Larry Hosken: New

ClueKeeper's got hunts up in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Richmond VA, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Telluride. I got excited and started playing the San Francisco one. Which was silly, I should have gathered a team. So far, the only San Francisco hunt is a pub crawl, so I should have got together with some folks who drink. I sure shouldn't have started playing before those pubs open. Anyhow. Hunts are available, but play wisely. Don't make my mistakes.

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2014-04-19T14:33:46

Jotting Notes on Debbie Goldstein's 2014 GC Summit Talk "Caring for Ground Teams"

It's "Caring for Ground Teams" a talk by Debbie G, who organizes puzzlehunts and occasionally gets to play in them. This here is my notes. [My rambling asides are in italics] and I take some pretty egregious summarize|rephrase|totally-change-meaning liberties with other folks' words, too. Original videos and slides at this here link.

You can skip to the checklist for core GC's care and feeding of game-day volunteers or you can keep reading…

  • what do you want at the site: amenities, info, etc [If you're following the slides, this as a plain ol' list. But at the talk, Debbie had us write down our guesses.]
    • on the video, you can hear the sf bay area muttering as we conspire on guesses
      "chairs are more comfortable than rocks"
      "well, some chairs and some rocks"
    • portland's guesses [not to be confused with Maslow's hierarchy of needs] food/ bathroom/ shelter/ drinks/water/ most importantly: wifi/ oh, and a place to sit
    • in the "game show", Deb says that these guesses have only revealed one of the most popular answers. yelps of disbelief from audience, Portland's list sounded pretty good
    • seattle's guesses food/ heat/ shelter/ chair/ umbrellas/ internet access/
    • still, no more list items opened
    • sf bay area's guesses a buddy? Deb throws us a bone: Let's say that falls under Contact Information [I bet nobody guessed this since we still had it in mind from the previous question] / If wifi wasn't on the list: uhm, Mobile phone coverage? (nope) / Puzzle materials and how they work? (nope)
    • poll winners
      • Contact info
      • Walkthrough
      • Schedule
      • Solution
      • Snacks
    • [if you're wondering how "nearby restroom" etc didn't even make the list: the poll's original question was "What is most important for GCs to provide a staff volunteer on the day of the hunt?" Folks at the talk were answering a different question, closer to "What is your dream site-monitoring situation, based on built-in site features and GC's supplies?"]
    • tl;dr If you're core GC, here's a checklist of things to figure out to keep site monitors happy. You will probably have issues with this, but make your own list.
    • Scout locations that are safe and comfortable for long periods of time [If there's a not-so-great location, there's a temptation to think: let's put the easy puzzle there. teams will only be stuck here for 10 minutes. But remember that your site monitor will be stuck there for hours.]
    • Identify back up locations for when cold/hot/rainy/dark/tornados hit
    • Provide a cushion of time around time slots. If you tell a site volunteer "from 2-4, you're by the fountain; from 4-6, you're at the coffee shop" you're asking them to teleport from the fountain to the coffee shop at 4. If your real expectation is: pack up at 4, get to the coffee shop by 4:30, make sure they know that.
    • Provide extra copies of puzzles Volunteers can use them to learn the puzzle. If a team sets their puzzle on fire because they were trying to reveal some imagined invisible ink, they'll appreciate it. If some passer-by, perhaps an officer of the law, is curious what's going on, it's nice to have a spare copy to show them.
    • Don't strand volunteers alone. For each volunteer, figure out if they get lonely sitting on their own. If so, make sure they have a buddy. If not, can you still have a "roving" GC check in on them occasionally to spell them for bathroom breaks and the like?
    • Communicate in advance: location, schedule, scoring, bathrooms, puzzle walkthrough/solution,contact information, etc.
    • Of these, the item which I summarized here as "Don't strand volunteers alone" probably had the most heated discussion
      • What if you don't have enough people to double up buddies? It'd be a pity to give up on your event just because you don't have many people. [I didn't think of it during the discussion, but in hindsight this might be another case where advanced communication would help. E.g., "Would you like a buddy at your site? Well that's too darned bad, we don't have enough people. But at least we're telling you that weeks ahead of time so you have a chance to rope a friend/cousin/someone into hanging out with you."]
      • If you do have enough people, buddies can make up for lack of planning in other areas. E.g., if you didn't take time to get permission to use that site, "One person can be talking to the cops, the other person can be talking to players."
      • "Roving GC" is feasible for a walking-scale hunt, not-so-much for a driving-scale hunt.
    • Q&A / lively discussion
    • Seattle (sounds like Jeff Wallace, maybe?) tells a Mooncurser's war story
      • Day of the game, setting up on site. We'd scouted it repeatedly ahead of time. Seattle Police Department pulls up: "You don't want to be here. This is gang territory. Hanging out here in the middle of the night is not a good call." So, yeah, having contingency plans is important.
      • Deb: How could we anticipate that?
      • Corey: You could join a gang.
      • Linda Holman: We've into those kinds of problems as well. A dry run in real time helps you with "what's traffic like at this time of day on a Saturday like" [she doesn't specify whether she's talking about car traffic or weapons trafficking or whatever, but you get the idea]
    • Allen Cohn, sf bay area: at the risk of sounding touchy-feely, it's nice if GC makes you feel included. Sometimes GC will tell day-of volunteers: "Awesome, you're here. Now stand in this spot for the next four hours." Doesn't really give you the warm fuzzies.
      • Of course, core GC is going to be harried on game day
      • Still, you're volunteering your time. A little appreciation goes a long way towards making you glad you did that.
    • (??who?? corey? sean gugler?) sf bay area: what are differences between volunteers who are puzzle nerds versus your non-puzzling buddy who you cajoled into helping out on game day?
      • (Deb: you'd mentioned using TaskRabbit)
      • (Yeah, I guess that's a separate question. If there's an overnight game with a really long spread, if you have to staff a dozen sites at the same time, where do you get these folks?)
      • Linda Holman: on gamer vs non-gamer volunteers. Your mom/buddy/loved one doesn't know that these puzzles can take a long time: teams can get frustrated, eventually get the aha, solve the puzzle, and move on. If your volunteer doesn't fully understand "long time" and "spoilers", they want to help out right away. For those folks, we don't tell them at all how the clue works. [notice that's different from what the survey says; but remember that survey was filled out by puzzle nerds, not by the puzzle nerds' non-puzzling-but-lovely friends/relatives/etc] We can get away with that: we use an automated hint system. But for these volunteers, not-knowing is more painless than withholding spoilers from teams. But we do make sure that puzzlers know how the puzzles work; they know what to do with that info.
      • Linda Holman: Similarly, if someone who works at a bar or an ice cream stand or a pie shop or whatever is handing out your puzzle: Don't tell them how the puzzle works because: They'll just tell teams how the puzzle works.
      • Deb: one way to get "warm body" volunteers: ??Yai-ya?? in NYC DASH got high school students to volunteer. The students get some kind of Public Service to volunteer for something. So she sets up a pizza party for them, walks them through the puzzles, and they site monitor. Nice side effect: students got excited about puzzles; one year later, a bunch of high-school teams played. Meanwhile, she's got this army of high-schoolers, where all they want is pizza. [Yeah, Patrick Blindauer in St Louis got public-service-seeking students to volunteer as DASH site monitors]

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    2014-04-12T19:27:55

  • Puzzlehunts are Everywhere, Even Locked in England or something

    Chris in England started a blog: Exit Games UK. Partly about escape-the-room games in the UK, but also taking in some tangentially-related nerdery. So far, so good.

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    2014-04-11T01:29:08

    Puzzlehunts are Everywhere, Even Davis

    Davis is a ~1.5 hour train ride out of the SF Bay Area; when the Hogwarts Game put folks on a train to Sacramento, that train passed through Davis. Until recently, I hadn't spent much time in Davis; mostly sitting in cars as folks had discussions in parking lots. But BUT. I enjoyed playtesting DASH in Davis this weekend. I can say that much without spoiler-ifying anything, right?

    Who else was playtesting? Scott and Barry were from Sacramento. Dan went to UCD, but now lives in Mountain View. (And thus, I couldn't whine about the long train ride to Davis: I hadn't even come furthest for this playtest.) Jason(? I think that's his name? That's what I get for writing this down days later) is a UCD grad student. Most of us will come back to site-monitor for DASH day.

    A lot of plant matter blew around Davis. It seemed like a rough place to have allergies.

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    2014-04-10T13:32:03

    Jotting Notes on Ian Tullis' 2014 GC Summit Talk "Advice from (and for) a Puzzle Snob"

    It's a "Advice from (and for) a Puzzle Snob" a talk by Ian Tullis, who writes Shinteki puzzles. This here is my notes. [My rambling asides are in italics] and I take some pretty egregious summarize|rephrase|totally-change-meaning liberties with other folks' words, too. Original videos and slides at this here link.

    [I was pretty glad to see Ian on the agenda. I still use ideas from his 2010 talk. I catch myself referring to them when talking about puzzle design with first-time puzzlemakers. I catch myself talking about "wow" and "fun" with these kids writing puzzles for #terngame before I realize they didn't attend that talk. Maybe it should be assigned homework. Anyhow.]

    video: part 1

    video: part 2 video: part 3

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    2014-03-30T14:25:12

    My modeling career continues

    At first I wasn't sure it was me in this image from the excellent (recently redesigned!) Shinteki puzzlehunt website. I recognized Dan and Jesse sure, but the guy behind Jesse is pretty grayed out.

    But then I saw those distinctive pencils poking out of the shirt pocket. "Yeah, it's me."

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    2014-03-29T18:19:36

    Link: confirmation

    A blog post in which a puzzler reflects on the lack of utility of knowing trivia for Mystery Hunt.
    …people wanted confirmation. They didnít trust my knowledge while there was a way to confirm on the internet…
    Sure, if you hope for a quick sprint to the end of a puzzle, you might trust your teammate's knowledge of Taylor Swift lyrics. But if the puzzle's a marathon and you want to make sure you've done step 1 solidly before you start step 2, then you're going to go slow and check everything. And MIT puzzles tend towards the marathonic.

    Time to start the betting pool: in which year will Watson, Dr Phil, and their ilk win the MIT Mystery Hunt?

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    2014-03-25T03:29:27

    Book Report: Little Brother

    Remind yourself it's fiction: after a terrorist attack, the DHS goes police state on San Francisco. That part's all too believable. The less-believable part: our hero is a teenaged computer programmer; he's better at computer programming than pretty much anyone I know. He doesn't do anything in particular that you haven't heard of someone doing… but he's simultaneously expert at programming services, defeating computer security, defeating real-world security… sort of a teenage hacker as trickster god. A fun read; bonus puzzlehunt points for having a puzzle-y ARG as a plot point; inspiring a puzzle hunt in San Francisco; and for listing Seth Schoen in the acknowledgments.

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    2014-03-23T18:21:31

    Book Report: Shady Characters

    Thursday afternoon, talk at work turned to punctuation. Since work uses a lot of @s and #s, this should not surprise you. Someone hazily remembered that Shakespeare had invented “modern quotation marks.” This morning, I got around to Googling it: alas, that hazy memory was off. So… who invented quotation marks, then? Teh internets have some good info, but for more detail and analysis, I turned to Shady Characters, the book by the author of the Shady Characters blog. It talks about quotes, semicolons, dashes of various lengths… It's a fun book if you're into that sort of thing. There are some surprisingly good stories in there; how does a society figure out how to express a pause with no precedent? (It's kinda like figuring out that zero is a concept that merits a notation.)

    Shady Characters has nudged the course of my life in recent years.

    A few years back, some folks put together some resources to help folks learn the arcana of puzzlehunts. (Yes, there are mysteries, customs. Thinking about answer-extraction yields insights that let you skip parts. You are expected to recognize the six-dot Braille alphabet; you are not expected to know Braille contractions, eight-dot Braille symbols… That kind of thing.) Scott Royer had written an awesome puzzlehunt guide with a walkthrough for one puzzle. I was working at Google's engEDU team, hearing about Instructional Design and Theories of Learning all day. There are plenty of those Theories running around, but most agree: if you want someone to remember what you just taught them, give them a way to apply what they learned right away. So we wanted some more sample puzzles as exercises: nothing super-amazing, but something straightforward for Morse code, something for anagramming, something for indexing… Writing a puzzle with the only constraint "It should use Morse code" ain't so easy—you can do anything. If we had a theme, that would jump-start plenty of puzzles. But what theme?

    I'd been reading the Shady Characters blog, reading about the history of punctuation. Most of these stories are of the form: over history, several symbols indicated the same thing. Before there were modern quotation marks, there were: different marks out in the margin, indented text with marks at the left edge; marks at the left edge with a different mark embedded in the text; different marks embedded in the text. But #'s story in the blog was different: # had been around roughly forever, but it meant different things over time and was called by different names.

    So I used # as the theme for some sample exercise puzzles. Because # meant different things, there was still some variety. Several months later, there were quite a few puzzles. As the blog continued, more puzzle ideas resulted. Someone familiar with Swedish pointed out that # was a map symbol for a lumberyard. As you would expect, that inspired some lumber-ish puzzles.

    Anyhow, when the book came out, I picked it up. It's a fun read; it's probably smoother to read the book than to pick your way through the blog. Usually, I'm a Kindle kind of guy, but I'm glad I got this book on paper. So far, most of the history of punctuation is tied up with the history of printing: scribes' marginalia, early typesetting. The physical book illustrates a lot of the type-ish things by using them itself; I suspect that wouldn't work so well on a Kindle. I read it over, got yet more puzzle ideas. But you might like the book even if you're not using it to get puzzle ideas.

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    2014-03-15T17:29:41

    Updated a photo of McGrouther-Conradi tacks with an informative message I got about their history.

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    2014-03-12T13:58:56

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