Welcome to Part 2 of my recap of the Shinteki Decathlon! Here's Part 1 if you missed it. After the jump is the exciting conclusion, which includes the most frustration I've ever felt during a puzzle hunt. Would we rally? Find out below. (Again, massive spoilers pervade this recap.)
Istanbul was our next city, localized at the historical train depot in Colma. We received Railroad Rush Hour, and indeed, we'd have to solve a custom puzzle, then use a supplied code on the final board position. If victory was reached in the minimal number of moves, the code would yield our answer. I was very excited, as I have ample experience with the regular Rush Hour game, both in its physical form and as a phone app. I'd never tried the Railroad edition, but it couldn't be much different, right?
We set up the board and got to work. It took some fiddling, but we got the red train out pretty quickly. We decided to try the code and got gibberish. Damn! Looks like we'd have to find a better solution. Amy suggested taking a picture of our final board, but I didn't see the logic in that, as it wasn't the one we wanted.
I was wrong, folks. Disastrously wrong. We spent the next half-hour trying to solve the puzzle again, and we simply couldn't do it, even when we abandoned all hope of getting an optimal solution and just tried to solve it at any cost. I don't know how it was possible, but it was like our initial success never happened. My frustration was boiling over; a puzzle that should have been in my wheelhouse was completely defeating us after we'd already solved it.
Now, I do take slight issue with the puzzle's definition of the word "moves"; when describing the optimal move count, "move" meant one train's movement, regardless of length. However, when it came to the code, "move" meant a single square. On a few occasions, we discarded some progress because we thought we were going to run well over the minimum, but that wasn't the case. I'm not sure we would have solved it, but it certainly didn't help.
We finally relented and spent ten points to get the path. That told us what trains to move, but nothing else, so it still took us a few tries to get through it. This sent my exasperation to new heights. We finally got it, applied the code, and moved on with absolutely no sense of victory. As it turned out, the correct position was a minor shift from what we initially had. If we'd looked at the picture we never took, we might have been able to adjust it. As it stood, my terrible error in judgment had cost my team points and, more importantly, time. (You may wish to dock me additionally for failure to listen to my girlfriend.) I felt hugely dejected.
We did get another bonus puzzle out of this, though. One passport page had four colored boxes matching the colors of trains. The four corresponding letters gave us our answer. Our failure to record information nearly burned us again, but we were able to recall enough to work up the solution.
There was nothing to do but move on to Rome, which was set at Grand View Park in San Francisco. Trudging to the top of the hill, we received some clues and took note of a diorama containing the Seven Dwarves arranged like the segments of an digital clock number. I wrote down each dwarf's position and we moved back down to work on the clues. Each card had a hill, on which was described some items the dwarves had found inside it. There was also a sentence above each hill. We looked up the Seven Hills of Rome, and I noticed that the italicized words in each sentence anagrammed to one of the hills. So there was that. We tried to work out what the item descriptions referred to, but it seemed pretty ambiguous in some cases. Fortunately, we were able to get enough to see that we'd have to form groups out of the items. Indeed, as we learned through a free hint from LEON, there were two additional clues in each sentence, one for the name of a dwarf and another for a famous group of seven we sought. It worked like this: First, we ordered the list of groups alphabetically by their associated hill. If a dwarf's hill contained an item in a set, that dwarf's segment should be "lit up" for that set. These segments would form our answer's letters.
Confusing? You bet it was. However, spurred by knowing the identities of the seven categories, we got enough segments to get what looked like good information. Things just weren't adding up, though, and part of what we had contradicted a nudge LEON had given us. We finally figured out what had happened: At the top of the hill, I'd somehow managed to misidentify three of the seven dwarves, throwing off our segments. Correcting these clarified enough information to give us our answer.
If I felt dejected before, I felt genuinely awful and down on myself now. Instead of being a strong figure on the team, I'd made inexcusable and costly mistakes on two consecutive puzzles, putting us in a real bind. I'm hard on myself under the best of circumstances, so letting the gang down like this felt really terrible.
And the stumbles would have a big cost. In consulting LEON for the next clue site, I saw that we'd been skipped over Amsterdam to Dublin, an eventuality that Shinteki had warned us would come to pass if we weren't advancing fast enough. A hundred points, out the window. (I wouldn't find out until later how painful missing that puzzle truly was; stay tuned.) Dammit, dammit, dammit.
Our woes continued as we traveled to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Dublin clue site. We needed the turnoff immediately past the bridge and missed it, forcing us to make another round trip on the bridge to try again. It really felt like nothing was going our way as we grabbed our clue. (The Shinteki staffer at that station would later comment that I looked pretty miserable. As good as Shinteki games are, at that particular point, he wasn't wrong.)
Dublin brought us another set of minis. Perhaps this was just what the doctor ordered; some smaller successes could lift our spirits. Here's what happened in this set:
- Several groups of five pictures were presented; some pictures could be associated with one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. For instance, in a row of comic book characters, Zeus suggested the statue at Olympia. If the picture was thus linked, it got a 1; otherwise, a 0. This led to binary numbers, which converted alphanumerically to the answer's letters.
- Another puzzle exploited the two ways of expressing musical notes, C-D-E and do-re-mi. Using the sets of five musical notes, one could choose either the single letter or the bigram for each note to spell the answer to one of the given clues (e.g. A-D-MI-RE-D). Either the single letter was 1 and the bigram was 0 or vice versa, depending on which column the clue was in. Thus, each clue provided a letter, and reading these in the order of the clues gave a final clue for our answer.
- A third puzzle gave us three rows of five pictures. Identifying a bunch of these pictures yielded all four-letter words. Spurred by the flavortext, I saw that they all were comprised of two state postal abbreviations. The puzzle also referred to Borders bookstores (RIP), suggesting that if the two indicated states neighbored, it got a 1, and a 0 if they didn't touch. This yielded the three-letter answer. (Noticing a theme yet?)
- One card had a short list of countries, with five letters in each colored red. The list was topped by INDONESIA, suggesting both ONES and INDIA. Indeed, every country contained another country's letters spaced out in order inside it, like TOGO in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO. The red letters were assigned 0's if they were in the shorter country's name and 1's if they weren't. More binary alphanumerics and another answer.
- The last mini had two sets of sixteen clues. The top set all had answers ending in a "der" sound, like JETER and EIDER. In fact, taking away that last syllable yielded homophones of single letters, like G and I above. The bottom answers were all, say it with me, five letters long. The flavortext suggested that only the eight true -DER words, and not the eight -TER words, mattered. Thus, a letter in a bottom answer should be a 1 if and only if it was one of those eight letters that phonetically preceded DER. This gave yet more binary letters that spelled a clue to the answer.
- The meta, as you might guess, involved semaphore. Ha ha, just kidding. The meta stumped us for a little while, but I saw that all the answers were short and contained only a small subset of letters. I anagrammed the unique letters to DOUBLING, information that was confirmed as good by LEON's free hint. I finally made a grid of five rows, one for each answer, and eight columns, one for each letter of DOUBLING. I marked a 1 if that row's answer had that column's letter, then read binary letters down the columns. This didn't work, so I reversed the rows' order and that did work. I wasn't sure why, but I learned the secret later: these minis' titles contained, respectively, "Wonders," "Tooters," "Fodor's," "Aiders," and "Sixteen -ders." 1, 2, 4, 8, 16! Simple and elegant. Victory!
This set indeed provided a much-needed confidence boost; I led my team confidently through all the minis. My mistakes still hurt, but my spirit had been somewhat rejuvenated and the team overall felt better about how things were proceeding.
On to London and the Marin County Mart in Larkspur. This involved a pre-puzzle that required us to go get some Three Twins. I was glad to see this, as an apartment fire took out the one near me some months ago. The special ice cream would help us solve the pre-puzzle; if it contained an ingredient listed on the sheet, we used the associated clue. Each clue was a word that is spelled differently in England, specifically by using more letters, like CATALOG(UE), YOG(H)URT, and ALUMIN(I)UM. Taking these extra letters from the correct ingredients gave the answer. I was jazzed to see the disguised LAUGH LINES without even needing the ice cream, but ate it anyway.
The actual puzzle involved some silver bricks, a marker, and clues. The first set of clues enabled us to write a word on each brick. The second set of clues were answered by compound words that grouped three of our first answers with another word. Because some of those first answers were used in more than one group, we were able to form a chain and make the bricks into a Stonehenge-like arrangement. The third set of clues were all compound words or phrases ending in OUT, implying the removal of the associated bricks. This left four separate clusters that resembled the letters MINI, the answer.
Team Cluemosity got into a bit of an excited panic at this one. There was under a half-hour remaining in the event. We knew we had no chance at getting to the tenth clue, so we really wanted this one. There was some stumbling as we struggled with the proper way to arrange the bricks, then with one of the OUT clues, and then with how to read the answer that was plainly staring us in the face. But, with about fifteen minutes to go, we made it! Another hundred points!
And we'd have a chance at ten more. We were handed a bonus puzzle called Counties that referred to the British Empire in the flavortext. I blazed through many of the crossword clues and looked up what I didn't know. Then, the aha moment: Each answer could have one letter added to form a country, like (S)PAIN and HUNG(A)RY. Putting these added letters in the blanks gave SURINAME CAMEROON; an arrow led from these words to two seven-blank words, and another arrow led from those to five blanks and "(think British!)" I'll leave this one to the reader; have fun.
As I mentioned, we'd run out of time for the Geneva clue (no idea what it was; feel free to leave a comment describing it) and proceeded right to the Pyramid Brewery for the end party. I got some sorely needed food and a desperately needed beer while we hobnobbed with the other teams. After Shinteki wrapped things up, I asked about the first puzzle we'd missed. It was a cryptic crossword. A goddamned cryptic crossword. The one puzzle I absolutely would have murdered in no time flat and we didn't get to do it. Indeed, I took it back to my table and it was done less than a half-hour later, with a nice assist from Josh to extract the final answer. Aggravating not to have it be worth a hundred points, but we had nobody to blame but ourselves. (Or myself.)
So how did we do, anyway? Well, despite two missed puzzles and a handful of hints elsewhere, we acquitted ourselves quite well. Our bonus puzzle points were just sufficient to eclipse our hint penalties, and we finished in the top half. Hooray!
At the end party, we also took a look at some more bonus puzzles designed for the smartass teams who finished early. Wish we could have had a better look at them; the ones we did or had explained to us were very nice.
And so Decathlon is over for another year. I want to thank my teammates for joining me and, frequently, putting up with me; I really hope they had fun. And, of course, thanks to Shinteki for another truly excellent event. If you're in the Bay Area and you like puzzles, you simply have to do one of their events when the opportunity arises.