Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Welcome, To Illumine

This is part one of what will likely be a loooong multi-post blog entry. This was one of the longest and best weekends of my life, and it deserves depth. However, in the hope of actually getting entries posted, I'm going to just post it as I add to the experience.

Over the weekend I took part in "Illumine", and has been one of the most enjoyable weekends of my life. Illumine is the name of this year's Microsoft Intern Game, and you can read more about The Game here. My only regret is that I probably won't be an intern at Microsoft and will have to find another way to take part in a game.

How did this all begin? How did I get myself into a 36-hour long event? Teams had to submit applications with photos all over Seattle and the surrounding area. Nothing challenging, but it gave us a chance to experience the beginning of what things would be like (i.e. long drives). It also gave our team a chance to meet and hang out with each other.

But it was only the beginning. There were some pre-game puzzles on the web that we were able to solve through e-mails with each other. Some were hard, some were less hard. We knew the day the Game would begin, but not where or when. Eventually, one that involved filling in the image with a dark color in Paint gave us the pass-code we needed. The game was to begin at 7:20am at the Federal Courthouse in Seattle. We were to leave our van with the valet.

7:00am Saturday. We arrive at the Federal Courthouse, and see valet parking nearby. When we leave our car and get to the courthouse, we stand around confused like the rest of the teams. Then a member of Game Control says that we will not get anything until we've left our car with valet parking. We look behind us; there's an Illumine-run booth doing valet parking. Drats! We dash back to the real valet, get our van back, and drop our car off with the Illumine Van service, receiving a blue ticket with three puzzles. We pick up our game items, including our 'brands' for the weekend; team-colored handkerchiefs (Team Ultraviolet's was white). We sat down and wait for the Game to begin, beginning to solve our claim ticket. The first part was a simple shift cipher, that read something like:


The second morse code resembling a bar code, that read:


We weren't sure if "lime" was a typo, so we decided to keep our eyes out for limes, or Key Lime pie. Needless to say, it was a typo. We were unable to solve the third puzzle, which looked like random strings with no noticeable pattern.

Eventually, Game Control staff come to use confused, asking where their leader was. Since it was after 7:45, we were able to open our sealed envelopes, that instructed us that we would be going to Tacoma. We got up, and ready to go!

On the other side of the courthouse was a woman preaching. We listened enough to gleen "594 Stuart", and went to the nearby Stuart street looking for that address. We were wrong, and could not find that address. When we found her again, the woman was repeating the same speech over and over. One of Ultraviolet noticed a pattern; the woman would always clap her hands on the same words. We were able to get a much more coherent message:

"Take bus 594 to 10th and Commerce"

We dashed to the bustop, and managed to be the second or third team waiting for the bus. When the bus eventually did arrive, we were unable to make it on, as the other teams managed to fill it. We had to wait another 15 minutes for the next bus, so we went back to trying to decipher the blue claim ticket.

Eventually we got on the bus and had an uneventful trip to 10th and Commerce. One team got off the bus early, and we wondered if they had made it only because they followed other teams, or misunderstood the woman. When we got to 10th and Commerce, we had an easy time following Illumine signs to a fountain with orange stones in it, and a large rock with an inscription.

We recognized the orange stones as braille, and soon our team deciphered the 6x6 block of numbers (though some squares on the grid were blank). After fruitless guessing for what must have been an hour or more, someone makes the suggestion "Maybe the first three numbers of each grid are an index into the message on the stone!" Sure enough, this was the case. Earlier we realized the paper that we were supposed to write the message on was supposed to be folded, so we easily deciphered it's message:

"Union City Starbucks"

We dash down the ramp, and nearly get on a bus to Seattle. Someone on our team knew where a Union City Starbucks there was. Thankfully, we asked locals first, and found out how to get to the Union City Starbucks in Tacoma. We walk there, since we still don't have our van, and get the next puzzle from the girl behind the counter.

We go to a nearby park and look at what we have. Several photoshopped works of art, a grid of vases, and a grid of letters, instructing us to go to Seaform Pavillion, across the street.

We go there, and notice the celing has the unaltered glass artwork we had photoshopped images of. Further down we see the vases, in an identical layout to the grid of letters. This will be easy, we cry.

We were wrong. Some of the photoshopped images were incredibly hard to decipher, and it took time to get the letters from the vases. When we finally did get letters out of the mess, we were unable to get any coherent anagrams. We were close, we could spell LIBRARY or BALLPARK, but couldn't make heads or tails of the rest.

Eventually we break down and call Game Control. We find out the order we received the images in matter. D'oh! They help us get the real order, and we decipher the message:



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