Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Disneyland

Excerpt from the bottom of Matt Haughey's Disneyland travelog

Another highlight of the trip was using the Wishing Stars iPhone app in the park. It's basically a photo and clue-driven scavenger hunt through the park for features and locations. ... Overall, it was a blast and a fun diversion when standing in a line or walking around the same part of the park for the third time that day.

There's something kind of amazing about being able to do something social like a scavenger hunt, but asynchronous through the use of this app. I know a few friends are working on similar types of applications (doing previous real-time social events in a new web-enabled asynchronous way) and I think it's going to become a big trend in application development.

Not enough to make me put up with a visit to Disneyland. But interesting.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even det kravmärkta molekylärgrönaprogrammet

It's a wonderful time to be alive. Of course, I'm referring to widespread automatic translation, the magic which allows me to find out about Swedish puzzle-hunt-like activities, like, say, a team building exercise for some bio students. roped together like sled dogs (their ropes forming a double-helix), they solved puzzles and shopped for groceries. Which is insane. Where, by "insane", I mean "I never would have thought of that myself. Thank you, lovely Swedish people for thinking of this, and then doing this, and then documenting your activities. Because that is wonderfully strange."


Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere simultaneously

I posted some notes on DASH #1. There's a photo. This would be a good time for me to mention: "playdash".

(My DASH photo is not as cool as the photo of Jack o Lanterns including one with a hidden message which might be more topical now that we're in October. But what can you do?)

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Stanford

Tiny Update: finally posted zombie chess puzzle layout photo

Finally posted a photo of the Zombie Chess board layout to the directory of Zombie BANG photos. Why yes, that did take a while.

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Jotting Notes on Red Byer's GC Summit 2009 Talk "Run More Games"

OK, jotting some notes about Red Byer's GC Summit 2009 talk "Run More Games". Yes, the talk was months ago; my notes are not timely. Oh, before I even start, I should link to Red's own notes about the talk--some hindsightish notes and clarifications. Are you back? OK. I'll mostly try to paraphrase here, but I'm injecting some thoughts [in square brackets]

  • Talking about the Bay Area Game only. Which doesn't include Shinteki, BATH. Talking about 1992-present.
  • Defining what counts as a Game. Site + Theme + Clue + Travel
  • Difficult enough: any GC can RSA-128 encrypt a message and give it to a team to slow them down. That's what we're gonna do to the lead teams in Muppet Movie Game, so beware. [hee hee]
  • Typical game is ~20 teams. Run only once. It's like a wedding. [don't scale well; e.g., "this site's parking lot can only handle 20 vans". replay value is there--but GC is probably too exhausted to do it.]
  • Team-based.
  • Community. You have to give back. Give back your time. Playtesting, GCing.
  • The formula. The basic idea: For the game community to survive, folks need to contribute, not just take. It's not enough to contribute just as much as you take. Because lots of teams drop out after just a few games, you need to contribute more than you take or else the community's going to asymptotically go to zero.
  • The formula, ctd. You need to give back one Game every Five Years. You might think, 20 teams play in a game, my team plays 2 games a year, so we'll just run a game in 10 years. But because of attrition, because teams stop playing, you'd better run a game every five years.
  • running games is big effort, expense, stressful
  • Folks worry about inadequacy. Don't do that. you're not gonna do the _______ aspect as well as ________ GC. That's OK. Doesn't have to be the same as everybody else's. My game is going to have my style, my flavor.
  • Running a game: warm fuzzies; giving back to community; try new things, e.g., industrial design; influence community direction; Higher Probability of Future Play
  • History. Captains list, so you knew teams were good--and not too many of them.
  • Feedback loops: a team will "try out" a player. Players they get along with get invited back.
  • Feedback loops: teams want to play, but also trust GC to run good Game. GC needs an audience that can handle 30 hours of Morse code and driving. There's mutual trust.
  • In the past, there was an understanding that teams who were more likely to run games would be invited to more games ??!? [Not sure how this worked. If a team played too much w/out running a game, were they removed from the Captains List?] Number of teams was pretty stable through the 90s. [Oh, maybe teams not-running games has always been a potential problem--but the explosion of # of teams in the aughts exacerbated said problem?]
  • Nowadays, there are still teams and games--but game community is larger. There's been crossover with other communities. No more Captains List.
  • Application process--takes team effort. Doesn't necessarily reward what you want. E.g., first-come first-served just rewards folks who wake up early. [Ideally, application includes a resume of games run, and you'd consider that. (But that requires GC folks to be judgmental, and not everyone is comfy with that.)]
  • Crossover has been good and bad thing. (Here crossover is with things like MSPH, Seattle Game, Shinteki, BATH.) We're more popular now! But we haven't seen a contribution from these folks back to the Game community. [So they should have run Moonraker's in San Jose instead of Seattle? WTF? (...and SBlom touches on this later)]
  • So there's a lot of teams that want to play, but the number of Games hasn't scaled to meet demand. Most games run by repeat GC. Not enough new GCs
    • Linda Holman points out: You don't have to run a BANG before you run a weekend game. Red says: Yeah, firmly believe in rookie GCs; ratrace was messy... but it still worked out. XX-Rated's Paparazzi game was awesome. Goonies was awesome.
  • Possible solutions:
    • close the Game Community 20 teams [reinstate something like the captains list].
    • we can "redefine and branch the community" [???] try to stop the crossover
    • reinvigorate the feedback loops. Even if you don't like a team, if they've run a game, let them play: they've given back to the community.
    • Don't expect to play in every Game.
    • Run More Games
  • Melinda Owens: Gee, if people ran more BANGs instead of more Games, that might help more: BANGs can handle more teams.
    Red: That wouldn't help reduce the demand for Games, though.
    [if your goal is max# of happy players, run a BANG. But if your goal is to get invited to more Games, run a Game]
  • Jennifer Novakoski: Ghost Patrol was team LowKey's first game. It was a full-length game. In hindsight, a few LowKeyers would rather have run a small game first. It's really hard to devote a year of your life to something that you're not even sure it's going to be successful. Just to learn the logistics.
    • Sean Gugler: not a rebuttal, just a contribution to the discussion. I have run full games, I have run half-games. The half-games were not significantly easier to run.
    • Red: Yeah, we spent as much time on overnightmare, a half-game, as on ???
    • Sean Gugler: then again, as I get older and need more sleep, I find the half-games more appealing. [This old fart says, yes, by jiminy.]
  • Brent Holman: As a prospective GC, you should push yourself a little bit. Try doing something that is more than you thought you could do. Try a half-Game instead of a few-hours BANG. Some things... taking the overnight aspect out helps the logistics a lot.
  • Scott Blomquist: I'm in one of those not-in-scope groups [Scott is from Seattle game community, though he lives in Portland as of 2009. It's complicated.] How are we "invaders from the north" perceived by the Bay Area community? You know, it's really hard to run a remote Game. Alaska Air is cheap. If we run a Game in Seattle and you're invited, does that kinda count as "repaying the community"? Or do we need to put a cell membrane around each city and figure out what the equilibrium equation looks like?
    • Someone: I'd love to go to Seattle
    • Greg deBeer: I've never played a Seattle Game, but I think it would be really fun, so do it. But there's also a trend we're seeing more of: simultaneous running a game in multiple cities. No, nobody's tried to "simulcast" a long Game game, just BANG/SNAP/MSPH-like things.
  • Linda Holman: Another barrier to entry [and thus a way to control demand] is money. If you run a game in NYC or Chicago, that will limit your demand down to 20 teams--the 20 teams enthused enough to fly to NYC for a game. But right now, with demand the way it is--you would get 20 teams who are willing to fly to NYC.
    • Red: But do we really want do limit demand for each game? Or do we want to run more games? Most teams don't want to play in 6 games per year.
  • Corey Anderson: If I'm GC figuring who has game-running karma, that's hard if I'm a brand-new team. I might not know. And also--what have you done for me lately? [Is Red disappointed w/Desert Taxi and LowKey because Orange Snood didn't get in to Ghost Patrol? Orange Snood hasn't run a game since those teams have been around. Then again, the Orange-ites and the Snoodites ran more than there share of Games... but years ago. Maybe it was Red's contemplation of all this that led him to wonder how often a team should GC?] So do you tell a new team: well, you have to let this "old guard" in? I don't know what the solution is here.
    • Red: Yeah, been on both sides of that. Been rejected by GCs. As a GC, have rejected teams because I didn't think they'd be a match for our game. "It happens." But we try to favor teams that have bled for the game. As a community, to survive, you have to reward folks who contribute to the community. Otherwise, folks who have run games will disappear. We've seen GCs, where it just obliterated their team. The BioHazard game, the Espionage game, there have been several examples. Anyhow. I'm not saying I have all the answers, I'm just saying this might be a key to get more GCs to step up.
    • Crowd chatter: Hey, if we obliterate more teams, that will reduce the demand :-)
  • Jesse Morris: so we're new GCs. Of the teams that applied [to Ghost Patrol], about 15 were past GCs. We don't know what they did, but we know they did something.
    • David Mendenhall: We were trying to bring in new blood, folks who will maybe contribute more in the future.
      • Red: Yeah. And honestly, the folks on the "old guard" are pretty adept at landing on teams. In Ghost Patrol, I landed on my sister's rookie team and had a great time.
  • Chris Dunphy: If a team is cohesive, a team can go on to run a game. But what if it's a ragtag mob that gets together to play a Game--but not a great group of folks to run a Game? Like, say, RadiKS. I'd like to get advice on how to build a Game-Control centered team to run a game.
    • Red: You know how when you're playing and your team says "Hey we could run something sort of like this but--" that's the spark. [Uhm, and if your team doesn't ever say that?]
    • Teresa Torres: Orange Crush played in 5-7 games with no team dynamic problems. Friends from college, got along really well. Running a game destroyed our team. The reason why: half of our team had no idea what they were getting into. I mean, they knew: we had a plan of building clues and finding sites; and it didn't happen. 2-3 of us bore the brunt of the entire game. Fortunately, at the end we were all still friends--but we will never play in a Game again. Yeah, your Game team is not necessarily your Game Control team. But you might have two teams together like Desert Taxi and and LowKey [and the Snout/Drunken Spider combo springs to mind]
    • Red: Yeah. There's a few Orange Snood folks who are running the Muppet Movie Game. But not all of Orange Snood is running the Muppet Movie Game. I know Snout likes a big "core" GC, but I like a small core. Less effort on updates, reminders, the effort to keep so many people working towards the same vision.
      • Scott Blomquist: quick remark, for some reason in Seattle, 12-person "cores" work really well. Insert your favorite Microsoft joke here :-)
      • Corey Anderson: Huh, so in the Bay Area, part of the reason a lot of "teams" have a tough time GC'ing is that it's basically one serious person and their four "friends of the week". So is the MSPH tradition different?
      • Scott Blomquist: Yeah. Actually, some Seattle non-MSPH have chosen team sizes relatively prime to the MSPH team size, just to force folks to mix a little. I'm affiliated with a 12-person entity, a 6-person entity whose population is made up entirely differently, and when I was a Microsoftie I was on a 4-person MS Puzzle Safari team. Seattle has its own Venn diagram of puzzle communities.
  • Rich Bragg: so why just The Game? I think the community today is the big thing [Bay Area Game + BANG + Seattle + etc] I almost feel--
    • Red: Is it, though? They serve very different expectations. Some people may go between them but I personally only play in Games.
    • Rich Bragg: I think a lot of people would consider a Shinteki a Game. [Yes] So you almost have to make a choice of where to contribute: if I contribute to that circle, am I excluded from that circle?
    • I have no answer for you.
  • Me: The MSPH is coming up. It's not the kind of event I like to play in--too many puzzles, not enough other stuff. So since I don't want to play in it, I volunteered to help run it. Maybe there's enough overlap of interest so that people will remember that I helped do that.


So... how to choose teams? I'm DIY-minded enough to think: Yes, you should consider whether a team has run events lately. If a team's members play a lot but never run events, pass them over for newcomers.

But... you know how Red mentioned "crossover" from other communities into The Game community? I'm one of those "crossover" people. So, as you might guess, I hope when you're tally up events a team has run--I don't think you just count The Game events. I'm biased that way by preference... but of course you should also take what I say with a grain of salt--I'm probably biased that way out of self-interest, too.

And yet... and yet...

Even if The Game were the only thing I cared about, I'd still check for BANGs on a team's resume. Desert Taxi, XX-Rated, coed astronomy: they ran Games; I think they ran BANGs first? (Probably other teams did, too; those were just the first that sprang to mind.) Some folks are happy to just consume. Some folks create. You probably want the creative folks to be "in your neighborhood" even if they're not making exactly what you want.

So what should count? If you're a Bay Area puzzle freak, how much do you care about Mooncurser's? Does Shinteki count, if they're both a Game-like thing and a business that lets in just anybody? What about someone helped run the Microsoft Intern game? What about the guy who lives in Emeryville who runs treasure hunts for his kids for birthday parties? Me, I would count Mooncurser's and Shinteki. I'd probably not count the intern game, not Emeryville... I'm not sure why I wouldn't count those. Maybe because I wasn't invited to those events. But... maybe they'd count for something--because someone who ran such a thing might be tricked into other events later. Oh man, Thomas Snyder wrote a book of sudoku puzzles. How should that count? I mean, I was "invited" to it. I could go buy the book. On the other hand, it's not exactly a hunt. On the other hand, he's obviously of the mindset to make stuff. On the other hand...

There's going to be judgement calls. It's not going to be 100% fair. Not everyone on your GC committee will agree on what the criteria are. It would be easier and more straightforward to make your game first-come-first-served.

But you know? Red is right. Oh, I quibble on details; I would count "karma" from related-but-not-quite-what-I-had-in-mind events. But that's a quibble. It's a good idea to show appreciation for folks who run games, especially if you want to trick more folks into doing it. Slots in Games are darned precious; they're a great way to show appreciation.

When you ask teams to include a resume with their application, you remind them that running a game is important, that you care about it.

Oh yeah, and: Run More Games.


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Link: Bang XXVI

The web page for BANG XXVI gives my browser window a hard time, but it's announcing a SNAP simulcast, and that's a good thing to know about.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Marx Meadow, Hawk Hill, and other places around the San Francisco Bay Area

Against all odds, I wrote about Shinteki Decathlon 5. I played the first weekend; the second weekend I volunteered. Thus, there's a pile of semi-related stuff in that write-up. It's mostly about playing. Thus, you can thrill to the chase after a "wet elephant". You can vicariously experience my unhelpfulness as I ate a really good lemon bar pastry while watching my team-mates solve a puzzle involving flags of all nations. You know, standard game write-up stuff. But in the middle, there's a long aside where I blather about being a volunteer at Marx Meadow, and mixed up in that, there's some semi-coherent speculation and handwaving about how the idea of a "mobile GC" couldn't possibly work, except that obviously it does work so I'm not sure what my point was, exactly, except that I was full of admiration and empty of understanding of how the Shinteki folks keep it all together.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even in the News

Alert reader Mahlen spotted this article at SFGate, an essay by Dave Blum of Dr Clue:

..."The Amazing Race" definitely has boosted interest in treasure hunts, but that sort of competition and dysfunctional, cutthroat behavior is not what we do. We don't set this up so that people are shrieking at each other. We want people at the end of the day to feel like, "We are one company, all geared towards the same goals."

...I have 15 people around the country who are trained to administer the team-building treasure hunts. I have a primary clue writer, a very experienced treasure-hunt person, Alexandra Dixon. Occasionally, my wife writes treasure hunts.

There's a whole treasure hunt subculture, people who like nothing better than to write puzzles. I don't write as many of the hunts as I used to because there are people who are just dynamite at it.

--What I do: Dave Blum, treasure hunt designer

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Brevard County, Florida

Brevard County Florida was already cool what with Cape Canaveral and all. But it's even cooler now: they have Midnight Madness Brevard. It's pretty The Game-like, but different. The activities are likely to be less puzzle-y and more likely to be a rebus whose answer is a location. It's team based, vehicle based; you're driving at night. Local knowledge seems useful--some of these puzzles seem like they'd be pretty hard if you didn't know local street names. There's activities which are different from what I've seen--creative, make you think "Oh hey wow I wouldn't have thought of that; diversity's a good thing."

  • Midnight Madness Brevard
  • Rules they start out like the Bay Area stuff, but pay attention: towards the end, they mention a scavenger hunt. And maybe there's something non-linear about how teams find Challenge Areas?
  • Game write-ups with descriptions of puzzles, challenges, and stranger things

It looks like the same organization runs these, and it runs a few each year. This suggests that they don't try to do some extravaganza. And, OK, a quick rebus isn't as exquisite as a word search with an embedded ternary message and letter-forms (which is darned exquisite, and I appreciate that). But... it seems like people keep playing anyhow. One suspects that these folks are having plenty of fun. What's that thing Curtis says about cold pizza vs no pizza? Yeah, that.


Jotting Notes on the Ghost Patrol talk at GC Summit 2009

[I went to the GC Summit 2009, at which various folks talked about how they run The Game. I didn't take notes then, figuring I could watch the video later. So now I'm watching the video, specifically the video where Greg deBeer and Brian Mendenhall talk about the Ghost Patrol Game. And I'm taking notes. Mostly I'm just trying to paraphrase them. When it's me interjecting my opinion, I'll use [square brackets]. I'm kinda assuming that you already know about the Ghost Patrol game. My write-up of the game is not so coherent, but has links up top to some better ones.]

  • It's Greg! Mostly covering how Ghost Patrol handled some of the common issues that arise in GC.
  • Ghost Patrol was more of an interlocked series of mini-games than one big game. That was all part of the plan. It added up to 65 total puzzles. OMG!!
  • Goals: fun game. story-driven. players of all levels could enjoy it. Non-goals: keeping "top teams" blissed out.
  • GC had complementary skill sets. Technical, creative, production, logistical. But not so much on the puzzle-making. [Some good designers, but not many who were enthused about that part?] Also, no-one was into location scouting.
  • Part of the reason for walkish mini-games: SHaRC devices don't work very well in vans.
  • Skipping was a point of contention. Remember, we're not trying to bliss out top teams. We want the not-so-top teams to have fun.
    • Some people don't like being skipped. You get to the end of the game, folks are raving about some puzzle--which you didn't see. Hey...
    • But can you avoid skipping people? Probably not.
    • Can you use "bonus" puzzles instead? Again--these are just puzzles that not everyone sees.
    • Could we skip folks over one ghost, over one mini-game? Didn't want that either. Since there was a meta-game at the end, incorporating elements from all the mini-games, players needed to finish all the mini-games.
    • So what do you do?
  • The Ghost Patrol skipping system revealed: for each mini-game: team sees at least the first puzzle and the last puzle. Brian points out: kept the first puzzle and the last puzzle pretty simple.
  • Playtesting Greg playtested Paparazzi and Hogwarts. Playtesting is awesome! [true.] You feel like you're part of it. You're having fun. You're playing for free. There's less pressure, more fun--hey, if we can't solve it, it's probably Game Control's fault, not our fault.
  • If you plan to run a game soon, I recommend playtesting a game soon. Be part of the playtest process. Then volunteer during the game. See things from the inside. [Huh. Yeah, that seems like good advice.]
  • Ghost patrol playtests.
    • In addition to "living room" playtests, did two day-long playtests (3 ghosts each) and an overnight playtest (all 8 ghosts).
    • Not just puzzle feedback. SHaRC feedback, too. "It really sucks to use the SHaRC under these circumstances..." ["live" playtest versus "living room" playtest]
    • Brian points out: did one playtest really early. That was darned good, because that pointed out lots of things to change in the story mechanic--which was a big part [and big success] for Ghost Patrol. Greg says yeah we had people driving from one end of SF to the other, navigating by SHaRC. It was a nightmare.
    • Also good for deadline-driven people on GC! Gotta get this done by the playtest! Otherwise, meetings would have been more "Let's talk some more; let's see how we're feeling. Let's talk about skipping some more."
    • Didn't get so much hard solving data. Got kinda giddy watching teams have fun. Didn't note down times.
    • A playtesting team got stuck. Sometimes GC said "Yeah, well, other teams won't get stuck." [Sigh, me too.] Trust your playtesters. You're using them for a reason.
  • Were meeting twice a week for 6-8 months before the game. [Oy.]
  • It's Brian! He's talking about the Story, a big part of Ghost Patrol
  • Goals: Do something different! [don't dry to out-Snout Snout, don't try to out-Shintek Shinteki. Don't try to out-coed coed. Try something new.]
  • How to convey a story through puzzles? [This gets into stuff that people argue back and forth in computer game design plenty: what is the place of Story in games?] In most games, though the game is themed, when you sit down to solve a puzzle, it's just a puzzle. [Smart move on Midnight Madness: use a puzzle-solving story as your story.] Can we make it so that there's a story-driven reason that your team is sitting in a van decoding this thing?
  • In most games, stories and puzzles are tenuously connected. Teams are goal-oriented--so they ignore the story, concentrate on the puzzles. But if the story is conveyed through puzzle, then by golly teams will get a chance to appreciate that story.
  • (Not claiming that Ghost Patrol 100% succeeded in pulling the story in.)
  • Didn't go for a strong over-arching storyline. Part of the team is going to be asleep for some parts--won't be able to piece it together. Asking teams to remember something that happened 25 hours ago is mean.
  • Instead, did "world-building". This situation in which puzzle-solving captures ghosts.
  • Did have 9 self-contained stories/mini-games.
    • Easier to do theme for a 3-hour story than a 30 hour over-arching uber story.
    • Divvy up responsibility: not everyone has to agree on everything. Different people might have 'stake' in different stories.
  • Non-goal: make players role-play the story Some players really don't like it. We're a bunch of introverted xenophobes--we wanna grab our puzzles and retreat back to our van to solve.
  • Puzzles are part of story. Need to keep players immersed in story.
  • Ghosts were a good choice. They've been known to leave mysterious messages. Ghosts are open-ended. If this ghost knows Braille, no player is gonna say "No way would any ghost have known Braille". They're invisible.
  • Because Ghosts are "making" these puzzles, nudged GC away from paper puzzles, since ghosts don't usually use paper.
  • Slime collection--fits the game mechanic, but not super puzzle-y
  • Game up with a ghost's story first. That, in turn, suggested the answer words for the puzzles. This favors strong theme over strong puzzles.
  • Hard to write puzzles w/so many constraints. The theme constrains the answer word, constrains the way the puzzle might work.
  • Expectations. Could have pushed things further--but hesitated to go to far away from the canonical "The Game".
  • Making activities fit themes--argh.
  • Non-paper puzzles take so much more work.
  • Logistics--65 puzzles, many of which were planned for public space.
  • Questions
    • Rich Bragg Liked the game! [hey, a strong puzzle solver liked a game that wasn't aimed at the strong puzzle solvers!] Liked that tried new things! What was that about "Expectations"? What would you have liked to do, but held back from? Brian Can we have a game where we don't make teams drive? Can we have a game where, instead of solving puzzles, team infer things? How about a game where every location is somebody's house--not fun places?

      Original vision for game: Teams would pick up a dossier from GC. Dossier would send the team to a house, a haunted house. And maybe there'd be strobe lights and stuff. And eventually, teams would figure out that those things were actually puzzles. So it felt like you were in a haunted house, but really you were solving all of the puzzles all at once. All locations would be open all during the game [feasible if not so many sites need watching, I guess, as with folks' houses]. So GC could choose which house to send teams to based on which location is least crowded at the moment. BUT then a team would be obliged to solve all puzzles at a location, puzzles aren't skippable. Team doesn't necessarily want to sit in somebody's house for three hours. Teams might expect something linear, something racelike [but in this original plan, if I'm in the same house with the Burninators, that doesn't mean I'm fast.]

      So there's risk of creating something that teams won't enjoy. You spend a year of your life working on this game. How much do you want to risk?
    • Red Byer The value of real-world playtesting vs "living room" playtesting. : Yes. If you let a team solve under nice conditions, ok. But then you take another team, it's cold out, you shove them in a car with a couple of pencils that they have to find--and it doubles the time-to-solve. Brent Holman chimes in on that: if you're trying to figure out how long your event will take, that's not just solve time. There's also this intangibles category. That's the big difference between the fastest teams and the slowest. Some teams will never stop, they will pee out the window, they will bring all their food with them, they're just go go go go go. Other teams, they'll just go to a bar for a couple of hours, you just never know. Greg Yeah, we did our full-day playtests. But it wasn't until late in the process that we learned of "stupid o'clock". In hindsight, should have had more rough playtest conditions. But it's hard, you know, hard to put your playtesters through that. "Hey why don't you come over at 3 a.m. and solve this puzzle?" OK, so how did we think about timing? Consider how long it would take a team to crank through a puzzle if they got every "aha" instantly. But then consider: not every team is gonna do that on every puzzle, right? Wrong! Or rather, there's some team that's gonna do that, at least for a while. (someone in audience points out that frontrunners are nice, because they fix broken puzzles) Greg continues: Yeah, and we had Ian Tullis on GC, so we were thinking of standing him out in a field and having him make up puzzles for teams as they showed up. Brian You should have Ian Tullis on your GC.
    • Teresa Torres says on the Expectations thing: be transparent about what you're doing. If some team doesn't want to hang out in your house for three hours, they don't have to show up. Brian Yeah... but every single team would have signed up anyway. And, uhm, we didn't know what our gameplay mechanic was going to be yet, even as we accepted applications. Greg Yeah, we were figuring a lot of that stuff out. Teresa You could tell teams what you're talking about. E.g., tell them that you're talking a lot about story. Then they can make a decision. It's all about the players--that's the part of Curtis' letter that so important. Brian Yeah, I re-read that three months before the game and was "Oh yeah, right: the Players" Greg It's easier for experienced GC folks to be able to watch and describe what they're doing. We were mostly pretty green. David Mendenhall We tried to let our application process show what we were aiming for. We made it silly and creative. In hindsight, we should have said outright: this is what we're trying to accomplish. Brian Speaking of Expectations, though: GC normally isn't transparent. So we weren't transparent.
    • Sean Gugler How hard and expensive were the SHaRC devices to make? I ask because you guys came up with a really strong framework. I'd love to see another Ghost Patrol--even if you didn't run it. Greg OK, there's two aspects to this. Ghost Patrol as a "franchise" and the SHaRC. Jesse was our SHaRC master: Jesse Morris The SHaRCs ended up being around $150 each. The revision that you guys had--they had enough problems so that I didn't want to see them ever again. It would be a lot easier to make the second time--it took a lot of work the first time. I'd never done any industrial design before. The housing was actually more work than anything. But the electronics and everything... if I were doing it again--I'd want to do it differently. Brian Yeah, it would be easier to re-do than re-use. Jesse Morris Yeah, no, reusing it? It's glued together, if you want to change it, you'd need to pry stuff apart, get past some epoxy... David Mendenhall Yeah, our original plan at the end, we were gonna tell teams, OK, you're Ghost Patrol franchises, so go forth. Folks who want to run a Ghost Patrol, you're welcome to... we don't wanna. Brian Yeah, anyone wants to run a Ghost Patrol, we'd love to see it, we'd love to play.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Russia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Ukraine

According to an article linked from the Pervasive Games blog, Dozor is a Russian team-based game that sounds Game-like. You'd think I'd be glad to hear about it. Except I'm not so glad. Because--why is this game in the news? The article is about some poor kid who died playing this game fetching something from on top of an electrical transformer.

Here is the article at Russia Today: Urban Adventure Game Kills Entrant.

Similar to the globally-known urban game ‘Encounter’, Dozor, which can be translated as 'Watch' [as in "night watch"], has been gaining popularity since its birth in 2005. The players from 175 cities in Russia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine form teams and carry out different tasks including night ground navigation, extreme and logic puzzles as well as role plays. The aim of each team is to collect ten so-called codes before the other contenders.

(Dear local GC folks: I never thought to thank you for the fact that you never hid a clue on top of an electrical transformer. Thank you.)

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Non-Spoilery Shinteki Report

Yay! That was awesome!

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Jotting Notes on DeeAnn Soles GC Summit 2009 Presentation: Being GC

[DeeAnn Sole of Team Snout spoke at the GC Summit 2009. You remember when I volunteered on the Hogwart's Game, I followed around this one lady who, operationally, had the whole game in her head? The lady who knew what was coming up, who had to start prepping what, who was out driving where? That was DeeAnn. When she gave this talk, I didn't take notes . I just now watched the video, and this time I took notes. I'm paraphrasing, except the stuff in [square brackets] which is my snide commentary.]

  • Originally wanted to give this talk to let potential GCs know what it was like. But looking out at the audience--it's people who have already run games. Preaching to the choir.
  • Forming a GC Team: People you can get along with. Not just folks from your team. We poach from Drunken Spider and elsewhere.
  • Defining the target. Most important step! [If The Game were a software development project, this would be figuring out the Product Requirements] Figure out what you want. Part of this--make sure everyone on GC has a compelling reason to want to work on this. Think about game style, theme, size, budget, date. Priorities: MUST have, cool, WIBNI.
    • Question wha-you resolve this in one meeting? Answer Nah, it takes us two or three. [This surprises audience] Well, OK, we might be sending ideas around by email for a few months before the meetings. The meetings: getting everyone together in one room, make sure we really are talking about the same thing.
    • Question are these things resolved by the time you're at the "go/no go" decision? Answer More than resolved
  • Next, set up meetings. Snout meets weekly. This keeps up momentum. Some folks are motivated by deadlines--so give them a regular deadline. As game approaches, meet more often. Twice a week. Twice a week plus weekends. In days leading up to game: If you can be here, be here! Please! We're not freaks: bowlers do this leading up to the end of league.
  • Assign folks to each major area
    • Nagger (PM)
    • GameStart
    • Route
    • Puzzles & Activities
    • Theme/Story
    • EndGame
    • Gadget/Software
    • Commo
    • Applications & Pre-Game
    • Money & Logisitics
    One person might do a few things. But for each general area, there's someone responsible for it. [Surjective but not injective... uhm, depending on which way you're flipping the relation around]
  • (Question about applications) I have to set up a system, a fair system, let teams know what the system is. You've been armed with all the information, go to town. I can't choose. It would have killed me to choose between 35 different teams. or 60 team. After our 16th slot in the Hogwarts Game filled up in 16 hours, I was crying trying to figure out how to fit in 4 or 8 more. Until Curtis said "snap out of it!"
  • Go/No go decision: Do NOT announce until after this. Are we still having fun? Can we finish this beast?
    • Question Has there ever been a no-go that meant no announcement? [Yeah, is this question meant to be a question that people might say "no" to? Or does this just make folks commit to the group with witnesses?] I was no-go for Midnight Madness. We have always been positive. For Hogwarts we did have a little bit of a discussion--we were close: I think 5 people were "go" and 3 people were "no go". So we talked about why the "no gos". People were all "This role is too big for me" "I don't think we can get this done" So we reallocated. Sometimes you need to haul on the brakes. Sometimes people need to step out. [And better if they do that early on before you're relying on them for too much]
  • Business-y stuff
    • Whether to get insurance: if something goes wrong, does anyone on GC have something that they can't afford to lose? If so, get insurance.
      • Yours could be the game where someone falls down a mineshaft.
      • In my first game, in Amnesia, one of the players scrambled out on slippery rocks by a crevasse. I'm looking down, there's surf crashing. I'm thinking: if he slides, it is over, we are never going to be able to rescue him. He will die.
      • In Justice Unlimited, I didn't once worry about someone falling down in the park while playing tag and breaking their leg. I worried about people climbing trees, the play equipment--but I didn't once worry about people running in the grass. But it happened.
      So we get event insurance. We get the sport one. In Midnight Madness, it was 25% of our budget--but it was worth it.
      • Remark from Linda Holman, Shinteki to get permission to use some places, you need insurance. Some of them might require that you have some amount of insurance.
      • Question from Burninator Corey does the insurance cost scale with the # of players? Answer the insurance we looked at for Midnight Madness, the cost was the same up to 1000 people. They covered seven days--we only used two. It was $540. Hogwarts was $500, with people going more places. Yeah, and there were sites that needed us to be covered.
      • Question from Burninator Corey You say Team Snout is insured. Is Team Snout a legal entity? Answer Yes. An unincorporated association recognized in California.
      If there's a particular person who's responsible for the game, you might instead go for Personal Umbrella Insurance.
    • Money: we spend it before we get it from teams. GC members end up loaning $ until after game. Submit receipts! If there's going to be something expensive, we put that off until after we get money from teams. But we've been building stuff for months before that.
    • Banks won't take checks that aren't addressed to a real person. (nervous laughter--probably from the Ghost Patrol table). I thought it would be cool if we could take checks for Homicide, but I called up the bank and they said "That's money laundering!" and that was the end of that. You can set up a business entity for your team. Then teams can fill out checks to Team Snout. But it takes time to set up an entity--and effort, and maybe money.
      • Audience suggestion: set up a Paypal account for GC. Behind the scenes, it goes to a person. But to the players, it seems to be going to GC.
      • Chris Dunphy, Radiks question: If GC is trying to stay anonymous, then what? Answer: I've never tried to remain anonymous, I cannot answer this question. [Oh sure, that's what you say when you're on camera.] Answer from Alexandra: You can do a DBA [Doing Business As]. In San Francisco, it costs about $25, and you file a notice in the paper. You can take that DBA to a bank. So... some effort. And some paperwork. And you have to dissolve your DBA when you're done with it. [Hey, why is Chris Dunphy asking about how to anonymously run a game? Has anyone tried putting a tracking beacon on his trailer? How do we know that he's really traveling around the country? could he be faking footage of national landmarks, suspiciously using stills when Cherie appears "in frame", pretending to "travel" there while actually hiding out in a house in Palo Alto, planning a game?]
      • Sean Gugler points out: In Midnight Madness, wanted to remain anonymous for a while. Teams that were accepted didn't know who GC was--until the pre-game Captains meeting "bring your checkbook".
    • Nasty surprise: all that $ that teams pay you? The IRS says that's income. Now, you can also deduct your hobby expenses--but only the part that's over 2% of your adjusted gross income. So if your "real income" was $50K last year, you eat the first $1K of expenses. [Ouch.] IRS cares whether it's a business or a hobby-- Oh Curtis wants me to tell you the professional golfer story or about the writer who was researching prostitutes.
    • Anyhow Team Snout files its own taxes because it's a separate entity. And I think JPT does too. Team Snout is a non-profit. Its taxes are kind of a nightmare to deal with. But it exists separate from any of us. If you think you're gonna do a lot of games, you might want to do that. But it's a lot of effort. You might just want to say "You know what--I'll just pay the money for the hobby."
    • Keep records. So you know who to pay back.
  • When you're feeling overwhelmed: Scale back. Look back at that Priority List. Are you freaking out over a WIBNI? Cut it out. Teams don't know about stuff that isn't there. No one shows up to a Game expecting Don Luskin. Ask for help Game community will help. People not in the game will help--because this stuff sounds like fun. Remember the fun.
  • Quality Control
    • Get a fresh pair of eyes to look. Every single time we didn't do a Quality Control check--it got us.
    • "Only GC thinks that's funny" It always starts with someone saying "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if we made the teams do _____?" Everybody laughs. As soon as you hear everyone around the table laughing, you need the alarm bells to go off in your head. You need to step back and say "Would I want to run naked through a fountain if I was a player?" [No.] Would teams like it? Might someone get arrested? Remember the rules of Team Snout:
      • Nobody dies
      • Nobody goes to jail
      • Nobody bleeds
      ...and sometimes we don't make that, but those are our rules. There was a broken leg in one of the games. And Jeff did injure himself. But other than that...
  • Question from Chris Dunphy any examples of "Only GC thinks that's funny?" Answer Yeah. We had a puzzle where we gave teams a CD and a phone book. In the phone book, we had Red, and in the CD we had Herring. We had people looking at red things for a long time. It was in our first game--we thought it was hilarious at the time--to tell you something was a red herring. But what we actually ended up doing was sending them through every red thing they could find. It took hours.
  • Another disaster: we had someone on GC make a last-minute edit to a puzzle. They checked there own work. Of course there was a typo. So we had to call up every team, go out, fix up their puzzle for them.
  • We had a math error in one of our formulas. That threw our timing off for hours and hours. We wanted every team to see our "showpiece" puzzle--and had to re-route teams on the fly to make that happen.
  • Question from Burninator Corey How many people are on Team Snout for GC? Answer Different each time. Curtis and I. Sean's almost always on. I don't want to get by without seven people. But that's my personal approach--because there will be a lot of activities and I don't want to be responsible for everything. I've heard of teams that have done it successfully with two. I sure wouldn't want to be them, but I've heard of them. Thinking like a PM: If I have more people, we can do more in less time.
  • Question from Burninator Corey You know all this business stuff--how did you happen to end up talking to accountants? Answer I researched on my own. For example, as a non-profit, exempt from California franchise tax. But the California franchise people don't all know this. I know that because I read through the paperwork. Got a frickin scary letter saying that we owed tax--called up tax people, finally got routed to the guy who deals with non-profits, pointed out what kind we were and he said--yeah you're right, they just did your paperwork wrong.
  • Comment from Linda Holman, Shinteki If you're freaking out about insurance or business: you can always ask other GCs.

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Jotting notes on Teresa Torres' GC Summit 2009 Lecture "GC Transparency"

[A few months back, I went to the 2009 GC Summit, where Game Control people exchange philosophy, anecdotes, and techniques. I didn't take notes then. I retain things better when I take notes. So this morning I watched the video of Teresa Torres' lecture. And I'm jotting notes here. When I'm noting my own thoughts vs jotting notes on what Teresa said, [my thoughts are in square editorial-ish brackets]]

GC Transparency

  • Why the Muppet Movie Game has a blog
  • She's working on a game and working at a startup. [OMG no WAI I would die]
  • Want people to run games. Want them to know what running a game is like.
  • Traditionally, GC has been secretive. It's cool that a GC can run a game and you don't know who it is until you reach the end.
  • Inspired by Curtis' letter to aspiring GCs
  • Why be transparent? Let aspiring GCs know what's involved.
  • Even if a team isn't an aspiring GC, let them know what's involved. [Don't think for a second that that shit is easy.]
  • Let teams know what the game will be like so they can decide whether they want to play in it. [If we come up whining at the end that the puzzle difficulty was not up to WPC standards, Teresa will kick us in the shins]
  • Wanted to blog day-do-day existence. "ambitious goal". Want to blog the ups and downs. [blogging when you're down ain't easy, though.]
  • Running a game is like...
    • ...planning a wedding
    • ...starting a company
  • she wakes up at 3 in the morning about something that she forgot to do at work. a fortnight before the lecture, she woke up at 3am because--she forgot to write a blog post [presumably for the muppet movie game blog] They're analogous! [OMG no WAI I would die]
  • A while back, there was a flurry of [dum ^W ignorant] questions on the mailing list: why don't GCs take on more teams in their games? why not run your game twice? Those things aren't very feasible. [Damn right.] One of the things we wanted do through our blog is help explain why.
  • Game weekend takes tons of energy. You're not going to repeat that next weekend. Next weekend, you're sleeping.
  • So... let folks see the GC perspective, written while GC is in the thick of it.
  • After a lady gives birth, she'll say she never wants to have a baby again. Three weeks later, they love their new baby and saying Awww it wasn't so bad. Right? Running a game is the same way: you forget the pain.
  • Demand for games is going up. Different games have different styles. So we're telling people about our game so that only folks who want to play our style of game will sign up. [Hmm. Good luck with that.]
  • Maintaining operational secrecy while blogging. So what to share...
    • GC's motivation. Is it great puzzles? Great theming? Great locations?
      • Goonies Game was all about theme. All puzzles had to fit the theme! Except, uhm, for the puzzle we ended up writing during the game weekend because Blood and Bones was breaking the game
      • Dragonhunt paperless
      • Snout does an endgame where all the team can get together [so I can exhaustedly collapse while surrounded by cool people]
      • Overnightmare flow control
      Used to have some idea of GC's game philosophy based on the team's comments on previous games.
    • Discuss your thought process
      • Orange Snood has philosophical debates about what the game is. You can blog about some of this without giving away too much. E.g., you don't have to say how the help system is going to work. [Heck, depending on how the help system will work, you could probably announce that ahead of time without spoiling anything.]
      • They've been blogging about scouting for clue sites. [I think a plurality of posts have been about this. Does that mean that's an especially important topic for this GC? Or that it's something they can blog about w/out giving away too much? Or ...?]
      • Every potential blog post leads to debate w/in GC: how much to share? This is probably why there haven't been so many blog posts.
  • You can leave comments on our blog! Part of promoting transparency is promoting discussion! [And yet here I am jotting these notes over on my blog because... that's easier and I'm lazy and... oh well]
  • Question is the blog a pre-clue? Answer No, that's not our style.
  • Question Even if you're transparent and say "We're running a game. Blood and Bones will hate this game", Blood and Bones will still apply. Teams will still apply. Answer OK, when 60 teams apply to your game it's going to be tough. I want to decide based on good fit. Not first-come-first-serve, not solving millions of puzzles. In Goonies, we did interviews, it worked really really well. GC does this as a labor of love. Talking w/teams is a good way to make sure that they share your philosophy, that they'll enjoy your game and that you'll enjoy GCing them. [The logistics of setting up 60 team interviews... OMG no WAI. Hmm, well maybe if you let out-of-towner teams in w/out the interview. Hmm.]
  • Applause!

[So... my best chance of getting into the Muppet Movie Game is convincing all other potential teams that they won't like the game? Say, did I ever mention some of the conversation between Mystic Fish and Orange Snood when we were going through the scrabble puzzles in No More Secrets? Yeah, we were talking about game philosophy. The Orange Snood folks were saying "This game has been pretty interesting. That's a real problem. When we run a game, we try to run a really boring game. Like, capture the essence of non-interestingness, you know?"... What's that? You're not buying it? OK, never mind.]

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, which helps explain how we kept showing up at clue sites

Behold my notes from the excellent BANG XX. Yes, that game was a while ago. Hey, if I publish the notes for BANG 20 before BANG 21 starts, that's not late, right? What's that you say? Something about nonsequential nonsensical numbering systems? I'm not listening to you, I've got my fingers in my ears.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Tampa

A few years back, I pointed out a multi-day Game shaping up in New Zealand with a bionic theme. That game never came together. But all was not lost! Eagle-eyed Justin Graham got word: The GC for that game is running a Game in Tampa in September! There's a critical mass of teams signed up, so figure that the game will come together. Wow, there's a lot of material on that website.

Hmm. I dunno if I'd go all the way to Tampa for a The Game, but combine that with a trip to Disney World to play their Kim Possible treasure hunt game and maybe a trip to Cape Canaveral and suddenly you're talking about an interesting outing. Uhm, but I don't really think I know anyone around here who's interested in such an outing. But I can dream.

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Puzzlehunts are Everywhere, even my Parents' House

Yeah, I should really work on a write-up about BANG XX. But today I hung out with family. My cousin Nancy, her husband, and her son came over to my parents' place for a visit, staying last night & today. Conversation last night revealed that her son likes treasure hunt games. My parents helpfully pointed out that I could make a treasure hunt game. So this morning, while I waited on some errands at home before heading back to my parents' place to continue the family frolic, I wrote a little treasure hunt, jotting down puzzles and riddles on seven index cards, ready to tape up at various spots in the house.

I tried to aim it at a five-year-old, didn't know if I could. I didn't know how good he was at reading--I knew he could read "cat" but maybe not "valentine". But he'd almost certainly have a grown-up along providing help. Could I get away with using good word-puzzly words like "gubernatorial"? What if he didn't need to understand those words? Hmm, my thoughts waffled. I needn't have worried, though. When I mentioned this morning that I'd brought over a treasure hunt, it turned out that he wanted to run the hunt, not play in it. So... we had a puzzlehunt that was probably too hard for a five-year-old, but probably too easy for four clever grown-ups. Then again, the kid seemed to enjoy watching them going through the puzzlehunt anyhow, so... Success, I guess.

You can see how you would have done. I dunno how easy this is if you aren't familiar with my parents' house, and you probably aren't.

First puzzle:

In the Garden:

Yellow on the outside
White inside the outside
Yellow inside the inside the outside

Second puzzle:

In front of the house:

I clean shoes,
But I'm dirtier than feet

Look under me

Third puzzle:

In the first floor hallway:

My first is in CHEETAH , but not in COMPLICATED
My second is in PUMA , but not in MISPRONOUNCED
My third is in LION, but not in COPYCATTING
My fourth is in LYNX, but not in OXYMORON

Look on the floor

Fourth puzzle:

In the living room:

[Here, there was a long strip cut out of the index card. Underneath were taped pieces of index card. The pieces said

  • DIO
  • DOL
  • DRA
  • HIN
  • KBE
  • LOO


the fifth puzzle:

In the ground floor hallway:

"House" has five letters
I don't know how they got there
A house can have letters, too.
How do they get in?

the sixth puzzle:

In the kitchen:

The coldest door in the house!

...and the seventh puzzle showed a simple pigpen cipher and a message encoded in that cipher.
So I still don't know whether or not this puzzle would have worked OK for a five-year-old. But now I know that grown-ups are good sports about tromping around the house solving clues.

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Link: McGuffin GC post

Burninator Corey dug out some notes from being GC on the excellent The McGuffin Game. Some good stuff in there for aspiring GC folks, I bet.

Securing a location is a lot like investing: it doesn't take a lot of work, but it does take time. ... Establish a route and set locations along that route early. Not everything needs to be set in stone, and some puzzles may fit better at locations that you haven't yet chosen.

This echoes some of the "Roadtrip" posts at the Muppet Movie game blog. (You have been following the Muppet Movie bog, right?)

On hints versus teams' competitive natures:

No team tried to game our hint system. With hindsight, I believe that worrying that teams would try to squeeze hints out of us that they didn't deserve was an unfounded worry. In fact, often it was us who would call teams and ask them if they needed a hint. Teams trying to advance their position by asking for hints was not something we should worry about in future games.

I've heard Alexandra talk about past games in which a few folks called up, seemingly to "fish" info out of GC without it counting as a hint. So I guess some of that goes on. All of the cases she talked about were more "social engineering" than "messing with the hint system", though.

If you're in to puzzle-huntish games, this is a good read. I just quoted a few excerpts. Check it out.


Link: XXX, Poison Picnic Puzzlehunts

I'm not cool enough to attend SXSW, but when folks there twitter about attending a puzzlehunt lecture, I pay attention. A lecture about puzzlehunts, forsooth. Apparently, a couple of folks put together a couple of puzzly treasure-huntish games. Furthermore, they wrote them up online. You can tell that they learned some lessons by the time they ran the second one--they provided better cluing on the puzzles, chose less sabotage-prone clue locations, and a couple of teams actually finished.

  • XXX, in which much goes wrong, but the participants figure out they're onto something good
  • Poisoned Picnic, which ends by addressing the winners: "Next time, you guys get to host!"

Maybe we're all re-inventing the wheel here, but it's a fun wheel.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even appearing simultaneously in Redmond and Palo Alto

Behold, it is notes from Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 1[23]. I volunteered at the bay area simulcast. I took a couple of crappy cameraphone photos of the playtest. I dressed up as the angel of death and other folks took videos! Anyhow, scattered notes.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even scattered around San Francisco

I typed up some notes on BATH 4 DIchotomY. Like some notes about things I worried about that turned out not to be problems. And things I didn't worry about that turned out to be problems. And, at long last, revealing which of my plans was thwarted by Santarchy.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even San Jose

I like The Game. I like the puzzles, but in between puzzles, I like hopping into a van and zipping around, visiting interesting places. Even though... all too often we don't really linger at the interesting places. Hop out of the van, grab the puzzle, hunker down, solve the puzzle, hop back in the van. Today, I visited a friend in San Jose. He was kinda close to a train station, but not super-close. So I had a bit of a stroll--and went through three game sites.

I hopped out of the train at the San Jose train station. Though I just-five-seconds-ago in the previous paragraph mused that teams don't always linger at Game-ish spots, this is not true of that train station. I remember spending a lot of time searching that station for a clue during the Midnight Madness: Back to Basics Game. We searched high and low; I watched an electronic announcement display for way too long. Today, after I disembarked from the train, I walked out of the station quickly. I looked up at the electronic display--and looked away quickly, still feeling somewhat embarrassed.

Next stop was the gardens at the Rosicrucean Temple. I'd been here before Jesse Morris for BATH3. We were on GC, and we visited NeilFred (and, uhm, maybe someone else who I'm blanking on?) who was guarding a puzzle there. It would have been a good opportunity to see the Rosicrucean Temple--but I was too focused on the game to think of playing tourist. Today, I played tourist--and found out that I'd already seen most of the temple gardens after all. Uhm, it had taken us a while to find NeilFred. Apparently, we traversed a non-trivial fraction of the gardens in the process. I did find one new thing today--a sundial. The Rosicrucean temple has a sundial. There's a tall tree next to it. The shadow of the tree obscures the shadow of the sundial. Wow, for a secret society that claims to have origins dating back hundreds of years, the Rosicruceans don't always plan things well.

Next, I went to the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, just a couple of blocks away. We'd picked up a puzzle there for The No More Secrets Game. We didn't really appreciate the Rose Garden then. We just hopped out of the van, grabbed a puzzle, brought it back to the van, solved the puzzle, and drove away. Even if we'd been in the mood to linger... the park was locked up. The park was locked up because it was well after dark--not exactly a prime rose-appreciating situation. Today, the park was open! And it was daytime! And I was in the rose garden! But it turns out that winter isn't rose season, so the rose bushes were just these stemmy things. But there was also a public restroom, so don't think that I totally failed to appreciate this park.

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Link: Arising like a Phoenix from a Bathtub

Further evidence of Darcy's ongoing awesomeness: she rescued the contents of the team Taft on a Raft web site. It's back! Including the material from the The Apprentice Zorg game!

If you sadly took down your taftraft.com links when that old site got taken over by domain vultures and turned into evil webspam, you might want to dust off those links, put them back in, but this time pointing to the new place.

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Ghost Patrol Links, including Photos

Yeah, yeah, you were waiting for the Ghost Patrol results, but me, I was waiting for Wesley's photos. And he posted them: Wes Chan's Ghost Patrol photos.

Mostly photos of puzzles and of our team (Mystic Ghosti). But there's other fun photos, too. coed astronomy, Longshots, Knights of Corinth, Burninators, and more. Check it out.

(Edited to fix a photo link: Loquacious != coed astronomy)

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Link: Muppet Movie Game Blog

I was was avoiding linking to the Muppet Movie Game Site, but have since figured out that was dumb of me. You might say I avoided linking them due to philisophical differences... but really it was mis-placed pre-emptive sour grapes.

I've been around when a couple of the Orange Snoodites talked about philosophy of The Game. I agreed with them most of the way. They said (I'm paraphrasing) The Game is about the experience, not about puzzles. I thought, Right on. If I get to retrieve a puzzle by sticking my hand into a cold cold pumpkinful of spaghetti and finger jello, I think that's pretty darned good. I don't get to experience that working on a crossword puzzle on the bus--they kick you off the bus if you spill mushy pasta and pumpkin innards on your seat. I'm pretty sure they kick you off the bus. I haven't seen a No Pumpkin Innards sign posted on the bus, but I'm pretty sure it's in the regulations somewhere.

The Orange ones said You shouldn't worry so much about your time or your score. I thought, Right on. So much of your team's performance is out of your control; if you agonize over it, you'll make yourself miserable. Different teams approach The Game in a different spirit; comparing your "performance" to theirs might not make sense. (I'll let you decide whether my attitude here reflects my lack of puzzling skills, dot product some more sour grapes.) If your team finishes before RadiKS does but RadiKS gets cooler team photos along the way, then who has won? Two years from now when you're flipping through your photos and only have a blurry snap of the crowd scene at the after party, you'll know that RadiKS won after all.

But then the Snoodists said (again, I paraphrase) Back in the day, we didn't have all of this "application" stuff. There was a Captains List. When you wanted to run a game, you contacted the people on the Captains List and you invited them to play. And I thought, Aw $&#*, screw these jerks. They'd run games years ago. I.e., before I started playing. Who was on their mysterious "Captains List"? Probably a bunch of veteran teams. Probably not any team I could sneak onto. Grr. I didn't like this piece of philosophy, not one bit.

When I heard that the Snoodies were going to run a The Game, I figured there was no chance I'd get to play. I'd blown my opportunity. When I'd talked with them, why had I wasted time nudging them for details on The Overnightmare Game when I should have been sucking up to them, weaseling my way into their good graces?

But my attitude towards this game-application philosophy changed during Ghost Patrol. Specifically, it changed when [this text removed by request of a reader]. So maybe The Orange Snood gaming philosophy is perfect after all. (Not like the Olympic games. $&#*, those jerks never let me play.)

(And it was fun hanging out with O.S. for the Scrabble runaround clue in No More Secrets.)

Now that I figure we have a glimmer of hope of getting in to this game, I'm letting myself read their blog. They're keeping a blog as they plan the game. They've blogged a little about their philosophy, and might do more of that. They haven't said how they'll handle the admissions process. I hope you get in.

Alexandra Dixon, Team Mystic Fish's captain, mentioned how well she gets along with Red Byer of Team Orange Snood. I'd got my history wrong--I'd thought that Alexandra had barely started playing back around the time that the various Orange Snoodites had stopped running games. But there was more overlap than that. So if there was a Captains List, maybe Alexandra was on it after all

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Ghost Patrol: It was awesome, yes

The Ghost Patrol Game was awesome. You just want to lock the creators up in a basement somewhere and force them to crank out more of these things. Uhm, but that would be wrong. Anyhow, there's a write-up; with photos stolen from Dave Shukan.

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BANG 19 (aka SNAP 4 simulcast): Photos, Scoring Data, Puzzles

On game day, I mostly watched over the Zombie Chess Clue. Most of the time there was nobody there. Some of the time, there were plenty of people there and they kept me pretty busy. But a couple of times, there were people there but I still made time to SNAP photos. After I was done at my post, I wandered down to Addison Street to take photos of poetry lovers so dedicated to their love of the arts that they stood out in the rain to... uhm, yeah, sorry they weather wasn't better for that one. Anyhow, you can see the photos.

If you approach BANG like baseball and want to construct statistics for your team, I transcribed data from the station checklists, team answer sheets, and the results sheet. I'm not sure how much sense my notation makes, but I'm too sleepy to try to explain it now. Maybe you can figure it out and come up with brilliant reports like: typical range of puzzle-solving duration for each puzzle (and number of teams solving), excluding hint-taking teams:

37 -  58 (22)
20 -  31 (24)
20 -  39 (23)
13 -  21 (21)
10 -  20 (25)
39 -  61  (7)
 8 -  15 (23)
78 - 150  (6)

Not excluding the hint-taking teams:

40 -  66 (26)
20 -  33 (26)
21 -  39 (26)
14 -  25 (26)
10 -  20 (25)
58 -  78 (24)
 8 -  16 (24)
88 - 140 (13)

Transcription errors are possible and/or likely.

Joe sent in a zip archive full of puzzles from the game. They are at http://lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us/anecdotal/hunt/25/puzzles/. The Zombie Chess clue isn't in there because we can't figure out how to upload plastic zombies. And/or because I'm too sleepy to snap photos of a zombie chessboard. Maybe some other day. After I catch up on sleep. (My friends Ray and Nhi got married, yay! The reception on Sunday night went way past my bedtime! I am barely keeping my eyes open as I type tihszzzzzzzz....)

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Including a State of Inebriation

Rich Bragg of Blood and Bones sent me some mail about turning BANG 18 into a drinking game, vis a vis a strategy to avoid being obliged to run a future BANG.

...By the way, re: your blog post, while we know it significantly lowers our chances, we don't actually play not to win when we drink after each clue. You know I've always said that winning is fun, but it turns out solving puzzles while drunk is also fun. And in fact, one day we aspire to do both at the same time, and will happily take on the responsibility of running another BANG when it lands on us. :)

...Also as evidence to my claim, the first time we played in this manner was in coed's leisurely mini-game, where there was no threat/promise of having to/getting to run a subsequent event.

Rich (and the rest of Blood & Bones, from what I know) have shown themselves to be honorable in the past, so I'm inclined to believe him. Of course, this raises an interesting question. If you were running a Bay Area Night Game and you wanted to maximize the chance of a drunk team winning, what activities would you choose?

I'm thinking....

  • Stereogram. I've never solved one of these, but I understand that you need to unfocus.
  • Physical challenge: Walk a crooked line.
  • ...

Oh, I'm out of ideas.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Iron Puzzler BANG

BANG 18, the Iron Puzzler BANG was last weekend and it was awesome. The excellent organizers--the Burninators, Coed Astronomy, BootyVicious, Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow, Platonic Solids, and Wrong Ideas--say that other folks might want to re-use the puzzles in other puzzle hunts, and thus I have an excuse to skip writing a puzzle-by-puzzle recap. But there were some notes that I wanted to jot down.

For this hunt's team, I mixed together peer groups: Instead of playing with just friends-who-I-would-hang-out-with-anyhow; there was also one of of the Mystic Fish serious-puzzlers contingent. It was Peter Tang, Steven Pitsenbarger, and Alexandra Dixon. People seemed to get along pretty well, whew! But there was one puzzle, which had a crosswordish section... in hindsight, I noticed that Alexandra and I hogged that puzzle, old instincts kicking in, crowding out the less-pushy folks. But there wasn't much of that--and a good thing, too. This BANG called for insights, not just word puzzling skillz, and Peter and Steven delivered.

There was an interesting system of figuring out where to go for the next puzzle. If you'd figured out that the solution to the puzzle was LEMON, you'd look at a sheet of paper with ~50 definitions on it. You'd find a definition that fit LEMON, like maybe "Citrus fruit". That definition was associated with a spot on the map. If you'd asked me ahead of time, I would have guessed that this system wouldn't work well. I would have whined something like What if more than one definition fits the answer? But in practice, that didn't happen. And if it did GC had a good backup plan--there was a GC volunteer at each puzzle station. So if you had to ask "We think that the answer is 'LEMON' but is that the 'citrus fruit' or the 'automobile type'?" you could get an answer right away. "This is not supposed to be part of the puzzle." It's a good system--if you've got enough volunteers to staff every location.

Afterwards, Peter, Alexandra and I had dinner in the Marina district to work on the puzzles we didn't solve during the event itself. I walked home via the Lyon Street Steps. It was dark, which made them pretty scary. Rather, they weren't scary, but I bet that skunk wouldn't have been ambling around during the daytime. This skunk slunk out of a hedge beside the stairs. I was walking towards it--but decided to stop walking. The skunk saw me and eased back into the hedge. I wasn't really sure if it was heading far away, though. If I kept walking, was I going to end up walking threateningly-close to a hedge-concealed skunk? I kept walking, no skunk sprayed me, and all was right with the universe.

I also thought, of course, about how to figure out which team should run the next BANG. I kinda liked the rule in recent BANGs that if your team had hosted a BANG, you were immune from having to host another. In BANG 18, that rule wasn't in place. I don't ?think? it made a difference--I don't think those guys have hosted a BANG yet (unless maybe Nick Baxter worked on a Burninators BANG?). But... I worried about the effects of that lack-of-rule. Team Blood and Bones, who've run many BANGs, were drinking shots after each puzzle. By the end of the game they were staggering. This ensured that they wouldn't win, wouldn't be obliged to run the next BANG. But I wonder if there's some other way, some healthier way. Like, maybe if your team is one of the top three in the Hall of Fame of teams who have run the most BANGs, then you're immune. Something like that.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: a web-crawling puzzle-hunt robot that didn't work

When the applications for the Ghost Patrol game started appearing, it was pretty humbling. New videos kept showing up on YouTube. The videos... the videos made me glad that my team (Mystic Ghosti) had submitted a cryptic crossword puzzle instead of a video. There was some tough competition.

One video was an advertisement for the Ghostatron 5000, a "ghost capturing device" oddly reminiscent of a Pac-man game. Embedded in the video was a not-so-secret message "number of dots". There was also the URL of a page allowing you to purchase a Ghostatron 5000--but only if you entered the correct password into a little web form. Aha, no doubt the password was the number of dots. But, uhm, what number of dots? Number of dots in a Pac-man layout? Number of dots in a Seurat painting?

I figured it was probably the number of dots in a Pac-man game. I tried counting those. I counted them a couple of times, got a couple of answers. I tried counting a third time as a tie-breaker--and got a third answer. Counting dots was too hard for my puny puny brain. I wasn't even sure I was on the right track. It was time to think about brute force.

In trying out some previous guesses, I had some idea of how the password checker worked. If you entered the guess "able", then the password checker would put you on the page http://www.princeton.edu/~bdbennet/able.html . Since there was no such web page, I figured "able" was not the password. Peeking at the form page's source code confirmed that this was what was going on:

function testResults (form) {
    var TestVar = form.inputbox.value;

To test the hypothesis that the password was a "number of dots", I could check the pages


So I threw together a program to check those. Well, not all possible numbers. There are many numbers. I just checked the numbers from 1...999:

import time
import urllib

for count in range(1, 1000):
  time.sleep(1)  # wait a second, in case princeton.edu is too puny to handle a robot (unlikely)
  u = urllib.urlopen("http://www.princeton.edu/~bdbennet/%d.html" % count)
  for line in u.readlines():
      if line.find("<TITLE>404 Not Found</TITLE>") > -1:  # if no such page
          print count,                                                   # print status
          if not count % 10: print
  else:                                                                  # but if page found
      print "HEY"                                                        # say HEY
      print count

My program never said HEY. So I was on the wrong track. I never got on the right track. I never solved that puzzle.

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Link: BANG Suddenly Looming on Horizon

As one of the bureaucrats of the Bay Area Night Game wiki, I sleepily go through my chores. My feed reader monitors the "recent changes" section of the wiki. When it detects something, I go to the wiki, roll back the changes, and ban the "user" who made the changes forever. See, you could be a wiki bureaucrat, too; it's all about denying access. Almost all of the changes are, of course, made by spambots. But sometimes... sometimes there's a change, not by a spambot. Sometimes there's a change that mades you sit up and take notice. E.g., this morning I see a change from LessaChu, an addition to the front page:

[[coed astronomy]] and a coalition of other teams will host the Iron Puzzler BANG sometime in late August/early September 2008. Details forthcoming!


Go look if you don't believe me.

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Link: Ghost Patrol Application from Mystic Ghosti

You won't find the Mystic Ghosti application on YouTube because... it's not a video. We played to our strengths, creating a ghost-capturing cryptic crossword. Where by "we", I mean "not me". My "contribution" to this puzzle was a "test solve" in which I made very little progress and said, "Hey, this is really hard." I think the team's puzzle constructors maybe made it easier after that? But mostly they pointed out that Ghost Patrol GC has at least a couple of people who are much better than I am at cryptics. I got better at cryptics by poring over the answers to this puzzle after giving up... but maybe that's not saying much.

Elsewhere on the internet, Chris Roat pointed out that the Shinteki folks now have a website that explains what they do better than the old one did. There's even a blog, but it opens in a frame so your browser probably won't auto-detect the feed, but you can probably find the feed if you look hard enough. But the URL of the blog mentions "testblog" so maybe that's going to move anyhow and maybe I just subscribed to a blog that's never going to update... Gee, the internet is hard.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Minneapolis

Remember a while back, I mentioned SF0, a not-really-a-puzzle-hunt dealie, more of a mutual-dare society? Well some folks on SF0 bridged the gap to puzzlehuntdom: they hosted a puzzle hunt in Minneapolis (citing BANG as an inspiration) and invited SF0 folks to play. The result: MN0PQ:1.

You can go look at the page: there are write-ups by organizers, playtesters, players.

SF0 is a game played for points. People take on challenges. The person who does the best here gets "first place", worth extra points. So SF0, as a "meta-game" might be a way to encourage folks to host puzzlehunts: who got SF0's "first place" award for MN0PQ1? The organizers. (See, there's a subtle distinction between "who won the puzzle hunt?" and "who got First Place in the SF0 challenge around the puzzle hunt?")

(Yes, yes, I should really be looking at Ghost Patrol application material instead of this other stuff. I'm doing that, too.)

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Puzzle Hunts were Everywhen, even 1973

Holy #$!) check it out: It's old Game invites to pre-Midnight Madness 1970s Don Luskin et. al puzzle-y Games! And newspaper articles describing those games! It seems like they were pretty heavy on the cryptic crossword-ish material. But there was other stuff going on. The "Idle Smart" article has a lot of details, including info about a couple of the top teams.

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Site Update: The Smoking GNU: Back to Basics

You are, of course, far too tactful to point out that it took me over two months to write up the wacky fun times playing in the Midnight Madness game with The Smoking GNU. It takes a while to write up that many wacky fun times!

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Site Update: Extended Shinteki Decathlon 4 Kvetchfest

The Shinteki series of games is so awesome that you can remain bitter about a van breakdown for several days afterwards if that van, you know, interfered with... Oh, I'm just going to go sit over here in the corner and be grumpy for a while. To avoid charges of scapegoating, I should admit that there's a non-trivial chance that we would still have come in last place even if the van hadn't broken down. Nevertheless, grr.


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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Stanford

I enjoyed reading this write-up of a recent Stanford Game. You might, too.

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Just Three Shinteki Photos

I didn't take any Shinteki photos. That's not quite true. I took a photo of an easel while GC was still setting up. Then Brent put a cover over the easel, like folks weren't supposed to see it so early. So then I erased that photo. Later on, when we were allowed to see the easel, I snapped some photos. But they didn't help. Later on, I didn't think to take photos.

Fortunately, Tobias Lester took some photos. Yay, Tobias! Tobias was on the team. So was Laura! And Emily! They were great! There's a team, photo, yay. Except Tobias isn't in the team photo because he was, you know, holding the camera. the iPhone. the whatever. Anyhow. He took the photo.

And then there's a photo of the lady who towed away our broken-down van. She's pushing that van across the parking lot because (a) the van wouldn't start and (b) she's a tough lady who can push vans across parking lots even if those vans don't start. She was pretty amazing.

Then there's a photo of that view from that lookout point. Chronologically, that came before the van break-down. But these photos are ordered alphabetically and "view.jpg" comes after "singlehanded_van_push.jpg". Hey, if I renamed "view.jpg" to "lookout_point_view.jpg", then it would be in the correct chronological order. Or I could go to bed right now. Yay, bed!

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PuzzleHunters.com : Register or be Anti-Social

Behold a lovely forum for discussing puzzle hunts, puzzle magazines, and stranger things. It's new, so there's not much there yet.

Scott Blomquist set it up and seeks your frankest feedback. He writes:

Hey, all, I’ve been meaning to start down the road toward building up a community of all you puzzle people out there, whether you call your puzzle addiction Puzzle Hunt, Mystery Hunt, Treasure Hunt, Games Magazine, or The Game, I’ve set up exactly the site for you: http://www.puzzlehunters.com.

Please check it out and give me the frankest feedback you can on what’s missing. I also admit that I’m not 100% sure how to quickly get to critical mass, and, once I’m there, how to sustain it. Your thoughts on that also appreciated.

Some thoughts... I'm guessing that forum activity will be bursty. Like, in the events areas, lots of excitement when a game is announced, a flurry of "Yay, thank you" posts after a game... but not much else. Games Magazine, P&A don't come out super-often, so... bursty again. I bet folks won't get into the habit of swinging by the site once per day. So it's good to get notified when there's activity. The site supports notification, but it seems like I have to sign up for notification in each forum separately. That's a minor hassle, but it's a hassle. So... in terms of getting people to check back when there's new activity I'd suggest:

  • Don't go wild adding new forums. While there's still small numbers of people using the site, probably no single forum will get much traffic.
  • Does this phpBB support RSS feeds announcing forum activity? There's a non-trivial chance I will overlook email notifications.

To grow the community quickly, you might encourage an event organizer to use a forum as part of a pre-game puzzle. If each team needs to post their answer, that's a few people subscribed right there... A lot of folks who run games think about community, so they might go for it. To keep people coming back, trick your friends into posting content occasionally. Maybe occasionally post some philosophical questions, try to stir up a lively discussion. "Hidden Pre-Game puzzles: Wacky fun times or unhelpful annoyance?"

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Site Update: a Pretty Plain Code Cheatsheet

I made a pretty plain code cheatsheet for puzzlehunts. It doesn't have all the codes you want, but it has the biggies and it's not too crowded. PDF is here: http://lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us/frivolity/hunt/cheatsheet.pdf If you like it, but want to add to it, the source (an OpenOffice spreadsheet document, so help me) is in the same directory. If you improve the cheatsheet, feel free to send the result to me, I can post it.

I used to use an Nth generation photocopy of the code sheet the Burninators provided for BANG 7. But I lost track of that piece of paper a few months back. Yes, I'd made a few copies. I lost track of all of them. Maybe one of them will show up... but if it doesn't show up by Saturday's game.... uhm, yeah. The Shinteki folks had some darned nice schwag at last year's Decathlon event: a pad of paper, each sheet graph-ruled with codes in the margins. Nice, but I also want cheatsheets to pass out. A while back, I'd talked with some folks about the advantages of having multiple mini-sheets with one code on each, but that seemed like it would take more effort, cutting pieces of paper apart. Yes, I am that lazy.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even San Francisco

I posted some notes on the excellent SF Minigame. There's one photo. Usually I have zero photos or many photos. This time, one.

In other news, yesterday The Great Urban Race came to San Francisco. Looking at their website, they seem similar to Urban Challenge. Or maybe I just think that because that photo on their FAQ page looks like it could be the Graham brothers. But it explains some of the strange people I saw on the Embarcadero yesterday. And there was the KGB Puzzle Hunt at CMU, but I didn't see any of that. It turns out that CMU is not in San Francisco.

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David Hill on Hypotheses and Blurting

David Hill replied to yesterday's blog post on hypotheses in puzzle-solving. He replied on Facebook, so you probably didn't see it. I'll post his reply here. I have a couple of reasons for wanting to post his reply here. First of all: he makes some relevant and cogent observations. Second of all: His reason for posting this on Facebook is astounding.

sorry to post my reply on facebook and not your blog proper but here at work your blog is blocked by sonicwall as "personals - dating."

i enjoyed reading this a lot and thought about how teams i've been on have dealt with this problem on other games.

in new york, where our team has been as large as 20 people, we often try to huddle around a puzzle and do the blurting thing. but i can't deal with that because it is uncomfortable and i don't think well in that situation.

but my experience has also shown me that puzzles are rarely solved by one person suddenly cracking them, often the group has to brainstorm and share all their ideas, "blurt" them if you will, in order to get someone to that "a-ha" moment.

i think figuring out a set amount of time for each person to come up with ideas then everyone sharing them is a good marriage of these two approaches.

i also think having a copier available to make sure everyone can take a paper puzzle a quiet place to think is helpful.

This prompts some questions: How many of you people are using this site to find dates? How many of you would use this site to find dates if only your local firewall wasn't blocking it? Should I try to make matches among my single friends via this website? Which do you consider to be a better source of dates: lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us or facebook.com? Should I think harder about what David wrote about collaboration instead of getting totally sidetracked by the whole "dating site" thing, or would that be out of character?

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere; but so is Problem-Solving

A while back--long enough ago that I'm probably getting details wrong--someone told me how the Scoobies tackle a puzzle. They set the puzzle out where everyone in the team can look at it. They look at it. But instead of everyone blurting out their ideas at once, they just kind of keep them in mind. After a while, they go around and folks talk about hypotheses. The intent: share some hypotheses, resist the temptation to go haring off after the first dang fool notion to pop into someone's head. Our brains do that--someone says "Hey maybe it's Morse code?" and, bam, everyone looks at that puzzle through the lens of Morse code. It's hard to break out of that Morse-ish point of view even when you've intellectually convinced yourself that it couldn't be Morse code, no way. It's as if someone said "Don't think of an elephant."

The technique is that someone says "Maybe it's Morse code," but before everyone looks back at the puzzle someone else says, "...or maybe, gee, I think it's semaphore", then your brains are less likely to get stuck in the Morse code track/trap. Everyone pipes up with their ideas before looking back at the puzzle.

So I was mighty interested when Ducky Sherwood mentioned a similar computer-debugging technique in her blog.

If you aren't a computer programmer, you might be surprised to find out that debugging a program is like solving a puzzle. It's a stretch, but... If you're looking at a puzzle, you're staring at something like, say the seeming nonsense 208120'19 238120 1985 19194; you're thinking There's a bazillion possibilities about what message is encoded here; there's a bazillion possibilities about how it could be encoded; how do I narrow down the possibilities? How do I test ideas? When you're programming, you're thinking In this web shopping-cart program, I expected taxRate to be .08, but instead it's 0.2; there's a bazillion places where we could have accidentally clobbered that value or skipped setting it; how do I track down exactly where things went wrong?

Ducky had read that programmers tend to fall into mental traps. Why does taxRate have the wrong value? It must be a memory corruption bug! You've run into a couple of memory corruption bugs lately, and you're soooo sure this must be another one. So you waste a couple of hours running the program under a heavy-duty memory-corruption-bug-finding tool. Meanwhile, you totally ignore the fact that this shopping cart belongs to your first-ever customer from Puerto Rico and your database of local tax rates has the wrong value for Puerto Rico.

Ducky decided on a new approach to debugging: before diving into the code, make up three hypotheses about what the problem is.

... After a binge of reading Andrew Ko papers last week, I decided to start forcing myself to write down three hypotheses every time I had to make a guess as to why something happened.

In my next substantive coding session, there were four bugs that I worked on. For two of them, I thought of two hypotheses quickly, but then was stumped for a moment as to what I could put for a third… so I put something highly unlikely. In once case, for example, I hypothesized a bug in code that I hadn’t touched in weeks.

Guess what? In both of those cases, it was the “far-fetched” hypothesis that turned out to be true! For example, there was a bug in the code that I hadn’t touched in weeks: I had not updated it to match some code that I’d recently refactored. ...

--"false hypotheses"

Those papers she mentions--Ducky researches programmer productivity. She's not just making up this three-hypotheses approach out of thin air. She's basing it on some research, though apparently the research itself is not so easy to find, as she points out in a later blog post:

I finally got my hands on the dead-trees (i.e. uncorrupted) version of the Klahr/Dunbar article that I posted about earlier, and it didn’t say anywhere how long people in the hypothesizing group spent on coming up with hypotheses. However, I was able to track down David Klahr, and emailed to ask him how long they hypothesizing group spent hypothesizing. He graciously and quickly replied that it was only a few minutes. So if we make a wild guess that “a few” works out to an average of about four minutes, then the hypothesizing group took an average of about 10.2 minutes, while the non-hypothesizing group took an average of 19.4 minutes — so the hypothesizing group is still twice as fast as the non-hypothesizing group. ...

--"Hypothesizing first makes you more productive"

So there's support for this notion of coming up with a few hypotheses before trying one of them out. And notice that this research mentions groups of people, not just lone programmers. Teams of people... hmm...

The important world-saving question here is of course: How to apply this to team-based puzzle-solving games? How do you convince folks to not blurt out their ideas in the first 30 seconds? This activity attracts plenty of competitive people. If I look at a puzzle and yell out "I think it's Morse code!" before anyone else on my team does... and if the puzzle is Morse code, then I get to strut as we walk back to the van, right? I just proved I'm a puzzling stud, right?

Or maybe I was the first to blurt out Morse because I'm a fan of Morse, I want to see it everywhere, it's always the first thing I look for. If I spotted Morse while my semaphore-loving teammate thought Is it semaphore?... Oh, I guess not maybe that's not cause for strutting. If the puzzle isn't Morse and the whole team wastes half-an-hour barking up the wrong tree, that's no good. It's all very well that I can say "Well, I just spoke up with a theory; other folks could have spoken up with their theories. I didn't gag them or anything." but maybe by speaking up so early, I caught their brains in the Morse trap. Maybe I should have kept quiet, tried applying Morse code for a minute on my own, let my team-mates consider other possibilities.

How long to sit and ponder quietly? How do you decide when to share ideas with the group? If you have three ideas, how do you decide which to work on first? I don't know.

Now that I think back, I vaguely remember that the reason I heard about this technique is that Alexandra Dixon wanted us Mystic Fish to use it--she had us look at a puzzle quietly, then share hypotheses. But I think that when we looked at the next puzzle, we were back to our blurty ways. (Or maybe the next puzzle was such a stumper such that no-one had any good ideas and everyone had kept quiet out of ignorance, not out of technique? So then when we saw the next-next puzzle, we had forgotten why we'd kept quiet before?.... Oh, vague vague memory.) So this technique does take discipline; it doesn't seem to come naturally, at least not to Team Mystic Fish, and I haven't seen other teams do it, either.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Midnight Madness Photos

I went to the Midnight Madness: Back to Basics Game and all I got was a t-shirt, a pencil, a card announcing an upcoming Game, eight photos, and the most challenging adventure of my life.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Overhead

This past weekend was the excellent Midnight Madness: Back to Basics Game. I'll post photos soon, a write-up eventually. Yes, yes, I'm slow. But I'll post about one thing now, because it happened just now. But first I need to explain a little about Saturday: There was one puzzle which involved standing on the peak of a huge pile of landfill and looking around for three giant posters which had been posted in windows of Google HQ. During the game, we spotted two of the posters, but never saw the third.

This morning, I was still pretty drowsy when I got in to work. Post-game sleep schedule, post-bus ride grogginess, I wasn't so alert. I walked in the door, walked up stairs--and was so tired that I walked on up past my floor and up to the tippy-top floor stair landing, roof level. It was the pedestrian equivalent of sleeping through your bus stop. Finally, I snapped out of my lethargy, looked up, looked up at the big window at the top of the stairwell, looked up--at the third poster. I'd spotted it at last, a mere ~40 hours late. This window didn't have line-of-sight to the landfill's peak, so I no longer feel so sheepish about not sighting it during the Game.

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Embedded Reporter Seeks Team

Is your team playing in the upcoming Back to Basics/Midnight Madness game on April 5? Would you let me play with your team and then write about it afterwards? If so, please get in touch with me (web+comment@lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us).

A couple of years back, Continental Breakfast let me tag along as they play-tested the Hogwarts Game, and I wrote about it. And thus the world got to find out that: Continental Breakfast has an unusually high concentration of Australians. See, that's deep reporting.

The world needs to learn startling facts like this about your team. No, really, other gamers are curious about you.

Questions that people have asked me about this "embedded-reporter" project:

  • "When you're reporting, do you play the Game? Or do you just sit in the van and take notes?" I play. I tone down my style at first until I see how the team works together. I'm interested in how the team works together, and I try not to Heisenbergishly change that. But that doesn't mean I'm going to keep quiet when I notice some paragraph of puzzle text contains an unusually high density of hyphens and periods.
  • "What kinds of teams do you want to report on? Top-scoring? Most veteran? Snappiest dressers?" Any and all. Eventually, I'd like to do this for a variety of teams. So I guess if I end up writing about too many in some, uhm, category then I'd want to make an effort to write about other kinds of teams for a while. If I'm only writing about one team per year, I bet it will be a while before that's an issue.

If that sounds like something that your team could stand, I am web+comment@lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Dim Memories of GC Summit 2008

The lovely Just Passing Through put together a fun & educational event last night: a GC Summit. Folks who had run Games and/or were considering running Games showed up to eat, talk, and watch informative lectures. Should we call it GC Summit 2008, seeing as how the previous one was GC Summit 2007? Sure, let's say that.

I bet that excellent videos of the lectures will appear on YouTube soon, thanks to Curtis (and maybe thanks to others... Curtis was working the camera... anyhow...). But the conversations before and after were good, too. Unfortunately, I didn't bring along my little audio recorder, so all I've got is a few snippets that lodged in my unreliable-narrator brain.

  • On the car ride over, an idea batted around: open-source software that people write for Games. Not just the little web-crawlers and such. But the software that GC writes to track teams' progress, handle pre-game... more complicated things. This idea came up a couple of times during the Summit itself.
  • It is now public knowledge that Greg et al. are thinking of a game in early November, but They have not committed, good grief people calm down.
  • Casey Jade Holman, age 1.5-ish, has learned to say "puzzle." And she kind of chuckles when she says it. I mean, she says other stuff, too. I don't want you to think that she's growing up warped or something. I'm just pointing out that she seems to like saying the word "puzzle," is all.
  • John Owens' good news is that he got tenure. John Owens' bad news is that he didn't receive an invitation to the "Back to Basics" game. G.C. sent physical invitations by post; so you were much more likely to get an invite if GC knew your address. Teams that did receive an invite received two, so they could pass one along to another deserving team. No-one passed one to John. When he said this, I thought back to when Alexandra said that Team Mystic Fish had an extra invite: I had just naturally thought Which less-connected team needs our help? Which of them could we pass that to? Saying "Should we ask Advil if they want an invitation?" is kind of like saying "I hear that the King of Sweden is coming to San Francisco; I wonder if he has a place to stay; should we call up and offer him a spot on the couch?" But if everyone thinks that way, then the King of Sweden ends up... I don't know where I'm going with that simile. But the upshot is... So Team Advil won't play; John will play with the Scoobies.
  • DeeAnn talked about how to choose locations for The Game: not too long a drive between locations, but the drive should be at least ten minutes. Why ten minutes? DeeAnn explained: There should be enough time for a player to eat half a sandwich. If you pop into the car, unwrap your sandwich, and then boom you have to get back out of the car again, then you're stuck re-wrapping your sandwich and you're grumpy. Rich Bragg, hale and hearty, had doubts: Half a sandwich...so that's like 30 seconds, right? Brent Holman suggested packing many teeny-tiny bite-sized sandwiches. Perhaps Gaming scientists will one day discover the sandwich molecule, the smallest possible particle one can point at and say "that's a sandwich". Once we know how long it takes to eat that, we will know the minimum possible distance between Game locations. Or we could stick with the 10-minute drive rule of thumb. Whatever works.
  • During the after-lecture conversation, Jan Chong's voice was kind of quiet. When two people started talking at once, if Jan was one of them, her voice go drowned out. It made me glad that she presented.
  • A couple of newbies showed up, yay! And somehow we didn't scare them too much. Alexandra recruited them for her Leisurely Stroll team. (Or recruited them for something.)
  • On the car ride back, one of the people in the car was the one who had, during Q&A after a lecture, asked Seattle teams taking up space in SF Bay Area Games, but not hosting Games themselves. Other folks in the car took issue with this--Seattle doesn't have a monopoly on freeloading teams. If there's a group to kvetch about, it's teams that play plenty but don't host. I don't think anyone convinced anyone else of anything.

While I'm thinking about it... in terms of where to put an "open source" set of Game-ish programs. Some wiki-ish place to put files might be enough, might not need to set up an open-source project. As Jan points out, each GC is probably going to want to tweak enough behavior such that they might want to read old code, but might want to drastically re-write it. I think Yahoo! Groups has a place to dump files, but only readable by people in the group, so maybe not good to use that.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: The Elementarizer

Yes, it's another blog post about programming & puzzle-hunts. This one isn't a web crawler.

Dr Clue runs team-building puzzle hunts. Alexandra's done some puzzles for them and I've proofread a few. She mentioned that one of these puzzles was tricky to encode--there were fiddly steps, easy to get wrong. And she'd make more of these puzzles in the future. Dr. Clue re-uses puzzle types; this makes sense, since the participants from, say, last week's dentists convention won't participate in next week's gathering of Coca-Cola managers. (I generally can't talk about things I do for Dr. Clue for this reason; but I got permission to talk about this.) Thus, it made sense to automate encoding for this kind of puzzle.

Spoiler warning! If you're reading this because you're about to play in a Dr Clue game, you probably want to stop. I'm about to describe one of the puzzles.

In this type of puzzle, a team receives a series of numbers along with instructions. The instructions say to decode the numbers. They are atomic numbers, replace them with the chemical symbols for those elements. If a number is marked "reverse", then use the chemical symbol backwards. Then substitute some letters; e.g., the instructions might say if you see "P" replace that with "F". Then cross out some letters; e.g., the instructions might say to cross out all the "X"s. Why all of the substituting and crossing-out? Is it to make the puzzle tougher? Nope.

You probably can't encode a message as a straight-up series of chemical symbols. There aren't many symbols to work with; not many have an "E" in them. So you probably need to have players cross out some letters--keep track of those. And you might need to set up some substitutions; keep track of those. It gets tricky. So I wrote a program to help out, a quick-and-dirty Python script.

But that program didn't do much good on my home machine. And it might not do much good to just hand it to the Dr Clue folks: "Here's the program... Oh, but you need to install Python to use it. Whoopsie." But I have a web site. Everyone knows how to use a web site. So I wrapped that script up into a cgi script, a web form. Here is the messy result... uhm, I did warn you about the "quick-n-dirty" aspect, right?


import cgi
import random

print "Content-Type:text/html\n"

# Stolen from wikipedia: Tab-separated. 
# Each line has Symbol, name, name origin, atomic number, mass, group, period
ELEMENT_DATA = '''Ac    Actinium        corruption of the Greek aktinos         89      [227][1]                7
Ag      Silver  Latin argentum  47      107.8682(2)[2]  11      5
Al      Aluminium (Aluminum)    Latin alumen    13      26.9815386(8)   13      3
   ...snipping out many many lines of data...
Zn      Zinc    German zin      30      65.409(4)       12      4
Zr      Zirconium       zircon  40      91.224(2)[2]    4       5'''

elem_num = {}
sym_dict = {}
known_failures = {}

# ReverseString("Able") returns "elbA"
def ReverseString(s):
  c_list = [c for c in s]
  return ''.join(c_list)

def MaybeAddToDict(tweaked_sym, sym):
  if tweaked_sym in sym_dict: 
    # If sym_dict['n'] already contains the nice short 'N', 
    # then don't add sym_dict['N'] <- 'Na'.  Short is nice.
    # Since we cycle through in order from shortest to longest,
    # just check the first element:
    if len(sym) > len(sym_dict[tweaked_sym][0]): return
    sym_dict[tweaked_sym] = []

# Initialize our dictionary of letters->symbols.  Pass in message to be encoded.
# (We need the message because: if our message contains no "X", then "Xe" is 
# a valid symbol for encoding "E".  
def InitDicts(message):
  for sym_len in [1, 2, 3]:
    for line in ELEMENT_DATA.splitlines():
      fields = [s.strip() for s in line.split('\t')]
      (sym, name, origin, number, mass, group, period) = fields
      if not len(sym) == sym_len: continue
      elem_num[ReverseString(sym)] = '-' + number
      elem_num[sym] = number
      clean_sym = sym.lower()
      tweaked_sym = ''.join([c for c in clean_sym if c in message])
      if not tweaked_sym: continue
      MaybeAddToDict(tweaked_sym, sym)
      if len(tweaked_sym) > 1:
        MaybeAddToDict(ReverseString(tweaked_sym), ReverseString(sym))

# We tokenize the message by recursively calling this function.  The call
# stack to tokenize "heal" would look like
#  HelperFunc("heal", "")
#    HelperFunc("al", ".he")
#      HelperFunc("", ".he.al")
def HelperFunc(todo, sofar):
  if todo in known_failures: return (False, sofar, known_failures[todo])
  if not len(todo): return(True, sofar, '') # cool, we finished
  bottleneck = ''
  for maybe_len in [3, 2, 1]: # try to use the next three letters. or 2. or 1.
    maybe = todo[:maybe_len]  
    if maybe in sym_dict:
      (success, tokenization, bottleneck) = HelperFunc(todo[maybe_len:], '.'.join([sofar, maybe]))
      if success: return(True, tokenization, '')
  if not bottleneck:
    print todo, '#', sofar
    bottleneck = todo[:3]
  known_failures[todo] = bottleneck
  return (False, sofar, bottleneck)

def PrintRows(tokens, encoded_tokens):
  while 1:
    if not tokens: break
    line_of_tokens = tokens[:TOKENS_PER_ROW]
    tokens = tokens[TOKENS_PER_ROW:]
    line_of_codes =  encoded_tokens[:TOKENS_PER_ROW]
    encoded_tokens = encoded_tokens[TOKENS_PER_ROW:]

    for token in line_of_tokens: print "%4s" % token,
    for code in line_of_codes: print "%4s" % code,
    for code in line_of_codes: print "%4s" % elem_num[code],

def ReportSuccess(message, tokenization, substs):
  print "<p>Found an encoding."
  print "<p>(If you try again, you might get a slightly different encoding."
  print "    We use some randomness."
  tokenization = tokenization[1:]
  tokens = tokenization.split('.')

  message_with_subst = message
  for subst in substs:
    message_with_subst = message_with_subst.replace(subst[1], subst[0])

  letters_to_cross_out = ''

  encoded_tokens = []
  for token in tokens:
    for count in range(0, 10):
      code = random.choice(sym_dict[token])
      if elem_num[code].startswith('-'): continue
      if not [c for c in code.lower() if c not in message_with_subst + letters_to_cross_out]: break
    new_nots = [c for c in code.lower() if c not in message_with_subst + letters_to_cross_out]
    if new_nots: 
      letters_to_cross_out += ''.join(new_nots)


  sorted = [c for c in letters_to_cross_out]
  letters_to_cross_out = ''.join(sorted)
  print '<p style="font-weight: bold;">Letters to cross out: %s ' % letters_to_cross_out.upper()

  if substs:
    print '''<p><b>Used some substitutions.</b>
             (Double-check these: There might be "transitives" you can
              collapse.  For example "('z', 'g'), ('q', 'z')" really
              means "substitute Q for G") <b>%s</b> ''' % substs

    print "<p>Message w/subst: %s " % message_with_subst

  print "<pre>"
  PrintRows(tokens, encoded_tokens)
  print "</pre>"

  print "<p>Just the numbers (&quot;-12&quot; means 12 reverse)<br><b>"
  print ' '.join([elem_num[elem] for elem in encoded_tokens])
  print "</b>"

def ReportFailure(message):
  print '<p style="color:red;">Failed to elementarize message'
  print '<p>General hints: Q, X, and J are generally difficult to encode'

def GenerateForm(message):
  message = cgi.escape(message)
  message = message.replace('"', "&quot;")
  print '''
  <form action="elemental_encoding.py">
  <input name="msg" value="%s" size="100">  <input type="submit">
''' % message

def GenerateHead(message):
  title = ''.join([c for c in message if c in KOSHER_CHARS])
  print '''<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd">


def GenerateFoot():
  print '''

def AttemptTokenizationHelper(message):

  print "<p>Attempting to elementarize message &quot;%s&quot;" % message
  print "<pre>"
  (success, tokenization, bottleneck) = HelperFunc(message, '')
  print "</pre>"
  print "<p>Finished elementarizing."
  return (success, tokenization, bottleneck)

def AttemptTokenization(message):
  substs = []
  for attempts in range(0, 20):
    (success, tokenization, bottleneck) = AttemptTokenizationHelper(message)
    if success:
      return (True, tokenization, substs)

    print '<p style="color: red;">Tokenization attempt failed.'
    print '<p>We think we had trouble with: <i>%s</i>' % bottleneck
    subst_candidates = [c for c in 'abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz' if not c in message]
    if not subst_candidates:
      print "<p>Can't substitute: already using all letters."
      return (False, tokenization, substs)
    swap_in = random.choice(subst_candidates)
    if swap_in in "jqxz": 
      swap_in = random.choice(subst_candidates)
    if swap_in in "jqx": 
      swap_in = random.choice(subst_candidates)
    if swap_in in "jx": 
      swap_in = random.choice(subst_candidates)
    swap_out = bottleneck[0]
    if 'x' in message and random.random() > 0.5:
      swap_out = 'x'
    message = message.replace(swap_out, swap_in)
    substs.insert(0, (swap_in, swap_out))
    print "<p>Let's try a substitution: %s for %s" % (swap_in, swap_out)
  print '<p style="color: red;">Too many Tokenization attempts failed. I give up'
  return (False, tokenization, [])

def Main():
  form = cgi.FieldStorage()

  if "msg" in form:
    message = form["msg"].value
    message = "Find the frog statue in the lobby."



  message = ''.join([c for c in message if c.isalpha()])
  message = message.lower()

  (success, tokenization, substs) = AttemptTokenization(message)

  if success:
    ReportSuccess(message, tokenization, substs)



if __name__ == "__main__":

Wow, I'm kind of embarrassed of this script now. To get the mapping from chemical symbols to numbers, I just pasted in a blob of data--most of which I don't use--from Wikipedia and parse it each time the script runs; it would be more elegant to start with just the right data. This program does a lot of extra work, re-computing things it's already figured out. It could be faster... but it takes a few seconds, and maybe that's fast enough. It's messy... but it's a few months after I originally wrote it, and I can look at it and figured out how it worked; that's better than I can say for my old Perl scripts.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: an elegant Mastermind Crawler

Last time, I wrote about a brute force web crawler. This time, I'm writing about an elegant web crawler. As you would expect from elegant code, I didn't write it.

The Pirates BATH game had a pregame website. Teams could log in to the web site. There was a web form which I'd programmed before I'd dropped out of Game Control. This web form allowed teams to "search for treasure": enter a string of text. Game Control gave them some strings of text that they could enter: entering one of those into the web form yielded puzzles. When a team solved the puzzle, the answer was a phrase: entering the phrase into the web form yielded a hint which would be useful during the upcoming game.

If they entered text that wasn't a puzzle and wasn't an answer, they were told that they'd found nothing. And if they paid attention, they also noticed some black dots, some white dots, and some xs. These were a "Mastermind" puzzle. If they entered a nonsense phrase, a program figured out which "useful" word was closest; it would then display one white dot for each letter in the correct place; a black dot for each correct letter in the wrong place; an X for each incorrect letter. So if "BELOW" was a word and someone entered "BLOW", they'd see a white dot (for the B), three black dots (for L, O, and W), and an X (for the E).

This was the way to find one game hint: no puzzles solved to the correct word for this hint. But four puzzles gave words that didn't actually yield hints--but instead were just near to the word to enter for this special hint.

What if a team just tried to guess every possible text string? They could guess A B C ... Y Z AA AB AC ... ZY ZZ AAA AAB AAC ... Of course, that would take a long time. It would probably take less time to just solve the puzzles.

So I was kind of surprised when my pager started buzzing one day: BATH Game Control was sending me messages: Team Scoobies had set up a bot to crawl the server! The Scoobies had found puzzles that they couldn't have found!

I looked over the logs. There was a program crawling the system, but the Scoobies weren't running it. Team Blood was running it. The bot was not brute-forcibly checking every possible text string. It was playing Mastermind!

It would guess "A". If it got back a white dot, it knew that at least one word started with A. If it got back a white dot, it knew that at least one word started with A. (A white dot meant right letter in right place.) Next it would try try AA AB AC AD AE ... AZ. If AA returned just one white dot (not two), then the bot knew no words started with AA (e.g., no word was AARDVARK). So it never tried AAA AAB AAC... Thus, it didn't need to check so many things. Thus, elegance.

When I reported my findings to Game Control, they decided that this thing must be stopped. Though it was elegant, what if it allowed the team to bypass puzzles? Game Control figured that this would be unfair.

Hmm, how to stop the bot without disrupting other teams? How did the bot work? Team Blood was running it. Rich Bragg captained Team Blood. I worked at the same company as Rich. Maybe he'd written this program while at work? And maybe he'd left the program somewhere where I could find it? I thought about it: If I were Rich and I'd written this program at work, where would I have put the source code? I looked there: no program. Then I tried my second guess and saw a file: piratebath.py. Bingo. It was a web crawler, a very specialized web crawler.


import cookielib
import re
import time
import urllib2

def Login():
   print "Logging in..."
   cj = cookielib.CookieJar()
   opener = urllib2.build_opener(urllib2.HTTPCookieProcessor(cj))
   return opener

def NumMatches(html_data, substring):
   matches = re.findall(substring, html_data)
   if not matches:
       return 0   
   return len(matches)

def NumLettersCorrect(html_data):
   return NumMatches(html_data, "dot_white.gif")

def FoundTreasure(html_data):
   return NumMatches(html_data, "No treasure found.") == 0

def SearchOne(opener, results, query):
   data = opener.open("http://www.piratesbath.com/search.php?q=" +
   letters_correct = NumLettersCorrect(data)
   print "Query:", query, "had", letters_correct, "of", len(query), "letters"
   all_correct = letters_correct == len(query)
   if all_correct and FoundTreasure(data):
       print "Found:", query              
   return all_correct

def SearchAll(opener, results, query_prefix = ''):
   alphabet = list('abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz')
   for letter in alphabet:
       if SearchOne(opener, results, query_prefix + letter):
           SearchAll(opener, results, query_prefix + letter)

def Run(query_prefix = ''):
   opener = Login()
   results = []
   SearchAll(opener, results, query_prefix)
   print "Results: ", len(results), "words starting with '%s'" % query_prefix
   for word in results:
       print word      


Aha, the code was checking for text in the page: dot_white.gif and No treasure found. If I just added some visible-to-bots-but-invisible-to-humans text like that, I could fool the bot into mis-counting white dots or what-have-you. So that's what I did. (Security-minded folks in the audience might say: uhm, but what about stopping the general case of bots? Yeah, I set up code for that too, but wanted to let Game Control configure it to say how much guessing was "too much", and that took a while. Fooling Rich's bot--that was a quick-n-dirty fix.)

(I notice that this code imports the "time" module, but doesn't use it. I wonder if an earlier version of code politely "slept" a little between queries--but maybe Rich figured out that the server was waiting a second between responding to a team's queries anyhow, and that the sleep was thus not so useful...)

Rich noticed when his bot started generating garbage results. He mailed Game Control to make sure there were no hard feelings. Game Control asked him to stop running it, and he did. He said that this script was basically another monitor: it alerted the team to the presence of new puzzles; thus no-one had to go re-check the piratesbath.com web site each day.

In hindsight, when I programmed that web form, we should have used it only for entering answers, not for getting puzzles. We should have used some other way to distribute puzzles. Thus, a team could monitor that to look for puzzles and Game Control wouldn't need to panic that someone was bypassing the puzzles to get the answers.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Brute Force Web Quiz Crawler

It's another blog post about how web programming skillz can aid in game-ish activities.

A couple of years ago, Team XX-Rated hosted the Paparazzi Game. I was sorry that illness made me miss the game itself. Fortunately, the illness didn't strike until after the pre-game, so I was able to participate in that. The pre-game gave me an excuse to use glitter glue. Also, there were puzzles.

The Online Dating Style Quiz Puzzle was pretty mysterious to me. It was a multiple-choice quiz; you could submit a set of choices and get a grade on your dating style. Later on, my team-mates showed me the clever way to solve this puzzle. But I didn't spot that on my own. I wasn't sure that I could spot cleverness in this puzzle on my own. I could tell it had some references to tabloid celebrities. But I knew almost nothing about tabloid celebrities.

I tried filling in the quiz a few times. Each time, I just got the grade "Honestly, you're pretty lame and none of us on staff would want to date you. Maybe you should re-read the questions.". But one time, I got a different grade: "You're exciting, but not so much to scare your partner away. Count on the questions in this quiz to lead you in the right direction." I hoped that might inspire a clever approach, but it didn't. But by now I was pretty sure that the grade was based solely on my multiple-choice choices: there wasn't something weird going on based on my history of past attempts, timing, or other factors.

So I used brute force: try all possible combinations of choices. Or, rather, try many of them. I wrote a little program that would cycle through choices and log those that got a non-"lame" grade. To avoid hogging the server, the program would "sleep" for a second between queries. Since there were many, many combinations of choices to consider, the program would take a long time: I planned to let it run overnight but it still wouldn't have time to try every choice. But I didn't especially want it to finish. I wanted enough data back so that I could understand the problem better, maybe figure out the clever bit.

So, the script. This is not that script; I lost track of that script. This script is a reconstruction; it's probably similar to that script.

import time
import urllib

ABC = "abc"
QBC = "qbc" # question 5 has different choices

QUIZ_URL = "http://www.xx-rated.org/xxtraonline/quizzes.php"

LOG_PATH = "/home/lahosken/log.txt"

q = [None,'','','','','','','','','','', '']

# Don't log the whole page; it's mostly boilerplate.  Just log the interesting part.
def GetUsefulParts(s):
  (before, marker, after) = s.partition('<!-- InstanceBeginEditable name="content" -->')
  if after: 
    s = after
    s = before
  (s, _, _) = s.partition('<!-- InstanceEndEditable')
  retval = ""
  for line in s.splitlines():
    line = line.strip()
    if not line: continue
    if line == '<p><img src="images/quizzes.gif" width="435" height="90"></p>' : continue
    if line == '<div align="center">': continue
    if line == """<h1><span class="style8">What's your dating style?</span></h1>""": continue
    if line == '<font size="+2" color="#000000">': continue
    if line == '</font>': continue
    if line == '<h3><a href="quizzes.php">Try again!</a></h3>': continue
    retval = retval + line
  return retval

for q[1] in ABC:
  for q[2] in ABC:
    for q[3] in ABC:
      for q[4] in ABC:
        for q[5] in QBC: # careful
          for q[6] in ABC:
            for q[7] in ABC:
              for q[8] in ABC:
                for q[9] in ABC:
                  for q[10] in ABC:
                    for q[11] in ABC:
                      qlist = [('q'+str(ix), q[ix]) for ix in range(1,12)]
                      qlist.append(('Submit', "What's my style?"))
                      qlist.append(('force', 'brute'))
                      post_data = urllib.urlencode(qlist)
                      page_contents = urllib.urlopen(QUIZ_URL, post_data).read()

                      if page_contents.find("you're pretty lame") > -1: continue

                      log_file = open(LOG_PATH, 'a')

The next morning I had a lot of data: choices which had produced non-"lame" grades.

q1=a&q2=a&q3=a&q4=b&q5=c&q6=b&q7=c&q8=c&q9=c&q10=b&q11=a&Submit=What%27s+my+style%3F&force=brute <p>You're exciting, but not so much to scare your partner away. Count on the questions in this quiz to lead you in the right direction. </p>
q1=a&q2=a&q3=a&q4=c&q5=b&q6=b&q7=a&q8=a&q9=c&q10=b&q11=a&Submit=What%27s+my+style%3F&force=brute <p>You're pretty spicy although not as much as you could be. You may want to reconsider some of your choices on the next date.</p>
q1=a&q2=a&q3=a&q4=c&q5=b&q6=b&q7=a&q8=b&q9=c&q10=b&q11=a&Submit=What%27s+my+style%3F&force=brute <p>You're exciting, but not so much to scare your partner away. Count on the questions in this quiz to lead you in the right direction. </p>
q1=a&q2=a&q3=a&q4=c&q5=b&q6=b&q7=a&q8=c&q9=c&q10=b&q11=a&Submit=What%27s+my+style%3F&force=brute <p>You're exciting, but not so much to scare your partner away. Count on the questions in this quiz to lead you in the right direction. </p>

This was interesting. That "pretty spicy" grade suggested that guess was pretty close. Also, I saw that the (a) choice for question 11 showed up in many good answers, as did the (b) choice for 10, the (c) choice for 9. Probably those were correct choices. (The recurring (a) choice for question 1 is less exciting: because of the way I'd ordered the guesses, all guesses that night had (a) for question 1.) I stared at those correct answers for a while, trying to see the clever pattern. That didn't get me very far.

So I used this information to tweak the brute force script. I changed some of the for loops so that instead of considering each choice (a, b, or c) it only considered the correct choice. (Yeah, there were more elegant ways I could have coded it; this was an easy edit.)

                for q[9] in 'c': # was ABC:
                  for q[10] in 'b': # was ABC:
                    for q[11] in 'a': # was ABC:
...and re-ran the script. Now it was wasting less time on bad choices for those questions. I let it run a while longer, looked at the output again, used it to narrow down a few more choices. Ran it again. The next time I looked through the logs, there was another kind of grade: one that let me know that the script had found the perfect answer.

No doubt it would have been more satisfying to solve this puzzle with cleverness than by brute force. But brute force can be fun, too.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Simple Website Monitor

Waiting for the bus, Jonas asked me: "Why did you start beeping during that tech talk?"

People at work occasionally start beeping. We're an internet company with many servers. When servers have problems, system administrators' pagers start going off. But I'm not a system administrator. I'm a technical writer. When I go on vacation, I don't tell people "In case of emergency, you can reach me at ____", I write "In case of a documentation emergency (ha ha), you can reach me at _____". And it's funny. At least, it was funny the first time.

And the people at this tech talk probably weren't likely to get paged. It was a tech talk on an open-source library of computational geometry functions. You don't really see these people getting paged with... I dunno, some errant line segment getting into a data set, coincidentally totally vertical, its infinite slope causing numbers to spin out of whack or...

I don't know where I'm going with that. That doesn't happen.

I 'fessed up. That pager signal didn't come from a work system. I'd set up a computer program to monitor coed astronomy's web site. They were going to host a puzzle hunt and their web site would announce when sign-ups were possible. I wanted to know when that happened: if their game didn't have many slots for teams, I wanted to sign up before those slots filled up.

It's pretty easy to set up this kind of monitoring if you have a Unix machine on the internet. (I bet that very few people will be interested in this blog post. Half of the bay area puzzlehunters are software developers who will wonder why I'm describing something so obvious; the rest don't program and are about to get scared away when I show them source code. But maybe I'll show them that, if they're going to get into programming, that this is a pretty achievable task to take on.)

On a Unix machine, you can set up a "cron job". You can tell the machine to run a program once every few minutes. (You can set up cron jobs to run at strange times. I set up this cron job to run on prime-numbered minute offsets from the hour--because I was in a silly mood.)

What program did I set up? I set up a simple python script. This script checked coed astronomy's web page and compared its contents to a copy I'd downloaded earlier. If it noticed a change, it mailed my pager. Like I said, this script is simple, if you know what you're looking for. Python is a nice language to use because, for any given task, someone has probably written a library of functions to help you. The bad news is that it can find a while to find the library that you want. In this case, I wanted urllib2 to fetch the web page contents.

import os
import urllib2

# download the page
pagecontents = urllib2.urlopen("http://coedastronomy.org/sf/").read() 

# compare it to previously-saved file, "golden" copy of the page
# contents which I downloaded earlier.
goldenfile = open("/home/lahosken/golden.html")
goldencontents = goldenfile.read()

# If there's a difference, OMG page me by sending mail to my pager
if goldencontents != pagecontents:
  os.popen("mail page@lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us -s IT_IS_HAPPENING < /dev/null")

This script watches one page. I've done stranger things to watch a web site, running wget in spider mode and then recursively diffing the resulting directory to a previously-generated "golden" directory tree. And there are stranger things.

Anyhow, my pager went off during a tech talk. And it kept going off because I was so busy signing up for the game that I didn't immediately shut the script down. But I eventually did. Hopefully, everyone at the tech talk thought I was a pager-wearing badass entrusted to rescue foundering servers. But Jonas wasn't fooled. Maybe none of them were.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Bless Them

Traffic was bad this evening; my commute was long; I emerged from the bus nauseous. That happens when the commute goes too long: stare at the laptop screen too long while on a moving vehicle, don't look up. My inner ear decides it's going to have one of its moods. I'm stumbling homeward dizzy and grumpy.

Then Yar says "Hey", because, as it turns out, I am walking in front of Yar's house, that is to say the house of a couple of people in Coed Astronomy, a Game team that's running a game soon. So we exchange a few pleasantries.

Then as I kept walking home, I didn't think about the icky bus ride anymore. I thought about

...and I was happy again. Yar, harbinger of joy, reminded me that I have good things to look forward to. (Well, at least one good thing. I'm only registered in one of these games. But you get the idea.)

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, I Get Tired Just Reading About Them

Dave Hill posted his write-up of Hot Springs Midnight Madness 2007, which sounds like it was pretty awesome. These people are outside, at night, in the snow solving puzzles, if I'm interpreting those photos correctly. Oh man.

The MIT Mystery hunt was this last weekend, and there are some fun write-ups. Some I spotted... Gamists Tigupine + JessicaLa. Remote Mystic Fishie devjoe posts about the GC experience. An interview with one of the few student members of this year's GC. Some guy named 530nm330hz was pretty funny. There will probably be more write-ups as people recover...

In tangentially-related news, puzzler Wei-Hwa Huang appeared in Fortune magazine wearing a shirt with a collar. I'm pretty sure that means that you can put him on your start-up's board of directors; you might even be required to.

Speaking of puzzling co-workers, Curtis of Team Snout ain't my co-worker no more. When he announced he was leaving our place of work, I started to say I was sorry to hear it--but then I stopped myself and asked, "Hey, does this mean you'll have more time to write games?" He said other people asked that, too. He was cagey about answering, but I think we can bring him around, perhaps via kidnapping and brainwashing.

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Puzzlehunts are Everywhere: At least one Burninator Reported as OK (albeit Tired)

Save the Burninators

It looks like they're OK. Tell the rescue party to stand down.

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Puzzlehunts are Everywhere: Save the Burninators

In case you're wondering why my Facebook Status says "Save the Burninators", I just finished an IM conversation with Ian Tullis. He says that most of the Burninators headed into San Francisco this morning for some kind of National Treasure treasure-hunt dealie, and they haven't been heard from since. A naive person might think that they're just hanging out and solving puzzles somewhere. But I'm pretty sure that they've been kidnapped by Evil Hollywood Producers and that a rag-tag band of second-tier puzzle solvers will have to rescue them in a later stage of this puzzle hunt. Thus:

Save the Burninators

Speaking of Social Networks, if you're interested in what I was going to say about them back when I was talking about all of those rel="me" links...

A service that looks like the Links section of my Contact would be very helpful if someone wants to join a new social network and wants to ease the chore of connecting with their friends who are already on that social network.

Suppose that there is this service that allows you to set up a page that links to all of your profiles. Let's call that your "star" page since it links out to many pages and looks kind of like a star on a network graph. And on each of your social network profile pages, you link to this "star" page. More importantly, your friends do likewise.

Suppose that I about to join the (fictional, I think) social network dickr, where haggling enthusiasts exchange news about local bargains. I want to know which of my Friendster friends are also on dickr. I should be able to ask Friendster to figure this out: generate a report:

foreach f in my friendster friends:
  for each link l in f's profile page which f has marked as "theirs":
    visit page l.  for each link l' on page l:
      is it a link to dickr?  if so, remember that link

I should then be able to give this bucket of links to dickr and it can use that to suggest a list of people on its network that I want to befriend.

Why might Friendster want to give away this information? Because otherwise, dickr will probably ask me to type in my friendster name and password--and if I'm a typical overly-trusting internet citizen, I'll probably hand it over.

How would this "star"-page service make money? I don't know. Maybe humans would visit these pages, too. Humans might be curious to see what-all networks their friends belong to.

I thought that maybe the site socialurl.com provided these "star" pages--they are a social network site that allows you to link to your social network profiles. But I don't see an easy way for a computer program to get the links, it looks like socialurl kind of obscures the links. But they don't obscure the links very well... I can't tell if they're deliberately making it difficult or if they're just being obnoxious.

Anyhow, spread the word: Save the Burninators

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Site: Seattle Travelog #13

The exciting news lately is that I've had free time and I've been keeping solid food down. Thus, I've finally put together travel notes from my recent Seattle trip. There are some notes from MS Puzzlehunt 11.0 in there. Plus some photos of the Pier 86 High-speed Grain Terminal. Plus bonus Buffy Night. It's not so coherent. Hey, give me a break, I've been sick.

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Puzzle Hunts are everywhere, even Golden Gate Park

I am back from a 2.5 week trip to the greater Seattle area. I volunteered at the MS Puzzlehunt, which was pretty cool. I guess I'll write something about Seattle soon. But life is still busy. Last night, it was going to see Black Moth Super Rainbow at the Fillmore, a band about which I knew nothing, but was pretty good anyhow. Tonight, I go to see Frank Black or Black Francis or whatever he's calling himself; I hear tell that the stuff he's done recently is "different", so again I don't know what I'm getting myself into.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already, you can read about a Shinteki playtest that got out of hand. And/or go read some puzzlehunt recaps.

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Site: Shinteki Decathlon 3 Notes

I was talking with Matt A. at Paul and Anisa's wedding reception yesterday. He said that he read this blog, but he didn't make it all the way through most posts. He's not so interested in book reviews. But he does like the rants about... whatever's going on in my life. Most of the book reviews are preceded by those rants. Then there's a segue in the post where I say something like "...which brings us to the point of this post". That's usually where Matt stops reading. That's a pretty reasonable attitude. Matt doesn't spend three hours of each weekday commuting by bus; he's not looking for book reviews.

Which brings us to the anecdote before the point of this post. A few days ago I was at the bus stop next to work. My bus had filled up with coworkers, and I'd been left behind. Thus I was sitting and waiting for an hour. The good news was that yet more of my co-workers showed up meanwhile, so I had an excuse to chat with some of them. A couple of them were gamists--Mark Pearson of the Warrior Monks; Corey Anderson of the Burninators. The bad news is that I don't remember either of those conversations because during each of them, a fly flew up my nose. It was very distracting. As flies flew in, memories flew out. So I can't report on those conversations.

Which brings us to the point of this post. The way I remember things is to write them down. So you'll be glad to know that I wrote up my notes from Shinteki Decathlon 3.

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Book Report: All the Right Enemies

Here is a mini-puzzle from BATH3 (that pirate-themed puzzle hunt from earlier this year):


Ye seek a four-letter word.

Jack Flash                 _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Bill Cody      _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Abe (Lincoln)              _ _ _ _ _ _
Dan McGrew             _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Cal (Coolidge)             _ _ _ _ _ _
Dick (Nixon)           _ _ _ _ _ _
Bill Hickock           _ _ _ _
Marvin Hagler        _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Prince Charlie   _ _ _ _ _ _
Pirate Roberts           _ _ _ _ _ 

OK, that's the puzzle. It's based on people commonly associated with epithets.

I wrote the first draft of this puzzle and the folks on GC liked it--except that they didn't know many of the "famous" people I came up for the first draft. I was kinda expecting that--I didn't really think that GAIVS IULIVS CAESAR OCTAVIANVS was a great hint for AVGVSTVS.

But I was sad to hear that "Big" Bill Haywood was obscure. I'd thought that people would know that one. When I was growing up, we learned about the early days of organized labor in the USA. There are names that stick in the head: Harry Bridges, Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Joe Hill, and, yes, Big Bill Haywood. I'm not sure why other folks haven't been taught about these folks. Did I learn about them because the San Francisco public schools were staffed by filthy hippies and foaming radicals? Have we tried to forget these stories because we've seen how the labor unions turned out?

Maybe it's because there's a stereotypical course to the story of a labor leader of those days, and it's tragic. Organize people, do good, find out that Stalin has transformed communism into totalitarianism and... join Stalin anyhow or give up.

Maybe that's why I enjoyed All the Right Enemies, Dorothy Gallagher's biography of Carlo Tresca. He was a labor leader. But he didn't join the commies and he didn't give up. When the bosses were oppressive, he rallied people against the bosses. When the commies were oppressive, he took them on. The mafia, sure why not. Here, the tragedy is that more leaders didn't join him, sticking with "people's" movements that had been hijacked.

Eventually, someone shot Tresca. But it took a while and he had a good run before it happened. And plenty of other people got shot who did less good along the way.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Richmond

When the Great American Race was going on, several west coast folks were watching various team blogs. I didn't spot Team A2's blog until just now. They've done well in past events, including winning some Mini Cooper road rally thing... maybe it was a Mini Cooper road rally thing. The blog doesn't provide a lot of context, but there are some fun anecdotes lurking there nonetheless.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but the Go Game Isn't One of Them (Not that it Claims to Be)

This afternoon at work, I snuck into a certain cafeteria. Thus I was there when hordes of interns streamed in for a late lunch. They were late because they'd been at the intern scavenger hunt. I was curious to know how it had gone.

We'd outsourced this year's Hunt to The Go Game. As I hear about treasure-huntish things in the San Francisco Bay Area, I occasionally hear about The Go Game. They don't claim to be puzzle-oriented. So I never was that motivated to try it out. But I was glad that the interns were trying it out so that I could find out whether I was missing something.

The Go Game is not a puzzle game. It doesn't try to be. It derives excitement from time pressure. You get a mission: you have four minutes to trot to a building a few blocks away and note down something about it to prove you were there. Go. Not puzzly, but frantic. You have 15 minutes to re-enact a historical event through the medium of ballet. Go.

It doesn't sound like my cup of tea. But it might be someone's cup of tea. I talked with one intern who'd played in last year's game and eavesdropped on another. Both liked JustPassingThrough's hunt better. Gnarly puzzles are a more Googly fit, I guess.

One impressive thing about The Go Game: the final part of the contest allowed each team to vote on the others' creative creations (e.g., videos of balletic reenactments of historical events). To make this work, the organizers had to show us team photos + videos. To make this more interesting, they accompanied the photos/videos with music and sound effects. I was impressed with the presenter, who quickly queued up semi-appropriate music. It was a good show. I'm glad I snuck in.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Including a Route Eerily Similar to BATH3's Route

I finally finished writing up my notes from No More Secrets. You're going to wonder why it took two months to write up something so short. But, you know, the writing isn't the only step. There's also the HTML formatting, fixing up the photo titles, and the all-important procrastination.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Redmond

I was planning to visit the Seattle area this autumn. MS Puzzlehunt 11 is happening around then. Any Microsofties reading this... any suggestions on how I might volunteer as slave labor for the folks running this thing? I'd be happy to sit on a hint-line phone, watch a clue site, and/or monitor the status of a juice refrigerator, whatever would be useful.

I'd be curious to know if they're interested. If they're not, I'll probably head up in November instead.

[Update: I have heard from them. After I posted a message on SeattleGC.com. Which is what I probably should have done in the first place.]

In other news, Hurrah for Team Bloodshot! Bravely determining whether Ravenchase's Great American Race is fun and/or awful. Upcoming weather reports predict temperatures in the 90s and thunderstorms. Oh dear. Hurrah?

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Link: writeup of La chasse au tresor de paris

I enjoyed this (English) writeup of a Paris treasure hunt game. Yeah, even though it sounds like it was one of those spot-landmarks-based-on-riddly-descriptions games.

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Puzzlehunts are Everywhere: even the Googolplex

I just woke up. I thought I was running late for work--it was 9! But it turns out it was 9pm, not 9am. I was most of the way through my morning routine before I noticed it was dark outside. Why is my sleep schedule off? Why am I so clueless? Because I pulled an all-nighter volunteering at the Googol game.

I took some incoherent notes about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to bed.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even the site of buried treasure

I finally figured out how to make some progress on the No More Secrets write-up--I'm sitting at an undisclosed location in the Googleplex, volunteering for the Gooooogol Game. Nothing to do but sit and write... Oh except that there's a great internet connection here. And so I find myself reading instead of writing.

Earlier this year, Volvo selected Odyssey to sink a treasure chest in the Western Mediterranean. They had planned to take the winner of the [puzzle] hunt, 23-year-old Alena Zvereva from Ekaterinburg, Russia, out to retrieve the treasure from its secret location. What they found was the discovery of an estimated $500 million in coins from a deep ocean site that the company has now code-named the ‘Black Swan.’

As soon as the discovery was made public, Odyssey found itself in the eye of a media storm. Reports have circulated that a court in the Spanish coastal town of La Linea has issued an order for the Spanish Guardia Civil to hold any Odyssey vessel if it leaves the port of Gibraltar, putting Volvo’s retrieval plans on hold. --egmcartech

Compromised clue sites are always a drag. Stupid gold, always getting in the way.

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Can I Mooch a Ride from San Francisco to Mars Saturday Morning?

Dear Lazyweb--

I'm volunteering at the Googol Conglomerate tomorrow, i.e., Saturday. I could spend three hours getting there from San Francisco on CalTrain. But I'd much rather mooch a ride with you, chatting about Game stuff. I can share exciting true stories behind PiratesBATH mini-puzzles. It will be a blast. web+comment@lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us

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Site: Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but no longer Trapped in my Camera

The Debian upgrade is not going well. OK, I kinda lost X Windows.

"Where was it when you saw it last?"

"On my monitor."

"Well, did you look for it there?"

"Yeah, it's not there now."

Fortunately, at work there are tons of computers, so I finally got around to rescuing my photos of recent Games and uploading them to teh internets. No, I haven't made much progress on the No More Secrets write-up. Can I blame that on the botched upgrade, too? I guess not, that machine still has Emacs and a keyboard and stuff. So I guess the other problem is that I'm slow.

Anyhow: photos.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even in ur phonez dispatchin ur teamz

I liked the part in Dale's post-Game GC writeup where he talks about programming the phone system. I especially like the part where he mentions that it was cheap to set up for inital development/testing. Talking with Snout about voice systems wasn't so reassuring. "Well, one of us worked at Hearme, so we got this free testing account...". But $11 a month for a few months sounds workable. And it's good to learn new things.

Like last weekend, I found out that the jelly from jelly rolls is not the same as hair gel. It's not so difficult to notice the difference; bees can distinguish between them quite easily.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even the Courts

Peter Sarrett wrote about that scary mine shaft accident in the Shelby Logan's Run game that happened a few years back. Playing these games, you hope that you won't sleepily run around someplace dangerous and injure yourself. There doesn't seem to be that much information about this accident out on the web--maybe because folks are respecting privacy. Maybe you're not supposed to post things if you're in the middle of a lawsuit?

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Site Update: BANG 17 Writeup

I know, you're bored of hearing about BANG 17, and now you're ready to read about No More Secrets. But I'm really slow, so all I have is a BANG 17 write-up. Featuring cameos by

  • Paul of the BANG wiki,
  • the Smoking GNU, and
  • Michael Constant

(My No-More-Secrets photos are trapped on my camera. You remember how I halfway-upgraded my computer? One casualty was USB support--i.e., the adaptor between my camera and computer. There are workarounds, but not here, not ready, not this weekend.)

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Site Update: More Library Handcarts

Yeah, I know you want a game report. Yesterday was BANG17, which was pretty awesome. Even if the game hadn't been awesome, it would have been a good excuse to hang out for a day with some folks who I hadn't seen in too long a time: Andrea took a break from her hectic almost-graduated grad student schedule; Lofty Dave recovered from a cold just in time; Paul Du Bois drove up from San Jose.

Plus it was good to meet some new-to-me folks. Paul's Double Fine co-worker Pete Demoreuille was introduced as "Smart Pete" and lived up to his nickname. I got wrapped in aluminum foil by The Smoking Gnu. I met Paul, the mysterious force behind the Bay Area Night Game wiki. I found out that Michael of team Taft on a Raft knows some Double Fine folks.

But I'm not going to try to write about that now. Today, I've been kind of a wreck. I didn't get much sleep Friday night, and so early Saturday I drank an excessive amount of coffee. I was doing my Buzzy the Hummingbird impression all day. Today, I went cold turkey on the sauce. I've mostly been napping. When I haven't been napping, I haven't been... effective. Like just now I opened up a big jug of orange juice to pour myself a glass, and tossed the jug cap. I didn't want to do that--I needed to re-cap the jug. What saved me from fishing the cap out of the trash? I was so spacey that my toss missed the garbage bin.

The only worthwhile thing I got done today was to prepare some photos from yesterday. These aren't the BANG 17 photos. I have a few of those, but they're not ready yet. You can look at Lofty's photos, starting with this one showing most of the team covering a Smoking Gnu with foil.

I have photos of what I did before the game: photos of book trucks from Doe Library. I now have two hand cart photos showing graffiti in languages I can't read. One in (I guess) Chinese and one in (I guess) Arabic.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Sweden

Oh, cool! Raymond Chen posted a comment about rebusrally. At least I guess it was Raymond Chen. Maybe it was just some other Swedish/English speaker, and they wanted to mess with my head.

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Pirate-themed Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even the Castro

Even if it didn't conflict with No More Secrets weekend, I'm not sure I'd play in a treasure hunt run by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. That sounds like more fun than I could stand.

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Site Update: Conversations Before the 2007 GC Summit

Maybe you've already watched the videos of the GC Summit 2007 presentations, where folks talked about how they make The Game fun. I'm sure glad I watched it. I'm a Game newbie and it was pretty eye-opening to realize how much the Game has changed just in the last few years. Anyhow, if you were going to watch those videos, you probably already have.

You probably haven't read the transcript of some of the hatter that happened before the summit. You probably haven't read it because I just now got around to finishing typing it up. But you can read it now if you're into that sort of thing. Mostly, it was some folks talking about Overnightmare. Hey, it's not much, but it's all I've got.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even the Hearts of True Loves

Dave Blum of Dr. Clue writes:

...And every year, on the anniversary of our first date, we write treasure hunt clues for each other. ...

It's a wonderful thing when two geeks--whose geekiness overlaps--find each other. If you want to read the rest of an article about anniversary puzzlehunts, then go read Traditions.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even my Head

Last weekend was a puzzle playtest party for BATH3. BATH is a sort of pot-luck puzzle hunt in which each team makes up one puzzle. Game Control strings all of the puzzles together and runs a game around it. Part of running the game: organizing play-tests. I went for a few hours, wrestled with a few puzzles. There were a couple which made me think "Well... that's why you playtest." E.g., the one where we commented "The puzzle activity was fun, once we figured out what we were supposed to do, ahem, 55 minutes after we received the puzzle."

But there was this one puzzle that was just so elegant it made the whole day worthwhile. I shouldn't say anything about the puzzle, of course. All these things are still secret, secret until the game happens. I shouldn't even say which team's puzzle it was. Otherwise, teams trying to solve it would have a big hint: "Hey, guys, this is Team Such-and-Such's puzzle. I read about this one in a blog. If you find yourself considering a solution that is anything less than totally elegant, you're on the wrong track." I worked on it with Justin Graham and some guy named Josh. As the puzzle unfolded, I was so overcome with joy that I came as close to hugging Justin Graham as I ever expect to in my life.

On Sunday, I worked on constructing little puzzles. The BATH3 folks could use some mini-puzzles for pre-clues and such. So I've been picking up piece-work. I've been trying to make puzzles of various standard types. Some puzzle types which I always assumed to be nigh impossible to construct are easy. At least one which I thought would be easy to construct is nigh impossible. I wasted hours on Sunday on one puzzle which was easy to construct--but nigh impossible to tweak in the elegant way that I wanted.

One of my little puzzles got rejected because it was too similar to a regular puzzle which a team had made. During the play-test, I noticed that another team-submitted puzzle used a similar pirate-y puzzle-y gimmick as one of my little puzzles. Maybe I should be sad that we won't use my ideas. But I'm happy to find out that I'm starting to think like these people do.

But just starting. That elegant puzzle? I wouldn't have thought of that in years. For that, I think I need to watch the world around me, keep my eyes open. If I'm ever going to come up with something really creative, I need to think about everything.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Including the Googleplex

I am not a hardcore puzzler. I found out that even if the puzzles are great and fun and elegant, I go stir crazy if I try to sit in a conference room and solve puzzles for 24 hours.

Now some folks are setting up a sit-and-solve puzzle hunt at Google. In June. So that folks can sit inside on a nice day. And night. And then another nice day.

I'm glad you kids like puzzles so much. I hope you have a lovely time. Just don't forget to go outside and play amongst the trees occasionally, right? I worry about you.

In tangentially-related news, I think the phrase "Shoe's on fire", uttered with a proper calm, may approach the essence of mad science.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Under One's Nose

The team name "Coed Astronomy" of course invokes memories of "SETEC Astronomy," the mysterious code name from the movie "Sneakers."

In the movie, "SETEC Astronomy" turns out to be an anagram for "Too many secrets". So it made sense that "Coed Astronomy" would turn out to be an acronym for something.

And once I finally tried anagramming it, of course it turned out to work out nicely to "TOO MANY CODERS". Wow, how long has that been staring me in the face?

Then again, there are other anagrams that could fit. "ODE TO ACRONYMS". "CRY, O TEAM SNOOD". "SODOMY ON RECTA". Uhm, eww. I think I'm going to stop looking for more anagrams now.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Agile Programming

I haven't memorized the Braille alphabet nor the Morse alphabet. I even set up a little Morse training drill web program dealie, learned a little more Morse that way. But it doesn't stick. When I'm on puzzle hunts, I use a cheat sheet. When I'm leading a team, I pass out photocopies of this cheat sheet. This is an Nth generation copy of a cheat sheet the Burninators provided to players in BANG 7. I tried designing a better cheat sheet, but that didn't turn out very well. Yeah, yeah, that sounds pretty pathetic. Now I'm thinking that the root problem was that I was trying to lay all of these codes out on one page.

I read this LJ post by Brian Enigma. It starts out scary, like he's going to try to tell you that Agile Programming isn't just snake oil. But then he gets into the other stuff, the useful stuff, ideas for puzzle-hunt teams (although he thinks of it as a handy hint for Alternative Reality Game players). Instead of a single 8.5x11 "cheat sheet", carry around some index cards: one card for Morse, one card for Braille, etc. You don't need to think of how to lay all of these things out on one sheet of paper. Each card can have its own layout.

The Lester siblings threw a birthday party last night, and various cheat-sheet-card ideas bounced around. Laminate the cards so that they can tolerate wear and tear. Print the different codes on differently-colored cards so you can find the right code in a hurry. Keep the cards on a ring like those language-study flashcards. There might have been other ideas; I stayed up way past my bed time, and my memories are pretty hazy.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Arkansas

I know, you're still trying to decide which MIT Mystery Hunt puzzle was your favorite, but I nevertheless encourage you to go read David Hill's recap of Midnight Madness 2006. Torrential rain! RC boats! A man who can't see being directed by people watching through a camera mounted to his head! The acronymically unalterable smell of raspberries!

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Book Reports

I read many blogs. According to Google Reader's new Trends feature, in the last 30 days, I've read 1977 items in the past 30 days from 302 feeds. (And I've been cutting back. When the Trends feature first appeared, that "1977" was more on the order of "2300".)

Many of these are book reviews, including those by blogo-famous librarian Jessamyn.

I read a lot of blogs about puzzle hunts, too. I try to keep up. This weekend is the MIT Mystery Hunt. It's a big weekend-long puzzle hunt. In theory, it's for MIT students in some inter-session break; in practice, the MIT student teams bring in many "ringers" from the outside.

The point, which you may have predicted from the above: It was a worlds-colliding moment to see that Jessamyn is playing in the Mystery Hunt this year.

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Link: No Morse Egress

Those wacky kids at Coed Astronomy have just announced an upcoming game No Morse Egress. At last, a game in which you just solve Morse puzzles and never exit. That's going to be so awesome. Jessen might not like it, but-- What? It's called No More Secrets? Well, that sounds like fun too.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even the Bay Area

Save the dates!

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Phinney Ridge

I never saw the Team Los Jefes web site before today. I suspect that it's new. I think these people were team "Accio Brain!" in the Hogwarts Game.


Link: 200 ways to represent words or a message

Not exactly puzzlehunt-related...

Someone brainstormed 200 ways to represent words or a message:

41. classic do you like me, do you love me, maybe note.
42. New car sticker
43. Error message
44. Blue screen of death- BSOD
45. Shot of PC keyboard over head with actual sentence on keys

200 is pretty good. Still, there are some gaps.

EBCDIC. Carefully-oriented M&Ms. Laundry hanging on a clothesline. Trained parrot. Series of lat/long coordinates corresponding to natural features which look like letters in sattelite photos. Movie poster. Falsified movie data in MobyGames. Series of words vandalized by one user in the Wiktionary. Phonetic hieroglyphics presented in a cartouche. Deodorant smeared on a wall and set on fire. SETI online. Taxidermically preserved geckos posed in letterforms. "Hot metal" typeset letters. Flags of all nations. Clever arrangement of quack nostrums of the 19th century. Stills taken from Disney animated movies at carefully-selected times. Resistors. Leaves with holes chewed in them, ostensibly by bugs. An arrangement of pasta on a plate. A fake windmill farm--who would think to notice that each windmill turns at its own special rate? A flock of trained bats emitting sonar pings at just the right times. Yodeling. Photos of strange headgear you might recognize from paintings/movies--if you can recognize who wore them, consider their initials. A series of carefully-prepared reactions between Mentos and Diet Coke. Etching on golden plates, now lost. An alphabet of letterforms based on back-pocket stitching of designer jeans of the 70s and 80s. Simulated whalesong. What appears to be a series of pieces of string arranged in a row; further examination reveals that each piece has different elasticity. Sheet music. Player piano music. Cards for a Jaquard loom. A series of murders--different victims missing different pieces. Bird calls. A power source that emits different voltage over time, as displayed by the connected Jacob's Ladder. A banana cut into different-length cross-sections inside its skin. Syllogism. Knock-knock joke. A list of street addresses in a city, connect the dots to form a letter; a series of these, one per city, North-to-South ordering of cities tells you how to order the words. Esperanto. Carrier pigeon. A series of objects, all of which appear metallic: some are magetized, some respond to magnetism, some are not magnetic at all. An electric praying mantis; there are subtle patterns to the "arm" movements. Tap dancing rhythms. The path across a ballroom floor traced by a couple dancing the tango. A pattern of artificial thorns affixed to the stem of a thornless rose. A message written in sugar water on the sidewalk--not visible to the eye, until the ants discover it. Tuning forks. Dog license. An audio recording of falling dominos--the trained observer knows that the dominos were arranged in Morse code, and can distinguish their original placement by the quick silences between "clacks". Dewey decimal. An ordered list of baseball players, each of whom only played for one year. Circled letters on the Lincoln Memorial achieved with a laser light display salvaged from a defunct planetarium. Semiphore. A rash of explosions in skyscrapers; eventually you notice that each took place on a different story. Letterhead for fake law offices a la Dewey Cheatham and Howe. Several strands of hair, different colors; a microscope. The universe, only to be read by the enlightened. Cuneiform tablet, enclosed within an "envelope" of clay. Marching band, in formation. A sprinkling of freckles that someone smiles over. For the history trivia buffs, numbers corresponding to telephone exchange names. A quick series of tongue clicks. Movie house marquee. The calligraphy of a Zamboni driven with Total Freedom. It seems to be an automobile, but parts with certain part numbers have been removed. It appears to be snippets of audio recordings, riddles from Wei-Hwa Huang; eventually you notice the arcade game music playing in the background. Photos of famous people that have been distorted so that they look thinner or fatter; you must figure out how much they have been distorted; who knows what these people normally look like? A fake religion's holy days. A series of fables; the morals are awkwardly worded, suggesting that they conceal a message; but in truth the message is a modified binary, based on whether each fable is about a human or an animal. It appears to be a photograph of a termite mound. An edutainment video showing beavers slapping their tails on the water. A cheese plate featuring an unlikely assortment. That cable-knit sweater--the twists don't all go the same way, hmm. Stereogram. Facial tics. Photos of electrical outlets from different lands. Euphemisms for bodily fluids that share letters with the latin names for those fluids. It appears that each of these pigs has different buoyancy. This is not an exact reproduction of the pointilist Seurat painting you remember. Yellow snow. Descriptions of past meetings on different days: the day we ate pancakes, the time with the tree, etc. Concealed by propriety and decency within the confines of a diplomatic pouch. In neon letters 10 feet high. Attached as a "rider" to a federal spending bill. It seem unlikely that no two of these pencils is the same length; I suspect that these chew marks are carefully placed. A "singing chorus" of animatronic red pandas, the number of stripes on the tail of each is significant, meanwhile the designer of the enchanted tiki room senses a missed opportunity. The teenybopper sits on the streetcar, seems to be testing ringtones--but who notices that there are 26 ringtones to choose from? English.

That's not 200, but I'm up past my bedtime. Good night.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Oklahoma

Oklahoma has it going on. I'm not just talking about Martin Gardner.

A Treasure's Trove: A Fairy Tale About Real Treasure For Parents And Children Of All Ages is an illustrated children's book written by Michael Stadther and published in 2004. The "real treasure" was found by deciphering clues in the book that lead to twelve tokens that could be turned in for unique jewels, each representing an insect or character in the book. ...The finders and locations are:

  • ...The sixth, the Firefly token, was found in Foss State Park in Oklahoma by Jason Davis of Berkeley, California
  • ...The thirteenth, Pook (a doth), was found in Newaygo State Park, Michigan, by Terri Gulasy of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Tammy Nunnally of St. Mary's, Ohio
--Wikipedia: A Treasure's Trove

This Terri Gulasy lady sounds pretty hardcore:

A couple of months later, Gulasy and her family traveled to Pennsylvania in their motor home for a summer getaway. The proximity of Pennsylvania to Michigan enticed Gulasy to drive to the state park in a last-hope effort to find the token she and Nunnally had desperately been trying to locate.

As their motor home pulled into a Newaygo State Park campsite, their tires dug trenches in the wet ground. The Gulasy family began searching the campsite, hoping to find the token. It wasn’t until they returned to their motor home that they spotted a glimmer of gold peeking out from the tracks their tires had dug!

"It seems as though it was fated for us to find Pook. Who knows how long it was buried beneath the mud’s surface," said Gulasy, a software engineer. "We were meant to find the token. It’s simply mind-blowing!"

--"Pook Pokes Into Families' Lives"

According to this article, Ms Gulasy collaborated with someone she found on the internet. They promised to split the reward--and they did. With a sense of fair play like that, it sounds like she ought to do more puzzle hunts.

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Site Update: Hogwarts Inside Out

I posted a write-up of the wacky fun times I had in and around the Hogwarts Game. Some of you puzzle-hunt freaks have already found this. Typical.

  • Play-testing with Continental Breakfast: As an experiment, I played with a different team, see how they approach things differently. A non-trivial percentage of the team was from Australia, and yet they never, ever chewed on eucalyptus leaves. Apparently, that's a myth. Anyhow, this was a play-test, a fortnight ahead of the game proper. We ran into weird stuff so you wouldn't have to.
  • Puzzle Construction Parties: After the playtest, I volunteered with Team Snout, GC for the game. Here, you can find out the answer to the question: what if a magical wand looked more like a mechanical wang? Also in this episode: bonus summary of conversation with Yar Woo.
  • Game Control HQ Operations: During the game itself. I volunteered with Game Control. I spent a lot of time in a motel room worrying about phones. Meanwhile, the people around me couldn't stop talking in British accents. Can you spot the four major mistakes I made? Can you guess how many years' worth of life I cost my fellow GC folks, just from stressing them out? (That was a rhetorical question.)

Careful, this write-up is long. Depending on which part of The Game you like, you might not be interested in the play-test, the GCHQ behind-the-scenes, or what-have-you. No, really, it's long. You gotta pace yourself. I'm just warning you is all.

In more recent news: I gave away my TV and XBox twenty minutes ago. I reclaimed nearly half a square meter of floor space. That's a non-trivial percentage of my teeny-tiny apartment. Which I hereby declare to be back on its way towards habitability.

See, I paused a little bit before starting to type this paragraph. That was me getting up and doing a little spin-move this in this freed-up floor space. I couldn't extend my arms as I did this, of course. They would have bumped into a wall and/or knocked over that floor lamp. But I could totally have made that move with arms akimbo.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Sacramento

Team Snout has revealed their secret behind-the-scenes view of The Hogwarts Game. How much planning went into this game? A lot. Go read. And if they spelled your name wrong, you can fix it.

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Site Update: Puzzle Hunt Write-Up

Thank you for your patience. After months of procrastinating, I finally got it ready: a write-up of the Google intern scavenger hunt.


Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even the Void

Today at work, my main machine's monitors kept blanking out. I don't know what the problem is: bad video driver, bad video card, bad aetheric harmonic vibrations in the astral plane. At the risk of revealing my lack of hard-corosity, programmer-wise, I must admit that I did not say, "Wow, great, an opportunity to debug a video problem perhaps in some driver for which I don't have the source code!" Instead, I sat and stared at the blank monitors, thought about a great fire consuming all of the world's electronics, and reminded myself that smashing the monitors would not fix the video card.

I contemplated the void, sought calm. I thought about the comments I'd received. I'd sent around a first draft of a write-up of the Hogwarts Game. A couple of fast readers had sent back corrections and suggestions already.

Justin Ghan let me know that in Australia, they don't have Mathcamp. Being children of empire, they call their mathcamp "MathScamp" with an "s" in the middle. This was such a wrong-headed thing to call a mathcamp that I at first mis-read it as "math-scamp" and pictured a mischievous youth running away with with a stolen abelian group or something. (Or, as the Australians would spell it, "abelian grouup".) I wondered why scamps scamper, but campers camp.

My monitors were still blank.

I'd written about a member of team XX-Rated who had bellowingly mustered 16 wizards from the midst of a chaotic lunch and got them sufficiently synchronized to all cast a spell at the same time. I'd assumed she'd picked up this combination of leadership and lung-power as a cheerleader, but Curtis said that she'd told him that she had also been in the Israeli army. At the time, I'd thought, Note to self: Do not cross team XX-Rated. Staring at the blank screen, I thought, surely double-crossing team XX-Rated would be appropriate.

My monitors were still blank, but I was calm again. You can have your controlled breathing. I'll stick to wordplay.

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Names of Nonexistent Puzzle Hunt Teams

I used to think of band names. I couldn't help it. That doesn't happen to me anymore. Now, something else happens. Sometimes on the bus I stop reading, close my eyes, and just think up names for puzzle hunt teams.
  • Four Angry Pencils
  • The Goody-goody Leroy Browns
  • Probably Semaphore
  • Crypto-Fashionistas
  • Pentropy
  • Oversight Committee
  • The Dot-Dashing Fists of Righteousness
  • Brains Aren't Everything
  • Quadrivial Pursuit
  • Don't Shave the Messenger
  • Simple Gibberish Transforms
  • Claude E. Shannon has a Posse
  • Matching Clipboard Ensemble
  • All-Volunteer Signal Corps
  • The Mighty Tonguetippers
  • M.C. Binary and the Five-Bit Crew

I'm not sure it's useful to just think of a team name, though. It might be better to think of a distinctive yet easy-to-construct team outfit, then figure out a name to match that. Choose the suit, then name to suit, as it were.

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"Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere" is Everywhere

JessicaLa researched an old puzzlehunt, and wrote some interesting things about it. I don't have anything to add to that, but in the tradition of boring bloggers blogging about other bloggers blogging about them, I will point out this quote:

As Larry would put it: Puzzle Hunts are everywhere, even...

It's really cool that the puzzle competition is starting to move toward the mainstream - the Treasure Hunters show, the Da Vinci Quest on Google last summer, now CBS's Gold Rush game, and lots of other little things besides. I'm a little torn on this - it's nice that more people are "getting it" because I feel a little less geeky trying to explain it, but it's kind of fun sometimes being a part of a small elite community.

So now I can say, It's really cool that the phrase "Puzzle Hunts are everywhere" is starting to move towards the mainstream. I think this is wonderful, as this phrase is the product of hours of market research. Some versions of this phrase that were rejected include "The Ubiquity of Treasure/Puzzle-Hunt Thingies is Self-Evident" and "Morse Code in Your FACE, Planet Earth!!1!"

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Hogwarts Photos

A few weekends back, I helped to playtest the Hogwarts Game. Then I went to a few puzzle-construction parties. Last weekend, I volunteered for Game Control for the duration of the Game.

I'm working on a write-up. But that will take a while to finish. I'm still digesting a few pages of notes and a few hours of audio recording. Meanwhile, all I have to offer is Hogwarts Game photos.

Fortunately, plenty of other folks have written interesting things, including Darcy, Tracy, JessicaLa, and Lessachu. Also, other people took photos, often better photos than mine. David Lindes has photos. Darcy has Photos

And there are probably plenty of others that I missed.

[Update: more links. JessicaLa's photos, Static Zombie write-up, Miss Jerry's dry run photos]

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Puzzle Hunts are Everything I Read About, Even When They Aren't

Saturday, there was a lot of puzzlehuntish activity on the peninsula. I wasn't playing in it. Well, not much. I knew that a bunch of folks were gathering for that PerplexCity hunt--people would run around San Francisco solving clues; others would solve clues on the internet. I didn't especially want to play--the thing revolves around trading cards. I try to avoid activities that involve trading cards. I try to eschew some geeky activities, just so I can remind myself that there are some depths I have not sunk to. Sure, I wander around with a headlamp and a clipboard, but I can still sneer at the trading-card fanatics and curl my lip at the gawddammed furries.

Still, when my breakfast feed-reading on Saturday morning uncovered one of the PerplexCity puzzles, I figured I should try to contact some of the people playing in the game. I'd read about some of the big communities that had cropped up around the trading card game. Maybe I could find contact information for one of them, point them at this puzzle. Or just give them the answer. Solving the puzzle took less than a minute.

"Find a radio. Tune it to the Fahrenheit equivalent of 36.28 Celsius. If the station you're listening to owned a cat, what would be the cat's name?"

Celsius to fahrenheit conversion, Google does that. Look up a radio call sign, Google does that. Oh, it's that "Alice" station. Name of Alice's cat, I knew that, Google confirms it. Boom, boom, boom. Finding contact information for one of the game's players was not so easy. The next item to read in my morning feeds was actually a post from someone announcing that they would attend the San Francisco PerplexCity hunt. I tried posting a comment to the blog item--that would probably send the author an email. But would they check their email? They were traveling to this hunt. So I tried following links, trying to find some place where I could leave a more immediate communication. There was a wiki--which only allowed members to post. And to become a member, you had to contact an administrator. The administrators didn't have obvious contact information. But they encouraged everyone to contact them on IRC. I was on the verge of downloading an IRC client program when I realized I was running late for, you know, the things I actually meant to do on Saturday.

On my way out the door, I was kind of glad I didn't get sucked in. I'd "solved" that "puzzle," but really I'd just followed directions. Were all of the "puzzles" like that?

That evening was BANG 16. I didn't go. Continental Breakfast did. coed astronomy did. Someone from SPIES did. This sounds like more fun than PerplexCity. I read about that in the days afterwards.

Jessica Lambert writes about game paranoia, thinking I have GOT to stop reading Game-related stuff into everything he does. But I swear, Sunday I saw the Game in everything I read. Well, two things. I tend to read a lot about Game things, but I tend to read a lot about other things, too. In theory. In theory it's not all about the Game. And yet. And yet. Laura Lemay forwarded a story about phrase Here be Dragons. That phrase specifically, not hic sunt dracones. And the referenced article is talking about maps, but of course I was thinking about the gaming team. And there's an upcoming Game which says that players should bring, of all things, empty egg cartons. And since then, I've been obsessing: what could a Game possibly ask us to do with something as non-standard, non-uniform as an egg carton? And Andi Watson posts a photo of an egg carton dragon and I'm sitting there muttering "of course, of course we're going to make egg carton dragons!" And a few seconds later I'm shaking my head because, on reflection, this makes no sense at all.

Maybe any hobbyist would have this problem. Heck, both of those articles were about dragons. I'd probably get excited by those articles even if I was a gawdammed furry.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even New York City

This write-up of the recent Midnight Madness game in NYC has the title I never dared to use: Some serious nerd-ass shit.

There are strange things afoot in Toronto, which are perhaps only tangentially related to puzzlehunty things, but which nevertheless serve to remind us that all Canadians are dangerous freaks.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Auburn

Pete extracted some more Shinteki Decathlon II photos from his camera, and I posted some of them in the write-up.

In other puzzley news, Eric Harshbarger's running a puzzlehunt in Auburn in September. I mostly know of Eric as one of those people whose last name starts with "H" and with personal homepages with higher PageRank than mine. But the guy builds statues out of Lego and comes up with some cool puzzles. So if his PageRank is higher than mine... I think that means the system works as it should.

According to some mail forwarded by Wei-Hwa, Eric Harshbarger designed some of the puzzles for the upcoming Perplexcity live event here in San Francisco. Maybe that's enough to convince me to risk attending an event associated with trading cards. Maybe?

[Updated when Philip Dasler of Austin pointed out that Harshberger is in Auburn, not in Austin as I originally wrote. Yipe.]

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Shinteki Write-up Addendum: More Photos

Pete came through with some photos, which I sprinkled into the Decathlon II report. Now the truth is revealed: I was carrying a clipboard, rocking a headlamp, and wearing travel pants with zip-off legs zipped off! Yes, I hit the "triple crown" of dorky-looking gamer fashion.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Santa Barbara

I didn't know that people were allowed to think very hard in Santa Barbara, but I may yet be proved wrong.

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