over to another table, turned in our green form, and got another form in return.
At this point, it seemed like a good idea to sit down and start drawing the maze. Then I thought about Justin Graham, walking his team's form around while team-mates waited in line. I was sure we would need more information to solve this thing. It was time to multi-task. "You start mapping," I said, "I'll take this form somewhere and report back."
And I did. That got me a Puce (or was it Lavender?) form. I went back to the table where David and Alexandra were scribbling out what we knew about this maze. I looked at the notes, and they were still sparse. We needed to know more. David jotted down the details for this form, but didn't know enough to recommend my next destination.
I looked around. There were almost no players in line now. Most teams had sat down, were probably drawing maps. There was no line at Hints. If the Hints desk was the goal (maybe), maybe I should try the Puce form there. I walked over to Hints.
Along the way, I came up with what was probably the best idea on how to quickly solve this maze: combine forces with another team. This was a puzzle where sharing information would help. I made a mental note: upon returning to the table, ask Alexandra to use her diplomatic skills to ally with another team for the duration of this challenge.
I arrived at the Hints table, handed Wei-Hwa the form. He announced, "Team Fishstick Mess is the fourth team to complete the Registration Process!".
Why carefully map out the maze? Why calculate the pay-offs of allying with another team? Why not just keep your eyes open and be lucky? It was better to be lucky.
| comment? | | home |