The Galleon Stops Here

galleon coin
London’s DASH organiser offers some notes, compressed from a much longer feedback post to HQ.
Here, RECOMMENDATION is something I would change in retrospect. SUGGESTION is something to consider next year.


Came in with the date and theme already set, took both as fixed. Finishes in Camden declined business because they had a booking for a not-yet-published event. Inefficiencies (and, from one venue, absolute incompetence) made booking more difficult.

Keeping everyone to the same day allowed for greater global community spirit than previous years.

SUGGESTION: Never too soon to start planning. Book a finish, and work from that.

Lots of things happen in May: Camden Rocks, football final, exams season, game-and-puzzle exhibition, comic convention, Eurovision. Not all of these can be avoided every year.

RECOMMENDATION: Avoid 21 May next year; dodges the football. Given a free rein, suggest 7 May or earlier.


The decision to extend to 10 hours arrived about Wednesday before performance, after the close for Cluekeeper text. Changing the time limit knocks on to bookings, room hire, player availability – some had bought tickets on a particular train, assuming we’d finish at 6.

RECOMMENDATION: Aim for no changes in the final week.


Next year look for significantly larger spaces – plan to 40 teams / 200 players.

Teams of six seemed too large for Expert.

RECOMMENDATION: Max teams of 5 (prefer 4) on Expert.

SUGGESTION: Max teams of 5 on Novice.

The route was solid: clear start, most walking early in the day, could be step-free throughout.

Cluekeeper included turn-by-turn directions, postcodes should teams got lost, lunch directions (but could have given more), countdown to 6pm.

Caused needless confusion at King’s Cross by being a smart-arse. Nobody likes a smart-arse. Allieviated by an appearance and apology in person.

RECOMMENDATION: Keep travel directions like a satnav – full, simple and to the point. Include helpful tips. Jokes go elsewhere.

DASH6 last year was expensive. Most locations expected a purchase, plus a tube trip sprung on players. I wanted to have fewer pay locations. Error was to steer teams away from easy food.

RECOMMENDATION: Include a pub / cafe / area like St Pancras around 2 hours in.

With one reporting ill on the day, six was the absolute minimum number of gameskeepers, we couldn’t give as many additional hints as I’d like. Teams at Puzzled Pint are accustomed to getting hints from gameskeepers, and expected the same interventionist style from DASH.

Needed to think harder about where to put gameskeepers, especially with respect to activities. Not just the broad location, but mark to the nearest metre.


Teams were ready to go at 10, apart from the one that never showed. Had the opening puzzle not required teams to mix, I would have begun without them.

Opening speech assumed players knew how DASH worked. Better to re-inforce key elements of *this* (linear clues not scramble, there are activities, time limit) not Cluekeeper. Everyone comes for the puzzles and the experience, not everyone comes for the scores.


People come for puzzles, or they come for physical challenges, or they come for amateur dramatics. Objections to scored challenges unless they were an intrinsic part of the puzzle. Became clear that teams didn’t wish to spend / waste time on the activities.


Surprisingly easy: almost all the puzzles were international already.

  • Moments of force (“torque”) isn’t a substantial topic until the AS-level syllabus. Briefly included in the current Lower School curriculum, but so is basic sex education, and no-one does a practical in that before 16.

    Assumed an Expert team would have a physicist/mathematician, or remind themselves of the idea from a worked example. Novice team may be composed of people who dropped science and maths at 16, so spell out from first principles. The diagram on the front of the Expert puzzle came from everyone else’s Novice, and I wrote extra text for our Novice.

    The result was to push the Expert puzzle to 5 pages, and a collective oversight meant Cluekeeper didn’t reflect this.

  • Also in “Weighing of the Wands”, replace a roadsign with a milestone.
  • In “Quidditch”, change a clue from “Piggy-in-the-middle” (Keep away) to “Force a path” (Beat a way).
  • And change the answer “Trapper keeper” (a type of folder) to “Quarter beats”.
  • For “House Elves Help”, the compound word “Woodshop” became “Woodworm”.

RECOMMENDATION: Details matter. If translation changes the page count, update Cluekeeper.

SUGGESTION for setters: The British English dictionary at Phrases and usages marked as (North American) OK to use in moderation; senses entirely missing are not.


The concept of “Par” seems to have evolved from “generous solve time” in 2012 to “slightly better than average solve time”. Leaves very little room for error. Lots of Expert teams finished between 270 and 305 points, I don’t think they got the best from the day.

I had to be so careful when presenting the duck, it would have been very easy to say “what have you done to it?” giving a huge hint to teams.

Expert meta required teams to have a Borg-like hive mind. Typing long strings on a fiddly keyboard is a pain. Ditto reading long screens of text on Cluekeeper. Couldn’t progress minipuzzle 10 between ending part 1 and starting part 2 – at least two teams picked this up.

Two big sins. 1) Many teams ended on failure, often after an hour or more. 2) Length and difficulty of puzzle meant no opportunity to socialise. Really don’t like to send teams away having clutched defeat from the bill of victory, and without the chance to explain what the model answer is.

The time extension eliminated my planned social activity, explaining the meta once everyone’s time had run out.


Cluekeeper lowers the barrier to being a gameskeeper, you don’t need to understand a puzzle, just hand out bits of paper. But someone handing out paper cannot nudge players towards the correct solution.

For the player, Cluekeeper is either solid and works, or it fails miserably – half-a-dozen teams had problems with the app crashing, or the keyboard not appearing, or sync problems.

Everyone confused by no coloured screen for first puzzle. Difficult to distinguish green and yellow in sunshine.

Live in-progress scoreboard as mobile-friendly webpage would be popular.


This year badly sagged for teams in the middle of the bell curve: those who were too good for (or chose not to play) the Novice track but who didn’t get the meta without significant hints.

SUGGESTION: an additional track: Junior, Novice, Expert, now Super-Expert: same puzzles in same time as Expert, but no free clues and a super-difficult meta.

Personal preference is to leave the Junior and Novice tracks unscored, emphasise that the important thing is to take part and complete, not to win.

There is a danger that DASH will become yet another branch of the Geek Monoculture. It’s easy to assume that if you’re into puzzles, you’ll also be into sci-fi and fantasy and computers. And that’s going to limit the audience and turn DASH into a niche event. No to that.

Puzzled Pint already risks disappearing down that monoculture: Back to the Future, A Team, X Men, Star Trek all appeal to a certain demographic and are toxic to others. I’ve also noticed some PP puzzles are very culturally-specific, so deep in American brand culture and pronunciation that translation would have turned into a complete rewrite.


My plan was always to gameskeep and/or write for one DASH; and organise another. That they’ve happened in the reverse order is no bad thing.

Can you do better? Do you want to run DASH in London next year? I will do what I can to help: pass on experiences, discuss plans, help scout out locations. Leave a comment, or grab me at Puzzled Pint East next month.


  1. Ah… that explains why there was one incomprehensible picture in “Weighing the Wands”! The rest of the puzzle was so fair and sensible, I was surprised that there was just that one image was totally out of keeping with the style of the rest and (to us) completely unrecognisable. We guessed by process of elimination from the remaining woods that it must be a milestone afterwards, but we’d never have guessed that given from the image alone given all the time in the world. What was the original image, out of interest? (What sort of road sign?)

    • PS Just to add, good thing you fixed up all those puzzles though – we’d never have got any of those original phrases you list!

    • Original puzzles should be up soon, so you can see exactly what you missed.

      The replacement was for an American road sign, from which the word “Mile” had been concealed. In testing, we thought this could be “route”, or “exit”, or be ambiguous – “mle”, or “dealer on”…

      Also, there was a big problem last year because of a puzzle with a very American slant, and I didn’t want to awaken those memories in the first substantial puzzle.

      A marginal call, had I not needed to re-write the introduction I might have let it stand.


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