Hogwarts Inside Out: Game Control Operations: 'Til the End

Hogwarts Inside Out: Game Control Operations: 'Til the End

Curtis called up. He was still setting up the finale at the Delta King. Curtis wanted to know where Ron the magician was. Apparently we'd recruited a magician to set up the special effects around the Draconus Device assembly/destruction. Except Ron the the Magician wasn't there. Cary had Ron's contact information, called up Ron, got the story. Ron had sent email to Curtis on Friday night to cancel for a family emergency. With everything going on, no-one had been checking personal email.

Ron wasn't showing up. There was a back-up plan for this. This back-up plan required a cheap vase. Someone needed to go fetch a cheap vase and get it to the Delta King before the finale.

In case this wasn't enough bad news for Curtis, I gave him some more. There wasn't more bad news to give, so instead, I made a mistake. Curtis asked about the team status--were there any teams on their way to the Delta King? I looked up at the spreadsheet projected on the wall. A couple of teams were confirmed done with their last puzzle. "...assuming that they head over to you after they finish, there should be a couple of teams on their way." That assumption was wrong.

Curtis wanted to know if any GC Hosts are on their way over to the boat. Probably he was thinking that he was stuck outside waiting to greet teams and that Sean could use some help setting up. No-one at GC HQ knew about any "Host" duty. DeeAnn promised to send some people over soon.

That was a nerve-wracking phone call. When it was done, the phone immediately rang again. It was Andrew. He wanted to know something. When that was done, the phone rang again. It was Daniel, calling in with status. I asked Daniel how many teams had left for the Delta King. He said "none". As he'd been instructed, he wasn't letting any teams leave until after 10:30. Some teams had finished the last puzzle--he had those teams carrying out various feats to demonstrate their house spirit or something. So I called up Curtis to leave voice mail saying that teams weren't really on their way for another 10 minutes or so.

The role of the people on the phone lines shifted. The end of the game was approaching. Teams needed to finish up the required puzzles, drop off their vans, pick up their Mugglium, and make it to the Delta King. We needed time for a finale and then we needed to get all of the teams to the train station. Some teams were still a ways back. They weren't asking for hints. Maybe they weren't asking for hints because they were hard-core, but maybe they weren't asking for hints because they were too sleepy to sense the passage of time. Thus, phone volunteers called each team that wasn't already on its way to the Ziggurat. Just called up, asked how it was going. Some teams, reminded of the existence of GC, thought to ask questions.

It was time to count up the points awarded to teams by the phone info-line people. Instead of entering these into the spreadsheet during the game, we'd just kept around the pieces of paper, figuring that it would be quicker to just add them all up at once towards the end. And that turned out to be true. We added up numbers for each team, added those together to get numbers for each house. Three out of the four houses were tied--but they'd be un-tied once we counted up the house point tokens they'd carried with them.

Fewer calls to the info line came in now; not so many teams were still in the field. Chris handled them as they came in. One team couldn't get their wand to recognize the spell SANCTUARY. Chris told them what the wand would have said. Another team called in to confirm SANCTUARY. Five points added to their tally. A couple of teams were still at the Sticks and Stones puzzle. He called them up, this time pressing help on them more firmly. In an idle moment, Chris said that he was sorry that he hadn't had a chance to hear Curtis on info-phone duty more. "That's so much fun."

We now tore down the last of the war room: the phone area. Packed up the projector, the laptop, the phone rechargers. We'd put paper up on the wall as a projection screen; that came down now. Papers scooped up into clipboards, personal effects scooped up into backpacks. Meanwhile, phone duties continued, Lisa and Chris ready with phones and with paper to jot down notes. DeeAnn was still coordinating, talking with van folks on the phone. Between calls she said, "Never gonna do vans again, never ever unless we have as many drivers as vans." As all this went on, we walked out the door, left the keys on the counter, checked out. Lesson learned: Never gonna do vans again.

GC HQ was now a double handful of people with mobile phones, getting ready to head over to the Delta King. On the drive over, a snippet of conversation:

DeeAnn: What should I be doing?

Acorn: You need to relax and close your eyes for a few minutes.

Instead, DeeAnn called up GC folks at the Ziggurat and at the Delta King to find out status and report other stations' status. Ah, much more relaxing than trying to do nothing for a few minutes.

Daniel, at the Ziggurat, was worried. He still had three pieces of Mugglium left, and the time of the finale was fast approaching. Well, two teams were on their way to him, one team was probably still trying to cast their last spell, and then they'd be on their way to him. Some teams were straggling later than we'd expected teams to straggle. So... we'd delay the the finale.

The car got in line to enter the parking garage. I looked out the window, watched teams Lurem Pistrix! and XX-Rated walking towards the Delta King. This seemed spooky. For the previous 20 hours, I hadn't seen any teams. They had been rows in a spreadsheet, scratchy voices over bad phone connections on phones held by other people, figments of my imagination, abstract concepts. I watched them through glass, getting used to their concrete forms. They looked sleepier than I had imagined them. Then again, I was probably looking sleepier than I imagined myself.

We were parked, heading over to the Delta King. Chris called up our two stragglingest teams. One of them was under the freeway near the Amtrak station. That wasn't actually very close to the Ziggurat. Sacramento's pathologically tangled streets were costing us time. Folks who knew their way around gave some route suggestions.

A walkway led from the shore to the Delta King. There stood Curtis in professorial robes. waiting to greet teams. Team Snout had noticed that play-testers had been reluctant to hand Mugglium over to Professor Guzzany. He was a substitute Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Folks who'd read a few Harry Potter novels knew that such substitute DADA teachers were bad news. So the game's story had changed. Curtis would great teams. Teams trusted Curtis. Curtis would receive the Mugglium from the teams. Curtis had some Mugglium containment vessels (empty baby food jars). He'd let the team drop their Mugglium into a jar, he'd seal it up, he'd escort the team down to the restaurant--and then he'd hand the Mugglium over to Guzzany. Curtis trusted Guzzany.

For now, he was standing outside, waiting for teams to arrive. Most of the GC folks headed down to the restaurant. I got sent down for an errand: to make sure that someone was counting up the teams' tokens. Maybe that was the point of the errand. Or maybe DeeAnn and Curtis wanted a chance to talk for a few minutes without a personal assistant hovering around.

Down some stairs, along a bit of dock, across a gangplank and I was on the steamboat, sliding past tables of steaming food, and then there was the crush of teams, real people sitting, walking around, eating lunch, comparing stories. I looked around, tried to figure out if they were having a good time. Somehow, between trying to keep track of clues and car keys, I'd never known whether we'd created something fun or awful. Teams were smiling, joking, laughing. That was a good sign. I found the GC table, asked how token counting was going. It was going fine. I headed back out to report.

[Photo: Waiting at the Finish Line]

A few GC Van Drivers showed up. They'd been ferrying vans to the airport, now they were taking a break so that they could watch the finale. There was some discussion of how much they were spending on gas. And then the van drivers were gone. I had another errand down to the dining room to return Crystal's phone to her. Lisa was sitting at the GC table. As fitted her role as Cassandra Cross the insane witch, she was wearing a straitjacket. Someone had put a glass of water in front of her and thoughtfully provided a straw so that she could drink though her arms were bound. She appeared to be having a lovely time. I found Crystal, gave her her phone.

I was back outside in time to see Team Lowkey arrive. They had figured out that they had reached the finish line. They played it like Amazing Race. Two of them looked at each other, trotted up to Curtis and jumped to land in front of them. Someone said, "I'm sorry to tell you that you're the last team to arrive." Breaking the Amazing Race theme, Curtis briskly pointed out that they were not the last team to arrive, asked them to hand over their Mugglium, held out a jar for them to put it in. Someone on the team looked at the jar and asked, "You want a urine sample?" Team Lowkey was fun. All too soon, Curtis had the Mugglium in the jar and led them on their way down to the restaurant.

Soon he was back. It was Curtis, DeeAnn, and I standing and waiting for our two straggler teams. Time ticked away. DeeAnn figured out that we wouldn't be able to return all of the vans to the airport before the train left. Since she had to talk with the van rental people, she wasn't going to make it onto the train--she would end up with the people driving back to Emeryville. DeeAnn handed me the train tickets. DeeAnn wasn't going to be on the train, so I was responsible for getting everyone on the train.

We got a call from Daniel. A team had arrived at the Ziggurat! DeeAnn told him: Don't ask this team or the other to cast DYNAMITE. Just get them to clean up their vans and get the heck over here. Soon enough, they arrived at the finish line, were talking to Curtis, handing over their Mugglium, heading on down.

Time ticked away. And DeeAnn had a new plan, a way to shave off some time. When the last team arrived, don't make them clean out their van, don't make them walk across the bridge. Daniel would drive them to the entrance of the Delta King. Daniel and the team would hop out to watch the finale--and the team could finish cleaning up after the finale, as someone drove them to the station. But who would park the van during the finale? We couldn't just leave it parked outside the boat--there wasn't a parking space there. Someone would need to drive the van somewhere, park it, miss the finale. DeeAnn would miss the finale. She couldn't ask anyone else to do it. Curtis wasn't sure he liked a plan in which DeeAnn missed the finale. She pointed out that she didn't have a speaking part at the show. Then she said something which, while very geeky, was also convincing: "Good of the many. It's a very Star Trek sort of way to lead life."

Time ticked away. We heard from Daniel: the last team had arrived! They were on their way over! Soon we could start the finale! We wouldn't miss the train! It was all going to come together! We watched the river-bridge, looked for a van coming over, looked for the last team. We looked. We looked. We looked. And then we listened. We were listening, listening to a siren, a siren coming from the bridge. It was a draw bridge. I looked in the river, past the bridge--there was a boat approaching the bridge. Were they raising the drawbridge? Would the last team get trapped on the other side? Did we have any chance of getting the finale started in the next few minutes?

The siren was a false alarm. I never did find out what it meant. The last team showed up. They seemed tired. They had trouble getting the Mugglium into the jar, walked slow. But they were heading down, and soon we could start the finale. DeeAnn headed off with the van. I headed down to the restaurant, catching up with the team. As we walked in, there were cheers from the assembled crowd.

I had no errand, no mission, no purpose. I was exhausted. I filled a glass with ice water, drank it, filled it again, drank that, slumped against a wall, tried to follow some of the conversation that was roiling around me, failed. I was slipping into end-party sleepyheadedness.

[Photo: Teams Observing the Draconus Device] [Photo: Teams Figuring out the Final Challenge] [Photo: Watching the Big Kaboom]

There was the finale. Sean/Guzzany thanked everyone for bringing in the Mugglium, cast his spell, reassembled the Draconus device. I didn't really see this--I was slumped in the back, catching glimpses through a sea of heads. I heard Lisa/Cassandra say "You're a very naughty boy!" I suppose that the other professors groaned and fell to the floor. Guzzany crowed over his victory.

It took the teams a few beats to stop laughing and cheering and start casting DYNAMITE. I was impressed when one of the XX-Rated women jumped up on something, encouraged everyone to cast the spell at the same time, counted down: a good combination of leadership instinct and lung power. (Curtis later learned that she'd been in the Israeli army.) I wasn't sure how we planned to make sure that all of the teams were casting the spell successfully--and I'm still not sure. But after the third attempt, there was a puff of smoke from the vase, Guzzany collapsed to the floor, saying that he was ruined

Evil was vanquished. I staggered down to the GC table, and was surprised when some folks hustled Sean past in a firm grip and I saw Curtis getting up to talk. Oh. Oh, right. The finale was still going. Curtis still had to thank the teams, declare evil vanquished, announce the winning house, thank everyone again. Curtis spoke. I sat down on a step, leaned against a banister, let the words wash over me.

Then the teams were standing, cheering, applauding. At the end of a game, it's normal for teams to cheer. I cheered at the end of games, abstractly aware that a lot of effort must have gone into them. I looked around. A lot of these teams had run games, knew in their guts how much work it was. The next time I played in a game and it came time at the end to cheer, would I clap a little louder than I otherwise might have? Probably.

Then Curtis was thanking GC, thanking the volunteers, and most of all thanking DeeAnn--who couldn't even be here because she was parking the last team's van. Except--here she was. She'd finished parking the van and made it into the restaurant. She wasn't here in time to see the finale, but she was here in time for a standing ovation. I'd stayed seated for the cheering for GC--is it rude to clap for an organization of which you were part? Maybe. But I stood and clapped for DeeAnn.

There was still time for a bit of schmoozing before we had to run for the train. I talked with Wei-Hwa and Trisha of the Flagrinators (normally the Burninators). Wei-Hwa wanted to see the Big Board. Usually at the end of the game, there was a "Big Board", a big sheet of paper which GC had used to keep track of team status. Teams would look at it to figure out who had finished each puzzle quickly or slowly. In this case, the "big board" wasn't a piece of paper, but a Google spreadsheet. So we weren't showing a big board. I guess we could have brought out the projector and a laptop, projected the "board" onto a wall. Oh well. It's new technology, and we were still figuring it out. The Flagrinators and Briny Deep had worked together. According to Wei-Hwa, the Flagrinators had solved puzzles quickly, but Briny Deep was good with the wand.

Soon, we were all headed off to the train station. I didn't actually know the way to the train station, so I followed the crowd through Old Town, through the walkway to downtown, then jogged ahead so that I could make sure that we were checked in at the train station. I didn't need to jog--we had enough time. But in the end, I did need to jog, since I went a block in the wrong direction, had to double back, and probably arrived at the station just a minute ahead of the first teams. (Actually, some GC folks were already there, having driven over from the Delta King. And Tickled Pears was there, having been driven over after cleaning up their van.)

The lady ahead of me in line wasn't part of the Game. She asked where I was headed. Then she stumbled over the bag at her feet and started to fall towards me. She caught herself before I had to catch her. I said I was headed to Emeryville. She said that she was going to Santa Clara, to Great America. Then she tripped over her bag again, started to fall towards me, caught herself. This cheered me up: I hadn't slept in 30 hours, but I was still less clumsy than this lady.

By now all of the teams were in the station-house. In my ongoing mission of propagating misinformation, I passed along a lie from the ticket counter: our train would be boarding in about 15 minutes. Jessica Lambert gently let me know that my backpack was open. Yipe. Somehow I'd jogged for a few blocks through downtown Sacramento without leaving dirty laundry and papers strewn across the sidewalk. Lucky, lucky. I zipped up.

It was Amtrak, which is to say, the train was further delayed. Teams wandered out into the Sacramento heat, stood by the tracks next to the locked-up train. Eventually, the Amtrak folks decided to unlock the train. I handed the conductor our ticket. He looked at it and said "Dang, this cost y'all a lot." Maybe he shouldn't have reminded us of that after being so late.

On the train, I chatted with John Owens. I asked him which part of this game he'd liked most. He said something about the wand which I failed to follow as I groggily stepped out of someone's way, stumbled over a garbage cannister, and nearly fell down some stairs. It was time to find a seat.

I sat with Paul Chou and Mark Gottlieb, who'd played with Blinded by Quidditch. They were sleepy. They said they'd been sleepy since the game's start--waking up early to catch a train was not part of their routine. Like any engineer always looking for solutions, I said, "Nap-time on the train might have been good. Puzzles optional." Mark points out, "Puzzles are optional. That's what teammates are for." "Oh yeah--oh wait." Mark thought I was half of Red 5, I guess he had me mixed up with Jeff Stribling. Or perhaps it was a compliment: I don't quite remember who you are, but I've confused you with someone handsome. Across the aisle, team Accio Brain sat and chatted. They'd chat for a while and then pause. Then chat, and then a longer pause. They were drifting off into slumber-land. Paul Chou was asleep.

Miss Jerry came down the aisle in her owl uniform, passing out copies of the Daily Prophet. Mark Gottlieb got one. Paul Chou got one. I was a volunteer, I didn't get one. Fortunately, Paul Chou was still asleep, so I carefully lifted his copy up off of his belly and read it. The news was: Professor Guzzany had been caught, the Mugglium poisoning was going away, and all was right with the world. That was a relief. I put Paul's newsletter on the seat next to him, and drifted off to sleep.

At Emeryville, we disembarked. One "student" called out to another "Have a great summer!" DeeAnn was there waiting for us. The train had been delayed so long that she'd had time to finish dealing with the van rental people and drive on down. Teams wandered off. GC wandered to the parking lot. I wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to be doing. I was pretty accustomed to having someone tell me what to do by now. "Is there something for me to do, or am I just following you people around out of force of habit?" There was nothing to do: we were done.


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