Puzzle Hunts: Conversations Before the 2007 GC Summit

The 2007 GC Summit was a great place for Gamists to talk about the Game. The focus of the evening was that a few folks who had been GC (Game Control, the people running a Game) would make presentations. Some of this would be old news to veterans of The Game--but might be interesting to Adrian Hon of MindCandy. Some of this would be new ideas or historical perspective. The talks were great. (I missed the talks at the time, but got to see videos later. Hooray for timeshifting.)

There was plenty of Game culture in the regular conversations around the event, too. I had my audio recorder going for most of the evening. Once we were in the restaurant, it was overwhelmed by background noise. But there were some interesting snippets during the conversation out in front of the restaurant.

The Burninators compare notes about the Paparazzi Game:

Corin: I don't know what happened to Wei-Hwa. I wasn't keeping track of him.

Trisha: [unintelligible question]

Wei-Hwa: I wandered around and looked at everything.

Corin: That would be Wei-Hwa. Yes, exactly.

Wei-Hwa: I found the room upstairs where there was all this smoking and, uh, I think there was some marijuana.

Trisha: Ha ha ha ha!

Me: After you stayed in that room for a while, did you understand the secret message?

Wei-Hwa: I didn't stay there for a while.

Me: Ah well.

Wei-Hwa: It was scary.

[They explain that their mission was to find a GC contact at the club.]

Trisha: [How did you know who your contact was?] Did you have to go up to every girl?

Me: How many people did you have to pester along the way?

Corin: Approximately zero.

Me: Wow.

Trisha: They got there too early.

Corin: Yeah, there were just so few people there.

Wei-Hwa: In fact we got there so early, we were supposed to get a CD jewel box which had--

Corin: Oh my gosh yes

Wei-Hwa: --had a puzzle on the CD. But we got to the Marina so early that we solved the Marina puzzle, they gave us a jewel box without the CD.

Corin: They're like, "Here you go, you can work on this. We don't think you can solve it."

Trisha: He he.

Corin: They were wrong.

[general giddiness and chuckling]

Corin: So we solve it, we got the next answer...

[Talking with a couple of members of the team formerly known as the Know Nothings. (Though I didn't get a clear recording, I learned something this night: When Red named the Know Nothings, he didn't know that the team's namesake organization were a bunch of anti-immigration creeps. When the team found out, they changed their name.)]

Wes: Team Snood. Know-Nothings. We change our name, but it's the same group of people. Actually we've teamed up with the remnants of Orange Crush now so we're trying to come up with a new name

Corin: [realizing who he's talking to] Oh yes OK

Wei-Hwa: Orange Crush broke up?

Wes: Well uh I dunno. Since they haven't been able to field a complete team and they're not as confident as Red 5 (now two), we've grabbed a couple of them.

[People have been been distracted by a new arrival]

Me: Well done.

Wei-Hwa: Sorry, what was the story behind their breaking up?

Wes: Oh, I don't, just you know, moving away and whatever, you know. I mean heck our team... On our team, there's three kids and one on the way, so it's kind of-- We play when we can, or whatever.

Wes: Who played Overnightmare?

[general sheepishness amongst the newbies. Curtis played.]

Wei-Hwa: That was before our time.

Wes: I was the guy throwing pumpkins down the hill.

Curtis: OK, yeah. That part was... creepy.

Wes: How about Wonka? I did the radio alphabet.

Curtis: Oh OK.

Wes: That was my first Game, and then I played one after that.

Curtis: Yeah, we loved the atmosphere in Overnightmare.

Wes: It, unfortunately it fell apart. I was also the guy running the ram pump, so--

Me: Running the what what?

Wes: The ram pump. The thing up in the farm, uh, land.

Me: It pumps rams up on a farm what?

Wes: No, it's a mechanical pump. It's just-- it oscillates a water hammer. It dumps a lot of water out, but it pumps a little bit of water really far.

Me: Oh.

Wes: It's an interesting thing. And it was a physical challenge building it in the dark in the middle of farm country.

Me: People had to make their own ram pump?

Wes: Well, parts were provided. And instructions. And we beta-tested the instructions a lot.

Me: Excellent.

Wes: Yeah, it was good. Except, someone had a-- because it was right next to this irrigation canal. And somebody--

Curtis: Yeah, that was Chris.

Wes: That was your teammate?

Curtis: Yeah, he walked into the canal.

Wes: He was just walking and talking

Curtis: It was totally pitch black.

Wes: I had no idea that had happened until later, from the write-up. And I was supposed to have a bunch of helpers out there. It was right after Hallowe'en. It was basically a dusk to dawn.

Me: So why where you throwing pumpkins down a hill?

Wes: It was the clue.

Curtis: Yeah.

Me: OK, two pumpkins in a row--that's dash. Now a lone pumpkin. That's dot.

[chorus of "no"]

Wes: No, uh, no. There was an axe at the bottom of the hill. And the pumpkin stopped rolling somewhat near the axe. And there was haunted house stuff laid out in this little nature walk we had people going along.

Me: I think we're supposed to destroy the pumpkin with the axe and find the message inside!

Wes: Inside... now the pumpkins had been very carefully and painstakingly filled with--

Me: High explosive that would blow up if struck with an axe--

Wes: --finger jello

Me: Whoa

Wes: and colored spaghetti

Me: Oh ewww!

Wes: It was like 30 degrees or 45 degrees, it was cold. So it was really cold finger jello spaghetti.

Me: Awesome.

Curtis: Yeah.

Wes: There was a little string of beads inside with the-- by the time you've busted the pumpkin open, you've already solved it. Just [makes squeamish grabbing gesture]

Curtis: Heh heh, but the best part of that was that was in a really dark part of a wooded area, on a windy road. And, as we were driving up we were listening to the CD [provided by Game Control]. And we we're listening to the radio drama about the crazy woman who was--with the ax--

Wes: Yeah.

Curtis: So we're listening to this thing, yeah, we drive up. We see-- there was someone else there with the clown mask. We turn and our lights hit the person standing by the side of the road

[chorus of "Aiiyeee!"]

Curtis: --and we all freaked out. And then after we finished freaking out, we were like "OK, that's probably it."

Wes: That's gotta be it.

Curtis: But then they didn't say anything. They just led us down, and pointed at the ax.

Wes: Yeah, that was just someone who I'd never met. It was-- was you know roped into helping. He just came up with the whole thing on his own. And when teams would get really lost, he would just take a little flashlight and just shine it, just wherever they were supposed to go.

Curtis: Yeah that was very cool.

Wes: Yeah. Yeah, pumpkins. And there were some ghosts that were supposed to go on a pulley. But that didn't all work out, so--

Curtis: What?

Wes: It kind of like flew around and made a noise and people were supposed to look and then the pumpkin rolls down the hill and-- [wistfully] Yeah. [lost in regrets of what might have been]

Me: You know, if I get to bust open a pumpkin and reach into this brain-like mass of jello to pull out some beads, I'm pretty happy right there.

Wes: Oh, and it was strawberry jello. Which was--

Curtis: I don't think we actually tasted it, after all that.

Wes: Yeah, but the smell was supposed to be an homage to Dragonhunt. Way back. That's one that Red ran.

Curtis: Yeah.

Wes: Where everything was strawberry. Everytime you got to a clue, it was strawberry something. So that kind of told you that you were in the right--

Me: I smell a puzzle.

Curtis: That was the one with the strawberry-flavored condom.

Wes: Ew. It was before my time. I remember hearing about different strawberry things.

Alexandra: I still think Overnightmare is one of the best Games I ever played in.

Wes: We were just talking about that. I was the one with the pumpkin and the ram pump.

Alexandra: And the what?

Wes: I was the one rolling pumpkins down the hill. And the ram pump down on the farm with the water and the-- yeah.

Alexandra: Oh, I think I stayed in the car during that. I was freezing!

Wes: It was cold!

Alexandra: Yeah, I remember that vaguely but--

Wes: I was bundled that night.

Alexandra: That was a really really really cold night. And it was one of the most thematic, wonderful games I've ever played in. You know, ha, we backsolved one of the clues from the CD. Because, Chris Dunphy, I was playing with Chris Dunphy and Adam Costello. We had a clue and we didn't quite know-- We knew how many letters it was? And we knew by the next track on the CD roughly what our driving distance was supposed to be. So he used his mapping software to draw a circle with that radius around and we just found a waypoint that had the right number of letters. And then-- you weren't the clown at the very last one, were you?

Wes: No, no.

Alexandra: We were, we were--

Wes: I was there with the clown, but I was not dressed in the clown suit, no.

Alexandra: Because there was a clue, we had to do the logos of sports teams. And we had this little Blackberry that was incredibly slow, and we were trying to find this site that would show the graphics. And I was looking at the enumeration. I think we had gotten one, so we had like the first letter of it--maybe. And I'm looking down the alphabetic list of waypoints and I said something out loud that fit the enumeration. And somebody on Game Control said "Yeah, see you there."

Wes: That was-- That was the clown.

Alexandra: It's like "Thank you Jesus, there is a God" because we were hating that clue.

Wes: Yeah, we kinda threw that in because, well, gamers might not know a lot of sports teams.

Me: Yes.

Alexandra: You threw it in to be mean?

Wes: No!

Me: So that the one jock on the team has a chance to shine!

Alexandra: That would be me--not! Adam--not! Chris--not!

Me: Well, next time you know to bring a jock along.

Wes: I think the one that you backsolved was the audio clue.

Alexandra: It might have been the radio one.

Wes: That was mine.

Alexandra: Was it? It was a good clue but we just didn't feel like-- we had most of it, I think.

Wes: But it was early in the game!

Alexandra: But how can you resist? I mean, I've always thought when you're designing a game, that if you have a clue that can actually be gamed, so much the better.

Wes: I wasn't disappointed when I wrote that write-up.

Curtis: We usually have a core. And there's a second tier of people who show up sometimes who will do things on the side. Like Lisa was in England the whole time we were [making?] puzzles. But she came up with some puzzles and did other things. But yeah, I think-- For Hogwarts, we got a lot of people, because when you say "Harry Potter" they all think we're something--

Red: Do it! We thought the theme actually drove the--

Curtis: Yeah, well we had a couple of people who would not have have been involved otherwise, because they're normally not into the whole Game/puzzle thing. But they were into doing all the costumes and making up all the house logos and flags and all that.

Red: Yeah, we got some helpers in Overnightmare when we said "You can scare people." And they're like "Oh really?" And we're "Yeah, for real."

Curtis: Yeah.

Wes: We don't care what you do. You just go scare people and stay here until after four in the morning.

Me: If you get arrested, you don't know us.

Red: Yeah. We don't know you. Scare people.

(Talking about showing up at dawn for the Justice Unlimited Application)

Red: I remember that. What was I doing? 5 A.M...

Me: Being sure, being sure.

Red: I'm glad we did it in the end, but-- yeah. What was I thinking?

(About the scavenger hunt material for the MacGuffin game)

Wes: Whatever happened to all that crap?

Red: I got it back.

Wes: Oh, you did?

Red: Yeah. ... I tossed most of it, but I might still have your hat, the 1970s hat, the one with the real simulated wood paneling.

Me: Excellent. It bespeaks the era.

(Talking about a Game with problems.)

Red: I think that was one of the few times we didn't [get mad at GC pulling us in before we'd finished the game]. We were just, "Yeah, we're done." Because-- how long had it been, and we just weren't rolling smooth at all? And we were just--

Wes: Yeah, it was like 7 or 8--

Red: ...but the harder thing is when you're just not rolling and the whole team's just like, "Eh". It's like, we had been beaten up too damned much for this whole game. We're done.

Wes: The hope level was low.

Red: I do think that Curtis had the brilliant insight when he did the "We're not having fun anymore" addition.

Wes: Yeah, we use that everywhere.

Red: Because when your motivation is in the toilet, you gotta pull it. "We're not having fun!"

[Wes+Red half-jokingly half-ruefully reflect that they should set up a game]

Wes: We gotta set it up, set it for two years. Set it now, and then we'll get it going.

Me: Then in one year, eleven months, you can start planning.

Wes: No.

Red: Because he's been through it now.

Wes: Because we'll have meetings once a month. They've all been informal, they may even be email meetings, whatever.

Red: Everyone's learned that lesson now. You don't wait until six months out and then get your ass kicked--

Wes: But I've got about six places ready to go, to take pictures of--

Someone: Are you guys planning a game?

Red: No

Wes: We want to but, No--I got a baby coming in July, what are you nuts?

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