Shortlog - a log of everyday things



This post will discuss events leading up to, stories from, and aftermath of The Game, a scavenger puzzle hunt associated with Stanford. Yes, I'll get to last Monday's post eventually.

A good while back, my labmate Lora introduced me to (among others) her friend Soja, who was in the process of writing a puzzle hunt, and was toying with Rubik's cubes. This Saturday (the 9th) was the date of The Game itself. Lora, Wes, and I formed a team named PhDestroy! for The Game.

We were in the first round of competitors, so we were supposed to report to the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View 20 minutes before our designated start time of 09:30. Since that is early o'clock, and since Lora's parents live in Los Altos (much closer to Mountain View), we opted to meet up Friday night, make dinner, drive down to Los Altos, spend the night there, and sleep in a little more the day of the game. Lora brought fresh produce from her CSA drop which produced a salad and roast asparagus, and I made the delicious pineapple sausages that I've swooned over before. Om nom nom.

Saturday morning, we reported to the Hacker Dojo at about 09:15 (ehh, whatever) to sign release paperwork. Costumes were encouraged, so I wore my trenchcoat and my wizard hat. One of Lora and Wes sported a grey fedora - I don't remember who wore it more, nor who started wearing it, but it worked for both of them.

We had a veritable Smörgåsbord of other things we brought, in case they were useful:

Rather than give a blow-by-blow of every puzzle, I'll just mention two of my favorites:

At the Gates of Hell on Stanford campus, we found a Rubik's cube labelled with some numbers, red or pink hearts, and stars with what appeared to be Braille dots on them. The numbers indicated which of the six faces a tile belonged on, but not all tiles were labelled. I spent a good while working out the constraints, labelling each tile and eventually solving the cube. Each face had three star tiles on the right, and a pattern of red and pink hearts on the left which formed a 3x2 grid, just like a Braille letter. After some fussing about and pinging Game Control which told us there was a typo (the Rs should have been Os), we figured out that the clue read AT EL PALO ALTO (not ATELPALRALTR). I love Rubik's cubes, and (with the exception of the typo), this puzzle was very well put together - it gave enough information such that the most logical way to proceed was the correct one, but left enough to the solver to still be fun.

A webpage with some ASCII art made of a bunch of letters from the set {A, G, C, T}. I broke out the Cr-48, ssh'd into my server, and quickly wrote a Python script for converting three-letter bases into their corresponding single-letter amino acid codes. This was the point where I realized JUST how awesome having the Cr-48 was going to be. Thanks, Google!

There were also several puzzles that we didn't get right off the bat, to say the least. We spent about an hour trying to find a clue in the plot-development page that contained none, rather than looking at the clue given at the next site. We spent a rather long time before we learned to read interleaved 2-of-5 barcodes manually. This gave us a pair of GPS coordinates, which we assumed were in degrees. By the time Game Control confirmed the clue with "yes, m/s" we were already halfway to Saratoga. Whoops.

We also wound up severely off-course when we were trying to solve a puzzle titled "Real irrational" which should have taken us two minutes if we'd realized that we were working with octal numbers for ASCII characters, but instead we wound up with four three-digit numbers that we tried to make sense of by going to addresses on the El Camino Real (same name, right?). This wound up putting us in Sunnyvale, which was also way too far southeast. On the upside, we stopped and got food, which helped put us all in better moods.

As a team, we were probably a bit too stubborn with the puzzles. We didn't know how long we should wait before asking for hints, or what the relative penalty for asking for a hint would be, so being the self-reliant folk we are, we generally didn't ask until we'd been stumped well over an hour. This, combined with Game control being understaffed (and accordingly swamped with calls), put us a bit behind the curve. I'd say our teamwork wasn't bad - Wes provided interesting thoughts and interpretations (and awesome soothing guitar music on the road), Lora had local knowledge and navigation prowess, and I drove and put my mad computer skills to use where applicable.

We finished The Game at 02:06 Sunday morning. The endgame gives you an administrative password that you're supposed to give to one of three characters: a sentient computer program that plays the stock market, the programmer who wrote it and feels it's gotten out of hand, and the mafia-associated CEO of the company that formerly employed the programmer who wrote the aforementioned program. Any choice was considered a win condition. We made the unique decision to give the password to all three characters, telling them they should work out their problems in a peaceful, productive manner. This amused Game Control.

We returned to Lora's parents' house in Los Altos for the night, and I fell asleep in less than ten minutes. I woke up due to sunlight around 8, did some quick subtraction (8 - 2:30 = not enough) and went back to sleep until 11:45, when I was awoken by a knock on my door and Lora informing me that "French toast is best when warm." Awesome.

We showed up (about 45 minutes late; whatever) to the post-Game reception at the Hacker Dojo, titled "Mimrsas and frrd" (a good-natured poke at the misspelled Rubik's cube clue), and got a pretty decent rundown from Game Control of how stuff happened. It was very comforting to know that some of the issues that we'd had weren't entirely our fault. We all offered our (legion) constructive criticism, and I think I volunteered to playtest the next game they write. Maybe I'll help Game Control next time. We'll see.

All in all, I had fun, despite a few lows over the day. Thanks to Game Control for putting the event on, and thanks to Lora and Wes for teaming up with me for a great day of puzzle-hunting!