This here page talks about my experience playing a hunt that's still out there, the Ravenchase Washington DC Hunt. This hunt is still running, so you might ask Does this story contain spoilers? The answer's a little tricky. I'm not spoiling the fun of solving clues, but am presenting info that confers a slight advantage. E.g., this page points out a mistake in the first clue; this page has the corrected clue data; this page does not present the solution to that clue. On the one hand, the correction won't spoil your enjoyment solving this clue; quite the opposite. On the other hand, if you see this data, it would not be fair to compare your score to that of folks who worked through that broken clue. This page points out something most folks I know would consider to be a fatal flaws in clue, something that make you think "I won't check for that, since no self-respecting designer would write a clue that does that," but I don't reveal which clue has it, since that would make the clue trivial to solve.
With those warnings, you can click the button to reveal my story if you still want to:
I'd downloaded the hunt data into my phone's ClueKeeper app. I read the pre-hunt instructions. They told me to go to Union Station and start the hunt by entering a "start code" into the app. They stressed the importance of starting at Union Station: many of the clues featured photos; the photo would only make sense if you were standing at the right spot.
On my first full day, I thus rode the train to Union Station bright and early. On the metro platform, I entered the hunt's start code and looked at the first clue. Without getting spoiler-y, I can say that there was text and a photo telling me to find a landmark. There was also a cipher alphabet that mapped a correspondence between some little graphical elements and English letters. The challenge: find the landmark, find the symbols on the landmark, decipher the message.
The photo showed an outdoor location, so I headed out of the station and looked around. I didn't see the photo's subject right away, but that wasn't too surprising. I was facing a big plaza and it was raining. I walked around a bit. I walked around the plaza a few minutes, glad that I'd brought my umbrella. Failing to find the photo's subject, I considered the clue's text. Searching Google Maps for things I found in the clue's text didn't bring up anything good, just a landmark several blocks away. I considered walking there, but the words were weak sauce, evidence-wise—they ambiguously "pointed" at a few DC places. And the instructions had stressed the need to start out at Union Station. Instead, I looked around Union Station, strolling in the rain.
It seemed darned strange that I hadn't spotted the photo's subject in this plaza. There weren't many places to hide. I looked at the ClueKeeper app to double-check the wording on that instruction to go to Union Station. But that instruction was gone. The Ravenchase folks had put it in the before-the-hunt instructions. But they had left the during-the-hunt instructions blank. (Cluekeeper Creators: This is the "During-Hunt Text" and "During-Hunt Media" in your hunt's Contents.)
After a few whiles, I gave up on spotting the landmark hauled out my phone, brought up the ClueKeeper app, and revealed the clue's first hint. The hint didn't tell me where to go, but it did reveal that I'd have to go at least a few blocks. Whatever those now-hidden instructions had said about staying put, I shouldn't have believed them.
That was the only hint for this clue. The hint narrowed down what I was looking for, but didn't reveal it. If I couldn't figure it out from that hint, I didn't have any way to get to the place where I could do the fun part of the clue, deciphering the secret message. The Ravenchase folks hadn't bothered to write more hints for this clue.
I went to my weak-sauce guess at where the text was telling me to go, and found that guess was right (whew). I saw the subject of the photo. There, I saw the symbols I was supposed to decipher. I deciphered the first few words of a secret message! And then gibberish. The last sensical word suggested that I should do something with the gibberish… uhm, suffice it to say I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out the clever reason I was having trouble with this clue. But what I wish I'd done instead was know that the clue was broken.
I didn't know it, but the Ravenchase folks had got a couple of the symbols wrong.
I was looking at shield-with-an-anchor-symbol and a bulbous cross. But (I figured out
after giving up on this clue and seeing the answer) whoever wrote the code
thought those symbols were a shield-with-an-Ⓧ and an Ⓧ:
Unfortunately, the code had other symbols that were closer to correct than the Ⓧ-symbols, so I jotted down a couple of wrong letters. (Later, when I was typing up this here travelog, I did some internet research and found a variant of this design element that used a Ⓧ symbol. Maybe the puzzle writer used internet data instead of data from the game location? And nobody ever playtested the puzzle so they never detected the error? Maybe? That theory doesn't explain the shield-Ⓧ symbol, though. Even the variant design had an ⚓, not an Ⓧ.)
A smart puzzler could figure out the message despite a couple of incorrect letters. Even a so-so puzzler like myself can do that. But there was an extra "dummy" letter in the message. This was kind of cool in a historical way. Historical codes really used dummy letters to pad out messages. But combined with the wrong code symbols, it was enough to keep me from seeing the correct message. In the end, I took a "skip" on that clue.
It's no fun writing about this. I'll stop the detailed play-by-play. Suffice it to say…
I tried the second clue; it went poorly. It went poorly because I didn't know my way around DC; the clue wasn't broken like the first one. But I wasn't having fun. I quit and stomped off in search of a comic shop and to look at the National Mall without letting poorly-executed clues ruin my day.
While I'd been interacting with the ClueKeeper app, I'd noticed a little glitch in the UI. I'd mailed off a quick bug report to the ClueKeeper folks; they'd want a chance to make their app glitch-free before 100s of folks used it for the DASH hunt in a few days. When I got back to the hotel that night and checked email, Rich Bragg had written back asking for some details on how to make the glitch appear. I'd forgotten, but hauled out my phone and brought up the app to figure it out. And then I looked at the hunt's third clue, figured out where I had to go to solve it.
Days later, I gave the hunt another chance and made it a little further… before I ragequit again. I only made it through six clues (having to skip most of them) before I gave up. It was that bad.
Clues had just one hint each. In a well-run hunt, there are enough hints to help teams get past tough spots to parts of the clue where they can have fun. For each clue in a hunt like this, you want a vague location hint, a here's-the-location-on-a-silver-platter hint, and one or more hints about what to do when you get there. Some folks will have low scores because they "pay" for hints, but they won't be stuck. In this hunt, I was stuck.
Some clues expected you to find the right spot by recognizing a photo, with nothing in the text to guide you. If I already knew my way around DC, this would have been fun. Since I was hoping to use this hunt to guide me around DC, this was not fun or possible. Since I couldn't get the location from hints, I stayed stuck.
There was an unclued anagram. Yes, opinions are divided on unclued anagrams: are they contemptible or just middling-bad? But this unclued anagram was so unnecessary…
Yeah, that's it, I'm going to stop writing about this now.
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