Hogwarts Inside Out: The Play-test: 'Til the End

Hogwarts Inside Out: The Play-test: 'Til the End

On the way to Maidu Park, Jim Keller told us about playing on a team with someone named Bruce Rogers. Bruce loved to drive. With Bruce on your team, you might be the last team to leave a clue site--but still the first team to arrive at the next.

After some reasonably-paced driving, we arrived at the suburban residential district which bordered the park. We were pretty sure we were at the right place--amongst the parked cars, there was an empty van with its doors wide open. Around the corner, we saw coed astronomy.

Our instructions told us to walk the path into Maidu Park to find the clue. It was somewhat distressing when the path branched before we'd found the clue. Then the path came back together again. Then it separated again. We looked around, spotted no clue. Maybe we'd taken the wrong path from the very beginning? Was there some other path into the park? We emerged, looked for another path. Someone had the bright idea of asking coed astronomy for hints as to its location. coed astronomy thought we could use more than a hint. "Hint? I'll just tell you. You've probably been right next to it. It's hidden under a bush. We must have walked past that thing three times." And that's where it turned out to be.

This puzzle, "Sticks and Stones" consisted of a toy, a building toy, a set of magnetic rods and balls. Thanks to the power of magnetism, you could construct polyhedra from the rods, which formed edges; magnetic balls formed the vertices. Each rod had a color: red, yellow, green, or blue. This toy had been adorned with symbols--each rod had a dingbat symbol at each tip and a number in the middle. There was also a slip of paper which seemed to be an encrypted message, consisting of dingbat characters.

I hustled back to the van, fetched my laptop, and powered it up. Rather than doing cryptanalysis on this slip of paper's message, I would hope that they were using a regular Windows dingbat font. I would type out the alphabet in that font and we wouldn't need to muck with letter frequencies. I fetched the laptop. I found a place to sit out of the sun so that I could see the screen. I typed out some alphabets, applied different dingbat fonts to them, compared them to the symbols on the piece of paper--and got a nonsense message.

Meanwhile, I should have been paying attention to what the rest of the team was doing, because they'd figured out the right solving method. I'm not sure I ever did get it right, but here's what they seemed to be doing: The paper's message consisted of rows of symbols. Symbols appeared in clusters of two, three, or four. Each cluster represented a vertex--the symbols were rod-tip symbols around that vertex. Thus, each row described a 3-d figure that could be made from these rods. After creating a figure, look at all of the red rods and add up their numbers. Look at the yellow rods and add up their numbers. Get the green sum and the blue sum. These four numbers were all between 1 and 26--they were letter numbers. Soon, no thanks to me or the laptop, we had a place to go.

Here Jim Keller spoke up to re-direct us. If this had been the real game, we would have followed the puzzle's instructions. For purposes if this play-test, we should call up game control.

We were going back to Sacramento. Our goal was a plaza associated with a water intake facility that featured a concrete boat. Soon we were back on the road. We might have gone right past the plaza if Jim Keller hadn't been with us. We were driving along the proper street and saw a plaza--which didn't seem to have a concrete boat. So we were going to keep going, but Jim spoke up--he'd scouted this location. He wasn't 100% sure, since he'd scouted it on bicycle, but we were probably in the right place.

The water intake facility itself hummed like a dam. It was just the sort of place where you might expect a wizard to be waiting to hand over one piece of a magical MacGuffin called The Draconus Device, and that's what it turned out to be. It was Chris of Game Control.

He explained that he was ready to give us a piece of the Device, but first he needed to make sure that we knew how to destroy it. Did we know how? "Oh yeah, that 'DYNAMITE' spell." He asked if we'd ever cast it. "Well, we tried, but it always said 'nope, I don't know that spell.' Was something else supposed to happen? We haven't been having much luck with the wand lately."

[Photo: At the Intake] [Photo: At the Intake]

Chris asked us to try casting the spell. Justin tried a few times, each time getting the "NOPE" response. Chris offered some advice, maybe that helped. Justin tried a few more times, maybe that helped. I wasn't paying much attention. This spot was shady, it was breezy. I was enjoying being out of the van, was enjoying snapping photos. But then it was time to look alive again: Justin had successfully cast DYNAMITE. Chris handed him a part of the Draconus Device--a flat piece of sculpy, painted to look like a circuit board, with a magnetic sphere embedded in it.

For the play-test, game control had a skeleton crew: not as many people, not as many vehicles. When we called up game control to say that we'd successfully acquired part of the Draconus Device, they told us to drive to the big ziggurat. Sacramento has a big ziggurat, a big stepped-pyramid building. Because game control was short of vehicles, they didn't need to give us directions--instead, they asked us to give Chris a ride--he knew the way; he was, furthermore, stranded.

We parked across the street from the ziggurat. On the sidewalk was the dessicated corpse of a dead cat. This wasn't part of the game, but it felt like a bad omen. If that cat had been black, it would have been an appropriate omen, because we were headed into evil magic territory.

The ziggurat building was closed for Sunday. We searched the planters in front for our next clue. Then we heard a "hey!" It was Curtis and a couple of other Game Control folks, motioning us over--folks were waiting for us on the other side of the building. Both of the other play-test teams and most (all?) of Game Control were there. We had reached the finale, and we were the stragglers. Here, Professor Guzzany, our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, told us to hand over our piece of the Draconus Device. This seemed sketchy--in the plot of the game, why would we trust this guy? There was a long pause--and then we handed it over for lack of any better ideas.

With some dramatic flourishes, he assembled our Draconus pieces into a connected rectangular array. He waved his wand around a bit, shouted something like "Reparo" and announced that we'd successfully reconstructed the Draconus Device--and that he planned to use it to take over the world. Whoops. Maybe we shouldn't have handed over that stuff after all.

We knew what to do here--cast DYNAMITE. Justin went to fetch our wand from our pile of backpacks. Meanwhile, someone from one of the other teams successfully cast DYNAMITE. The wand said "KABOOM". This was great news--but Professor Guzzany just gave an evil laugh. He gave an Evil Mastermind Rant, hinting that it wasn't enough that just one person cast DYNAMITE. Each team needed to cast it--within 15 minutes of when the Device had been assembled. Uh-oh. Kenny Easwaran of Get on a Raft with the Weasleys was pretty good with the wand, and cast the spell pretty early, then watched as the other teams had more trouble--but eventually, each wand-wielder cast the spell. Guzzany kept laughing--we all needed to have the spell going at the same time. When you cast a spell with the wand, it would keep repeating its message (in this case, "KABOOM") as long as you continued waving it back and forth. However, our spell casters, having cast the spell, had waved the wand back and forth long enough to convince themselves that they'd cast the spell successfully--and then stopped. resting their overworked wrists.

Our wand-wavers cast DYNAMITE again. It took a few tries, and we were getting close to the 15 minute cut-off--but then all of the wands were saying KABOOM and then Professor Guzzany gave a shriek, and the Draconus Device was declared destroyed. We'd finished the Game, evil was vanquished.

A short drive later, and we were at Round Table Pizza in old Sacramento, where there was wonderfully cold lemonade. Here we had a chance to talk with other teams. Ian and Darcy said that they'd thought of leaving a calling card for me. I'd recently made a blog post making fun of furries. So they found some furry Harry Potter/Ron Weasley p0rn fanart, printed it out, and put little Queen Victoria stickers over the naughty bits. They were going to leave it behind at some clue site. They'd thought better of it, though. What if some sensitive local had found this smut before I had? What if I found the stuff and had to gouge out my own eyes? Did they want that weight on their conscience? In the end, they kept it to themselves.

The folks of coed astronomy were still shaken up about having found a couple in flagrante at a clue site. This, of course, led to discussion about what the encoding would have been if that couple had been a puzzle. They could moan in Morse. Look up each position in the kama sutra get the position number, modulo 26. The thrashings of their limbs could have been semaphore.

Eventually, we settled down long enough to let Game Control tell us our scores. There were some suspicious bonus points handed out. I say "suspicious" because our team received hundreds of bonus points for some sketchy reasons; Get on a Raft with the Weasleys had done some cool things, including creating a vegetable lamb out of banana peels and cotton--and only scored a handful of bonus points. Suspiciously, these bonus points didn't change the team standings--but reduced the spread between teams so that the last place team didn't need to feel like they'd been clobbered. My team, Continental Breakfast, came in last. Next was coed astronomy. The winners were Get on a Raft with the Weasleys.

For the real game, teams would ride the train back to the bay area. For this play-test, we rode back in the vans. coed astronomy shared a helpful hint: put sprigs of rosemary in the A/C vents to keep the van from getting stinky. It was a good thing I wasn't driving--Not only did I not know how to drive, I was drifting off, only snapping back to alertness whenever I spotted something surprising in my peripheral vision--like my hair. Instead, Curtis drove. Most folks slept. Someone made a comparison to "Dad driving the kids back home from sumer camp."

Back at Emeryville, we went our separate ways. I mooched a ride back to San Francisco from Prasad. Soon I was home. In theory, I was now ready to volunteer with Team Snout as part of GC, see how the game changed post-play-test, see what it was like to run a game. In practice, I was soon asleep.

Puzzle Construction Parties [>]

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