My Hench Life: Part 1

Back to the Hotel

We headed out of the hall, stopping along the way to nudge some teams that asked for nudges. We piled into the van. I wriggled into the back seat. It took some wriggling: I'm pretty tall, and it was set up for short people. I actaully got stuck but eventually figured out a way to angle myself around.

For the van ride back, we talked about puzzles. We'd all worked on different ones, and now we had some down time to compare notes. How had the psychic puzzle worked?

Back at the hotel, I wriggled out of the back seat. I got stuck again. It was kind of embarrassing.

We went back to our rooms, looked in toilets. Behind one, we found a piece of paper telling us to look under the mattress. Under the matress, we found some awesome team magnetic signs for our van and instructions for tomorrow morning: gather in the lobby at 8:45. We knew not to have breakfast before the game because that would be provided at clue #3. Now, it was just 11:00pm, time to get some shut-eye.

That's when I realized I didn't have my mobile phone with me. Oh no, would we have to go back to the Memorial Hall? Joe walked me down to the van. There was my phone on the floor, at the spot where I'd got stuck trying to exit the van. No way was I trying to ride in the van's back seat any more.

Sleep did not come easy. My brain was stuck in puzzling mode. I woke up with a revelation: I finally understood that the "nella" in the domain name was the owner's last name backwards. How many times had I seen that domain name without noticing the connection? And was it so important that my brain notice it now, late at night? Shut up brain, let me go back to sleep.

Game Day

The next morning, we gathered in the hotel lobby. GC folks were wandering around, asking: Had anyone seen Bob Schaffer? He was supposed to be driving in, but nobody had seen him. I wasn't looking for him too hard. I'd been surprised that Bob's character had survived the previous evening. I suspected (correctly, as it turned out) that he was now done for.

Eventually, we were instructed to make our way out in back of the hotel where there was a gazebo. Under the gazebo was a screen for a video presentation. There was a bag of snacks for each team. Sarah remarked on Blood and Bones' realization from the Mooncurser's Game a few years back in Seattle: eating full meals is great. Instead of living on beef jerkey, cookies, and peanut butter sandwiches. If you can, sit down for a real meal with real food. You'll solve better. The Mooncurser's folks had provided regular meals during their hunt. Now this Seattle-transplant game would also provide meals. Hopefully, this would keep our brains well-fed and less stupid.

Greg deBeer was in the crowd, sporting a non-evil non-van Dyke beard. It wasn't supposed to be an evil beard. It wasn't for Movember. He was growing it out for a boardgame convention coming up the next weekend: he and friends had all grown whiskers and were all going to shave them off, a little each day, during the convention.

One team was the "Deadbeat Dads"—some fathers who were cashing in their family karma to get away for a weekend The Game. We pointed them out to Joe Fendel, asked what his kids thought about him taking off for the weekend. Of course, Joe's kids like puzzlehunts, but a The Game might be a bit much for them. "Dad, we could totally stay awake for thirty hours... in a van... with you.." "You'd hardly know we were here!" "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Have we solved it yet? Have we solved it yet?"

Eventually, Rich Bragg got up in front of us: There was still no sign of Bob. So Rich would wing it. Did everyone know what they were supposed to do? "When do we arrange flowers?" somebody asked. And then: someone delivered a movie disc in lieu of Bob, and GC played it on the video screen. This delivered the expected twist: Bob's character had been disappeared by an evil-bearded fellow in the video. It was kind of hard to hear what he was saying. The PA playing outside wasn't so clear. I got confused about the game's plot. The bearded guy seemed to be from the Evil League of Evil; why was he talking to us? We weren't in the League, were we? We were in the World Henchmen Organization? Wouldn't getting to hench for a member of the Evil League of Evil come later? I got ahold of myself: this was a The Game. Don't let the plot twists distract from the puzzles. Stay on target.

The Chase is On

He gave us a pass phrase to unlock our first puzzle: "Where's the Van?" Teams were typing that into their laptops—and then hustling away in search of a space to sit down, gather around the laptop, and solve a puzzle.

We whisked inside the hotel, plopped down at a table in the restaurant area, and brought up our puzzle: a video. It showed clips from movies (and maybe television) depicting villains. We kinda were able to identify a few of them, couldn't figure out what to do with them. Who was that villian? Who was that vampire, Barnabas Collins maybe? (No.) Who was this villain played by Ving Rhames? (It wasn't Ving Rhames; it was Michael Clarke Duncan in Daredevil. At one point, one of us thought it might be a clip from Daredevil, but we talked ourselves out of it.) Some folks on the team knew that the villain of that story was The Headless Horseman and not Ichabod Crane... but those folks weren't the ones keeping notes on the data we collected.

There were automatically-released hints. That is, every so often, our laptop would show us a hint. We leaned pretty hard on the hints for this puzzle, let them lead us along by the nose.

In hindsight, we could have used Google Goggles to help us to identify the movies/shows/villains. If we'd identified more of those, maybe we could have figured out the gimmick. In the end, a hint nudged us pretty hard towards the gimmick, and one of us was able to struggle along with the data from the villains we'd successfully identified to come up with a solution. I was kind of worried as we emerged from this puzzle; almost all the other teams had left by the time we finished. I reminded myself that I didn't care if we were slower than other teams. On the other hand, standing around and failing to identify TV and movie characters wasn't much fun. What did I want? I didn't know.

Get in the Van

We got our gear together, got up from our table, headed out to the van. As our reward for getting through the first puzzle, the laptop had given us our next destination: Osage Park in Danville. We were going to Danville! This game would introduce me to Pleasanton, Danville, and other bastions of suburban depravity. Soon the GPS was programmed, we were ensconced in the van, and on our way.

As we zipped along, we were still trying to reverse-solvishly identify movies. We talked about the good part of timed hints: if there's someone on your team who hates taking hints, they might not mind taking timed hints. This might help cut short some really long puzzles. Those of us who'd played in the Griffiths game reminisced about the penrose tile minesweeper puzzle.


At the park, we hopped out of the van. Someone was waving at us from the other side of a playground: aha, it was GC volunteer Trisha Lanznester. She'd no doubt played as part of the Burnin' Aiders team for this The Game's original run up in Seattle, and was now volunteering at this re-run in the bay area. Trying to be all menacing, I said "Nice place you got here. It would be a pity if a bunch of henches showed up and started messing it up." Trisha would not be cowed, but pointed us at our puzzle, saying "You have to commit your own crimes". Our puzzle was a bag of candy; to solve it, we needed to take it. "You know what would make this perfect for us villianous types," I said, "is if we had to take it from a–" I looked down: there was a baby doll in a little stroller at my feet. GC was miles ahead of me.

This was a word puzzle. We were better at those than at identifying movies. We had many little wrapped candies, each of whose wrapper had a big letter attached to it. We also had a big foam-core fake lollipop with short phrases written on it. Tugging at the lollipop revealed that the decoration on its stick was actually a strip of paper. Unraveling that revealed some crossword-ish definitions with flavors.

Candies, sorted by flavors yielded letter-sets. Those could be arranged into words that matched definitions on the decorative paper. The lollipop phrases crossword-clued to other words—each of which was an anagram of a candy word with an extra letter. "Taking candy" (the extra letter) from each word gave us the letters for another phrase: sweet tooth. It was a quick solve, and it felt good, especially after our struggles with the movie clips. (A cynical person might wonder: why drive through Danville's meandering residential streets to reach a puzzle solved in less than 10 minutes? But the morale boost was worth it.)

Saturday: Breakfast

Soon we were back in the van, heading out to our next clue. We talked about food clues from other games. We talked about the soda-smelling clue from Shinteki Aquarius. Blood and Bones had smelled one bottle first‐the water. Since that hadn't smelled like anything, they'd figured that it wasn't a smell-based clue and had tried other things for a long while.

There was some conjecture: why had GC asked us to bring a full set of Scrabble tiles. Would we have to compose a Scrabble story? I wasn't sure what a Scrabble story was, but it sounded like something tricky to make. Maybe it was making a story using only one set of Scrabble tiles. Joe Fendel had made one a while back, but didn't have it on him. We talked about teaching techniques, since Sarah was a teacher, which could have been an interesting topic, but by then we were at our destination: a sports bar in Walnut Creek.

This sports bar was hosting an unusual party: 10 o'clock in the morning, nerds singing karaoke, nerds solving puzzles, and breakfast. We got a slow start on this puzzle. We were handed a puzzle and some karaoke tickets. Our instructions: before we started solving the puzzle, we had to submit a karaoke ticket. Things broke down quickly, since most of the team hadn't heard those instructions (the noise from the karaoke was pretty loud). Then followed a few minutes of the team meandering through this sports bar, some folks trying to solve the clue, and some folks (who'd heard the instructions) trying to prevent the first set of folks from solving the clue. All this tangled up with trying to find a free table for solving and fill out a karaoke ticket. Eventually, we filled out a ticket for Sarah to sing song "A", Sarah spotted a table near the karaoke stage, and we were in business.

I didn't really follow our progress on this puzzle: it turns out that noisy karaoke doesn't really help a team to huddle around a puzzle. Instead, I concentrated on the breakfast bar, specifically the fact that it had run out of forks by the time I got to it. I learned to scoop up scrambled eggs using toast as a tool, but not very well. Meanwhile, other folks on the team tackled the clue.

We had a sheet of heavily mondegreened lyrics. If we couldn't identify a song from these lyrics, we could request to karaoke-sing it. Our brave singer would then get to see the lyrics on the karaoke machine. Folks in the audience could then either recognize the song from its music or else Google the lyrics. Folks on our team looking at the mondegreens were able to mostly identify the songs. (I wasn't totally useless for this part; occasionally someone would look up from the huddle, lean over and ask me to Google some lyrics.) Taking one letter from each (I never found out how) gave us MURDER OF ONE, the title of a song.

Requesting that song on the Karaoke inspired site monitor Curtis to hand us a sheet with the lyrics to Murder of One along with some algebra at the bottom. Murder of One apparently contains an old nursery rhyme that goes "One for sorrow / Two for joy / Three for a girl / Four for a boy..." Our mondegreened lyrics mentioned things like girls and joy and were identified by letter. So maybe A+L meant to look at the sorrow/joy/girl/boy words from songs A and L, map them to numbers via the nursery rhyme, then add up those numbers. This gave us 8 6 7 5 3 0 9 2 1 14 4. Mapping to letters, using 0 as a space yielded HFGEC IBAND. "BAND" looked promising. The rest not so much. We stared at that for a while. What were we missing? We double-checked our figuring. We stared some more. Minutes ticked away. By this time, most teams were on this stage of the puzzle, nobody was singing karaoke. The good news was that I could now find out from my team-mates how things were going with the puzzle. The bad news was: we were stumped. Finally, an idea of desperation: if we put "BAND" off to the side, that left seven numbers, all in 0-9. Maybe it was a phone number? Maybe we should call it? Then someone recognized the phone number 867-5309 was the number from that "Jenny" song from the 80s. "867-5309 band" was TOMMY TUTONE.

I felt some regret: when I'd been putting together the 2-Tone Game, I'd looked at Tommy Tutone a little before figuring out I couldn't make a good puzzle out of them. Now I wished I'd internalized more of what I'd learned. As we headed out of the sports bar back to the van, there weren't many teams left in the bar. How long had we sat there staring at that phone number, not recognizing it?


Back at the van, we threw bags in the back, piled into seats. We told the GPS our next destination: an address in Benicia. We zipped out of the parking lot and were off– until we noticed that we'd left the van's back door open, the door to the cargo area with all of our bags. Gah. A quick stop to close the back door. A slow drive back to the sports bar to find things that we'd dropped. (We hadn't dropped any, whew.) OK, now we were driving off to an address in Benecia.

We reflected on the puzzle just past. Allen appreciated Sean Gugler's heartfelt singing. We got to talking about company dress codes. Erik talked about some visitors to his office who'd insisted on finding out what appropriate attire was before visiting. "Casual" wasn't specific enough. How to explain casual; if you say "clown pants and a bathing cap would not be out of bounds" would that put these people at ease, or would they all have shown up in, y'know, clown pants and bathing caps? I passed along the Wayne Rosing dress code: not naked. Alexandra said that she'd gone to the opera in her pajamas once. Sarah taught at a private school for which teachers had a dress code: no flip-flop sandals, no jeans.

We wondered about the future: if we were going up to Benicia, might we go through San Francisco? Some approval: we were going to places that no The Game had sent us to before. Erik and Sarah knew Dr Horrible better than most of us; Erik looked at the puzzles we'd seen so far and spotted the reference. Our morning puzzles were from some Dr Horrible song lyrics in which Bad Horse sends Dr Horrible a message about how to qualify for the Evil League of Evil

so let the games begin
A heinous crime, a show of force
(a murder would be nice of course)

The murder had been our karaoke "Murder of One". Our candy-from-a-baby puzzle had been titled "Heinous Crime". The puzzle we were riding to now was titled "A Show of Force". Did this mean that we were applying to get into the Evil League of Evil, no longer content with henching? Folks riding in the back seat started watching Dr Horrible, either because they were researching for future game references or because it was a good show to watch during a long car ride. Sarah was playing with Siri, a new iPhone voice-recognition application. Siri had several easter eggs, and Sarah showed them off. This got us into talking about Wolfram Alpha, and databases that supported entity search instead of just word search. Alexandra had been curious about this since she'd talked with Jutta Degener about Freebase.

It was about this time that we figured out that we'd gone to Benicia's West H Street. Unfortunately, we were supposed to drive to East H Street, and there was a body of water between where we were and our destination. But we got ourselves turned around and drove to the right spot. And it was a great spot.

[glass pumpkins by Nourot Benician Glass]
One photo of the Nourot pumpkins, copied from their blog. Click it to see more photos

We were at the Nourot Glass Studio. It was pretty spectacular. There were a bunch of autumn-themed places out, bright orange pumpkin decorations rendered in glass, seeming at once to flow like liquid and to be plumply thumpable like more, y'know, vegetabular pumpkins. Those were obviously not what we were here for, though. There were several glass eyes on a little table, each one with a label marking it for one team. Apparently, we were here to pick up a big glass eye.

We took it outside. We weren't exactly sure what to do with it. I can't speak for the rest of the team, but I was kind of nervous about walking around in that glass studio with my big bulky backpack swinging around behind me. And taking it outside was the right thing to do. We examined the eye for a while and didn't see anything puzzly on its surface. Surely we were supposed to break this glass eye. Wasn't this puzzle titled "A Show of Force", after all? Sarah, who had played sports, got ready to toss the eye at the ground.

"It feels like it's meant to be broken."

"You say that about everything."

Corey Anderson was site monitor for this clue. He'd played with the Burnin' Aiders up in Seattle, so he was ready to volunteer. Also, he'd done some glassblowing himself, so he was a pretty good person to watch over a glass studio. (You might be thinking: Where was Melinda? Doesn't she make glass stuff also? We'd meet her later.) He trotted over when he noticed that we were contemplating mayhem. He asked: would it be OK if the got a video of us smashing the eye? Lots of teams had smashed theirs, but he hadn't been quick enough to record any of them. Now Sarah had an audience plus a recording for posterity to consider. The pressure was on, but she didn't choke. She slammed that glass eye into the ground most triumphantly. It wasn't made out of regular glass; instead of breaking into dangerous shards, it turned into powder and not-so-sharp chunks, some of which you can see bouncing in this photo:

Sarah smashes the glass eye

In the glass rubble, we found something that wasn't glass: a die. It was still somewhat embedded in glass. We tried tossing it at the ground, but it didn't break loose. Grinding it on the ground didn't get it, and we ended up scraping it off with a pocketknife's screwdriver. But it wasn't marked with the usual number of dots. This face had one dot, this face had two dots, this face... also had two dots... and this face had 23 dots. And one corner had an alpha.

We transcribed the dots onto paper. Nothing leaped out. We tried looking at the cube corner-on so that the alpha faced us: looking at the dots from that corner, did they somehow make an A? Not really. Since we had just blinded an eyeball, it was probably Braille, but how to get Braille out of that face with 23 dots. But maybe we could interpret the other faces as all the Braille vowels? That kind of worked, but we didn't know what to do with that. Minutes passed. Our laptop had an automatically-released hint for us! The hint told us: F = ma. As in force equals mass times acceleration. Looking at the dots around the "a", we saw 1 dot, 2 dots, 2 dots. OK, that much made sense, but fundamentally... We were lost.

Corey drifted by. One of us asked him a relevant question: if we have this die, do we have everything we need? Uhm, no. We were supposed to have two dice. Apparently when glass fragments had gone flying, a fragment containing the rest of our puzzle had flown extra-far. So we hunted around a bit and found another die—it had landed under another team's van so we hadn't seen it. Fortunately, during the minutes we'd stared at one die, that team had solved the puzzle and driven away, so now the die was revealed. We picked it up.

I didn't really get to see what happened next—the dice didn't make it easy for a whole team to gather around, and the answer popped out about a minute later: NEWTON.

The laptop liked that answer and showed us a video. The Mentalist, a member of the Evil League of Evil, looked over our application. And we'd unlocked the location of our next puzzle. There was some confusion, based on how well you were able to see the laptop: as we piled back into the van, someone was still trying to solve the video, though it wasn't a puzzle. But eventually we got ourselves sorted out and we were on our way to the next puzzle.

There was time to pause and reflect. We sure had come up with some creative solutions to that single die. Maybe we should have put it on the ground and pounded it instead of throwing it at the ground. But with Corey wanting a video, you wanted to do some more interesting than just pounding it.

Next: Evidence of Supervillainry[next]

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