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Sunday, September 10th, 2006

Time Event
This weekend I played in a Hogwarts-themed puzzle hunt in and around Sacramento. Teams gathered in Emeryville at 7:30, ran through some sorting into Houses (go, Slytherin! Sssssss.......), and were on the California Zephyr by 9:15.

On the ride up we had a few puzzles seeded from the initial copy of The Daily Prophet. Getting off the train in Sacramento we followed a series of pictures we'd gotten to find our first class: Caring for Creatures with Hagrid. The puzzle here was a sequence of animal calls ("calls") that we had to identify given their description from the textbook. Straightforward, and I was happy when all teams had completed the puzzle and we could turn the CD off.

Next up was our Defense of the Dark Arts class where we got a bit of lunch and our wands. The wands were how we entered our puzzle solution words and got back out directions to the next locations. The wands responded to waving: drawing loops and flicking in 8 different directions, in order to spound and "spell" out a word. Pretty neat. [I'll write more about the wand later, when I'm less deprived of sleep.] Finishing the classes was a potions class; we made expanding packing foam, among other things. We sorta poured too much of the chemicals together at once, though, and our foam overflowed the jars.

The game had a *great* set of staffers that really made the theme and flavor of the event come out. The puzzles weren't exactly what my team generally prefers, but it was clear GC did a lot of work putting the event together.

After classes students were directed to return to their "dorms" -- rental vans arranged for us by GC. We had a Ford Explorer for the 6 in our team. We had enough seats, but it was a bit more cramped than we usually like. When we play with 6 we rent a 9 - 12 passenger van to make room for everyone.

So the event was basically a BANG (walking game) in Sacramento during the day, and then a driving game around the outskirts of Sacramento after dark. None of the puzzle sites were especially memorable, we hit a few parks and such but that was it. One location, though, our wand told us to "go to the stone wall and follow the path down the hill." We parked at the stone wall, followed the path down the hill, and spent 20 minutes hiking through the forest -- at 12:45a in the middle of the night -- and didn't see anything. We knew we had the right stone wall, because GC left glowsticks there. Only when we finally returned to the van did we see -- GC'd left the puzzles at the wall itself. D'oh.

By mornign we were at the end of a collection of four puzzles and were told we should use our "first aid kit" for this puzzle. We didn't have a first aid kit as such, but it was to defend against Dementors and we knew that chocolate would work (and we had some chocolate). We got the puzzle, worked on it for 20 minutes, but made no progress. Finally we called GC. They asked: did you find your first aid kit? Huh? We went back to the van -- sure enough, there was a *huge* soft-sided cooler bag in the back of the van which included the first aid kit, some chocolate (*those* pieces needed for this puzzle), and a whole lot of snacks and drinks. Argh -- if only we'd known hours earlier that we had this stash of food and drinks. Oh, well. There *was* a small sticker on the mirror in the van that said "drinks in boot may be closer than they appear" or some such but we didn't think about it much when we saw it. Oh, well.

By 10a Sunday we were back in Sacramento and had dropped off our van with GC. We had a few more small tasks to go before the conclusion of the game on the Delta King floating hotel and restaurant along the river. Turns out that our Defense from the Dark Arts teacher was actually a Meanie (surprise!) and that he wanted to create the something-or-other Device for *his* use, not to spare everyone from it. So we students banded together to cast the spell ("dynamite") that would destroy the Device and his chance to be an Over-wizard. Yay!

The weekend was a net good overall -- we had some rough patches but a lot of fun, too. I really appreciate how well Snout made the game feel like a Hogwarts experience. The game wasn't just a bunch of themed puzzles, the staffers were in character and there was a plot going through the weekend. Very nicely done. None of the puzzles stood out to me as *this* was the amazing puzzle from this game, but I think that's okay. One aspect of Snout's puzzles that I like is that the puzzles aren't just "a puzzle on a sheet." For instance, one puzzle we recieved was a set of five powerade bottles with new labels. The bottles looked otherwise normal but the labels had colored stripes that encoded the information. The data is obvious to any gamer but is plausibly "normal" to the uninitiated. I really like that style. I also appreciated how all nighttime puzzle locations were marked with glow sticks -- we never had to wonder if we were at the right location, we were sure if we saw the glowing plastic.

I managed a bit of sleeping during the game and another hour or more on the train ride back from Hogwarts, but I'm very tired now. It's not even 9p but I'm turning in. I just hope I don't wake up at 12:30a wide awake, nor also sleep in until 11a because I'm that short on sleep. Either way, I'll find out soon.

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