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Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Time Event
Yesterday the Anonymice, comprising myself, Melinda, Doug, and Ian, played in DASH 4 in San Francisco. The day was one of the first great spring days in San Francisco - sunny and in the 60s -- and the event course was a five minute walk from Mouse House (our apartment in the Inner Sunset). Everything lined up to prove to be a great puzzling experience.

Going in to the event the theme seemed to be Indiana Jones, or Archeology, or ... adventuring? Not sure. All was clear at the start -- the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and, according to our local Mayan priestess, ended precisely on game day. Our goal was to find a way to stop it. The flavor was cute, it made for nice flavor on puzzles, and did not get in the way of the event. Well done.

One primary puzzle I particularly liked was the Lighthouse at Alexandria. I like it because it has a mechanic I wasn't prepared to see. One component of the puzzle is a set of markers spread out on a line that itself had marks at a fixed interval. I was expecting that each marker would equate to a number based on its position from a zero point -- it's a mechanism that's been done, it's kind of boring, but it'd have fit. Instead, the insight (hinted at by solving the first half of the puzzle) is that the spacing between markers is what's important, and, that the markers are positioned such that given a length N there's only one pair of markers that's N units apart. The puzzle had produced a sequence of numbers, these proved to be lengths on these rulers, and the final message depended on the data at each end of these measurements. So I liked this puzzle because its use of the number line was surprising.

The event run for eight primary puzzles, a capstone puzzle, and an optional national puzzle. The primary puzzles took us on a 1-2 mile course through several parks, past some eating establishments, and eventually into Golden Gate park. In talking with Melinda after the event we realized that all the primary and the capstone puzzles did a great job of permitting a team of four to contribute to them. All the puzzles had at least a few steps, so teammates could pipeline their work, and the puzzles all had a crank-turning process that could benefit from parallel effort. For example, one puzzle first required solving some crossword clues to get words; placing the words in a grid with some constraints (this is the pyramid puzzle with tiers and hexes, if that description is helpful to anyone); building a set of notable hieroglyphs; and shading in those symbols to find the final message. Everyone on Anonymice contributed to this puzzle, and I think to all puzzles, in large part because these puzzles admitted work from a small group. Importantly, none of them permitted one teammate from hogging the puzzle, nor was it ever a good strategy to let one person do the entire solve.

The national puzzle was probably the best national puzzle since DASH started having them. In this puzzle teams had to contact other teams, given their phone numbers, in order to learn their team name and city. This information permitted said first team to generate a fragment of a message. Teams then traded around these fragments in order to assemble a complete message, which was the instructions for a task that would complete the national puzzle (taking a photo and posting it to a web site). I really liked the calling or texting step, where we were given some phone numbers (by way of a cryptogram) and nothing else. I liked that the foothold into the cryptogram was noting one's own phone number being given for one's own team (the crytogram also had a much easier entrance, namely, that Astrodome started with A and was a 1, Bigben started with a B and was 2, etc.). I liked that at the end of the task one posted a photo to a secret page, not to a twitter #hashtag that was easy to search for (twitter spoiled a national puzzle one or two years ago). The one step I didn't like so much was trying to assemble the long message from the fragments. Doing so required collecting fragments from a dozen other teams, but (a) we didn't have contacts in a dozen other teams, and (b) missing a fragment made the puzzle very difficult to solve, and so some fragments were fragile. That is, some teams who'd sigend up for the puzzle later chose not to take part, yet they held information that was necessary to solve it for the rest of us. Working around swapping fragments, I guess the idea was to find other teams in person and swap information. That didn't work for Anonymice because we'd already gone to lunch. We went back to one clue site but only one of the 5-6 teams we met there had signed up for the national puzzle (one team we met had abandoned their national puzzle). I wish there had been a way to perhaps learn the phone numbers of more teams, so we could have swapped data by SMS rather than in person. Dunno. For the second part, probably just a little more redundancy would have been enough.

Overall, I enjoyed the event. It was six hours spent very well -- good company, a nice walk, some nice puzzles. Thanks, DASH GC!

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