Operation Justice Unlimited: The Coast By Post

Arrived: 12:06 Solved: 13:41 Hints? Yes Official Game Control site: Postcards_From...

[Photo: Postcards]

[Photo: Dwight and someone from another team]
Dwight and someone from another team look at a map for inspiration.

[Photo by Wesley Chan: Sitting at the Bay Model]
Wesley's photo shows Eric Prestemon, David Walker, Alexandra Dixon, and Brian Larson sitting and thinking at the Bay Model

I'd been to the Bay Model in Sausalito once a few years before. At the time, my goal was simple: visiting cities whose names contained no consonants other than S, T, or L. This time, things were a bit more complicated.

As we drove into the parking lot, we saw a couple of Justice Unlimited Personnel. They handed us a bundle of postcards tied up in a bay-blue ribbon. These postcards didn't feature photos. Instead, they had line drawings of river and coastline. Each drawing also featured a sign with a number on it.

Soon we stood in the model and we figured out what we were looking for. Each sign on a postcard corresponded to a sign on the model--these pointed out the positions of landmarks. We wanted to get the name of each landmark.

Each team member grabbed a couple of cards and we scattered through the model. As we search for landmarks, the Bay Model became crowded with other teams. Soon we'd found most of the landmarks, enough such that the smart solvers could start crunching data.

I was again impressed by Game Control's effort. I imagined them wandering around, choosing recognizable landmarks, snapping photos, tracing those photos to create line drawings, printing postcards... I felt tired just thinking about it.

I watched the solvers do their thing, occasionally doing some legwork for them. They worked hard. A ranger captured some of the crowd on video camera. He paused to chat as he walked by. "Quite a crowd." he said. I assented. "The Department of Homeless Security," he grinned, "warned us that you were coming through today." I chuckled. He moved on.

The obvious thing to do was to look at the number on the postcard-sign and use it as an index into the text on the model-sign. So if a postcard-sign said "1" and the corresponding model-sign said "OAKLAND AIRPORT", then that postcard represented a "O". Except that this approach gave us nonsense. Variations on this idea gave us more nonsense.

Finally we called up game control for a hint. Different teams have different policies about when to call Game Control. I only know the Mystic Fish heuristic: Don't call Game Control if you've been solving for less than an hour unless you're stumped. Don't ask for a hint per se: instead talk a lot about what you've already tried, and let the hint people jump in to say, "You're on the wrong track there" or "You're on the right track, but didn't consider...". If it seemed like it would make a difference, we'd read them the data we'd collected to make sure we hadn't made an error in transcription.

In theory, we could have called up Game Control to say "We're working on the _______ puzzle and we're Not Having Fun. Can we please skip it? Will you please just tell us how to get to the next puzzle?" ...and that would have been OK. We never got close to doing this--we never talked about whether we were enjoying being stumped by these puzzles. (After the Justice Unlimited Game was over, Game Control posted a chart showing how often different teams had called Game Control. Team Mystic Fish called up less often than most other teams, so other teams might follow a call-more-often-but-get-less-information-per-call strategy. I'm not sure. I've heard team captains discussing their when-to-call policies, but didn't follow the conversation at the time.)

The Game Control hint people asked some leading questions--and we figured out that we were supposed to use the tide tables. Our DRUID had tide table information, we were in a place which modeled tidal flow. It made sense. With this information, the team's smart solvers soon had the puzzle mostly licked, except that it devolved into nonsense at the end : RING MOUNTAIN O S P.

One more call to Game Control explained: We had solved the puzzle. We were going to the Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve on the Tiburon peninsula.


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