Coming up on Friday: RED DOT hunt, an online puzzle hunt from Singapore

RED DOT hunt logoIt’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve somewhat lost my blogging voice, so let’s ease back into things with something simple and exciting.

The RED DOT hunt is an online puzzle hunt that starts at 3pm UK time on Friday 29th September and neatly wraps up 48 hours later. The hunt is open to teams of one to four people, located anywhere in the world. “A mysterious talent contest has shown up in town. Auditions will begin in less than a month’s time and sign-ups have already begun. Do you have what it takes to win the contest?

There will be two rounds of puzzles, each with its own metapuzzle. The first round has twelve puzzles plus its meta; if you solve the round one meta, or wait until the last 12 hours of the hunt, you’ll get access to the smaller second round. There’s no hint request system, but hints will be released automatically along the way. Solving the second metapuzzle reveals access to a final puzzle; “Once solved, the final puzzle will direct teams to a physical location in Singapore. The first team to complete the task at this location (represented by any number of actual team members) will win a ~mystery prize~.” You can have plenty of puzzle-solving fun without having any members present on the island.

The FAQ page reveals a little more, notably that “We’ve aimed to make this a pretty chill and beginner-friendly hunt. Experienced teams are warned that they might end up breezing through it — though we hope all teams will have fun, regardless of how long they spend solving! Solo solvers should also find the hunt manageable.” That is a delight to read! The FAQ page also explains a (very) little more about who the organisers are and their puzzling background.

Excited? I am! If this sounds like it might be your cup of tea, especially with the self-professed “beginner-friendly” tag, you can take a look at the house style by taking on four warm-up puzzles, three of which have answers. The date for the next DASH has been announced and it’s almost a full year away – but, while you wait for DASH, get your fill of RED DOT!

Register soon for The Hunt for Justice!

Hunt for Justice logoPuzzle hunts come and go. This year, new additions include the Cambridge Puzzle Hunt and Galactic Puzzleball, though the MUMS hunt has had a year off. I long enjoyed reading about the epic weekend-long van-based hunts in the United States, and it doesn’t seem like the people who have made them over the years feel the same need to create them any more. However, the desire to create puzzle events is still there; it’s just that the focus these days seems to be to place them on the Internet where the whole world can play, not just people who happen to be in the right place at the right time. Sounds like a very practical step to me!

The Hunt for Justice is an upcoming online puzzle hunt that will take part on Saturday 21st October. The hunt will nominally take place between 1pm and 9pm Eastern, which works out at 6pm UK time Saturday 21st to 2am UK time Sunday 22nd time. (Both countries will still be celebrating daylight savings time, though not for long afterwards.) In truth, the puzzles will be available afterwards, but live support and puzzle answer nudges will be available during those hours. Experienced teams may well be able to complete the hunt in five hours or so.

The most distinguishing feature of the hunt is that teams participate online from the location of their choice, but they will be sent a box of props and physical artifacts in advance of the hunt starting which may be used during some of the puzzles. Accordingly, there is a charge to take part, which covers the cost of producing and sending out the box of props, but also covers a donation to the Innocence Project charity. The charge is US$80 for teams in the US and US$90 for teams requiring international postage. Team size is unlimited, but teams of 2-4 are recommended. Theoretically you could have a team spread over more than one location, by registering two smaller teams who each receive their own box of props and have these smaller teams work together.

The line-up of people responsible for putting the hunt together is impressive. They have extensive organising and writing credits for Puzzled Pint and local in-person hunts as well. The team compare their hunt to DASH in terms of style and difficulty – or, more precisely, a relatively tricky year’s DASH, for there has been plenty of volatility from year to year. You’ll get nine puzzles and a metapuzzle for your money.

I’m really excited about The Hunt for Justice in a way that I haven’t been for the other hunts because it has been designed to take place in a single long session – a good night’s entertainment for a team – rather than being something that hangs over a period of several days and invites you to spend an indefinite period of time over the course of a week or so. That sort of format will suit some teams better; I’m particularly attracted to this format. Registration closes August 1st, so you have only just over a week to register. Less than three months to wait!

The sixth CUCaTS puzzle hunt: Cambridge, 17th-18th June

CuCATS fourth puzzle hunt logoThis will be the sixth consecutive year where the last Saturday of Cambridge’s Easter Term has seen the Cambridge University’s Computing and Technology Society stage an in-person puzzle hunt in town for 24 hours. They don’t make it easy. This is not just in terms of the puzzle hunt itself, but in knowing that it exists; it’s not on the society’s web site, nor is it on their Facebook page, but a well-placed e-mail confirmed that the game was on. The hunt seems to be intended to be played primarily by Cambridge students (though far from just by undergraduates!) and staff, but isn’t restricted to them; teams of up to three must have one person with a local e-mail address, but teams can have outsiders as well. Presumably the hunt has been well-publicised within the university.

The cat logo above is being used by this year’s hunt, though the pangram is not around it this year. The FAQ page describes the puzzle hunt as “a team puzzle-solving and treasure-hunting competition. Your team will navigate its way through a mental and sometimes physical obstacle course of challenging and fun computational, mathematical and linguistic puzzles scattered throughout Cambridge, seeking to cut its way through to the goal before everyone else. No preparation is necessary, just come along on the day!” – and that day is Saturday 17th June, with the time being 4pm.

The other thing to note is that puzzles from past hunts are available online, and they’re definitely towards the tougher end of the spectrum. While the organisation behind it is not the same one who put on the online Cambridge Puzzle Hunt earlier in the year, it’s not as if there cannot be crossover from society to society – and, indeed, the societies are moderately close in their essential interests. The more puzzle hunts people play, and especially the more puzzle hunts people set puzzles for, the better-calibrated the puzzles are likely to be.

I’m on shift this weekend and, frankly, get the impression that these puzzles are likely to be harder than I would enjoy. However, I know there are people in the UK for whom this hunt would be an excellent match, particularly the more technically-minded members of teams who did well at DASH or at online puzzle hunts, and if you come into that category then this may well be the hunt for you. Many thanks to everyone at CUCaTS for putting it on and making it available; it’s surely likely to be spectacular!

That said, it, also, is far from the only interesting thing happening this Saturday…

Doctor Jones! Jones? Calling Doctor Jones: a DASH 9 recap

Mötley Clüe team photo at DASH 9This 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. Continue reading

The annual DASH participation statistics post, after DASH 9

Bar chart showing improving performance over timeIf it’s a few days after DASH, it’s time for the annual participation statistics post! Please find below an updated version of a table which details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Location DASH 1 DASH 2 DASH 3 DASH 4 DASH 5 DASH 6 DASH 7 DASH 8 DASH 9
Albuquerque, NM 6 6+1 3+2+0 4+0+0
Atlanta, GA 5+7 8+5
Austin, TX 2 11 12 13+4 10+4+0 17+6+0 20+4 18+4
Bay Area, CA Y(SF)
Y(PA)
7(SR)
59(LA)
16(SR)
74(SM)
73(SF) 34+7(SF)
32+3(HMB)
53+17+0(SF)
39+5+0(C)
46+15+0(SF)
37+7+0(SJ)
48+10(SF)
43+12(PA)
42+14(SF)
39+9(F)
Boston, MA Y 18 26 29 27+2 30+7+1 30+6+0 38+13 33+10
Chicago, IL 17 14 10+1 15+9+0 16+24+0 16+16 20+19
Davis, CA 16 15 16 13+7 8+7+1 13+7+0 12+8 15+5
Denver, CO 3+12+0 6+7
Enschede, NL 9+2
Houston, TX Y
London, UK 6+2 8+13+0 14+9+0 14+8 18+6
Los Angeles, CA Y 7 22 21 15+4 15+2+0
(Pasadena)
12+7+0
(Sta Monica)
19+17 16+6
Minneapolis, MN 8+7 7+4+0
(recast)
9+7+0 7+9 6+17
New York, NY 12 24 25 30+7 26+15+2 29+15+0 24+15 37+13
Portland, OR Y 6 17 19 19+2 11+7+0 10+10+0 12+5
Provo, UT 1+1
San Diego, CA 7
Seattle, WA Y 32 47 49 49+2 58+4+2 60+9+2 63+6 46+3
South Bend, IN 1
St. Louis, MO 2 2+3 7+8+1 8+10 7+11
Washington, DC Y 14 22 33 31+1 27+5+0 26+9+0 28+12 27+13
Number of locations 8 10 12 13 15 14 16 16 16

Here are some initial interpretations:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with apologies in advance. The Minneapolis DASH 6 recast figures came from the organisers by private e-mail.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. (On the other hand, it does include teams which do make the scoreboard even despite being listed as “not started”.) DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus “Y” represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. When there are pluses, the number before the first plus reflects the number of teams on the experienced track, the number after the first plus reflects the number of teams on the “new players”/”novice” track (DASH 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), and the number after the second plus reflects the number of teams on the junior track (DASH 6 and 7 only).

3) Interpret “Bay Area, CA” using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), PA = Palo Alto (1 and 8), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5), C = Cupertino (6), SJ = San Jose (7), F = Fremont (9).

4) I’ve been thinking for a while about knocking single-entry cities (Houston in DASH 1, San Diego in DASH 3 and South Bend in DASH 4) out of their own individual rows of the table and into a single combined row, a bit like the Bay Area, CA row. This might make the table easier to deal with. Fingers very firmly crossed that Provo, UT and Enschede don’t prove similar one-offs.

5) The line-up of 16 locations participating in DASH 9 was not too different from that for DASH 8; we lost Denver and previously ever-present Portland, each hopefully for only a year, and instead gained Enschede in the Netherlands and Provo in Utah. Fingers crossed for the return of Albuquerque at some point, too, so I can know where to turn left. (See also this comment from DASH about there having been some interest, that didn’t come to fruition, from Manchester, Mexico City and Vienna.)

6) It’s not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in. The two-track solution proved its worth again, with each location seeing at least one team on each track.

7) Numbers do appear to be slightly down in several of the larger locations. It’s tempting to wonder to what extent this is a result of demand being down and to what extent this is a result of a lack of availability of supply. Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had had more GC available? Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had larger sites for their individual puzzles? Were there many teams who wanted to get the chance to play but didn’t get to play in practice? (As ever, there’s no reason why bigger necessarily has to be better and there’s no sense in deliberately trying to emphasise quantity over quality.)

8) I’m about to do something quite unfair, for the barriers to entry are so vastly different, but here’s a table comparing the growth of DASH with the growth of Puzzled Pint over the last few years, courtesy in part of data from Puzzled Pint’s Matt Cleinman:

Year DASH
locations
DASH
teams
Month Puzzled Pint
locations
Puzzled Pint
players/GCs
2012 13 300 April 2012 1 50
2013 15 295 + 53 April 2013 2 (N/A)
2014 14 307 + 101 April 2014 5 255
2015 16 333 + 151 April 2015 17 922
2016 16 363 + 159 April 2016 32 1461
2017 16 342 + 138 April 2017 39 1956

Did DASH 9 leave you wanting more?

whatsnext

The sidebar says it all; Ex Exit Games is a web site about Puzzle hunts, puzzle games, escape rooms and more, and it works out to be roughly in that order. It’s all pretty seasonal; many of the hunts take place once a year at similar times, and so do many of the puzzle competitions, so that’s when the posts most naturally tend to happen. Happily these days there are many excellent blogs that will tell you all the latest news and reviews about escape rooms, so I don’t feel bad about downplaying that aspect of things.

Perhaps you’re coming here for your first time, or one of your first times, as a result of DASH, or perhaps you couldn’t go but thought it sounded great; you don’t have to wait another year for DASH 10 to get your fill of puzzle fun, for there are plenty of exciting-looking things coming up:

  • The most distinctive and unusual sort of game coming up is probably Defenders of the Triforce put on by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game brand in mid-July. “This is not an escape room, it is more than that. Solve puzzles together with other teams, in a huge area, all within a set time limit. Interact with classic items and characters seen in The Legend of Zelda series like the Goron, Zora and Kokiri tribes.” I get the impression that it’ll be somewhere between a puzzle hunt and a night at Puzzled Pint. The game is on a tour of North America and Europe, and North American reviews suggest this is as good a SCRAP game as there ahs yet been, though that’s not quite as ringing an endorsement as it might sound. My post on the game has links to these reviews. 
     
  • A Door In A Wall have just started their latest public murder mystery game, Horses for Corpses, on Friday and it will be running for (at least) just over a month. Turn up at your assigned time at a location in Camden Market, with at least one smartphone per team; you then “have 2 hours and 40 minutes to explore the area and gather evidence: solving puzzles, interacting with characters and collecting clues“, before returning to make your accusation as to who the killer was. In some ways, this is as close to another DASH as you’ll get, dialing the story strongly up and the puzzles slightly down, and it may be closer to the canonical puzzle hunt experience than DASH actually can be. Ken from The Logic Escapes Me swears by them, and sometimes at them. 
     
  • Fire Hazard‘s stock in trade is High-Energy Immersive Games; top of their list is the five games they are running in July of their new design, Evasion, which asks “Can you search a room without leaving a trace? Can you defuse an explosive situation? Can you impersonate an enemy agent without blowing your cover? ((…)) You’ll race against the clock completing special missions, cracking cryptic messages, and keeping your cool while the enemy is in hot pursuit” and promises “added escape-room style puzzle-solving tasks“. Take a look at this interview for further details. Other than that, they still offer the high-speed City Dash in various locations around London (and, this Saturday, in Odense), and the low-speed Raiders of the Lost Archive that walks all around the Victoria and Albert Museum. There’s also a pop-up second Raiders game, Raiders: the Sunken Tea Set, that takes place on other levels of the museum – so if you enjoyed the original then a rare second helping may be on offer! 
     
  • I don’t thiiiink our friends at Treasure Hunts In London have anything lined up, but checking the meetup groups, there’s plenty going on elsewhere. The Cultural Treasure Hunt Meetup group are hosting a hunt around the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge on May 20th, and another one around the National Maritime Museum and Historic Greenwich on July 29th. The latter of these might seem a little ironic considering that’s where we were for DASH, but I get the impression that there may be less crossover between the two than you might expect. 
     
  • ((Edited to add:)) Rich Bragg from ClueKeeper points out that there are self-guided hunts available using the ClueKeeper platform, and some of these are based in London! Treasure Hunts in London have hunts in Chingford, in Brixton and around Spitalfields, and Urban Hunts have hunts around the City of London and in the Museum of London. Perhaps the puzzles will be easier than DASH, but this is by far the most authentic way to get some of the DASH experience whenever you want some. 
     
  • Further North, all are welcome at The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club‘s Spring one-day hunt in Hebden Bridge, also on May 20th, and the Manchester Puzzle Hunts Meetup have a report from their first event, with the implication that there should be a second event in about a month’s time; follow the Meetup group to see more details of when it’s going to happen. 
     
  • Slightly more speculatively, the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have organised a 24-hour in-person puzzle hunt in Cambridge for each of the last five years, and while nothing appears to have been announced yet, I would bet small money that the next one will happen on Friday 16th June running into Saturday 17th June – i.e., the last day of Full Term – and that the site’s Facebook page would be the best place to look for an announcement. 
     
  • The Manorcon board games convention takes place at one of the halls of the University of Leicester, and for each of the last sixteen years, there has been a puzzly Treasure Hunt on each of the Sunday afternoons. 
     
  • Before all those, there’s dear old Puzzled Pint in London – and now also in Manchester! – on the second Tuesday of each month, also known as “tomorrow”. 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. 
     
  • It’s not clear when the next big online puzzle hunt is going to be, for the Melbourne University Maths and Statistics Society‘s event that normally takes place around this time of year isn’t happening in 2017, and the Puzzle Hunt Calendar doesn’t really have much either. On the other hand, if you like logic puzzle contests then the calendar looks busy. The World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix season’s contests take place every four weeks, with the next starting on Friday 19th May. The next contest is set by the US authors, who ran an event with a loose escape room theme last year. That’s not all from US authors, though; the US Puzzle Championship will be on Saturday 17th June. Look out (perhaps at @ukpuzzles on Twitter?) for news of the UK Puzzle Championship as well, with the last two having been in late June; if DASH is my in-person highlight of the year, the UKPC is my online contest highlight, so I’m really looking forward to it!

The DASH data, after DASH 9

D.A.S.H. logoThere’s no editorial here, and definitely no intent to suggest there is such a thing as an optimal set of values, but this might still be of interest to set some context for comparison purposes. The times refer to puzzles offered in the most popular (i.e. expert/experienced) track from DASH 5 onwards.

Edition Par time Fast* time Usual* time Teams Structure
2 5:00 1:51 4:32 173 8+M
3 6:00 2:57 6:42 298 8+M
4 6:00 1:53 4:48 300 8+M
5 4:30 2:14 5:32 295+N IB+7+M
6 5:50 2:33 5:10 307+N IB+8+M
7 5:45 3:38 6:55 333+N IB+8+M
8 6:40 2:33 4:35 363+N IB+7+M
9 6:05 1:55 3:54 341+N 9
* median,
top-11
* median,
middle-8/9
N = normal track M = metapuzzle,
IB = icebreaker

Data remains available for DASH 2, DASH 3, DASH 4, DASH 5, DASH 6, DASH 7, DASH 8 and DASH 9. Note that the usual time was calculated from the median time quoted for either the middle-scoring 8 or 9 teams, depending on whether the overall number of teams was even or odd, and may not represent every puzzle being solved without a hint or even every puzzle being solved at all. The times quoted do not include the par or solving times for the unscored co-operative icebreaker puzzle from DASH 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Tomorrow is DASH 9 day

DASH 9 logoTonight is DASHmas Eve! It’s the night of the year where a good night’s sleep is most valuable and yet simultaneously most unlikely, for tomorrow sees the DASH 9 puzzle hunt take place in London, in the Netherlands and across the United States.

I very much hope to see you there – and, if you are there, do say “Hi”! My team is the same as the one in the photo last year; I’m the guy with spectacles at back right, indicating that somebody’s hit a six. Every year, I threaten to announce my arrival at the start location with a rebel yell and a round of high-fives as if I were a pro basketballer arriving on court, and every year so far sense and good taste have prevailed. We’ll see if this is the year.

Tomorrow’s weather forecast is for a dry, cloudy day. For at least three of the last four years, the forecast on DASH day has been for a risk of rain which has manifested as the lightest of sprinklings at the very worst, so a dry forecast really has me worried. In comparison with the trends I drew from previous installments of DASH, the feeling I get in my water is for there to be an icebreaker, eight scored puzzles (mostly on the shortish side) and a metapuzzle, with a combined par time of six hours, a median solving time of five hours, a worldwide total of 385 teams on the expert track and 165 teams on the novice track.

I’ll predict that London will be narrowly overrepresented in the top third of the Expert standings, though that wasn’t actually true last year. Misremembered Apple and The Magpie have been showing their chops in puzzle hunts through the year, both being world class teams on their day, and I understand that Moore and Lesk have at least one strong addition this year. The joy of this is that there could well be an amazing team that comes from nowhere and storms the event, much like Misremembered Apple did. (There are some usual suspects here, who I’d love to see in a team some day.) I’m on a team that’s plenty strong, too, though my contribution will be the enthusiasm, the comic relief and maybe, just maybe, having seen something before years ago that the other team members haven’t.

Lastly, set your expectations for a come-down at the end of the day, once the final meta is over and you have to end your day-trip to Planet Puzzle. That said, why not stay around for a drink and a chat with your fellow solvers at the end, if you can? (Especially you brilliantly quick front-running teams, though I know you’re busy people who might not be able to hang around to let us catch up!)

Many thanks to all the people who have put together the hunt: the global co-ordinators, all those who helped playtest and test-solve and the London volunteers on the day. Really looking forward to what’s very likely to be a fantastic event!

Introducing the Manchester Puzzle Hunts Meetup

Manchester Puzzle Hunts meetup logoThis is exciting! Curtis from Puzzled Pint recently pointed to the existence of a puzzle hunt meetup in Manchester. If their puzzles are anything like as good as their logo, reproduced above, then this will be an exciting development indeed. Manchester already has its own Puzzled Pint monthly, but local puzzle hunts as well would make this probably a more exciting puzzle community than that of London.

The first event is set to take place on Saturday 6th May, which is an amusing and ironic date. In London, this will be when the DASH 9 puzzle hunt is taking place. The cute thing is that at one point it appeared that there would be a DASH 9 leg in Manchester, presumably on the same day, though it didn’t come to fruition. Happily, it turns out that Manchester puzzle hunters might just get to play on the day after all – just a hunt of their own! (Another way to look at it is that if you wanted to play in London but couldn’t get a ticket before they all sold out, perhaps you have another option…) Going up to Manchester to get to play in a future hunt sounds very tempting, especially if it could be doubled up with a trip to the Manchester Crystal Maze, or any number of other exciting games there or thereabouts.

The Facebook thread is interesting; it suggested that, at the time, there were plans for DASH to take place outside the US in London, Manchester, Vienna, and Mexico City. Of those four, only London has made it to reality, but happily it has been joined by Enschede in the Netherlands. This year’s DASH is expected to take place in 16 locations; notably, Provo in Utah is a happy addition, but Denver is missing as is previously ever-present Portland. Just goes to show that nowhere can assume that someone will step up to make sure that the event will take place.

More reasons than ever to look forward to Saturday 6th May! Of course, if you can’t wait until then, Saturday 29th to Sunday 30th April (i.e., next weekend) sees the next 24 Hour Puzzle Championship in Budapest. I previewed the event in 2014 and the basics haven’t changed much since then. Last year’s event was won by Neil Zussman from the UK!

Remember: Galactic Puzzle Hunt starts today

Galactic Puzzle Hunt 2017 logoAs a reminder, this site previously posted about topics including the Galactic Puzzle Hunt, which derives its spacefaring name from the puzzle hunt team who are running it. The first hunt starts today! It’s an Australian-style hunt, which means that new puzzles will be released every day; this hunt will release five puzzles today and then five more daily for each of the next five days.

There is an unusual hinting scheme which will permit teams to ask their own yes-or-no questions, and a player-friendly policy that states “In addition to a “Yes” or “No” answer, we may provide additional clarification/help depending on the circumstances. Roughly one week into the hunt, we will start giving out additional hints, and we may be more generous with clarifications; we want teams to be able to solve most or all of the puzzles by the end!” Thrilled to read it and looking forward to how it works out in practice!

The puzzles will be released at 1:59 pm PDT daily. Note that that is Daylight time, for most of North America has sprung forward already, a couple of weeks before Europe; this works out as 8:59 pm UK time. (And did you see me make this post yesterday, getting the first day of the hunt completely wrong? No, no. Not at all. I’m just styling it out, as they say.)