My wife has a hard time telling apart the different game and puzzle activities I do. She doesn't realize that I hardly ever do puzzle events. But she remembers that last year I played DASH in Portland with my brother James, his wife Ashley-Renee, and our son Fenton who at that time was under 1.5 years old. Here is a link with photos.
We finished third in Portland and didn't even submit an answer to the final puzzle, the meta. We had reached the end of everyone's rope, not just the little guy, and we called it a night. GC said they had been calling us "Team Baby." Some months later when James and Ashley-Renee came to visit us in LA, I pulled out the bits from the meta and we picked up exactly where we left off. We had the solution in about 20 minutes. We got a big boost, however, in the living room when Laurel, walking from one room to another as we were assembling the puzzle pieces, commented, "That looks like a caffeine molecule." About 10 minutes later we found out just how right she was. Where was she when we needed her, all wiped out at the end of a rainy day solving with a toddler?
Anyhow this year I played with an all new team: Tammy from Google and her friends Brian and Alex. Alex is Brian's wife, and they all work at Google. Our team was Quirksome Quells. At the starting line I shmoozed with Team Team which comprised many of the NPL's most formidable solvers. They weren't the only familiar faces: Elissa and John Beck were competing too, but I didn't find out their team name. The return of Grover's Heroes, maybe?
DASH 6 was as perfect a game to play in LA as DASH 5 was to play in Portland. Last year's theme was about a contagion infecting all mankind, which is not to be confused with the previous year, which was about the Mayan Apocalypse ending the world. This year's theme was most refreshing: two kids starting a lemonade stand. This tickled me pink as certain lemonade and I really liked the twist, or is it a squeeze? In LA we were pretending it was "Outbreak" while the rain periodically broke out, whereas in LA (or, more properly, Old Town Pasadena) the sun was shining beautifully, and the breeze kept it pleasant. It also provided an additional obstacle in solving some puzzles down the road.
GC took good care of us, started promptly, took team photos, offered us water. When the game began, everyone had to pair up with two other teams. This was the same mechanism as the first event of the only Shinteki Decathalon I competed in: we all drew Scrabble tiles and formed groups of 12 players and played the donut-based Duck Konundrum. This remains one of the coolest things I've ever done in a puzzle hunt, including the remarkable solution to that puzzle.
Our start envelope was marked with a sticker of Lemon so we paired up with a group who had a Sugar puzzle and the group with the Water puzzle. There was a recipe card and since I have a loud voice (I took voice and speech at UCLA Theater school) I just read loud to our whole group. This part of the puzzle wasn't timed but both the Water and Sugar groups finished quickly.
A single recipe card told all 3 groups what to do. The recipe said to squeeze the lemon; our lemon puzzle comprised 5 canoe-shaped slips of paper that, when folded over like a taco, revealed the shape of a letter on the visible half: sort of like a Mad Fold-In. The recipe also said water had to be cleansed of impurities; I believe the water puzzle showed a picture of a pitcher with many 5 letter words; removing all the letters in the word IMPURITIES left a final solution word. I never saw the sugar puzzle, but the recipe said it had to be measured out in tablespoons or something. I experienced a trace of sadness that I didn't get to see the puzzles, but I didn't feel like I was puzzle impoverished over the course of the day.
The recipe told us to combine the results so our 3 teams took the solution words and wrote them all together. "INGREDIENT," someone on another team said. I crossed out those letters and suggested that what was left could be anagrammed to "ADDITIONAL."
Everyone was using ClueKeeper, the nifty new technology for solving puzzles, and it worked amazingly well. Tammy was the group leader and input all the info, but as a team member I could sync my phone up so I saw what she saw. I taunted her that there was a button on my phone that said "Take leadership" but then she showed me she had a button that said "Release leadership." I told if her the phone battery died she should dive across the room and jab that button as her final act of heroic leadership, allowing me to take over. Then I spent the rest of the hunt plotting how to get her phone away from her and push the button that would allow me to take over as leader. So I wasn't much help in solving the other puzzles.
ClueKeeper confirmed that ADDITIONAL INGREDIENT was the right answer and then it coughed up the location of our second puzzle, where we would get the additional ingredient.
The puzzle at this cafe was in two parts. The first part was a series of cryptic clues. I've been solving Cryptic All-Stars (slowly: my friend Trip has long ago finished it) and cryptics were my first puzzle, so I got the answers to all of them quickly except 2 which took me longer, including one where the answer was LAVENDER. It was a reversal of RED and anagram of VENAL: Venal disorder ... something something ... cardinal color. The trick was cardinal was a clue for red and color was the definition. But I got em all.
Then the second part was a picture made out of a grid of buckets. Tammy said that it looked like a soduku: like a grid of tic-tac-toe grids, 3x3 of them. A diagonal line ran from the top left to the bottom right. The answers to the cryptic clues were indexed against the buckets, double-acrostic style, so we wrote some of the letters into some of the buckets. Only 9 letters were used - maybe every solution only had the same 9 letters. Anyhow, it looked enough like a sudoku that Tammy could start solving it.
This is a good time to observe that Tammy is the reigning US Sudoku champ and I do not know how to spell sodoko. It never looks right to me, and Spellcheck doesn't even recognize Spellcheck, or playtest, so it's not trustworthy. Oh sure I could check a reference book. Whose recap is this anyway? On that subject, Trip maintains that last week's Survivor immunity challenge contained Bags o' Puzzle Pieces, and I refute that. They were balls. Balls you put in a maze, but they didn't interlock or connect to or with anything. They just traveled through a maze and then came to a rest in a divot.
Anyhow, while I've been sidetracked by Survivor, Tammy is grinding away at that logic puzzle but it's slower going because she has to do it with letters instead of numbers. So I took the back of a piece of paper and copied the sudoku over. I wrote the 9 letters in a vertical stack in alphabetical order and assigned a number to them starting with the top letter, which happened to be A, being 1, and then looking at Tammy's grid and writing in the same spaces on mine, but writing numbers on mine where letters appeared on hers, checking it to my vertical stack each time because I didn't want to mess Tammy up.
When I handed it to her, she slipped into super Tammy mode and before I could finish composing a Tweet she had it solved. And I got to feel like I helped a champ solve a sudoku, something I couldn't even do in the National Treasure Book of Secrets Clue Hunt, and this is many years later and I still haven't learned.
Those red buckets across the diagonal were filled with numbers that, when I used my vertical chart to turn them back into letters spelled "CHOICE ENDING." We typed that into ClueKeeper who responded with, "That seems cryptic." The end of the puzzle, like the beginning, was a cryptic clue. The ending of CHOICE is the additional ingredient, ICE.
We moved to our next location, the plaza with the big art. This, like all the locations in the game save 1 or 2, were all places we'd played the Pasadena game 3 years earlier. In the intervening year, I know there was a game at UCLA and I don't know where the LA game was last year. I would have liked to visit a new part of LA (downtown Culver City suits me just fine, or even Santa Monica) but Pasadena is lovely, I don't get there often, and it reminded me of past puzzle hunts there I've run and competed in.
One thing about Pasadena, there was a dance competition for young teenage women, so they were walking around in groups with chaperones, wearing flamboyant costumes or athletic jackets and lots of make-up.
At the plaza location, we learned why we'd been told to bring tape in no uncertain terms. Tammy brought two rolls and 1 roller. This puzzle was really great so here goes describing it.
The lemonade stand is making a lot of money.
There were two pictures, about a foot square, that had been cut into strips. The two pictures were the same, but one had been sliced horizontally and the other vertically. The assembled image showed pictures of currency from around the world. The insight that helped us make progress was to look for the US dollars where they appeared. Tammy and Alex made very good, quick progress on this and I did little to help.
While I was focussed on these strips, I didn't realize that Brian had discovered the other puzzle in the envelope. It was a set of square pieces, each piece made of a 2 x 2 letter grid. The pieces could be placed next to each other, because against the background there were wedges in different colors that, when adjoined correctly, made circles against which the letters were layered on top. Trust me, it was easy to figure out what was going on. I'm just not describing it well.
But figuring out the best way to put the pieces next to each other wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. First we just looked at colors. Then we realized the coins, irrespective of color, had text printed around their diameters: "In DASH we trust" and "Different Area Same Hunt." So we tried matching them up with that text, but after a little while we noticed the green border running around the whole perimeter of the assembled grid, which made solving it much easier and we then only needed the colored coins for the inside pieces and as a check against our work.
Tammy and Alex had finished taping together the pictures of the shredded bills, and Brian and I taped up the letter tiles of the coin jar. A black line connecting letters on the coins page spelled out the message: TWELVE DIFFERENCES, ONE IN EACH ROW AND COLUMN. The two pictures of the bills aren't exactly the same: it's a spot the hidden pictures game. The members of the team all call out differences; I catch fewer than the others, even as we are ruling out rows and columns and I'm looking at the last 4 spaces and I know 2 of them have a difference. It was remarkable how some of the most glaring, obvious differences, like a bright colored E on a bill that had nothing in that spot at all, was not among the first differences we noticed.
Since the bills pages and coin pages were the same size, when we put the bills pages over the coins page and noted which letters appeared in the boxes where the differences we circled were found, the indicated letters told us to identify money in Japan: YEN. Two puzzles, two three letter answers. If we had noted that then we would have saved some time at the first meta.
Between getting YEN and arriving at the next puzzle, Brian treated our team to a box of madeleines. I ate the green tea one and it was yummy. I think Alex might have a sweet tooth like I do, though probably not as over the top.
The only sweetness I took at this puzzle break was Splenda in a Coffee Bean Pacific Coast black iced tea. Caffeine, good advice from last year's final meta. This part of the story was about putting up posters advertising the lemonade stand. Two delivery kids on bikes who obey a series of bizarre rules about when they will turn right and when they will go straight, and what happens if they cross paths. It was a bit foolish as a story conceit but I'm told it's a kind of logic puzzle and with Tammy captaining, our team solved it quickly.
I helped the group fill in the list of crossword-style clues, all of which described occupations in a rather straightforward way. The map Tammy was solving on had numbered boxes, so I just wrote the names of the jobs in the boxes starting in the boxes with the numbers in them. Then the squares where the two kids on bikes crossed paths were the index to letters that, when dropped into the dashes below spelled out "CARTOONIST," a clue to the ideal metier for the kid who drew the map. 3 lemons in the dashes indicated the real answer, our final three-letter word: ART. A container within "cartoonist." Nice discovery.
I haven't mentioned that at every step of the way we'd been receiving business cards for people who wish the kids well in their enterprise. That's because we weren't giving the business cards much thought. We gave them to Alex to hold on to, but they didn't have any bearing on the solutions to puzzles 1-3. At a bank plaza with a water fountain, we got an End of the First Day puzzle (the kids are staying with GC for just a few days during Spring Break). The kids wanted to play a word game with us.
When I don't know the answer to something on a puzzle hunt, I call out things I can see. I knew there was a reason the 3 dots above each column were not, for instance, red blue and yellow but rather orange, pink, and brown. If we had noticed these were the colors on each business card, we would have had a jump start. We would have also maybe thought to fit the cards over the card-sized boxes on the page and determined that each word written on the back of the business card could be translated into a single letter.
Instead of that, we just tried to drop letters into the blanks and dashes on the page. Many of them we could fill because no other word would fit there, but some were like this: - O O - There's many different words that could go there. How were we supposed to tell which ones?
We were supposed to understand that you could only fill the blanks in each column with the three letters in the solution to the puzzles, in order. The first card we got was pink, so the pink column had blanks you were supposed to fill in with I, C, or E, the letters in the solution to the first ("pink") puzzle. Doing that for all three columns... gave us lists of words.
The ClueKeeper helpful was giving us free hints and we were taking them as they came. When it nudged us to think about what translated a word into a letter, Brian had the breakthrough that it had to do with ternary... how many of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd letters you used from ICE, YEN, and ART - listen, trust me, it made sense when Brian explained it and when we did what he said to all the words in the blanks, it gave us a clue that we solved from the back and front simultaneously... "THE BLANK DIARIES BY ... ER S. THOMPSON" So the answer to the top half was RUM. And since we knew from the ternary mabobbers that this answer had to use all those letters twice, the answer was MURMUR.
"Those late-night murmurs you heard - what could the kids be planning now?" We had solved the first meta. I'd never been in a puzzle hunt that had a meta part way through it, and it was great. I wish I could say it helped me solve the final meta faster, but it didn't. It was great to see everything we'd encountered up to this point all working together so beautifully.
The next puzzle was also really fun. There's a focus group and you have to use logic and deduction to figure out exactly who the 8 people are, and where they're sitting, based on their relation to each other, and what's more there's one guy who is described as having an internal monologue imagining seeing the sun rise in the direction he's facing. So we know where they are, oriented to a compass.
Then we have a list for each of them: a list telling what kind of things they like. There's a pattern to each. One person only likes things that name elements, someone else only likes things that has titles of Beatles songs in them. Finding the pattern for each one was easy. Then you have a list of possible slogans you read to the group; each slogan is going to make two people raise their hand. I called out, "It's semaphore." We decoded the message from the front and back simultaneously again. Now that I'm putting it into words, I guess it's weird that we do that. I guess Tammy usually worked from the front and I worked from the back because I didn't want to duplicate her work and I didn't want to do nothing either.
So I'm looking at the end of this string of letters and I'm seeing ADEKI and I'm thinking, that's not good, and then Brian points out there's one more at the end I missed and it's a T. ADEKIT is better: the group is, like Michael Gerber the author of "The E-Myth" would recommend, they are selling not the lemonade but the process by which a lemonade stand is set up. OUR FIRST ADE KIT.
The viral marketing puzzle printed on Post-Its was diabolical because you could really connect them anywhere. It took us way too long to notice there was a center one. However, filling in the crossword blanks without clues came pretty easy to me: we'd already figured out the words in each square seemed related before ClueKeeper told us all intersections were synonyms. I'd thought the answer might be YELLOW FEVER but in fact it was CITRUS FEVER.
Then we solved this puzzle, which was fun and rather straightforward but the wind added an enormous layer of additional challenge.
Doing this puzzle in what amounted to a wind tunnel was, as I said, an extra layer of challenge but we all had a good sense of humor about it and ample tape. Much better than my first DASH when my team just came up empty here on a Hansel and Gretel themed word search with a final extraction that should have been gettable. Having ClueKeeper nudge us in the right direction at timed intervals was great. For this one, we felt a little silly that we didn't catch on to the hints earlier about Braille - the name Louis B., using phrase "must be blind." But as soon as we had the pages done, Brian identified them as Braille right away, so we got the answer as quick as we could have.
The next puzzle was humorous captions with punny illustrations of the names of companies. Someone running across lanes of busy traffic avoiding being hit by vehicles, all of which are picksups: DODGE TRUCKS. We LOL'd at this one and it was a nice bit of refreshment between the labor-intensive pipeline maze and the meta that promised a par of 90 minutes.
It was time to make sense of all the business cards. We examined them on the walk to the library, but I don't think anyone said, "Hey each card has a single color it's identified with" or "Each card contains a rebus." If they did, I was not listening, which is totally possible.
We fiddled with wedges of lemon for a while, and the business cards.
We did not run out of stuff to try, and we kept trying wrong stuff til we found stuff that was right. Solving all the rebuses helped, and after a little work we started connecting them to the chapter titles. Tammy had the insight that the rebus solutions were all 9 letters long, and it broke from there. Since all the central letters on the wedges could be used to spell LEMONADE, and 8 letter word, you'd spell out the solution to each rebus based on the colors in position and get a 9 letter word: 1 letter out of place. We had to go back and do the first few over again because we forgot to take note of what position the out of place letter was in; that info was needed to index letters into the rebus solution word, and our team edited one letter giving a wrong answer before giving the right one: we'd submitted WE MADE AN EMPIRE before understanding that the kids really m-ade was a LEMPIRE. The end!
Great job DASH GC. Thanks for giving us so much fun. I could not have asked for a better hunt. That first meta puzzle with the ternary was really something, and I might rank it up there with the sitcom married couples from the TV one, and the SHUN GIANTS meta by Dave Shukan in the Fairy Tales one, and the "Only Connect" clues style puzzle from last year's DASH as my favorite puzzles in DASH. There are more I'm leaving out, but those ones are really impressive.
Did you have favorite moments or player experiences I left out?