Puzzle Hunts: Shinteki Decathlon 5 vs Mystic Fish

Other Decathlon 5 sites:

Shinteki Decathlon 5 was awesome. I was due for a good Shinteki Decathlon. It's a parity thing: bad luck strikes me on even-numbered Shinteki Decathlons:

This year, I was playing with Team Mystic Fish. Usually, I use Shintekis as an excuse to get together with less-puzzly folks, my friends from "real life" as it were. But this time, the call for registrants went out and I hadn't got my recruiting butt together. So for this Shinteki, things were a little more serious. We were

The game's theme was the spectrum: colors, wavelengths, that kind of thing. Later on, when I mentioned that it was great how well everything fit the theme, the Shinteki folks said--they'd been kicking around a color-themed game for a couple of years. They'd originally thought that this might be a good overnight Game. They'd had some ideas for some night-time activities. Then the Ghost Patrol game had come along and had done plenty of things with light at night: Light Subtraction, UV painting, and... well, plenty of things with UV light, really. (This kind of surprised me: the Shinteki folks are still talking about running a great all-nighter? I didn't realize that option was still on the table. Anyhow.)



[xray: Wei-Hwa's Hand]
Wei-Hwa's hand

The first activity was a good idea, except that it involved a bunch of nerds playing a full-contact sport.

We were on the lawn by the volleyball courts in San Francisco where Crissy Field runs into the Marina Green. But this section of lawn wasn't set up for volleyball. An area of the lawn had been marked off. In the center were several plastic balls. Keeping with the Spectrum theme, there were several balls of each color: several red balls, orange balls, yellow balls, etc. Here's how the activity worked:

Thus, a team of knowledgeable, fast-thinking, fast-moving folks might escape after four rounds of questions. (And as teams left, there was less competition for the balls in the middle of the field, so it got easier.)

This all sounds pretty reasonable until you consider who was playing: nerds. These folks don't run around on fields, mostly.

The first time I ran through that field, the question was about Mayan ripeness. I didn't know which color to grab. But the second time I ran, I knew the answer; so did plenty of other folks. There was some jostling. Incompetent jostling.

I ran towards a ball. This guy ran beside me. He gave a nervous chuckle, turned towards me, and shoved me. Well, tried to shove me. You know how when you're at a music show and a mosh pit forms next to and you aren't into moshing and you just want to find a behemoth friend to hide behind? In my peer group, I'm the behemoth. A week after this game, I went with some friends to see the band Holy Fuck play at the Bottom of the Hill. Someone in the audience freaked out jumped around, and shoved people. I didn't kick him out--that takes strength. But I did end up as a sort of bulwark against this guy until the bouncer kicked him out. I've got inertia.

Thus, out on the ball field, shoving me didn't work, not with my inertia. The thing was-- This guy was nimbler than I was. While I was lumbering along, he had time to run, get ahead of me, turn towards me, and shove. (An American-rules football player might point out: he could have shoved me as he ran, losing little time. But that's not how it went.) If he'd instead used his speed advantage to reach down ahead of me and grab the ball, he would have grabbed it. As it was, my inertia carried me through the shove; I reached down; I picked up the ball.

So I got shoved and I don't think anyone was happier for that shove.

When I reached down and picked the ball up, someone kicked me in the side of the head. I doubt that kicker meant to rough-house. I imagine it was some dude unused to running around, just stumbling into me. Still, it messed up my glasses hinge. If I'm going to have a messed-up glasses hinge, I want to have a better anecdote behind it than "I was spazzily running around on a lawn with a bunch of other spazzes".

Anyhow, we took our lumps, regrouped in the winners' circle, and were directed to the next clue site.

Exploring the Exploratorium

[Exploratorium logo]

This one was fun.

For our next activity, we had a scavenger hunt in the Exploratorium. As in previous Shinteki games, we had a Palm PDA programmed to let us enter guesses at answers, sell us hints, and direct us to clue sites. This time, there was an extra application: it had a list of exhibits in the Exploratorium. For each listed exhibit, there was some challenge to carry out. For example, at the smoke-ring blower, we had to observe the blown ring of smoke. Each challenge then "solved" to a letter. For example, that smoke ring solved to "O". As we entered our letters, the Palm inserted them into a message, presumably telling us what to do next.

This was awesome! The Exploratorium is awesome. When tourists come to San Francisco, they want to know what to do. Folks tell tourists to go to the art museum, to the natural history museum, to the opera, to the... Hey, all those things are nice. But a visitor who has been to, say, Los Angeles, isn't going to be too impressed by San Francisco's De Young art museum. It's nice, but not, uhm, internationally impressive. The Exploratorium, however, stands out. It's just a hands-on science museum, sure--but I claim it's not much like your city's hands-on science museum. It's artier, weirder, madder, somethinger. When I'm a tourist, I'm looking for sites that make me think "Yeah, I couldn't have found something like this back home." The Exploratorium is one of those places.

We spent more time in the Exploratorium than we had to. That was my fault. When we "solved" these exhibits for letters, the we saw those letters in order of nearby exhibits. Those letters were also inserted into a message, as I mentioned. But that was in a different order than the nearby-exhibit order. I didn't notice that for a while. Thus, I thought we were further away from an answer than we really were. But we eventually figured that out.

I wasn't sorry that we dawdled in the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium is awesome! We got to play with some cool stuff! But, uhm, the more goal-oriented folks on the team weren't so happy. Different folks approach these games with different goals: if your goal is to get out of the Exploratorium and on to the next clue site, then you're not so happy to, say, form Voronoi diagrams on a laser-lit dance floor with some expert assistance from Sarah Barnum.

Fortunately, the goal-oriented folks on the team didn't actually voice their impatience until after we'd figured out the message, followed its instructions, and "solved" the Exploratorium. Thus, I didn't have to feel bad about enjoying any exhibits.

No, I said "Flags." With an "L"

[Jamison's photo of Pedestrian Plaza]
pedestrian plaza (Jamison)

Our next destination: Wild Card, a risqué greeting-card store at the intersection of Market, Castro, and 17th Streets, one of San Francisco's gayest intersections.

On our way over, under the guise of expressing concern about navigation, I attempted to one-up my team-mates on knowledge of local events, but my attempt backfired. I asked: "Hey, do you think we'll be blocked by the new pedestrian plaza thingy?" My team-mates didn't know about it, and asked me for details--but I didn't actually know where the road blockage was. I'd just read about the then-new plaza, hadn't seen it. As it turned out, the pedestrian plaza helped us. Alexandra parked the car kitty-corner from the shop while a couple of us hopped out to jog over and pick up the clue. Thanks to that plaza, we didn't have to wait for too many lights.

We shuffled into Wild Card, where the nice man behind the counter handed us (and someone from, I think, Team XX-Rated) a baggie containing some small flags. We hustled this back to the car. After some driving around looking for a parking place (futile, of course), we eventually just parked in someone's driveway. We stayed in the car to solve.

This puzzle turned out to be one of my favorite puzzles ever.

This puzzle was a good team solve. I didn't figure anything out on this puzzle--my big contribution was making sure that someone else's insight didn't fall by the wayside. (Have I mentioned that the main thing I like about these team puzzle-solving games is watching ideas bounce around vans? Sometimes it's good to know symptoms of a good idea that's getting lost in the shuffle.)

There were 20 little paper rainbow flags in that baggie. Except these weren't exactly like the regular rainbow flags. Someone noticed that each flag had three colors in the right places, three colors scrambled. It was a different set of three colors for each flag. There are 20 ways that you can choose 3 out of 6 colors, matching our 20 flags. That suggested a way to order the flags. How to extract data from each flag? The puzzle's title hinted at binary. (And we knew that Shinteki's Ian Tullis is fond of binary encoding.) Someone said: well, there's the way that they ordered the "wrong" colors. I wrongly said that there were six ways to do that. But Paul pointed out that no, there were fewer than that: some of those six orderings would leave "wrong" flags in not-wrong places. And then we started to talk about other things--and my insight-falling-by-the-wayside sense tingled. How many wrong ways are there to order those stripes? I scribbled some notes--there were fewer ways than I expected--there were, uhm, two. As in binary. Soon we had one bit per flag, 20 flags giving us four letters via 5-bit binary encoding.

When we pulled out of the driveway, someone else wanted to take our parking place, not noticing how totally illegally we'd "parked". Ah, dense urban life.


I played Shinteki Decathlon 5 the first weekend. (GC ran it two weekends in a row.) The second weekend, I volunteered: I helped monitor a clue site. This next puzzle was that site.

Week One: the Players' Point of View

From a players point of view: We drove to Golden Gate park, drove through it. We made slow progress. The cars ahead of us crawled. What was the delay? There was a touring car up ahead, going slow. Its logo? Mister Toad's Tours. Hey, Mister Toad is literally supposed to offer up a "Wild Ride", right? So says Disneyland, right? They ought to know from wild rides, right? (When I told Morgan Fletcher about this slow car, he pointed out that when folks at Lake Tahoe wanted to name a wild Mountain Bike route, they called it Mister Toad's.)

My point? I was getting to that. My point is: we passed these cars. We passed the cars directly ahead of us; we passed the Mister Toad car that was slowing all of us down. We did questionable things in those seconds of passing. One over-fond of "traffic laws" might point out a double yellow line, a stop sign. But there is more to life than stripes of yellow paint laid procedurally down the middle of a road. There is art. There is excitement. If we cut off that touring car--well, we gave those tourists the wild ride they deserved and expected.

We made our way to Marx Meadow in Golden Gate Park. GC offered us a puzzle, hot dogs, beverages, snacks, and candy. The puzzle was a set of hexominoes decorated with colored areas, lines, and letters. The puzzle's flavor text suggested that we should fit the hexominoes by matching colors. This took us a while, but we eventually got it together, sped up by some automatic hints pointing out some useful patterns. Putting the hexominoes together revealed some instructions. We carried those out. This revealed some further instructions which we interpreted wrong at first, but eventually we got things turned around OK.

I wasn't much help on this puzzle. It required logical skills. I spotted a useful hexagon here and there, but mostly I ate. (A sandwich, a hot dog, a pretty darned good organic green apple lollipop.) I was "keeping my strength up" for the puzzles to come.

I guess this puzzle took us more than an hour, less than two. We made our way back to the car, trying to figure out our next set of directions: we were heading towards some hill in the Marin Headlands above "construction 129", whatever that meant. Hopefully our various mobile phone mapping applications could steer us right.

Week Two: the GC Volunteer's Point of View

So, like I said, the next week I volunteered for GC. I monitored a site--Marx Meadow. This was my first time volunteering for the Shinteki folks. I found it interesting. I'd heard that they didn't have a "GC HQ". They were a 100% mobile GC.

(I'll go back to talking about experiences playing the game (versus volunteering the next weekend) soon. You can skip down to the Hawk Hill section to skip the behind-the-scenes stuff.)

There was no secret room in which GC lurked, watching a giant projection screen of team standings. I kinda understood that. I'd been in GC HQ rooms, had noticed that there wasn't always something special about the room. For Hogwarts, GC HQ was a staging area for outings. For the Bay Area simulcast of MS Puzzlehunt 1[23], GC HQ was kind of a hang-out spot for GC most of the time. Sure, we projected a leaderboard of team standings up on a wall, so everyone on GC knew where each team was, kinda, ...but was that necessary?

I'd visited NASA "Mission Control" rooms at Houston. Those rooms had big screens up on the walls. But the mission control folks didn't watch the big screens. They watched their consoles. Only tourists watched the big screens. I remember hearing a talk by some folks who worked on the movie "War Games". That movie shows Cheyenne Mountain Air Force base with a big "missile control" room with big projection screens. But the original Cheyenne Mountain didn't have such a room--until after the movie came out. Then they installed that room, after Hollywood showed them what a control room was "supposed" to look like.

I'm not saying that giant screens, control rooms,... I'm not saying that these things are bad for a GC HQ. I'm not saying that giant screens aren't useful for a GC HQ. I'm just saying they are not necessary. If the Shinteki folks say they can go mobile, I'm sure they can.

The thing is: in my head, I can think "OK, you don't need a room with giant projection screens" But if you take that big room away--I can't figure out how you run things. How does it work?

I still don't know the answer to that question. But at least I was at Marx Meadow as GC showed up and moved on, person by person.

Jennifer was already there before I got there. More Shinteki folks kept showing up. Some of them had supplies for the Marx Meadows site--a box of clues here, a bag of briquettes there, maybe a bag of ice. Some folks had most of the stuff, some of the folks didn't have so much.

OK, Shinteki GC is mobile--but Marx Meadow seemed to be a gathering spot. A staging area? A rendevous? I don't know. Not all of GC was here--folks were still at the Exploratorium. But remember the Exploratorium didn't require too many GC folks to run it, but would keep teams busy for a while. And after that came the rainbow flags--nobody from GC watched that site. So here at Marx Meadow before any teams showed up, a fair number of G.C. folks could gather. They could hang out together. There was conversation, joking around, frisbee.

It was suggested that I could run the grill. "Well I don't know how, but I'm sure I could learn." After that, somehow nobody reminded me to get on the grill. Instead, I ended up holding the clipboard, signing teams in. That bit of job juggling was tactfully done, probably saved some hot dogs from charred doom at my inexpert hands.

When the Five Blind Boys were on their way, they called ahead. They asked that we have hotdogs ready for them. Minutes later, they indeed arrived. We handed over puzzle, food. When they asked for the puzzle's "start code", I told them the wrong one, but they figured that out right away.

I watched the Five Blind Boys solve for a while. They sat and stood around a corner of a picnic table, hunched over their hexagons. Everyone was nudging hexagons around at the same time, more than one person talking at once. They talked more than I was used to. Maybe they were better at following quick conversation? Maybe they had more ideas faster than most teams I'd seen?

Some GC folks started to head out. It was time to set up the the next site--it wouldn't take the Five Blind Boys forever to solve this puzzle. But other GC folks were showing up--by the end of the day, I'd get a chance to see Ian Tullis. He'd been at the Exploratorium. (There'd been a crisis averted there. The folks running the Exploratorium had closed off part of the building--including a display which held the Exploratorium puzzle's final answer. Some quick pleading had convinced the Exploratorium folks to move that exhibit out to a still-accessible area.)

The Burninators showed up. I watched them a while. Like the Five Blind Boys, they talked more than I was used to. But... uhm, you know how people look at a logic-constraints puzzle and say "Oh, that's such a Wei-Hwa puzzle?" Wei-Hwa was on the team. A non-trivial fraction of the time, someone on the team would point at a spot on the board, hoping to spot the hexagon that could fit there. Wei-Hwa would pipe up way too soon saying, "This one's the only one that goes there." So I guess those puzzles really are Wei-Hwa puzzles. He was playing with a stepped-on hand, an injury from the ball field. He was playing through the pain. Hellz yeah this puzzle stuff is serious.

I didn't hover over these teams, mind you. I'm interested in different teams. Remember my embedded reporter project? I do. But these teams hadn't invited me to spy o hang out with them. So I watched a little, moved on.

Besides, there were more teams to sign in. Here was Desert Taxi. Here was a team I didn't know--oh, they'd changed their name to match their t-shirts. And another team. And another. It was the rush. Linda Holman cooked as many hot dogs as the grill could handle. Teams showed up, grabbed puzzles, sat on the lawn. And teams were leaving, too. First the Burninators, then the Five Blind Boys, then more.

I didn't have much chance to watch teams. But as I scurried around, the teams seemed... more like what I was used to. Not everyone talking at once.

Not many people from GC were left. It was just Linda Holman and me. Her with the cooking, me with the clipboard. Someone lost a mobile phone. There were more teams to sign in. Someone found a mobile phone. There was plenty to do.

Things calmed down a bit once all the teams had signed in. Plenty of teams were sitting around the meadow, solving. Things were relaxed, difficulty-wise, for the later teams. The first few teams to show up--there was no way I'd give them their puzzle until the whole team was there. But for later teams, it was OK to hand over the puzzle to the first member to stumble in. When a later team headed out, I handed over a map of the Marin Headlands so they'd have an easier time finding the next clue sites. To all teams, I handed out lollipops and Skittles. The Skittles were rainbow-colored, matching the game's theme. "Not a clue, just a snack."

When the hot dogs were gone, Linda Holman packed up the picnic supplies and headed out. It was just me with the sign-up sheet, watching over teams, handing out maps.

The teams that were left--it's not quite right to say that it was painful to watch them. There was sympathy pain. These teams would get stuck, would struggle. They knew that they were stuck, but didn't want to take hints. And so they sat and struggled. And of course, I'd been in that hole plenty of times myself. I tried to send them good vibes, infuse their auras with inspiration.

And then one team and another and another was done. And then the last team was done. I called up Brent to let him know that the last team was gone, that I was heading home.

There was no secret GC headquarters room, no Mission Control room. When I signed out of that site, no-one moved a marker on a map. How did they keep track of it all? If Martin had got a phone call five minutes later of an immanent meteor strike at Marx Meadow, how many phone calls would he have had to make to figure out that there weren't any Shinteki people still at the Meadow to worry about?

Then again, if GC needs to make a couple of extra phone calls sometimes, that's probably not so bad.

Hawk Hill

[photo: Hawk Hill]
hawk hill

OK, we're not talking about the second weekend, when I volunteered. We're back to talking about the first weekend, when Mystic Fish played, right? OK. So we were in Marx Meadow, we scurried back to the car, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and on up through the Marin Headlands to Hawk Hill.

Hawk Hill is a high hill in the Marin Headlands. It looks down at the Golden Gate from the North. And today it had gamists. This puzzle's start code was "charadio" and our first activity was to be charades. Specifically, Alexandra and I were to act out a two-word phrase; Paul and Dave would guess what we meant. But our two words, when we found out what they were, were strange: they were two words from the Alfa Bravo phonetic alphabet. We did our best to act these words out, but didn't have much hope that Paul and Dave would guess them--except that Paul and Dave had paid more attention to our instruction sheet, and noticed that the Alfa Bravo alphabet was printed on the back. After a few more tries, they guessed our charade. And then they presented a charade to us.

Next, GC gave us a GPS, a set of coordinates, and a radio. We had to walk to the set of coordinates and use the radio. We kind of used the radio to make our way--but mostly we just wandered over to where other teams were standing. Other teams were listening to Morse code dots and dashes on their radios. Soon we had our radio tuned to dots and dashes. (I was no help for this part. I wandered around this patch of hillside failing to find the transmitter.) Alexandra wrote down dots and dashes. It wasn't so easy to write them down in real-time. But eventually we figured out their message--the answer to this site's puzzle.

So we brought back the GPS and radio to GC. And soon we were back in the car to drive to our next clue site.

Crayola Debut

[Dave Shukan's photo of the battery]
(by Dave Shukan)

Our next clue site was at a battery. There are a few batteries scattered around the Marin Headlands, and we were having a tough time finding this one. We stopped in a parking lot for some unrelated thing to consult our maps.

The Shinteki folks were wearing new t-shirts. These new shirts were construction orange. (I thought of this color as "construction pumpkin", probably because I'd shared houses with folks who wrote Bridgestone XO-1 bicycles and had containers of Construction Pumpkin touch-up paint lying around. And the phrase "construction pumpkin" has always stayed in my head, with an image of a steam-shovel whose main carriage is a pumpkin. Anyhow.) These shirts were bright. And thus it wasn't so remarkable that one of us looked and spotted that shirt of the GC clue site monitor through the trees a ways, mostly concealed by a concrete bunker.

So we'd sighted our next clue site. We drove on over. At the bunker, Ian Tullis sat in his bright orange Shinteki shirt. He said that he didn't have our puzzle, that we needed to find it. We'd learned something about how Shinteki works. There are hidden clue sites. And these sites have monitors. And the monitors make sure that no civilian messes with the hidden clue. So if you want to find the hidden clue, find the Shinteki clue site monitor, and figure out what they have line-of-sight on.

Soon, we picked up a big box of Crayolas, a CD containing a bonus puzzle, and a set of mini-puzzles. These mini-puzzles were about Crayola colors. This was probably a tricky puzzle for GC to set up--every so often, the Crayola folks change the composition of the crayons in their big box. They don't always announce it ahead of time. So if you've got 50 teams playing in your game, that means you're going through 50 big boxes of crayons, making sure that they all contain the same colors. (Or maybe you just make sure that you order all 50 boxes from the same place so that they call came from the same "lot"?)

We had a tough time with these puzzles. I started out looking at a page of trivia. The answers were Crayola colors that were also plant-names. I don't know much plant trivia. I traded questions with Dave. Now I had "Five-bit crooks". This was, in hindsight, the easiest puzzle of the bunch--but I still found a way to make it plenty difficult.

Consider the primary and secondary colors: Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Violet. If you're a coloring enthusiast looking at a big box of crayons with plenty of colors, you also want the colors in between those colors. So you might offer Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, etc. But that's not thinking enough like a real crayon enthusiast. If you look at this spectrum, you'll see it's divided more finely than that:

The Crayola folks don't actually make all of these colors, but they make most of them. The premise of this puzzle was: consider all of these colors. Fetch all crayons that fit this "type". Arrange them in a wheel. (A color wheel was provided. The spaces for colors that weren't actually manufactured--those spaces were filled in with sketches of crayons.) Some of the crayons in the box had been altered--their points worn down to nubs.

So I had a wheel of 18 crayons, some pointy, some nubby. And so I made this puzzle difficult: I ignored the 5-bit in the title. I ignored the presence of Ian Tullis on GC. I thought, There are 18 thingies, that's a multiple of six. Some of these thingies are bumpier than others--It's gotta be Braille. It wasn't. It was five-bit binary, as my team-mates saw immediately. I sure wish I'd talked to them earlier instead wasting time trying Braille variations. (Well, I did talk to them earlier. And they pointed out the 5-bit. But I kept going back to Braille. Because I can be just as stubborn as the next rat-holed gamer.)

I pitched in on a couple of other puzzles, helping to find more crayons in our pile. The mini-puzzles fed answers into some meta-puzzle that my team-mates figured out--I didn't really follow it. I think it was based on some horrid classic board game.

Maybe that Litter is Part of the Puzzle (pick it up pick it up)

[Dave Shukan's photo of the art car]
art car
(by Dave Shukan)

Our next stop was Dunphy Park in Sausalito (no relation, I assume), a little park nestled amongst the piers of Richardson Bay. Our directions told us to find the place by spotting its landmark: an art car. But once we'd found the place, we were looking for other art entirely. Scattered around this park were some works of art--I want to call them paintings, but I don't think that they were painted.

We wandered around, looking for these artworks. Meanwhile, I looked down at the ground at a piece of litter--and realized that this litter was a piece of paper that GC had handed out to teams at the start of the game. It was a handy reference for the spectrum: showing the wavelength ranges of visible light, UV light, Microwaves, etc etc. Some team had dropped theirs. I looked around for teams--whoever had dropped this probably hadn't meant to.

While wandering around with this piece of paper in my hand, I found another artwork. With that juxtaposition, I realized--each artwork hinted at a part of the spectrum that was on this sheet. We'd first seen The Hulk, who was hulkified by Gamma Rays. This artwork I was looking at was about someone who was an X-Ray image. I chased down the rest of my team and we filled in the rest of the puzzle. Dave figured out how to extract an answer out of it.

I never did find the team that dropped that piece of paper. I got sidetracked from that by the puzzle itself. Or, wait, what word means the opposite of "sidetracked"? "Mainlined"? Anyhow.

When we had that piece of paper out, it sure helped us to solve the CD bonus puzzle we'd picked up with our Crayolas. It was a CD of songs, each song featuring a number. E.g, it started with "500 Miles". If you used that number as the mantissa of a frequency, that gave you a color (e.g., green for 500nm). One color for each song, take the first letter of each color gave us a phrase. A cute puzzle; I suspect that the game designers' research was probably pretty excruciating. "Oh, man, I would never force myself to listen to this song if I didn't it might have a useful number in its lyrics."

Like Finding 64 Crayons in a Wordstack

Our directions to our next clue site told us to seek a wet elephant at some mall. We drove in orbit around the mall, cruising the parking lot, looking for an elephant fountain. Finally, someone thought to ask a local--who told us that the fountain was in the interior of the mall.

Sure enough--once we'd parked and ventured into the Mall's courtyard, there was an elephant fountain. Nearby, a gentleman in a Shinteki shirt sat, and he gave us our next puzzle.

This was one of my favorite puzzles ever. Yes, that's two in one game.

This was a word search without a word list--except that it quickly became clear that we were searching for the names of Crayola crayons. It wasn't clear what the best way was to team up on this puzzle. We had two copies of the word search grid, but it wasn't really clear how well we could use two grids. I left most of the word searching to the main puzzle-heads and set about alphabetizing our crayons so that we could keep track of which we'd found.

The part where it seemed we could have been fastest if only we'd figured out some clever bit of logistics--we'd found about half of the words. When this happens, you want to check to see if the wordsearch's "leftover" letters form a message. This one did. If the leftover letters say something like SQUAAARE, then you figure that says "square" and that there's a couple of extra As in there from words to eliminate. And we knew that--but the people using that method couldn't see the main copy of the grid, someone was trying to transfer answers from one copy to the other.

Anyhow, we got through it OK.

(Weeks later, I heard a strategy hint from someone who plays conference games about how he likes to team-ishly take on crossword puzzles: One player opens up Google Spreadsheets, sets up a grid, and fills in the black squares from the grid. Then he shares this grid with everyone from the team, who can then fill in squares all at the same time.

I don't know how well that system would have worked with this wordsearch. Probably not well--part of our strategy involved using the correctly-colored crayon to circle each word we found.)

The leftover messages told us what to do next: consider crayons whose label-paper was the same color. Whoa, OK. It turns out that all of the orange-ish crayons have the same orange color of label paper, all of the green-ish crayons have the same color green paper, etc. Where two green-paper-labeled crayon names intersected on the wordsearch, we were supposed to note that intersection, and then consider the three squares to the right of that intersection. Ohhhkay.

Three squares. Ternary? OK, how could you get ternary out of that? We thought. We thought about puzzles. We tried to get inside the head of the puzzle designers. Oh yeah--if zero words went through a square, that was 0, if one word went through, that was 1, if two words went through, that was 2. And that was that layer.

The ternary message told us to just consider the six-letter color names. Oh, like "orange" and "yellow". When we looked at those names on the word-search grid, considering them as lines, they formed letter shapes. That was our our answer. How many layers was that, making sense all the way? That was plenty of layers.

Our next clue site was at something called the "Parryscope".

Granola Macros

[Paul Chou's photo of Dave and Larry at the Parryscope]
(by Paul Chou)

The car wandered the streets of Fairfax a while, seeking the Parryscope. If there are signs pointing out the Parryscope, we didn't see them. But as we drove around, we did see The Parryscope itself. From the outside, The Parryscope is a shed labeled "The Parryscope" up on a rise next to some historical building or other. Self-labeled. We drove on up, hopped out of the car, picked up our puzzle from its place of concealment, hopped back in the car, and drove off in search of a solving spot where we wouldn't block traffic.

(Later, I asked the GC folks what the Parryscope is like when it isn't a locked shed. Apparently, it's a giant kaleidoscope that you can walk into. A cool spot and great for a spectrum-themed puzzle hunt. Our timing was bad, though, as the Parryscope was closed so that the artist could tweak it. I got some idea of what it was like thanks to the Internet: Parry Arts, Meligrosa's Parryscope interior photo.)

Where to park? Where to sit and solve? There was a parking lot right there--but it was pretty exposed to the sun, too hot for solving. But where else was there? We wound through a twisty street that seemed to be entirely parked up and exposed to the sun. We parked behind a house that had been divvied up into flats--in a spot that looked like some flat-dweller's personal space. We piled out of the car and sat on the building steps to concentrate on the puzzles.

Our puzzle was a set of clues with blanks next to them, a bunch of things like, "Treasure hoard found in a sandwich shop: _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _" Some of these were pretty straightforward. Some were just plain weird, and seemed impossible. Fortunately, someone was looking up at the top of our puzzle sheet. There was a picture of a crystal splitting a beam of light into a spectrum. This illustration had a circle for each primary and secondary color. Hmmm... What did colors have to do with this puzzle? Well, if you figure out that sandwich treasure is a DELI TROVE, and you think about colors enough, you might realize that's an anagram for RED VIOLET. Ohhhh, we were looking for color anagrams, each anagram using a few words from red orange yellow green blue violet. That made it a lot easier to figure out some of the trickier clues.

It was around this time that we heard the honk. There was this guy, you don't know him. He was just this guy that lived in Fairfax. He just wanted to live his life. He had just driven home to his flat. Probably wanted to sit and relax, take it easy. Except that there was a car in his parking spot. And there were four strange people with clipboards sitting on his steps barking strange phrases at each other. So he honked.

There was a flurry of equipment packing and apologies. The guy was more befuddled than upset, fortunately. He asked what we were doing. Unsurprisingly, once he found out, he was intrigued. Soon he wanted to look at the puzzle. After he'd looked at the puzzle for a while, it was OK that we were sitting on his steps.

Soon we had a bunch of phrases, each of which anagrammed out to a few color names. But we didn't have all of the phrases. And we weren't sure what to do with the colors. There were six of them. Was this Braille? Some experimenting ruled that out. Was it this? No. Was it that? No. Some of us noodled around with ideas. Some of us kept hammering on the last few anagrams. The guy went to put his laundry in the machine. Based on the illustration, someone thought to use the colors as "pixels". So if your first anagram was RED VIOLET and your next was ORANGE BLUE, and the one after that was YELLOW GREEN, then you might start drawing

R X..
O .X.
Y ..X
G ..X
B .X.
V X..

...and you might think "Hey, I think it's making an X." Sure enough, as we continued with this, we wrote out letters. Along the way, we found out that we'd done some anagrams sloppily. (ORANGE and GREEN have a lot of letters in common; who knew?) By the time the guy was back from getting his laundry started, we were packing up. He was able to witness the glorious "CONGRATULATIONS" beep from the Shinteki device, and our departure from his parking spot.

In a previous car drive, we'd figured out the answers to a bonus puzzle. This puzzle was a set of clues, each of whose answer was a color and a body part, e.g., "GREEN THUMB". But we couldn't just write out our answer. We were supposed to draw a human figure that had all of these features. We had a big box full of crayons, after all. Is it possible to draw a multi-hued person in a moving vehicle? Yes, yes it is. You might not even feel that ill afterwards. Which is especially good news if your next stop is a dessert cafe.

I was glad that we'd driven safely. It had kept me from becoming more ill. Also because--one part of this drawing was a RED NECK. It was kind of hard to see the RED NECK behind the BLUE BEARD. So I labeled the picture: I wrote the word "NECK" with an arrow pointing at the neck. So I was glad we weren't pulled over by the police. Here we had a crudely-drawn picture that looked like the world of a serial killer--purple heart and black lungs exposed, the dangerous-looking word "NECK" out of context... Yeah, that would have been tough to explain.

Flags of All Nations

San Rafael's Double Rainbow Cafe had coffee and desserts. This evening, it also had a couple of Shintekians sitting at a booth in the back, handing out DVDs. We'd been instructed to bring along something capable of playing a DVD, and we had a couple of laptops along.

The strong puzzlers set about setting up the laptop for watching. I got some coffee and a lemon bar. Wow, that was a good lemon bar. I watched in a sugary daze as the quick folks on the team watched the DVD. First thing to display was a set of numbers. Next was a "test pattern" of of a few colored stripes. Then plain white. Then another "test pattern". Then plain white. Apparently, when you go from looking at something to looking at plain white, you see a sort of inverse image of what you were just looking at. E.g, suppose you were looking at a set of wide stripes that were yellow, black, and and cyan. Then you look at plain white. You "see" blue, white, red stripes: oh, the French flag. That tells you "FRANCE". If that was the first flag and if the first number on that list of numbers was 3, then you figure you want the letter frAnce, uhm, A.

That's what the strong puzzlers were doing. I was basking in the after-effects of the lemon bar. Wow, it was really awesome. Eventually my teammates nudged me out of my daze. They'd solved the puzzle. That was the 10th puzzle, the last puzzle of the Decathlon. We were going to the finish line. It was time to stand up.

(Later on, I found out the original plan for this puzzle. The plan was to have teams arrive in a dark room where this movie was being projected onto a wall. But it wasn't so easy to find a Marin County place that would rent out a dark room for reasonable rates. And you might read that and think "Wow, this would have been a really cool way to present that puzzle". And you'd be right. On the other hand, that was a really good lemon bar. I have no regrets.)

Finish Line

[Paul Chou's photo of the pizzeria]
(by Paul Chou)

If you read some of my previous Shinteki reports, you might be a little confused. If I'm on a team, we don't tend to finish all of the puzzles before time runs out. But this time we did. Several teams did. This Shinteki was easier than previous ones, I guess. But the Shinteki folks had anticipated this.

When we reached the end-party place--a pizzeria--the GC folks noted our arrival time... and gave us a bonus puzzle to solve. And when we solved that one, they gave us another bonus puzzle. And when we solved that one, there was another bonus puzzle. And when we solved that one, they gave us a Metapuzzle.

I didn't think that the Shinteki folks were into Metapuzzles. But this time, they were. So we buckled down.

A set of twenty questions, each question referring us back to previous puzzles. Each answer was three colors. So we had 20 sets of three colors, and though we'd reused other puzzles, we hadn't reused the pride flags. We came up with a couple of ideas on how we might use the flags' code to extract answer from all of this. Half the team cranked on it one way, half the other. Soon enough--still a while before the game finished--we turned in our metapuzzle answer.

That was it. We were done.

There was an end party. You know how usually at the end party, I crash into exhaustion? I did that again. There was a moment of cringing when I heard that all teams' "green thumb" crayon drawings would be on display--but then I figured that other teams' drawings would probably be, on average, about as scribbly as mine. And they were.


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