There's still plenty of stuff going on in the puzzle world. My team is trying to chase down our last solution of the latest Black Letter Game, Trip Payne has sent out the bonus puzzles to backers of his extravaganza, spots for August's WarTron game will soon go up for grabs, and I'll enjoy the second run of the Shinteki Decathlon on Saturday. That last one probably has me the most anxious, as for the first time, I'll be the team leader and the person with the most experience with puzzle hunts. I'm not worried about the puzzle quality; Shinteki always provides terrific challenges in a wide variety of puzzling disciplines, including a few offbeat tasks. Other than that, though, it's unpredictable; I'm just hoping to foster a fun and successful day for my team.
For now, it's time to reach back into the past and run down the other puzzle events I've enjoyed in the last few weeks. Jump into Spoilerland with me!
On April 28th, I participated in DASH 4, in which teams sought to avert the Mayan apocalypse, rearing its head months sooner than anticipated. The League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen finished 14th in the nation, which I think is excellent for a three-man team that chose the instruction-free versions of two puzzles. If you want a thorough breakdown of all the puzzles, head on over to Clavis Cryptica, which, incidentally, you should be reading regularly if you're not already. Some brief thoughts on how the League fared (and again, spoilers ahoy):
- The Mayan Calendar: This is the sheet that took us from clue site to clue site. We had no problems here aside from briefly considering flimsy justifications of certain answers before finding the correct ones.
- The Golden Gate Bridge: We tried to pair up answers before finding the correct method of linking the two letters of state abbreviations. We found the final instruction a little misleading; it seemed strange to take every other letter but start with the first. Fortunately, Professor Tangram had written down the letters in such a way as to make the message clear.
- The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus: Despite noticing "B. I. Nary" right away, we had some trouble figuring how the times and graphs all worked together, as well as how to interpret the numbers once we had them. When one possibility's coordinates all pointed to ships, we knew we were on the right track, and I pointed out the semaphore that represented the final step.
- The Temple of Apollo at Delphi: Crossword-style clues, as you might imagine, pose few problems for Kid Crossword and company. Once we got the homophonic trick, it stood no chance against us.
- The Great Wall of China: The hardest part of this puzzle, by far, was the hike up the hill to the clue site. Once we actually got there, we thoroughly demolished it; the downside of this was that our physical rest was brief.
- The Lighthouse at Alexandria: I'm pretty good at math, but my two teammates are even better, and they ended up solving most of the problems. Reading the message enabled us to correct one error; the next step is where we really got stuck. I believe it was Solverine that finally lit upon the correct method of looking for unique distances.
- The Great Pyramid of Giza: One of the puzzles for which we accepted a version free of explicit instructions. Once I saw that the puzzle was a crossword variant, I knew we wouldn't need them. Even without that help, we found the grid to contain a surfeit of pointers, like the arrows and the shaded triangles, the latter of which we didn't even notice until we'd discovered the trick (cramming in a full word) of a few of them. With virtually no pauses, the grid was filled, and it didn't take long for three busy hands to blacken the right symbols to form the answer. Very nice puzzle.
- The Statue of Liberty: The anagrams were quickly taken down, and we were lucky enough not to try moving the circles before noticing that the key letters (ABCD, NSEW) would fall in them. The answer extraction was a short leap from there. Nice mechanism.
- The Tower of Babel: I had the final insight and we clocked the best time in the country. Chuffed.
- El Castillo (meta): We were again offered an instructionless version of the puzzle. We wanted to challenge ourselves, but we took the folded instructions for possible use later. We deduced what shapes the pieces would form and tried to pair things up from there. The first match took a while to find, but we were off and running once it came, even though we had to broaden our initial inclination to look for spoonerisms. Assembly and final success was pretty fast from there. Victory! We looked at the instructions and agreed that we were glad we didn't take them; they provided a little too much hinting for our liking.
- National cooperation puzzle: After we solved Babel, we looked into this and quickly figured out the simple encoding as well as that teams' names were important. The Professor began dialing while I texted. We gathered some information this way before moving to the meta. Once we finished that and thus the event, we coordinated with other teams and Twitter to cull the rest of what we needed. It was then that we learned the importance of some teams being listed with the incorrect cities. So we had quite a bit of data to acquire. Unfortunately, it got boring pretty fast. The gap between figuring out what we needed to do and actually doing it was yawning, and while I was happy to hang around and socialize for a while, I eventually stopped caring about the payout and went home.
Overall, I had a terrific time. Many thanks to Game Control for a strong set of puzzles; I look forward to DASH 5!
The very next day, I took my girlfriend Amy and fellow puzzler Jeremy to do The Miwok Prophecy, a San Francisco game from a heretofore unknown outfit called Jimmy Swiss Games. This was a walking tour of the Mission district's many murals and other public art. Our goal was to fill the blanks with words that would tell us the final location as well as what to bring there. There was also a large cryptogram (the Prophecy), which was essentially unsolvable by conventional means because multiple cipher letters could represent the same plaintext letter (digits were also used to increase the number of collisions and thus the difficulty). To gather information, we would have to answer riddles by carefully observing the art at the designated locations. Each answer would decrypt one letter of the cryptogram and/or give us a letter of one of the final words. More decryptions were findable at coffee shops and bars along the way. No real puzzle-solving, as such, especially compared to DASH, but we leapt into the challenge eagerly.
And eagerness was required, because this thing was LONG. It sprawled over the entire Mission, and there was a lot of pacing back and forth in alleys looking for the detail we needed. I mapped out our team's route later, and I'd say we walked safely over five miles over the course of the afternoon. The organizers had surely underestimated the breadth of their event; we were moving pretty fast and still coming up right up against the deadline. We came frighteningly close to finishing, determining the three key items and the prophecy but having just enough missing or incorrect pieces to obscure the clue to the final location. Unfortunate not to polish it off, but I don't think any other team did better. We stumbled into the Velvet Cantina utterly exhausted, and we scarfed down some food, water, margaritas, and a special shot as we wrapped up the event.
So what did I think? Well, the organizers' inexperience clearly showed with regard to estimating the length of the event, as well as with a few errata that impeded progress and led to at least one very harmful incorrect answer for our team. That said, most of it was put together quite well, and the two young men of Game Control were very enthusiastic and seemed to learn a lot. I'd certainly be up for trying out their second game when it comes along.
My third and final wrap-up for this overly long post is of Crosswords LA, held on Saturday at Loyola Marymount University. This was the second year in which original puzzles were used, and a record number of contestants would be on hand to enjoy them. I'll admit that I was worried about keeping up with the grading given last year's difficulty. Indeed, some early scanner difficulties and later network issues forced a little scrambling, but the team handled it well and the rest was smooth sailing.
I was holed up in that room for most of the event, but I escaped to provide play-by-play of the final with Andrea Carla Michaels. Eric LeVasseur and Jordan Chodorow were no strangers to the top three, but with perennial contender Eric Maddy absent, the third spot was wide open, and Doug Peterson won that battle. The three men's showdown somehow provided even more drama than last year's tight race. Jordan leapt to an early lead, but fell back to the pack. Eric then surged until he had just one square blank, but simply couldn't suss the tricky clue for S(T)ARE nor the neologistic (T)ANAHOLIC. Doug was next to reach that point, but declared himself done before taking another look. (He later filled that square with a frowny face.) Eric was still thinking about his final letter. Could Jordan, writing like mad, come from behind to steal the title? Yes he could... by half a freaking second. An incredible finish, and another championship for Jordan.
Overall, it was another successful event, and hopefully it can grow even more in the future. Thanks to organizer Elissa Grossman, the terrific constructors, my fellow judges, and everyone who came to enjoy it. Congratulations to all the prizewinners!
And congratulations also to you for making it to the end of this. Look for a Shinteki wrap-up next week!