PUZZLE: Rice Milk #24

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UNO (10) / DOS (4-6)

I’m an UNO in Cuba. My plan is
To hire farmers to make DOS Havanas.
To increase cigar yields,
They can train in my fields
By repeeling uneaten bananas!

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #23 and may contain other spoilers. For information on solving transposals and other “flat” (verse puzzle) types, visit the National Puzzlers’ League’s Online Guide to the Enigma.

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Boda Borg / 2016 MIT Mystery Hunt

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My recent trip to Boston opened with a visit to Boda Borg in Malden. The facility, which is the first North American installation of a Swedish franchise, contains sixteen live-action adventures, or “quests,” that could be played repeatedly with the purchase of a day pass. Each quest requires three to five players and comprises a series of rooms. Players must solve a puzzle or complete a physical challenge within each room in order to proceed to the next room. Players reaching the final room gain access to a stamp pad and can mark the name of the quest on a scorecard to indicate success. When players fail any part of the quest they must leave through an exit door and start over from the beginning.

The overall space is a bit labyrinthine. Hallways are lined with countless nondescript exit doorways to the various quests and the group I was with often struggled to find starting doors. The game play architecture within the quest areas is very impressive. The challenges are all reset-free and the doors to subsequent quest areas fully automated. The quests offered a variety of themes and environments that are all whimsically fabricated and decorated. Each quest is color-coded to indicate its type of challenge, ranging from purely mental to purely physical. A majority of the quests are physical and, often, strenuous or potentially injurious. The waiver I was required to sign before embarking on the quests was well justified.

A good group of puzzle people were at Boda Borg when I was there. We shuffled questing teams a few times but I played most of the rooms with Trip Payne and Tyler Hinman. We tried all sixteen quests and earned success stamps for about half of them. The mental challenges were fair to medium, and in a few cases we managed to learn a method of progressing through a quest without understanding the logic of the puzzle. I managed the physical challenges better than I expected and I was very lucky that I left Boda Borg with nothing more than sore muscles and a couple of bruises (some other puzzle friends were not so lucky). My favorite quests included Farm, Rats, Alcatraz (unfinished), Jungle (unfinished), Spider (unfinished), Platoon, Tough/Tougher/Toughest (only the Tough portion finished), and Dansa Pausa (a relatively simple but fun music/dance quest). We finished the Pirates quest but it took so many attempts (due to a struggle with a particular puzzle) that I found it unsatisfying. The trivia quest Quiz Show was not a favorite but we completed all three versions (Sports, Entertainment, and Grab Bag) just to ironically appreciate the poorly written and misspelled questions. I would definitely visit Boda Borg again.

* * *

The main event of my Boston weekend was the annual Mystery Hunt on the campus of MIT. On Friday I met with my Setec Astronomy teammates in our Stata Center headquarters to prepare for 48 hours of puzzle solving. Organizing team Luck presented what initially looked like a dog show themed Hunt but what was later revealed to be a structure loosely based on the science fiction film Inception. Each Hunt round feature a noted fictional character associated with sleeping or dreaming, and the round’s puzzles led to a meta answer that indicated how to wake the character. The rousing methods were often punny; I especially enjoyed the “Vote for Opus” round with the meta answer SLAM RIGHT WING.

I had a lead role in a small number of puzzle, such as the Christmas carol-themed Rhythm of the Season, and I joined the Google Spreadsheet feeding frenzy for several pop culture data collection puzzles, but the weekend had long stretches in which all available puzzles were above my pay grade. A highlight of the weekend was a Saturday afternoon event called The Trivial Pursuits of Walter Mitty. Solver from various Hunt teams formed two-person partnerships to collect wedges representing the six categories in the Genus edition of Trivial Pursuit. Each category had a special gimmick: In Entertainment players communicated the answers to their partners using charades. Arts & Literature used a Pictionary communication method. At the History station, partners needed to provide the answer to whatever was asked two questions earlier. Science & Nature required answers to be incremented by one (Water freezes at 33 degrees Fahrenheit and the Greek root “geo-” means “Mars”). Sports & Leisure featured a Ping Pong table and partners spelled out the answer while batting the ball back and forth. The gimmicks were very clever and at the end of the event I suspected that the idea was a tribute to Tom Gazzola, a member of the Luck team who was killed last June, since the game resembled Tom’s personal invention It Takes Two. I later learned that the event was not a deliberate tribute, but Tom was recognized at the end of the weekend as a dedicatee of the entire Hunt.

The organizing team had announced at the onset that solutions would be accepted up until 6 p.m. on Sunday. By 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon Setec Astronomy had made significant progress but still had a few unsolved metas. A contingent from Luck stopped by and made some remarks suggesting that most teams were struggling to finish and that Setec was still in the running. We rallied and managed to finish our last two metas simultaneously, and then completed one more puzzle round, with references to puzzles in the previous rounds, right before 6 p.m. We received instructions for the final runaround. Our team needed to divided up, go to specific locations on campus, and take photos representing the waking methods of fictional characters. All of the photos needed to be emailed to Luck headquarters within five minutes of each other. The subgroups then met at Lobby 7 and solved a puzzle that revealed the location of the hidden coin: the Alchemist statue by the student center. We crossed the street and found the coin taped to the inside of the statue. Setec Astronomy won the Hunt, and with the second place team, Left Out, less than fifteen minutes behind us.

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The victory means that Setec will construct the 2017 Hunt. It is the first Setec victory since 2004 and the first time that I have been on a winning team. I will be interested to see what it is like to be on an organizing team. I may come to appreciate the standard greeting I received from several people at the Hunt wrap-up event: “Congratulations and condolences.”

2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament / Puzzle Your Kids

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The second annual Indie 500 Crossword Tournament will be held on Saturday, June 4 2016 on the campus of George Washington University in our nation’s capital. The tournament organizers, as they did last year, have issued a contest to find a constructor for one of the tournament puzzle slots. The deadline for entries is January 15. Details on the tournament can be found here and details on the constructor contest are here.

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Eric Berlin has launched a new Kickstarter campaign called Puzzle Your Kids. Eric is constructing kid-friendly pencil puzzles that will be distributed to the project’s supporters throughout 2016. High-level pledge rewards include Winston Breen novels, a “Trail and Error” jigsaw puzzle, and a game show in your own home! If you know some young ones who would enjoy fun and expertly crafted puzzles you should absolutely visit the Kickstarter page and make a pledge!

AUTOFILL PROJECT: tavern puzzle

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Default: 364363
Default with Spaces: 149182

NOTES: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is generating a lot of excitement among action film fans, but I would guess that crossword puzzle constructors are especially excited to have available entries such as Kylo Ren (60) (A new clue alternative to {Stimpy’s pal!}), Maz (45), Hux (55), and Snoke (55). I haven’t seen the film yet but I expect that I will have stumbled upon most of the spoilers by the time I actually get to the theater. Among Golden Globe nominations I noted the crossword friendly additions Carol Aird (45), Cate Blanchett’s nominated title role in Carol and Lili Elbe (55) portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. After recent;y adding the neologism “food desert,” I discovered the related term food swamp (72) referring to a geographical area with an abundance of processed foods but little fresh produce, meat, or fish.

LISTS: I found some time to mine some more sharedoc data from Mark Diehl and Matt Jones. Some nice additions include Cosmo quiz (85), crumple zone (80), squash court (80), and tea cup ride (75). I only recently became familiar with the term tavern puzzle (80) and was interested to see the entry show up in list of database additions. We sell metal mechanical puzzles on the lobby of my workplace. Many of the puzzles are designed by local puzzle makers and branded as tavern puzzles due to their popularity as diversions in drinking establishments. I have never been adept at these puzzles, and now part of my job is to organize the display models and reset ones that have been solved by patrons. Even with the solution booklet at hand I struggle to put those damned things together. The shackle puzzle pictured below is the one that gives me the most grief. The solution instructions are fairly clear for removing the ring, but the ones for putting it back on contain “helpful” statements such as “reverse step 3” and “hold the shackles as in figure 2 but upside-down.” I’ll figure it out someday.

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