My Hench Life: Part 4

Googleplex By Night

Time to head back to the van. We were pretty sure we'd done well on that puzzle. It felt good after our slow showing at the restaurant. The laptop gave us our next destination: a fountain on Crittenden Lane in Mountain View. Oh, we were going to Google HQ. Too bad I'd left my key-badge at home. We rode along. Dr Horrible was playing in the back seat. We were getting tired, we weren't talking so much, things weren't so high-key as earlier, but times were good. As we drove into the appropriate business park, suddenly rain poured down. Excellent, a chance to play in the Crittenden fountain in the rain... but then the rain petered out by the time we parked.

Crittenden water feature on a weekday. At night, it's like this except much much darker.

At the fountain, we could see that there were interesting things going on. Hardy GC volunteer Mike Holzbaur was supervising a team doing some complex ringtoss. And here was Kiki Bragg walking over to greet us.

Kiki had questions for us. For example: what was the name of our giant squid? That was easy. We were a fish-themed team, Erik Stuart was a squiddy supervillian, and his supervillian name was Squidoo. "Squidoo." Next: What is Squidoo's nemesis? I guessed Sharktopus, but Erik had this figured out as part of his backstory: His nemesis was Sushi Chef. (At this point, I was pretty darned happy that we had a piscine-themed team. Do you think the Boneless Chicken Cabaret team had this kind of squiddy backstory at the ready?) Next we had to draw a picture of Squidoo. My quick-sketching skills were still primed from last night's pictionary, so I cranked out a passable squid. Meanwhile, Erik mused that he should have played in his squid costume. Next, we had to compose a limerick incorporating "Squidoo" and "Sushi Chefs" and read it all together to Kiki.

There once was a squid named Squidoo,
Who liked to go poo-poo.
  Sushi Chef came along one day
  Said "A squid I'd like to fillet.
Said Squidoo, "That, you may not do."

Kiki found that sufficiently amusing. Now she needed three volunteers...

OK, pay attention, my favorite moment from this whole game is coming up.

Kiki needed three volunteers, one of whom was going to get wet because he was going to have to get in the fountain. This was awesome news. You might wonder why I thought it was awesome that one of us would be splashing around in a fountain on a cold damp night. But remember: I'd been wearing a bathing suit under my pants for over 24 hours now. I'd worn them because I'd heard we might have to wade or use binoculars... but then hadn't been willing to wade in stinky duckpond water. So I'd felt dumb for wearing the bathing suit. Felt dumb for 24 hours. But now, all was made right.

I was prepared for this. I felt a sort of glow.

I volunteered to go in the water.

Soon, Sarah was steering a remote-controlled boat around a slalom course. Then it was time for us to toss glow-stick rings onto pegs. (That's why I was in the water, to retrieve tossed things.) Then it was tossing toy squids into rings: Sarah got all of those right away. Then shooting a nerf-dart gun at a toy octopus.

Then we were done with the physical challenges. Kiki gave us some slitherlink puzzles to solve and pointed me at a towel. I dried off, put my pants back on, watched over Alexandra's shoulder as she solved a slitherlink. I wasn't helping much, but then I got to help out with something else: of the GC volunteers on site, there weren't any Google employees. Rico was supposed to be there... but was stuck somewhere else. (When you hear GC moan about "the spread", this is the kind of problem they worry about.) Google security wanted to know if there was still an employee around to vouch for the group, so I did that. Then, back to the slitherlink. It was a strange one—I'm used to slitherlinks where your choices are forced; this one required a couple of leaps of faith. Overlaying Alexandra's slitherlink together with the two others, shading in the "fenced-in" parts made letter-forms, the solution.

(For this puzzle, I was slower than the median GoldFish at the puzzle-y bit. Hours later, in the morning, I seemed faster than the median GoldFish then. Maybe because I'm a morning person? Anyhow.)

Keeping Warm

It was a quick drive over to our next destination, still in Google HQ, the cafeteria Cafe Moma. Inside, brave GC volunteer Erica Baker greeted us, handed us an initial set of puzzles, each themed on a different boardgame. As we solved these puzzles, we'd get bits of information that would help us with the meta-puzzle. You might ask: what do boardgames have to do with Dr Horrible? Never mind that. I was impressed that GC had found a warm, inside place for us to solve late at night. They'd found a site for us with restrooms late at night. Food, too. This game was pretty swank.

Joe and I wandered over to a big Risk board that had been set up surrounded by Risk cards and with some armies set out on top. We cranked through it in a few minutes. This was a strangely quick solve. Brave GC volunteer Erica Baker was keeping a big timetable on a whiteboard behind her, showing when teams had arrived and left. We'd noticed that the fastest teams had already come through—and had spent a couple of hours here. Where had their time gone? I ate some GC-provided food, wandered over to some chessboards where my teammate didn't need my help. I looked at a Battleship-themed puzzle that wasn't making much sense when I thought of it as a Battleship puzzle, but maybe we were supposed to think more about the Battleship boardgame and... and then there was the yelling.

What the Yelling was About

A little after midnight, Curtis Chen of GC yelled for team Code Yellow to come over. Maybe one of them had dropped something? Someone I knew (Chris Lopez?) said "GC's calling you." I pointed out that I wasn't in Code Yellow; but he pointed out that GC wasn't just calling Code Yellow, but was calling for Bloody GoldFish Meat, too. Time to wander over... so that Curtis could tell us to grab our gear and follow him. There was a flurry of activity. In the rush to pick up stuff, someone on my team dropped a phone so that it came apart, handed me the pieces and said, "Here, quick, put this back together so I can give it back to Sarah." ...which might have been a good way to slickly fix the phone without the phone's owner being any the wiser, except that it wasn't Sarah's phone, but mine. We were a smooth operation all the way. Curtis led us to a conference room where another GC volunteer (who I didn't recognize) joined him while Chris Roat watched over us as hired muscle.

Curtis played the part of a snippy managerial type. The Evil League of Evil was going to test us on our activities so far to see who'd been making things happen and who'd been snoozing. Passed out... exams. With questions like "Circle only the bands that appeared in the Intermission puzzle" and other questions based on puzzles we'd seen. We had 20 minutes to finish; we weren't allowed to collaborate. Curtis paced around and occasionally harangued us. I was worried about him. Someone had mentioned that in Dr Horrible's world, monologue-rs tended to get killed, and Curtis was talking an awful lot. I guess it was improv. We weren't the first group that he'd harangued that night. He might have been trying to make up new stuff each time just to keep from getting bored.

Curtis: Two minutes and twelve seconds left!

Other GC evil dude: Two minutes and twelve seconds is a notable time duration, right Curtis?

Curtis: Yes! And that's because... err.. Two minutes and twelve seconds is exactly uhm... the amount of time it takes the best safecracker to break into the world's toughest safe.

This activity wasn't much fun for me; I didn't remember much, and so I ended up sitting around bored for most of those twenty minutes. (Curtis didn't harangue us the whole time; mostly he just paced around nervously.) I wanted to turn in my test early, but they wouldn't take it.

Finally, they collected our tests and Curtis left to grade them. I covered my ears, expecting that this monologuer was about to be "killed" offstage. Eventually, I uncovered my ears and asked the other Evil Leaguer: "Uhm, is he going to be OK?" and got a noncommittal answer. I was surprised at the wait; was Curtis really grading all of our papers? Surely this wasn't part of the game... But it was.

Curtis came back and and returned our quizzes to us. On the whole, he eagerly told us, we'd done awfully. (My score was 4 out of about 12, so you know I wasn't pulling up any class averages.) He went on to announce that he'd be taking away the two of us who'd done the best on the exam: Erik of the GoldFish and Effie Seiberg from Code Yellow. They got their stuff together, marched out.

A little while later, someone else from the league (The Mentalist?) showed up and asked why we'd let someone take away our teammates. That we might want to do something about that. And that our best hope to do that was to look in our quiz for a secret messa— I piped up: "Hey, look at the question 4: it had us circle the right answers—and the circled answers make the shape of a 'B'." Most of the Evil Leaguers nodded and eased out of the room, leaving just muscly Chris Roat to make sure we didn't try to escape.

And so the combined not-smartest members of Code Yellow and Bloody GoldFish Meat sprang into action. In other games, teaming up with other teams has been a lot of fun, and Code Yellow was fun, too. A couple of us had jumped up to the whiteboard to start writing down pieces of the secret message as they trickled in. We scribbled things down. Between us, we remembered a lot or found them in our notes. E.g., that "B" I'd piped up about earlier was from the cryptogram clue; someone had enough data from the cryptogram puzzle to remember that the letter "B" mapped to "V" in the cryptogram. Since Curtis had graded our papers, we didn't have to rely on our memories too much: if someone had gotten a question right, it was marked right, so we didn't have to worry "Are we sure?"

Except the spiral galaxies puzzle. Mine had been marked correct though I hadn't "filled in" the dark galaxies. Kai Huang of Code Yellow had filled in his galaxies correctly, but had been marked wrong. Was something tricky going on here? Kai stormed over to Chris Roat, with me trotting along in his wake. Kai showed Chris the papers, wanted to know what was going on. Chris looked them over and suggested that we not worry about it, but concentrate on trying to free our friends. Kai pressed on: what was going on with the grading? Chris slumped a bit, broke the fourth wall a little. OK, maybe the grader had made a mistake. The puzzler's frenzy was on Kai; he was working himself into a full nerd-rage hissyfit: How were we supposed to make progress on this puzzle if we couldn't even rely on— Oh man, I'm no stranger to the puzzlehunt geek hissyfit myself, and with 20/20 hindsight, I could figure out that I wasn't helping my team while raging. I'm kind of a weak solver; my team could probably get along without me OK. But Kai was pretty smart; we needed him solving. I put my arm around his shoulder, swung him around away from Chris, got him pointed back towards the whiteboard and started walking. "OK, thanks, we gotta go back to puzzling now."

And back at the whiteboard, things were not going great. We had things written down, had found a letter for just about every question in the quiz... but they weren't really making a message. I guess we took too long, because an Evil Leaguer (the Mentalist?) came back to check on our progress. She was surprised that we didn't at least have the right answer for #4, since we'd yelled it at her. Oh, we'd transformed it via the cryptogram. Oh, she pointed out, we shouldn't have done that. We were used to multi-layered puzzles, many of which involved using some technique to solve one layer to get a partial answer and then re-applying that same technique to the partial answer to get a final answer. Here, that worked against us; we'd seen "partial answers" that were really final answers. We started undoing our work until someone looked at the letters we were getting and spotted the message PROBLEM CHILD.

This meant that we got brought to another conference room a few doors down. This one was set up with two strange devices. One was a camera, mounted on a stand on the conference table, pointing down at a rectangle of paper on the table. The other strange device was a laptop on which we could see a video image of Erik and Effie. Also, we were given a set of nine photographs of jails.

We quickly jumped to conclusions about what was going on. Obviously, Erik and Effie were in another room. They must be watching through our room's camera. We wrote a question on a piece of paper, something like "can you see this?" And the laptop showed us a different video, Erik and Effie making gestures. The video wasn't showing us a live feed; through experimentation, we figured out that there were just four video-snippets it could show: happy thumbs-up; sad head-shaking; wavering-hand mayyyybe gesture; blank stare. There was some latency; if we put a question under the camera, it took a while before we'd the video change. And if the answer to a question was the same as the answer to the previous question, that wasn't always obvious. Was the answer the same, or was the video just having problems changing?

But eventually we figured out that we should place the prison-photos in the table-rectangle; that we were supposed to arrange the photos in a particular order, an order which Erik and Effie knew. (Or, more likely, I figured, it wasn't Erik and Effie guiding us; surely it was someone from GC who'd recorded the Erik and Effie videos and was now using those videos to nudge us along.) The puzzlers among us wondered what the next step of this puzzle would be: there wasn't any obvious data on the prison photos from which we could extract a message once they were ordered correctly. Too bad, that would have helped us to figure out the order. Eventually, we had the photos in order... and we had no idea what to do next. Were we done? Was there another step?

We were done: Erik and Effie were delivered into our presence... for unclear reasons. OK. The puzzle hadn't made much sense, but it had been fun hanging out with Code Yellow, so I wasn't kicking. We got to hear about how they'd spent their time. After recording their four video clips, they'd been put in front of a device with four buttons labeled yes, no, etc.... but the buttons were mis-labeled. How had they figured out which button really meant yes? Well, there was a microphone in our room, so Erik and Effie could hear what we said, things like "OK, they liked that one" when they'd pressed another button. Fortunately, those of us in the room were still figuring out how the system worked, too, weren't noting down responses clearly, and so the early inconsistency hadn't misled us.

The plot continued. We got to sit around a while. Eventually, GC folks came in and let us know that there was some big fight happening outside. The GC folks told us it was safe to escape. And they said that we should be careful not to tell any other teams in the Cafe Moma cafeteria what had happened—no doubt some of them had yet to go through this themselves. Soon we were out in a parking lot, making our way back to the Cafe Moma door. Code Yellow let us in: someone on their team had thought to bring their key-badge.

...And We're Back

Back in Cafe Moma, we still had to solve the Battleships puzzle. This was Daylight Savings Time transition night, and we were in its "extra" hour. I forget how the Battleship puzzle went. I vaguely remember looking at a grid that was almost empty except for a diagonal line of battleship-hits; but towards the end, I think there might have been words like "PI" and "PIP"? I forget. I ate an apple, walked over over to the place where the cafeteria's compost bins normally sat... and there were no bins. I sheepishly asked a security guard where the bins were, and they were right behind me, moved up against a wall for the weekend. Ah yes, we puzzlers are known for our powers of observation... ahem, anyhow. (Thanks to Google security for nicely watching over all these puzzle freaks through the night!) I threw out my apple core. A few minutes later, the smarter folks on the team had figured out Battleship. I passed along our answer to Erica Baker, who gave us a last little piece of paper and a big Scrabble board.

We were working on the metapuzzle now, based on Scrabble. For solving each mini-puzzle, we'd got a little slip of paper showing some scrabble tiles and some blanks and the name of the game by which we'd earned the paper. Each paper was labeled with a country; we figured out that we should use the tiles to make words associated with that country; e.g., on the France page, we could use the tiles to make words like FRIES and TOAST. Our Scrabble board had been augmented with notes saying things like France-> That meant that one of the words from the France piece of paper should go on the board, starting at the pointed-at square. Soon we'd filled in the Scrabble grid with words. There were some leftover tiles.

Our instructions said to sort our leftover tiles and then apply... a long string of numbers. We'd been raised in the tradition of re-applying techniques, so we set about trying to sort our leftover tiles into words, all of which went with some country. How to use the string of numbers? Maybe it was telling us the lengths of our target words? Or their Scrabble scores? Or... something? We rememberd the San Francisco leisurely mini-game, which had featured country-words in Boggle form. Should we make a Boggle grid from our letters? We kept at it for a while, though in general, we could get one word, but didn't have nice letters for more. In general, these leftover letters seemed tough to make a set of words from. We were running low on ideas. We were getting quieter. We were past the night's second 1am, edging into the stupid hours. Allen asked: Why were we trying to anagram these letters when the instructions said "sort"? OK, smart guy, then how were we supposed to sort them? Alphabetically. We didn't have any better ideas.

So we put the letters into alphabetical order. Then if a number in our long string of numbers said "2", we'd count through our sorted tiles to see which was the second one, and we'd write that letter down. And we did that for our sequence of numbers, got a sequence of letters... and there was our answer.

Our laptop liked our answer. Well, it said it was "locked up", showing us a video that ended looking like a pile of JPEG artifacts, but that was part of the story. We went over to talk to the brave GC volunteer who'd run the Battleship game to ask for some tech support. She gave us a printout showing us where to go next. We were about to go back out into the cruel night once more. But not until we used the nice well-maintained restrooms, the last we'd have available for many hours.

Next: Stupid Hours[next]

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