AUDIO TOUR: PEARL STREET MALL
An audio tour guides solvers to specific locations along Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder, Colorado. Solvers use information from the audio clips and locations to solve puzzles and eventually discover a final answer phrase that compared Pearl Street Mall to actual pearls.
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(NOTE: the puzzle can be accessed at this website and is still solvable as of July 2019. Minor spoilers are included in the description that follows.) Kristy McGowan sent out a request a few weeks before the National Puzzlers’ League convention she was hosting. She wanted walkaround puzzles for the Boulder area. I’d written puzzle hunts but never for the NPL Con and with Boulder close by it seemed like a good opportunity. I wanted to come up with a paperless hunt since I had committed to a fair amount of printing for other convention activities. An audio tour interested me as a way to be paperless and introduce auditory elements to the puzzle structures. I thought of a final answer phrase and a meta extraction mechanism that required six 5-letter answers. I spent an afternoon in Boulder making notes and taking pictures of items that lent themselves to puzzles. I then worked for a week and a half on the final puzzle formats, the tour script and the sound editing. Kristy and her friend Jenny tested the first draft and helped me with revisions for the final version. I created a website and posted a link. The hunt was ready for the convention attendees.
Each puzzle featured an element that exploited the audio format. Some are obvious, such as the pitch adjustments for the older and younger brothers in the Boulder County Map puzzle and the insect sound effects in the Little Bug Bridge puzzle. The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse audio gimmick is subtler. The sound shifts from the left to the right channel as the crossword-style clues shifts from the roses on those sides of the garden. The guitar songs played by the “street musician” (six different YouTube clips) were difficult for some solvers to identify, so I provided the song titles along with the entire tour dialogue in a series of transcript files that solvers could reference.
The puzzle hunt had a few execution hiccups. Despite a lot of research and assistance offered by Internet-savvy friends I couldn’t find an embedded audio player that worked consistently on various mobile device operating systems. Many solvers linked to the source files on my Google drive and then found the audio difficult to hear from a smartphone speaker. So most solving groups stuck with the transcripts. In retrospect I could have used Cluekeeper but I wanted to maintain control of the content after the convention. I was happy to discover that solving groups managed to complete the hunt using only scrap paper so smartphone hunts, with or without audio, is a form I will continue to explore.