You can skip to the checklist for core GC's care and feeding of game-day volunteers or you can keep reading…
- I'm subbing in for Deanna, who's having fun in Hawaii. [Now I'm curious to know what Deanna's take would have been]
- We're talking about the care and feeding of GC itself, concentrating on site monitors.
- What's the benefit of getting this right? Well, you're
happier. The friends you cajoled into doing this are still speaking to you.
But maybe it even makes the game better. Check out this quote from a
Famine Game player:
"...the friendly & warm demeanor put forth by you & the other Piecekeepers was so lovely & needed & appreciated!!!"If your site volunteers become grumpy, maybe that can rub off on teams.
- Who has experienced these common tales of sad site monitoring?
- Needed to go to the bathroom, but was site's only monitor (several hands)
- Been really hungry but there was nothing you could do about it (couple of hands)
- Didn't know how to give hints on a puzzle, but players wanted hints? (none) [Well, if you show up for GC summit, chances are you wrote that confusing-ass puzzle]
- Experienced loneliness (Debbie's not counting hands, she's busy holding up her own hand.) [Note to self: don't make Debbie a sole site monitor]
- Or felt unsafe? (she doesn't count hands, but it looks like she's nodding at a few folks around the room) [oh man when I raised my hand, someone asked me why and the answer came out pretty loud: tornado]
- OK, what can we do to ameliorate these things?
- Maybe instead of just showing slides, we could have a discussion.
Hey Larry, you want to tell your tornado story?
- Me: In 2012, I site volunteered in St Louis DASH; at the end of the game, there was a serious storm; tornado sirens, sky turned green I didn't know what to do Core GC (Patrick and Rebecca Blindauer) stuck me in a car and drove until we were under something solid. Core GC really came through for their volunteer and saved my life and stuff, so that was cool.
- Yeah, "living" is good. Maybe I should have put that on the checklist.
- Communication and Planning people had positive comments and
negative—definitely more positive than negative.
- Have a plan: when will teams arrive? when will teams stop? what are teams looking for?
- Communicate with volunteer if it starts raining, the site monitor reeeally wants to know the backup plan for rain. [Maybe you have one; or maybe you don't have a plan per se but you have some general principles in mind. But whatever you have...] Did you talk it over with the other site monitors?
- But what to communicate ahead of time? Debbie presents the top six things that site volunteers want to know before game day: as a game! Can you guess what they are? [If you're following the slides, this as a plain ol' list. But at the talk, Debbie had us write down our guesses.]
- seattle guesses: Schedule: when can I go home? What happens if it rains? (you'll get wet) Where is the nearest bathroom? How does the puzzle work? Are we allowed to be here?
- portland guesses Also care about schedule, weather / Emergency contact info / What am i supposed to do? what is my role?
- sf bay area guesses previously-mentioned stuff: schedule, how clue works, bathrooms./ when are teams on the way to the site?/ driving directions
- poll winners
- Schedule: When/Where should I be?
- How does the puzzle work?
- Who is staffing?
- Where is the nearest bathroom?
- What is the puzzle solution?
- on the video, you can hear the sf bay area muttering as we conspire
"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
- [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
- 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]
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.
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.]
- Ian doesn't claim to be a top solver or a top designer [hmm], but he will lay claim to title of top puzzle snob.
- You might be a puzzle snob if you've thought:
- Damn, looks like someone else already wrote a produce (PLU) code puzzle ten Mystery Hunts ago [Maybe your target audience never saw that puzzle. Or if they have, by now they must have built up some tolerance to repeats.]
- That was kinda fun, but it didn't represent a meaningful advance in the field of Mega Man puzzles. [Yeah, OK there was a while there when even non-snobs maybe got a little burned out on those.]
- This puzzle seems humanly possible to construct, so it's at best a 4 out of 5 [Yes some puzzles may leave you thunderstruck. Yes, they're cool. But always remember the fun and value it.]
- Yawn, another extended wank that uses all four codesheet codes "Oh, I wonder when semaphore's coming up" [Yeah, Morse is awesome, give the others a rest.]
- I bet I could do it with like EIGHT codesheet codes [Yay, sounds like #Octothorpean will stay relevant until these snobs can get themselves under control.]
- At a day of talks about puzzles, puzzle snobbery is fun.
But let's take a moment for talk snobbery, too:
fun at TED.
- And along the way, a disclaimer: Ian's using the "puzzle snob" schtick to make his talk amusing. He's not such a jerk in real life. [I immediately concoct and discard the idea of giving a talk as a puzzle hipster: insisting on hand-crafted bespoke puzzles using only materials produced within 50 miles.]
- The following items are in the "voice" of a puzzle snob They're jokingly provocative. Careful, they sound harsh out without that context.
- "If a spreadsheet like this gets made, your puzzle sucks"
(slide shows a spreadsheet where team gathered some data but couldn't figure out what to do with it: column headings show an increasing level of desperation.)
- There are a lot of things to try; nobody knows what to do.
- More columns as folks try more things. They get weirder. Eventually, it becomes a cesspool that nobody wants to talk about.
- Seven hours later, someone like Rich Bragg goes in and finds the one error that made the right approach look wrong [where, if the puzzle designer's intent had been clearer from the beginning, folks would have focused earlier]
- If you're a designer and your puzzle's mechanism isn't one of the first 10 things the playtesters tried, ask yourself "why not".
- "Just because a puzzle can be written doesn't mean it should be"
- You will brainstorm. As you get better at brainstorming, you will have more ideas. They're not all winners. As you get better at brainstorming, you also need to get better at culling. [That's a great thing about collaboration: early playtesters who can tell me which of my four prototypes were fun enough to turn into one fun puzzle.]
- If the topic is obscure, use a mainstream mechanism. Don't leave solvers in the dark, give 'em something to cling to.
- Make it funny; folks will forgive a lot if it's funny. [Rhymes can help, too. Dumb riddles become mystically cool if you turn them into poems]
- If the topic is obscure, maybe the puzzle can be educational—if the topic is obscure and interesting maybe solvers will be glad that they "had to" learn.
- Don't make me feel like a chump for actually solving
Solving puzzles by hand is fun. Pasting puzzles into automatic solving programs is not fun—but in a time-competitive event, teams "have to" use automatic solvers when they can. So don't present automatically-solvable puzzles.
- Is the message "THE ANSWER IS HORSE"? Try to avoid that. If teams had to struggle for every letter, maybe they'll resent the time they spent struggling for "THE ANSWER IS"
- In a Mystery Hunt-like situation, you'll be tempted to include janky puzzles because teams can still solve a round by getting enough other answers to solve the round's metapuzzle. But consider: the players who spent time on that janky puzzle
- Don't make me ask "why is this even in the puzzle?"
- Every unneeded thing: flavortext, decoration, "extra layer"…
if it doesn't fit, it's making your puzzle worse, not better.
- If you have a multi-layer puzzle and it's not clear how those layers fit together, maybe you should divvy them up into separate puzzles.
- …and after you do that, if one of those layers doesn't stand up on its own, maybe that's an idea you should cull
- Why is that "codesheet code" in your puzzle? If you use Morse code for your puzzle on Telegraph Avenue, that's cool. But that doesn't mean Morse code's a good fit for every puzzle. [Don't listen to Ian. Morse code is definitely a good fit for every puzzle. Yay, Morse.]
- I was writing up feedback on a Mystery Hunt puzzle one year: "There's kinda gratuitous use of Braille. What do you think this is, a West coast event?" (laughter, howls)
- You can have one Arepo per puzzle… but only one!
- There's a famous (in some circles) 2000-year-old palindromic
In Latin, the square even means stuff: the farmer Arepo works the fields. Except it uses "Arepo" as a name, and "Arepo" was never a name. It's OPERA backwards, and makes the palindromic word square work. Wow, what a reach.
- "'Arepo' is a hapax legomenon—that is, a word not found anywhere else in literature"–Mike Selinker, Puzzlecraft ["Let's keep it that way"–Ian Tullis, my paraphrase right here]
- It might be OK if your puzzle has some awkward thing in there to make the otherwise-elegant construction work. But if there are two such things, check yourself.
- There's a famous (in some circles) 2000-year-old palindromic word square
- Like, maybe to make your pangram work you end up needing DR JUKEBOX. DR JUKEBOX is a song sufficiently obscure that it occasionally falls out of Google, so your players will need help getting there.
- The following items are in the "voice" of the funloving puzzle community talking back to a puzzle snob. They're still jokingly provocative, though, caveat lector etc.
- Nobody will notice or care how constrained your puzzle is
- If you constrain yourself to some cool gimmick, but it's not obvious [perhaps because it has nothing to do with the puzzle's theme] folks won't notice.
- Worse, they might think you made awkward choices for no reason.
- E.g. remember that clown-juggling puzzle from Ghost Patrol? Several teams had a correct theory of how to solve it, but tossed it out because it was too constrained to possibly work. [oh yeah, I remember it now] But that was indeed how the puzzle worked. Ian designed that puzzle; Ian worries he might be overfond of designing with cool constraints.
- If people can't solve your puzzle, they won't like it!
- In Iron Puzzler, err on the side of ease. Because there folks will vote on how much they like your puzzle. [Thus, it's a good way to find out what puzzlers like most (vs. what they'll tolerate)]
- Folks like a challenge. But when put to a vote to choose a favorite challenge, they'll choose the one they overcame.
- Even if afterwards they say "oh, how elegant, we should have seen that." somehow that puzzle won't get picked as the favorite one of the day.
- Example: one year when Ian's team was running the MIT Mystery Hunt, he noticed quark flavor names had length 2,3,4,5,6,7. Wow, you have to make a puzzle if you see a fact like that. So made a puzzle from it. Nobody solved it, though. And so nobody got to "share the aha"
- Clock hands as semaphore was once fun for you too!
- Work with a team including non-snobs!
- Consider the following hypothetical dialog amongst Shinteki members
that seems to reference a Decathlon challenge in the San Jose rose
garden a short while back
Linda: Ian, youre puzzle's just five words on an index card—will that be fun?
Ian: But I have to impress Todd [Etter, one supposes] with my spareness! He's so dreamy!
Brent: All right guys, I got this—they have to eat a candy cigar to collect each word!
- [Whether or not you're a puzzle snob, you have some blind spots that other people can help you steer through.]
- Don't confuse "puzzle" with "types of puzzle you like"
- Your elegant puzzle isn't the be-all and end-all of whatever.
- Our puzzlehunt puzzles aren't the first thing that springs to mind when you say puzzle. Folks think of jigsaw, crossword, sudoku, jumble…
- Talk around the water cooler next week will be about a gadget or a location; not about your puzzle.
- Some solvers like looking up data and filling out a spreadsheet: there's that constant dopamine hit of progress as facts pass through your brain and you fill in spreadsheet cells.
- Solve outside your comfort zone. The first time
the Burninators, champion
Real Escape Game, they didn't win.
- It rankled! Many puzzles similar to West Coast puzzlehunt puzzles, some were different.
- Were the puzzles wrong?
- Well, no, just different.
- When you find things that don't match your narrow category, you can slouch around feeling butthurt; or you can learn from them.
Don't take puzzle snobs too seriously
Who cares what puzzle snobs think?
(Answer: Other puzzle snobs)
- Me: OK, suppose I've got a cool piece of wordplay but it makes a crappy puzzle. What do I do with it then?
- Ian: You put it in the 2009 Mystery Hunt and it goes
- ?Who?: You could put it in later rounds of the MIT Mystery Hunt.
- Ian: Yeah, but if you don't win the MIT Mystery Hunt, then you can't dump your wordplay there.
- Melinda: Work with a team. Maybe someone else can salvage it.
- Ian: Or even if they can't, just by telling them the idea, you can get it out of your system.
- ?Who?: You could put it in later rounds of the MIT Mystery Hunt.
- Brent (I think): How did you become a puzzle snob?
- Ian: In first grade, we had playtime: we could cut out
paper and make shapes; at the end there was a contest to pick the best.
- Though everybody knows how to fold a cross up into a cube, I'd figured out how to make a sort of diagonally-connected double-cube from a double-cross.
- I made a couple of them, when time was called.
- So I panicked and hastily crammed them together and taped them up
- Thus resulting in a pretty boring-looking square: elegant internally, but only with a lot of explaining
- Ian: Back on topic: I saw the puzzles for the 2004 Mystery Hunt and thought they were great. I tried to get folks who read my LiveJournal interested in puzzles, but it wasn't much of an outlet. Then we won a BANG, and folks have been subjected to my puzzles ever since.
- Thank you!
But then I saw those distinctive pencils poking out of the shirt pocket. "Yeah, it's me."
…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?
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.