We had several goals for this game:
1. High production value
2. No bugs in clues and well tested clues
3. A smooth Game Control with no busy signals, informed and fair help, and high-tech information (GPS)
I think we succeeded in meeting most of these goals. Production value was high, from the intro at the Roxie to all the costumes to the envelopes to details such as the stickers on clues. No bugs were reported, which we’re very excited about. The only issues were one quarter was reversed in one instance of that clue and the video was on CD-RW, which made it hard to read for some people. The clues were also solvable. Someone solved every clue without calling, except for the painting clue (a few with very little help), and possibly the line clue (some also with very little help). The third goal was mostly met. Busy signals on help lines were very infrequent, and for the most part, the callers knew the clue. We were a little late making the binder with all the clue information for the call answerers, but we did a reasonable job. The GPS gave us the positions of all the teams at all times, which was first of all fun and also gave us extra information to help teams. Here is a step by step assessment of the game.
This went perfectly, other than Dave leaving the stage too early and dropping his phone and Martin slipping up and saying “15 teams”. Everything looked and sounded great, and it seemed that all the teams enjoyed the entrance, the presentations, and the battle.
Some people solved this quickly, and some had a lot of trouble with it. Some liked the clue, and some didn’t. It was meant as a tough clue that needed a bit of a mental breakthrough and some lookup in order to spread teams out at the beginning, but the spread was a little bigger than we expected. It seems we should have tried harder to make the lines straight, because people wanted to find something in it visually. The reason they weren’t was that the font we were able to get for Japanese characters was not evenly spaced. We were surprised at how many people asked whether they had to translate everything even though the text said that you didn’t have to look at everything to see what was going on. Some folks weren’t prepared with Japanese character sets, and some claimed that the term “character sets” lead them to bringing standards that define the character sets (Shift-JIS, EUC, etc.) rather than the character sets themselves. We counter that Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji are referred to as character sets not alphabets, which they are not. See http://members.aol.com/writejapan/index.htm for an example. We got a great confirmation call from Blood & Bones: “1028 Folsom ice machine”. Huh?
This was a late addition. We already had a clue leading to Justin Herman Plaza (we gave some of you the original clue when you came in), but we liked the clue and the Matrix reference so much that we devoted the Thursday before the game to baking the 255 cookies. Hopefully, you enjoyed it as well and got your sugar rush early on. Mistakes here included not heeding the warning to ignore the honey (put there to hold the cookies on the sheet), not tasting but using color instead, and not trying different trinary possibilities (e.g. which feature was the significant bit or which characteristic counted as 1 and which as 2). One team called in to confirm “Herman Plaza”. When we probed further, they said they figured the clue was “just in Herman Plaza”.
We liked this algorithm and thought it would be fun to encrypt a message this way. We gave you the info and keying method on 4/20 so that you wouldn’t have to look for everything and learn the algorithm all on 4/21. Of course, some of you ignored the note in the 4/20 packet, but most used it to prepare to some extent. We figured that the really industrious would have code and a laptop with them, but it was hard enough to do this right that we thought it was ok. First of all, people had to lug laptops on foot, not necessarily an easy task. Secondly, most of the programs that are out there use a passphrase as input rather than having a key based on a specified order like a bridge column. That means people would have either had to look hard or recode the program to work with a specified order. Some did, but it wasn’t easy. RadiKS, for instance, had a Counterpane employee (internet security company whose web site contains programs in many languages to decrypt codes in the Solitaire algorithm) but didn’t realize they would have to recode. When they tried, it took too long and was buggy, so they had to do it by hand anyway. For some reason, some teams were trying to use Friday’s paper. The 4/20 note said to use the day that the message was sent, and some people must have interpreted that to mean that particular message rather than the coded message. In addition, we did not expect that in Justin Herman Plaza it would be difficult to find Saturday’s paper, but apparently, some of the Chronicle delivery people decided to take the day off.
Quiz / Drive / Map
In Berkeley, we wanted to show off the fact that we could track you. We could only do a couple teams at once, so we designed a quiz bowl approach to spread out bunched teams. We figured teams that knew The Matrix well should be rewarded. The driving part was only supposed to take a few minutes. Unfortunately, we were not aware that it was Cal Day, so traffic was much worse than when we tested. It was bad enough that for some of you, we didn’t even take you to the pay phones in order to get you moving and avoid phone silence. We apologize for that, but I hope it was fun to follow our driving directions anyway. The triangulation was supposed to be easy, and in fact it was.
We wanted to have some physical challenges in our game and we loved the view from the top of Pinnacle Rock, so we made you climb to get this one. We were a bit concerned that people wouldn’t find the safe route, but pretty much everyone did. The idea behind this clue was that games tend to overuse all the codes such as ascii, semaphore, morse, etc. We wanted our clues to be creative enough not to need these, so we used straight letter to number translation for most. The meta clue was created to get all the codes in but use them in a different way, a meta way as it turns out. We liked the Matrix reference of “There is no spoon”, and it seems that many of you really liked this clue.
This was another clue that people really liked. Originally, we had a different music clue in mind, but we couldn’t get it to work. In trying to use more books that people would bring, we thought of this clue to be a music clue and use the bible at the same time. Play testing gave us the idea for the title as a hint to the correct bible. We never liked the time wasted with reference “versionitis”, so we hoped this would tip off people who were using the wrong bible. Strangely, almost nobody saw the “drive south” we wrote on all three stickers on the clue bag. That was supposed to save you 30 minutes of driving, but I guess we should have written it in big letters or on all the separate envelopes.
We apologize for the issues at this site. The clue was, as you would expect, originally hanging off the dock pictured on the CD cover. Apparently, a ranger thought it was a dead animal and started carrying it back to the station. Thanks to Max Power for intercepting the ranger and replacing the clue. It was replaced in the bushes to the right of the dock to avoid a repeat, but some people had trouble finding it. Eventually, it appeared to be impossible to find, especially in the dark (we didn’t expect people to get there in the dark), and though it was put on the dock again, it somehow got spread everywhere, with some slats getting either lost or washed out. Again, we apologize to the teams that were frustrated here and will try to assign credit accordingly. The clue itself was pretty hard. Our play testing had made a lot of things easier, but people still had trouble finding the right two bits. The grid was sized to fit over the line drawing, a hint that there were actually two lengths and not four (traversing one grid space or two). Most teams got very close but needed a little hint to push them toward the answer.
This was perhaps our most academic clue. You just had to figure out or find out how to do this, because we couldn’t really give hints other than giving a formula. We figured it would be around dinner time for some of you, which would allow you to do this long clue over dinner. Of course it was much later for some.
Phone / Baseball
This was supposed to be another site where we showed off our tracking ability. We discovered that phone booth in the middle of nowhere when hiking down there and thought it would be a great place to call you. We liked that idea so much that we kind of determined the game’s route based on that site. We went down several times, both during the day and at night, and we were able to call the phone no problem. Even that day, we were able to call the people making the clue placing run. You were to get out past the steel bridge only to hear the phone ringing. How cool is that? Unfortunately, that day the phone stopped working. First, it began picking up with a strange modem sound after four rings, and pretty soon, it wouldn’t even ring a full ring. We were going to tell you that we had determined Women in Red to be a fake agent team, and that we were going to jack you out of the matrix so that you could go EMP the machines running the program. To make sure you did that, we were withholding information needed to solve the clue there. The baseball clue was meant to be reasonably easy, solvable by some teams on the way to the Santa Cruz Lighthouse. For some it was, but others actually found it pretty difficult. The notation is that given by the SF Giants program, which may not be entirely standard (from checking around, it seemed to us there wasn’t a definite standard), but it is consistent, and people knowledgeable about baseball and baseball positions should have been able to figure out what was going on.
This was one of our favorite clues, and almost nobody saw it. A sticker at the Santa Cruz Lighthouse had a phone number to call to activate the EMP. When dialed, a light in the distance began flashing. With the naked eye, this looked like one light, but binoculars showed that in fact there were six lights. Once you figured out it was Braille, you had to work as a team to determine the sequence of letters, with one person looking through binoculars trying to tell the others what they were seeing. It’s not as easy as you might think. In any case, though we tested this extensively, it must have been an incredibly clear night, because despite the 60 watt bulbs, the neighbors of the person to whose roof this was affixed thought there was a raid going on outside their window and threatened to call the police if we didn’t shut it down. Eventually, we had no choice but to unplug it. Some of you later called and got the password for the baseball phone number on an answering machine, and eventually, we just skipped people over this portion entirely. We were extremely disappointed, because not only did we work hard on this clue, we felt like a lot of the flavor of the game got lost without this sequence from Aptos to Santa Cruz. It didn’t help that the Fremont fiasco was happening concurrently.
Clearly, our time estimates were a bit off. We figured most teams would get to this clue before 2am, but in fact only 4 did. The idea was that the team would have to order two nasty shots, drink them, pay with a twenty, and get the roll of quarters as change. The bartender, Monty, was a really nice guy and quickly agreed to help us. Though Monty stashed the quarters outside, we decided to skip some of the teams past this clue entirely because it was an easy place to do that. We simply changed the answering machine message from the baseball clue to send people to Castle Rock. This had the advantage of allowing us to specify that the Castle Rock clue was in the parking lot (see below). We thought the clue itself was a nice package, but we didn’t realize how hard it would be to get all those state quarters. We exchanged about $500 at banks and collected for months and then still had to order two rolls from eBay to get enough. Putting them all in the rolls in the right order was no picnic either.
Some of the early teams went straight to the rock without looking around the parking lot first. We assumed people would find the note at the big trailhead, and most teams did. We also assumed that people would pay attention to the beacons enough that they would at least realize when they got to the lockbox that the pattern on the beacons must spell out the combination. Though many teams did, some had no idea. Fortunately (or unfortunately), these teams were able to pry open the box to get their clue. In fact, the combination stopped working for some of the later teams. Hopefully this was not sabotage but rather a team accidentally changing the combination by moving the numbers and the switch on the back. The best story is from Blood and Bones, who actually took the batteries out of a beacon and put them back, so that the device would reinitialize itself to show which of the four possible combinations was the right one. The clue itself was clearly our middle of the night physical clue. This was both a break for the mind and a reward to those teams who were prepared with a power drill or ratchet.
We added this clue to give a little bit of a liberal arts flavor to the game. It was quite hard (believe it or not, we actually made this one easier four times), and maybe it was mean to give this one so late in the game, but we hoped that some teams would be able to take advantage of Alice’s Restaurant and eat breakfast while solving it. I know at least one team did so, and even though everyone had to call in on this clue, some teams really enjoyed it and some needed very little to push them to the answer. If nothing else, maybe this will cause teams to add some more diverse knowledge to their numbers.
This was another good night clue using the whole team. When we first got this clue back, it was nearly impossible to do the puzzle, because almost half the pieces were pure white. We added the lines between the rebus rows and the “(over)” to make it more reasonable. Originally, you were to get directions for a locker in the International Terminal. You would have had to pay $6 to get your clue out, which is why we had written “Keep these with you” on the quarters clue. Unfortunately, we found out the week before the game that all the lockers were broken. We quickly came up with a new solution using one of our cars. We thought about not using this site because it has been used before, but we thought it was cool and it fit perfectly between Skylonda and SFO. It turns out that we shouldn’t have used it because of road closure. Thanks to Mystic Fish for reporting this and Max Power for moving the clue to the vista point. Unfortunately, there seems to have been much confusion about which of the two close vista points the clue was actually placed at. We again apologize, and we are starting to think that it is worth having a mobile part of GC that can deal with stuff like this, so that we know exactly where clues are placed and any issues associated with that location.
We were amazed at how many teams didn’t keep the order of the pictures. One of the first things you learn when you play a few games is that you need to make sure you preserve a given order (by numbering or whatever) before you mess with a clue. In this case, we had 5 or 6 teams call in and say that they hadn’t kept the order. We also got a couple teams who didn’t think to look for the source of the pictures within the terminal. We thought it was fairly obvious that these would be in the floor of the terminal somewhere, but I guess teams were tired at this point. Hopefully, teams had fun running around looking for the right cities. We wished we had a webcam here to watch you all. The solution, of course, was “Hickey and Callan”. There was no city starting with ‘Y’, so we put one ending with ‘Y’ backwards (Kansas City). Most of you dealt with that ok. One team got one letter wrong and called us from Hickey street. “Ok, we’re on Hickey and we’re calling in”. Turns out they had gotten “Hickey and call in”. We hope you enjoyed the bonus items from the video game. Yes, they were real.
We thought the Chinese Cemetery was a pretty cool site, with all the Asian characters and the allusion we could make to death within the matrix. However, we got harassed pretty quickly when we went inside, so we decided that we better put the clue outside somewhere, as long as it still had a view of the cemetery. We thought those CD cases were pretty cool, so we hope you enjoyed them. Unfortunately, we put some of the video files on CD-RW’s. These worked fine on all of our computers, but I guess they’re a little unpredictable because some teams had to work a bit to see them by finding the right machine at Kinko’s or downloading the right compressor. A couple even had to exchange for a CD-R to be able to read it, but in the end everyone was able to see it.
Many teams liked this clue, because it used the environment and required some mental breakthroughs. It was not a hard clue, but inevitably, some teams forgot about that disk they had gotten so many hours before. Others left the scene before realizing that the garden was the key, and others still were standing in the center pointing out rather than the opposite. Originally, the answer to this clue was “Red Rock Hill”, because that’s what all the locals here call that park, but we realized that the map would be no help for that answer.
We were a bit bummed by the response to this clue, because we thought it was pretty cool and we worked extremely hard making those frames and slats for you. The frame was originally supposed to be made of 3/8” plywood, but because it was hard to come by, we ended up using the thinner, more fragile ¼” plywood for most. We have one built that’s 3/8”, and it’s much cooler and sturdier. We thought that this clue looked really cool with all the slats in the frame and that it would make a great souvenir for the game. The frame pieces were laser cut, but they all had to be glued, nailed, and painted by hand. The slats had to be cut, painted, stamped, and clear coated to avoid smudging. We made the individual stamps by cutting up a bigger stamp and gluing the pieces onto the bottom of dowel pieces. As you all know now, the slats were a cryptogram. We had hoped that with the Oracle’s hint about a continuing message, most teams would start trying to solve the cryptogram on the BART ride over to North Berkeley. Some did, but most teams never tried to solve this along the way. Maybe we should have been clearer, because it was the teams that had to do both the cryptogram and then deal with the matrix that seemed most frustrated by this clue. We called all the later teams to tell them to start working on the cryptogram, and they all seemed to like the clue much more. We thought having you actually solve a matrix for a game dealing with The Matrix was pretty cool. We figured some of you would have MatLab or a similar program (it’s also solvable with Excel if you know how), but we made it a nearly triangular matrix, making it solvable by hand in about 45 minutes. This makes it a bit unclear to us why some teams thought this clue was extreme or absurd. Perhaps we didn’t give enough hints that you actually needed to solve the matrix. Someone pointed out that though we spelled it out when we said “Solve matrix with me”, solve can be a fairly generic term, and the matrix could refer to the game itself. We thought that mentioning 17x17 on the green paper and having the solution be 17 numbers long would tip teams off, but perhaps we should have added “Ax=b” somewhere. Some teams did get all this without help and others caught on with a little guidance, but others had much trouble and tried just about everything else. We did want this to be a hard clue, so that teams could make up some positions with a quick solution, but we did not intend the amount of trouble some teams had with it. Hopefully, the experience with the last clue did not spoil anyone’s fun, and hopefully you all didn’t just burn the slats we worked so hard to create when you were done.
The weather turned out great. It was unclear whether we would have a flood game all week, but though some early teams got rained on at the 4/20 event, the weather turned out to be perfect. We were extremely thrilled, as I’m sure you were too.
We hope you enjoyed the vehicle free portion of the game. We liked the idea of having you use public transportation and wanted to test the feasibility of having people run around with limited gear. I think it went well.
We had a bit of hiking and physical work to get the clues. We think that this can be a good contrast to sitting in the car for so long, and hopefully you liked that too. Finding our clues was perhaps a bit harder than we intended, especially with the Fremont fiasco, though we tried to use the general game rules of placing the clue at the top, in the center, in a fountain, etc.
See Awards for a more humorous summary.