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I had a hard time writing this one up--I was very reluctant to do so. To put tigupine's and others' minds at ease, it had nothing to do with the puzzles and everything to do with the van.
On May 10, 2008, the merry Banana Bandana Band participated in Shinteki Decathlon 4. There were some good times in there, and there was a van breakdown. It's not fair, but I'm probably always going to remember this game as the one with the van breakdown. There were good puzzles... but somehow that just makes me bitter that we missed more good puzzles.
Who were we? We were the Banana Bandana Band, a team name picked with the primary criterion: I bet we have an easy time putting together the team uniform. It's pretty easy to get ahold of a dozen yellow bandanas and a half-dozen foam banana stress-relief squeezy toys. (Attempting to sew one to the other revealed: thread slices through foam banana stress-relief toys. Solution: don't sew them together, instead tie the bandanas to the bananas.)
Who were we? We were Tobias Lester, who you might remember studied an alligator with the Lester Tang Conjecture. We were Emily Marcroft, who'd played in the first Decathlon and the second. And we were Laura Sudweeks, Tobias' sweet patootie, the team newbie.
The Decathlon games can intimidate a newbie, and I didn't help. As players were assembling at the game start, Tobias said something like, "I thought that Laura might like this game because she's in to Suduko." And then I looked around the crowd saying, "Oh, yeah, you might be interested, the world sudoku champion's playing here today, maybe I can spot him" and my gaze went past the faces of Tobias and Laura and they were... nonplussed.
Aside: (or, rather, Backwards:) Before the game, before folks assembled, the night before, I'd stayed in Sunnyvale. I'd walked ~3 miles along El Camino Real, stayed at the Wild Palms Hotel, breakfasted at a Jamba Juice and a Starbucks, then walked further along El Camino Real... and then walked along the Lawrence Expressway. I do not recommend walking along the Lawrence Expressway.
Oh, right, the game itself. There was a clue! Oh, I'm not going to write about the clues; we didn't see many of them. Go look at other people's write-ups. I'm serious. It's a week later, and I'm still grumpy about the van.
One thing I'm not grumpy about: Laura was able to read in the van without puking. This was a good thing. For this game, there was a book of bonus puzzles. The group (mostly Laura) solved a few of these as we drove from site to site.
We were one of the last teams to solve the first puzzle--we'd thought too much instead of following game control's advice and playing the pokemon game they'd set up. We made up some time on the second puzzle, which involved identifying kids' songs from obfuscated lyrics.
We had a banana tied to the van's antenna with a bandana. Driving between places, it flopped around. On the freeway, it was flopping around a lot. Emily finally rolled down the window and rescued the banana. I don't think that explains... yeah, well, anyhow.
All right, all right, I'll write about some of the clues. There was a puzzle based on Connect-4, in which the checkers had been marked with letters and... other marks. I looked at the other marks and said "Oh, Morse code". Fortunately, I said this late, after the team had already determined that these marks were not Morse code. (I'd been in line ordering sandwiches.) Our knowledge of Shakespeare propelled us through the start of this puzzle, but we had no idea how to finish it off, buying hint after hint. For the next puzzle, a collection of anagrams, we scratched. Next was the Gashleycrumb Tinies book.
We'd picked up the Gashleycrumb Tinies book in the Winchester Mystery House. We decided to drive to a nearby cafe to sit+solve. But the van didn't start. It didn't start despite a variety of things that you might think would make it start. Turning the key would activate lights, open-door noises, unfastened-seatbelt noises, ... but not the engine.
Tobias handled the day's toughest puzzle: he talked to the van rental people. They dispatched someone to look at our van and tell us what dummies we were for not figuring out how to start it. Meanwhile, we walked over to a nearby Peet's, sat and solved. Partway through, Tobias got a phone call--someone from the rental place was at the van, ready to take a look. So Tobias went over.
Tobias came back with bad news: we were not idiots. The expert had determined that the van really wouldn't start. The rental folks would sent us another van. It would take another hour+ for that van to arrive. So we solved our puzzle, headed back to the Winchester Mystery House in case our van arrived soon (it didn't), sat in the W.M.H.'s cafe, caught up on Lester family gossip, exhausted further bits of conversation. I wasn't helping. I went into my game end-party mode, very sleepy.
After a while, somewhere, game control packed up a giant See 'n' Say puzzle. We never saw that. A while later, somewhere, game control packed up a puzzle at Monopoly park. We never saw that.
A flatbed tow truck arrived. The nice tow truck lady unloaded a replacement van for us. There was paperwork. Probably the paperwork didn't really take that long but... Oh man, I am still grumpy. Anyhow. We were all really impressed at how the nice tow truck lady single-handedly pushed our b0rken van around. (Tobias jogged over to help her, because Tobias is a sweetie-pie. I did not jog over to help her, because I was on the phone with Martin of Game Control, asking where we should drive to now that we were a few hours off schedule.)
We ate at restaurants but did not always choose the right restaurants. At the Connect 4 puzzle, we went to a Togo's with a long line. The good news is that just one of us waited in line and ordered for everyone. The bad news: it was a long line. Maybe we should have gone someplace else. After we picked up the Reading Rainbow puzzle, we went to a place called Dish Dash in Sunnyvale to solve the puzzle. The good news: this allowed me to see that Sunnyvale had a civilized area, completely unlike the area around El Camino Real, and I found out about a good restaurant in Sunnyvale. The bad news: the line to get in was long. We completed the first stage of the puzzle while waiting. We ended up going to another, line-less restaurant for dinner instead--but finished solving the puzzles while waiting for our food, and thus lost time.
And yet... we did have fun. I still remember the wave of delight that swept over me when I saw the payoff of the CERTS mini-puzzle.
Considering our relaxing mid-game break, I had even less of an excuse than usual for feeling sleepy at the end-game party, but I did. A couple of days later, I realized I never introduced Wei-Hwa to the rest of the Bananas after he sat down next to us. Maybe that's just as well. We'd come in last place, couldn't blame it all on the van breakdown, and maybe this wasn't the time to tell the newbie "So here's another world-level puzzling champion that plays this game..." Oh, it would have been fine. Wei-Hwa's still a sweetie-pie.
Years before, I'd heard the Holmans, of Shinteki GC, talk about troubles with the Scooby team's Mystery Machine van. At the time, those stories sounded like... the romance of a maverick activity. Scrappy youths struggling along, tales of hardship back in the day... Now I thought differently. After the brake burnout a couple of years before and now this, I had a more direct sympathy. There's nothing romantic about a broken-down van; it meant you were missing out on a giant See 'n' Say puzzle or... or... or something wonderful. I should concentrate on the positive. What if I never knew that these games existed? Then I would have missed out on a customized Pokemon game, a Connect-4 dropdown, the CERTS payoff... I should concentrate on the positive. Gah.
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