Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Gallery

I'll fix the page layout to have a direct link there, but I have a photo gallery up with pictures from Bremen. Some may disappear and reappear someday after I get back to the States and can fix contrast/etc properly, but enjoy these raw unedited shots of Germany (and maybe old photos if I feel like putting them up).

The Gallery

There's also about four more Game posts coming, either followed by or interspersed with my own weird observations/stories of Germany. I guess I can't complain about nothing to put here. I really wish Blogger had tags though. Does anyone know if they do (or if they're hiding it?)

Crop Circles - The Puzzle I Skipped

I've been awake for nearly 24 hours, and we're on our way to a park in Sumner. Since the Groby, we've had this envelope labelled "UFO Detection Kit" with instructions to ask for Linda at the front desk. We've asked for Linda at every desk we've seen, with no luck.

Arriving at Sumner, we see large black hoops in a large open field. Looks like we need the kit, finally. Many other teams are here with rope and string (included in the kit) and are measuring distances between hoops.

The kit itself was a simple sheet of paper with pseudo-random letters in different orientations. Three were circled, with no other information. We gathered right away that these would correspond to three of the crop circles. We were ready to go!

So I sat down with others, while some who got more sleep in the van started this puzzle. At one point, we realized there was a hidden hoop in some tall grass. It got funny when some guy came to mow the tall grass on a rideable mower, and circled around the thing like a maniac.

Anyhow, the group of people I was with decided to go buy lunch for the team rather than deal with what was little more than a surveying problem. The only catch to the puzzle was finding the right three hoops to start with. When we got back, we still didn't have it right, and one of the people who grabbed lunch with us decided to regulate for the team. I may make this sound quick and easy; it took a very long time, but very little of that time was thinking, and most of it was us trying to guess how far the hoops were apart and how many letters that was on the sheet. It's difficult to describe, and wasn't my favorite puzzle by any means.

About half an hour later, we were positive we had the right letters, and started staring at what we had.

"Old Cannery Furniture" That turns out to be in Sumner.

Ask for Linda huh?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Lost in Newark

I had really hoped to finish talking about The Game before this trip, but alas it did not happened. So expect posts to weave between it now. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I'm trapped in Newark Airport right now. My flight to Newark was grounded in Cleveland due to some potential electrical issues (that turned out to be non-issues) and I ended up missing my flight to Hamburg. A day later, I'm in Newark waiting for my new flight. I'm pretty excited, but I'm worried about getting to Bremen now; I had booked a train from Hamburg to Bremen, but that ticket is no good to me now. I can either buy a new ticket online (that I can't print out so I'm not sure if it's any good) or wait until I get to the train station and try to buy a ticket on the spot.

Either way, I'll probably spend some time at the counter, which worries me since I don't speak a lot of German. I envy the fact that Lyle got a language class with his travel. Then again, I don't have a 2 year commitment. We'll see if I talk about food more than him.

About 2 hours before I can board the plane, then a 7 hour or so flight. I hope I can sleep during some of it; I can't imagine the Atlantic Ocean is that entertaining to look at, and I lost my window seat.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Part of an Unbalanced Diet

We're on our way to Puyallup, an old home for me. I had though we were going to the fairgrounds, but we're actually heading to Pioneer Park, which is right next to the library. We run into some issues involving one-way streets, but we eventually find our way to Pioneer Park. I notice other team vans parked there, so I know we're not doing too bad.

Team Ultraviolet splits up and starts combing the park. We come together; we can't find the puzzle. Other teams are working on something, so we know it must be here. I try asking a team for help, but they rudely refuse. Very well. More searching happens, and eventually one of our taller team members notices the puzzle hidden in some trees. We have another story pyramid and a bag of M&Ms.

The bag of M&Ms looks normal, except a new nutrition label that has been taped on. It includes the message "All daily nutrition labels are part of an unhealthy diet." What do you want to bet this is a clue?

We go ahead and open the bag to look at the M&Ms. They are all pink and green, and have some sort of encrypted text on them. The pink M&Ms say "HCZXTZ JK" and the greens say "YLQRRZ RRH CGIO" This isn't another simple shift cipher; it's unlikely something starts with a double letter. One team member decides to go across the street to buy a real bag of M&Ms for kicks, while the rest of us get cracking on the daily nutrition info.

I notice that there's some strange things about the nutrition information. Some nutrients don't have DIV percentages, and all of the ones that do are bold. Some nutrients don't make sense for candy; for example, Fiber is listed. All percents are low, I don't think any were higher than 5. We decide to use the percents as indexes into their nutrient and come up with "Vigenere." I think this looks vaguely familiar, but we wonder if it's an anagram.

Our missing member walks back, distributes candy for us to enjoy, and looks at what we've written.

"Vigenere? Like a vigenere cipher?"
"Oh, I know what that is!" I cry. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I start writing the huge alphabet block for a vigenere cipher. We decide to go up to the Starbucks on South Hill to look up how to properly decode the cipher, while another member calls his brother and asks for more info. I hear a word or two and remember how to decode the ciphers by hand.

Vigenere ciphers require a key, and I assume it's the color of the M&Ms. I have the first one decoded before we pass the fairgrounds; "SUMNER WA"

"Guys, we're heading to Sumner next. Give me a minute and I'll tell you where."

We make it up South Hill and park as I finish the second M&M; "SUMNER AND PARK" We need to go to the corner of Sumner and Park in Sumner. Sumner is next-door to Puyallup, so it'll be a short drive to the next puzzle. We call up Game Control to get the OK and get on the freeway.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

One Potato Two Potato....

It's dark and early in the morning. We had just seriously considered looking in a dumpster for the next clue, but decided to move forward to the Olympia Farmer's Market. One of our members peeks inside, and tells us this is the next clue.

Team Ultraviolet exits the van. One member decides to stay behind to try and get some rest, but the rest of us push forward. Inside the farmers market are three 'Potato Dealers'. One is wearing a tin foil hat. The potatoes are free, and we take one from each dealer. "Guaranteed no half-formed symbols" they tell us. One of the dealers, wearing a tin-foil hat, tells us to watch out for a shady potato dealer, and beckons to a pitch-black corner.

We of course, ignore his advise, and find the shady potato dealer. He offers us one of his potatoes, making no guarantees whatsoever. Unlike the three russell potatoes we received from the legit dealers, this potato is a small red potato.

We take our wears to a bench away from other teams and begin looking at the potatoes. All of the potatoes have strange symbols cut into them. We realize after a few minutes that all of these symbols are half-greek letters. We try to return them to the dealers, who deny that they see any symbols.

We hunker down; we're going to be on this puzzle for a while. After what must have been an hour of feeling crappy and tired, we document the greek letters we see on the potatoes. We try spelling something with the half symbols, and get nowhere. It looks like some symbols could be combined to form whole greek letters though, and didn't the dealers say "No half-formed symbols"? Not all of them match up, so we focus only on the fully formed characters.

Another hour must have passed by doing this, and we're getting nowhere. Frustrated, we start calling Game Control. "Don't combine the symbols" we find out. "Pay attention to how many times the symbols occur" we find out. We stare at the potatoes some more. Game Control suggests juggling them if we're not having fun.

Instead we return them to the dealers and politely ask that they burn the potatoes. The sun is almost rising, and right now I hate potatoes. The sun does rise, and we're still nowhere. We try sorting the greek letters based off of frequency. Eventually, either by hint or pure insanity, we use the count of the greek letters as an index into the letter name. For example, the red potato had 5 alpha's, and the fifth letter in alpha is "A"

Each potato is a word: "IT" "STOPS" "A" "TAKE"? We call up the hotline and dial "CUT", but get nothing. Rage. We call Game Control and are told "This is a hands on puzzle."

I bolt to the potato dealers begging for our potatoes back. Smiling, they return them to me. Suspecting the shady potato, I literally rip the thing in half. There's a small piece of chewing gum wrapper inside one of the etchings for a greek letter. We unwrap it, and see a small sheet of paper, telling us where to go next.

I make a point to smash one of the other potatoes out of hate. We keep the other two, hoping to give them back to Game Control when they least expect it.

I'm leaving character here for a second; I'm skipping the next puzzle, and won't go into why. None the less, it was really straight-forward and was a good time to relax after the potatoes. Finishing that puzzle gave us a map to a park near the corner of streets "Pioneer" and "Meridian." There's no city name associated with the map; just streets.

However, I lived in Puyallup for 3 years, and I know damn well that's a few blocks up from the fairgrounds. We're off!

Sunday, September 04, 2005


As much as I didn't want to join in on the influx of Hurricane Katrina noise on the internet, after a lot of reading and thinking over the past few days, I did think of a couple of things that I think are worth saying.

Most importantly, I'll echo this: donate if you can. This has to be the single most valuable thing I've seen mentioned online. Volunteer time if you can too.

What follows some other advise and suggestions that I have yet to see. Think of it what you will.

A lot of people are starting the blame game about the sluggish government response. I agree, it sucks. Let's learn from that. I assume every city in this nation has at least one major natural disaster to fear (earthquake, volcano, etc). Try to find out what the local emergency plans for your choice of disaster are. Write your representative to find out what'll happen if you get hit. Hurricanes give warnings, but for those of us on the West Coast, earthquakes don't. If you don't like the response you're seeing, then write to your local offices and tell them to prepare.

I'd also recommend preparing on your own for any disasters that might come. Though it was the poor and homeless that were hit hardest by Katrina, the better prepared you are, the better you are able to potentially help others who can't afford to or don't prepare out. My Junior High School did mandatory CPR/First Aid training; taking a class and getting 'certified' is always a good idea.

If you can, donate blood.

If Katrina has cemented any idea in my mind, it's that we can't rely on the government to bail us out of an emergency.