Seattle 07 Mostly Eastside: Microsoft Puzzlehunt 11.0

I'd previously played in a reenactment of Microsoft Puzzlehunt 8 and had thus learned that a Microsoft Puzzlehunt is a really amazing thing and if I play in another one I'll go totally stir crazy. But I still wanted to see a real MS Puzzlehunt, so I volunteered as slave labor to help run this one. After I volunteered, it turned out I already knew some of the people on game control.

In the week leading up to the game, I asked if there were any puzzles I should be studying up on. The answer always seemed to be sure, if I could visit the Microsoft campus; and we never quite seemed to get our act together for that. Once I finally showed up on game day, I found out the reason--the puzzles were on a shared drive on the internal Microsoft network. So was the answer-submission system.

I showed up Saturday morning. I made my way through Microsoft Campus to the building where Game Control's headquarters lurked. Along the way, I couldn't help but notice how much better the local sidewalks and wheelchair ramps were than at Shoreline business park in Mountain View, CA. Redmond had its act together. I was outside the HQ building. I called up. Soon I was in.

I had about enough time to set down my backpack when it was time to head to the nearby Executive Briefing Center for the opening ceremony. The game was based on the movie Tron and so was this opening ceremony. Thus I was soon hiding behind the stage, dressed up as a conscript program. That is to say, I was wearing a vest that had been modified with glowsticks. Soon the lights went out, the evil MCP took to the stage, and we four conscript programs shuffled out and attempted to look downtrodden. Then the ceremony was done, the lights came up, and it was time to head back to HQ and start answering questions. GC was looking a little downtrodden. JeffWa was very squinty, as if he hadn't slept in a few days. Ian kept looking like he was about to tip over.

GC worked a little differently. Each puzzle had some GC person assigned to it. You'd answer questions about your puzzle[s], but leave other puzzles alone. If someone from GC had to go take care of something, questions about some puzzle might go unanswered for a few hours. But that was probably OK--teams worked on multiple puzzles at a time; if they were stymied on one, they could concentrate on another.

When I say "You'd" answer some questions, I mean "not me". I hadn't worked on any puzzles, hadn't playtested anything. Thus, I didn't know any of the puzzles, didn't have access to Microsoft's guest network. So what did I do?

Well, I put together the lunch order. That doesn't sound hard, but it turned out to be really hard. No, really. It got really screwed up and I'm pretty sure that it wasn't entirely my fault. The thing is: we ordered lunch from Chipotle over the internet. Because they don't accept phone orders. And I didn't use their fax ordering system because I thought Of Course the Internet System will be Easier. But their internet ordering system turned out to be a Flash application which allowed you to order some things that were similar to, but not quite the same as, what was on the menu. You didn't do this by typing in what you wanted or clicking buttons. No, instead you had to click on graphics illustrating ingredients, not all of which were enabled at any given time, so sometimes you'd click and nothing would register and you'd click something else which was the same color as what you wanted only to find out it was lettuce not guacamole and then you'd try to unclick it but then something else would happen and... Jeez. It probably took me half an hour to enter everyone's order, and I bet there were a couple of mistakes in there. But in the end I wasn't too worried about those--because there were plenty more mistakes in our order when we picked them up, including a missing burrito. Lesson Learned: Chipotle is like Berkeley's Cafe Intermezzo: order in person, don't ask them to make more than one thing at a time.

Not Completely Useless

Then I went to a soccer pitch and helped to set up tents and move the soccer goals into place. While doing this, I stepped in a puddle and soaked my shoe.

Then we went to a mostly-deserted office building. This was a sprawling building, a maze of low cubicle walls. A maze--as if someone had been playing Tron light-bikes, except less shiny. We helped set up a puzzle here. Players would soon ride light-bikes (scooters with glowsticks) through here. They were supposed to choose their path by following pictures of "good guys" from computer games and avoiding pictures of "bad guys". (Along the way, they were supposed to notice which good guy pictures they passed; those encoded a message.) So we needed to tape up many pictures of computer game characters.

Shiny Things

Then I helped make many many circles out of glow-sticks. We brought them out to the soccer pitch, where it was now dark.

Many players had gathered--this challenge wasn't an online puzzle to solve. Instead, players had been told to show up here sometime in the next couple of hours. A pair of players from each team would represent their team. They were decorated with glow-sticks. They were given a light-up frisbee (a "deadly disc"). They had to make their way from one end of the soccer pitch to the other. But they weren't allowed to just sprint on over. Instead, they had to move the disc. Whoever had the disc couldn't walk/run/ambulate. He could just throw the disk to his team-mate. Each player had to be standing in one of the little glow-stick circles that was now laid on the field. So one player would stand in a circle; his team-mate would jog to a circle a little ways down the field and stand in it; the first player would throw the disk; second player would catch it; now it was the first player's turn to jog downfield.

I was at the other end of the soccer pitch. I stood in the night and watched a horde of glowstick-adorned geeks gallumph towards me as glowing frisbees swooped through the air. It was gorgeous. It was like modern artillery--wonderful to watch... until you realized it was heading towards you. I was at the end of the soccer pitch that all of these people were trying to reach.

Soon, pairs of gamists were running up to where I was standing: a tent in which there were some bins of glowsticks--and with some balls, made of glowsticks, hanging from the supports. The clueful gamers figured out what to do: Look at one of the hanging balls and then replicate it using some of the handily-provided glowsticks. Other people weren't so sure what to do. They asked me, since I was in my Game Control glowy vest thing. "Well, I don't know for sure," I said, "but I've seen other teams try and build one of those thingies out of glowsticks."

The swarming and jostling was a bit worrisome. A couple of enthusiastic shovers almost overturned the bins of glowsticks. Also, I was wielding a knife--I was opening up more cannisters of glowsticks to replenish the bins. When I'm wielding a knife, I'd kinda prefer there weren't a bunch of geeks swarming around, bumping into me, knocking me in the direction of the soft flesh of other geeks. Anyhow, I made it through the evening without puncturing anybody, so it was a good time. And after the first crowd subsided, things calmed down a bit. A couple of gamists showed up who were clueful and didn't need my advice, but I grinned at them anyhow until they noticed me. "Deh--hey, Larry, what are you doing here?" It was Rich Bragg and Rico, SF bay area gamists, and it was fun to loom up out of the night and surprise them. They were playing with the team The Usual Suspects, who eventually went on to win the game--so I guess I didn't freak them out too much.

Then there were a few hours of catnapping and loitering. Folks who were monitoring the question line were busy. I was not busy. Thus I drowsed my way out of Saturday and into Sunday.

[Photo; Jess Roger Ian] [Photo; Josh Ian Roger] [Photo; Josh Kaylene Jess Roger] [Photo; Roger]

Sunday morning, it was time to assemble the prizes for winners: glow in the dark frisbees. There were "1" stickers to affix to frisbees for the first-place team, "2" stickers for the second-place team's frisbees, and "3" for the... you get the idea. Actually, these weren't stickers, these were decals. I use those terms pretty much interchangably, but apparently to experts, there is a difference:

Anyhow, I was again wielding a knife, cutting decals out from a sheet, handing them over to Kaylene so that she could wet them down and attach them to frisbees.

Teams started solving the game. After they solved it, they would come visit the Game Control HQ to visit. So we cheered for them. So that was fun. And I put a name to half-recognized face from the halls at work: Oh, that was Bruce LeBan.

Then I was crashing pretty hard into sleep deficit, so I ducked out, caught a bus back to civilization, somehow crawled into bed.

This was fun times; I recommend it.


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