DASH3 was a puzzlehunt. DASH3 was my excuse for traveling to New York. I was pretty sure it would be fun; it was fun; it was a blast.
I didn't even do that much. I'd come early so that I could help assemble puzzles. But Brett (head of GC) didn't want any help assembling puzzles. I "helped" him scout Central Park for locations; but he already knew his way around Central Park, and in the end I was just nodding a bunch and saying "that seems reasonable".
But I was a site monitor in a new place. I had a chance to meet a bunch of new people. (I actually forced myself to stay awake and talk to teams milling after they finished the game. Normally, I'd have let myself sink into exhaustion... but when was I going to get a chance to talk with any of these people again?) And of course the game itself was plenty of fun.
One week before the event, I met up with organizer Brett Rogers. In theory, we were scouting the park for solving sites. In practice, he already had some great sites in mind. I just followed along and got oriented. I didn't want to get my site monitor assignment "Go meet teams at Bethesda Terrace" and then wander off in the completely wrong direction, leaving teams stranded. At the start of the day, I didn't know where Bethesda Terrace was. After wandering around for a few hours, I knew how to get from clue site to clue site.
Paying attention was worth it. Walking up to Cleopatra's Needle, my gaze was down on the path. But the stairs up to the Needle platform forced me to look up and see the trees.
Evenings during the intervening week, I solved the puzzles that teams would need to solve. This probably wasn't so useful from a playtesting point of view—the game had already been playtested. (And if I'd spotted a problem, how much could puzzle designers fix just a few days before the hunt?) But, with some hints from the puzzle designers, I thought I understood the puzzles well enough so that I could give hints to players as needed.
Yes, in New York City, with the night life of a major metropolis spread out before me, I spent my evenings doodling around with puzzles.
On game day, I showed up at Central Park, specifically at the general area where gamists were to gather. I looked for a crowd of nerds, but didn't spot one. There were plenty of people, but no clump of nerds. I wandered past a bench with a few nerds sitting on it, but they didn't seem to be looking for anybody. I wandered past a few nerds talking, but they didn't seem to be looking for anybody. I wandered past another benchful of nerds, but they didn't seem to be looking for anybody. But by now I was obviously looking for people, and that's how a team figured out that I was probably involved with the game. They came up to me to ask.
Aha. If I couldn't find the nerd gathering, I would form the nerd gathering. I put on my pack and my wizard's hat. I was pretty visible. Soon the nerd swarm formed.
Brett and his daughter arrived. Brett got organized, and had soon sidled up to a team and got started getting them registered, handing over their starting envelope, and so on.
Fortunately, Chris Maliwat was also on game control, was there, and saw what was going on. Teams saw that one team had their envelope: did this mean it was time to form a mob of anxious gamers milling around Brett, all looking at each other uncomfortably? Chris improvised some crowd control: Each team send one person over! Form a line! That worked pretty well, and soon there were a bunch of teams standing around with their starting materials.
Once the teams had their packets, Brett addressed the crowd. He explained how the game worked, or at least as much as you'd want explained.
With the teams briefed, it was time to hand out the starting puzzle. All the captains came over to pick up the first puzzle for their team.
Soon the teams were solving. It was time for GC volunteers to go to our sites. Dave Hill and I headed over to our next spot.
Soon Dave Hill and I were ensconced at Central Park's South Gate House, by the reservoir. It was good to get a chance to catch up with Dave. He was on Team Mystic Fish, but lived far away. He'd been living in one of those middle states, but had recently moved to New York. I got to play with him when he flew out to California for games; i.e., not often enough. Now we were volunteering, enjoying being outside, talking about the joys of family life.
Soon, the puzzlers arrived. We handed out copies of the DASH3 Three Little Pigs puzzle. We watched folks solved. When the powerhouse teams had powered through, we started looking for teams that were stuck, to give them nudges.
The reservoir is meant to be jogged around. There were runners, there were joggers. One runner stopped to ask Dave what was going on. There were also some little kids running around. These kids were doing some activitiy which alternated between running and solving math problems. So apparently, us DASHers were not the nerdiest people in the park that day.
After a while, the main wave of teams had passed us by. We got a call from GC: the rush was about to hit another station. Could one of us come over to help out the sole volunteer there? Soon I was on my way.
Belvedere Castle is a Central Park building with some castle-ish architectural features, though I wouldn't want to defend it in a siege. As I walked up to the plaza by the castle, I spotted a team sitting and solving a puzzle. I asked them to point me at the local GC, and soon I met brave GC volunteer Gary Selsky.
Gary had grown up in the New York area and wanted to make sure I'd visited the best local sights. He'd helped run the previous year's DASH. He showed me a photo of Debbie Goldstein; she'd traveled to NYC for that.
This team was named The Master Theorem. When I met them, I was surprised. I think I asked something like "You mean, like the website The Master Theorem?" The guy on the left in the black t-shirt said he was one of the people who makes the site.
Puzzlers found some great places to solve puzzles, but those places were meant for other things. This team found a great table at which to sit and solve. Fortunately, they finished before they were kicked out: It turned out that that table was there so that a naturalist could give a lecture about local insect life.
One team did get kicked out from their solving spot. Team Decolletage Against The Machine found a nice patch of ground to sit and solve. Strangely, some well-dressed people showed up and stood around nearby. Then more well-dressed people. Then more. One of them sidled up to me, asked me if I was part of this nerdswarm. He pointed out that Decolletage had taken over the area where a couple of nice people were supposed to get married in just a few minutes. So I gave Team Decolletage the old heave-ho and told them to find somewhere else to solve; when they found out the reason, they were OK with it.
Have I mentioned that NYC DASH3 was heavily entangled with the local geocaching community? This was team Cachers and Dashers. They had more outdoorsy gear and serious-looking GPSs than I'm used to. Geocaching nerds and puzzle nerds: they can get along.
Ours was not the only hunt-ish thing happening at the Castle that afternoon. This girl was dressed up as "Where's Waldo" and was staying visible in a castle "tower". I bet there were some people scouring the park looking for her.
When the last team solved the Cinderella puzzle, I called up Brett to find out where we should go next. (Well, first I waited for the last team to get out of earshot—no need to let them know they were the last team.) Soon Gary and I were on our way to our next location.
Soon Gary and I were on our way to our next location... but we stopped off at the Hans Christian Andersen statue. Gary had gotten involved in this DASH stuff because his kids had run the previous DASH. And they were helping to run this DASH, too. A couple of them were watching a puzzle site at the Hans Christian Andersen statue, so we stopped off for a short family reunion.
As Gary and I continued on our way, near the Balto statue, we spotted another Waldo.
At the Delcorte Clock, Gary and I joined Dave Hill as he administered the Musicians of Bremen clue. This was a tricky clue for GC: it was an audio clue. Some teams could download the audio from a website on their phone, but not all teams were so well equipped. So we had a bunch of simple MP3 players to loan out. But that required keeping track of the MP3 players. Still, Dave had the situation well in hand. We sat in the sun and grew drowsy.
Did I mention Dave was a new dad? His family stopped by to deliver snacks and pass some time.
The musical clock itself was pretty amazing. It drew a crowd.
Child of Atom and his team (whose name I forget) sat, listened, and solved.
Team Awesomesauce sat, solved, and was awesome.
When the last team was done at the Delacorte Clock, we moved on to the metapuzzle location, the last location. In theory, the metapuzzle solve was Patsy's Pizzeria. The week before, Brett had talked to the manager to find out about using their place as an end location. The manager had loved the idea. But it turned out that the folks working at the pizzeria that day didn't like the idea. They'd kicked everyone out; fortunately, there was a little plaza across the street by Dylan's Candy Bar. Teams had solved the Hansel and Gretel puzzle there. Now they were solving the metapuzzle there and in surrounding restaurants. (California Pizza Kitchen was willing to sell pizza to puzzle nerds. Thank you, California Pizza Kitchen.)
I got a crash course in how to solve the meta in case any teams asked me for help. But in the end, no teams did.
It was at around this time that the web app we used to keep track of team puzzle start/finish times stopped responding. Later on, I heard that this app lived on the same server that was serving up the audio file for the Musicians of Bremen clue. When too many people tried to download the audio at once, the server fell over.
When I write these things down, you might think that this was a stressful time. But by the time I arrived, the crises were largely past. The plaza was a fine place to solve puzzles. The web app wasn't working, but writing down finish times was easy.
Eventually, the last team was gone. The other members of GC headed out for their family gatherings or what-have-yous. I sat back for a while in the plaza. I was exhausted, full of bliss. It had been a great day. I couldn't wait to travel someplace new for DASH next year.