Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere I Go

Long day at work; long bus ride back to my neighborhood; I blearily walk along Irving Street, thinking about dinner. But then I recognize the map-festooned jacket ahead of me. It's Dwight Freund, fellow Mystic Fish. He's with his daughter Rachel; they've just seen a play and now they're looking for dinner. Which sounds like an awesome idea, and soon we're slurping down noodles at Hotei. Conversation turns towards a few things. But you, I assume, want to hear about the games. I, as you recall, missed the Paparazzi game. But Dwight was there, and he told me some parts of the Mystic Fish story I hadn't heard.

The limo from Dateway dropped teams off at the nightclub Ruby Skye. The team's mission: to find someone from Game Control dressed in pink and pick up a compact disc from her. And so our dapper dudes made their way through multiple floors of clubbers, searching for a puzzle. They got separated. Dwight walked up a stair--and found himself face to face with the lady in pink. She looked at him expectantly. Dwight asked "Am I supposed to get something from you?" She asked what he was looking for. "A CD" She asked what was on the CD. Dwight was wondering how much bantering is was going to take to extract a CD from this lady. And then Brian and Wesley ran up: "OK, we found her, we got the CD, let's go." So the lady that Dwight was talking to--she wasn't with Game Control after all. She said, "Yeah, thanks for telling me what was going on--people have been coming up to me all night."

The other story hypothetically involved a race to the finish line--two vans zipping along at high speed through the streets of Cupertino, zig-zagging through traffic, negotiating awkward parking lots. The other team took a route through a strip mall parking lot, while the hypothetical Mystic Fishies stayed on fast-moving city streets--and got stopped by a traffic light. So the other team prevailed, hypothetically. Of course, no team would ever ever in a million bazillion years disobey traffic laws, and that story was totally a speculative piece of fiction.

Wow, it's late. Dwight and Rachel kept me out past my bed-time. Wild party animals I hang out with, night-clubbing drag racers...

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, and entangled with life

Yesterday afternoon, I was loitering in a Berkeley coffee shop with friends, and the conversation was pretty interesting: they had just got married. A few weeks back, they're talking about maybe getting engaged and now, boom, married. It's a thrilling tale of parents loosening up, granting blessings, an intricate ceremony, a number of relatives. And I'm trying to pay attention, I am paying attention, but outside the window--isn't that Game player Ian Tullis entering the train station? I shake my head, I concentrate on the matter at hand. The Game can wait.

* ~ * ~ *

Thus, it is not until today that I got around to getting a couple of screen captures from the movie Midnight Madness. It's not a very good movie. But it is of interest in the context of gaming. In the movie, teams are identified by color--and Game Control assigns the colors. So the Meat Machine thinks of themselves as the Meat Machine. But Game Control gives them all green sweaters and calls them Green Team.

I knew that early teams were identified by color. But I always assumed that they picked their own color. Maybe those colors were assigned by Game Control. I think about the team which Thomas Reardon played on. This guy worked at Openwave before I did. When I started there, I was sitting in a cubicle which had been his dedicated visistor cubicle, his home-away-from-home when he visited company HQ from his home in Seattle. I never met Thomas Reardon, but I looked at his name each day on a sticker on my monitor. Later on, I found out he played on multiple-time champion Team Pink. Who chose their color? "Why do we have to be Team Pink?" If all the teams picked their own color, would they all by Team Black?

* ~ * ~ *

Like I was saying, I learned a few things from the movie Midnight Madness. One scene has a bit of exposition which sums up The Game quite neatly--with a diagram, even.

LEON: At the onset, each team will be given a complicated clue, which when solved, will lead them to a location somewhere in the city. Once there, the team must use its team its skill and wit to obtain the next clue. that clue will lead them to the next location and so forth. The game will begin Friday at sunset and continue on through the night until one team is the first to arrive at the final location the finish line. There, the winning team will receive a trophy. And more importantly prove to the other team that theirs is the best group of all. Well, I'll see you all Friday. Are there any questions?

* ~ * ~ *

And I found out that Team Sharkbait's name is quite appropriate.

* ~ * ~ *

There were parts that rang true. In the movie, one puzzle solves to "SEE THE STARS" along with some numbers. One team goes to Griffith Observatory. (This game happens in Los Angeles.) One team goes to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One team picks up a Map of Stars' Homes. Ah, Game Control should have playtested that clue.


Puzzle Hunts are Everywhen, even before Midnight Madness

I have finally seen the movie Midnight Madness. Well, not quite all of it. I just paused it in the end credits. I'm looking at this:

Certain Game Techniques inspired by


Midnight Madness was, of course, the movie that inspired Joe Belfiore to start up treasure-hunt/puzzlehunt games. I want to know whence sprang the Bay Area culture, so I watched Midnight Madness. But of course something else inspired Midnight Madness. Nothing has a beginning or an end. It's turtles all the way down.

I Googled for ["don luskin" "midnight madness"], and the second result is a forum chat in which someone calling themselves "y2kbozo" says

Posted: Sun Aug 01, 2004 7:43 pm   Post subject: The REAL Midnight Madness!

Ahh...this brings back memories!

The movie is based on a series of real games put on in the 1970's by Don Luskin and myself. (By the way, neither of us resembles "Leon" in any way!)

I've attached the L.A.Times article about the third game, the invitation to the fourth, and one of the clues that was in the form of a religious tract that we handed out on Hollywood Blvd.!

Where is the attachment? It's not immediately obvious. Maybe if I sign up for the forum, I can see it? Will I sign up for this forum? Will I keep researching this? It's turtles all the way down. Will I chase this turtle?

* ~ * ~ *

I have a great plan for a next writing project, but it's warping. Games start at a place and time. Before a Game starts, the players mill around, chatting. Often, they talk about other teams. Some folks like reading things that I wrote about my experiences with Mystic Fish. So I thought--maybe I should write about how other teams operate, too. Players seem curious about that. Lately, there's been more than one game a year. Maybe I could play one game a year with some team I'd never played with before. After a few years, I'd have written up a few teams, shown the, uhm, spectrum of Game culture.

So I sent out a plea to team captains: Let me join your team for the Hogwarts game--and I'll write about it. I got a couple of nibbles. One team captain is interested--but his team might fill up with regulars. (This game is going to be pretty small; people are scrambling to get in.) Another team captain is interested--but the application scramble for this game happened so quickly that his team ended up on the waiting list. And his team is likely to fill up, too. Meanwhile, that fast application scramble had an effect I hadn't counted on--Mystic Fish didn't get in. Ergo, my backup plan is gone.

I had one more nibble--from Game Control. This is Team Snout, veteran game organizers. Anyone who wants to run a game wants to know how Snout does it. That sounds interesting. That sounds like a lot of effort. That sounds like it would interfere with my plans to travel in late August. Maybe those plans aren't as important as I thought.

I am stream-of-consciousness blogging like a teenager.

Must mail team captains, find out their team status. Must figure out what my plans are. Ignore the mysterious Don Luskin and y2kbozo for now. Must focus.

Wait, wasn't I meeting some of my non-Game playing friends for something today? I think I'm supposed to be in Berkeley for something.

Must unpause movie. Must get act together. Must. Soon. Where are my shoes?


Link: Web Entrepeneurs in Full Color Video

Can a two-person start-up tell Google how to grow a great user-centered web service? Yes, yes they can. Chuck and Gaurav, the brains behind BillMonk, the social money network web site thingy, came to Google and gave a talk. Whether you're into web services, Billing For the People, social networks, entrepeneurs, making accounting fun tolerable, listening to users, or geek clothing fashion, this video lecture has something for you. Go watch!

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Book Report: Maximum City

I hear wild cheering outside. Does that mean that the USA scored a goal in the World Cup match just now? Maybe I should care, but I don't. Which reminds me of Maximum City.

I only made it partway through this book. It's about Mumbai. Author Suketu Mehta talks to thugs, mobsters, and politicians. These are all the same people. We learn that life is worth very little in Mumbai. He talks to a policeman who hunted criminals despite a corrupt political system.

It's interesting, but I guess I didn't want to read that many variations on the talks-with-remorseless-killers theme. So I stopped.

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Book Report: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

I was just expecting a pulpy Western. And this book is a pulpy Western. But it's written well, and also has some interesting musings upon the topic of greed.

That quote which is famous for not being in the movie isn't in the book either--but it's pretty crude in the book:

"Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don't need badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching' tu madre! Come out there from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak you."

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Book Report: One Billion Customers

I could mention that I'm over my cold, but that's not as interesting as the book One Billion Customers. Not even close.

It's a book about doing business in China in recent times a la the 90s. James McGregor was the head of... Dow Jones? WSJ? I forget now, and I returned this book to the library so I don't have it in front of me. He was the head of some financial reporting organization in China. He has a bunch of anecdotes which perhaps lend insight into the workings of modern China, and which are certainly entertaining.

The part I was most interested in was when Xinhua, the Chinese ministry of censorship, wanted to move in on their business. In China, Communism means state-run businesses. In the case of Xinhua, that meant that one organization was going into the news business and regulating the #$!) out of their competition. McGregor headed part of the competition. But the foreign financial news companies fought back, making their case to higher-ups in the government, saying that China's investors needed uncensored financial news. And the government reined in Xinhua, told them to stop shaking down the foreigners.

Stories about how to do business in China without compromising your ethics and without getting shaken down by corrupt departments of the government sure are interesting. This book has a few more interesting stories. I recommend it. The author came to give a talk at my place of employment. Afterwards, I talked with my coworker M.A. about the talk. He said that he didn't like McGregor. So maybe McGregor's not so likeable. Still, McGregor had some interesting experiences. So check this book out of the library: you can learn something and help to put McGregor into the poorhouse.

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Publishing News: Cyanotype HOWTO

My friend Elizabeth Graves is a photographer, but she's also a chemist. She experiments with with alternative photographic development techniques. She's created some neat images, and some of them made it into this new how-to book about blueprint and cyanotypes.

If you don't know about her work, you might be thinking, "Why should the presence of her photos convince me to buy this book?" Heck, if you want a book about how to make your own cyanotype prints, you don't have much choice. I just did some searching on Amazon.com, and there were few choices--a few out-of-print expensive choices. When you're ready to combine mad science with rad art, this book looks like a good resource.

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Puzzle Hunts Were Everywhere, and So Shall they Be Again

I was sick for the XXTra Online/Paparazzi game, stayed home, missed it. But through the modern medium of blogovoxology, I think I kinda understand what happened.

But the most comforting blog entry was a side note by Static Zombie which revealed that The Game is "miserable" when your nose is running. So now I feel better about deciding to stay home and take naps.

In other hunts-on-the-internet monitoring news, some Zorgian solutions are popping up. And the Hogwarts Game application should appear soon.

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Book Report: The Control of Nature

I'm still sick, a little. I'm better than I was. This morning I thought I was all better. So I hopped on the bus to work. I had a coughing fit on the bus. And another few during the day at work. I thought I was better, but it was just the germs lurking--lurking so that I would be lulled into going into a populated center, coughing, propogating disease. I like to think that I'm pretty smart, but today I was outsmarted by a bunch of microscopic critters that don't even have brains. I am no match for nature.

John McPhee wrote a book about engineering vs. nature. The Army Corps of Engineers really wants the Mississippi River to continue in its present bed, not escaping overmuch into the bed of the Old River. What does it do. People living next to volcanoes want lava to go around their homes. What do they do? The city of Los Angeles is next to some mountains which shower boulders and debris upon homes in the hills. What do they do?

It's pretty interesting in a "People are nuts" way.

In the Mississippi River section, there are some notes on the plight of New Orleans. This book was written before hurricane Katrina, and even then , we knew the city was in danger.

An Alexander Calder might revel in these motions--independent, interconnected, related to the flow at Old River. Calder would have understood Old River Control: the place where the work is attached to the ceiling, and below which everything--New Orleans, Morgan City, the river swamp of the Atchafalaya--dangles and swings.

Something like half of New Orleans is now below sea level--as much as fifteen feet. New Orleans, surrounded by levees, is emplaced between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi like a broad shallow bowl. Nowhere is New Orleans higher than the river's natural bank. Underpriveleged people live in the lower elevations, and always have. The rich--by the river--occupy the highest ground. In New Orleans, income and elevation can be corellated on a literally sliding scale: the Garden District on the highest level, Stanley Kowalski in the swamp. The Garden District and its environs are known as uptown.

Also in the section on the Mississippi, a note about documentation:

...for the ignorant river pilots and all uninitiated craft there's a very large sign hugh up the bank of the river--its first three words in red:

1 Mile--West Bank
Old River Control Structure
Corps of Engineers
New Orleans District

Spring high water often knocks the sign away.

People fleeing an erupting volcano may escape with strands of fallen molten glass in their hair. To remove the glass, they need haircuts.

A story of Icelandic fishermen trapped at sea when their boat sank reminded me of Lynne Cox:

...the fishing boat pulled itself stern first under the sea. It rolled over. Three survivors climbed up on the hull. The time was about 10 P.M. The ship's emergency raft was trapped and unreleasable. The air temperature was below freezing, the water not much above. No means remained available to create a distress signal. Lights of [the island of] Himaey were visible to the west. The three men considered their predicament for half an hour. Then--in their jeans, their wool sweaters--they slipped off the hull and began to swim. One died almost immediately. The two others--Gudlaugur Fridthorsson and Hjortur Rosmann Jonsson, the captain--swam side by side and kept talking. Birds, screaing in the darkness, swarmed around them. After a time, when Gudlaugur put something in the form of a question there was no reply.

Thereafter, he talked to the birds. In daylight, sailors who have fallen overboard have been found by shipmates who steered towards hovering birds. There was no hope of that in the dark of this winter midnight, but Gudlaugur--twenty-three years old--consciously struggled to keep his wits through dialog with shrieking birds. He knew that confusion was among the first symptoms of hypothermia and if he became confused he would die. Always, he saw the light on the island. He swam by preference on his back, but he thought that heat would be lost most readily through the nape, so he swam for long periods on his stomach. He swam about six hours--at least five times as long as anyone ever has in water that cold. [This was 1984]

When he reached Heimaey, he found himself in a hostile wave-battered niche in the new lava, up against a cliff. His purchase there being hopeless, he want back into the sea. He swam about half a mile south and, this time, climbed out on a broad flow of apalhraun, the sharpest and roughest texture of volcanic glass. Barefoot, he crossed it, and lost a good deal of blood. After he reached some grazing land, he saw a tub full of water for sheep, broke the ice with a fist, and drank. He came to a house about six in the morning, eight hours after his boat capsized. When doctors examined him, they could not find a pulse, and his temperature was too low to register on a medical thermometer. [But he did survive.]

The debris flows of Los Angeles wiped out the home of hat magnate G. Henry Stetson. That particular flow of debris came from Sombrero Canyon.

This book is full of great stuff. People are nuts when they go toe to toe with nature, and it makes for some good stories.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but not where I am

Four conversations at work yesterday, vaguely remembered:

Avani the intern and me:

Me: Yeah, that phone conversation I had yesterday must have sounded pretty weird to you. All that stuff about "Warrior Monks" and "XX-Rated" and "Mystic Fish".

Avani: Nah, I just figured that you were talking with your S.O.

(Brief image flashes through brain: Wesley Chan and I cooing sweet nothings to each other over the phone.)

Me: Eww, yick. Uhm, no it was this treasure-hunt game stuff. People drive around the bay area, solving puzzles...

A.: Oh wait, I have heard of this. My friend Ari just did one of those.

Me: Uhm, the sarong math guy? You know him?

A.: Yeah, we know each other from Harvey Mudd.

Me: Huh. Well, one of those games is coming up this weekend. I hope it's fun.

Avani the intern and me, later:

Me: Uhm, so this cold that you have. Was the first symptom a scratchy throat? Ahem.

A: Yeah.

Me: Oh man. Ahem. [shakes fist] Curse you!

A.: I've had it for about three weeks now. It's not so bad now as when it started.

Me: Gah?

Vanessa and Me:

Vanessa: So, how are you doing?

Me: My intern gave me a cold.

Vanessa: Didn't he just start this week? And you're already making out with the intern?

(Brief image flashes through brain: Avani, some how transformed into a "he"--and I, making out.)

Me: Eww, yick. Uhm, she's married? I got it just from us talking to each other. Ahem.

Vanessa: Hmm.

Me: Hey, don't worry, I'm standing all the way over here.

Wesley and Me

Wesley: I hope you get better by tomorrow and can play.

Me: Ahem. I don't think that's going to happen.

So Anyhow

So anyhow, the Paparazzi game is happening today. But instead of filling up the Mystic Fish van with my cold germs, I'm sitting at home, gulping down vitamin C. I guess the good news is that if I hadn't caught this cold, I wouldn't have had a chance to talk to Vanessa yesterday--I would have been on my way to outfit the van.

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Book Report: Out of Eden (an Odyssey of Ecological Invasion)

(or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Invading Species)

This is a fun book on a serious subject. Alan Burdick traveled the world, talking to scientists about invading species. Sometimes people bring plants and animals from one place to another, and next thing you know, cane toads overrun Australia.

But it's not so easy to get a handle on invading species. People have been traveling longer than they've been studying biology. So someone in Puget Sound might think that some species of slug is native to the area--since it's in all of the local literature about animals found locally. But someone at the mouth of the Hooghly river might think that same slug is local to their neighborhood for the same reason. Back in the 1700s, some ship picked up a slug as a hitchhiker and took that slug from point A to point B. But which where was that slug originally from? Which was point A and which was point B?

This book looks at the Brown Tree Snake which ate most of Guam's birds. It looks at the pigs of Hawaii. You hear about introduced pigs in Polynesian climes causing destruction--I heard about this when I was in New Zealand. But people were very ready to blame pigs on very little evidence. This book shows you some scientists who are now measuring the impact of pigs on an ecosystem.

Burdick also visited some biologists in the San Francisco Bay Area. It turns out that San Francisco Bay may be the most invaded water system in the world. We've done a good job of bringing in ship traffic, its ballast bursting with life. We've done a good job of keeping the bay clean--compared to other harbors. So critters that show up here have an OK chance of not being poisoned. When you swim in the bay, you swim through a cosmopolitan soup of foreign diatoms, invertebrates, and stranger things.

In theory, this is dry reading material. In practice, I enjoyed reading this book. I recommend giving it a whirl.

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