Spoilers for the 2017 DASH puzzle hunt are included in this post.

DASH, which stands for Different Area, Same Hunt, is a walkaround puzzle event held annually in various cities throughout the world. A city participates when volunteers willing handle site management contact the DASH organizers and arrange to receive the puzzle materials, establish a walking route, and so forth. My now employer Puzzah! hosted DASH when it debuted in Denver in 2015 and I joined another group to host DASH last year. I was interested in solving DASH this year but no one else in Denver expressed an interest in hosting so the Mile High City was taken off the rolls. I decided that DASH weekend would be a good excuse for a weekend getaway and I had a friend in Texas who had extended an open invitation for a visit. After checking with some local puzzle-solving friends I registered the team Dine and DASH in Austin.


About two dozen teams assembled in a market square across the street from the University of Texas campus on the morning of May 6 to learn about the Department of Applied Synergistic Humanities, the name of the DASH 9 hunt given in advance as a thematic teaser. Steve Levy, my host in Texas, is well versed in crosswords and cryptics but didn’t have much experience in hunt-style puzzles. I assured him that he would catch on quickly. We were joined by Andy and Arielle Arizpe, a video game designer and food blogger (Arielle’s knowledge of fine food was part of the inspiration of the team name). Mingling with the other teams I noticed solvers wearing MIT Mystery Hunt t-shirts and carrying clipboards with elaborate code sheets. Packets were distributed and we began with a puzzle that revealed an overall theme of extraterrestrial communication. The symbolic algebra exercise turned out to be a primer on rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock that gave us an answer leading to a new location.

I have criticized DASH in the past for being geared too heavily toward expert solvers and missing an opportunity to spark a puzzle interest in casual solvers. This DASH set was probably the most beginner-friendly I have seen featuring many familiar puzzle types with accessible twists. I was pleased that virtually none of the puzzles incorporated classic letter-coding systems. One puzzle used a variation on ternary but that was it. DASH solvers use the ClueKeeper app for inputting answers, receiving hints, and timekeeping. When I solved DASH two years ago I remember that the ClueKeeper’s audio notifications for hints were incessant and distracting. This time I received no audio notifications, though I later discovered hints were accumulating in our app normally. I’m not sure if the lack of audio notifications was something I did or ClueKeeper did, but I registered the change as an improvement.

The puzzles included a word search variant, Star Battle grids, a chemical compound identification quiz, and some cryptic clues that made Steve happy. Several puzzles involved a collection of polygonal shards with arcane symbols. These were used to translate the alien language and employed clever variations as more and more shards were discovered along the trail. The puzzle we struggled with involved arranging strips of acetate to create a path on a sheet of paper. We carelessly missed a path option and consequently spent twice as long as we needed to. The final puzzle used a Zappar feature in ClueKeeper to produce a spaceship effect. Andy somehow figured out the pattern associated with some colorful objects and, with his instructions, I played a Close Encounters-esque musical message that prevented a military engagement with the alien race. Humanity was saved and we got pizza!

Steve was relieved that the puzzles were approachable and that he was able to make contributions. With Andy’s guidance he solved his first Star Battle puzzle. I’ve known the Arizpes for years but have rarely joined them as puzzle cosolvers, so I was happy for that opportunity. UT Austin was a lovely setting for the hunt with lots of shady spots for solving. We finished the hunt in third place among Austin teams and in the upper half overall. The Texas trip was great fun, but I want DASH to return to Denver next year, even if I need to be the host.

Monsters et Manus


The 2017 MIT Mystery Hunt was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last weekend. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was on a Hunt organizing team for the first time. I also mentioned that I didn’t participate in the pre-Hunt preparation as much as I wanted to due to work and some other issues. Once I arrived in Boston on Thursday night I planned to devote my efforts to the Hunt full-bore. I made my way to our team headquarters in Building 10 (a more team-friendly, central location than our usual digs in the Stata Center) and helped the team get things ready for the kickoff skit on Friday afternoon.

The theme of the Hunt was revealed in the skit. A group of MIT students playing a fictional role-playing game Monsters et Manus (a riff on the MIT motto Mens et Manus) accidentally conjure an eeeeevil sorcerer who possesses the dungeon master and traps the the other players in a medieval fantasy realm. The Hunt solving teams figured out puzzles that would level-up the role-playing characters to be powerful enough to face the sorcerer. The theme idea was proposed by my teammate T K Focht as a way to give solvers more transparency and control over the way that puzzles became available. Solvers would see that a puzzle in a particular round could be unlocked if a certain character were at a certain level, and then make other actions to expedite level-ups for that character. Traditional role-playing games have frequently been referenced in past Hunt puzzles but have never been the overall theme. When my teammates playing the MIT students in the opening skit opened their dice bags, the spectators reacted in hearty approval.

All of the Monsters et Manus puzzles, with solution links, can be found here. The Character puzzles, which were written to have the lowest difficulty, can be accessed by clicking on the icons on the left. The more difficult Quest puzzles can be accessed by clicking the icons on the map on the right. I have construction credits for the following puzzles that can be found on the master list: The Fighter (meta puzzle), Adactyly, Attention Span (just artwork), Epic Raft Battles of History, Maniacal Merchants, and Replenish the Treasury.

The Hunt also featured several live interactions and events. I was on the team that developed the events and I, along with many of my teammates, facilitated these events through the course of the weekend. Three of these events were rescues of the trapped MIT Students. The Linguist could be rescued by a pair of solvers by verbally communicating long, intractable computer passcodes (sample attempts can be seen in this video starting at the 58:55 mark). The Economist was trapped in a endless loop playing Bob Barker in the bidding game of The Price is Right. They could be rescued by bidding a preassigned, exact price of some random item in a team’s headquarters. The Chemist needed a potion to be rescued from a foul mood. Solvers mixed non-alcoholic cocktails inspired by adjectives and nouns drawn from three decks of cards, as in “Enchanted Elfin Stinger.”


The scheduled events included a Super Speed Dating activity in which solvers were given cards with personality types and needed to find another solver with the same type by sitting down for multiple speed dating encounters. The Running Techies event was a series of footraces featuring notable alumni of MIT. Solvers won by successfully selecting a trifecta before the race, and they increased their odds of doing this by noting the placement of the runners in earlier races (and never betting on Richard Feynman). In the photo below I am the racer dressed as Norbert Wiener, third from the left. Hungry Hungry Hippogriffs combined Bananagrams and Hungry Hungry Hippos (see 103:08 in the previously linked video). Pub Quizardry was a game I wrote and presented on Saturday night. I read trivia questions that the solvers found easy on first hearing, but then realized that the answers needed to be transformed in various ways.


Our team planned to run the Hunt through Sunday evening and we expected the first team to find the coin, or two-sided die, in about 35 hours. We underestimated the drive of the solvers and had three level-up their characters before the sun rose on Saturday. This caused a problem because teams needed to participate in the scheduled events before being eligible to face the sorcerer, and we realized that it would be unfair to force these teams to wait while other teams caught up. So, we put together single-team versions of the events and led the them at reasonable increments throughout Saturday. The endgame of the Hunt had two parts. A Character endgame was a puzzle that a solving team performed on a board designed to resemble a hexagonal role-playing mat. Teams answered trivia questions to uncover a group ability under the game-board hexagons: HIVE MIND. The Hunt endgame involved a life-size role-playing surface, and under the hexagons were instructions to convert the previous ability into a new one: GROUP HUG. At this point a solving team went on a campus runaround to find the actual D2 hidden outside the Management building.

My experience at the Hunt as an organizer was similar to my experience as a solver. I had brief interactions with almost all of my teammates while at headquarters, but then found a comfortable place to set down my laptop and worked solo. I ate a lot of junk food because it was there and I have little self control. I did enjoy the opportunity to see the headquarters of other teams, meet people on teams that I wouldn’t ordinarily interact with, and learn more about navigating the campus.

Congratulations to Death and Mayhem, the team that first completed the Hunt! I wish them well on their new quest: to design the Hunt for 2018.


SiLiCon Badges


Last week I attended the convention of the National Puzzlers’ League in Salt Lake City Utah. It was my nineteenth overall convention and sixth as a member of the program committee. The convention coincided with the release of the Niantic/Nintendo smartphone app Pokemon Go. I didn’t spend my time in Utah capturing Pikachu and Squirtle but I did collect a few more badges, and as with my post on last year’s convention I thought I would share some of the badges I earned as my SiLiCon report. I will refer to other NPL members by civilian name followed by “nom” (League nickname) in parentheses.

Krewes Control Badge
For the first time since 2008 (the convention in the Denver suburbs that I hosted) I chose to drive to the convention rather than fly. Salt Lake City is only eight hours from Denver and with my nephew Ian Chaney (Whovian) coming along a road trip was a no-brainer for saving money on travel. The drives were very scenic and having a car at the convention allowed Whovian and I to do some sightseeing at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium and Red Butte Garden. One thing I didn’t take into consideration was the return trip. I typically use the plane flight home from convention to catch up on the accumulation of sleep deprivation over the convention days, but I didn’t have that luxury when driving with a fourteen-year-old. And I was coaxed into staying up until 4:30 a.m. on Sunday to play and present after hours games. When we left Salt Lake City on Sunday afternoon I started feeling nervous about my ability to stay alert. We stopped at a gas station where Whovian bought a sandwich and I bought a large double-caffeine coffee. When we returned to the road I asked Whovian to start naming NPL members that he wanted to know more about. “Murdoch,” was his first reply. I started babbling for ten minutes covering everything I knew about Andrew Chaikin (Murdoch): all of his various, interesting jobs, how he discovered the NPL, how we met, etc. Whovian kept mentioning other puzzlers and I would babble, keeping my mind occupied and keeping awake. By the time we reached I-70 the caffeine had kicked in and we were fine all the way to Glenwood Springs where we could crash (in the safe sense) for the night at my sister’s house. In addition to keeping me alert, the game also let me know which NPL members made an impression on Whovian, for whom SiLiCon was convention number three. It also provided a fun secondary game where I got to identify Krewe, with noms Whovian couldn’t remember, simply by visual description, as in, “Who is the guy who has glasses and looks like Seth Rogen?”

Play the Percentages Badge
Escape rooms have replaced used bookstores as the popular commercial destinations for puzzlers in convention cities. Businesses that operate escape rooms often advertise the success rates of their rooms so that players can weigh their success or failure against the average. This success rate is meaningful only if the room is fairly designed with skill-based puzzles and objectively dispensed hints. Dave Shukan (Tinhorn) often jokes about the “perfect” escape room that contains one lock and a ring of a thousand keys. The room is perfect because the operators can accurately adjust the success rate simply by adding or subtracting keys. Tinhorn’s perfect room illustrates the flaw in the design of many escape rooms: too much emphasis is placed on establishing a low success rate and not enough on making sure the room is fair or fun. I joined a group for a pair of escape rooms played on Friday afternoon. The first titled En-Twained was a search for Mark Twain’s hidden treasure with puzzles based on Twain’s novels. It was a decent room and our group finished with a record time. The second room was titled Mystery Impossible and it was unapologetically advertised as a room that had never been solved. Tinhorn, who made the group reservation, had asked the operator earlier if the room were impossible due to poor puzzle design but received assurance that its puzzles were fair. The theme of the adventures was a bank heist and it looked like the room contained some interesting challenges such as a water transfer puzzle and the equipment to make a fake security badge. We eventually stumbled upon the “ring of keys” elements such as an puzzle that required players to count letters around the room to plug into an equation. The tricky hiding places of the letters made it difficult to determine when the correct amounts were reached, and we later learned that a group of dalmatians on a wall poster were intended to be added to the “D” count. Another puzzle required a four-digit code to be entered into a computer by trial and error (or “trail and error” as was printed on the clue). Entering 24 possibilities was not a deal-breaking burden, but the Windows 10 system on the computer throttled our efforts with a one-minute delay after every five failed attempts. After our time ended and we joined the ranks of the unsuccessful teams, we visited with the room operator offering constructive criticism through clenched teeth. She was receptive to our frustrations and had wished that she could initiate more help during our mission (we had requested no unsolicited hints). She also confessed that the room was her least favorite to operate because of the understandable poor reception. We returned to the hotel and I asked Whovian, who was part of the escape room group, what he thought of Mystery Impossible. He said that he had fun, that he valued the opportunity to cosolve with some great people, and felt that the negativity expressed by some in our group was a bit excessive. “It’s just an escape room,” he observed. I like Whovian’s attitude and choose to focus on the enjoyment I had being with an awesome group of friends.

It Takes Two (or More) Badge
As with the escape room excursion, the highlight of NPL Con is the opportunity to work on puzzles and games with a partner or a team. Joe DeVincentis (/dev/joe) and I formed a solid team for the game What invented by Dan Katz (Spelvin) (this intuitive trivia game was my favorite of all the after-hours offerings). Tanis O’Connor (Sidhe) and I got the band back together for a partnership in the well-crafted Doubles Jeopardy! game presented by Nathan Curtis (Tortoise). And I had great teams for Overtime and Secret Fortune led by Darren Rigby (Dart), Todd Etter’s (Navin) trivia tour de force The Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, and the sequel to the inventive Puzzling in the Dark created by Wil Zambole (WXYZ). I undertook a few activities as a solo competitor, such as the fine Jeopardy! sets presented by Adam Cohen (Noam) and Ben Smith (b-side), but I find more and more that I prefer working with a partner or a team as it puts more emphasis on camaraderie than competition. For the Saturday afternoon handout puzzles I solved the Mike Shenk (Manx) puzzle Urban Renewal with Amanda O’Connor (Aardvark). We took a leisurely pace, both made contributions to the puzzle, and didn’t care about turning our papers in for scoring. Similarly, I had an amazing time solving the flats in a large group organized by Jenny Gutbezahl (Hathor). We read the flats aloud and collaborated on all of the solutions while enjoying local craft beers. On the first night of my trip a group gathered in the hotel lobby to play the board game Concept, and we marveled at how much we enjoyed the dynamics that favored cooperation over competition. I like the collaborative trend in convention activities and, when I presented my variation of Dictionary Race on the main program, I made a last-minute decision to encourage players to form teams of two and eliminate the option of playing solo. Some of the tables had uneven numbers and a few chose to play solo but in an equal number of cases team of two took on a third.

Bee Charmer Badge
At an early point in the convention I had a vision, which I shared with a handful of people. In the vision I was at the podium during the Sunday morning awards presentation and I addressed the Krewe. “Raise your hand,” I said in the vision, “if you won a prize at the prize table. Now raise your hand if you won an after hours game over the weekend. Now raise your hand if you solved one of the handout puzzles from the hospitality suite. And now raise your hand if at some point during the convention you made a new friend.” NPL convention is a time for me to see a hundred or so of my second family members but I’m never sure if I will be meeting anyone new. A planned an activity for Thursday evening in which I invited first-time conventiongoers to meet in the main ballroom after the main program for an orientation to the unofficial program that included some of the impromptu games we play in the after hours. I met several new Krewe at that activity and one tagged along for a Coordination game that I ran, in which he managed to achieve the top score. I signed up for a “racer” team in this year’s Saturday night extravaganza. In recent years I have been a “stroller” as that gives me the freedom to choose my teammates and leave nothing to chance, but I had a feeling that Erin Rhode (Colossus), the chief constructor of the multi-puzzle event, would somehow see that I would be okay. I was blessed with a wonderful team. In addition to good friend Gary Sherman (Eddy) I was partnered with new-to-me cosolvers Kevin Schraith (Tronic) and Asher Walkover (Team Asher). We hummed along through the delightful, apian-themed extravaganza (Colossus was dressed as the queen bee). All in all, I made six new Facebook connections based on meetings at SiLiCon.

Like Button Badge
The benefits of attending an NPL convention are described in many ways: an escape from the stressful world, a reunion with one’s tribe, a rejuvenation, a psychological necessity. The chief source of my Weltschmerz of late has been social media. I once considered Facebook to be a marketplace of ideas in which diversity could be embraced, but that feeling has changed over the last few months. Discussion of art, politics, social attitudes, and tragedies have been combative and more Facebook users seem to be balkanizing their social media experience by unfriending and disconnecting all opposing views. I came to convention needing harmony, and I got what I needed. The shootings in various cities during the convention numbed those who peeked at news feeds between puzzles and games but we kept our spirits up. Donald Trump’s name was brought up a few times but that was the extent of the political topics that I was exposed to. And while I have been posting very little on Facebook lately, intimidated by the contentious discourse, I found several Krewe at Con that I felt safe opening up to. One such conversation led to a tacky joke, but I’ll share it anyway. After a soulful conversation with Nancy Coughlin (Uncanny), I told her that felt very comfortable sharing part of myself with her and that I could consider her a “horcrux.” She replied, “Well, as long as I’m more than just a ‘whore’.”

DASH 008


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.



Boda Borg / 2016 MIT Mystery Hunt


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.


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.”

Recouvery Badges


Vancouver, British Columbia, was the setting of Recouvery, this year’s National Puzzlers’ League convention. I spent five days in the downtown area near Stanley Park puzzling, gaming, sharing, and shouting with the members of my second family, followed by three days in Victoria for a bonus vacation with my first family. I started a conversation during one of the convention breakfasts about a hypothetical “badge” system, similar to the one used on the Sporcle website, with which an NPL convention attendee could note various achievements. These achievements could be straightforward, such as “Successfully Co-solved an Official Convention Cryptic Crossword” or “Presented an After-Hours Jeopardy! Game.” They could be rare, as “Won Alcohol from the Official Prize Table” (I’m among the few and perhaps only one with that badge), and they could be silly, as “Struggled to Read an ‘Exquisite Fruit’ Clue Due to Uncontrollable Laughter” (I’m looking at you, Katie Hamill ($8.90)). I’ve decided to use this hypothetical badge system to organize my thoughts about this year’s family reunion.

Note: I will refer to other NPL members by civilian name followed by “nom” (League nickname) in parentheses.

Street Smarts Badge
Last year in Portland, Maine, I earned the Hit the Ground Running badge by arriving in the convention city at eight in the morning (following a redeye flight and bus shuttle from Boston) and immediately taking on my sightseeing agenda without rest or companionship. I was prepared to duplicate the badge requirements this year but since I was arriving in the afternoon (redeyes don’t enter the equation when flying west) I made arrangements to meet a small group of friends near the Yaletown train station. We solved a walkaround puzzle set along the Seawall and enjoyed celebratory drinks before I was even checked into the hotel. The walkaround was constructed by Darren Rigby (Dart) as part of a three-puzzle set; the other two were located at Gastown and Robson Square. All contained great puzzles that incorporated local landmarks and all provided enjoyable walking opportunities in the downtown area. While I was comfortable doing all three walkarounds alone I ended up having solving companions in all cases: I solved with Adam Cohen (Noam), Katherine Bryant (Saxifrage), and Trip Payne (Qaqaq) at Robson Square and started with Jeffrey Schwartz (Jeffurry) and Fraser Simpson (Fraz) in Gastown but finished with Joseph DeVincentis (/dev/joe), Roger Wolff (Wolff) and William Zambole (WXYZ). In all cases the solving groups were not too large and close to my planned schedule so I was very satisfied with all the experiences. Aside from the Dart walkarounds I also made a solid trek through Stanley Park and various areas on Vancouver Island (Inner Harbour, Butchart Gardens, etc.) Susan Glass (Sue++) organized a 5K run on the Seawall near English Bay. I did not participate (I’d like to if the event is repeated in future convention cities, which I assume it will based on the populzrity of this event) but have no qualms about the amount of pedestrian exercise I got during the trip.

Keep [Insert City] Weird Badge
The 2012 and 2013 conventions were held in Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, respectively; both cities that have “Keep [City Name] Weird” slogans. Since then I’ve noticed that every convention host city, whether or not it has a similar slogan or reputation, is weird. Somehow, an NPL presence attracts weirdness or throws weirdness into sharp relief, but it is weirdness in a good way. The Dart walkaround in Robson Square included puzzles in the Vancouver Art Gallery featuring an exhibit of Geoffrey Farmer artworks titled “How Do I Fit This Ghost in My Mouth?” — Weird and compelling. The Gastown area is the site of a puzzle room business called Smarty Pantz. Several NPLers booked sessions in the Smarty Pantz rooms, including Dreamscape where the solvers needed to solve puzzle to escape the mind of Dr. Whom — Weird and fun. Then, of course, Patrick Berry (Trick) and I seem to have odd experiences involving restrooms. This year, I was using the men’s room at a pub near English Bay beach and the guy next to me started hitting on me in four languages — Weird and … weird. Note to that guy: Silence doesn’t necessarily mean an inability to understand English; it can mean “I’m just trying to pee.”

When in Rome, Avoid Roaming Charges Badge
This was my first international trip in many years, and I was warned ahead of time that I would pay exorbitant fees if I used Canadian cellular towers for smartphone data. I set my phone to block cellular transmissions just before boarding my Denver-to-Vancouver flight and planned to scout out wifi for the entire vacation. That turned out to be more of a challenge than I realized. The wifi signal in the Vancouver hotel was spotty for the first few days and when walking about I had no reliable means of texting friends to plan meetups. I reached the point where I would visit a restaurant and ask for the wifi password first and order a drink second. Even though I managed to have data access everyday for short periods I lost my Duolingo streak and got behind on podcasts and Sporcle quizzes. When the plane touched down in Seattle on the first leg of my return trip I clicked on my phone’s cellular access and gasped a sigh of relief. Yeah, I’m pathetic.

Meal Plan Badge
Many members of the Krewe arrive at convention with a food agenda and plan excursions to destination eateries. I don’t consider myself a foodie and wasn’t looking for excuses to make this trip more expensive that it was inevitably going to be, but I will report that I had gelato three times (which is more than enough for me), three different kinds of poutine (the salmon and pulled pork “non-poutine” poutine variations were interesting but the traditional style was the best), and a nanaimo bar from Blenz Coffee. The nanaimo bar remains my favorite Canadian food delicacy. The local craft beers I tried were fair to middling but I had some wonderful craft cocktails at the Bengal Lounge in Victoria’s Empress Hotel. I especially liked the Manhattan variant that included Campari. I’ve had a similar Manhattan with Grand Marnier but the bitter blood orange of the Campari paired with the rye in a superior way.

Grope Dynamics Badge
I’m not going to talk too much about Recouvery’s official program because I am a member of the organizing committee. I am interested to receive feedback from other attendees about the program offerings, and, since he posted it on his website, I will recommend that variety cryptic fans try Trick’s “Middle of the Road“. The unofficial program was packed with wonderful handout puzzles and homemade games. I didn’t get to play all of the games that I wanted to and I still have a stack of puzzles to sift through. One game I did play and wanted to comment on was Puzzling in the Dark by WXYZ. In the game a group of six players sits around a table and puts on blindfolds. The group is given a story about the elements of a game that were engulfed by a black hole. By solving a series of four puzzles the group could determine the game elements and retrieve them from the black hole (a box) where they were mixed with irrelevant decoy objects. The puzzles used to identify game elements were manifested by a series of items placed on the table, which the players explored without sight and without any other specific instructions. The members of the group spoke to one another about their findings and eventually discovered that table items fell into four categories themed on the nonvisual senses: animal noise buzzers (sound), scented magic markers (smell), cut-out alphabet letters in various tactile materials (touch), and Jelly Belly jelly beans (taste). Each theme comprised an identification puzzle and yielded as an answer the name of one of the game elements. The game elements retrieved from the black hole clued comprised a metapuzzle leading to a thematic punch line. The game was innovative in concept, clean in execution, and entertaining in presentation. There was definitely a learning curve to working with teammates without any poking injuries (sorry, Jenn Braun (Wesley) but our group seemed to get an organizational rhythm fairly quickly in which every member made an insight.

Music Appreciation Badge
The 2002 NPL convention, also in Vancouver and in the same hotel, included flats (verse puzzles) that parodied Beatles songs, and members of the Krewe gathered around a piano for a post-solving singalong. Music was a theme at this year’s convention as well. Our host Jonathan Berkowitz (Witz) led a singalong of Canadiana following the Friday dinner. A hotel server snatched my lyrics sheet while busing the table, but I sat and listened to the rest of the room. At the business meeting Eric Suess (Lirath) presented information on Salt Lake City (the site of the 2016 convention) using the newly adopted state song “Utah, This Is the Place!” as a soundtrack. The pleasant but earwormy melody has taken permanent residence in my brain. The best musical moment from the con occurred when Dean Sturtevant (D. Ness) walked by an area where Scott Weiss (Squonk) was presenting his Lazy Jeopardy! game. D. and I unconsciously started duetting “Up a Lazy River” while riding in the elevator. The elevator provided accompaniment by being slow.

Sometimes a Jeopardy! is Just a Jeopardy! (and Sometimes It’s Not) Badge
Jeopardy! remains a popular format for after-hours trivia, but it is also a popular launching point for games that are initially Jeopardyesque but soon twist in unexpected directions. It is a badge-worthy skill to know the difference and react accordingly. Noam and Qaqaq presented games in the former style, with categories that referenced Canada, the U.S., and other parts of North America generally in punny ways, For example, Qaqaq’s Haiti category turned out to be a “Hate Tea” category all about coping with brewed beverages (and not yours truly). Jeffurry’s game was similarly traditional in structure but full of whimsical categories inspired by the setting. I did well with the Canadian spelling bee clues. We thought that the spelling words might involve -er/-re or -our/-or variations, but they were actually words like “maharaja,” spelled “m-eh-h-eh-r-eh-j-eh.” The game Answer in the Form of a Question written by Denis and Marc Moskowitz (Capital R and G2znii) and presented by the former included categories themed on the common words that begin questions…and then some uncommon ones such as “Whither,” “Wherefore,” and “Aintcha.” And then there’s Makeshift Jeopardy! by TK Focht (arcs), which is “Jeopardy!” and a lot of other game shows and also none of them. Even though I’m terrible at identifying pop songs I enjoyed the surprise gimmick behind the Name That Tune round and the Press Your Luck board, while unusually heavy on Telegraph prizes, supported a very nicely hidden puzzle.

Chauncey Gardner “I Like to Watch” Badge
The NPL convention website features page for after-hours game presenters to announce their wares in advance. In the weeks leading up to Recouvery I watched this page fill up with interesting game descriptions and I experienced both excitement and dread. I knew that I would be unlikely to play all of the games, particularly when I was running an after-hours game of my own, so I could feel the pangs of FOMO. I posted on Facebook proposing a system of gamemaker priority but knew that such a system wouldn’t guarantee that I would be able to play everyone’s game. Toward the end of the convention I had an epiphany: I am getting just as much satisfaction watching most of these games as playing them, so why don’t I accept the fact that I am not going to play everything and choose to watch some game at the outset, even if opportunities for later play are possible and even if a game is stumbled upon in the middle. In some circumstances I could be a scorekeeper or offer assistance in another way, and in many circumstances I could “play at home” and get a rough idea of how I would have fared as an actual player. As many other NPLers have observed, WXYZ’s Puzzling in the Dark is extremely enjoyable to watch, though it is a game best appreciated by playing it first. So help me earn this badge next year by reminding me of my decision to both watch and play. And on the subject of watching I would like to make an observation/suggestion to other NPL convention attendees: When an after-hours game is in progress the active participants have an instinct to protect uninitiated spectators from being spoiled, as in “You might not want to watch this game because you won’t be able to play it later.” The instinct is natural and well-meaning but it has become a bit militant in execution and I worry that curious newbies might interpret being shooed off as cliquishness rather than protection. So, my suggestion is not to warn approaching spectators at all. If the approaching spectator has attended several conventions then they know the drill and would approach a game session because 1) they have already played, 2) they want to watch rather than play, or 3) they just want to get a quick confirmation of the activity and will not stay in the vicinity long enough to be spoiled. If the approaching spectator is a less experienced convention attendee then they may benefit from being invited to stay and watch and interact with the group when the game is at a stopping point. We should provide fair opportunities for playing games but also make sure that new members feel welcome and included.

DIFM Badge
About two weeks before the convention the following four-word phrase appeared in my head.

Do it for Maso.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the phrase at the time and I wasn’t comfortable talking about it with too many people, but I derived a comfort from the words and kept it in the back of my mind during the convention. Several people brought activities to Recouvery that were tributes to our late friend Thomas Gazzola (Maso). Of particular note was an adaptation of a game presented at Maso’s service. The original game was designed by Matt Jones (Maelstrom) and the convention version, which involved some very entertaining simultaneous charades, was led by Mike Selinker (Slik), Gaby Weidling (SparkOwl), Chad Brown (Shebang), and Rubrick (Rick Rubinstein). Throughout the charades game, Gaby displayed panels drawn by Maso’s family and friends and arranged the panels in such a way that a message formed.


The mural and the game were beautiful to experience. They made me think about Maso and they made me think about the qualities he exhibited: a love of learning, a respect for sharing ideas, a flair for showmanship, a creative outlook on the world, and a compassion for all people. In a way, Maso represented the better virtues of the League, and I realized that I was thinking about him, fondly, not only in response to the explicit tributes but in response to seeing people co-solve cryptics or play a round of Exquisite Fruit or exchange puns across a lunch table or hug each other goodbye in the hotel lobby. I guess I’ve come to understand the phrase in a different way than when I first thought of it and I will try to earn the DIFM badge every year.

If any of you who attended the convention have any ideas for badges that you earned or hope to earn someday, please share them in the comments.

DASH 7 Review (Spoilers)


The lead-up to this year’s DASH (Different Area, Same Hunt) was a time of great excitement. For the first time in the multicity puzzle hunt’s seven-year history, DASH was going to have a presence in Denver! Some friends of mine who run an escape room in Lower Downtown and participated in the 2014 DASH in Washington, DC contacted DASH headquarters and volunteered to be the local Game Control. The DASH website hinted at a J. K. Rowling theme for the 2014 edition so I formed a team with my friend Kristy and her friend Jennie which we called I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Beer. DASH pre-hunt announcements reminded solvers to install the ClueKeeper. My previous DASH experiences preceded the partnership with ClueKeeper and I was excited to see how this app, designed by my friends at Shinteki, would improve the hunt experience by automating timekeeping and answer confirmation. DASH also announced that this hunt would be beginner-friendly, family-friendly, and feature easier puzzles than one might encounter in BAPHL, Decathlon, etc. While I’ve enjoyed previous DASH hunts I have not considered them beginner-friendly. The puzzle sets often contain one or two toughies that clearly cater to experience puzzle hunters. So the news that DASH has apparently forced puzzle constructors to kill their diabolical darlings and create clean,simple puzzles that I could recommend to my casual puzzling friends was really, really exciting.

And was my pre-DASH excitement borne out in the actual event? For solving DASH in Denver with Kristy and Jenny, absolutely! For solving a DASH with ClueKeeper, pretty much. For solving a DASH with clean, beginner-friendly puzzles, uh, hold that thought.

DASH is composed of a series of puzzles that lead to a meta-puzzle that ties all the previous puzzles together. The puzzles are distributed along a walkable route in the host city. At each route location a solving team finds the GC (member of the Game Control team), starts a timer (using ClueKeeper), and receives a  puzzle based on wordplay, math, logic, pattern recognition, etc. Puzzles have brief, elliptical instructions (figuring out how to solve a puzzle is often part of the puzzle) and lead to an answer word or phrase. When a team enters the correct answer into ClueKeeper the solving time is recorded and the team is given directions to the next location on the route. Each puzzle has a “par” solving time. A team that solves a puzzle faster than the par time receives bonus points for each unused minute; otherwise a team received the base score. Teams are only timed for puzzle solving, not transportation between locations, lunch breaks, etc. While solving a puzzle, a team may purchase hints from ClueKeeper. Purchasing a hint drops the maximum score potential to 90% of the base score. Also, hints gradually become free as the time elapses so there are few circumstances in which buying a hint would make sense. Also, a team may skip a puzzle, which results in a score of zero points but allows a team to proceed to the next location.

During the hunt, our team found a few of the the puzzles much more difficult than we were previously led to believe by the pre-hunt announcements. As we struggled with these puzzles we assumed that other teams were experiencing the same difficulties. The leader boards were posted a few days after the hunt and we confirmed that our team finished second among the three Experienced track teams in Denver and 222nd out of the 333 Experienced teams overall. Novice track teams completed DASH with slightly adjusted par times and a few extra hints but basically the same puzzles. The leader board show that Novice teams fared better than we had speculated. So, DASH may well have honored their beginner-friendly promise. My feelings about the tough puzzles have become more positive as I reflect on them though I do plan to include in the descriptions a few thoughts on how some puzzles could have been improved.

Entering Your Name Into The Cup
Par: n/a / Our Time: 32:41

The 15 Denver DASH team gathered at Puzzah, the escape room business owned by the local GCs, and were told that Hogwarts was hosting another Tri-Wizard Tournament. We were invited to participate by placing our team’s name in the Goblet of Fire and then making tournament preparations at locations along the hunt route. The first puzzle was not played for points and did not have a par time. It also involved some team interaction, as is now typical of the first DASH puzzle. Each team needed to compile a spell book and figure out an incantation to use for entering our name into the cup. We received four identical spell book pages and needed to,exchange them with other teams so we had four different pages. We had trouble finding a team with one of the pages so the interactive part of the puzzle took us longer than we expected. Once we had all the pages we saw that some were title pages with the name of a spell and other pages contained spell descriptions. We quickly saw that the descriptions each contained a misspelled word (in each case a missing letter), but collecting these missing letters didn’t produce a readable answer. Eventually a free hint told us that we also needed a letter from each of the title pages by using a grade level number to index into the spell name. The ordering of the pages took us a while. We tried a number of mechanical sorting approaches before noticing that the spell names and descriptions could be conceptually matched. We got the incantation SCRIBO HANCOCKUS and directions to the next location. Fun start.

Weighing of the Wands
Par: 30:00 / Our Time: 40:37

We proceeded to a nearby park representing Olivander’s Wand Shop. Our puzzle comprised a list of wood/plant types and three weight balance puzzles. The weights featured pictures that clued the names of woods in three ways: anagrams (SNAPE = ASPEN), homophones (YOU = YEW), and beheadments (HELM = ELM). We made quick work of the picture clues and the weight problems, with a refresher on how to calculate torque, and saw that the numerical value of the weights could be used to index into the wood names to produce a word for each balance system: PHONIES for anagrams, WIDTH for homophones, and TORE for beheadments. We reasoned to apply the relevant wordplay on these answers, thus IPHONES, WITH, and ORE. What answer was being clued by these words? We exchanged theories and tried a few guesses in ClueKeeper. GOLDEN APPLES, SILVER APPLES, IRON APPLES returned “Incorrect,” as did the guess APPLES. Finally, with no other ideas we tried just APPLE and confirmed a correct answer. We didn’t understand how the answer worked until after the hunt when a GC explained that we were supposed to interpret the beheadment as as a head addition and produce the clue STORE WITH IPHONES. I would guess that other teams made the same misstep but perhaps a fair number of those teams recovered from it more quickly that we did. My suggestion to the puzzle constructor would have been to add a hint to clarify the wordplay and word ordering as in “The transformed answer words form a clue with the enumeration 5 4 7.”

Interview With Rita Skeeter
Par: 40:00 / Our Time: 61:20

Our next stop was a storefront courtyard where we were given a three puzzle sheets with word clues and a logic puzzle diagram. The clues led to three-word, alliterative phrases in which one word was an antonym of what was suggested by the clue (that’s dishonest Rita for you). The logic puzzle was a square lattice with some squares containing a number and an arrow. A number-arrow square indicated how many squares between the arrow and the grid edge needed to be shaded, but only if the number-arrow square were “truthful.” An unshaded number-arrow square was always truthful but as shaded number-arrow square could be truthful or untruthful. In the completed logic grid numbers in the unshaded number squares would be used as indexes into words from the wordplay section to yield and answer. Kristy and Jennie worked on the wordplay clues while I tackled the logic grid. I could figure out the initial square-shading steps but got stuck by a section in the lower right and kept making errors leading to contradictions. The free hints weren’t helping and eventually Kristy and Jennie were finished while I was still struggling. We got the answer by making backsolve deductions from the likely index letters and successfully entered SPELLS SEEM STRONG into ClueKeeper. I later learned that several other teams had similar difficulties with the logic puzzle and resorted to a similar backsolving process.

Par 35:00 / Our Time: 27:31


The quidditch pitch was near Confluence Park. This puzzle featured an untimed pre-challenge in which we had to find a golden snitch before starting the puzzle. The snitch was a yellow stress ball sitting next to the park path about ten feet from the GC. Ah well, it was still a cute touch. The puzzle was a word search with rebus squares representing either KEEP or SEEK. The unused words contained three wandering word paths that clued CHASE in different ways. The un-unused letter spelled the final answer SWEEPSTAKES. The puzzle tied the quidditch elements together beautifully and we were thrilled to finally solve a puzzle faster than the par time.

Tea For Two
Par 25:00 / Our Time: 30:12

We grabbed some lunch and then picked up our puzzle on the LoDo bridge after another quick pre-puzzle involving Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans. The actual handout puzzle contained a college of picture clues, letters, and leaves. We quickly saw that the pictures could be paired to form varieties of tea, e.g. EARL + GREY, and that lines connecting the paired pictures intersected letters and leaves. We got stuck until free hints told us to look at the letters not in line order but in top-to-bottom order. The letters spelled a clue that instructed us to Caesar shift the first letters of the tea names a number of positions equal to the number of points on the leaves. We got the letters but remained stuck until we recounted one of the leaves and realized that we had a wrong letter. My made the fix and entered the correct answer WHITMAN. This was another puzzle where we hit the ground running but stalled on the final extraction, and it simply based on our carelessness. One of the tea varieties was new to me: Matcha, clued by a match and a girl at the doctor’s office presumably saying “ah.”

Potions and Sabotage
Par: 35:00 / Our Time: 31:39

Our GC was enjoying a beer in a cafe next to Union Station when we arrived. Our pre-puzzle task was to mix a potion that could be used to reveal a word written in invisible ink on an index card. We then received a sheet with a word grid within a triangular lattice and some card stock with cut-and-tape triangles featuring words. We noticed connections among the words — synonyms, antonyms, word changes, etc. and gathered related triangles to construct triangular pyramids. The pyramid wordplay themes corresponded to words on the lattice and we could see how the pyramids rolled along the lattice according to numbers printed on the pyramids. The six unused lattice words formed a transformation chain using the same transformations featured on the pyramids, and when ordered in this chain the main diagonal of the unused spelled the answer word COFFEE. The puzzle was nicely constructed with a final set of six words that worked cyclically with the transformations (the last word connected back to the first) while concealing an answer word. We sailed through the mental steps of this puzzle and spent most of our solving time cutting, taping, and preventing pieces from blowing away in the afternoon breeze.

House Elves Help
Par: 35:00 / Our Time: 49:39

At Skyline Park we collected a sheet with a large 5×5 grid and 25 tiles with words along each edge. The tile words could be connected to form compound words and we soon had an arrangement of the 25 tiles that fit inside the grid. On each tile the four words had one letter in common and these letters spelled the message LOOK FOR TEN CONFUSED ANIMALS. On the back of each tile was a single letter and we noted the each row and each column anagrammed into a five-letter animal — a very impressive word square construction! We got to this point in about ten minutes and then, as with previous puzzles, we got stuck on the extraction of the final answer. The timer clicked on and eventually we received a free hint to use the index numbers on back of the grid. We scooted the tiles over, flipped the sheet and discovered a duplicate 5×5 grid with index numbers. Sigh. After replacing the tiles we saw that the row indexes spelled HORSE and the column indexes spelled…OAONS? What did that mean? We tried some alternate indexing methods and then random guessing in ClueKeeper. HORSE? Nope. HORSEFLIES? Nope. HORSESENSE? Nope. HORSESHOES? Correct! After the hunt the GC explained that we had flipped the tiles column by column when we should have flipped the entire 5×5 arrangement as a single unit. This would have changed the order of the columns to one that worked with the index numbers. Other teams reported hitting the same snags and overcoming them either by lucky insight or, like us, random guessing. The puzzle overall had some wonderful elements but I remain disappointed over losing so many bonus points due to some easily fixable  “traps” that the constructor didn’t notice or, perhaps, intentionally left in.

Par: 40:00 / Our Time: 36:53

Our pre-puzzle in Writer’s Square involved a ring toss with a stuffed monster attached to an orange construction cone. A team that arrived before us had set up a solving area in a shady spot near the cone but quickly relocated when our team’s early attempts caused put them in the line of fire. Jennie finally scored the ring and we received three puzzle sheets with nurikabe variants. Each shaded section of the complete nurikabe contained a monster and part of the puzzle was determining the numerical value of each monster, I finished my puzzle first and then helped the other two with their puzzles. The extraction involved finding a path through the nurikabe mazes and forming clue words from the initial letters of the monsters passed in each path. The clue phrase CREATURE CAPTURED ON CRETE led us to the answer MINOTAUR. The puzzle was fun as nurikabe variants go. We did pretty well forward solving the puzzle, though we learned after the fact that a backsolve approach, i.e. ignoring the nurikabe and deducing likely clue words that could be formed by maze paths, would likely lead to an answer much faster.

Regarding the Cup
Par: 30:00 / Our Time: 34:15


When we returned to Puzzah for the final puzzle we had been on the puzzle route for just over seven hours. Our GC told us that the Triwizard Cup had been mysteriously transformed into a rubber duck, and our goal was to figure out who was responsible. The final puzzle consisted of 14 minipuzzles whose answers were to be used with a “Revelation Matrix” in some unspecified way. We grabbed at puzzles and solved more or less independently. I started with a string maze puzzle that connected unusual Goblin spell words. I made the connections and then read something on another page about how ClueKeeper could translate Goblin words. I tried the translator and got some unusual four-letter sequences for some of the spell words but nothing that produced an answer to what I assumed was a simple mini-puzzle. By this time I was getting hints about the Revelation Matrix, no one on our team had even looked at yet. The answer words could be traced among the letters of the Matrix to produce the shapes of other letters, and these letters could be arranged to form our final answer. So I skipped the string maze and collected the minipuzzle answers from Kristy and Jennie to work on the Matrix. With four puzzle answers I could tell that the first part of the answer was TRIWIZARD. I suggested two more minipuzzles that would be most helpful with the remainder of the answer and was able to get CHAMPIONS. So the TRIWIZARDCHAMPIONS, i.e. us, were responsible for transforming the cup. ClueKeeper gave us the option of either stopping or completing an “extra credit” puzzle (Regarding the Cup, Part II), with a par time of 75 minutes, to figure out how to transform the duck back into a cup. If we chose to skip it we could solve it at home for fun and forfeit the potential extra credit score. We weighed the pros and cons and finally decided to skip it. At this point we had no idea about the progress of other teams and though that we might be easily in first place without the need of bonus points. At the awards ceremony we learned that another Experienced team completed the nine puzzle with 4 more points than us and they completed the extra credit puzzle on-site for 75 bonus points making that team the clear winner in Denver. If we had chosen to solve the extra credit we would have need to complete it in less than 71 minutes to overtake them. We congratulated the winning team for their well-deserved victory.

Regarding the Cup, Part II
Par: 75 / My Time: more than 75 minutes

A few days after the hunt I felt rested enough to try the final meta, and decided to try it alone rather than figuring out a way to gather with Kristy and Jennie. First I went back and solved all the Regarding the Cup puzzles, which were generally simple, quick solves. The Goblin translations I discovered for the string maze were actually part of the Part II puzzle and the initial solution was much simpler than I had made out, so my problems with Regarding the Cup were due largely to unlucky puzzle selection and accidentally stumbling upon premature information. The 14 puzzles contained a gratuitous amount of flavortext and the information in this flavortext yielded clues that explained how the Triwizard Cup was transformed and how the transformation could be reversed. Apparently, the Goblin language has many words that are idential to English words, and occasionally a string of English words is identical to a magical Goblin incantation. The puzzle answer words, starting with SCRIBO HANCOCKUS and ending with MINOTAUR turned out to be an incantation that turned the cup into a duck. To reverse the transformation, one needed to find the counterspell word for each spell word and then deliver the incantation in reverse order. In some cases, the counterspell words were revealed in the puzzle flavortext, often using clues from multiple puzzles. A majority of the counterspells could be determined by making a “Jorvikspar” circle of magical words. The elements of the Jorvikspar could be collected from other minipuzzles and from collecting the Goblin translations from ClueKeeper. Once I determined all the counterspell words I typed in the incantation and was told that I was successful in restoring the cup.

I call this type of puzzle a “Chinese Restaurant,” based on a similar puzzle in the NPL extravaganza “Small Town News” that featured a puzzle in which solvers needed to connect a series of news clippings and photos to determined the location of a Chinese restaurant on a city map. RtC2 is a pretty good example of the puzzle type. I took my time and made successful inferences that allowed me to enter the correct incantation on my first try with no hints. The puzzle was furnished with eight hints that probably helped teams sift through the complications in a faster time, and ClueKeeper may be set up to give help for near guesses, as the final answer is rather long and typos are easy to make.

Final thoughts

Kristy, Jennie, and I  had a fantastic experience overall and are immensely grateful to the puzzle constructors and organizers who made the event possible. Aside from the nits I mentioned related to Weighing of the Wands and House Elves Help we were very impressed by the puzzle design. ClueKeeper required a bit of a learning curve, and we got the impression (perhaps mistakenly) that it would offer some sort of “you’re on the right track” response for close-but-incorrect answers such as APPLES or HORSE. Still, the advantages of ClueKeeper outweigh the disadvantages and I’m happy that the app is available for puzzle hunts such as DASH. I hope that DASH returns to Denver in 2016, and I hope that I can convince more of my friends to partake in this enjoyable event.