A DASH 7 podcast

A microphone by a computerThis will be this site’s last piece of DASH 7 coverage for now, though not forever. Well, you wouldn’t want infinite incantatem, would you?

On Monday night, while the event was still strongly in our minds, four close friends got together electronically to share their experiences of playing the Experienced track at DASH 7 in London, sharing their mishaps and reliving their misadventures. The conversation has been edited down to something a little over an hour long, to fit all the laughs along the way in. Bear in mind that the teams of solvers discussed might politely be described as “mid-table”, so you’re not going to get insight about how people crushed the puzzles in ten minutes flat. Anyway, you can listen by clicking on the traditionally-styled “play” button below; if you’d prefer to download the podcast to treat it how you would any other, there’s also an obvious little “download” button in the top-right.

This podcast references this site’s recap of DASH 7 in London along with QMSM’s recap of playing the Novice track at the same event. The world would love to read – or hear, or even see! – more of people’s experiences at the various legs of DASH 7 around the world. Please share them with us!

If you want more to listen to – from people who really know what they’re doing with their podcasting – then this year’s London city lead, Iain, recorded a brilliant podcast about his experiences as a player at DASH 6 last year; download it from this page and Iain starts about 1:54 through. Very highly recommended, not least to get a sense of Iain’s inspirations and motivations for this year.

If that‘s not enough, or if there are some references in the DASH 7 podcast that still mystify, you can listen to 213 episodes of the wonderful Snoutcast, of which something like 85% discuss puzzle hunts. 100% of them are delightful, whether they discuss puzzle hunts or not, and there’s more than a little of the sincerest form of flattery in the DASH 7 podcast above.

The panellists were:

Right; back to exit games now!

9 Comments

  1. An entertaining hour, thanks.

    I think my ‘thing’ with the activities is that each one gave me a disappointing feeling of ‘oh is that it?’ after, if someone asked me what I did at the weekend and I said ‘I pointlessly ran about on a broomstick for ten seconds, and then I ate a jellybean and drew a picture’ they probably wouldn’t want to come to DASH next year, I can do all of those things at home or indeed round a friend’s house. I absolutely love set-pieces but for me they’ve got to feel worthwhile (either something that physically connects to and/or unlocks the next puzzle, or just something cool, or preferably both!) otherwise they’re just going to annoy people who are mainly there for the puzzles and it would not have made the day any less pleasurable if they hadn’t bothered including them, nice ideas on paper as they surely were.

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  2. Woohoo Wigan! Though I’m not sure Katie and Hayley would agree with that. Anyway, my write-up was deliberately uncritical. Partly because it felt like DASH was getting a lot of “feedback” from other people already, but also because we couldn’t compare it with anything. And I think even the harshest review would still say something is better than nothing (in this context).

    If I was being critical I would only echo what others have already said. Specifically what your good wife said about timing and being rushed, and what Daniel (and Nick, above) said about the physical tasks. I was trying to think about how the tasks may have felt more “worthwhile”. Maybe for the quidditch one the snitches could have been hidden around the park? Any number of team members could then have run around, looking quite silly, but ultimately achieving something that allowed them to progress. Obviously that would be more time consuming and require more from GC, but I don’t think it would be unbearable.

    Both the points above are obviously linked as well. For a physical challenge to feel meaningful it’s probably going to take a bit longer, whereas we know time is very precious. How long people want the whole thing to last, and how much downtime/’not doing puzzle time’ people would like needs some thought. No answer is going to please everyone, which is where your expectations management comes into view again.

    As an aside, have you done much podcasting before? Your production and presentation style was far better than many others I’d heard that do it on a regular basis.

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  3. Two points of information.

    1) The initial advertisement told players, “We bring the puzzles but you must bring the kit! Pens, pencils, scrap paper, and tape are essential.” At this time, we didn’t know that scissors would also be essential, and told captains of this change when it was confirmed.

    2) The Monsters challenge was – in effect – to draw a banner for your team before you went into a maze of hedges.

    After making their banner, I told each team “take this with you, you’ll need it where you’re going. But be careful: you just might lose yourself along the way.” Players who had picked up that the hunt was borrowing liberally from “Goblet of Fire” might recognise the quote. Everyone else got a piece of advice in character.

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  4. Thoroughly enjoyed this whole podcast. I loved the introductions to everyone. How very humble of you to call yourself Colin Creevey! I would have thought Lee Jordan would be a better comparison. 🙂 Also loved the tribute to Team Snout at the end.

    Very good points about timing. We always want to cram as much content into the day for you so you can get your money’s worth, and this year that really interfered with teams’ ability to solve leisurely.

    I’m liking the idea of a “Back to Basics” hunt for DASH more and more. Cut the experienced track. Pull out DASH Jr. as a separate event for parents who play in DASH to run for their kids months later. Maybe cut the centralized puzzle factory, which guarantees uniform puzzle production quality, but puts the burden for puzzle production on a small group of people in California. And most importantly, we need to make sure next year’s leads are preferably from a city where puzzle hunts haven’t been around for years and years.

    To explain Bertie Botts: *SPOILERS AHEAD*
    Before one of the tasks of the tournament in the book, Harry has to eat gillyweed stolen from Snapes’ office in order to survive in water. So there’s the tenuous link to potions. We should have

    Regarding feedback on activities/differences between cities: Not sure if I agree that it should be uniform in all cities – I like seeing how each city interprets and implements the hunt. The puzzles and cluekeeper are going to be the same, but there’s no way we can guarantee a uniform experience because of routes and weather and timezone, so why not go for organized chaos so that it doesn’t feel like “hunt in a box?” But, that’s my personal preference, I’m used to seeing and enjoy doing activities in hunts – unless it involves running. Ultimately, DASH is a learning experience for players AND game control, and for some this was their first time running a hunt in any city. Not sure if we’ll do activities in every city again, but I lean towards letting city leads have the final say on this in any future DASHes.

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    • Oops, I meant to finish a thought related to bertie botts: We should have had teams dole out the beans amongst themselves rather than letting GC shake them out and then choose whether to eat it or not. I promise I didn’t try to shake out the most disgusting ones!

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  5. I liken DASH to the London Marathon. It’s a challenge but achievable by many people. The elites like to blitz through it in 3 hours. Some like to take their time and are pleased just to finish. Others like to trot around in a pantomime horse. Everyone can enjoy the same course with their own sense of purpose.

    I must emphasise that I thought this year’s run had great puzzles that were well presented and had crystal-clear instructions. So the basics were there. In a lot of ways, it was often the little things that stopped the day from flying.

    As a way of summarising everything said so far in these posts and in the podcast, here’s my personal set of proposals:

    (1) DITCH THE TRACKS. I don’t know how many people are going to drag a set of teenagers around the streets of London on a Saturday afternoon to do puzzles. But on a wider point, it seems to me that DASH requires an awful lot of admin, and sometimes that weight of work doesn’t necessarily produce a better event. To me, the difference I saw between DASH 6’s easy and hard tracks was so minor as to be not worthwhile. I think 95% of your participants know what they are letting themselves in for, and if they don’t then your initial puzzle or two should guide people into the mindset. (In fact, I thought the grading and ordering of the main puzzles was very good this year, actually.) By all means, do a ‘hardcore’ mode on the app if you want that only allows people to take hints for a points penalty.

    (2) MINI-TASKS SHOULD BE IMPRESSIVE, OR GOOD JOKES, OR OMITTED. Seems these are going to divide opinion. I personally think they elevate the theme and can provide some light relief. However, they need to be strong, clear ideas that are voluntary and (particularly at pub-type venues) don’t require everyone to take part. A good test is if you can tell your teammates what task you did easily, if they were elsewhere at the time. “We had a ride a broomstick to collect a snitch” sounds fun and it’s easy to explain. “We ate some jelly beans and some tasted bad” and “We drew a monster” didn’t have a clear enough purpose.

    (3) WE NEED TO BELIEVE GAME CONTROL. It’s important that we’re told the truth. If the cut-off is 8 hours, it needs to be 8 hours.

    (4) THE RULES NEED TO BE CONSISTENT FOR EACH LOCATION. I strongly believe that, as a shared experience, DASH needs to be run as identically as possible in the timed parts otherwise there’s no point comparing scores in different cities. Having a ‘flexible’ end time is just like saying “some cities will start 2 hours earlier than others” which clearly isn’t fair. Choose a game length that 90% of your teams will find acceptable then calibrate the game to run in all locations to that time. If this means that ALL cities need to have a GC available for a 9th hour, so be it (is that much of an ask, given that only 1 or 2 of the 6-10 GCs will be needed at the end?). If you need to hurry people through the course, make more use of the “You must get to the next location by x.xx” messages – they were good.

    (5) IMPROVE THE SCORING. Make puzzle 1 worth something, even a flat 10 points, because some teams are deliberately skipping puzzle 1 in order to get ahead of the game. Allow more opportunities for scoring bonus points, and make the run home worth more as a climax.

    (6) MAKE THE PROPS BETTER OR DITCH THEM. I don’t get the idea behind the snitch and the duck. It seems a lot of cost and effort for the sake of delivering a codeword. I guess they’re a nice keepsake – but there’s only 2 of them for a team of 5. If you’re going to do a keepsake, do a small coin or badge for everyone. If you’re going to order custom props, give them a hidden message or somehow make them more integral to the puzzles.

    (7) MAKE THE CONTENT ACHIEVEABLE BY MOST. I strongly disliked the way that the final puzzle on this year’s expert track effectively divided us again into “MIT-style experts” and “not-so experts”. It’s seems that 50% of this year’s teams didn’t complete the final puzzle, either by skipping, quitting after some time, or just running out of time. I think that’s a shame. Going back to my Marathon analogy, you’ll always get some stragglers or some that have to drop out, but most people get there in the end and will feel good about it.

    Some minor points:

    – Though good, I thought the two logic-heavy puzzles (Rita Skeeter and the hedge monsters one) were just a tiny tad too difficult in that backsolving was often a better tactic than doing them ‘properly’.

    – Though it was gallant for London GC to wait for a missing team, I thought the event could’ve started earlier. As some people have already said, some people have booked train times to aim for. Stragglers can always be briefed separately if they turn up later.

    – I haven’t mentioned theming above. No matter what the theme you choose, some people will like it and others won’t. Personally, I think the current approach of using a “light touch” of theming to give the day some character is fine. However, it could be better explained beforehand that this is the case.

    – Consider upping the budget a bit of it gives us a better event. £25 is no money for a day’s entertainment of 5 people. I personally would have no objection to this rising somewhat. I still think you’d sell out London, at least.

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    • To illuminate David’s point 1, the differences between Expert and Novice last year (that I can remember):

      * Additional Ingredient 2 (the sudoku) – different cryptic crossword encoding
      * End of the First Day (ternary) – shorter list of words to fill and a hint spelled out by some letters
      * Advertising (semaphore) – additional explanation of puzzle mechanics and longer time limit
      * Meta – much greater explanation and different final extraction method, but shorter time limit

      Most puzzles had different clues on Cluekeeper.

      Differences between Expert and Novice this year:

      * Weighing of Wands – extra explanation of “torque”
      * Rita Skeeter, Potions – additional explanations
      * Monsters – some hedges filled in.
      * Meta – Novice only expected to complete part 1, find out who did it.

      Plus differences in Cluekeeper.

      These are small hints. Sometimes the smallest hints can be useful: it’s the difference between “Calvin Smith” and “4th: Calvin Smith (9.99)”.

      I don’t agree that DASH should be closed to younger competitors: if a team of sparky first-formers want to put us old fogies to shame, bring it on. London was happy to host a junior team, and I’m a tad disappointed that none played.

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  6. Thank you for the very informative and entertaining recap! DeeAnn and I were traveling during DASH weekend this year, so we couldn’t participate, and it was great to hear how it went for you all.

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