Operation Justice Unlimited: The Briefing

Arrived: 10:00 Solved: 10:35 Hints? No Official Game Control site: GameStart

Like I said, it was a little before 10:00 AM on July 31, 2004, and the Justice Unlimited Game proper was about to begin. Team Mystic Fish was there, playing as Team Mystic Superfish. There were several other teams there, as well. Red 5 had shown up dressed as Batman and Robin. Team Advil had shown up in comic costume regalia. Orange Crush was there, their traditional orange costumes augmented with heroically orange capes.

Team Mystic Superfish: The Crew

This was a rare chance to socialize with other teams, and Alexandra, Mystic Fish's captain, was soon away and mingling. I took this opportunity to get to know the team. This is probably a good time to list them.

Alexandra Dixon Team Captain
Alexandra was into puzzle hunts in a big way. She participated in them, she ran them, she talked about them. When I had made a public plea for some Game team to let me join, she had taken pity on me. She had a habit of helping stray animals; maybe that was all part of the same character trait.
Brian Larson
Brian had nimble fingers to go with a nimble brain. When we were facing a physical puzzle, it always went smoothest when in his hands. I think he was a programmer at Google. I'd briefly met him while working on the edible Genome Game application.
David Walker
David was finishing off a computer science degree at Stanford, thus giving us a bit of Stanford Game authenticity. He was a strong puzzler and a speedy runner. I'd puzzle-hunted with him at Bang 7. David was fresh back from a seminar in Japan, and I was hoping that his body clock would be eight hours out of sync, giving us a wakeful brain at 4am.
Dwight Freund
Dwight was an avid puzzler and an expert orienteer, a good combination for The Game. Of our team, he had come the furthest to play this game (from Sacramento). We were extra-glad to have a Sacramntoite on the team--we'd had no luck finding a huge rental van in San Francisco, but Dwight had found one in Sacramento. I knew Dwight from BANG V and from a morning doing ground support on the 2004 San Francisco Urban Challenge.
Eric Prestemon
Eric was a strong runner and strong cryptographer. He'd partnered with Alexandra for the San Francisco 2004 Urban Challenge, where they'd made the top 10. He'd heard about The Game from some friends of his on Orange Crush, so he was glad when Alexandra invited him along for Justice Unlimited.
Wesley Chan
Wesley was our gadget master. He had set up our rental van as a mobile command center. He elicited directions from Ilse, the talking GPS unit. He had brought the color copier. He had brought many many walkie-talkies. All this, and he could solve puzzles, too. I'd met Wes briefly during the final assembly of Team Mystic Fish's edible Genome Game application.
I, Larry Hosken, had brought a reinforced box full of Hostess snacks. I'd labelled each one with a quote from a superhero Hostess snack ad, packed for quick grab-and-go deployment. I was wearing a funny hat and a battery bandoleer. I hoped that the competition would think that I was out of my head and not notice that I was out of my league.

Though I've listed them here, I'm not going to talk much about who did what.

I won't talk much about who came up with insights towards solving the puzzles. Towards the start, I thought that was interesting; I tried to keep track of who had said what. But when I asked for confirmation: "Was it you who came up with the idea of ______ing the _______?" the answer was always, "Nope, someone else said that." (...except once when the answer was, "Nope, someone else said that, and that was not the solution anyhow.")

Instead I'll say "Someone thought of..." or "The team figured out..." And as it turned out, it was usually more interesting to see how the team worked as a whole than to track which person said out an idea first.

You can draw your own parallels to the myth of the lone genius scientist versus charting the progress of networks of collaborating scientists. Or not.

The Briefing

[Photo by Wesley Chan: Justice Unlimited addressing the games]
Wesley's photo shows Game Control as Justice Unlimited addressing a crowd of gamers

[Photo by Wesley Chan: Examining the DRUID]
Wesley's photo shows me, Brian Larson, David Walker, and Eric Prestemon examining the DRUID.

Team Snout, the Game Control team for this Game took our waivers and gave us goodies: an envelope which we were not yet to open, a CD which was not a clue (it was full of audio from the Radio Justice audio stream so that we could enjoy the skits later), and the DRUID. I had heard that teams as Game Control got very creative and put a lot of effort into the Games, and I think that I first began to understand this when I saw the DRUID.

The DRUID was a custom-made electronic device. It had a two-line LCD display. It had an input spinny knob which was also a push button. Spinning the knob allowed you to navigate menus, and pressing the button selected a menu item. Thus, we could choose to view screens with useful information: Morse code, tide tables, resistor color codes, and more. Also, we could go to a screen that prompted us to enter text. We could enter text by spinning the knob to scroll through choices of characters, and then pressing the knob to select that character (and spinning to an <Enter> choice and pressing the button when done). It had an IR detector. I tried to imagine what kind of effort went into making one of these for each of 25 teams.

Soon all of the teams had received their initial bundle of goodies and were milling around. Then Curtis Chen of Game Control picked up the megaphone.

He thanked us for showing up for work, and promised that we would face a wide variety of super-tasks. Many of these tasks would involve figuring out messages. He warned us that these messages would not usually lead to a set of instructions a la "Go to Pulgas Water Temple", but would instead be passwords. We would call up Game Control, tell them these passwords, and they would tell us where to go next.

A player had a question: Would the passwords be common words, or would they appear to be gibberish?

Someone from Game Control answered: It depends on how good you are. But then Game Control relented and promised that the passwords would be reasonable English words.

Game Control made sure that we knew how to enter text into our DRUIDS. When we received each clue, it would have arrival code text. If we entered this text in the DRUID, it would display a text message.

Game Control made sure that we knew their phone number. We should call this line when we thought that we'd figured out a clue. So we could call to say "This is Team Mystic Fish calling to confirm that the answer to the Squeamish Clue is 'Ossifrage'" and someone from Game Control would tell us "Yes, that's correct. Please drive to the Pulgas Water Temple" or "No, it's not Ossifrage at all." We could also call up for hints. We could even call up to say "We're working on the Squeamish Clue and we're not having fun. Please tell us the answer." Team Snout was amazingly organized--they had a multi-line toll-free number.

Who were these people that could set up an organization like this for one weekend?

Starting Order

But there was a game to play, and it was time to give each team their starting packet of clues. And there was an activity to determine which team would get their clues first.

This Game's backstory said that we were interim superheroes. Each player had filled out a survey listing their superpowers, weaknesses, and nemeses.

Now each team had an envelope which we had been instructed not to open. A HR person from Justice Unlimited now told us the contents of these envelopes: each team's envelope contained 3 cards. Each card had printed on it full info about one hero from your team and partial information about a hero from another team. We had to find the other teams' people in the crowd and complete the card with the rest of their information. The cards had been created in pairs, so that if hero A sought hero B, then hero B sought hero A.

With this information, we were encouraged to open our envelopes, examine cards, and find each other. There was a moment of ripping envelopes, a few seconds of silence as people read cards, and then a cacophany as more than a hundred people all started trying to yell loud enough to get each others' attention.

The crowd swirled. People yelled, people listened. People tried to figure out who had yelled something important. At one point, I got ahold of someone who was looking for a member of my team--and then spent a minute trying to find my team-mate in the crowd.

(Lesson learned: everyone on team should wear funny hats.)

And They're Off

Soon Team Mystic Fish had a set of complete cards. We turned them in to the Justice Unlimited personnel and were given a clue. We started jog-walking back to the van.

The van was pretty close to the pier. By an amazing amazing coincidence we'd suffered a minor breakdown which had forced us to park in a no-parking zone that was amazingly coincidentally convenient to the pier. It was very lucky how that worked out. Very lucky that we were able to reach our van so quickly.


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