It's a few days later than I hoped for, but here's Part 2 of my WarTron recap. (Here's Part 1.) Once again, here's a BIG OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING. If you think you might play in the Boston edition down the line, you probably shouldn't read this.
OK! So, at this point, the sun was setting and Do Not Bounce had just deciphered a phone number to call. At last, we got information on how to reach Lisa Goto. We went to a motel, then waited around for a bit until we got paired with another team to solve the next puzzle. We were herded into a room and instructed simply to search the room for what we'd need. We found six small paper circles with numbers on them, a box with a combination lock, a piece of wood with colored circles on it, a battery, some copper wire, some round magnets painted to match the colors, a GOTOVISION logo with the O's colored in, a slip of paper with the colors in mathematical equations, a quote from Goto about sometimes having to go the other way with things, and a diagram indicating how to use the battery and the wire.
Well, first off, we matched the numbers to the GOTOVISION colors and used that as a combination for the first lock. Success! Inside was... another combination-locked box, as well as another GOTOVISION logo, in which both the letters and the O fillings were new colors. Bearing in mind Goto's quote, we again matched the numbers with their colors, but this time started the dial in the opposite direction. More success! Now we had a sort of pill bottle, again with a combination lock, and a series of colored O's; while they were the colors we were familiar with, some figures had an O from the first logo's color, but a filling color from the second, or vice versa. Here, we got stuck for a bit. One person experimented with the battery thing, but was hesitant due to potential flammability. Finally, one of my teammates figured out how to interpret the equations to convert the numbers for another combination. Success, and puzzle completion.
Uh, so what about the battery? And the wood? And the magnets? As I learned much later, this was intended to be constructed so the wood would spin to indicate the direction to turn the combination lock. Very clever, but ultimately completely unnecessary for us, and, I would imagine, other teams as well. So this one was a miss for me.
But no matter; we were finally going to reunite with Lisa Goto! She was, as expected, not pleased to see us. She bemoaned Gotovision's server errors (hmm, I wonder what caused those) and asked one of us to volunteer to restart the servers. I raised my hand, but didn't actually do anything special; she merely gave me information that everyone else heard and took down. On to the next site!
We headed to Oregon City's Municipal Elevator, where our vehicle was taken from us and we entered the Tron computer. Earlier teams got to go down in the elevator, but we settled for the side staircase. At the bottom, we were given an "identity disk" (i.e. a frisbee); inside it were three rotating paper circles bearing words and lines. Eight sets of blanks were in the center. I noticed that eight words were in bold, so I turned two disks so lines always met with these words. We turned the third disk and tried to make sense of connected words. The breakthrough: The correct sets of words formed "anguished English" for computer terms. Filling these in and taking the boxed letters earned us our clue, which we couldn't find an answer for. Hmm.
At this point, we got our van back, tricked out with neon lighting in the windshield! Sweet. We also had a new CD in the car; it contained songs from the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, and this provided our puzzle answer. We sped onward to a shopping plaza containing a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Here, we again joined with another team. Three volunteers rode bikes around a loop; the rest of us stood in the middle. Two GC members judged the cyclists as they passed them. Observing the judges' results, we directed the bikers to get in the order the judges apparently wanted, and this won their approval. Doing this seven times or so earned us our next puzzle.
That puzzle was several squares of paper with three smiley faces each, colored red, yellow, and blue in various combinations. There was also a sheet with their associated three-digit values, as well as a path that had blank squares and more three-digit numbers. I'm hazy on the details with this one, but we were able to arrange the squares on the path according to those values, then interpret each trio of faces as a ternary number, which translated to letters that spelled our answer. Maybe someone can help me fill this one in and I'll edit this paragraph.
We moved on to Portland's Mill Ends Park, officially the smallest park in the world. We picked up a pack of trading cards, which depicted superheroes and their names spelled out in ternary... almost. We discovered that several of the letters near the end of each name encoded the wrong letter. In fact, all of the mistakes were in the last five letters of the name. Since the descriptions on the backs of the cards suggested binary code, we were able to convert the last five letters to ones and zeros, then to letters, then to our answer.
The next location was a collaborative office-like space, and it was an assembly puzzle. We spent some time folding squares of paper into diamonds with a crease in the middle. There were triangular tabs clearly designed to go into grooves. The tabs and grooves had words printed on them, and we realized they completed phrases of the form "___ in ___" or "___ in the ___". We put these in groups of five so a set of five related words read across one half of the diamonds. Each word had a bold letter. We recorded these letters as well as the category and the number given on the first triangle in the group. Soon, we had all the information, but no idea what to do. The bold letters didn't seem to spell anything. I wondered if the position of the bold letter was important, not the letter itself. We were stuck.
Finally, we decided we actually had to assemble the solid, whatever it was, to have a chance here. We ended up with a nice-looking twelve-pointed star, but this took quite a lot of time, and we still didn't know what to do with it. We waved the white flag and got a hint from GC. He suggested that we examine where the bold letters were in their words. Sure enough, they were always in the same position for each category, and taking this letter of the category spelled our answer.
"Wait a minute," you say. "Didn't you suggest that very thing before you assembled the solid?" Yup, and I never actually investigated it, which is why I left this puzzle massively angry at myself. I could have saved us an hour if I'd just followed up on my thought, and it would have taken less than a minute to see that it was promising. Absolutely infuriating. Another lesson learned, but that sure as hell wasn't helping my temperament now.
We moved on to Voodoo Doughnut, where we got a donut (which I was in no mood to eat) and a web link to another puzzle. This was simply a video depicting a color wheel. It moved through various colors, with a red dot, a green dot, and a blue dot evenly spaced along the rim. We recorded the color names and simply had no idea what to do with them, other than figuring a black wheel was a delimiter. We headed back to the van to think some more, but we weren't getting even a germ of a promising start. Still immensely discouraged by the huge setback we'd just brought on ourselves, we decided to punt. The intent was to use the colors to draw lines by moving towards the appropriate edge on the color wheel. So, if you saw yellow, you'd move towards the edge between the red and green circles. These lines spelled out letters. OK.
Desperately needing to break our losing streak, we headed to the crowded Ground Kontrol, where we tried to reach a GC member for our next step. A staff member trying to get by me from behind chose to handle the situation by shouting directly in my ear. With the mood I was in, I had half a mind to take a swing at him. My enjoyment of this whole experience was really starting to take a dive here.
I watched as a teammate played an old Tron video game to "prove our worth" or whatever. I didn't really see what point this had, as GC didn't seem impressed by his score, but we got our puzzle anyway. It was a little tin that looked like a question-mark box from the Mario games. Inside was, crucially, candy, as well as the actual puzzle, which again featured little paper circles. Each had a state quarter design, along with a dot or arrow, on one side and an 8-bit video game character on the other. We grouped the coins by game, then chained the coins in each group so that a coin's arrow pointed at a geographically appropriate state (a small US map at the bottom of the tin hinted at this). The dot was the end of the chain. These shapes formed the letters of their answer. We solved this one pretty quickly and I'd eaten a bunch of the candy, so I was feeling a little better.
The next clue site was a 24-hour Starbucks, crowded with teams. We collected a big envelope and decided to reconvene at the van. The envelope contained a complete chess set as well as a paper chessboard, with words occupying some squares. There was also a new command for BITE, and that gave us some instructions as well as clues associated with White and Black. Each clue solved to an anagram of a chess piece plus another word from the board, thus suggesting a move by that piece to that square. The game ended in a Black checkmate. Following the instructions, we took the board words we'd used, removed the letters of an emphasized but nonsensical phrase, and drew our answer from the result. I felt we did quite well on this one too; back to winning ways!
The sun was rising at this point, and we were instructed to go to a parking garage. It took us two tries to find the right garage, embarrassingly, but once there, we again surrendered our vehicle and were instructed to go on foot to a nearby fountain (following a miscommunication that sent us right back to our van without having done anything). It seemed we would be exiting the Tron computer. At the fountain, after waiting our turn, we subdued a guard by throwing a shoe to knock over the stand holding his ID disk. We met Clu, Goto's assistant within the computer, who filled in some story for us and gave us a card we'd need to stop BIGMAC. For our next puzzle, we learned five distinct handshake motions from a GC member, then got a second, longer sequence from another.
We got stuck on this. Big time. Besides the five motions, there was a crossed-arms gesture that seemed to indicate a space, but other than that we had nothing. It was definitely binary, but which movements were ones? Which were zeros? Did it depend on the order somehow? Was a high-ten a one and a zero? My only respite from our frustration was watching teams have inexplicable difficulty knocking over the guard's disk, but that didn't help how stupid I was feeling. At last, we called GC, and after some ineffective communication, we got pushed into the right answer: The initial sequence of five, which I'd had written down correctly, indicated the bit sequence. If a motion appeared in a section of the handshake, it was a 1; if not, a 0. Thus, each section gave a letter. That was it.
If I was angry after the set-assembly puzzle, I was murderously pissed at myself now. This was an incredibly simple mechanism that I've seen countless times before. There is absolutely no excuse, not even great fatigue, for a person with my level of puzzle-hunting experience to fail to spot it. Thoroughly disgusted with my stupidity, I stomped back to the van alone.
Waking the two sleeping teammates we'd left behind in the van, we proceeded to a massive rose garden, where a GC member gave us a new command for BITE. This spat out a list of strange phrases; they suggested anagrams. Having a Portland native on our team really helped us here, as the anagrams were of the game's locations so far, plus an extra letter. We got enough of them to figure out the extras' message, which pointed to a piece of information findable in the garden. This was found in short order.
We noticed some teams wandering all around the garden, and we didn't know what they were doing. At first I thought they were way off base, but the more likely possibility was that they were doing a puzzle we'd been skipped over. For our part, we went to Cathedral Park, where we picked up a few identical copies of a big sheet with an array of hexagons, each of which had some letters around the edge. The topmost and bottommost letters told us to cut out and assemble the reds, then read the taped letters. Every hexagon had a color spelled around its edge in any of various languages. Making heavy use of our smartphones, we got just about all the translations, and noticed that all the red cells were connected to each other. We cut out this shape and found we could assemble it into a soccer ball shape, with holes for the pentagons. Starting from a star on one of the cells, we moved from face to face according to what edges had been taped together and were not originally adjacent on the sheet. Clue, answer, boom.
It was time at last to proceed to the end location. Here, we were again met with a kind of puzzle I really don't care for: collecting information from other teams. It wasn't as automatic as it was with BITE; we had to supply information from Clu's card, which included our team's number, an algebraic expression, and which dot was filled in on the circuitry illustration. Truth be told, I really didn't understand what was going on here; I think I was pretty much spent. Someone started a Google spreadsheet for everyone to put in their information, and before long we had a final phrase, uh, somehow. Submitting this phrase was quite another matter. BITE had a function to display a letter on its top; each team had to display the appropriate letter (according to its ID) and plug BITE into a big system at the front of the room. Confusion reigned; I was so at sea that I think we were the last team to get sorted. Once the message was complete, we had our final showdown with BIGMAC.
I'd remarked at the very start of the game about the four small buttons on BITE's surface, and here they were finally coming in handy, along with the four colored lights next to them. Every team played Simon at once; to defeat BIGMAC, every team would have to maintain a sequence of a certain minimal length at the same time. This was maddening for a while. BITE was extremely unforgiving of pauses, so there was no "holding on to" a sufficiently long sequence. Thus, we'd get tantalizingly close when one team would fall back to zero simply because its chain got too long to remember. (Writing stuff down didn't seem like an option with the space we had; I was hunched way down, my head bowed over BITE while tucked between two standing players.) At last the task was accomplished. GAME OVER.
We'd achieved victory and stopped globothermonuclear war (you're welcome), but as far as I was concerned, I hadn't won until I'd had a desperately needed shower and nap in the hours I had before my flight. Most of my team had to drive the van back to Seattle, so I was adrift. I finally had my team drive me to the Ramada where we'd stayed on Friday, and I forked over a hundred bucks just for a few hours in a room. ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT.
Thus ended my WarTron experience. Aside from the angry moods brought on by my own failings, I had a really good time. The experience seemed remarkably smooth considering its scope. While the puzzles certainly weren't perfect, for the most part I thought they were quite good; I can't remember feeling that a puzzle was unfair. So, overall, I'm calling WarTron a success. Great thanks to Team Snout and everyone who helped put on the event, as well as to Do Not Bounce for inviting me along and putting up with me.
On a personal note, I remain undecided about overnight games. While I see the appeal, I'm not a big fan of the sleepless night, as it makes me less mentally sharp and amplifies the impact of my shortcomings on my morale. (I finally made the decision a few years ago not to resist sleep at the even longer MIT Mystery Hunt.) Plus, I certainly wasn't looking forward to a flight and navigating home after it was all over. (My profuse gratitude to my friend Girts, with whom I hitched a ride back from SFO.) So, I might be open to another thirty-odd-hour hunt, but I'd definitely be more likely to do it if it were nearby, permitting me a quick trip to my bed at its end.
But that's not a decision I have to make now. Until next time, hunters!