Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Puzzle we Excel At

It's late and some of us fall asleep on the way to the lake in Olympia. We get a little lost when we hit Olympia, driving right up to the capital building. Eventually we work out the way to the lake though, and see several other vans there with teams lying in the grass.

The lake is surrounded by tiles representing the various counties in the state. We head to the end of the lake on our right looking for the puzzle. We find nothing but a good view there. So we start the long trek around the lake to the other end. We started around "Yakima" on the county tiles, and we don't find the bag containing the next puzzle until we get to the "B"s or "A"s.

When we do find the puzzle, we meander back to the van looking at the puzzle.

The title of the puzzle is "a,z b,y c,x", and it has a series of numbers. We notice some strange patterns in the numbers, but don't think much of it. We eventually get to the van, and grab some graph paper thinking we'll have to graph this somehow. As we sit down, the funniest thing happens;

The sprinklers go off. This hits several teams head on and gives us plenty of warning to move. I'd say this was a necessary thing to get our energy levels back up and working on the puzzle. We make the suggestion that we map the first numbers with the end numbers as the title suggests. The first number is the first x, the last number is the first y and so on, moving towards the middle. While one member draws this out, some of ours sleep, others converse.

The shape starts to look like a lake. "Why don't we graph this in Excel? That'd be a lot faster?" "Oh yeah" So we dash back to the van and start plotting the points in a spreadsheet and converting them to a graph. It's a picture of the lake and nearby street, showing us where to go next. We call Game Control and get confirmation.

What we don't realize, was that it meant to drive all the way down the street it showed. We stop along the way looking for potential puzzles. Eventually we get to the Olympia Farmer's Market, and one member runs in to confirm the next puzzle is in there. The most dreaded puzzle of all...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Choose Your Own Misadventure - Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat at Denny's

Monkey-man just told us to go to Centralia. Centraliais a long way away, and we’re starting to get hungry. It’s definitely after midnight now, and we have to drive to the “Art Farm” there. I worry about stories my office-mate told me about last year… about a puzzle where his team traveled to a ranch and picked up a CD. The puzzle sounded like absolute hell.

It turns out the Art Farm is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. This is refreshing. We arrive there and hop out of the van, looking for the next puzzle. Some team members wander into the entrance of the park, and I notice a large white paper bag. I look in, and see a horrific sight.


Oh crap. I hope this isn’t like last year! I thumb through the packets, looking for the sign that says the CD is meant for Ultraviolet. It looks like we’re doing well; there’s a ton of CDs in the bag. Maybe only one or two teams are ahead of us! I find ours, and we rush to our van! We don’t want to be noticed by other teams, so we drive to a parking lot in eye-shot, turn off our lights, and pop the CD in the music player.

Allow me to pause the story for a moment. There’re 8 guys in a plain white van outside some random shop. With glowing windows from the laptops. I’m amazed the police didn’t come after us.

Anyhow, we notice other teams arriving as we listen to the CD. The first track tells us of a story of corporate espionage, and tells us to skip to another track. It’s a choose your own adventure game! We quickly pull out paper and write down the decision tree. It turns out that there should be exactly one path that gives us a number to solve a quote.

Hungry, we decide to look for food. As we approach the freeway, we decide to go into Denny’s and get some quick food. Game Control advised against this in the Q&A before the game, but we don’t care. We sit down, order food, while some of us continue on the adventure.

While we’re looking at the decision tree, I sit there wishing I had a prolog interpreter. To this day I’ve been meaning to take the tracks from the CD and see what prolog would come up with.

We notice something; there’s a loop we can exploit to “win.” But our answer doesn’t make much sense… no matter, we’re tired, and food is here. So is team “Yale Blue.” Hey guys.

As we finish eating our food, Game Control calls. “How’s it going?” We explain to them that we’re working on the adventure game, and that we think we found an exploit. “Yeah, we know” they tell us. It turns out the game is bugged; there’s more than one solution. We explain ours, and content that we figured something out, they tell us the answer. We dial the answer in the hotline, and get the next location: Return to Olympia! We pay the bill and go on our way. It looks like Game Control is calling Blue too...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Monkey Business

The fountain we need to visit is not far, only a handful of blocks away from Percival Tower. When we arrive, we find we get to wait again. The sun has fallen since Mastermind, and we welcome the chance to sit back and chew on a few snacks.

In fact, we offer some of our plentiful food to Game Control. We chat with them for a while, and watch another team at the center of the fountain, which is now turned off. There's a strange metal box in the center, with four satellite boxes in the cardinal directions. It turns out that this puzzle was intended to get the teams wet, but because we came after dark, the fountain is turned off and we will remain dry.

We are eventually led to the center device. It displays 3 numbers: "425." There are four buttons in the cardinal directions. We play with the buttons. Hitting certain ones reveals the message "Splaaaaash!" Another reveals another set of 3 numbers.

I run to one of the satellite boxes. They display two dashes, but certain number combinations cause an open symbol.

When I make it back to the center, someone has figured out the trick. The whole thing is a maze, with a series of 3 digit numbers every time we make a correct turn. When we finish, we see a haiku, roughly saying "You are illuminated, call me for your next location."

We're told by Game Control that we have all we need, and are escorted away from the fountain so the next team can brave the maze. Meanwhile, we look at our series of triplets. Eventually, it dawns on us that there are 3 phone numbers, all Microsoft numbers, listed. We call them, and are greeted with a series of 4 letters, a la "Alpha Oscar Tango Foxtrot"

We write these down and look at them. Someone notices that some of the four letter pairs can be put together to form coherent words. When we're done with this, we get a message:

"Go down fifth and find a man sitting on a bench. Tell him "You look like you need a monkey""

We dash to the nearby bench, and see another team speaking with a man on the bench. When they're done, we tell him:

"You look like you need a monkey"
"Strawberries have always tasted better to me."

Someone on our team recognizes his response...

"Agreed, and they're usually not as furry."

This was one of the two-quote pairs from the library! The man now tells us our next location: the Art Farm in Centrailia. It's a bit of a drive, and we hop in the van and rush to the next location!

Friday, August 12, 2005

I guess "Dream Mints" sure are Popular

After some wait, we are allowed to climb Percival Tower, a small two story high look-out sort of place. It's a lot less impressive than it sounds, but the view is beautiful, since you can see the capital building.

This "puzzle" is to lift a pyramid-shaped box from the center of the tower to the top. The trick is twofold: first, it's too big to pull to the stairs, we have to stick our hands through the space between wood and lift to a higher teammate. Second, it's on a wire, so when it reaches the top, we still need to clear some space. We manage to do this whole thing in a matter of seconds (one teammate didn't even know what happened) and we get the real puzzle!

While atop the tower, we offer the box-master an offering from our bag we received from the Western Inn. He takes a flag-stirrer thing. I see how it is. Patriotic, aren't we?

We look at our loot: A new story pyramid and what appears to be a girl scout cookie order form. There's a couple immediate observations we can make about the order form:

1) It has two post-it notes on it. One says "I guess 'Dream Mints' sure are popular!" The other says "Good job reaching your goal in four tries!"

2) On one side (Dream Mints), there are 6 orders. All final costs are composed entirely of 1s. On the other there are 4 orders (Four tries), following the same pattern. Some of the 1 patterns include decimal points (e.g. 1.11)

3) All of the quantities are composed of the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. No number ever occurs twice on a line.

Some of us ponder if the problem is in base 5. Perhaps there are linear equations to solve? We spend fruitless time on these angles, and it grows dark. At one point, I actually make the suggestion that the 1s are unary. We don't know how decimal points work in unary. Meanwhile, a light goes on in the heads of one of our teammates. We had been wondering why "Dream Mints" was in quotes. He types it into his anagram machine... and we find out the trick.

"Dream Mints" is an anagram for "Mastermind" The second we hear this, at least three of us yell "Aha!" and start cracking on the side with more than four tries (the four try side shows a complete game, and the final price is $1111, or four correct guesses). We eventually solve the answer, and look at the first letter of each cookie:


Cute. We call up the Illumine Hotline, and get our next location. A nearby fountain, still in Olympia. We hop in the van, energized for the next puzzle!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Interlude from The Game

So, my fall quarter plans are coming together. I'm scared out of my wits and buying the ticket now. I've barely gone through my language tapes, and I'm already stressed about what's happening with work around the end of my internship. My big worry is that I'm going to go down hill since my Mid-Point review... but I think I've found a lot I can work on... I just need to take the bull by the proverbial horns and do it.

At least I can't complain that my life isn't interesting.

I'll try and post about the next puzzle tomorrow. This last weekend I got to help beta test a Game. It was a ton of fun, though I think I was acting way too stressed out around the end. I need to calm down.

I kind of hope I do Capoeria again when I return to Cal Poly.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Groby

We're on our way to the Western Inn in Lakeview. When we arrive, we see a member of Game Control outside the lobby. He hands us three things:

A large envelope labeled "UFO Detection Kit." Inside is a large piece of string and a grid of letters with three of them circled. At the bottom it says "Ask for Linda"

A triangle and a bag of random items. The triangle tells us not to let "them" know we received it, but to offer items in the bag to Game Control as we go along, so that they don't suspect us.

A set of rings, one reading "DEWEY" with some black marks on the back, a weird piece of plastic, a cryptic poem, and 5 pairs of colored paper (Green, Red, Orange, Blue, and Yellow) with trivia questions. According to the poem, the device is called a "Groby."

The first two aren't relevant for a while. We mull over them, but ultimately realize they are of no use right now. We decide to get food, since it is now late in the afternoon, and look at these trivia questions. We are able to answer most of them, though we eventually decide to go to Starbucks across the street for wifi so that we can look up the couple of difficult ones.

There's two things we notice quickly; the pairs of questions come in two forms. One is word answers, such as "Quiddich Captain Diggory that dies." The other is numeric answers. The second thing we notice is that the first answer on one of the sheets is "Dewey." We come to the conclusion that we must write the answers to each color sheet along the front of the ring.

We also notice that on the back of the "Dewey" ring, the black marks correspond to the binary representation of the first answer on the like color of paper (that is, Dewey was the first yellow answer, I think. The first yellow number answer was the number on the back of that ring).

Meanwhile, the rings all fit into a plastic contraption we were given. The plastic contraption lines the rings up to form two five-letter words on one side, and a 5x5 grid of circles on the other. One of our teammates notes that the poem has exactly two five letter words on each line... interesting.

We fill out both sides of the rings, and arrange them so that they spell the words on the first line. We have some contention over whether there should be exactly 32 letters on each ring, filling every space, or 31, leaving one blank. We eventually consult with a nearby team after some negotiations. We compare answers to the colored sheets, and they are adamant that each ring should be 32 characters long.

We rush back, set the rings up to spell the first two 5 letter pairs, and look at the back. The filled in spaces that were binary numbers now look like a "#". Hmm... we continue..


We're confused by the I... but we realize one of our answers was wrong on a ring! I hastily begin to fix the ring and re-set up the Groby. Game Control calls. As they ask us how we're doing, I'm nearly done setting up the Groby. I hear the other end of the conversation....

"So far we have #ARABN I or T S."
"Guys! It's a T!"
"Game Control says it's a T"

Fine. Anyway, they ask us what we thing that is, and we joke "Number of Arabian Non-Terminals?" No, Arabian Nights. Duh. We know this.

We dial "1001" in the Illumine hotline and get the next recorded message. "Go to Percival's Landing Tower in Olympia." Right! We're off to Olympia!

We make it to the tower, and find another team climbing the stairs and blocking some activity in the hole between the spiral stairs. A member of Game Control walks up. We have to wait. Our clock will be stopped, and he recommends we go get some food and come back in half an hour. We lay back, and relax.

We would later find out the secret of the Groby's name. We had noticed the five letter pairs early and figured out the right combination to spell them. It turns out the name was a clue: GreenRedOrangeBlueYellow: GROBY. Awesome.