The annual DASH puzzle hunt was took place on Saturday in 17 cities throughout the world, including Denver. A late-spring snow shower in the Mile High City did not deter 60 brilliant solvers on 13 teams from having an enjoyable afternoon solving puzzles in various downtown locations.
My local puzzle hunt friends all had conflicts this year. I considered traveling and joining a team with friends in another city but I wanted to support the event in my hometown so I decided to volunteer. I contacted Melanie Schultz, the lead coordinator for Denver DASH, and she added me to the organizing team. The opening location for Denver DASH was my workplace Puzzah! so I proved an asset by knowing where chairs, tables, and event materials are stored. I played “BOSS” in the opening skit that established the secret agent theme of this year’s hunt. I played a baccarat dealer in the lobby area of Puzzah!, which served as the second puzzle locations, and then I resumed my role of BOSS to hand out puzzles at Union Station later in the hunt.
The international DASH committee commissions the puzzles and dictates the hunt structure but the local coordinators need to determine puzzle locations in the host cities. Outdoor parks and shopping areas are popular selections because they are free to the public and have ample solving space. Inclement weather causes challenges because some cities do not have a wealth of indoor locations that are free to the public, commodious to puzzle solving, and in close, walkable proximity. The Denver DASH bad-weather route had a few hiccups. Representatives of the Performing Arts Complex rescinded the use of indoor space that was previously granted and the bar that agreed to host the endgame puzzles became disagreeable when the solving session ran long and extended into the Stanley Cup playoff broadcast. But the solvers were positive and adaptable, making efforts to patronize retail locations that were generous enough to offer shelter from the snow.
The volunteers were given the opportunity to test the DASH puzzles a few weeks beforehand. I was unable to participate in the test-solving because the Denver session was scheduled for the same day as my nephew Ian’s stage performance in Tarzan. Melanie sent me a link to the puzzle print sheets a few days before DASH. I solved the first seven puzzles before Saturday event and the last two on Sunday morning (puzzle 8 requires the assembly of 27 wooden cubes with stickers covering the cube faces, and I decided it would be better to solve the puzzle after collecting the physical materials at the event rather than printing and constructing hollow paper cubes in advance). DASH solvers use the ClueKeeper phone app to check puzzle answers, receive hints, and register solving times for scoring purposes. I didn’t have ClueKeeper for my solo solve so I did my best without answer confirmations or hints, though I did check the “Normal” version of the intro page (i.e., easier than the “Expert” version) on several puzzles. I didn’t set any time records but I did manage to complete all nine puzzles.
The narrative of DASH008 involves an international criminal organization called GHOST that has manufactured a doomsday device. Solvers play spies who are tasked with intercepting a double agent, finding GHOST headquarters, and destroying the device. The puzzles include many clever elements related to James Bond-style plots. The aforementioned 27-cube puzzle is a marvelous construction. The baccarat puzzle, in which solvers analyze a stacked deck in order to beat the dealer, is also fun (in the test version I simply received an ordered list of the cards in the deck but on-site solvers received an actual marked deck of cards!) Some puzzles require Internet research for no particularly good reason and others lean heavily on cipher tropes but the overall puzzle set is solid. I do sense that DASH is becoming more focused on high-production-value puzzles. It makes sense to cater to the primary solving demographic but I fear this mission creep will discourage novice puzzlers who were attracted to DASH for its simplicity, both in solving challenge and design. The puzzle I handed out at Union Station followed a particularly diabolical one that involved folding origami cranes, noting symbols that became aligned on the completed cranes, and then subjecting those symbols to progressively complicated coding schemes. As I handed out the Union Station puzzle, several teams reported that the origami puzzle was interesting but too confusing and time consuming so they opted to skip it due to time budgeted for the overall activity.
One fun side activity associated with being a DASH volunteer was co-solving Puzzled Pint puzzles with Melanie in the bar while the DASH solvers were finishing up the final spy puzzles. Melanie mentioned that she was pursuing a Denver presence for the puzzle activity played in bars in other world cities. We worked on puzzles written by my friend Wil Zambole and talked about puzzles and games in general. Even though my old puzzle friends were out of town for this year’s DASH I was glad to make some new friends.
ETA: The results have now been posted and I see that only two of the Denver teams skipped the origami puzzle and all but two of the teams that completed it finished faster than the par time of 75 minutes. I apparently misinterpreted the reactions from the solvers in the moment.
I thought this year’s DASH was very solid, but I’m with you on the production creep. It’s nice to see good production values, but an actual set of custom (laminated!) playing cards felt like a bit too much. On the other hand, it’s an easy way to show some bang for your team buck, and we East Coasters are still not as used to paying for puzzle events so it’s good to instill a bit of that. I really liked the wooden cubes.
The crane was the only one that didn’t work for me (and I was really into origami as a kid): too much room for error in assembling the final piece, which I can attest to since we were missing a digit in one crane and had an extra on another.