Puzzle Hunts: Decathlon 7: Two Photos

In May 2012, the excellent Shinteki folks ran the 7th of their awesome Decathlon driving-around puzzlehunts. I played with team Mystic Fish, which in this case meant

This hunt started at the Oakland zoo with a sort of scavenger hunt in which we found animals; noticed if they had spots, stripes, or neither; mapped that to dots, dashes, and pawses; and got a Morse message. We then wended our way around the bay area, getting more weird thingies containing artfully hidden messages. My favorite was probably "Dublin," a set of mini-puzzles, each of which used a different way to encode a message in five-bit binary.

This was also a good hunt because I got to find out that Ian Tullis still existed. Last I'd heard from him, many months before, he'd been simultaneously buried under tons of work for school and not sure that this work was leading anywhere. But no news, in this case, was good news. The reason I hadn't seen any angsty updates from him was that he was now too busy with more-purposeful things. He'd honed his programmer chops, flown from the academic nest, landed a job. He seemed happier now than when I'd last seen him.

Brave volunteer Ariel Rideout was a lifesaver. We'd messed up the answer extraction on one puzzle a few times. It was a 7x7 "rush hour" puzzle. The answer extraction mechanism was clever but brittle: if a car didn't end up in just the right spot, it could throw off quite a bit of the message. We thought we were close to an answer, but we couldn't spot our error. We were about ready to throw in the towel when she looked over our shoulder and gave us some reassurances. Minutes later, we had the answer.


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