News round-up: convention, DASH 7 video and sudoku championships

News round-upLots going on at the moment. Normally this would be three separate posts, but there’s so much else to write about!

1) This site recently mentioned the Escape Games Convention in Stuttgart, Germany on 4th September. Katharina Wulf of co-hosts ExitVentures (who are apparently putting together a printed German-language magazine) wrote on a forum as follows:

We (as the oragnizing team) are trying to make it valuable to come for English speaking people as well. Here some information in English: One highlight will be the talk of Attila Gyurkovics. He is the first operator of live escape games in Europe with ParaPark (Budapest) and the first one who developed live escape games on the basis of flow theory. Attila Gyurkovics will talk about his experience and his future visions. Prof. Nicholson (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) will give scientific insights into the field and an overview over the North American market via video message.

((…)) In addition there will be some workshops focusing on following topics: “Live escape games next level” (about innovative new room concepts) and “Live escape games association” (about the creation of common structures for the industry in Germany). ((…)) The video message from Prof. Nicholson and the speech from Attila Gyurkovics will be in English. Beside that we will offer the workshops in English, too. Furthermore we will be able to provide you with information in English for the other agenda items. In the session the participants will elaborate relevant topics in small groups. This can be realized in German or English.

It’s looking ever more tempting, especially for us non-German-speakers!

2) The UK Puzzle Association are running their annual UK Sudoku Championship online this weekend. Start after midday on Thursday, up until the end of Monday, and you have a two-hour window of your choice to score points by solving the 17 sudoku and sudoku variant puzzles. The top two finishers will earn places on the UK team for the World Sudoku Championship. It’s always a great contest for sudoku fans and there are no charges for taking part.

3) Lastly, back at DASH 7, Yasmin Curren took extensive video through the day. She has taken weeks of hard work, for which we’re all surely very grateful, to apply her magic; the results are a spectacular three-minute summary of the fun to be had, though perhaps the puzzles – being less telegenic – have to take second place. Be sure to look out for the Quidditch, Wronski Feint and all:



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!

DASH 7 predictions reviewed

A rotated crystal ballThe accountability department decrees that when there is a DASH 7 predictions post, there should be a prediction review post. The “rehashing old content for a relatively quick post” department agrees. So, how did the predictions do? The graphic above may well set the tone. The predictions are numbered; the inset dots review their accuracy.

  1. As the event gets closer, weather forecasts theoretically become more accurate. The BBC’s current prediction is for a dry day sandwiched between two showery ones, Metcheck’s latest prediction all but rules out rain with the morning being sunny and forecast.co.uk have revised their chance of rain down to 4%. In conclusion: double umbrellas.
    • Point to the weather forecasters; happily, it stayed dry.
  2. Apparently the ClueKeeper codes for the hunt have been released by e-mail, so make sure you have the latest version installed and practice with the tutorial and the demo hunt if you haven’t done so already. It’s not clear whether or not you’ll be able to see the live scores on the day as teams solve.
    • It is possible, but only once you had completed the hunt and seen your status turn to “Finished”. Cool!
  3. Last year’s prediction that London will be overrepresented in the top third of the results table proved accurate, but just barely. Given that there are so many people with Puzzled Pint practice now, let’s make the same prediction again!
    • Based on early data, correct; six of London’s fourteen teams finished in the top third, and huge congratulations to Misremembered Apple whose seventh place finish matches that UK record of The Magpie at DASH 5.
  4. The team from The Magpie crossword magazine have won both previous London events, so must surely be the favourites to do so again. Mark Goodliffe has won the Times Crossword Championship for seven years running, won the Times’ sudoku championship last year as well and has been in teams ripping up Puzzled Pint in London. On their day, if the puzzle styles suit, they’re a global threat as well.
    • Evidently not this time! It’s exciting to learn there are more world-class solvers out there in the UK; fingers crossed, even more of them start to come to events regularly.
  5. The event is being run by a team to whom much gratitude is due; one of them was among the most vocal critics of the standard of American-British cultural translation in last year’s hunt, so it stands to reason that this year particular attention will have been paid and we can all really look forward to the results.
    • Haven’t heard any complaints in this regard; silent praise is high praise.
  6. Given the theme, there’s one very logical location for the hunt to go, and the geographical information we’ve been given does point in that direction – but how close will the logistics permit the hunt to get?
    • It did indeed reach King’s Cross station, and it reached Platform 9¾ a little more closely than intended.
  7. The tea-leaves point to a prediction that this event will be slightly shorter than that of last year, but again relatively construction-heavy. The overall time limit of eight hours will not be too onerous, though from experience it is possible to dawdle so much that despite solving the puzzles in under four hours it was a real struggle to fit puzzles, travel between locations, eating, drinking, taking selfies and wayyy too many overexcited loo breaks into the eight. Ahem.
    • Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Leslie Knope. Nopetopus.
  8. There will be a code sheet, it will contain two unusual codes (where the usual suspects are morse, semaphore, braille, binary, hexadecimal and the phonetic alphabet) with exactly one of the two proving relevant.
    • Also a miss – one additional code (ternary; its second appearance in two years probably qualifies it as a usual suspect) and it was used.
  9. At least one of the puzzles will have an answer that makes you think “Hmm, you could probably just guess that to be the answer from the flavourtext and the way the puzzle is written without actually going through the process of solving it” and that’s no bad thing at all. Taking guesses at puzzle answers in this way is to be considered an example of the Dark Arts, though not actually an Unforgiveable Curse.
    • Not so much this year. ((Edited to add: However, see below – apparently one puzzle could be cracked this way in a stunning piece of ingenuity.))
  10. Don’t be a stranger and please do say “Hi”! My wife and I are the right-hand half of the picture in this post so you know what to look for, but I have a beard this year. It would be fun to catch up, either before the hunt, afterwards or both.
    • This wasn’t really a prediction, but people did indeed say “Hi!” and it made my day.
  11. Don’t forget to look out for this image along the way in the exclusive competition!

Rather more misses than hits this year. Better luck next time!

DASH 7: “There’s never plenty of time”

Cartoon of a permanently stopped watchDo not take the graphic as a dig or a suggestion that DASH 7 was in some way broken, that most absolute and damning term of game criticism…

A common theme in the commentary of DASH 7 was its quantity, as well as its undoubtedly very high quality. There was more than people were expecting, possibly to the point where it strained the logistic constraints of practicality that its players had to place on it, and that’s where some of the relatively negative feedback has come from. This post concerns the Experienced players’ track only; primarily this is from inevitable self-centredness, though it’s worth noting that (provisionally) the convincing majority of players were on the Experienced track.

A phrase frequently used when describing the hunt in advance ran, roughly, to the effect of “We expect that most teams will solve all puzzles in 6-8 hours“, though the precise wording varied from location to location. Some locations announced specific wrap-up times in advance, others used phrases like “All teams across the world will be working on the same 10 puzzles over the course of a max of 8-hours“; it’s not completely clear where the concept came from that there would be an overall time limit, including non-solving time, of eight hours this year, except possibly from expecting a repeat of last year’s hard limit in the absence of anything to set our expectations otherwise. That said, this site probably propagated this incorrect notion; if so – whoops, sorry, genuine mistake.

The combined par time of the nine scored puzzles for DASH 7 was 5:45, very similar to the combine par time of the nine scored puzzles for DASH 6 of 5:50. However, as previously discussed, a reasonably representative total solving time (based on early, probably incomplete data) for a globally mid-table team rose from 5:10 for DASH 6 to 6:55 for DASH 7. Another way of looking at it is that the median score for DASH 6 was 411 and for DASH 7 was 349. True, DASH 6 had five minutes more par time and thus scores might be expected to be five points higher, but the other way of looking at it is that people were scoring far fewer bonus points than in previous years.

In DASH 4, the par value was described as a “generous average solve time”; this year, that was rather less the case. Looking at the nine global-median-scoring teams (usual caveats: early, possibly incomplete, data subject to revision), in DASH 6, a typical team earned bonus points on seven (sometimes six) of the nine scored puzzles whereas in DASH 7, a typical team earned bonus points on two, maybe three, of the nine. This is rather an abrupt analysis; fuller analysis would consider practice from previous years still. Nevertheless, the DASH 7 par values broadly didn’t feel like generous average solve times.

The very dear Snoutcast used to mention the phrase “Everybody likes solving puzzles, nobody likes not solving puzzles” often. From there, it’s not much of an extension to “Everybody likes solving puzzles, everybody likes solving puzzles and earning bonus points from doing so even more”. Teams who were used to having sufficient time to solve puzzles and frequently earning bonus points in previous years may not have had their expectations set to the higher standard this year, which doesn’t just cause “we’re not doing as well as we did last year” ill feeling but also can cause “we might not have time to get all the fun from solving puzzles that we want before the hard time limit expires” worries, which may knock on to causing teams to take sub-optimal decisions over their self-care, worsening their experience further.

There’s a very interesting discussion on the GAST scoring system on the Puzzle Hunters Facebook group at the moment. When the par times are sufficiently generous, then the ordering by (highest) scores and (fastest) solve times are identical; when they are not, some teams are arguably over-rewarded, or insufficiently punished, for relatively slow solves on some puzzles. This was an arguable issue as high as the top ten this year.

DASH has one of the hardest calibration issues of all puzzle hunts because it aims to cater to teams of so many different abilities, even among those who self-select for one level of difficulty or another. Previous DASHes perhaps might not have got the degree of credit that they have deserved for making the balancing act work quite so well. So this all points to a question of where DASH should seek to target its activities.

Is the number of puzzles correct? Should the puzzles be shorter… or the same length, with longer par values? Would DASH be better served by having the sort of quantity of content (i.e. total solve time 4½-5½ hours for median teams) that is had in previous years, or a similar quantity of content to that of this year spread over a longer day? The considerable downsides of a longer day could include that it might well put potential players off, potential GC and volunteers off and that it might make finding appropriate locations even more difficult still. On the other hand, challenges as meaty as those of this year were an awful lot of fun!

This is a very INTP-ish “throwing things out there” sort of post, so perhaps time to be a bit more concrete. It’s inevitable that calibration suggestions will turn out to be self-interested, though the self-interest will be subconscious as efforts have been made to try to eliminate conscious bias. For an eight-hour-overall-time-limit day, perhaps the calibration target should be that 75% of teams solve all the puzzles, in their division of choice, within 5½ hours solving time, and that 80% of teams beat the par value for each puzzle.

That said, it’s not as if tuning puzzle difficulty up or down is at all an exact science, or that playtest results are necessarily reflective of how puzzles will turn out in real life. The whole process is the endeavour of fallible humans after all; the puzzle community at large is truly grateful to those who submit puzzles, those who edit them, those who make the selections and turn raw puzzles into complete hunts. The quality has once again been extremely high, even if the quantity was not what people had been led to expect.

It could be possible for a DASH to offer so little challenge to the fastest teams as to hurt their experience, so here’s an out-there suggestion to finish. While adding multiple levels of difficulty by writing more sets of puzzles adds very considerably to the workload – and while the BAPHL series of hunts offers two levels of difficulty, this site isn’t aware of any other hunt that offers three, what with the brilliantly thoughtful junior track as another labour of love – here’s a possibility.

Consider the addition of a hardcore mode that shares the same material with the experienced track, but is different in the proactivity with which it offers hints, and also limits team sizes to three. This could slow the best solvers down while hurting their experience in only the “it’s fun to solve in large teams” fashion – but, if you’re that hardcore, you’re likely to have access to other events which will let you solve in larger teams as well. It’s also been proven to be the case that the best three-player teams can match the best larger teams as well!

So you loved DASH 7. What’s next?

whatsnextThis site has always declared its constituency to be Escape games, puzzle hunts and more, so makes no apology for focusing hard on puzzle hunts for a while. The coverage of exit games as such is a bit behind; the map needs checking out, the list of exit games needs updating badly and this will be the first month where the League Table feature has missed its self-imposed “1st of the month” regular schedule. That aspect of regular service will resume shortly.

However, if you’re coming here for your first time, or one of your first times, as a result of DASH then you don’t have to wait all year for DASH 8 to get your fill of puzzle fun. This site has previously discussed an upcoming puzzle hunt held at Cambridge University, running non-stop for 24 hours from 4pm on Friday 12th June. It’s run by the Computing and Technology Society and that may well give you a feel for what sorts of puzzles it is most likely to emphasise, though no holds are barred. If DASH left you wanting more, in more than one sense, there are no better opportunities – and this one comes up shortly.

Alternatively, Treasure Hunts in London are running a street game in the capital, starting outside Capital Hall at noon on Sunday 14th June, so if you’re super-hardcore then you could practically back them to back. Rights and LiberTeas is part of the nationwide Rights and Liberties Celebration: Start by meeting Maggie Carta to collect your clue packs, then set off on your journey to explore political history. Discover great (and not so great) leaders, politicians and reformers as you answer clues and complete topical assignments and photo challenges. Meet politicians so independent they don’t appear on any ballot paper in this Scavenger Hunt Street Game around Westminster. Additional tasks are set throughout the game via text and via costumed “Political Party members”, so bring your smartphone. This not-for-profit event costs £15/player, or £60 for a group of five; the ticket price includes interaction with costumed actors, prizes for the winning team and end refreshments to toast the 750th anniversary of the Simon de Montfort Parliament (1265) and the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta (1215). Tickets are still available.

The ManorCon board games convention at the University of Leicester in mid-July has included a treasure hunt each year since 2001; this is normally an afternoon’s worth of fun but there have been some very cute things included along the way. For a hunt of a different style, the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club have their annual meeting in Winchester this year on Saturday 12th September and all are welcome.

If you particularly enjoyed the grid puzzles – the logic half of Interview with Rita Skeeter and Monsters – then you can do little better than getting involved with the UK Puzzle Association. The UKPA organises the UK team for the World Puzzle Championship each year; this year’s global gathering happens in Sofia, Bulgaria in October. Part of the team is determined by performances in the UK Puzzle Championship, which surely can only be a few weeks away; over the course of one weekend, choose a 2½-hour window of your own convenience and score as many points as you can by solving a selection of culture-free language-neutral logic puzzles. The championship is always great fun whether you come first or fourth-or-fifth-last, like me.

For something a little more regular still, there’s always Puzzled Pint, in two locations in London on the second Tuesday of each month. The puzzles here come from a rather more DASH-like background, but are deliberately accessible to all and designed to provide an hour or two’s fun for a team enjoying food, drink and good company.

If all that isn’t enough, you could always go and play an exit game; at a guess, a good 80% of UK residents are within an hour’s travel of their nearest game. After all, there are only about sixty to choose from! (If anybody knows a convenient way to generate such an isochrone relating not just to a single point, but to all the points in a single Google Map, please speak up.)

However, this site makes no apology for the degree of DASH coverage it has given this year and will continue to give in future years; this blog is all about helping people to find different sorts of fun that they could have and then helping convince them that it’s the sort of fun that people like them really could enjoy, not just the long-established hardest of the hardcore. With that in mind, you might well enjoy the very cool DASH 7 write-up at QMSM of the experiences of just such a team of puzzle hunt newcomers bringing across little more than (rather a lot of!) exit game experience.

However, the DASH 7 coverage here is by no means complete and there may be something a little unusual coming up before too long. Watch this space!

Mischief managed! – DASH 7 described

DASH-cardThis site makes no apology for a great deal of content about DASH as it’s one of the highlights of the year. If you couldn’t attend this year, here’s what you missed… and perhaps, just perhaps, it might make you interested in taking part in a future year.

Fair warning: now that DASH has finished, we’re into potential 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. Nevertheless, if you want to avoid spoilers altogether, best skip this post and definitely best skip the comments. However, if you played and want to relive the experience, if you played elsewhere and want to compare stories or if you know you’ll never play this year’s puzzles and just want to find out what you missed, then to get to the detail, click on the Portkey that is the “Continue Reading” button below. Continue reading

DASH 7th Heaven

DASH-trophy

DASH 7 London novice division winners’ trophy, care of Nights of the Square Table

I have been beaming with joy for hours since the conclusion of DASH 7 in London, which was pretty spectacularly great. It was a delight to meet so many lovely people. London sold all 25 spaces and had 24 teams show up in the end. The weather, happily, stayed dry all day. The puzzles were not what I was expecting, but in the best possible way: they were much more so.

If you’ve registered an account with Cluekeeper and have registered your account for this hunt, then once you’ve finished the hunt, you can go to the Cluekeeper web site, log in, go to “My Hunts”, click on DASH 7 and then look at a live snapshot of the results as they come in. (That said, maybe better not to hammer the server.) Obviously, at time of writing, only a few US teams have finished, mostly on the East Coast, and all the scores are very much prone to later revision. With that massive caveat, unless more West Coast superstars make themselves known very soon, it looks like STDP of Boston might, might, possibly provisionally be championsofthewoooooooorld – which, I believe, would be their third title.

Congratulations to Nights of the Square Table for winning London’s Novice division and to Misremembered Apple for winning London’s Experienced division – and, in global terms, for taking some pretty serious names. Not much is known about Misremembered Apple, other than some strong performances in online Australian hunts, leaving little evidence. The notion of the mysterious Wild West stranger who rolls into town, unexpectedly outdraws the sheriff and leaves without a trace is terribly romantic, but if you see this, don’t be a stranger! Our team may have been disabused of the notion that we might be competitive, but I bet I did the best Wronski Feint along the way!

Thank you to all the staff, volunteers and people behind the scenes worldwide. You’ve made a lot of people very, very happy. We’re looking forward to the next DASH already, more than ever before, though there’s the small matter of Puzzled Pint to look forward to every month!

It’s DASH-mas Eve

DASH kitAll packed and ready to go for DASH tomorrow in London. Do remember to pack scissors, as well as the other recommended implements. Charge up your phones overnight – and, if you were planning on bringing a spare battery for your phone (far from essential, but might ease some worries) then set that to charge as well.

I’ll be on a team called Motley Flöö, a thematic derivative of the Motley Clue team from Puzzled Pint in London last year. It’ll contain all three hosts of the London “Bubble” location for Puzzled Pint last month, plus our friend David, one of the members of Two Jesters, two Lesters last year. Recognise us by our discreet, topical badges, and please do say “hi”!

Many thanks to everyone involved around the world: the co-ordinators, the puzzle writers, the Game Control team, volunteers and other people behind the scenes; all the players appreciate your efforts. Remember that the London leg will start five hours before the US East Coast ones and eight hours before the US West Coast ones, so please embargo discussion of specifics that might contain spoilers overnight once the hunt is over. The suggested social media tag is #playdash. Oh, and don’t forget to look out for the mystery image. Set off early to allow for traffic, earlier than you think considering everything else that’s going on all day – and, if you’re going to be late, let the organisers know.

Phew! Last task: just try to get a good night’s sleep!