Every few months, at Musha Cay, a private resort in the Bahamas owned by David Copperfield, the magician gathers his guests and tells them the legend of the unknown pirate. In an old book bought in an antiques store, he explains, he found a pirate, a relative of his. Then he asks the guests for help finding…
It's "The Famine Game Postmortem", a talk by Todd Etter and Phil Dasler, the Lead Gamemakers of the Famine Game This here is my notes. [My rambling asides are in italics] and I take some pretty egregious summarize|rephrase|totally-change-meaning liberties with other folks' words, too. Original videos and slides at this here link.
- Backstory Todd and Phil flew out to West Coast to play in
game back in 2008 (see
- Emerged thinking "oh it would be awesome to run something like this"
- mind you, Todd and Phil hadn't met yet. Todd flew out from DC area, Phil from Texas; played on different teams.
- Debbie introduced them to each other.
- Our prezo looks better than most because Nat Parisi designed 'em.
- Basic idea: theme a The Game on The Hunger Games
- 24 teams, each assigned to a Hunger Games district (lumber, electronics, fishing, etc).
- Teams "kill" each other by solving puzzles
- Teams start with no solving gear, they earn it
- How to make the theme fit while keeping the game fun? Killing is mean.
Do we really want to eliminate teams? [no]
- Instead, themed the puzzles on Hunger Games districts, and in the story of the game, your team was eliminating other teams. But in practice, you weren't really eliminating other teams; they weren't eliminating your team.
- Solving a puzzle gave you a message that you'd "killed" one or more teams associated with that puzzle.
- But if your team was associated with that puzzle, for that puzzle you'd instead get the message that your team had "survived" due to completing that puzzle.
- Inobvious detail: the last puzzle had to "kill" more than one team: if it only "killed" one team, when that team solved it, they'd get the message "you survived this... and thus won the game". But if they were already the only surviving team, that wouldn't make sense.
- We like metapuzzles.
- Hunt had three parts, like three books: Arena: 23 "kills" 3 metapuzzles; Clock (12 puzzles and a meta); Revolution: head into DC proper for puzzles and metas to "take over the capital"
- Wanted to have many many shorter puzzles instead of smaller number of "grindy" puzzles. 75 puzzles, most of which were in the 20-40 minute range. A few longer ones.
- "Clock" part was a set of 12 puzzle rooms; teams could go into a room to
try to solve for 15 minutes. But if they didn't finish in time, they had
to go on to another room.
- If all 24 teams had showed up at the clock at the same time, would have been too crowded.
- So, rather than working to reduce the spread in the first part of the game, kinda let it slide.
- But it'd be good to manage the spread after the clock.
- In the clock: First few teams at the Clock didn't get to see its metapuzzle until they'd solved all 12 mini-puzzles. But later teams got to see the meta after solving fewer minis.
- In Revolution, the last part: To get all the teams back together again, of the 27 puzzles in this section, a relatively slow team might get skipped over 23 of them.
- Set up a big spreadsheet to simulate the experience for fast, slow teams.
- Wanted to come up with automated closing times for puzzles.
- So sketch out a set of times, simulate it—see who would get skipped over what.
- if teams would be skipped past part of the "core experience", you know you need to re-jigger the timing.
- Wrote an app to check answers, dispense hints, dispense bits of story
- oh, nicely designed
- needed an alternate version of content for each team-elimination puzzle: what to show to that team so it became their "survival" puzzle.
- for story content, needed
of teams being eliminated
- asked each team to make a video acting out some scene.
- then applied FX to change the meaning, lest that team get an "edge" solving their own puzzle based on their video direction.
- Hint system very much inspired by Shinteki—understand that few teams will ask for hints. But they will take time-release hints.
- Worked on game from March 2012–October 2013.
- Really glad had an earlier-than-theoretically-necessary playtest. Forced folks to be ready on time. Gave more time to fix things.
- Using an existing story is great; you don't need to do so much storytelling
with the game itself.
- The Hunger Games districts are already themed: the lumber district, the electronics district… That's pretty nice for inspiring puzzle ideas.
- Trying to figure out which ideas would be fun and which would backfire. Taking away teams' gaming equipment at beginning: fun or cruel? (did that) Having them ride public transit into DC: fun or annoying? (didn't do that)
- (Part 2 video)
- More goals:
- puzzles should fit locations
- which worked out really well for the Pet Resort setting of the Muttations puzzle—the Pet Resort manager was into it. "We have a dog costume." (Tell folks about the event, they might pleasantly surprised me)
- It's OK if not all puzzles are super-memorable. Especially since you're going to have to skip some teams over some puzzles. You don't want them to feel like they missed part of the core experience.
- Still, don't make lead teams suffer too much. It'd be bad if the story
got out "We were way out in front, so we were sent to Langley to
solve a puzzle called
- Team Golden Smokingjay did break the game, got way out in front of the pack. Got to one site a few minutes before it opened, had to wait. But maybe that's not a disaster.
- Working around "The Stupid Hours"
- Things that are part of the core experience: put those during the day, at times when teams will be high-energy.
- Late at night: shorter, simpler puzzles. Physical activities.
- Late at night: this was the Clock arena; comfy facilities inside (a school). Breaking up the puzzles into 15-minute bits probably also kept teams from slumping into sleepyheadedness.
- If you need many many little puzzles, you want Ian Tullis on game control because he has more puzzle ideas than is theoretically possible.
- Getting teams to mingle
- encouraging same-district teams to collaborate ahead of time
- Friday night party-ish events
- getting team logos, bios, etc into the answer-checker app so that teams could look through it easily
- DC has some cool locations that don't necessarily fit the game theme; but some were cool enough to use anyhow.
- "Polarizing" puzzle types: some folks will complain about any of these.
[as I look at their list, I realize I'm pretty complain-y]
- cryptic crosswords [yay]
- Smith Jones Robinson [boo]
- Nikoli grid puzzles [boo]
- string of abstract encoded data [hmm]
- Music-based puzzles [boo]
- In hindsight, we could have…
- …done better at herding volunteers
- could have communicated better. could have done things to make them comfier.
- …warned teams: "It's not just the application. If you get in, we're going to ask you for a kill video, a team logo…"
- Didn't have app data or puzzle docs until a couple of days before the event, and then only because of Phil putting in herculean effort.
- (apparently, question didn't make it onto video, d'oh)
- video actors were kinda improv'ing based on the story
- Bob Schaffer asks: I had a great time at this game.
Picking teams to play from many many applications
is hard. What did you do?
- We stuck to our policy. But we agonized over it.
- And frankly, we weren't 100% pleased with how it went.
- But it was a relief when players from not-accepted teams got "adopted" by other teams.
- Allen Cohn asks: Did this game have a scoring system?
- Yep, based on the Hunger Games theme, we presented that score as number of fans.
- But didn't emphasize it during the game. Players who cared about scores could look. But many players don't care. And newer players could have found it discouraging.
- Corey Anderson asks: In your game development timeline,
there were several months between first meeting and first puzzle
ready to playtest. That's a long time. What all happened in there?
- Making sure that we actually want to do this thing.
- Game structure: if you write a bunch of puzzles before you figure out game structure, you're just gonna have to rewrite them. So figure out structure early.
- Figured out scheduling: when do we want the hunt to occur? To make that work, when do other things need to be ready?
- Curtis Chen asks: Team Snout had a great time. Two questions: how
often did GC meet? When are y'all running your next game?
- At first, a little more than once a month. Then fortnightly. Then weekly. Leading up to the game: might meet daily or more often.
- GC was geographically scattered, especially when Natalie moved to Seattle. Yay for Google Hangouts.
- Corby Anderson asks: What was up with the next of kin puzzle?
- We had team members' loved ones record a puzzle for them. The Hunger Games had Jabberjays, so this was a thematic way to deliver a puzzle.
- In the applcation, we asked for "next of kin"
- Debbie did a lot of hard work getting recordings from folks
- But most puzzlers "in puzzle mode"
didn't recognize the voices of their loved ones. Hmm.
- In Team Bloodshot, these families are friends and hang out together: but still didn't recognize voices.
- Wei-Hwa points out: besides, it's not like my sister and I usually talk with each other in English
If the team has immunity (ie, at least half of the team has put rally with the team name)I wonder if they have a system like BANG, where you might find yourself obliged to run a future event if you win this event. And if, to avoid having the same teams running game after game, they introduced an immunity rule. Looks like it.
Well-heeled readers from further afield might also note that this event is one week before the Armchair Treasure Hunt Clubâ€™s annual hunt in Oakham, with a hunt open to non-members. Consider yourself cordially double-dog-dared to travel to the UK for them both, and consider the list of exit games as possible activities to fill up the week in between!–"Girls and Boys, Come Out to Playâ€¦ but do it quickly"
Where "this event" is a day-long puzzlehunt wandering around London.
Cluekeeper is a puzzlehunt answer-checker app. Game Control tells the app about the hunt's answers and hints. Players run the app. They can use it to check answers. The app does time-release hints. If you're running a hunt, you can learn more.
At GC Summit, Rich got hauled up to give an update on ClueKeeper. He mostly announced things that have, in the months between the talk and this write-up, already come to pass:
- Reduced rates for labor-of-love games. Regular pricing is aimed at professional hunt runners. But folks Cluekeeper's authors play in (and love and want to help) DASHes, etc., that don't charge so much. Running a game like that? Talk to Cluekeeper folks before you decide you can't afford it.
- It's not just for one-time events. Cluekeeper knows about some "permanent" puzzlehunts you can play. If you're going to, say, Philadelphia, you can check the list of hunts, buy the Philadelphia one, then spend a few hours wandering around and solving. Or if you're a puzzle constructor, you can write a hunt in your hometown and let Cluekeeper handle the logistics.
Still, there are some things you can learn by watching the video…
- Bob Schaffer described how ClueKeeper made his life easier for running Elevate Tutoring puzzlehunts: Instead of worrying about logistics of scoring, he can concentrate on writing puzzles.
- Todd Etter asked if ClueKeeper might be a way to "archive" past hunts that used locations. And the answer is: yeah, with the caveat that (so far, mid-2014) ClueKeeper's doesn't deliver those gnarly multi-media puzzles. But if you have folks print out materials ahead of time, that could still work… But is that the best experience? Dunno, it's new ground.
It's "MIT Mystery Hunt Q&A", an unplanned Q&A session with Erin Rhode, captain of the team that ran the Alice Shrugged MIT Mystery Hunt This here is my notes. [My rambling asides are in italics] and I take some pretty egregious summarize|rephrase|totally-change-meaning liberties with other folks' words, too. Original video at this here link.
- Q: (Melinda Owens) In case not everyone read your
Mystery Hunt Design Philosophy blog post,
could you summarize it?
- OK, so the Mystery Hunt isn't a west-coast-style puzzlehunt
- The players aren't only those 100+-person teams you keep hearing about. Many teams are of the form "8 freshmen in a dorm who don't know what a puzzle is"
- We made a conscious decision to optimize for small teams. Recent hunt escalations have concentrated on keeping 100-person-teams fully occupied. One sad side effect of that: half of the teams, these small teams, don't even solve one meta. [MIT Mystery Hunts tend to be organized in rounds of puzzles, with a meta at the end of each round.]
- We set up our first round of puzzles to be new-team-accessible. Huge experienced teams blew through it Friday afternoon. Small new teams spent most of the weekend on it—but probably got through it.
- It's the MIT Mystery Hunt. [few minutes' pause as the video conference link breaks and folks debug. around the 5:00 mark, we're talking even though the link's not back, but the subject's changed]
- Yeah, so we had this lobster quadrille event
- (Melinda) Did people respond positively to that? The folks our team sent to that came back saying it wasn't even a puzzle.
- camera jostles (Linda) We're not having any technical problems.
- You know, back in the day, puzzlehunts had mixer events. They were just for hanging out. But then folks made it an easy puzzle. And you know how the Mystery Hunt escalates.
- (Melinda) It would have been nice to know it was going to be social instead of puzzl-y. Like, to say "send the funlovers, not the puzzle grognards.
- (Jasters) It's weird that Mystery Hunt always has to be so mysterious. It would be great to give that guidance, but it would break tradition.
- I don't know why that is.
- (beardy Manic Sage MIT Mystery Hunter who I think maybe said his name once but now I've forgotten) You kind of want to make people attend the event. So if you want to make sure they attend and pay attention, you have to either have them solve the puzzle right there or else make darned sure they have the information they need to solve the puzzle back at their headquarters.
- Maybe it's because our team hearkens back to the events-aren't-tough-important-puzzle days, but we generally send our freshmen to events. "Someone has to go to this event. You, you in the corner. You go."
- (someone) (indistinct) worked well. Everyone was collaborating on one puzzle. But everyone who didn't want to work on the puzzle could just eat breakfast.
- (12:05 mark: the video conference is working again. much rejoicing)
- As long as we finally have Portland and Seattle back, any questions from there?
- (voice) Seattle humbly points out you could use Skype or Lync.
- Q: (someone remote) It wasn't just the hunt itself that was run
so well. There was also all this stuff around the hunt. Like surveys
to rate the puzzles. And a tumblr went up right after. All these things
the running team kinda wants to do, y'all actually got them done.
What kind of planning did that require?
- The tumblr was Laura. Jamie made our answer-checker software, and he thought the surveys would be a good idea, so he added them.
- It's too bad you have to write so much software from scratch for each hunt. There's puzzletron at the core, sure. But there's so much game logic to deal with, you have to code it up.
- Q: (Todd Etter) What was the sequence of steps for making a puzzle and
mixing it into this beast.
- First a month of deciding on the theme.
- Then figuring out the structure of puzzle rounds
- Write the metapuzzles. [It's the MIT Mystery Hunt, there will be metas] The metapuzzles lock down what the answers to the "regular" puzzles will be.
- Now ready for puzzles. So solicit puzzle ideas.
- Each nascent puzzle is assigned some editors to shepherd it through the design process.
- If a puzzle idea gels into something solid, Erin gave them an answer-message. (there's some back-and-forth. if the puzzle's baseball-themed and there's an unclaimed baseball-themed answer)
- Q: (Melinda Owens) What fraction of the folks who were on your
2013 winning team slunk away from helping run the 2014 game?
- Let's see. In 2013, our team mailing list had 150 people. But on 2013 game day, only 120 people logged into the wiki, so figure 30 of those didn't even show up to play.
- 102 people piped up saying that they wanted to help write the 2014 hunt. 80 people either wrote something, testsolved something, and/or showed up on hunt weekend.
- There was a core of 30-40 people who were active all year: making stuff, editing stuff, testing stuff.
- Back in 2004, we'd experienced that attrition; also we'd been warned to look out for it by the Manic Sages. A lot of people, emerging from the hunt in January think "That was fun, I'm gonna write eight puzzles! But in February, they've figured out "This is hard! Well, see ya next January."
- Q: (Wei-Hwa Huang) It seemed like this hunt tried to
reverse the recent Mystery Hunt more-more-more-puzzles escalation.
It felt like instead of pushing the envelope of quantity and wackiness,
this hunt went for solid robustness. Was that a conscious choice?
- Our goal was to make a hunt that was fun, not frustrating.
- For this, we relied on testsolvers: if they didn't like a puzzle, it had to change. So an idea so wacky that testsolvers couldn't get a toehold would change.
- Q: (Linda Holman) Did anyone help write this hunt that wasn't
part of the 2013 winning team?
- It was all people from the winning team. You earn your right to run the game by winning the previous year's game.
- [aw dang. I don't like the sit-and-solve hunts so much, but I do enjoy volunteering for them.]
- (beardy Manic Sage MIT Mystery Hunter who I think maybe said his name once but now I've forgotten) Manic Sages let some folks help out who weren't part of of the winning team—but only if they were "team regulars" who just happened to miss that year.
If you missed the recent Shinteki Decathlon, there is still a chance to check out a couple of the clues! We will be running an open house style puzzle hunt in Mountain View on June 28th, showcasing some installation clues and bonus puzzles from Decathlon 9.
The hunt takes about 2-3 hours. You can stop by and play any time between 10 am and 4 pm. The clues are challenging, but hints are always available if you need them. Teams can be 1 to 4 players, but the ideal team size is probably 2 or 3.
D-Light: A Decathlon 9 Sampler costs $9.99 per team and can be purchased at http://www.cluekeeper.com/play/
This game's announcement went out on the Bay Area Night Game mailing list and Puzzle Hunt Calendar. So if you're wondering how I found out about this and you want to hear about similar such… now you know.
- Played Shinteki's Stanford Puzzle Tour
- Failed to Real-Escape the Moon Base
- Followed a Hash House Harriers trail from the Moon Base to Alta Plaza park
- Found more than 40 Munzees
I do want to remember who I played with: Shinteki with Curtis and DeeAnn; Real Escape with Yuan, Mike, Corby, Curtis, and DeeAnn.
It's a "Puzzle Design: Surprises and Aha Moments" a talk by Greg Flipus, who wrote the Research Triangle #Octothorpean puzzles along with some feats he mentions in the "background" section of his talk. This here is my notes. [My rambling asides are in italics] and I take some pretty egregious summarize|rephrase|totally-change-meaning liberties with other folks' words, too. Original videos and slides at this here link.
I was pretty glad to see this video. As you'll notice, the sound quality was pretty echo-y. At the live event, at any given moment I was only halfway aware what Greg was talking about. It's clearer in the video.
- Greg's background: Mostly the Microsoft Intern Game, the weekend-long driving-around event for MS interns (not to be confused with Intern Puzzleday, a shorter event on MS campus).
- Dig at a bit
of self-deprecation in Ian's talk: recent Intern Hunt
had a quark-flavors puzzle that went well.
- This talk is kind of a variant on Ian's: Where Ian reminds himself not to over-focus on "Wow" over "Fun", this talk revels in some "Wows" that worked.
- What's good about Ahas?
- More memorable; whether or not they're "the best," folks'll talk about them later.
- Maybe your puzzle comes in a 3.5" floppy disc. Data on the disc makes
a message; but the message says ANSWER IS INSIDE DISC CASE. So now you
need to break that open.
- This "aha" has been used plenty of times in the Intern Game; by now, it's a cliche: a team receiving a break-apartable thing with data on it expect they'll break that thing apart.
- This works because players have blind spots.
- [I'm not sure "blind spot" describes my feelings towards clue destruction. "Strong aversion," more like. I still remember how nervous I was destroying-revealing a clue for REDACTED, and that was a few years ago.]
- Besides don't-destroy-the-clue, what other "blind spots" do players have where we can hide Ahas?
- Blind Spot: If there are multiple copies of info, share them around.
- Ah, but what if those "multiple copies" aren't exact copies, but have differences? What if that's the puzzle?
- Blind Spot: tough constraints are tough.
- If your puzzle seems impossible to construct, that makes it tougher to solve, since teams think "Well, they couldn't have done that...
- [Hmm, that sounds like wandering into not-fun-but-you-left-it-in-to-impress-puzzle-designers territory.]
- Oh, but the examples aren't getting into un-fun puzzles.
- E.g., No way could they get famous actor Neil Patrick Harris to record video footage for this game.
- Example from old Intern Game: team received a puzzle; upon solving, discovered that the answer was customized to their team. Wow, spooky! Unexpected enough to surprise teams.
- You've been carrying the answer with you for the past few hours.
- Example from intern game, in which a sheet of paper labeled "rules" wasn't just the rules of the puzzle, but actually important since the puzzle worked by dropping letters and anagramming: which meant those "rules" could become a LURE.
- But remember: don't make teams feel stupid.
- And it's rough when teams need a hint, and the only hint you can give them gives the whole thing away.
- And what if a clever team gets a couple of Ahas in a row, leapfrogs through a couple of puzzles, and now your schedule is b0rken?
- Ian Tullis: Yeah, I worry about clever teams breaking the schedule.
Like, if you use that perfect thematic answer, what's to keep teams from
just plain guessing the answer in the first minute?
- Greg: Yeah, I worry about that, too. It never seems to actually happen, though. Well, wait. We had a hunt with a couple of zodiac puzzles. For the first such, a couple of teams tried entering all the zodiac symbols as answers. (But the answer wasn't a zodiac symbol.) For the second such, no team tried that. Which was lucky, because the answer was ARIES.
- Ian Tullis: Yeah, I guess that doesn't really happen so much. I worry about that, and I worry about someone else "scooping" my puzzle idea. But that doesn't really happen either.
- ???: Except that year when all the hunts were themed on the Mayan apocalypse.
- Ian Tullis: Could you say more about designing for the intern
game versus other puzzlehunts? Like, I know you can't use too much
culture-dependent stuff because MS gets interns from all over the world.
- Greg: Quite a range of experience—some have only learned about this stuff from playing in Puzzleday a little while before. Some have helped run the MIT Mystery Hunt. In general, we aim for the easier end of the spectrum. One nice thing about having such a restricted audience: it's a lot easier to get playtesters and volunteers when most of the area's puzzlers aren't allowed to play.
- Todd Etter: That kind of goes back to worrying about teams getting the "Aha" too early. The experience of the designer isn't going to be the same of that of a solver. If I'm playing in a casual event, I'm not going to be so aggro about rushing to the end of a puzzle.
- ???: I went through a phase where, when there was a puzzle in front of me, I'd try "all the tricks." But it never worked and it wasn't fun, so I got over that.
- Greg: Like for that floppy disc puzzle‐the info inside the disc wasn't actually the answer; it was a password to give to the program that you got from the disc. If you'd started just by opening up the disc, it might not have saved you time.
- Ian Tullis: On destruction: playtesting a puzzle for The Griffiths Collection, I got a puzzle with some crayons. Out of desperation, I started eating the crayons.
- Brent Holman: For the Espionage game, we broke open a clue to get the answer. We got the answer quicker, but that clue was a work of art. Other players have a cool memento for their trophy case. In hindsight, I regret that destruction.
- Todd Etter: Playtesting the Famine Game, there was an awkward part. We got a tower of Legos with the instructions: figure out what's going on, don't take the tower apart. The pattern of bricks made a message: take the tower apart. So… it's possible to worry so much about teams "jumping ahead" that you give instructions that make your puzzle seem pointless.
- Greg: Yeah, you need to be able to rely on GC. And there are already so many opportunities for that go wrong. Maybe someone on a team calls the hint line, gets some info from GC—but garbles an important detail when relaying that information to the team. Later on, when folks figure out that was wrong, they say "GC lied!"
You can skip to the checklist for core GC's care and feeding of game-day volunteers or you can keep reading…
- I'm subbing in for Deanna, who's having fun in Hawaii. [Now I'm curious to know what Deanna's take would have been]
- We're talking about the care and feeding of GC itself, concentrating on site monitors.
- What's the benefit of getting this right? Well, you're
happier. The friends you cajoled into doing this are still speaking to you.
But maybe it even makes the game better. Check out this quote from a
Famine Game player:
"...the friendly & warm demeanor put forth by you & the other Piecekeepers was so lovely & needed & appreciated!!!"If your site volunteers become grumpy, maybe that can rub off on teams.
- Who has experienced these common tales of sad site monitoring?
- Needed to go to the bathroom, but was site's only monitor (several hands)
- Been really hungry but there was nothing you could do about it (couple of hands)
- Didn't know how to give hints on a puzzle, but players wanted hints? (none) [Well, if you show up for GC summit, chances are you wrote that confusing-ass puzzle]
- Experienced loneliness (Debbie's not counting hands, she's busy holding up her own hand.) [Note to self: don't make Debbie a sole site monitor]
- Or felt unsafe? (she doesn't count hands, but it looks like she's nodding at a few folks around the room) [oh man when I raised my hand, someone asked me why and the answer came out pretty loud: tornado]
- OK, what can we do to ameliorate these things?
- Maybe instead of just showing slides, we could have a discussion.
Hey Larry, you want to tell your tornado story?
- Me: In 2012, I site volunteered in St Louis DASH; at the end of the game, there was a serious storm; tornado sirens, sky turned green I didn't know what to do Core GC (Patrick and Rebecca Blindauer) stuck me in a car and drove until we were under something solid. Core GC really came through for their volunteer and saved my life and stuff, so that was cool.
- Yeah, "living" is good. Maybe I should have put that on the checklist.
- Communication and Planning people had positive comments and
negative—definitely more positive than negative.
- Have a plan: when will teams arrive? when will teams stop? what are teams looking for?
- Communicate with volunteer if it starts raining, the site monitor reeeally wants to know the backup plan for rain. [Maybe you have one; or maybe you don't have a plan per se but you have some general principles in mind. But whatever you have...] Did you talk it over with the other site monitors?
- But what to communicate ahead of time? Debbie presents the top six things that site volunteers want to know before game day: as a game! Can you guess what they are? [If you're following the slides, this as a plain ol' list. But at the talk, Debbie had us write down our guesses.]
- seattle guesses: Schedule: when can I go home? What happens if it rains? (you'll get wet) Where is the nearest bathroom? How does the puzzle work? Are we allowed to be here?
- portland guesses Also care about schedule, weather / Emergency contact info / What am i supposed to do? what is my role?
- sf bay area guesses previously-mentioned stuff: schedule, how clue works, bathrooms./ when are teams on the way to the site?/ driving directions
- poll winners
- Schedule: When/Where should I be?
- How does the puzzle work?
- Who is staffing?
- Where is the nearest bathroom?
- What is the puzzle solution?
- on the video, you can hear the sf bay area muttering as we conspire
"chairs are more comfortable than rocks"
"well, some chairs and some rocks"
- portland's guesses [not to be confused with Maslow's hierarchy of needs] food/ bathroom/ shelter/ drinks/water/ most importantly: wifi/ oh, and a place to sit
- in the "game show", Deb says that these guesses have only revealed one of the most popular answers. yelps of disbelief from audience, Portland's list sounded pretty good
- seattle's guesses food/ heat/ shelter/ chair/ umbrellas/ internet access/
- still, no more list items opened
- sf bay area's guesses a buddy? Deb throws us a bone: Let's say that falls under Contact Information [I bet nobody guessed this since we still had it in mind from the previous question] / If wifi wasn't on the list: uhm, Mobile phone coverage? (nope) / Puzzle materials and how they work? (nope)
- poll winners
- Contact info
- [if you're wondering how "nearby restroom" etc didn't even make the list: the poll's original question was "What is most important for GCs to provide a staff volunteer on the day of the hunt?" Folks at the talk were answering a different question, closer to "What is your dream site-monitoring situation, based on built-in site features and GC's supplies?"]
- tl;dr If you're core GC, here's a checklist of things to figure out to keep site monitors happy. You will probably have issues with this, but make your own list.
- Scout locations that are safe and comfortable for long periods of time [If there's a not-so-great location, there's a temptation to think: let's put the easy puzzle there. teams will only be stuck here for 10 minutes. But remember that your site monitor will be stuck there for hours.]
- Identify back up locations for when cold/hot/rainy/dark/tornados hit
- Provide a cushion of time around time slots. If you tell a site volunteer "from 2-4, you're by the fountain; from 4-6, you're at the coffee shop" you're asking them to teleport from the fountain to the coffee shop at 4. If your real expectation is: pack up at 4, get to the coffee shop by 4:30, make sure they know that.
- Provide extra copies of puzzles Volunteers can use them to learn the puzzle. If a team sets their puzzle on fire because they were trying to reveal some imagined invisible ink, they'll appreciate it. If some passer-by, perhaps an officer of the law, is curious what's going on, it's nice to have a spare copy to show them.
- Don't strand volunteers alone. For each volunteer, figure out if they get lonely sitting on their own. If so, make sure they have a buddy. If not, can you still have a "roving" GC check in on them occasionally to spell them for bathroom breaks and the like?
- Communicate in advance: location, schedule, scoring, bathrooms, puzzle walkthrough/solution,contact information, etc.
- Of these, the item which I summarized here as "Don't strand volunteers
alone" probably had the most heated discussion
- What if you don't have enough people to double up buddies? It'd be a pity to give up on your event just because you don't have many people. [I didn't think of it during the discussion, but in hindsight this might be another case where advanced communication would help. E.g., "Would you like a buddy at your site? Well that's too darned bad, we don't have enough people. But at least we're telling you that weeks ahead of time so you have a chance to rope a friend/cousin/someone into hanging out with you."]
- If you do have enough people, buddies can make up for lack of planning in other areas. E.g., if you didn't take time to get permission to use that site, "One person can be talking to the cops, the other person can be talking to players."
- "Roving GC" is feasible for a walking-scale hunt, not-so-much for a driving-scale hunt.
- Q&A / lively discussion
- Seattle (sounds like Jeff Wallace, maybe?) tells a
- Day of the game, setting up on site. We'd scouted it repeatedly ahead of time. Seattle Police Department pulls up: "You don't want to be here. This is gang territory. Hanging out here in the middle of the night is not a good call." So, yeah, having contingency plans is important.
- Deb: How could we anticipate that?
- Corey: You could join a gang.
- Linda Holman: We've into those kinds of problems as well. A dry run in real time helps you with "what's traffic like at this time of day on a Saturday like" [she doesn't specify whether she's talking about car traffic or weapons trafficking or whatever, but you get the idea]
- Allen Cohn, sf bay area: at the risk of sounding touchy-feely, it's
nice if GC makes you feel included. Sometimes GC will tell day-of
volunteers: "Awesome, you're here. Now stand in this spot for the next
four hours." Doesn't really give you the warm fuzzies.
- Of course, core GC is going to be harried on game day
- Still, you're volunteering your time. A little appreciation goes a long way towards making you glad you did that.
- (??who?? corey? sean gugler?)
sf bay area: what are differences between volunteers who
are puzzle nerds versus your non-puzzling buddy who you cajoled into
helping out on game day?
- (Deb: you'd mentioned using TaskRabbit)
- (Yeah, I guess that's a separate question. If there's an overnight game with a really long spread, if you have to staff a dozen sites at the same time, where do you get these folks?)
- Linda Holman: on gamer vs non-gamer volunteers. Your mom/buddy/loved one doesn't know that these puzzles can take a long time: teams can get frustrated, eventually get the aha, solve the puzzle, and move on. If your volunteer doesn't fully understand "long time" and "spoilers", they want to help out right away. For those folks, we don't tell them at all how the clue works. [notice that's different from what the survey says; but remember that survey was filled out by puzzle nerds, not by the puzzle nerds' non-puzzling-but-lovely friends/relatives/etc] We can get away with that: we use an automated hint system. But for these volunteers, not-knowing is more painless than withholding spoilers from teams. But we do make sure that puzzlers know how the puzzles work; they know what to do with that info.
- Linda Holman: Similarly, if someone who works at a bar or an ice cream stand or a pie shop or whatever is handing out your puzzle: Don't tell them how the puzzle works because: They'll just tell teams how the puzzle works.
- Deb: one way to get "warm body" volunteers: ??Yai-ya?? in NYC DASH got high school students to volunteer. The students get some kind of Public Service to volunteer for something. So she sets up a pizza party for them, walks them through the puzzles, and they site monitor. Nice side effect: students got excited about puzzles; one year later, a bunch of high-school teams played. Meanwhile, she's got this army of high-schoolers, where all they want is pizza. [Yeah, Patrick Blindauer in St Louis got public-service-seeking students to volunteer as DASH site monitors]
Who else was playtesting? Scott and Barry were from Sacramento. Dan went to UCD, but now lives in Mountain View. (And thus, I couldn't whine about the long train ride to Davis: I hadn't even come furthest for this playtest.) Jason(? I think that's his name? That's what I get for writing this down days later) is a UCD grad student. Most of us will come back to site-monitor for DASH day.
A lot of plant matter blew around Davis. It seemed like a rough place to have allergies.
It's a "Advice from (and for) a Puzzle Snob" a talk by Ian Tullis, who writes Shinteki puzzles. This here is my notes. [My rambling asides are in italics] and I take some pretty egregious summarize|rephrase|totally-change-meaning liberties with other folks' words, too. Original videos and slides at this here link.
[I was pretty glad to see Ian on the agenda. I still use ideas from his 2010 talk. I catch myself referring to them when talking about puzzle design with first-time puzzlemakers. I catch myself talking about "wow" and "fun" with these kids writing puzzles for #terngame before I realize they didn't attend that talk. Maybe it should be assigned homework. Anyhow.]
- Ian doesn't claim to be a top solver or a top designer [hmm], but he will lay claim to title of top puzzle snob.
- You might be a puzzle snob if you've thought:
- Damn, looks like someone else already wrote a produce (PLU) code puzzle ten Mystery Hunts ago [Maybe your target audience never saw that puzzle. Or if they have, by now they must have built up some tolerance to repeats.]
- That was kinda fun, but it didn't represent a meaningful advance in the field of Mega Man puzzles. [Yeah, OK there was a while there when even non-snobs maybe got a little burned out on those.]
- This puzzle seems humanly possible to construct, so it's at best a 4 out of 5 [Yes some puzzles may leave you thunderstruck. Yes, they're cool. But always remember the fun and value it.]
- Yawn, another extended wank that uses all four codesheet codes "Oh, I wonder when semaphore's coming up" [Yeah, Morse is awesome, give the others a rest.]
- I bet I could do it with like EIGHT codesheet codes [Yay, sounds like #Octothorpean will stay relevant until these snobs can get themselves under control.]
- At a day of talks about puzzles, puzzle snobbery is fun.
But let's take a moment for talk snobbery, too:
fun at TED.
- And along the way, a disclaimer: Ian's using the "puzzle snob" schtick to make his talk amusing. He's not such a jerk in real life. [I immediately concoct and discard the idea of giving a talk as a puzzle hipster: insisting on hand-crafted bespoke puzzles using only materials produced within 50 miles.]
- The following items are in the "voice" of a puzzle snob They're jokingly provocative. Careful, they sound harsh out without that context.
- "If a spreadsheet like this gets made, your puzzle sucks"
(slide shows a spreadsheet where team gathered some data but couldn't figure out what to do with it: column headings show an increasing level of desperation.)
- There are a lot of things to try; nobody knows what to do.
- More columns as folks try more things. They get weirder. Eventually, it becomes a cesspool that nobody wants to talk about.
- Seven hours later, someone like Rich Bragg goes in and finds the one error that made the right approach look wrong [where, if the puzzle designer's intent had been clearer from the beginning, folks would have focused earlier]
- If you're a designer and your puzzle's mechanism isn't one of the first 10 things the playtesters tried, ask yourself "why not".
- "Just because a puzzle can be written doesn't mean it should be"
- You will brainstorm. As you get better at brainstorming, you will have more ideas. They're not all winners. As you get better at brainstorming, you also need to get better at culling. [That's a great thing about collaboration: early playtesters who can tell me which of my four prototypes were fun enough to turn into one fun puzzle.]
- If the topic is obscure, use a mainstream mechanism. Don't leave solvers in the dark, give 'em something to cling to.
- Make it funny; folks will forgive a lot if it's funny. [Rhymes can help, too. Dumb riddles become mystically cool if you turn them into poems]
- If the topic is obscure, maybe the puzzle can be educational—if the topic is obscure and interesting maybe solvers will be glad that they "had to" learn.
- Don't make me feel like a chump for actually solving
Solving puzzles by hand is fun. Pasting puzzles into automatic solving programs is not fun—but in a time-competitive event, teams "have to" use automatic solvers when they can. So don't present automatically-solvable puzzles.
- Is the message "THE ANSWER IS HORSE"? Try to avoid that. If teams had to struggle for every letter, maybe they'll resent the time they spent struggling for "THE ANSWER IS"
- In a Mystery Hunt-like situation, you'll be tempted to include janky puzzles because teams can still solve a round by getting enough other answers to solve the round's metapuzzle. But consider: the players who spent time on that janky puzzle
- Don't make me ask "why is this even in the puzzle?"
- Every unneeded thing: flavortext, decoration, "extra layer"…
if it doesn't fit, it's making your puzzle worse, not better.
- If you have a multi-layer puzzle and it's not clear how those layers fit together, maybe you should divvy them up into separate puzzles.
- …and after you do that, if one of those layers doesn't stand up on its own, maybe that's an idea you should cull
- Why is that "codesheet code" in your puzzle? If you use Morse code for your puzzle on Telegraph Avenue, that's cool. But that doesn't mean Morse code's a good fit for every puzzle. [Don't listen to Ian. Morse code is definitely a good fit for every puzzle. Yay, Morse.]
- I was writing up feedback on a Mystery Hunt puzzle one year: "There's kinda gratuitous use of Braille. What do you think this is, a West coast event?" (laughter, howls)
- You can have one Arepo per puzzle… but only one!
- There's a famous (in some circles) 2000-year-old palindromic
In Latin, the square even means stuff: the farmer Arepo works the fields. Except it uses "Arepo" as a name, and "Arepo" was never a name. It's OPERA backwards, and makes the palindromic word square work. Wow, what a reach.
- "'Arepo' is a hapax legomenon—that is, a word not found anywhere else in literature"–Mike Selinker, Puzzlecraft ["Let's keep it that way"–Ian Tullis, my paraphrase right here]
- It might be OK if your puzzle has some awkward thing in there to make the otherwise-elegant construction work. But if there are two such things, check yourself.
- There's a famous (in some circles) 2000-year-old palindromic word square
- Like, maybe to make your pangram work you end up needing DR JUKEBOX. DR JUKEBOX is a song sufficiently obscure that it occasionally falls out of Google, so your players will need help getting there.
- The following items are in the "voice" of the funloving puzzle community talking back to a puzzle snob. They're still jokingly provocative, though, caveat lector etc.
- Nobody will notice or care how constrained your puzzle is
- If you constrain yourself to some cool gimmick, but it's not obvious [perhaps because it has nothing to do with the puzzle's theme] folks won't notice.
- Worse, they might think you made awkward choices for no reason.
- E.g. remember that clown-juggling puzzle from Ghost Patrol? Several teams had a correct theory of how to solve it, but tossed it out because it was too constrained to possibly work. [oh yeah, I remember it now] But that was indeed how the puzzle worked. Ian designed that puzzle; Ian worries he might be overfond of designing with cool constraints.
- If people can't solve your puzzle, they won't like it!
- In Iron Puzzler, err on the side of ease. Because there folks will vote on how much they like your puzzle. [Thus, it's a good way to find out what puzzlers like most (vs. what they'll tolerate)]
- Folks like a challenge. But when put to a vote to choose a favorite challenge, they'll choose the one they overcame.
- Even if afterwards they say "oh, how elegant, we should have seen that." somehow that puzzle won't get picked as the favorite one of the day.
- Example: one year when Ian's team was running the MIT Mystery Hunt, he noticed quark flavor names had length 2,3,4,5,6,7. Wow, you have to make a puzzle if you see a fact like that. So made a puzzle from it. Nobody solved it, though. And so nobody got to "share the aha"
- Clock hands as semaphore was once fun for you too!
- Work with a team including non-snobs!
- Consider the following hypothetical dialog amongst Shinteki members
that seems to reference a Decathlon challenge in the San Jose rose
garden a short while back
Linda: Ian, youre puzzle's just five words on an index card—will that be fun?
Ian: But I have to impress Todd [Etter, one supposes] with my spareness! He's so dreamy!
Brent: All right guys, I got this—they have to eat a candy cigar to collect each word!
- [Whether or not you're a puzzle snob, you have some blind spots that other people can help you steer through.]
- Don't confuse "puzzle" with "types of puzzle you like"
- Your elegant puzzle isn't the be-all and end-all of whatever.
- Our puzzlehunt puzzles aren't the first thing that springs to mind when you say puzzle. Folks think of jigsaw, crossword, sudoku, jumble…
- Talk around the water cooler next week will be about a gadget or a location; not about your puzzle.
- Some solvers like looking up data and filling out a spreadsheet: there's that constant dopamine hit of progress as facts pass through your brain and you fill in spreadsheet cells.
- Solve outside your comfort zone. The first time
the Burninators, champion
Real Escape Game, they didn't win.
- It rankled! Many puzzles similar to West Coast puzzlehunt puzzles, some were different.
- Were the puzzles wrong?
- Well, no, just different.
- When you find things that don't match your narrow category, you can slouch around feeling butthurt; or you can learn from them.
Don't take puzzle snobs too seriously
Who cares what puzzle snobs think?
(Answer: Other puzzle snobs)
- Me: OK, suppose I've got a cool piece of wordplay but it makes a crappy puzzle. What do I do with it then?
- Ian: You put it in the 2009 Mystery Hunt and it goes
- ?Who?: You could put it in later rounds of the MIT Mystery Hunt.
- Ian: Yeah, but if you don't win the MIT Mystery Hunt, then you can't dump your wordplay there.
- Melinda: Work with a team. Maybe someone else can salvage it.
- Ian: Or even if they can't, just by telling them the idea, you can get it out of your system.
- ?Who?: You could put it in later rounds of the MIT Mystery Hunt.
- Brent (I think): How did you become a puzzle snob?
- Ian: In first grade, we had playtime: we could cut out
paper and make shapes; at the end there was a contest to pick the best.
- Though everybody knows how to fold a cross up into a cube, I'd figured out how to make a sort of diagonally-connected double-cube from a double-cross.
- I made a couple of them, when time was called.
- So I panicked and hastily crammed them together and taped them up
- Thus resulting in a pretty boring-looking square: elegant internally, but only with a lot of explaining
- Ian: Back on topic: I saw the puzzles for the 2004 Mystery Hunt and thought they were great. I tried to get folks who read my LiveJournal interested in puzzles, but it wasn't much of an outlet. Then we won a BANG, and folks have been subjected to my puzzles ever since.
- Thank you!
But then I saw those distinctive pencils poking out of the shirt pocket. "Yeah, it's me."
…people wanted confirmation. They didn’t trust my knowledge while there was a way to confirm on the internet…Sure, if you hope for a quick sprint to the end of a puzzle, you might trust your teammate's knowledge of Taylor Swift lyrics. But if the puzzle's a marathon and you want to make sure you've done step 1 solidly before you start step 2, then you're going to go slow and check everything. And MIT puzzles tend towards the marathonic.
Time to start the betting pool: in which year will Watson, Dr Phil, and their ilk win the MIT Mystery Hunt?
Shady Characters has nudged the course of my life in recent years.
A few years back, some folks put together some resources to help folks learn the arcana of puzzlehunts. (Yes, there are mysteries, customs. Thinking about answer-extraction yields insights that let you skip parts. You are expected to recognize the six-dot Braille alphabet; you are not expected to know Braille contractions, eight-dot Braille symbols… That kind of thing.) Scott Royer had written an awesome puzzlehunt guide with a walkthrough for one puzzle. I was working at Google's engEDU team, hearing about Instructional Design and Theories of Learning all day. There are plenty of those Theories running around, but most agree: if you want someone to remember what you just taught them, give them a way to apply what they learned right away. So we wanted some more sample puzzles as exercises: nothing super-amazing, but something straightforward for Morse code, something for anagramming, something for indexing… Writing a puzzle with the only constraint "It should use Morse code" ain't so easy—you can do anything. If we had a theme, that would jump-start plenty of puzzles. But what theme?
I'd been reading the Shady Characters blog, reading about the history of punctuation. Most of these stories are of the form: over history, several symbols indicated the same thing. Before there were modern quotation marks, there were: different marks out in the margin, indented text with marks at the left edge; marks at the left edge with a different mark embedded in the text; different marks embedded in the text. But #'s story in the blog was different: # had been around roughly forever, but it meant different things over time and was called by different names.
So I used # as the theme for some sample exercise puzzles. Because # meant different things, there was still some variety. Several months later, there were quite a few puzzles. As the blog continued, more puzzle ideas resulted. Someone familiar with Swedish pointed out that # was a map symbol for a lumberyard. As you would expect, that inspired some lumber-ish puzzles.
Anyhow, when the book came out, I picked it up. It's a fun read; it's probably smoother to read the book than to pick your way through the blog. Usually, I'm a Kindle kind of guy, but I'm glad I got this book on paper. So far, most of the history of punctuation is tied up with the history of printing: scribes' marginalia, early typesetting. The physical book illustrates a lot of the type-ish things by using them itself; I suspect that wouldn't work so well on a Kindle. I read it over, got yet more puzzle ideas. But you might like the book even if you're not using it to get puzzle ideas.
Soon-ish, Octothorpean will reward you for sending in photos of yourself at puzzle sites with a shiny merit badge. Rather than let all those photos gather electro-dust in a gmail folder, it would be good to do something with them. But what? I'd like to know your opinion. (Yeah, of course, if someone checks the box saying "Please don't post this photo publicly, I'm shy" that photo ain't goin' anywhere. But shy people might still have opinions about where not-so-shy folks' photos go anyhow: maybe they'd find it annoying if _____ pages were cluttered with photos, but charming if ______ had them.)
Where should photos go?
- On puzzle pages. E.g., the San Francisco Music Mural puzzle could have photos of folks at the San Francisco music mural spot.
- On city-puzzle pages. So photos of folks at that music mural and all the other San Francisco Bay Area puzzle spots would be on one page.
- On city-badge pages. So San Francisco photos would be on the San Francisco merit badge page.
- On a separate gallery page, out of the way of puzzles and badges and such.
- Not on the site at all, but tweeted on the @octothorpean Twitter dealie.
Have an opinion? I'd love to hear it.
I'd seen the GC interface a couple of years ago, tinkered with it. More recently, I'd used ClueKeeper as a player for a test run, Shinteki Decathlon 8, and playtesting the 2013 Elevate Tutoring puzzlehunt. I knew it had changed: there was an iPhone client. Perhaps more importantly, I had changed: I'd finally upgraded to a new-enough phone to run ClueKeeper's Android client.
So I slapped together a little test “hunt”: answer words tended to be “test”; locations were spots on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. So far, I'd played with the hunt-writing interface and I'd played in hunts, but this was my first time seeing how that hunt would appear to players.
What did I learn? I learned that the hunt-composing UI is well thought-out. To set up a puzzle, you go through a few screens of UI; those screens are ordered as the players will encounter stages of the puzzle. There's a screen to configure what the players will do on their way to the puzzle (optional message, location, “start code”), at the puzzle (hints, answers, “partials”), and after solving (congratulatory messages, nudges where to go next). Within each screen, the UI elements again correspond to the order in which teams encounter things. In a puzzle's “preamble”, you can optionally specify that a team's GPS confirm they're at the right spot; you can optionally set a “start code” for them to give before the puzzle proper starts. The hunt-composing UI presents the elements in that order: GPS, start code. Thus, you can infer from that if both those options are on, then teams will have to first go to the location, then enter a start code. Obvious once you see it. I needed to see it, though.
I said “option” there a lot. As a hunt creator, you have plenty of those. To me, it didn't seem like an overwhelming amount of choice; it might help that I've played in Shintekis and DASHes and so I can look at a terse option description and say “Oh yeah, a Shinteki-style start code” or “I bet this comes in handy if you're using the Universal Longshots Scoring System.” Other folks… can probably figure it out. You can also set hunt-wide defaults for these settings.
ClueKeeper does not yet do everything I could imagine in my wildest fantasies. By the time you read this, though, it might. Whenever I asked Rich, “Hey, is there some way I could make it do _______?” and the answer was “not yet,” that answer continued with a well-thought out plan of how that feature could be added. That's the awesome thing; this program is being created by folks who are awesome Game Control folks in their own right; and they furthermore know professional and amateur gamerunners who are lavish with design advice and feature requests. They've set up a framework that's well-suited to its task. As folks say “Hey, we're running a game in a few months, can we use ClueKeeper to do X?” the answer's likely to be “Thanks to the advanced warning, yeah you will be able to do X.”
At the recent GC Summit, Rich said that in addition to live events, they also want some persistent in-the-world hunts available. So if there's some data-lush area of your hometown that could be viewed as a flurry of puzzles, you might want to learn about the platform and talk to the ClueKeeper folks about setting something up. (Of course, if your puzzly city site has a big old octothorpe in it, I think you should turn it into an Octothorpean puzzle instead; but it turns out not all such sites have octothorpes.) Check it out; it's pretty cool.
Also, point out things GC shouldn't do. This got me thinking back on my diciest moments as a GC volunteer. Those all involved weather. Like the Tornado-warning that I'm not sure ever turned into a full tornado but oh my goodness it was a big enough storm to impress this California boy with green skies and chunks of hail. Or getting rain-drenched on the way to Stow Lake that time. So I guess aspiring Game Control folks should learn to control the weather, all for the better comfort of their volunteers. Uhm, hmm.
Extrapolating from the above paragraph, Debbie's not going to get much useful feedback from my answers. So you should fill in that survey.
Lately, there have still been experienced folks playing, but there have been these other teams, too. These other teams act differently. They take hints on the intro puzzles—they're still learning to recognize things like Morse code and indexing and all the rest of our sensical nonsense. They're new and I'm excited to see them. And I kind of wish that they were Mystery Hunting today, that they even knew that the MIT Mystery Hunt was a thing…but then again, they're pretty new. Maybe they'll have a better time in the long run if they learn some stuff and then play in the Mystery Hunt next year. Maybe?