This blog posts in fits and starts; DASH always inspires a series of posts, and they’re always great fun to write. If you couldn’t attend this year, here’s what you missed; maybe it might make you interested in taking part in a future year. If you played DASH elsewhere and were keen to know how your location’s interpretation of the puzzles differed from that of London, you can get a sense of it here too.
Spoiler warning: now that DASH 9 is over, it’s time to enter spoiler territory. Every previous DASH has had its puzzles posted online reasonably soon afterwards. If you didn’t play DASH, it would still be a lot of fun to get a group of your friends together and try the puzzles for yourself once they’re made available. This post is going to be fairly generic, avoiding the Aha! moments for each puzzle, but the comments may be more specific, and there’s a deliberately spoiler-y picture as well, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I’d recommend skipping this post. Everybody else, dig in using the “Continue Reading” button below.
This year was themed around a Department of Applied Synergistic Humanities, though the story gradually changed as the hunt progressed. The character we were first introduced to was a Dr. Chris Jones (who, a teammate pointed out, would have fitted right into last year’s DASH) which put us all in an Indiana Jones mood, even if the story ended up being somewhat more Arrival. The degree of integration with the theme was reasonably light and definitely didn’t get in the way. (As a sidenote, can it be more than just coincidence that three of the last four DASHes have had a yellow/gold/orange-coloured logo?)
A couple of us had decided to have a big cooked breakfast at Toby Carvery before the hunt started so that we would need little or no lunch along the way, which was an approach that worked well; we arrived in good time for the registration at an open plaza next to the Cutty Sark clipper ship on display in Greenwich, with rolling registration between 10:15 and 10:45, with the introduction taking place about on time at 11 as advertised, possibly in light of every team turning up in good time. The day was even more social and sociable than previous DASHes, and I’m sure that Puzzled Pint has a large part to play in this as people start to repeatedly recognise each other by face at the very least, though more of the chattiness took place later on in the day than at the very start.
This year, there was no unscored icebreaker puzzle – we were just straight in with scored puzzle one. On reflection, I would describe this year’s structure as “nine scored puzzles”, rather than “eight scored puzzles and a scored metapuzzle”; while a common theme was building up an understanding of the script of the beings from the star Iota and later puzzles developed on this earlier knowledge, the last puzzle did not really rely on the previous puzzles or their answers in the way that had been the case in previous DASHes. The overall time limit for the hunt was nine hours; at the start of the day this was a shade worrying, especially as we had been briefed that our walking route would be relatively long, and last year we had used nine and a half hours of the permitted ten. In practice, it was more than sufficient. (I’d prefer a ten-hour limit, though it would make for a potentially fairly late finish, especially after the relatively late – and thus very welcome! – 11am start.)
As well as there being neither an icebreaker nor a metapuzzle, there were no non-puzzle activities this year. This might sound like a complaint, but it isn’t; as well as the additions had worked last year, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they were particularly missed this year. I’m inclined to believe that a completely optional creativity contest of some sort, independent from the overall DASH structure but on a related theme, might be a good way of giving teams something silly and fun to think about as they walk from one location to the next, though I don’t know how well this could be integrated into ClueKeeper.
Happily, the weather was favourable all day. It stayed dry and was mostly quite cloudy, though the sun peeped through the clouds later on in the afternoon. As you can tell from the photo at the top of the article, it was a little breezy, and several of the puzzles took place in reasonably exposed outdoor locations, and we were very grateful because solving the hunt in the rain would have been no fun whatsoever. The temperature varied through the lower teens Celsius, or a few degrees above and below 60 Farenheit.
The scored puzzles, in the order in which they were encountered on the Expert track in London, were as follows:
- Unlock the Chamber was played at the open-air plaza at which we had all assembled. This was a two-part puzzle; the first was decoding the result of interactions between pairs of symbols, and the second was decoding symbols into letters. The first part may have gone more quickly if you recognised where they came from and what the ordering was – it’s a fairly well-known Rock/Scissors/Paper variant – but we just stumbled through. While people were crunching through that, I spotted at once a series of ternary codes and worked on conversion from base 3 to base 10, but fumbled a couple of them. We were reasonably quick at the first half of the puzzle, but my fumbling slowed us right down on the second half; we took a good 13 minutes to get from the intermediate instruction to the answer, because my fumbles happened to be on the patterns that we needed at the very start of the final decryption and thus we were producing gobbledegook rather than recognisable phrases, in turn leading us to try different (incorrect!) interpretations of the intermediate instruction rather than continuing on the right path. Happily, this would prove to be our only real stumble all day. The theming was fun and this was exactly the sort of thing you’d want as a reasonably gentle first puzzle; the worst thing you could say about it was that it was a little grind-y.
- Explore the Chamber was played next to the National Maritime Museum, under a set of colonnades next to a building called Queen’s House. (I’m not sure of its owner.) We found ourselves a little corner of the outside of the house, out of the breeze, and made our base there. Here we received a big white board, a set of six elongated pentagons, and a few sheets of paper with instructions. Like the previous puzzle, this parallelised into two tracks; I recognised that one of the activities required was to solve two small but moderately tricky Star Battle puzzles, each with one (effective) star per row on a 7×7 grid. Much as people think that cryptic crossword clues have something of the “either you know how to do them already or you don’t, it’s not really realistic to figure out how to do them during the hunt if you didn’t already know, even with lots of ClueKeeper hints” nature, I worry that grid logic puzzles beyond Sudoku and, say, Minesweeper may also have that property to some extent. On the other hand, these were reasonably small examples of the genre, and perhaps this technique is knowledge that can be assumed from players self-selecting to play an Expert track.
Fortunately for our team, I had seen the style before and could get to work. The rest of the team were solving word clues and assembling the pentagons into given shapes in order to associate parts of the pentagons with specific letters. The last clue indicated the name of one more symbol, which we assembled, making connections using the result of the Star Battle puzzle. The answer was a two-word phrase and we submitted the words in contextually reasonable-looking reverse order at first, a little disappointed not to have received an “Almost…” or partial credit for having done so. Happily, we did resubmit with the correct order of the words within the same minute so no points were lost. This was a lot of fun and somewhat unusual. I’d be curious to know if any recreational geometry fans worked out from the shapes in puzzle two what they would be expected to do in puzzle seven.
- Radio Telescope was, appropriately and neatly, played at the top of the nearby hill next to the Royal Observatory. The hill wasn’t a whopper but it was longer than the less mobile of us would’ve liked, and requiring two non-trivial walks between locations was an unexpectedly aerobic start to the event. Here we were given a collection of graphs and Greek letters. There were two very satisfying Aha!s to this puzzle; someone who was determined to be picky might consider the first Aha! to have been “too hard” without the picture and “too easy” with it. The Aha!s made this a winner in our books, though. I mistyped the answer to the puzzle (substituting the C at the start of the last word for the V next to it, for quite a different message…) but retyped it correctly within the same minute. We nipped to a nearby tearoom – where the food was tasty, but service was slow and somewhat chaotically organised – and those who hadn’t had big breakfasts took their lunch.
- Wide Field Array happened at a bandstand in the park near the top of the hill, and I enjoyed being given geocaching-style latitude and longitude references suggesting that clue locations were scant seconds away, either to the east or the west, of the Prime Meridian. (The traditionally-defined Prime Meridian is depicted by a line that runs right through the Royal Observatory, site of the previous puzzle, but due to improvements in surveying, the famous line is considered to be ever-so-slightly inexact these days.) Many of the locations were particularly well selected in terms of having a good variety of park benches available, especially at a point when teams were sufficiently far apart in time that few were needed at once. This was a word search variant, but a very cute one. Bonus points to the hunt creators for providing more than one copy of (almost?) all of the puzzles to the teams; in our case, we had two sub-teams finding words and a runner between the two (a distance of maybe four feet…) keeping both halves up to date.
- Deep Space Network was the first puzzle of the hunt played at a pub, which has previously been the default location for DASH clue venues in London; the pub was very busy indoors, but easily big enough including the beer garden outside. (The draught Coca-Cola was flat, boo, but they also had bottles.) This time we solved sets of clued anagrams and transcribed symbols onto a grid. Once we had solved the anagrams, the transcription could only really be done by two people at most, one starting from each end, so I acted as (mobile phone) torch bearer to ensure that the colour differences between the dots were clear. Puzzles generating letters and permitting people to make plausible guesses as to the answer before every single letter has been identified tend to have a certain sort of satisfaction to them.
- Back into Greenwich Park for a Peacekeeping exercise, and back to the big white boards. This puzzle was a symbolic jigsaw of sorts. We raced through this one fairly quickly and felt we had been quite lucky in identifying what piece went where, for somewhere along the line we had got the idea that the jigsaw pieces could be rotated or placed upside down for extra options. Whether that was the case or not I don’t know. If this wasn’t intentional then it might have been possible to give more “this way up” clues, but maybe this might have made it too easy. Nevertheless we enjoyed the symbolic callback to puzzle two and the chance to use the artefacts again, which we had been instructed to keep.
- What Did We Miss? was played back at the colonnade from puzzle two and developed upon the principles of that puzzle. Happily the hunt had broadly saved its best for last and worked up to a big crescendo for the last three puzzles. This was played as a three-parter, which I don’t remember seeing before in DASH, and worked well as a change from the mini puzzle collections that we had enjoyed in previous years. The first part of the puzzle really conveyed the syntax of the script to which we had previously been introduced, and the second part was the kicker where the physical construction fell into place once and for all. There was a reasonably big twist revealed in the second hint for the second puzzle which we didn’t see coming, so it was a very cute surprise. I started submitting guesses for this second part a little early and even managed to earn a cool-your-jets one-minute lockout for entering the same wrong answer twice within 20 seconds, not confident I hadn’t made another typo; we had translated everything correctly except the first symbol, for which there were a number of convincing alternatives. The third part was a direct extension of the second and the story became more excitingly intense at this point.
- After everything else had taken place in Greenwich, mostly in and around Greenwich Park, the long-promised Docklands Light Railway journey saw us ride from maritime Greenwich to big-business Canary Wharf. Both of the last two puzzles took place in the same very pleasant pub with a lot of space and pleasant views of the Docks. I’m well prepared to believe that there were no appropriate pubs for a rotating cast of dozens of puzzlers available in Greenwich, based on Puzzled Pint pub-finding experience. Find the Landing Location was a cryptic crossword variant; see the above comments on audience-splitting puzzle subgenres. Once you’d got the principle, it solved quite smoothly, and we were reasonably well able to fill in teammates’ blind spots with the cryptic clues.
You might expect the London location to be unusually good at solving the cryptic crossword clues, but on the Expert track, the London average time was 33:54 compared to a global average (excluding those who skipped the puzzle) of 35:07, so not a vast difference. I understand that some teams used decryption techniques without solving the clues at all; fair enough, anything goes, and while a quick technique it wasn’t game-breakingly so. I typed in the whole 29 character phrase, missing out the final letter of the first word, without which it still made sense, and got a plain “Incorrect!” rather than an “Almost…” or a partial solution; I then tried the contextually obvious two character solution and found that was sufficient. Fair enough!
- Prevent Hostilities was the last puzzle, played at the same pub, and while it wasn’t a meta puzzle, it offered a satisfying denouement to the story and was something of a showstopper in its own way. We’ve long known that ClueKeeper has integrated augmented reality through Zappar integration so we should probably have seen an AR clue coming before the start of the hunt – and, having been clued to expect it at some point, we were looking forward to it all hunt, a little like the unannounced inspection paradox. A picture tells a thousand words and Kate Gardiner Tweeted one, below, that shows you how it worked much better than any inarticulate, vague description that I might offer could; compare the plain instruction sheet with the augemented version seen through the app, and know that the image moves in real time according to the relative positions of the camera lens and the cross on the sheet of paper.
Having spent all day decoding the script, this time we translated an English-language message into the script and hence, obliquely, into a series of colours. The user interface was a shade tricky, though it’s certainly fair enough to say that learning to use a new app is entirely fair game within a puzzle challenge, and the hints did explain what was required. The confirmation that our colour sequence was correct was a little uncertain, though the payoff was clear and sweet, leaving the hunt finishing on a high.
As the figures show, there wasn’t as much DASH as there had been in previous years, but it didn’t leave us feeling short-changed at all. Indeed, it meant that people were more in the mood to socialise and stick around afterwards, to a greater extent than ever before. Many, many thanks to Allen and Caroline and Cathy and Channing and Chris and Dann and Debbie and Greenie and Ian and Jackson and Jan and Jon and Jonah and Mark and Sean and Tim and Tinsley and Tom and Wil and Yuan and Rich and the team at ClueKeeper and everybody else who helped make a wonderful day for (probably) thousands of people around the world; your hard work was well worthwhile and very greatly appreciated!
The top two finishers on both the Expert and Novice tracks came from the Fremont location in the Bay Area of California, which may be the first time DASH has been to the East Bay. Curiously, both races were decided by exactly two points; on the Expert track, the Burninators narrowly held off )((), and on the Novice track, Saddest Turtle held off EFN. I greatly enjoyed watching the scores update puzzle by puzzle; the Burninators finished much more quickly than the others and appeared to be probable winners, but )(() kept it very close down to the last puzzle – indeed, while they scored two points fewer, their total solving time was only 11 seconds more, by the bounce of the ball that is the discrete minute-based scoring system. Congratulations all round!
In London, the Expert track was won by Misremembered Apple narrowly from Magpie; Mark Goodliffe was very good-naturedly shaking his fist at the seven-point defeat. (Magpie were ahead for most of the day, but lost a little ground towards the end and couldn’t quite make all of it back up on their home territory of the cryptic crossword puzzle.) The two teams finished 9th and 11th globally, which I think is a world class performance. Misremembered Apple finished 11th last year and climbed two places from last year to this; I would note that the Burninators finished 9th last year, so a ninth-to-first jump is evidently quite possible. (I would also note that the two teams still share the record for London’s best ever finish: seventh place in the world for Magpie in DASH 5 and for Misremembered Apple in DASH 7.) Last year’s global podium-dwellers finished 10th, 7th and 16th respectively this year, so while team compositions do change from year to year, all these teams are very much in the mix. Congratulations also to team Rebellion for winning the Novice track in London.
One thing worth noting concerns team sizes. Misremembered Apple were a team of six solvers and Magpie a fivesome. Nevertheless, this year’s winners were a team of just three, and I’m fairly sure that a team of three has either won or come second in the past, so it’s definitely a case that quality can defeat quantity – and what solvers the Burninators are. Going further still, I understand that there was a team made up of one outstanding solver and their young child, and this team managed to complete every puzzle on the Expert track and they both had a great day. No names, no pack drill, but (unless I miss my guess) this team of 1¼ still managed to come in the top half of the Expert track!
There weren’t many other real incidents to tell you about; everything ran smoothly. ClueKeeper seemed to have no glitches and didn’t attract criticism that I heard, though I only talked to a small number of teams, and do see the comments on a previous post. The one oddity is that solvers on the Novice track in London were inadvertently served with the instructions intended for solvers in Enschede for one of the walks from one puzzle to the next, but this was very easy to sort out and didn’t affect people’s enjoyment of the puzzles at all. (Isn’t it exciting that the event was held in Enschede at all? A third nation joins the DASH family, and the first where English isn’t the first language!) Lastly, my favourite Tweet of the day, or perhaps my favourite quack:
…after all, you can’t have a DUCK AMBUSH without DASH!