It's hard to talk about how we approached Black & White because we made so many false starts, and in the end we failed to figure out some vital things. Or maybe that means that this description will best capture the chaotic feeling of approaching a puzzle. Anyhow.
Black and White was a word search whose words all described things that were black, white, or black-and-white, or "draperies". And there was a black square in the middle with white words: "BEST IF SOLVED BY NOV 3, 2003". Because that wasn't quite strange enough, there were instructions: "Part 1: B & W - and some curtains hanging Down too." "Part 2: B & W - always bet on black. Suggestion: Read from Noon to Noon. (Solve only after completing Part 1)"
The straightforward part of the puzzle was a word search.
I am not sure of the best method by which three people may collaborate to solve a word-search puzzle. In our case, three people each tried to get an arm in to one sheet of paper at the same time. Different people marked words different ways: I was circling them; someone else was scratching out letters, probably the third person was doing something else.
Anyhow, we had soon found all of the words.
Many word search puzzles have a secret message hidden in the "leftover" letters. We tried looking at the letters "from noon to noon", looking at them in the order encountered as one "swept" a hand clockwise around the grid. (Those of you paying close attention will notice that the "noon to noon" instruction applies to Part 2, not Part 1, which we were still working on. Good for you.)
This started out promising--we saw POWELL, a nearby street name. But then came HDOTATRAP, which wasn't anything. Obviously, we'd messed something up. Maybe because we'd had three people working on the puzzle at once, all reaching in to circle words, getting in each others' way: it was a mess. That 'A'--that was part of "CREAM", why had we circled it as a "leftover" letter?
So we solved the word search again, taking advantage of the second copy which was thoughtfully included. Now, when we looked at the leftover letters clockwise, we got POWELL HDOT AT RNNP. Okay, so there were still some problems there.
So now we looked at Part 2, "Always Bet on Black". What on earth could that mean? Well, some of the words in the word search described white things, some described black things, and some described black and white things. I thought we should look at the words that described black things: EBONY, OBSIDIAN, ONYX, RAVEN, TAR. Uhm, take the initial letters and reorder them, you get OOTER. Uhm, look at the "leftover" word search letters adjacent to black words, and you get... Okay, that was a dumb idea.
Alexandra suggested that we start walking over to Ripley's Believe it or Not museum. (You recall that the Power Up! puzzle told us that one of our goals was to get the prisoner's number from Ripley's.) Maybe we'd get inspired along the way.
And so Team Fishstick Mess sprang into action. We started to make our way along Jefferson Street, the most tourist-crowded street in San Francisco. Between Pier 39 and Aquatic park, this street is choked with gawking shoppers, t-shirt vendors, wayward children, buskers, crowds, artists who like to work in front of crowds, the lost, and yokels who stop suddenly to look at everybody else.
It was possible to move quickly along Jefferson Street. It was fun in the same way that walking along a busy sidewalk in Manhattan is fun. It involves wriggling, dodging, real-time pathing algorithms, hazard-spotting, diplomacy, stealth, and deceit. (sp?) Anyhow, I found it fun. Alexandra took point, I followed along, then came Dwight.
Dwight wasn't looking where he was going. He was looking at that word search, trying to figure out what we were doing wrong. Every few seconds he would look up, dodge around a clueless cluster of tourists, then look back down at the puzzle. I started to worry, to hang back, ready to jump into the fray if he collided with someone. But he never did. I never had to worry about Dwight. Somehow, he always knew when to look up. How was he doing that. I started to think about orienteering, looking down at one's map, looking up at landmarks, keeping paper and world in mind all at the same time.
Dwight looked up and jog/dodged to catch up with Alexandra and me. He had figured it out. Instead of reading the "leftover" letters clockwise (based on Part 2's "noon to noon" instruction), he read them downwards. They spelled out NORTH PT AND POWELL. Alexandra pointed out that Ripley's was on the way there, so we were still doing fine.
Dwight asked me if we were far from Ripley's. "It's at 145 or 175 Jefferson," I said. Dwight gaped at me. I told him about my little pre-game scouting trip. "I memorized as much as I could," I said. He shook his head and grinned.
At the entrance to Ripley's Believe it or Not! museum was an animatronic prisoner cursed to forever climb up and down a rope. We read the number off of his prisoner number and wrote it down on our answer sheet.
Walking along Jefferson Street was thrilling and exciting, but not the best way to make quick progress. So from Ripley's we went onto a side street to get further inland, away from the crowds. Alexandra whispered to Dwight and me: we should be quiet and eavesdrop, another team was coming up behind us! So I was a little surprised when Alexandra struck up a conversation with the other team. We exchanged thoughts about the hunt so far. (Later on, Alexandra explained: she had been kidding about the eavesdropping. Chatting is obviously friendlier.)
As we got further from the tourist area and closer to Northpoint and Powell, there were fewer people. I noticed that most of them were walking in the same direction we were. Many of these people had clipboards. Some of them were wearing headlamps though it was still light out. Was I paranoid, or were we surrounded by a crowd of our competition? I clutched my clipboard tightly.
We were. There were more puzzle-solvers than civilians at the intersection of Northpoint and Powell that evening. If you looked at the full-size representation of the Black & White puzzle, you noticed that the middle square contains a mysterious phrase "Best if solved by Nov 3, 2003". We'd puzzled over the meaning of that one for a while. Probably the first few teams to arrive at the corner of North Point and Powell had to search for quite a while before they spotted the tiny sticker from a deli stuck to a wall. The sticker was printed on November 3, 2003.
But our team didn't need to search. We just walked up to the center of the crowd of people carrying clipboards, and looked at what they were looking at: this sticker.
We were dumbfounded. The sticker was on the exterior wall of a shopping center, and might have come from a deli inside. I suggested we go to the deli. Maybe I was thinking that the deli would advertise for some Ben & Jerry's ice cream concoction. Maybe I was grasping at straws. Maybe the sticker had been doctored? I tried looking at its numbers, hoping for a clue. Dwight and Alexandra had some ideas which they didn't like.
In the end, we opened up the hint envelope.
The hint told us to look at the pattern of tiles on the wall with the sticker. There were green and white tiles. The sticker was on a green tile. If we looked at the "Best if solved by Nov 3, 2003" square on our word search, that was a black square. (Three weeks later, that sticker was still there.)
From this, we failed to realize that there was a mapping from the wall to our word-search-grid. If we had looked at the wall, noted where the green tiles were, highlighted the corresponding squares in the word search, and taken those letters in clockwise order, we would have got the message HYDE PARK POOP BAGS
We started walking back towards Hyde Street. I was still wrestling with denial: "Hyde Park Poop Bags" couldn't be the correct solution to to this "Black and White" puzzle, because I really, really wanted the answer to involve a black and white sundae at Ben & Jerry's. But I eventually realized that the problem did not lie with "Hyde Park Poop Bags," but with me.
But there was a problem with "Hyde Park Poop Bags": There is no Hyde Park in San Francisco. We studied our standard-issue map. There was no sign of a Hyde Park. There were a few parks along Hyde Street: Victoria Park (where the cable cars turned around), Russian Hill Park (where the reservoir is), and Hyde-Vallejo Park (way the $&#* up the hill). Which of these parks was right? Were any of these parks right? Was there an obscure Hyde Park hiding somewhere else, unbeknownst to our team's natives and street maps?
We started walking towards Hyde Street, tossing ideas and maps back and forth.
I figured it was Hyde-Vallejo Park. My reasoning: it was impossible to see the downtown skyline from Fisherman's Wharf. To solve the transparency clue, we would need to see the skyline. Therefore, we would need to climb the hill. As it happens, the foundation of this tower of logic was made of quicksand: you can see the skyline from the Pier 39 area. Fortunately, I was outvoted.
We had a vague plan: start by looking at Victoria Park. That park was wide open, so we could spot any doggie-poop-bag-dispensers pretty easily. If we didn't spot any, head up Hyde Street to Russian Hill Park. Alexandra thought there was a doggie-poop-bag-dispenser there. And if we didn't find anything there, we could slog up the hill.
When he hit Hyde Street, Alexandra spoke up: If she were a betting woman, she would bet on Russian Hill Park. Could we check on that first? That seemed OK to me. It seemed to me that if the puzzle-maker was going to get the name of a park wrong, Russian Hill Park would be the one. I hadn't known the place had a name until I'd studied my maps the week before. I just thought of it as "The park next to that 'East Jesus' area where you might actually be able to find parking."
And when we were half a block away, we could see that this was a wise choice. Evening was falling, and we could see the light of headlamps. People with clipboards were milling about. We were surrounded by treasure hunters. We made our way over to the dog-poop-bag-dispenser. Inside were several plastic bags, but one bag was special: it contained business cards. Actually, they weren't business cards.
I took a card. On it was printed a puzzle, "Feeling Good".
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