Puzzle Hunts: SF Minigame (2008)

[Photo: Yay Cookies]

On April 19, 2008 I joined forces with Anna Hentzel and Seth Schoen to play in Coed Astronomy's SF Minigame. Coed Astronomy put together a wrap-up with the awesomely elegant puzzles from this game plus links to other folks' photos and write-ups and things. You should go check it out. So what's on this page? Mostly some notes I wanted to jot down for myself. If you're going to try the puzzles, you should probably do that before you read these notes, because these notes contain spoilers.

Our team name was "Ongoing Doorhinge Debate". We were going to be a four person team. Then we were going to be a six-person team. Then three people dropped out. E.g., Andrea Frome dropped out at the last minute--she'd been working too hard at work and had made herself sick. I wasn't in great shape myself. The day before, I'd walked into a signpost--while talking to Jan of Coed Astronomy. (So much fooling Game Control into thinking we were competent.) Then I stayed out late seeing Dengue Fever play at the Independent.

This was my first time playing on a team with Anna Hentzel, though you might remember that she observed Continental Breakfast & me play-test the Hogwarts Game. Anna suggested that, instead of packing sandwiches, we sit and solve in cafes. This worked out really well. We were in San Francisco, which has some fine cafes. More to the point, we knew where those cafes were. E.g., "Hey, we could go back to Sweet Inspirations. They have cake."

This was my first time meeting Seth David Schoen, who I thought was just some doofus that Anna dug up. But it turned out that he'd played in some games and also in the MIT Mystery Hunt with team Codex. In hindsight, I was the team doofus. Except that I knew where to find some cafes, cafes which served cake. And I brought ginger snaps. Those were good, too.

We played at the "Normal" difficulty level. (The puzzles posted on Coed Astronomy's website are at the "Crazy" difficulty level. So don't think that we're super-geniuses.)

Before the game, I talked a bit with folks from other teams. That was fun, but I don't remember getting any good gossip out of it. This game was billed as "leisurely", and thus a bunch of hypercompetitive folks were trying to figure out who could be the most leisurely. Rich Bragg announced his intent to stop by a bar and have a drink--was it each time his team solved a puzzle? Something like that. I'd see him again in the late afternoon and he seemed somewhat loose and jolly then. Plenty leisurely.

For the first puzzle, team Ongoing Doorhinge Debate sat on the sidewalk. We pushed some Legos around--they were our puzzle. The wind was pretty strong, strong enough to blow over our Legos. Anna suggested that we go to the nearby Duboce Park Cafe, get out of the wind. There was coffee there, coffee and bagels. Moving there was a good idea, but not enough to get us to solve the puzzle. We eventually called up for a hint. I was kind of embarrassed once we got nudged in the right direction--the puzzle's solution was much more elegant than the theories we'd come up with. It wasn't until the next day that I noticed--we were building a triangle in Duboce Triangle, and the puzzle carefully mentioned the neighborhood a couple of times. Such subtleties are wasted on barbarians. Anyhow. I didn't have a sugary snack here. I wasn't much help on this puzzle.

We solved a "travel puzzle" as we rode the streetcar to the next clue site.

Yar, of Coed Astronomy, was glad to hand us puzzle #2. We weren't the last team to pick it up, but we were almost the last. He just had one or two more to give away, and then he could leave. We immediately set about grilling him for the locations of nearby cheap restaurants. This was kind of a tough call--we were in the financial district on a Saturday, and many places were closed. But he pointed us in a likely direction, and soon we were at a sandwich shop. That "Stribs" guy from Red5 was there with someone else who I'd seen at games. This must be a good solving spot. We grabbed a table, ordered some food, and set to work. I didn't have a sugary snack here. I wasn't much help on this puzzle. Fortunately, Seth and Anna figured it out and solved it.

As we walked to the site of our next clue, we passed a deli. It was closed. Seth said he was glad it was closed. Otherwise, he would have been forced to go in. The place had great Turkish delight. Of course, there's a precedent for people getting lured away by Turkish delight. We discussed this at some length.

Puzzle #3, we didn't solve in a cafe. Thus, I had no sugary snack. I wasn't much help on this puzzle. Probably the most helpful person was Coed Astronomy's Justin who carefully made sure that we remembered to bring our guidebook with us.

We rode the streetcar to the next clue site. We solved another travel puzzle. I was halfway expecting the travel puzzles to be kinda lame--why bring out your best stuff for time-filler puzzles? Then again, I remembered that Coed Astronomy had been surprised that folks hadn't paid more attention to their "cold case files" for their No More Secrets Game. And, as it turned out, these puzzles were not lame, but were instead fun.

Jan gave us Puzzle #4. She was using a distinctive blue pencil commemorating the matrimony of Gamists JessicaLa and JeffWa. We received in a cafe and sat and solved in that cafe. I had a sugary beverage. I was some help on this puzzle! This puzzle was kind of a grind. I kind of like some grind-y puzzles. I like it when I spot a more efficient way for the team to work through them.

Puzzle #5 we solved at Sweet Inspirations, a cafe where there was cake. This puzzle started out by having you find some phrases of the form Nationality Object. E.g., "Russian Revolution". Then you used this to get some... words. But the words on themselves were not the final answers, merely hints to other words. What to do with these words? The first word was "delight". Gee, we'd just had a long conversation about "Turkish delight" earlier that day. "Turkish" fit nicely. I had sugary cake--I was on fire for this puzzle.

We walked over to Duboce Park. Seth's bike was still securely locked up. We walked up to the streetcar stop. Jan was there. The Owens family was there. They'd been waiting a while for the streetcar. NextBus said we'd be waiting there a while longer. We sat on the grass, solved Travel Puzzle #3, and ate ginger snaps. Travel Puzzle #3 was a paint-by-numbers puzzle. Anna had never seen one of those. I'd seen enough of them to be kinda tired of them. Thus, we were both useful: I told her what to do, and she buckled down and did it.

The streetcar finally came! It was packed. The next streetcar came! We boarded, and were soon at 9th and Irving.

We didn't go directly to the next puzzle. First, we stopped at Arizmendi Bakery. Priorities, priorities.

Dale of Coed Astronomy sat at the entrance to the Japanese Tea Garden. He looked cold. He looked like he'd been sitting out in a cold windy place for many hours. He wasn't comfy. Fortunately, we didn't have to sit out in front of the Japanese Tea Garden to intercept teams. So we went into the Tea Garden, into the teahouse. There we had tea and cookies and made a good start on Puzzle #6. I didn't have many sugary cookies; I wasn't much help on this puzzle. Actually, I was crashing pretty hard from sleep debt at this point.

We had to go. The garden was closing for the evening. The nice tea ladies poured our tea into "to go" cups and put our remaining cookies into a plastic bag. Seth had to go. He was near due at a seder and sundown approached. He had to get back to his bike. Should we all sit together on a streetcar so that he could get in a few more minutes of solving? We walked to the streetcar stop on 9th Avenue, across the street from the local Front Room Pizza. We called up Game Control to ask--without telling us the final location, would we be getting closer or further if we hopped on a streetcar to Duboce Park? We'd be going further, they said. And so Seth hopped on a streetcar.

Now it was just Anna and I versus this puzzle.

Anna and I went to the Crepevine on Irving. There, I did not have a sugary snack but instead had some coffee. I was negative helpful for this part of the puzzle--Anna asked me to look up some zip codes, and I did it wrong. So we decided that the answer wasn't zip codes--but it was. Fortunately, Anna eventually figured this out. I was extra-impressed that she figured out this part of the puzzle despite the fact that I was fighting her all the way.

The end party was at Front Room Pizza on 9th Avenue. I was pretty sleepy and went home. One of these days I'll stay awake through a game end-party. Maybe.

Usually at the end of a puzzle hunt, I am tired and grouchy. At the end of this puzzle hunt, I was tired but in a good mood. I liked this puzzle hunt so much that I volunteered to help out when Coed Astronomy ran it again the next Saturday. I stood outside the Japanese Tea Garden for many hours. I'd been craving some distraction-free time to think something through; I had it. It was a pretty good time.

I'm thinking of bringing a sack of sugar to the next game. Don't judge my methods.


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