Hogwarts and the Draconian Prophecy

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Last weekend I escaped the Muggles to participate in Hogwarts and the Draconian Prophecy. This Game was run by Snout, the same team that ran the Justice Unlimited Game a couple of years ago. With such a richly themed subject and an experienced GC at the helm, we had high expectations for this event and were not disappointed. Snout hit many balls out of the park.

Their biggest success was with theming. The world of Harry Potter is rich with detail and flavor, and Snout leveraged that to create an intensely thematic Game experience. We were Sorted into Houses, rode the Hogwarts Express, attended classes, used wands (by far the coolest thing about the Game, and described in detail below), snuck into Hogsmeade, collaborated with other teams in our House, mixed potions, withdrew funds from Gringott's, and evaded Dementors. Surprisingly, however, there was no quidditch. Some kind of faux sporting event involving all sixteen teams would have been a blast, and this seems like a real missed opportunity.

The entire staff remained in character throughout the Game-- headmaster Curtis never once slipped from his faux British accent. In their last Game, I felt like Snout dropped the putative premise of the Game-- that we'd been recruited as substitute superheroes in the wake of the disappearance of the more established ones-- almost immediately and instead just presented us with puzzles that incorporated references to established Marvel and DC superheroes. With Hogwarts, they let the theme inform the Game design and incorporated it thoughout the event. And they did so without once using any of the established Hogwarts characters but Hagrid (if Curtis' headmaster was Dumbledore, I don't recall ever hearing the name used).

The second area in which Hogwarts excelled was in story. The Game wasn't just themed as Hogwarts, but followed the basic outline of a Harry Potter novel. Imagine our surprise to discover that the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor had gone missing even before the Game began, or that the substitute turned out to be evil! The flow of the Game followed the story very well, and while not every puzzle made strict "in-story" sense, a remarkable number of them did. The plot actually advanced and got resolved in a dramatic and entertaining way.

By dividing teams into Houses and awarding House points, Hogwarts was the first Game I've played in which encouraged collaboration among teams (Our Mooncurser's Handbook Game encouraged interaction among teams, but not cooperation to this extent). We've competed with The Burninators in past Games, but at Hogwarts they were in our House and we wound up collaborating with them on many puzzles. Our playing styles are very different, so it's unlikely this would ever have happened under other circumstances. We enjoyed getting to know them better. I particularly liked the one puzzle where all four teams in each House needed to work together to get the solution, and wish there had been more such collaborative moments in the event.

The clues in Hogwarts were perhaps the least successful element of the Game. Most were perfectly fine, but none were especially innovative, surprising, or delightful (although the wand device was amazing). We often referred to a textbook given to us early in the Game, and in fact this crutch was overused. Having only two copies of the book also limited the number of teammates who could actively participate at times. On the other hand, very few clues came on paper-- Snout did a great job of delivering interesting materials to manipulate.

Snout didn't get everything right (more on that below), but the magnitude of their successes far outweighs the things that could have been done better. This was a stellar Game and a terrific experience. All involved should feel exceptionally proud.

Now for the play by play.

Sorting Hat: The Game began at platform nine and three quarters of the Emeryville train station, where we checked in and walked a short way to a movie theater. The sorting hat ceremony was supposed to happen inside the theater, but a snafu with the management forced the staff to go to plan B and we had the ceremony outside instead. A computer-animated sorting hat sang a unique sorting song for each of the sixteen teams, placing us in the four Hogwarts Houses (my Briny Deep teammates and I chanted "Anything but Hufflepuff! Anything but Hufflepuff!" as we appeared before the sorting hat, and to our relief were placed in Slytherin). There was much cheering as each team was sorted and given red, yellow, blue, or green bandanas as House identification to wear during the Game (all of the bandanas also had a simple semaphore puzzle giving us our House password). We were then given our breakfast, which is the first place Snout went awry. The Game began at 7:30 AM, which means we were up by 6:30 and had a long day ahead of us. We'd been promised breakfast, however, so we didn't grab anything before we left. The breakfast they provided-- a bottle of juice, a shrinkwrapped danish, and a string cheese-- was woefully inadequate. When we provided teams with a bagged breakfast in Mooncurser's, we gave them fresh bagels and cream cheese, milk, cereal, juice, and fruit, in ample quantity. So when Snout promised a bagged breakfast, we expected we'd be well-fed. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw how meager their bagged breakfast was, and my heart sank a little.

Hogwarts Express: Escorted by prefects dressed in robes of their House colors, we walked back to the train station to wait for the Hogwarts Express. Speculation abounded as to where we were going. Some people thought Tahoe was likely, while our team felt UC Davis-- a school campus that could act as Hogwarts, especially since classes were not yet in session-- was a top candidate. The mystery of where we were headed was unfortunately spoiled when an Amtrak employee got on the loudspeaker to ask, "Will the leader of the Hogwarts group to Sacramento please come to the ticket counter?" The waiting players let out a collective groan at the unintended spoiler. This is the second place I thought Snout miscalculated. The Game began at 7:30, and there was quite a bit of waiting around before the sorting ceremony began. The train didn't leave until 9:15, and there was more waiting before that. Almost two hours into the Game, we'd done a lot of waiting and hadn't yet received a single puzzle. Some delay at the start is inevitable as teams arrive and check in, and obviously Snout needed to make sure they had enough time to complete the sorting ceremony before the train departed. But at the start of a Game you're primed and ready to go. Some kind of puzzle to work on before boarding the train would have been welcome. Perhaps the bandanas were that puzzle, but they were cracked so quickly it's hard to think of them that way.

Once the train got underway an owl traveled the aisle to deliver that day's Daily Prophet which brought us up to speed on the story so far. Professor Cross, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, was missing and wanted for questioning by the Ministry of Magic. Wizards and witches were losing their magic. Mugglium, an element hazardous to wizarding folk and thought to be a myth, had been discovered. And oh, look-- a crossword! Solving it told us our class schedule would come from a flavorful source. A little while later, we received a huge package of Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Beans. Teams had been divided into third, fourth, and fifth-year students, and each year received a different package. We needed to sort the flavors (which included such treats as Sardine, Upchuck, and Garlic) and count them to create an order, then read the first letters of the flavors in that order. In the case of the fifth year students, however, the flavors were already listed on the package in the correct order, so no puzzle solving was actually necessary. So far as we know none of the fifth-year teams noticed, however, until well into their sorting process, so this didn't wind up spoiling the puzzle (except that we didn't "solve" the puzzle so much as we "noticed" the answer was already there for us).

Upon arrival in Sacramento we followed a picture trail to lead us to the location of our first class.

Care of Magical Creatures: Hagrid (who looked and sounded the part quite well) welcomed us to class and gave us our textbooks-- custom-made books with information about creatures, spells, potions, wand use, encoding schemes, wizardly lore, and the like. Over the course of the Game we'd refer back to the book frequently and repeatedly. After quizzing us on the properties of various creatures, which we'd answer by searching through the book's bestiary, we moved on to the class assignment. Hagrid played a recording of weird sounds, and we needed to identify which creatures made them based on the descriptions given in the bestiary. The bestiary listed 26 creatures, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, so identifying the creatures gave us the location of our next class. Matching the sounds to creatures was an inexact process. Which one might sound like a ratchet on steroids? Which one like an underwater gurgle? When finished, we received a CD with a complete study guide of all 26 animals and their sounds, which we expected would come in useful later. Andrew spent the remaining class time listening to the guide and learning what everything sounded like.

Defense Against the Dark Arts: Our substitute, Professor Guzzany, taught us the fundamental of wandcraft. Each team was issued a wand, which was an incredibly cool device building on the basic concepts of the DRUID and Bat Blinker from Justice. The wand had five red LEDs at the tip, and was turned on by tapping it against something. Built into the wand was an accelerometer which enabled the wand to detect and recognize gestures. Our textbook had a lexicon of phonemes and the corresponding "mwanemes"-- looping or flicking motions with the wand. Stringing together the proper sequence of mwanemes "cast" a spell and generated a response from the wand which could be seen by waving the wand back and forth to create a persistence of vision optical illusion of scrolling text. Answers during the Game often took the form of spells we needed to cast with the wand. Upon casting the correct spell, the wand would then supply us with instructions on where to go or what to do. This device alone brought the theming rating to 11. Some teams had difficulty mastering the wand and found it very frustrating, but Andrew mastered our wand quickly and we loved it. Sure, it took longer than typing an answer into a Palm and sometimes required multiple attempts to get correct, but the coolness factor and thematic rightness trumped any such quibbles. The varying degrees of wand mastery among teams created additional opportunities for collaboration, as teams with lesser ability at wanding would assist others with puzzles in exchange for the information yielded by casting the result successfully.

The wands also had built-in clocks with preprogrammed skip schedules for clues. Solve a clue beyond a certain time, and the wand would automatically and transparently skip you over the next clue to maintain the schedule. Right out of the gate the schedule got a little tight-- I think the train was delayed, which cut into the class timetable-- and our Defense class was curtailed to keep the schedule. Unfortunately, lunch was served very late during this class, which meant we were rushed and didn't have much time to eat. We were famished in the wake of the light breakfast, so this was less than ideal but not really under Snout's control.

Potions: Our last class was Potions. Our professor was not Snape, unfortunately (we Slytherins would have had a House advantage), but he was entertaining and in-character throughout. A kit of eight colored liquids, 8 plastic pipettes, and four receptacles was set before us along with a logic puzzle. Solving the puzzle told us what liquids to mix together. The resulting four potions-- one of which foamed and expanded dramatically-- each had a different color matching some of the colors around the border of the puzzle. Ignoring the colors not represented by the potions, the potion colors appeared either alone or immediately next to one other-- dots and dashes of Morse code telling us what spell to cast for our next instructions. Once again, class was a little too rushed here and we'd have enjoyed having more time.

House Portrait: Each House was faced with their own House portrait and a box with a combination lock. The frame of the portrait was decorated with colored stones, and the figure in the portrait wore a necklace featuring chains of colored stones. Each chain represented a letter in the password we got from the bandana. The same stone patterns could be found on the frame, allowing the frame to be decoded into a message: CAST ARCSTONES. Casting ARCSTONES with the wand told us to cast the name of our House, which then gave us the combination to the lock. My big problem with this puzzle was that some of the stones on the frame weren't used-- they were just noise. Since the authors had complete freedom to compose the puzzle as they wished, there was no reason why all the stones couldn't have been used. This would have made it much cleaner. Instead, we kept thinking we were doing something wrong because we had unused stones. The puzzle itself was therefore unsatisfying, but the process-- in which all four teams of each House worked together-- was terrific. I was in the center of the Slytherin clump so I was directly involved and really enjoyed it, but I heard from teammates on the fringe of the clump that they were too far away from the action to participate, which is unfortunate. Perhaps if the portraits had been poster-sized instead of 8.5 x 11, more people could have felt involved. But the underlying idea of getting all four teams of a House to work together was outstanding, different, and really fun.

Dorms: The locked box contained the keys to our dorm rooms, which were parked in a nearby lot. Aha, vans! Upon reaching our van we discovered three things: 1) a cooler full of beverages and munchies, plus a first-aid kit, 2) a package labeled "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" containing a bunch of maps, including a Marauder's Map of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, and 3) a CD with a message from the Ministry of Magic telling us to sneak into Hogsmeade for an important meeting, but to avoid getting caught by any Hogwarts staff who would take away House points for being off the grounds without authorization.

A word about the vans: ours was a Kia, with barely enough room for 6 people. When we play in full Games, we always rent a larger, 12- or 15-person van. We remove a bench to create a workspace in the van, and the extra room allows people to sleep in the back. These vans afforded none of that, so things were quite cramped. Since the van forced us into three rows of two, it made it difficult for everyone to work on some of the clues. This was exacerbated by Snout's choice to provide only two copies of each paper-based clue. Given that we were in three rows, three copies would have been far preferable. To be fair, there were very few paper-based clues in the Game-- which makes the question of why they didn't supply us with more copies of those few all the more puzzling.

Hogsmeade: Another exceptionally cool part of the Game. Sneaking from our vans to the clandestine meeting was a ton of fun. We made life harder on ourselves than it needed to be by not realizing that our Hogsmeade map was a Marauder's Map with footprints representing the locations and routes of the Hogwarts staff. Instead, we just flew by the seat of our pants, which may have been even more fun. Thematically, the choice of location was spot-on. Our vans were parked at a Sacramento mall. Just outside the mall was a tunnel that led to Old Sacramento, a touristy area of old-time frontier-looking shops. This jived perfectly with the books, in which a secret tunnel leads from Hogwarts to the retail town of Hogsmeade. I think the sheriffs or park rangers or whoever they were in their brown uniforms and flat-rimmed trooper hats didn't quite know what to make of all the oddly-dressed people playing a big game of hide and seek in their town. We hid from them almost as much as we hid from the Hogwarts staff! When we finally reached our rendezvous, we were told that Professor Cross was researching the Draconus Device-- a magic-sucking artifact legend said was disassembled and hidden by the four Hogwarts founders-- when she went missing. We needed to find her.

Floo Network: We got on Cross' trail by tracking her movements through the floo network. We received a diagram of the network, along with cryptic traces of her passage that turned out to be ultra-compressed word associations. This was a nice puzzle, well-presented on scorched parchment (but a third copy would have made it easier for all of us to be involved).

Broomsweeper: At our next location-- the Nimbus Fish Hatchery-- we picked up a broom and our next puzzle, a game of minesweeper with brooms instead of mines and many values already filled in. Once we found all the brooms they formed braille letters telling us to correct the mistakes. Many of the given values were blatant errors that appeared in clumps. Connecting the members of these clumps in numerical order created letters giving us our answer. This was a straightforward puzzle we dispatched quickly.

Magic Mirror: A mirror with strange symbols around its perimeter, along with a message telling us that the spell should be drummed, not waved. The symbols were from a code given in the textbook, but each symbol was a mirror image and the alphabet was listed backwards. Another easy puzzle, but we were impressed that not only could the wand detect waving gestures, but it also had rhythm and could detect different drumming patterns-- in this case, the first few bars of Puff the Magic Dragon.

Traveling Tunes: An audio CD with 18 tracks, paired up on the jewel case with a roman numeral between track numbers. Also included was a map of the London Underground system, with each stop replaced by the name of a musical artist. We identified the songs and artists fairly quickly, but had trouble figuring out what to do with them. It was a complete brain fart. My call to GC went something like this:

Me: "We've identified all the artists and songs. We've tried treating the routes between pairs as semaphore, we've counted the number of stations between the pairs and used that as an index, we've noticed that all the pairs have an odd number of stations between them, but we're not getting anything sensible."
GC: "Ok, so you've counted the number of stations between the pairs--"
Me: "--and we need to use the roman numeral as an index into the name of the stop at the middle of the route connecting the pairs, don't we. Nevermind!"

We arrived at that site 30 minutes ahead of the next team, and left about 15 minutes after they did. Not our best moment.

Gringott's: In the back of an organic cafe we found, of all things, an old mine tunnel! We hunched over and crept across the planked floor by the light of bare overhead bulbs to find a Gringott's teller at the far end. He allowed us to make a withdrawal from our account, handing us a sack of gold Gringott's galleons (foil-wrapped chocolate). Each galleon had a unique date, all divisible by 3, and the wrapper bore the quote "What hath God wrought?" The quote was the first message transmitted by telegraph, cluing Morse code. Express each date in base three, treat zeroes as spaces, ones as dots, and twos as dashes, and presto-- each coin is a letter in Morse. This was also the dinner stop, but instead of providing us with dinner they gave us $15 each to go buy dinner ourselves nearby. We chose the Mexican restaurant next door, which had a terrific apple jalapeno carnitas special and friendly waitstaff.

Rygbi Klew's Potions: Five bottles of juice-- er, I mean potions-- with various patterns of colored stripes on them. Arranged in the right order, the stripes could be read as 5-bit binary by reading only red stripes as ones across the top of all 5 bottles, then only the yellow stripes across the second row, then green across the next, then blue, then indigo, then back to red. We didn't much care for this puzzle, because the decoding scheme seemed entirely arbitrary. This puzzle seemed like it was intended to leverage what we'd learned in potions class, but it didn't. In potions class we'd been trained to ignore the colors that weren't represented in our potions. All of the juices were red, so ignoring the non-red colors would have made more sense.

Honeyduke's Bars: Three big chocolate bars stacked atop each other, many with red and/or blue sugar candies affixed to some of the squares of the bar. This was obviously Braille, with each chocolate bar representing the top, middle, or bottom row of Braille, but we couldn't get it to work without GC's help. This was for two reasons. First, we kept on trying to solve using an encoding system that seemed more natural and elegant than GC's: treat each square as a letter; red dots in the left column, blue in the right (the Honeydukes logo on the wrapper showed HONEY in red and DUKES in blue, hence red=left, blue=right). The real encoding was that the red dots were one data stream reading forwards, the blue was another reading backwards, and each letter required two chocolate squares from each bar instead of just one. Our second problem was that we oriented the bars exactly as they were given in the wrapper, using the Cadbury logos on the chocolate as a double-check to make sure they were all aligned, but our middle bar was incorrectly constructed in reverse. So we kept getting garbage no matter what we tried. Very, very frustrating.

The Draconian Prophecy: On the banks of a river we finally tracked down the missing Professor Cross, who had been driven insane by exposure to Mugglium. The person playing her part really threw herself into the role and was absolutely fantastic, never once dropping out of character. She told us the Draconus Device was divided into 16 pieces, so all 16 study groups would need to work together. She gave us the spell we'd need to cast in unison (DYNAMITE) once all pieces were obtained, and handed us a complete copy of the Draconian Prophecy. The prophecy contained veiled references to a series of spells, the first letters of which gave us our answer. The puzzle itself was easy, but the combination of the strong performance and the elegantly printed and origami'd prophecy made this a very fun, thematic location.

Animal Sounds: Elsewhere along the river we found a matrix of small spheres strung up in the air. A series of animal sounds could be heard, and with each sound a different set of spheres lit up. Andrew's study of the CD from our Care of Magical Creatures class paid off here, enabling him to quickly identify the animals. When the animals were grouped by threat level and the lights for each threat level were displayed together, they formed the letters of our answer spell. We figured out pretty quickly that the threat values were important here, but we wanted to treat the spheres as inputs into the squares to which they were adjacent in the matrix, using the threat values of the animals as input values and summing them. That, of course, never worked (yet again, in the process of solving a puzzle we invented a completely different one), and it took a nudge for us to try something simpler.

Gryffindor: Professor Cross informed us that each of the four founders left challenges behind to protect the fragments of the Draconus Device, and we'd need to overcome each of them. FIrst up was Gryffindor, where we received a talisman that blinked in three colors. We very quickly discovered that squeezing the talisman turned it off, and squeezing it again not only turned it back on but changed the sequence of lights. We cracked this one virtually immediately, reading each triple-blink as a base 3 value with red as 0, green as 1, and blue as 2. Each squeeze sequence was one word. By the time two of us had transcribed one sequence, another pair of us had decoded the previous one.

Ravenclaw: Time for tea! Curtis served us six cups of tea from a coffee truck. Each cup had "tea leaves" marked on the bottom. We needed to identify the shapes of the tea leaves, then find the associated meaning of those shapes in the divination section of the textbook. The section on reading tea leaves mentioned that a symbol's rotation affected its strength, so arranging the symbols in order of their rotation and reading the first letters of their meanings provided the answer. I thought this was a nice puzzle, but I was a little tired of the whole "look it up in the textbook" mechanic, which by this point had been overused.

Slytherin: Two Slytherin guardians blocked access to all but those demonstrating Slytherin qualities. So I went with a classic: "Look, over there!" The guardians obediently looked in that direction, giving us a chance to sneak behind their turned backs and swipe our next challenge (and a woefully inadequate breakfast of Trader Joe's breakfast bars, further cementing our belief that Team Snout are in fact birds). The challenge was essentially a tangram puzzle, once again referring back to the textbook for the shapes. Two parts of this puzzle's design really bothered me. First, each tangram had an eight-letter nonsense word associated with it. When I see over a dozen words all the same length, that jumps out as being important. In this case, I expected to read down a column of their letters. Nope-- their names were completely unused, except for an acrostic from their initial letters. So why make all the nonsense words equal length? Second, each tangram wound up getting associated with a number between 10 and 260. With all those juicy names of equal length, made of unusual letters, those numbers were just begging to be indices or a way to order all of the tangrams. Nope. We had to divine, unhinted, that we should drop the trailing 0 so that we had numbers in the 1-26 range, which we could then treat as letters. Perhaps someone will tell me that the numbers were in fact an ordering scheme, and that reading down the proper column of the names produced a clue to the 1-26 approach-- in which case, my objections are withdrawn. Barring that... blech!

Ceramic Tiles: We expected a Hufflepuff challenge, but this was completely unrelated-- perhaps it was a slow-down puzzle for teams ahead of the curve at this stage. We received a 6x6 sheet of ceramic tiles with pigpen cipher symbols on the back. Read in the proper orientation, the symbols told us to reconstruct an image with the front of the tiles. We promptly separated the tiles, flipped them over, and assembled the image (a Hogwarts "H"). In fact, it took us more time to squabble about how to flip the tiles back over to read the rearranged pigpen for our next destination than it did to assemble the thing.

Hufflepuff: The final founder's challenge gave us a bag of ball bearings and colored magnetic rods. Each rod bore a symbol at each end and a positive or negative value at its center. A slip of paper gave us four rows of symbols divided into sets of 3-5. Solving was a simple matter of assembling a polyhedron by connecting the symbols in each set, then adding the values on all rods of the same color. These produced values in the 1-26 range, giving us the spell to cast. This was a fun little puzzle to work on, but unfortunately it wasn't a great group puzzle-- only a couple of us could really work on it at a time. The rest schmoozed with other Slytherins at the site and collaborated on figuring out the right deciphering steps.

Dementor Tablet: We had to sneak by a pair of roaming dementors to recover the next clue, a tablet with 16 lines of Roman numerals and cuneiform numbers. We noticed that there were only 4 different Roman values-- 54, 60, 70, and 75, but we had no idea why. The directions that brought us here said we might need first aid, and our first aid kit included 4 squares of chocolate (protection against dementors), but because we didn't get tagged by the dementors we didn't think it mattered. A quick call to GC suggested otherwise, so we took another look at the chocolate and discovered that each square had a different level of cocoa content-- 54%, 60%, 70%, and 75%. Aha! The cuneiform values indexed into the names of the four chocolate squares, and presto! We were off.

The funny story from this location involves the Burninators, who were at the site with us and were equally stumped. When we told them GC said our first aid kits were needed, they gave us blank looks. The conversation then went something like this: "You know, the first aid kits in the cooler." "Cooler?" "The cooler full of snacks in the back of the van." "We never looked in there!" Turns out each of them had thought the cooler belonged to someone else, so nobody ever opened it. They promptly ran to the cooler, grabbed the first aid kit, and attacked the stockpile of snacks they hadn't known had existed, shoveling down in 5 minutes all the food that had been intended to tide them over for the past 20 hours.

Ziggurat: The final challenge combined a bunch of terms culled from many of the puzzles we'd solved during the Game, and required us to search through the textbook and other materials to resolve each term to a single letter. This was a fun, quick team effort that brought everything together nicely. Upon getting our final answer we received a piece of the Draconus Device.

Finale: All teams gathered for a banquet at a riverboat hotel, where we turned over our fragment of the artifact to the headmaster who in turn placed it at the head table. Steaming trays of scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausages, muffins, and fruit arrived on the buffet and a horde of ravenous players finally got to fill our bellies. Once all teams arrived, Professor Guzzany began the ceremony to permanently destroy the Draconus Device. But when he finally cast an incantation, the assembled throng was shocked-- shocked, I tell you!-- to hear him say "Reparo!" The device came together into one piece and the assembled wizards and witches collapsed unconscious as Guzzany began to gloat. The sixteen wand-bearers among us stepped forward and began casting DYNAMITE, but many fizzled. A confident Guzzany taunted and goaded us as we made a second attempt which also failed. Finally, in our third and more orchestrated attempt, the spell succeeded. The Draconus Device was destroyed, and the power-hungry Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was taken into custody.

8 Comments

a. thorough write up as always, I admire the way you heap praise, but don't withhold criticism
b. you usually tell us how your team did in the competition
c. seems like Ms. Rowling might have fun reading this

slytherin was the 3rd place house. ravenclaw won with 2515, gryffindor 2513, and slytherin 2500. with hufflepuff a few hundred points below that. it was really close for the house cup. 15 points between 1st and 3rd is basically someone late to class losing house points or getting bonus points for knowing an answer in class or something. as for individual team standings, they havent released how many points each team earned yet.

1) FYI wand website is http://www.rawbw.com/~acorn/wand
2) for the tangrams clue, the pun "ten-grams" was supposed to be a hint that the important info was in multiples of 10. :)
3) Thanks for the great description! Really fun to read about your experience!

Great writeup, Peter. Agreed with pretty much all your points. The Golden Snitch had as fun a time as you did, especially with the wand, wow, that was great. Of all the skills I've picked up in my Gaming, by far the most useless is my new ability to draw spells on paper.

I believe we saw one clue you did not (after Nimbus, the cards, that was a great clue), and it appears you saw one clue that we did not (ceramic tiles). The Burninators also saw a clue that no one else did (after Professor Cross) but did not see the animal sounds.

Our 3rd year classmates in Ravenclaw (Pimp My Broomstick) were the ones that actually found the 5th year message as an acrostic ... Curtis later confirmed that was a mistake on GC's part, easing our confusion. We got house points for pointing it out at the time though.

I understand you guys actually made a deposit at Gringotts, making the trolls very happy?

Agreed with the tightness of the vans (we had a Kia too, a little crowded). And at least one of the vans had GPS! Not ours though.

I liked the way you guys worked with the Burninators in some of the later clues ... wish we could have had that opportunity with more of our housemates.

A granola bar is not breakfast, agreed (esp. after being up all night, when you need a 2 am meal just to keep going anyway). At least we got to gorge at the very end.

And I hope they never publish 'individual' standings; they were pretty clear that the only scorekeeping was per house, and in fact if I were counting points I would have poured all house tokens from all 4 house teams into the same bag before doing any counting at all. I think playing with houses was just terrific fun. Everything about the pregame just got me so excited about trying something different with this Game, and all my expectations were surpassed. I'm always happy with GC tries something new, and they really hit the nail on the head with this one.

Re the Rygbi potions clue - our juice was blue, not red, so leaving out the color of the potion wouldn't have worked... unless they made several different versions of the puzzles (based on juice color) that all resolved to the same thing. That would have been pretty cool.

I'm glad you also felt the decoding scheme was pretty arbitrary, because that was our take on it too. We had to be more or less walked through that one by GC before we got it.

Those wands are simply amazing. I've been staring at the ACORN page and those guys should manufacture and sell those. (If they can do it as a kit for $30, then they can mass produce them and sell a million of them at $49.95).

And I'm sure kids would want them, too.

Early in the process, we had plans for a Quidditch game, but it just didn't survive the logistic juggling and gameflow revisions. Back in February, we even discovered these rules, which we considered adapting:
http://www.marlboro.edu/about/news/pr/2005/11/14/quidditch_at_marlboro

Great write-up for a really fun Game. I go to Sacramento all the time for work, and now I won't be able to stop imagining that I'm re-visiting Hogwarts.

Blinded By Quidditch (and one other Gryffindor team: Auror Monks?) saw one more clue that wasn't mentioned here, right before the Ziggurat. It was a heinous word search/International Area Code clue that I understand was expressly designed to be oblique and slow down anyone who had a chance of getting to the final banquet too early. You didn't miss anything. (We were sad to miss the Travelling Tunes CD clue and the cards clue mentioned by Golden Snitch).

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