Coming up this spring

a series of metal springs making up the word "love"In springs, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love“, as Lord Tennyson absolutely definitely meant to write. Over here, I’ll be attempting to convince myself that winter might be about to be coming to a conclusion, perhaps, by listing some events and insisting that they’re happening this spring.

This weekend, it’s the second round of the WPF’s free-to-enter online Puzzle Grand Prix competition, this time hosted by Slovakia. Once again, there will be three separate one-hour papers available, and the instruction booklets are already available. The Class C booklet is set to be an absolute old-school beauty, with puzzles in seven different styles and three examples of each, with varying levels of difficulty. The Class B and A booklets contain puzzles in five different styles; the class B booklet has two examples of each, one longer than the other, and the class A booklet has a single very difficult example of each. Do whichever paper or papers take your fancy. Last time I did about half of Class C in one hour and tackled a few of Class A in another, leaving Class B completely alone, which felt rebellious. Start your hour(s) whenever you like from half-past Friday, finishing by the end of Monday.

As kindly pointed out in a comment last time but also seen elsewhere, the first Galactic Puzzle Hunt is being organised by the wow-I-hope-this-copies-and-pastes ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ MIT Mystery Hunt team. This is an online puzzle hunt in what previously would have been called the Australian style but now should perhaps be considered the Australian/Cantabrigian style. Teams of up to ten will be given five online puzzles each day for six days from (reasonably late UK time on) Tuesday 14th March to Sunday 19th March, and have until Thursday 23rd March to submit the answers. The hint system is different to the standardised hints of the Australian hunts, with teams being able to ask limited numbers of yes/no questions of their choice for the help they need, but “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!” This sounds very public-spirited and gets me very excited about taking part.

So that’s something to look forward to in March. For April there will be the third Now Play This games festival. The site is succinct: “Now Play This is a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world. It will run for the third time at Somerset House in London from 7-9 April, 2017, as part of the London Games Festival. There’ll be an exhibition of games running throughout, plus special events including a board games afternoon, a strange controllers showcase, and, on Friday, a day for discussion between practitioners. Tickets will be available from February 2017.” Admittedly I’m not aware of anything puzzle- or escape- specific on this year’s agenda quite yet, but the programme is yet to be announced and surely should be up before long; the people behind it are the very best of eggs and the weekend is a very safe bet to be an excellent one whether there is or not.

As for May, the ninth instalment of the DASH puzzle hunt is set to happen on Saturday 6th May. Now there hasn’t been anything absolutely explicit saying “yes, DASH is happening in London” this year, but there are two very strong clues: first, one of this month’s London Puzzled Pint teams was called “Play DASH on 6th May”; second, an exciting and authoritative Facebook comment suggests that much as both London and Manchester in the UK enjoy Puzzled Pint, both London and Manchester may get to enjoy DASH this year. Definitely one for your diary – and, perhaps, you won’t have so far to travel!

The 2017 MIT Mystery Hunt happened last weekend

"MIT Mystery Hunt" Indian head penny1) Before addressing the main topic of the piece, a quick heads up to say that one of the lead organisers of DASH 8 in London has enquired whether anyone is willing to run DASH 9 in London this year. Interpret this as you see fit, but there must be reason why that question is being asked in that fashion.

2) If today’s current affairs have got you down, Dan Katz (see below) points to Puzzles for Progress; donate to your choice of ten US causes that might need your attention more today than they did yesterday and receive a bundle of puzzles by a collection of highly-regarded authors. It’s something concrete that anyone can do wherever in the world they are.

3) The annual MIT Mystery Hunt took place in at said Institute of Technology in the greater Boston area last weekend. A quick summary is that it’s, arguably, the world’s most extreme open-participation puzzle hunt; a couple of thousand or so players form several dozens of teams, each of perhaps as few as five players or as many as 150. These solvers spend up to two-and-a-bit days solving puzzles non-stop, taking as little sleep as they dare. There is no limit to the difficulty of puzzles; many of the world’s very best solvers take part, and some of the puzzles are written with this in mind. It’s a practical assumption that most teams will be able to directly or indirectly be able to contact the equivalent of a postdoctorate academic in virtually every subject under the sun, high-brow or low-brow, whether in person or online. For a longer description of the hunt, see my 2015 article on the topic, complete with links to write-ups of what it feels like to participate and to some of the most spectacular puzzles.

This year’s seems to have been extremely well-received. It’s also distinctive in that the winning team found the coin in under fifteen and a half hours. This is definitely on the short side as MIT Mystery Hunts go, possibly even the shortest in recent memory. In recent years, the trend has been for the hunt organisers to accept answers between the start of the hunt, shortly after midday on Friday, until typically early Sunday evening. In this regard, more than one team can have the fun of seeing everything that there is to see and finding the coin. It’s on the record that this year’s hunt was designed to be relatively accessible in this regard; a record seventeen teams each got the fun of finding the coin, many of whom had their first ever complete solution. Congratulations to all the teams who found the coin, but most of all to Death and Mayhem who found the coin first!

One of the team of organisers, Dan Katz, who it’s fair to say is more well-known (or, at least, notorious) than most hunt participants has started an exciting hunt-themed blog with reflections on the hunt-writing process and what this year’s event felt like from the organisational side. Discussion of the hunt and related topics has become somewhat more disparate than in previous years (though, to some extent, a subreddit fulfils some of the role that dear old LiveJournal did five or more years ago) though Jennifer Berk has kindly been collating links relating to this year’s event. It’s also worth looking at four-time World Puzzle Champion Wei-Hwa Huang’s Facebook post on the subject of the duration of the hunt as well.

You can see the puzzles from this year’s hunt, along with their solutions, and they’re well worth reading as amazing pieces of craftsmanship, even if you don’t try to solve them yourself. You’ll see that there are some puzzles associated with fictional characters, introduced in the context of the hunt, and others with the quests in which they participate. The character puzzles are intended to be less challenging than the quest puzzles, and it’s a delightful development that there are deliberately more accessible puzzles in hunts these days – indeed, it’s on the record that the hunt organisers had deliberately intended to make this hunt more accessible than many in the past. On the other hand, these relatively accessible puzzles are still intended to take an entire team half an hour, or an hour, to solve – so still daunting challenges.

To get a further flavour for this year’s hunt, the kick-off pastiche and the wrap-up meeting have both been posted to YouTube. These make fascinating viewing. I particularly enjoyed learning the stats quantifying the success that the organisers had in their attempt to make the hunt relatively accessible. Not far off a hundred teams registered in the first place, but some of these registrations may have been less than serious, small teams might have merged before the event began, or some teams might have been registered more than once. Of the teams that took the event seriously:

  • 83 teams submitted at least one answer
  • 82 teams submitted at least one correct answer
  • 70 teams solved at least five puzzles
  • 58 teams solved at least one quest puzzle
  • 55 teams rescued the linguist in person
  • 49 teams solved at least one character meta-puzzle
  • 29 teams completed the character endgame
  • 28 teams solved at least one quest meta-puzzle
  • 17 teams completed the hunt and found the coin

Some past hunts are more forthcoming with their stats than others, and of course every hunt has a different structure, but these figures compare very favourably to what I remember from previous years and reflect the degree of success that the hunt team achieved in its aim of relative accessibility.

I would be inclined to believe that if the most famous attribute of the MIT Mystery Hunt is the very considerable difficulty of its puzzles, its second most famous attribute is the traditionally considerable size of its teams. Another part of the wrap-up video addresses this fact. It’s true that there are half a dozen teams around the 100-150 solver mark, many of which are surely not present in person at the venue. It’s also true that some of the other 17 teams to find the coin are just (“just”!) fifty strong, with a notable outlier around the 35 mark. It’s also true that some teams of 25 or so, or even down to around a dozen, can solve around a hundred or so of the just over 150 puzzles to be solved – but those must be power-packed teams indeed. Dan Katz touches on the topic, but it’s something that comes up every now and again in Mystery Hunt discussions. It is MIT’s event, after all, and some people like the “you bring your puzzle-solving army, we’ll bring ours, no quarter asked or given” arms race of it – or, if there’s any event in the world with that spirit, the MIT Mystery Hunt seems to be the one where people have settled on.

Very occasionally, write-ups will mention that some team or other have remote cells of solvers working together on puzzles from afar, and some teams mention that they have remote cells in the UK. A couple of times, I’ve spent a weekend here in the UK with two or three other solvers working very hard on a small number of puzzles. It’s fun, though I suspect it can only be a fraction as much fun as solving on-site, and there’s so much that you have to miss from solving remotely – but it may be much more practical, as well as tens of degrees warmer some years. As the interest in puzzle hunt puzzles and puzzle hunts increases in the UK – see the last post as evidence! – it would be fascinating to know just which teams have remote cells in the UK, and whether any of those cells are actually open to potential new participants.

Thanks to the setters and congratulations to the winners. The rest of us can just follow the countdown until next year!

Coming up next week: the Cambridge Puzzle Hunt

cambridge-puzzle-hunt

I’ve posted about the CUCaTS in-person puzzle hunt organised by the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society annually, at the end of the academic year, for the last five years. Happily, this isn’t the only puzzle hunt interest at Cambridge University, for members of Trinity College’s Mathematical and Science societies are working together to put on the first (and, hopefully, not the only) Cambridge Puzzle Hunt. Hurrah!

The hunt takes a very similar format to the MUMS, SUMS and mezzacotta hunts of Australia: there will be puzzles released on each of five four days; after each set of releases, each of the successive three days sees hints released to the that day’s puzzles. It’s not immediately clear from the rules if there is a scoring system, a metapuzzle and/or a physical object within Cambridge; if anything, signs point to no. Teams can have up to five members; unusually, there is the option to register as a solo solver.

It’s not clear what the level of difficulty can be expected to be, but first hunts often tend to be pretty hard, and Trinity College has a fearsome academic reputation. For mathematics, at least, the saying goes – or used to go? – “there are other universities, there is Cambridge, and there is Trinity College, Cambridge”. I went to another university!

Registration does not appear to be open yet, but ((Edited a second time:)) registration is now open and a registration deadline of the end (UK time) of Saturday 28th January has been announced, with the rules and Facebook pages now agreeing that there will be four sets of puzzles released from Wednesday 25th January onwards. Accordingly, if this is of interest, better not hesitate in starting to follow the hunt’s progress. There’s a mailing list and a Facebook page, so keep looking out for more information really soon.

What an exciting start to the year!

It’s the most puzzleful time of the year

"Bob Schaffer's puzzles"Don’t take that title literally; you could make claims for both the World Puzzle Championship week or the MIT Mystery Hunt weekend. Do they have songs, though?

The short version of this post is that Dr. Bob Schaffer has launched his fifth annual short online holiday-themed puzzle hunt, which you can start at any point of your own choice after 8pm GMT today. Everything that this site said on a post on the matter two years ago remains true; this year, the hunt is hosted via ClueKeeper and costs US$7.99 to play, plus completely optional charity donations with no impact on gameplay.

Here’s the longer version.

This site loves puzzle hunts: trails of interconnected puzzles, whether online or in person, commonly solved in teams. If the idea sounds enchanting, even if you have no prior experience, this site thoroughly recommends a free online play-wherever-whenever game called the Order of the Octothorpe as a genuinely accessible starting-point that makes no prior assumptions and starts from first principles.

Once you’ve got your teeth into that, an excellent option for a bite-sized second step is Dr. Bob’s Online Holiday Puzzle Hunt. Bob Schaffer is a senior research engineer who, as a sideline, runs Elevate Tutoring. This non-profit public benefit corporation trains small numbers of disadvantaged US college students to become excellent tutors, and requires these tutors to use their training to provide free tutoring to disadvantaged school students. He has run puzzle hunts, both online and in person, partly as a fundraiser for his tutoring organisation.

For the past four years, he has run small such puzzle hunts online from each December 24th. These, too, are deliberately accessible; the 2012 hunt sets expectations with the comment “The puzzles in this hunt are meant to be enjoyed by all. The experience is meant to take 1-2 hours. Those new to these types of puzzles may need to click on the free hints. Experienced puzzlers should get through hint-free in an hour or so.” The 2013 hunt is similar, with the fastest solutions being matters of tens of minutes.

The 2014 hunt was launched with the comment “This hunt has three main puzzles and a simple meta puzzle. The puzzles are geared toward beginner puzzlers, but were designed to entertain newbies and experts alike. I would say that this hunt is a bit more challenging than the 2012 and 2013 hunts. Beginners can take advantage of the hint system to overcome hurdles while experienced puzzlers can challenge themselves to solve the puzzles as quickly as possible.” There’s an online interface which can provide hints on demand; participation is timed, but scoring is optional. (The scoring system is essentially that of DASH.) The 2015 hunt follows the same pattern. All four hunts can be played on demand. There is no charge for playing, though you are gently invited to tip the Elevate Tutoring in return. The 2013 hunt was great fun and is recommended by this site and the other hunts are likely to be just as good.

2016’s hunt is marginally different. “This year, I am hosting the hunt through the ClueKeeper website. With this, you will experience smoother scoring, a better hint distribution system, and an improved answer submission process. ((…)) to play in the hunt this year, it will cost you $7.99. ((…)) This also supports ClueKeeper – and, for those in the puzzling community, I hope you can respect this as well – ClueKeeper is awesome! I also made the hunt a bit longer than usual to hopefully help further justify the cost. ((…)) if you really want the puzzles for free and you have no interest in receiving any hints or being scored in any way possible (or supporting ClueKeeper) – send me an email and I will send you the PDFs in February after all of the paying competitors have had a chance to participate.” This doesn’t sound unreasonable in the least.

From there, where next? There are many options, not least Dr. Bob’s other work. As well as these deliberately very accessible events, he has several longer and more advanced works to his credit, some of which can still be played online. Great work and a great cause!

Puzzle hunts and puzzle competitions right about now

Here Comes The Sun! ...from a T-shirt credited to "Pablo Bustos aka Wirdou"
That rather fun image (adapted, without permission, from this shirt credited to “Pablo Bustos aka Wirdou”) sets the tone for some of the things happening at the moment which may be of interest.

It’s Labor Day, without the u, in the United States today. As he has previously done for nine of the ten previous Labor Days, Mark Halpin has posted an extravaganza: a hunt-like collection of puzzles to solve at home. They are principally word and picture puzzles; Mark has a glorious reputation for setting devious cryptic crossword variants. E-mail individual puzzle answers to Mark for verification; one team who solves within the first two and a half weeks, chosen at random, will win a $25 gift certificate prize. (Alternatively, e-mail Mark for hints and tips.) The theme for this year’s hunt inspires the title of this article.

If this hunt doesn’t fit into your schedule, or if you want a hunt designed for a larger team and with possibly a slightly broader style of puzzles, then a good option is the mezzacotta puzzle competition taking place from Monday 10 October, 2016 onwards. This is the direct descendent of the CiSRA puzzle hunt which gave a great deal of fun to many people over the years. The format is expected to be very similar to the CiSRA hunt, as well as the MUMS and SUMS puzzle hunts of the mathematics societies of Australian universities; many people are looking forward to seeing the precise specifics of the form to be taken by this year’s hunt.

Alternatively, there are some competitions which test the ability of a solver – or a team – to set puzzles, as well as to solve them. This post comes too late to feature timely details of Iron Puzzler of Southern California, just over a week ago, but Germany will be hosting the Puzzle Decathlon competition in Wuppertal (just east of Dusseldorf, so not far from the Dutch border) in November. Some rounds feature puzzles to solve; other rounds see you set puzzles for your fellow competitors!

Missed cue

CUCaTS logoOne of the things that I got most excited about during the Exit Games UK years was the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society’s puzzle hunts, which have been running since 2012 at about this time of year. The best way to find out about them is looking at the society’s Facebook page, and I have been doing so every week or two for a month or two. Except that I have just realised that I haven’t checked for a while, so I checked just now and… this year’s hunt is happening right now as I type. It appears to be 9 hours and 40 minutes in – people are probably enjoying the tail end of the midnight pizza party right now – and will run until 4pm on Saturday.

The Puzzlehunt is 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!

Teams may be made of up to three members. It is envisaged that most participants will be @cam.ac.uk (affectionately known as Camacuks) and it is encouraged that each team should have at least one Camacuk. However, teams not meeting this criterion may be allowed to compete by prior agreement (drop us an email). If you’re looking for more team members, hit us up and we’ll try to match you up!

The puzzles are pretty Cantabrigian in style, by which I mean they have something of the feel of some of those from Cambridge, MA’s MIT Mystery Hunt. There are rumoured to be at least one or two cells of MIT Mystery Hunt solvers in the UK Cambridge each year – I don’t know the specifics, though have guesses – so it’s quite possible that the CUCaTS hunt solvers and setters have direct experience and inspiration there. The levels of difficulty are variable but both floor and ceiling are, er, somewhat high.

Even though I imagine it’s too late to get involved this year, as funny as the idea of people high-tailing it to Cambridge in the early hours of the morning an looking for an in-progress puzzle hunt is, I would be tempted to take a look at the recently-updated hunt archives page and click through to the puzzles from previous years. Some have solutions, others don’t. You can judge for yourself from these past puzzles whether this hunt is for you or not.

It is a wonderful thing that hunts like this exist in this country at all, and clearly the good burghers of CUCaTS should (and evidently do!) set their hunt to suit themselves and their own wants and needs, noting the second quoted paragraph that most (but, evidently, not all) hunters are expected to be of the @cam.ac.uk variety. The announcement that this year’s hunt would be happening was not made until June 5th. Evidently my checking was not quite frequent enough.

Fingers crossed that this year’s hunt is a huge success and that there are more such hunts in future years. Looking at the commonality between when previous years’ hunts have been, the strong favourite for when any putative future hunt might happen has to be the weekend immediately after the conclusion of Cambridge’s Full Easter Term. Pencil it into your 2017 diary now!

Did DASH 8 leave you wanting more?

whatsnext

This site has always declared its constituency to be Escape games, puzzle hunts and more and the escape games have had to take a back seat for some time. 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 9 to get your fill of puzzle fun. The idea to try to keep a calendar of such things has rather fallen by the wayside, but there are plenty of exciting-looking things coming up:

  • This site is perhaps more excited about the upcoming Raiders of the Lost Archive than anything else. It’s a version of Citydash by the esteemed Fire Hazard, but has a big twist. It takes place in the Victoria & Albert Museum; the V&A are excited about this, but it’s not an official event of theirs. The difference between this and any other Citydash is “(…)this time there’ll be nobody chasing you (and no running in the museum!). We’ll keep the pressure up with twists & turns, surprise clues and leaderboard updates, but you won’t need your running shoes for this one – and you’ll be inside throughout.
     
    If the running element of previous Citydash events has been a turn-off (*raises hand*) then this may well fit the bill and the theme is gorgeous. You can play solo, in a pair, or in a team of up to five. Tickets for Sunday afternoons in May are now listed for 15th May, 5th June and possibly 28th May. (Thanks to Ken for the heads-up!) 
     
  • The A Door In A Wall are, happily, continuing to put on their large-scale public events. The next one coming up very soon will be entitled Played to Death. “Each team will need a charged smartphone to hand and we advise you wear comfortable footwear as our story leads you out into the nearby streets in search of puzzles, clues and characters. (…) you’ll have about 45 mins to get settled and work out where to begin your investigation before the game’s opening scene. You’ll be tasked with gathering evidence to crack the case and you’ll then have two hours to explore the area outside: solving puzzles, interacting with characters and collecting clues. Once the time is up, return to the Square Pig ((pub)) where you’ll have some time to make sense of what you’ve found and identify the killer.
     
    The game will be offered on most evenings and some afternoons (particularly at weekends) between mid-May and mid-June; tickets are already available and have sold out on a number of days already. If you don’t get to play, the company are also offering the A Veiled Threat game on the third Tuesday of every month, which The Logic Escaped Me played and loved
     
  • This site’s friends at Treasure Hunts In London are also continuing to run their events; the best way to keep in touch with what’s on offer there is their calendar on Eventbrite. Three events are coming up soon: May sees the Art on the Streets Treasure Hunt at the Chocolate Museum on the 14th and the Trafalgar Square Experience at the National Gallery on the 28th; June sees the Naughty But Nice Afternoon Adventure starting at the Annenberg Courtyard of the Royal Academy on the 18th. Prices vary, depending on whether the event includes no food, a cream tea or a full dinner. 
     
  • The Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have held a long, ambitious, advanced puzzle hunt annually for the last three or four years, normally in early June after most students have finished their exams. No word whether there’ll be another one this year, but fingers crossed. The logical place to look for more information would be the society’s Facebook page
     
  • The Manorcon board game convention (15th to 18th July at the University of Leicester) is set to feature a puzzle hunt, probably on the Sunday afternoon. This year’s hunt setters are past hunt setting veterans and multiple-time solving champions, as well as some of this site’s favourite people in the world; attend Manorcon because it’s a tremendous board game convention that started running ten or twenty years before the current breed of board games started to become popular again, rather than just for the puzzle hunt. 
     
  • Before all those, there’s dear old Puzzled Pint in London – and now also in Manchester! – on the second Tuesday of each month, so as soon as the Tuesday in half a week’s time. 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 Tuesday’s too long to wait, or if London and Manchester are both too far to go, there are online puzzle hunts which come to you. The annual Melbourne University Mathematics (and statistics) Society hunt starts at midday, local time, on 9th May. It’s designed for teams of up to ten; you’ll recognise some of the participating teams’ names from the top of the DASH leaderboard, but other teams come from the MIT Mystery Hunt tradition and more. Suffice to say that the MUMS hunt has gained an audience who like to spend hours on deep, research-y, Aha!-y puzzles, though they’re almost always brilliantly constructed. 
     
  • Staying online, if you like logic puzzle contests then the calendar also looks busy. The World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix season’s contests take place every four weeks, with the next starting on Friday 13th May. The next contest is set by the US authors and may be of particular interest; more soon. The move to featuring “casual” puzzles as well as the more high-powered traditional fare adds massively to the fun as well as the accessibility. That’s not all from US authors, though; the US Puzzle Championship will be on Sunday 18th June. Before that, HIQORA takes place on Saturday 28th May; more soon on that one, too. Look out (perhaps at @ukpuzzles on Twitter?) for news of the UK Puzzle Championship as well, which has rapidly become this site’s favourite of the year. Previous UKPCs have happened in May, June, July and August, so this year’s event could happen at any moment. Exciting times!

The annual DASH participation statistics post

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
Albuquerque, NM 6 6+1 3+2+0 4+0+0
Atlanta, GA 5+7
Austin, TX 2 11 12 13+4 10+4+0 17+6+0 20+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)
Boston, MA Y 18 26 29 27+2 30+7+1 30+6+0 38+13
Chicago, IL 17 14 10+1 15+9+0 16+24+0 16+16
Davis, CA 16 15 16 13+7 8+7+1 13+7+0 12+8
Denver, CO 3+12+0 6+7
Houston, TX Y
London, UK 6+2 8+13+0 14+9+0 14+8
Los Angeles, CA Y 7 22 21 15+4 15+2+0
(Pasadena)
12+7+0
(Sta Monica)
19+17
Minneapolis, MN 8+7 7+4+0
(recast)
9+7+0 7+9
New York, NY 12 24 25 30+7 26+15+2 29+15+0 24+15
Portland, OR Y 6 17 19 19+2 11+7+0 10+10+0 12+5
San Diego, CA 7
Seattle, WA Y 32 47 49 49+2 58+4+2 60+9+2 63+6
South Bend, IN 1
St. Louis, MO 2 2+3 7+8+1 8+10
Washington, DC Y 14 22 33 31+1 27+5+0 26+9+0 28+12

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” track (DASH 5, 6, 7 and 8), 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 and 8), 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). (Santa Rosa counts as Bay Area, doesn’t it?)

4) 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.

5) Many locations had events that were similar in size or even slightly smaller (perhaps for reasons as simple as a higher number of teams who pay but, for whatever reason, just don’t show on the day) than the previous year. As discussed, there’s no reason why bigger necessarily has to be better and there’s no sense in deliberately trying to emphasise quantity over quality. It’s tempting to wonder how much unmet demand there is in the various cities around the world and whether everyone who wants to play is getting to do so in practice.

6) The line-up of 16 locations participating in DASH 8 was actually very similar to that for DASH 7, representing only a substitution of Atlanta, GA to replace Albequerque, NM. Registration was also offered in Missoula, MT, but the event did not happen in the end. The growth in Puzzled Pint over the year has been explosive with 32 locations in April 2016 against 14 in April 2015; it’s true that some of those were previous DASH cities, but surely it seems likely that some cities will go from Puzzled Pint to DASH – and beyond? – rather than the other way around. PP is currently played in five countries; it also seems plausible at the very least that DASH will start to catch up before much longer.

7) The overall numbers of teams has risen over the last three years from 295 to 307 to 333 to 363 on the “experienced” track and from 53 to 101 to 151 to 159 on the “novice” track, with every location featuring at least one team on each of the two tracks.

Drawing a line from one DASH to the next

DASH 008 in London needed its teams to go underground!

DASH 008 needed its teams to go underground! From @playdashlondon

This is a guest post by David J. Bodycombe, one of the UK’s foremost puzzle authors. You may know his work from The Crystal Maze and Only Connect or perhaps numerous books and periodicals. At the very least you probably know that car park puzzle; to this site’s taste, he’s written easily two thousand much more interesting ones over the years, but you can never tell what’s going to catch the public’s imagination…

Last year, as a participant of DASH 7, something didn’t feel… right. When I got home and had to explain to my wife whatever the heck I’d been doing for the day, I sensed that I hadn’t had that much fun. The company was great, but the frantic time limits, a lack of food, an unfortunate route and a brute of a final puzzle left me thinking “Maybe I won’t do it next year”. But with DASH 8 promising a Brit-friendly theme of James Bond, how could I say no?

Last year, I put down my thoughts on how DASH could improve, both as a podcast and as a summary post in the comments. I make no personal claim for any improvements made but, since it is this site’s frequent milieu, I thought it might be fun to look back and see how much of my wishlist was catered for this year.

(1) DITCH THE TRACKS.
Partially. The Junior track has gone, tailing the tracks from three to two. Frankly, the junior track was never going to be a long-term possibility in London, particularly with its 18+ pub culture being a supplier of many indoor venues. The prospect of expecting a chaperone to guide teenagers around the busy streets of London on a Saturday was a tough ask, and I agreed with a commenter last year who said that there would be better value in making the puzzles available for schools to run their own mini-puzzle drives. I still believe the differences in the Normal/Expert tracks cause more doubt and administration complexity than is worth, and that homogenisation of the tracks wouldn’t affect more than 5% of the teams.

(2) MINI-TASKS SHOULD BE IMPRESSIVE, OR GOOD JOKES, OR OMITTED.
Yes. In past years, it was hard for Londoners not to look on the DASH social media feeds with a feeling of jealousy. Somehow, DASH seemed cooler there – better themed, better spaced and better stunts. Not so, this year. If anything, London may have been *the* place to DASH – particularly with the start point a stone’s throw away from the on-theme MI6 headquarters. Imaginative mini-tasks plus the tremendous innovation of optional ‘HMSAT tests’, some of which required teams to be observant and quick-witted at all times, added immensely to the occasion.

(3) WE NEED TO BELIEVE GAME CONTROL.
and
(4) THE RULES NEED TO BE CONSISTENT FOR EACH LOCATION.
Yes. Last year, the slightly rubber-banded rules, where different locations were allowed to be flexible about when to end the hunt, led to a lot of confusion and disappointment. This particularly applied to my team last year, as we quit early not realising that the advertised “strictly-enforced 8 hour time limit” was actually no such thing. This year, the sensible thing was done – a 10-hour limit was the same for all (AFAIK) and even an overall countdown timer was there on the ClueKeeper to avoid any anxiety.

(5) IMPROVE THE SCORING.
Partially. Still some work to do, here. In particular, the scoring was not explained on an info sheet this year, so lord knows what DASH newbies thought of it. But, again, puzzle 1 was not worth anything. This means that some teams (maybe well-meaning latecomers) are simply typing in the answer that their mates have told them, meaning that ClueKeeper’s stats credit them with solving the puzzle in a world-beating 7 seconds, and thus denying the ‘real’ winning team from getting a little gold cup next to their name. I still think it should be worth something – either a flat score, or a low Par value to indicate that you shouldn’t spend too long on it. Another wish of mine from last year was to allow more opportunities for bonus points. This was indeed achieved, but only in the distinctly cheeky manner of ramping up the total Par time to a little short of 7 hours. Hmm.

(6) MAKE THE PROPS BETTER OR DITCH THEM.
Yes. A big win. You couldn’t say that this year’s DASH was “just Puzzled Pint with walking”. The advantages of DASH’s economies of scale were definitely evident this year and, more to the point, the props had a puzzle purpose to them rather than just delivering a codeword answer.

(7) MAKE THE CONTENT ACHIEVABLE BY MOST.
Yes. Though our team quit on the final puzzle this year due to taking too long on puzzle 9, looking at the general ClueKeeper statistics it’s easy to see that almost all teams had the opportunity to finish within the time allowed.

With these feedback points largely addressed, I offer up another set for discussion:

(A) EASE UP ON THE CONSTRUCTION?
This is one area that really hurts smaller teams. While DASH has never claimed to be any fairer to teams of 3 than 5, nevertheless the fairly extensive nature of some puzzles that required the teams to build paper or wooden models would have added minutes (maybe tens of minutes) to the scores. The news near the end that *every* team member was *required* to have scissors really took me aback. And, I say this slightly seriously, if I ever make it to DASH 38, I wonder how my arthritic fingers would cope with things like folding paper cranes. Does against-the-clock building further discriminate against the less physically able? As other commenters have noted, the time difference in time taken for construction often made the ClueKeeper out-of-sync with the team’s progress.

(B) CHOKE BACK ON THE PUZZLE LENGTHS
Although the average solve times seem much more in line with previous years this time around, and the overall event pacing was better too, there did seem to be an expectation that teams would have to spend 9 hours overall this time rather than 8. I would like to see the par time come back down to nearer 6 hours. This, plus an hour for eating and 90 minutes for travelling, still adds up to a pretty packed 8.5 hours. How could this be done in practice? I would say: by keeping the starter puzzle shorter (it was quite a Googling-heavy brute this year), by keeping most puzzles sub-45 minutes, and by having a slightly more robust attitude to starting on time. Puzzle 5 (par: 75 minutes) was way too long for a lunchtime activity – my usual team usually finishes an entire evening of Puzzled Pint (four puzzles and a meta) within 75 minutes!

(C) TO PREP OR NOT TO PREP?
Despite following DASH on Facebook and Twitter, somehow I missed the “Advanced Training” which gave information on two things: how to solve cryptic crossword clues, and how to fold paper cranes. If you’ve never solved a cryptic crossword, to somehow learn this skill in the week before DASH is asking a lot. What next? You have a week to speak fluent Klingon, or learn to juggle? I’ve seen some people suggest the rules to Baccarat should have been made available beforehand, to which I heartily disagree: it would have put even more advantage to the teams that have spotted the pre-game information.

(D) GIVE SOME INDICATION OF ‘DWELL TIME’
It would be appreciated if the route information could more heavily hint if teams are likely to stay in a location for a long period of time – particularly where locations ‘double up’ for two puzzles. For instance, at the morning meeting point there was a heavy sense of “Do I bother to buy a coffee or not?”. You don’t want to be mid-croissant when ClueKeeper cheerily guides you to your next location 2 miles away. No-one wants that.

(E) BEAR THE BRITS IN MIND…
DASH GC have a little more way to go to make it feel like a global-inclusive event, rather than London being a “+1”. For instance, I winced when – given the event’s British/James Bond theme – we had to release puzzle 1 on ClueKeeper by spelling the word LICENCE the “wrong” way…

Overall, my team rated this year’s DASH as a ‘solid 8/10’ which should be interpreted as a very good score for such a complex event, and a definite improvement from last year. Particular thanks should go to London’s GC who stepped in to help when all others stepped back, and added notable innovations and flair that I hope future GCs will emulate. I very much look forward to DASH 9.

(Full disclosure: due to a family medical emergency, I had to pull out half-way. As a result, some of this post uses feedback from my teammates or other third-hand information.)

Mission accomplished – DASH 8 described

DASH 8 deck of cardsThis site makes no apology for writing a considerable quantity about DASH with just as considerable delight; it’s always 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. If you played DASH elsewhere and were keen to know how London interpreted this year’s puzzles, you can find out here as well.

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, it may be wise to skip this post and it may be very wise to 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 you can click on the mission dossier that is the “Continue Reading” button below. Continue reading