April 28, 2003
The Game in Boston details
The Game is another treasure-hunt style puzzle hunt where teams competitively solve puzzles and the first team to complete the full puzzle set generally wins (sometimes there are some other factors affecting scoring). The two things that make The Game unusual are that it is generally entirely linear (each team must solve the first puzzle in order to get the second and so on...) and it takes strong advantage of the location it is set in, visting local landmarks and often doing interesting activities at them.
I had never done The Game before and was interested in giving it a try, especially when it was a shorter version than the usual 26hr marathon and local to boot. I thus put together a team of friends from Matt's gaming. I didn't think our team was that strong but that didn't bother me as I just wanted to have a good time. I thought we would have no chance to win and thus no chance to have to put on The Game next year and these pretty well balanced out for me ;).
This one got off to a bit of a rocky start when Game Control (GC) didn't contact us for more than a week after I sent in our registration money. I finally emailed Matt Enlow and he got back to me quickly and it was soon clear The Game (TG) was still on.
The pre-puzzle (a standard TG feature which gives the location where TG will start) started when Nate and I were each called at 3AM on a weekday morning. Not surprisingly, I hung up on them without hearing much they had to say, convinced it was an insane telemarketer ;). Nate got a bit more info but still didn't realize it pertained to the game. We also thus did not understand their reference in their email when they did contact us to an "earlier conversation". We did learn in this email that we were to be Team Orange (all teams in TG are named after colors). Fortunately, they left clearer messages on Joe and Doug's machines although Joe misheard his and so we couldn't find the right web site and he had to get help from GC on the correct spelling. Once there, we found the puzzle based on the info on Doug's machine and worked on solving it Friday. We had the right idea from the very beginning but there was a lot of trial and error to it and Doug finally found the answer at around 7:30 PM. We were then set to meet at my place at 7:45 AM the next morning and be at Dapy's store at the Prudential shops by 8:30.
Doug and Chau got lost on their way to my place (not a great sign as Doug would be our driver all day) but Chau called me and I was able to redirect them to my place in time. We all hopped in his SUV with our stuff (we had lots of tools including 3 laptops but used almost none of it) and made it to the Pru in time and even found on-street parking. We saw the other teams and chatted briefly with the NPL/MysteryHunt team as Joe and I both knew some of them. The GC person then showed up and checked that all the teams (7) were there and then led us off to the Pru's food court where we were given a folder with general instructions, GC's phone number and our first puzzle. We were also given a bag of bottled waters and snacks and some Dunkin Donuts Munchkins. This was a very nice way to start and we immediately had table space to sit and work on the puzzle in the food court.
The puzzle was in the form of a greeting card like thing in the shape of Charlie Brown's head. On the inside was a long 1440 degree spiral with dots at every 30 degrees (48 total), some of which had numbers ranging from 1-8 (but no 6s and 7s) on them. There was also a quote: "Good Grief...Where do we Start?". We got nowhere with this puzzle other than noting some interesting properties of the numbers and called in for a hint the first time we could, after 30 minutes. This hint indicated this puzzle was musically based which meant I would be useless except in brainstorming and the others on the team weren't that musically expert either. We thus needed a second hint (not a good start and each hint costs us 15 minutes of time at the end) which indicated the numbers were note pitches and the other dots were rests. Doug and Nate then tried to sing the tune but their tempo was way off and nobody recognized it. Doug then called a friend who was more musically inclined than any of us and she was able to realize the tune was "Row, Row, Row your Boat". I then came back and quickly realized this, combined with the card in the shape of Charlie Brown's head, probably referred to the Head of the Charles regatta. The quote on the card suggested we were to head to the race starting line so we headed out in the car. Still not sure exactly where to go, Nate called a friend and I spoke to her and she pulled up the website and we were able to figure out that the new BU boat house two blocks from my house was the place to go - thanks Sue.
We reached the boathouse and had an enjoyable walk though the interior where a bunch of women crew were hanging out before finding the puzzle attached to the railing outside. We were in 2nd to last place and this didn't count the 30 minutes of hint time we had spent. The second puzzle was a page showing 17 pictures of celebrities with four boxes below each one's picture with one or two of the four filled in and there was a quote saying "Around here, they all start with nothing". We started filling in the people but even with pulling up pictures of people who we thought they might be on the web (Google Image search), we still weren't sure if we had the right person for 3 of them (all turned out to be wrong) and another one or two we had no idea who they were. We eventually called GC to get a hint that what we were looking for is a commonality in the celebrities, probably in their names. We eventually realized that many of them had a first or last name that was a town in MA and MapQuest led us to be sure this was the right track even though it didn't work for a couple (which we turned out to have the names wrong for). We plotted them on a map but this seemed to lead nowhere. I then went to the bathroom and just as I was walking in I had the AhHa that the numbers were zip codes, all of which start with 0 in MA. We pulled up the ZipCodes on the USPS site and found that then pulling the appropriate digits always led to numbers from 1-26 so we used the trusty A=1, B=2, ... code to turn the numbers into letters. We had only 12 correct and 2 wrong and 3 missing but were able to figure out 'Hatch Shell Fiedler' and confirm there is a Fiedler statue at the Hatch shell and we were off.
As we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the hatch shell area, we ran into the NPL team - now only about 10 mins ahead of us but we had now used 3 hints. There turned out to be 5 statues near the Hatch Shell and we found the Fiedler one (which was farther off) last. Once we got there, a GC person came up to us and semi-proposed, presenting us with a wedding ring box and saying 'Will you accept this ring?'. We did and headed back for the car and then again to my place. The box contained the puzzle foled up nicely into a ring shape. There were a bunch of lines of forms like "B:B:C:G:K:AIHC". I noted that the single letters were monotonically increasing (although there could be duplicates). Joe did a histogram of the singles and groups and realized a bunch of things: that the singles using the A=1 code were all Primes and that only the singles went above 10 using this code. We thus converted the singles into numbers and the groups into digits of larger numbers and realized this was probably a prime factoring so multipled all the numbers on a line. When all these came out to be 7 digits, we knew we were on the right track and that they were phone numbers. Nate tried calling one without any luck so I started looking them up in Google (and then at Chau's suggestion in Switchboard which was more complete). All of them were business in the 617 area code and all had names like Lace, Wood, Steel, etc... in the business name. Joe realized these were all traditional wedding anniversary gifts and I pulled up a list of these and we then used the year numbers as indexes to letters and got HOODMILKBOTTLE which we looked up and found was right by the Children's Museum. We solved this puzzle, which had a bunch of steps, in probably like 35 minutes when it would have taken like 20 minutes if one knew exactly what to do from start to finish. This is an amazing speed and required no hints and is probably what jumped us into the lead. Most of the credit on this one goes to Joe. This was also my vote for most elegant puzzle with every element from the phone numbers to the anniversary gifts tying in to the wedding ring theme.
We drove over to the Hood milk bottle (our first drive of like 5 across the Longfellow bridge) and Nate got us slightly lost as he was confused where we were going but I got us back on track and went to get the puzzle from the GC person waiting there. This one turned out to be a piece of tile from which pieces of the covering were kind of routed out. Nate realized these looked like pieces of letters and we made several rubbings of the tile using crayons. Nate tried cutting the pieces out and assembling letters but Doug had the major AhHa here when he realized that if we had multiple copies of the tile, a second would tile over the first. Joe was the first to achieve the necessary tiling which read 'Pi Alley' when read in a mirror (apparently the intent was to ink the tile and then stamp connected copies) and we looked it up on the web and I printed directions and we were off after another pretty quick solution with no hints (albeit to a much simpler puzzle).
We quickly found the GC Logo in PI Alley pointing up (which other teams had real trouble finding) but this may have hurt us as we then went up the elevator quickly trying every floor unsuccessfully and even me going out on the roof through the metal trap door. We then descended via the stairs with no luck. I then had the thought to try to go to the location as close to just above the GC Logo as possible. This turned out to be the right idea and I got our enveloped. However, Doug was lost in the garage structure and then Joe got lost when he went to find him and this cost us like 10 a bit annoying minutes.
This puzzle was 4 lines of Arabic (with the first line being in heavier type) presented as a speech balloon from a Taxi. We thus thought we had to find an Arabic speaker or a translation reference so walked around and quickly found a Border's bookstore and cafe. Doug went and got xeroxes made of the puzzle and found an Arabic speaker who told him that while, yes, the letters were arabic, the words didn't make any sense. We then found Arabic to English references in Borders and went to their cafe with them and started doing the conversions which was very tricky but we managed it, mostly done by Joe. We still weren't sure what to do although thout it might be a substitution cipher cryptogram. We called for a hint and GC basically confirmed this and said 'None of us know Arabic'. Joe got started on the cipher and Nate noticed the first line contained 22 non-duplicate letters. We thus realized the first line might be a translation key for the cipher and when, reading right-to-left as one does in Arabic, the spaces came out to be on 4 very unusual English letters, we knew we were right and did the translation. It came out to ".... so sue us. d c and h". The 'sue us' part suggested lawyers and Joe quickly realized that, given this, the 'd c and h' stood for Dewey, Cheetham, and Howe, the fictional lawyers for the Car Talk guys on NPR. We headed off to Harvard Square where anyone who listens to the show knows their offices are at.
We asked at the Information Booth by Out-of-Town News (after the clerk there didn't know their exact location) and he pointed across the street to the window on the second floor above the Curious George store. We headed up and I found them on the 2nd floor but their door was closed so I tried the next door place which was open. This turned out to be right and a nice guy who ran that shop and had been recruited by GC after TG started gave us our pick of the baskets (we were now in the lead so the first team to see him) which contained a big box of 64 Crayola Crayons and our puzzle. I chatted with the guy for a minute, discovering he had accidentally given away a few crayons to kids before GC explained things to him, and then we headed back to my place.
The puzzle was a set of 22 large boxes, each of which contained 4 small boxes, each colored in a different color (there were some repeats over the 88 boxes). There was also a quote basically indicating that what we needed was the names of the colors and that they would have something in common. As we had again returned to my place, I dealt with a few phone messages while the others figured out,
without yet identifiying any colors, that we would likely find that the names of all 4 colors in each large box shared a single letter in common. This would turn out to be right and we got to work on the color id'ing. This turned out to be very tricky as many colors were VERY similar. We ended up making 'paint chip' type sets of each group of similar colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, greys, browns). Using these made things much easier and I probably had the best sense of which colors matched so I looked most of them up while others wrote them in and developed the 'paint chips'. We got 'Ryan Amusement' as the start and looked it up
(although I had been by Ryans many times, I hadn't been in and didn't remember the name) and called it in without needing to figure out the 'Lansdown' part and we were off.
As it would turn out, I think at this point we had won The Game. We will go on to do one more puzzle before the final puzzle but all the other teams are (I think significantly) behind and will be redirected to the final puzzle without doing the Scrabble one we will do in between.
Anyway, we arrived at Ryan's and found Matt Enlow of GC (although we didn't know his name then) dressed as a cowboy and playing a video game. He seemed more intent on the video game than on us but basically just redirected us to The Compleat Strategist store on Mass Ave. Apparently, GC had intended us to have to play the game Dance Dance Revolution for this information but this had been dropped due to time which was too bad.
At The Compleat Strategist, I ran into a colleague of mine and chatted for a moment but then got the puzzle which turned out to be a Scrabble board with all the tiles and racks glued on. I borrowed a sheet of paper and copied down enough information to reconstruct the board and we headed back to my place. On the way, Joe transferred my notes onto a graph paper version of the board. When we got to my place, we started to try all sorts of things but weren't getting great results until we found that one player could play the word 'Coke' on a Triple Word score (and the K on a Triple Letter) for 50 points. I was sure this was on the way to the solution but turned out to be wrong. This puzzle turned out to be by far the worst puzzle of the day and I think other teams should be glad to have not needed to do it. I honestly believe this puzzle is impossible without at least one hint. We ended up needing 3. The first was that the puzzle used Scrabble's version of Chess notation as a major element. The second was that we shouldn't think like we were playing Scrabble and that the tiles left on players racks were a key used to unlock a message encoded on the board. This information would have been enough to solve the puzzle except that they had done the bizarre thing of having each player treat the Scrabble notation as being from his own board perspective which honestly just doesn't make any sense. I understand why they did this (to give them access to more of the board, given their notation scheme) but it just doesn't make sense. This caused us, when we tried the right thing, to only get 25% of the right answer (that for the player who the board was oriented towards). GC's third hint indicated this rotation and we then quickly figured out the answer of 'Improv Asylum' in the North End.
By this time we had been solving for like 12 hours with no real food and just come off a long and frustrating puzzle and were hungry. However, GC made it clear our next puzzle would be our last and, when we called to ask, let us know that would have food for us at the final location so we should not stop to eat. This puzzle turned out to be two interlocking circles of letters. Most of these letters, but not quite all, spelled words but I nevertheless instantly guessed when I saw the puzzle that the words were irrelevant and only the letter strings mattered. However, others on our team weren't so sure so we did our best with the words after I tried a few Perl scripts I had on the strings of letters with no success. Anyway, after the requisite 30 minutes, we called GC and they clearly wanted us to finish and basically told us the trick to the puzzle. Joe did the work to apply their information and we were off to an apartment in Somerville.
We got a bit lost on the way but eventually found the place. All of the other teams were already there, having been redirected prior to the Scrabble (and in some cases other puzzles as well I believe) puzzle (which took us like 2 hours plus 45 minutes of hint time) and congratulated us as the winners (due to completing more puzzles and the mutual set all teams did faster) which was quite nice. There was also lots of food and drink (pizza, Indian, Chinese, beer, sodas, etc...) and a nice chance to chat with other teams and the organizers. I also got the extra 4 puzzles which no team had gotten to. We also agreed to accept the mantle of running The Game in Boston next year.
Highlights: My favorite three puzzles were the Wedding Ring puzzle, Crayons puzzle, Tile, all of which were excellent. The Arabic, Charlie Brown and Zip Codes puzzles were also good.
Lowlights: The Scrabble puzzle which I really thought was terrible. Also, for our team, our poor start on the musical Charlie Brown puzzle. which was probably a fine puzzle but we just didn't have the right skills.
I overall had a great time, as I think did the rest of Team Orange, and thanks so much to everyone at Game Control for an excellent hunt and I hope we are able to equal it next year. The one main thing I would like to add at this point is to not just go to really interesting locations around town as we did this year but also to do interesting things at those locations. They had apparently intended on a few of these (like the Dance Dance Revolution mentioned above) but ended up not doing any, unfortunately.
Posted by aarondf at April 28, 2003 06:07 PM
Post a comment
Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)