Hunts: No Morse Egress

Other No More Secrets Game sites:

I don't remember much from the No More Secrets Game. It was worth remembering; it was pretty interesting. But our team, Mystic Fish, was short-handed this game. I spent a lot of time playing; not so much time taking notes and reflecting.

Why were we short-handed? Wesley had moved up to Seattle. He couldn't make it to the game. Brian Larson wasn't sure that he wanted to play. We didn't seek substitutes until the day before the Game; by the time other past players sent their regrets that they already had weekend plans, it was too late to cast the net wider.

Alexandra's mother got sick a couple of days before the game. Alexandra was reluctant to drive too far away or to pull an all-nighter if she might have to make some tough medical decisions at the tail end of it. So she would be driving her car behind our van during the day, driving back home at night to sleep, rejoining us the next day. Short-handed, that was us.

The Day Before

Even if we hadn't been short-handed, I would have been glad to have Dave Hill on the team. I'd read about his exploits pioneering the game in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I'd hoped to play with him when he teamed up with Mystic Fish for the Paparazzi game--but then I'd got sick and missed him. But now he was back. Specifically, he was in a rental van parked at 17th and Valencia. It was the day before the game, and some of us were getting together to outfit the van.

Dave seems like a pretty intense guy when you read his write-ups, but he was actually low-key and friendly. Which was a good thing, because we were soon whirling the van through traffic, finding a better parking space, all while co-ordinating finding Dwight (who was looking for us at the corner) and phoning with Alexandra, who was involved in some complicated vehicle logistics in some other district.

There was a flurry of logistics.

We needed to stash the middle bench from the rental van. So we removed the bench from the van. It was on casters, so we could wheel it. And thus Dave and I found ourselves crouch-walking, pushing a van bench through throngs of Valencia hipsters. You might wonder where we were going to stash the bench. No-one on our geeky team was cool enough to live on Valencia. But two of Dwight's kids were. I thought of their apartment as a movie production house--when the team needed to put together a video for our application, we'd gone to the kids' place and one of them had used his camera to get a video of Dwight and I shuffling around some Scrabble tiles.

Now we were using their apartment again. Or rather, we were using their stair landing. Specifically, we were going to leave the van bench there. There was a bike there, chained to the stair banister. There was room for a van bench, too. I wasn't sure what the protocol was for chaining up a van bench in a makeshift bike parking area, so we made one up. We juggled the bench and the bike so that the bicyclist would be able to extract their bike. Then we locked the bench to the banister with a humongous lock I associated with motorcycles. (I don't know if that was the standard protocol, but the bench was still there when we looked for it after the game, and no-one had vandalized it.)

The Morning Of

It was the morning of Game day. I was on my way back to 17th and Valencia where we were assembling. But first I was stopping off at Katz' bagels for coffee and a starchy bageloid mass to absorb the coffee. I wasn't too surprised when I felt a tap on my shoulder--it was Dwight. Soon Dwight, Dave and I were assembled with snacks and coffee in seats of the van. The venerable Mystic Fish magnetic letters and fish were affixed to the outside of the van, transforming it into a work of art. We called up Alexandra--she wouldn't be able to make it to 17th and Valencia in time, but she would just drive straight down to the game start and meet us there.

On the drive down south, we discovered that the venerable Mystic Fish magnetic letters were a little too venerable--one of them flew off. We'd supplemented their magnetism with duck tape, but that was not sufficient to make them adhere. We pulled off at an offramp, pulled off the letters. Our van now looked fairly ordinary--except that two magnetic fish still clung strongly to the rear of the van, out of the way of the wind. And there was icky duck tape adhesive on the front of the van. I couldn't help but wonder how many bugs our van would trap.

Photo: Start: Here Be Dragons

Soon we were at the Plaza del Sol in Sunnyvale. Except for Alexandra, who was still on her way. Usually she likes to show up early to schmooze, but not this time--this time she would be a little late. The good news was that I had a chance to schmooze with David Hill, reassure myself that he was sane and that I could stand being in a van with him for the next thirty hours.

Then the game started up. I forget the exact order in which things happened.

The First Few Puzzles

PUNCH CARDS This was a fun, quick solve. We received some slips of paper shaped like old punch cards, each adorned with some clue-ish phrases. Figuring out the answers to the clues gave us a series of words, each of which had a direction-word concealed within it. E.g., if the clue was "At a four way stop, person with this goes first", the answer would be "RIGHT-of-way". That gave a series of directions. If you drew out a series of connected line segments in those directions, you couldn't help but notice that you were drawing a letter-form. Soon we had our answer. It took a while to enter it into the phone system.

Then we spent a few minutes getting our act together. We weren't all traveling in the van. Alexandra was bringing her car along so that she could drive home in case of nightfall or emergency. Unfortunately, we were just now getting a chance to figure out the logistics of this. Where was Alexandra parked? Where was the van? Who would follow whom? Did everyone have walkie-talkies?

Eventually we made our way to the computer museum.

COMPUTER MUSEUM This puzzle had us pretty stumped. We eventually called in for a hint.

Photo: Amongst The Redwoods

TRIANGLES I remember that this puzzle drop was in a very pretty setting--the Redwood Grove at University Avenue. The puzzle was pretty cool too. We had a fun time figuring out how to put the triangles together. We were stumped at the last step, though. Somehow I didn't mind being stumped so much under shady trees next to a sparkly little brook. We thought of several ways to get a message out of this thing we'd put together; none of them were the right way. Eventually, we called up for a nudge. We were still stumped. It was still a nice day. Then we called up to say Just tell us how to get the message, and GC did and we did that and then it was time to leave the trees.

Our next clue site was Memorial Park in Cupertino. Unfortunately, the person controlling our GPS didn't know that the GPS could give directions to landmarks and street intersections--so he entered in a random Cupertino street address. Meanwhile, I was looking at paper maps, and when I asked, "Is this University?", I decided that someone's grunt was a "yes". The GPS was giving bad directions. I was giving bad directions. There were two sets of bad directions flying around the van, and soon the van was flying around, too. We figured out what was going on, but it took a while and meanwhile we'd made some hairy U-turns. Lesson learned: Jeez, don't do that.

Into the Hills

The Audio Clue At Memorial Park, we picked up an audio CD. Along with the CD we got some advice: solve this one while driving to Felton. Ah, but we were traveling in two separate vehicles--we couldn't all listen to the CD at the same time.

So we sat in the parking lot and played the CD. Fortunately, it was people's voices, so we could transcribe it. Then Alexandra and I piled into her car; Dwight and Dave stayed in the van. Then we caravanned up into the Santa Cruz mountains, towards Felton.

Alexandra and I didn't make much progress on the puzzle. The guys in the van figured out that one of the people in the CD was saying phrases that solved to number-word homonyms. E.g., "I am about to drive" solved to "Fore" which meant "Four". (That last step being non-obvious, except when you noticed that the other things that the guy said all sounded like numbers.)

Meanwhile, Alexandra was squirming. She was part of GC for the upcoming BATH3 game. I was, too, kinda. Dwight would be playing in that game. BATH3 GC had scouted out Felton for clue sites and determined that there was just one good one--a covered bridge. They'd even selected that place as a site for their game. Alexandra was pretty sure that we were going to the covered bridge, but wasn't sure what to do with that information. Meanwhile, Dwight was suggesting that we drive "into downtown Felton."

We drove to the Felton Covered Bridge. Sure enough, our next puzzle was there. We decided to keep solving anyhow. Except we never made the necessary mental leap. We had to take a hint. This was extra-embarrassing because one of my blog posts had inspired this puzzle. When I'd first heard the name of the game "no more secrets", I'd posted about how delighted I was to play in a name named " No Morse Egress." So they'd made up a puzzle based on puns on team names. titled "A group protesting the use of herons as telegraph operators", i.e. "No Morse Egrets". Then Team Taft on a Raft had submitted a funny team application video which used the "No Morse Egrets" pun--and all teams had seen this.

But we didn't make the intuitive leap for this puzzle. And thus I was revealed to be a typical punster: I could dish them out, but I couldn't take them.

COVERED BRIDGE Once we'd taken the hint to find out the puzzle's approach, solving the puzzle went OK. So then we started working on the puzzle which we'd already picked up. This was a fun and elegant word-association overlapping-jigsaw maze thing. This was fun. You should go solve it.

Cold case room Was this when we reached the first cold case stop? This was GC's way of evening out the spread between teams. The hunt was divvied up into legs. When you finished a leg of the race, instead of going to the next clue site, you'd go to a big room. This was a sort of holding tank for teams. GC would give out puzzles to keep teams occupied. Thus, front-runner teams wouldn't get too far ahead of the pack--and thus GC folks wouldn't need to wait at puzzle sites for hours and hours and hours--just for hours and hours. We were pretty close to the back of the pack, which explains why the "cold case" room closed up at about the time we got there.

Going Coastal

Phone Mastermind Other folks on the team really liked the location for this puzzle, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center on the western edge of Santa Cruz. They were really impressed by the whale skeleton. I've had complicated feelings about whale skeletons since I clonked my head on one.

We had trouble with this puzzle. We quickly figured out that it was mastermind. It seemed like mastermind as played over the phone. We entered four digits and sounds came back, seeming to indicate how many digits we'd got right. But there seemed to be some variation--the mastermind always seemed to be leading to some number, and then that answer didn't work. Were we missing a layer? We decided to keep trying the regular mastermind approach, but try more variations if the regular-mastermind answer didn't seem to work. But this time, the regular-mastermind answer worked. What had gone wrong before? We never found out.

NUMBER CROSSWORD For the next puzzle, we went inland. There was a park that was mostly taken up with athletic fields, ballparks. As a landmark, there were giant balls on the hill. Soon we'd picked up our next puzzle: a crossword whose squares weren't all squares and whose numbers were in strange places and whose clues didn't have numbers provided. It looked tough. We sat down at a picnic table. We'd figured out the puzzle's gimmick: if a clue was something like "unsighted rodents", then the we wanted to look for a number 3 in the crossword grid and write in BLINDMICE. But there were a few number 3s, and some of the clue phrases weren't so easy. At least they didn't feel easy to me. We were inland, i.e., where the heat is. I was slowing down. I missed the shady redwood grove. Dave Hill was getting a migraine. Dave Hill was the safest one of us to drive the van at night. I'd heard that night driving--specifically, looking at headlights--exacerbated migraines. Dave had hopped in the van and was driving back to a gas station in search of medication when we called him on his cell--Alexandra had migraine medication.

Photo: Yay Ice Cream

Then there was an ice cream truck. It may have saved my life. And not just mine--other gamists were there, too. Darcy was ahead of me in line. I got an It's It. It was so cold, so delicious. Other Mystic Fishies got ice cream treats, too. Dave Hill, ready to try a local delicacy, got an It's It. "It's nothing special," he said, and he's probably right. When you take a San Franciscan out of that protective layer of fog, he tends to have strong feelings about things that restore cool temperatures. Did I say "he"? I meant "I". I'm telling you, that It's It was wonderful. I was back in the game. We polished off this puzzle.

Our next destination was further South, at an old WWII shipwreck that sounded oddly familiar. But Alexandra was heading home--we were headed a little too far from her mom.

LEGO Though I'd backed off from major participation in BATH3 GC, I was still somewhat involved, writing mini-puzzles, play-testing regular puzzles. I had heard some chatter about a "gorgeous" clue site, a beach with a dock leading out to a shipwreck, a grounded WWII cement boat. Our directions were telling us to drive to REMIND some beach and walk out on a dock to a shipwreck, so I'd get to see the site! (In hindsight, I needn't have worried about having a chance to see this site.)

Ahh, It was pretty. My photos didn't turn out. Sorry.

We didn't stick around. Hey, it was getting dark and our van wasn't actually parked nearby. We walked back up to the van and then went to a nearby diner, where there were things vital to puzzling: food, tables, light.

The puzzle was fun: we had some Legos. We had several slips of paper, each with an orthographic view view of a Lego construction--some top views, some side views, no head-on views. By looking and thinking, one could figure out which head view went with which side view. By building with Legos, one could construct the drawn thing. By looking at the construction head-on, one saw a letter. And so we played with Legos until the diner closed, and then we played with Legos some more in the van. And then we'd solved the puzzle and it was time to go on to the next site.

Bank Heist

I do not think we made our way through this challenge the way that we were supposed to. Thank goodness GC was adaptable.

The next site was a house on a residential neighborhood with a view of the water. It was a pretty, quiet spot. We parked. Dave Hill decided to stay in the car and try to get a nap. Dwight and I, the rest of the team, walked up to the house, up to the front door. There were a few teams scattered about nearby. The front door was closed, and we started to walk around the side--then I noticed that there was a guy inside, looking out at us. He poked his head out, asked if he could help us. There was a confused little exchange in which we figured out that he was a "bank guard". Oh.

For the first few puzzles, we'd picked up some transparent sheets with stuff printed on them. They'd all mentioned stuff about bank security. Apparently this was a sort of live-action puzzle. This seemed pretty interesting. Dave probably wanted to see this. We went back to get Dave. Dave was indeed interested. He overlayed our transparent sheet. They made a map and a set of instructions. Our first challenge was to get past the Bank Guard and into the bank.

First, Dwight and I tried going around by the side of the house. We'd looked at the map, and seen that after we snuck past the guard, we were supposed to reach a "Group Badging Station" at the back of the bank. On the map, this looked suspiciously like a hot tub on a porch. Sure enough, we soon reached a back porch where Jan Chong of GC didn't seem so glad to see us. I started to clamber over the banister, asking, "Hey, is this the group badging station?" Jan replied, "Why would I tell someone who was obviously breaking into the bank?" She had raised an excellent point. Dwight and headed back to the front, where Dave Hill was.

At the front door, I expected the Bank Guard to ask us a puzzle, but apparently we were supposed to bluff and/or bribe our way past him. Dave tried to offer the guard some money. Dwight was trying to talk over Dave. I looked at all of this talking and remembered a scene from the Sneakers movie: Bishop bluffs his way into a building by pretending to deliver a cake while the relevant guard is distracted by other jabbering people (secretly stooges of Bishop). So I said, "I'm here to deliver a cake." Unfortunately, at this point my compatriots stopped talking and looked at me instead of continuing to talk. So much for stealing ideas from the movie.

The guard said, "I don't think we need a cake. It's Saturday night--"

Me: "Saturday night is party night."

Him: "Yeah, but there's no people here for the weekend, it's just me and the Death Robots upstairs."

Me: "Hey, Death Robots need to party."

It's difficult to argue with logic like that, and the guard didn't try. He let me past.

Dwight piped up: "I'm with him."

I looked back, said, "Yeah, uh, he's gonna jump out of the cake."

The guard wasn't sure that was a good idea: When Dwight jumped out of the cake, wouldn't the Death Robots shoot him with lasers?

"Yeah, sounds like a fun party, eh?"

He sighed, let Dwight in, but Dave was still outside.

Let me rephrase that last phrase: Dave, the guy who'd read our instructions and had those instructions in his pocket was still outside. "Hey Dwight, do you remember what we're supposed to do next?"

We headed to the back of the house, where Jan was still monitoring the hot tub. She asked, "Is this your whole group?" Now, what she meant by that was, "Did you remember to let your team-mates sneak in the side door as is clearly suggested by the directions in Dave's pocket?" But I figured this was a time for more bluffing. And besides, our group distribution was complicated. "Well, this is either 2/3 of us or half of us, depending. One of us got worried about her mom's health and had to drive back, one of us is nearby but is in the car, and..."

Jan motioned us towards the hot tub, in which there were floating foam balls and a wind-up frog. Our task was to fish out one of the foam balls using a handily-provided fishing line. We were just getting started when Dave came in. He'd stood by the side door for a while, waiting for us to open it. After a while, the bank guard at the front door broke the fourth wall, said: "Jeez, they're not letting you in?" He let Dave in the front. It's good when GC is adaptable for clueless players. Anyhow, Dave got to witness as Dwight and I teamworkishly fished out a foam ball at the same time by cleverly getting our lines tangled and then letting that tangle snare a ball.

Our group badge allowed us up to the second floor of the building. There, Crystal explained our next challenge. One of us would have to sneak into another room. That person would need to walk very slowly to avoid tripping the motion sensors and activating the Death Robots. To make sure that he wasn't walking too fast, our slow-walker would wear a garter belt covered with jingle bells. So, who was our brave volunteer?

That was Dave. By golly, if he was patient enough to wait by the side door all that time, he was probably patient enough to walk really slowly for a few minutes. There were a few other teams milling around, watching their representatives walk the course. The "motion sensors" were GC volunteers sitting around and listening for jingle bells. The Death Robot was another GC volunteer, armed with a water gun.

Dave pulled on the garter belt, did the walk. The walk took him out onto a balcony, then back inside to a room where our next answer word was written on a big piece of paper.

After that, he asked GC if he could go out on the balcony again, this time at regular speed, and snap some photos of the sunset. And that was OK. It's good when GC is adaptable.

Night Time

VOWELS Our next stop was an ice cream/candy shop in downtown Santa Cruz. I didn't even know that Santa Cruz had a downtown shopping district, but we were obviously in the midst of one. By the time we parked, night had fallen. By the time we were at the ice cream shop, it was time for ice cream. Soon a friendly GC person loaded us down with ice cream and a new clue. Soon we were at a little table, ready to solve. Another team, already sitting at a nearby table, noted our arrival. One of them said, "Welcome to Hell." But this turned out to be one of my favorite puzzles.

This was a series of cryptic-crossword-looking clues, each next to a set of blanks in which to write letters. Except that some of the letter-blanks were highlighted yellow. I am not so good at cryptic crossword puzzles, so I made myself useful: I shone one of the triclopean headlamps at the sheet of paper so that Dwight could read. Dwight does cryptics regularly; I try to skip them when I see them. I kind of zoned out, letting the cryptic experts do their thing. Except that they were having trouble. The cryptics just weren't working.

Then someone figured out the trick. I think they were looking at the clue "Charon's crafts of metal _ _ _ _ _ _ _". "Charon's crafts" had to be FERRIES; "of metal" had to be FERROUS. Gee, those two words were awfully similar--their consonants were the same; only their vowels were different. And if you filled in the blanks, the consonants all fell on highlighted squares. (Later on, one of the National Puzzlers' League folks (Dwight? Alexandra?) would point out that the NPL has something like this as a standard puzzle type, "Consonantcy".) We started knocking off clues, but it was slow going. I called up Alexandra to get some help--one of the half-clues asked for "Shepherding dogs who don't even care about the sheep"; she got COLLIES right away, which went well with CALLOUS. Once she heard what the puzzle was, she knocked down several more answers, over the phone, without looking at the grid.

An acrostic told us to use the vowels for the next bits. "Bits". Oh, five vowels--five bit binary. The word FERROUS had no A, yes E, no I yes O, yes U. 01011. Eleven. "K". This reduced our list of ~30 words down to ~5 words. I guess we used that same binary-vowel code to get the final answer. Maybe. I can no longer decipher our scribbles.

CELL AUTOMATA For our next challenge, we drove to a little office building. There were teams gathered around a couple of windows and some GC folks in the lobby. The lobby folks let us know the scoop: inside one of the building offices, there was a computer with a screen saver. Watching that screen-saver would reveal a secret message. We couldn't go into the room, only watch through the window. The nice building guard would let us into the building to use the restroom if we needed it, just not into that office. (I'm not sure Elena is capable of playing a mean character. As I recall, she was a nice Dementor, trying to encourage teams to retrieve their hastily-thrown chocolate.)

We went outside, looked in the window, watched the screen saver. More importantly, Dave deployed his video camera and recorded the screen saver--without that, this puzzle would have been a chore. Then we sat in the van. The screen saver showed various grid patterns. We'd been warned that there would be a cellular automata puzzle. This looked like a cellular automata puzzle.

Dwight was a retired computer science professor. He had played with cellular automata. I was a grizzled computer industry veteran who'd been raised on Martin Gardner "Mathematical Games" columns. I had played with cellular automata. Dave had never played with cellular automata. He'd picked up a Game of Life program for his laptop, but hadn't done much with it. But he seemed interested.

Here's where you find out what a team's priorities are. On the one hand, the two people who already knew this stuff could crank out an answer. On the other hand, cellular automata are pretty darned cool and anyone who wants to learn about them should be encouraged. So Dwight explained how the Game of Life worked. Then we set Dave to work.

This puzzle didn't use the Game of Life. This worried me--there are many cellular automata rule-sets out there. They decided on a system that was like Life in the most important way: a cell's next state are determined by its current state and those of its eight chess-king-ish neighbors.

Partway through this puzzle, I hopped out of the van and headed over to the building. I asked Elena if I could use the restroom and she waved me through the door. So I was walking through this mostly-deserted office building. And things got a little weird for a bit. I was expecting all of the rooms to be empty, but one of them was decidedly not empty. The room was huge. There were tables there. On those tables were--wargames. There were a lot of fancy miniatures set up, seemingly for wargames. There weren't any people in the room. Was this going to be part of the game? (It wasn't.) This gave me something to think about as I went to the restroom, returned to the van.

Eventually, Game Control called us because we were taking so long. It turned out we'd goofed on one of the cellular automata rules of the puzzle. GC straightened us out. Soon we were on our way to the next site.

SONGS Someone still hadn't found out that we could tell the GPS to direct us to an intersection, so he told the GPS to direct us to a random address on one of the relevant streets. So it took us a while to find the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden (near the Rosicrucean Temple). We probably spent more time finding driving along Naglee than we did solving the puzzle we picked up.

Snodfart by Night

RED LIGHTS Soon our vehicle was parked on Stanford Campus and we were in a strange grove of carved tree trunks, the spooky-at-night New Guinea Sculpture Garden. There was a strange device, a box with blinky lights. Except the lights weren't blinking so much. A couple of worried-looking GC volunteers tinkered with the device. Then they got it working and backed away.

Here again, Dave's video camera was a life-saver. He recorded the pattern of blinky lights. Soon we were back in the van, watching the video, pausing it. Someone figured out the trick, and soon we were on our way to the next puzzle.

ENGINEERING BUILDING We were slow on this puzzle; we made mistakes. Game Control called us up a few times to nudge us in the right direction. We were glad to let them--when we finally packed up to go, we found out that we were the last to leave the building. A GC volunteer had been stuck waiting by the door all that time. Hours, I guess.

Snodfart by Day

Photo: Solving The Cube

MAGNETIC CUBE Elena was an elementary school teacher. Thus we went walking through the campus of her elementary school to her classroom. A gamist was walking the other way, towards us. Dave greeted the gamist, who smiled returned the greeting. "They ain't friendly!" Dave said. I was nonplussed: "What? They smiled back." Dave clarified: "Grimaced, more like."

It occurred to me that I have pointed out the unfriendliness of Seattlites before. Specifically, that when you smile at typical Seattlites, they will frown and look at their shoes. (That's a gross generalization, of course. It's not true of all Seattlites. But it's something that a smiley Californian notices pretty early on when visiting the place.) Now Dave was saying something similar about California smiles--not as friendly as what he was used to.

There is a place more smiley than California, and Dave Hill has been there.

The classroom was full of gamesters. I guess this had been a "Cold Case" room, but we'd missed that. Elena pointed us at coffee, quiche, and a cube. The cube was our next puzzle. We picked up some coffee, some quiche. I was craving espresso. Someone else was craving a chance to sit down inside, and this classroom was full up. Dwight knew of a nearby Starbucks, so we went there.

The cube was magnetic. We had some magnets with letters printed on them. There were some letters already on the cube. Looking at the cube, I was pretty sure I knew what it was and I was pretty sure that Alexandra was not going to be happy: it looked like a Sudoku cube. The BATH3 organizers were planning one, but not with such great production value. I fiddled with the cube. Where I could affix a magnetized letter in a Sudokishly acceptable way, I did. It seemed to be working. Once Dave Hill saw what I was doing, he was able to take over and work the cube much faster.

It was a sociable time. Yar dropped by to pick up a tray of coffees, presumably for GC. Alexandra called: she was awake and we were back inside her safety radius. She was driving down--when we knew where our next puzzle was, we should call her and she could meet us there.

And that's what we did, sort of.

Photo: Handing Over The Cube
Photo: Lockers Orange Snood + Mystic Fish

SCRABBLE This puzzle was fun because we were there at the same time as Orange Snood. Both teams were stuck on the first stage of the puzzle, both having made the same false assumption. We were starting to toss ideas back and forth. We were trying to figure out the combination of a padlock; Orange Snood called in to confirm answer "BOLTCUTTERS". (That wasn't the intended answer.)

The other thing I wanted to remember about this puzzle was the Scrabble Board. GC had told us to bring a Scrabble Board. We brought one, left it in the van. When we needed it, it was far away. But I'd downloaded a picture of a Scrabble Board to my laptop. That was good. Someone told me that Team XX-Rated keeps two backpacks in their van with everything that they'll need for solving. Maybe when GC says to bring something, we want to figure out how to pack it into a backpack, not just into the van.

CHARLESTON PARK I think we solved this one about as we were supposed to. My memories aren't so clear.

MICROSOFT For this puzzle, we went to the Mountain View office of Microsoft, where there was an extra computer set up in the lobby. A GC volunteer led us over and sat us down in front of the machine. There was a card reader to read a magnetic card we'd been given earlier. I was reaching for the card when Dave pointed out something--this computer also had a microphone in front of it.

We were ready for this.

I fetched out my little audio recorder from my pocket, held it next to the microphone, pressed the Play button. A voice emerged: "Hello. My name is Justin Santamaria. My voice is my passport. Verify me." Dave and I had come up with this plan during one of the late night drives. But it wasn't working. The GC volunteer explained: "That's nice, but Justin doesn't work for Microsoft. He works for Apple." "D'oh!"

So instead folks who could sing solved the karaoke puzzle.

DRAGONQUEST I was pretty groggy by now and I don't think that I was the only groggy person on the team. This puzzle was pretty fun, the sort of thing that only makes sense to do as part of a live-action puzzle hunt dealie.

We were given a piece of software to run on our laptop--my laptop, the only one with us. My laptop was nearly out of battery power. Hmm. The program was a text adventure game. Playing the text adventure, you realized that the game locations corresponded to locations in the Microsoft building.

The first part of the puzzle involved looking at some art on the walls. I didn't really follow what was going on. I slumped in a chair close to an electrical outlet. Solving this part of the puzzle involved reading part of the text adventure, which clued to some art on the walls in real life.

The second part of this puzzle we tackled was a tapestry. In the Microsoft offices, there was a quilt made from comic pages. In the text adventure, there was a tapestry showing tales of derring-do. The text adventure said things like "Lady Barbara speaks her mind; The Knight without Fear dodges an arrow." This meant to look at the tapestry, find a picture of Batgirl, find a picture of Daredevil, and mentally draw a line connecting them.

I knew comics well enough to pick up on descriptions like "Lady Barbara". Here's where my grogginess slowed us down: I thought the comics-clues were pretty obvious; and I thought it was very important that I hold onto my laptop to read the text adventure descriptions to my team-mates. It took me a long time to figure out that they weren't really that clear on their comic books. In well-rested hindsight, it's obvious that I should have handed the laptop to someone who didn't know their comics and let them read stuff to me. Once I figured out what was going on, it was pretty easy to solve.

There were more parts. We figured them out. Here, by "we", I meant "they". I was barely following what was going on, just barely capable of walking where directed, entering commands into the laptop as requested, and seeking out electrical outlets to plug the laptop into.

I wasn't the only groggy one, though. At one point, I figured out that two team-mates were bickering about the combination for a safe we needed to open. Back and forth the bickering went. I pointed out that we'd spent more time bickering than it would take to try both combinations. That's not normally the kind of thing I need to point out to this team.

There was more to the puzzle--more to do in the text adventure. In hindsight it seems simple; at the time, it seemed pretty hard.


Microsoft was pretty nice for this game. They'd let a bunch of guests run around a couple of hallways of their Mountain View office. Normally, Sunday would be a slow day, but they'd brought in some security guards to watch over us. And they let us take over their cafeteria as another "Cold Case" room. Once again, we were given a chance to sit down and solve bonus puzzles. I decided to take this as a chance to practice up for my usual end-party antics: I fell asleep.

MAKE A WISH Our final puzzle was to use a code wheel we'd picked up from the previous puzzle. You might think that would take two minutes. It solved to "MAKE A WISH". We were supposed to enter this as our answer. Everyone on the team thought that someone else had entered this and been told that it wasn't the answer. We entered some guesses based on the make-a-wish scene from "Sneakers": WINNEBAGO, etc. Eventually, Alexandra figured out that none of us had entered MAKE A WISH. We spent too long on that puzzle.

Then our two vehicles got separated--the van needed gas. The van was also the only vehicle with the GPS that knew where the next location was. There was some phone cell phone interplay to reunite the team.

At the end party, it was not so easy to find empty chairs. I remember that this seemed like a good thing; we were at a sort of micro-brewery/pub with big open windows with big windowsills. I sat on a sill, slumped against the window-frame. I guess I wasn't totally out of it--I remember that someone dropped a plate and that I caught it. I remember talking to Dale Neal, when he expressed surprise that we'd needed a hint on the pun puzzle which my pun had inspired. I have vague memories of cleaning up the van in the pub parking lot. I don't remember the drive back to San Francisco. Mostly, I remember sitting in a car parked in the awkward left-turn lane in the middle of Valencia Street. Dwight had headed inside to pick up his stuff. I guess we were waiting for the van to show up so that we could re-install its bench. I wasn't in the van. I was in Dwight's car, and my long legs didn't fit under the steering wheel very well. I was sitting there to make the vehicle look more plausibly like it was loading something.


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