Puzzle Hunts: BATH4 DIchotomY

Other BATH4 sites:

The Bay Area Treasure Hunt (BATH) is pot-luck. Each team can bring a puzzle. Since each team on the hook to write just one puzzle, no-one stresses too hard. I'd volunteered to help out on BATH 3 before I found out that hunt would be different from past BATHs--it ran overnight, GC set up a double-layered meta-puzzle, it ranged outside of San Francisco. BATH3 had been a lot of work--and I say that even though I pulled a scream-and-run before I did much work.

BATH&nbap;4, maybe as a reaction against the effort of BATH&nbap;3, had almost no GC involvement. In BATH1 and BATH2, GC had helped teams with playtesting and production. But in BATH&nbap;4, teams would have to do that themselves. BATH-mistress Alexandra sent out a request for comments--would teams be up for a game like this? A quorum of teams was indeed interested.

Our team, Mystic Fish, was thus on the hook to come up with a puzzle on the theme: Dichotomy. Our puzzle really was a team effort. Alexandra found an interesting location. Someone came up with the puzzle's mechanic. My contribution was (surprise, surprise) a couple of little Python programs that searched our constraint-space and spewed out a first draft.

As part of the research for this, I visited our puzzle site, in the Mission district. I was pretty happy that our site was in the Mission district: I was close to a good taqueria. So when it started raining, I skittered over to this taqueria. But my intended taqueria (Pancho Villa) was full of drunken Santas! Thus I had to go to another taqueria a couple of blocks away. In the rain. This puzzling stuff is rough, I tell you.

We tried a playtest on a paper version of the clue. This didn't go well. Our puzzle was supposed to take about 45 minutes to solve. It took about two and a half hours. Fortunately, most of this time wasn't spent on the puzzle itself. Rather... when we met up, we found out that no-one had printed up the puzzle ahead of time. One of Dwight's kids lived nearby, and we spent an hour and a half going over there, failing to find their printer, transfering PDF documents from the internet to the hard drive to a thumb drive to a laptop to... I lost track. Then there was a printer, but it was in a box. Then it was unpacked from the box but it was out of toner. Then we gave up and decided to go to Fedex/Kinko's to print the thing out, but when we were halfway down the block from the apartment, I realized I'd left my backpack behind and...

The playtest part of the playtest went pretty well, though. And some of the stronger puzzlers on the team came up with some nifty refinements that had eluded my little Python script.

It was the evening of GC Summit 2009. Chris Roat (of Team Longshots) and I were mooching a ride from Rich Bragg (of team Blood and Bones). BATH4 was coming up soon. Rich predicted it would go long. "Sure each team knows there supposed to take about 45 minutes. But it's to their advantage to go long." Each team was bringing a puzzle. A team didn't have to solve their own puzzle. So if your puzzle took about an hour to solve--that was an hour that other teams spent that you didn't spend. If that other team's puzzle only took 45 minutes for your team to solve, you'd gained 15 minutes on them. The logical conclusion: it was a good thing there was an ending time on the game; otherwise there would be a tendency for it to go into overtime.

The next morning, Alexandra sent out mail from some NPL-ish get-together where she'd found a couple of playtesters. Our refinements on the puzzle were fun! People liked them! But they made the puzzle longer--closer to an hour than to 45 minutes. I thought about that conversation with Rich Bragg. I thought, Uhm, this is going to look bad. While we mailed back and forth over the implications of this, Alexandra noticed: it wasn't going to be too bad if teams' puzzles took an hour each--a couple of teams had withdrawn their puzzles. So she sent out an announcement to the captains: an hour was OK.

In hindsight, I guess Team Mystic Fish had an advantage here. Alexandra, the main organizer, was on our team. If some other team came up with a puzzle that took an hour, their first thought would be to simplify it--who would have the chutzpah to ask Alexandra for permission to use a tougher clue? But when we had a too-long clue, we were able to notice that there was a solution.

Ah well--we finished waaay late (I heard we were DQ'd on time), so I don't think anyone would have accused us of jockeying for time.

There have been rumblings of re-using this game's puzzles in a BANG or somesuch. So I guess I shouldn't go into details. But there were some high points.

That's a lot of high points. This was a good day. I really liked this format. It meant some uneven-ness in puzzle quality, but it also meant some wild variety.


comment? | | home |