No More Secrets

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I spent last weekend in the SF Bay area for No More Secrets, a Game ably run by first-time hosts Coed Astronomy. You may recall that at about the same time last year, I went down there for the Paparazzi Game and discovered that I was allergic to California. A few months later, however, I was fine during Hogwarts, so I hoped it was just a fluke.

No such luck. The reaction wasn't as brutal this time, but by midnight my nose was running freely and I was not a happy camper. I went through three travel-packs of tissues by the end of the Game. This has me very nervous about PiratesBATH three weekends from now. Are there any allergy remedies that work? I tried some pills (Claritin, maybe?) during Paparazzi, but they had no discernable effect.

Allergies aside, No More Secrets was a well-run, entertaining Game. It was particularly eventful for our team's captain, Jeff, who collaborated with the organizers to incorporate a marriage proposal into the Game's introduction. All the captains were asked to line up in a particular order, and then in unison reveal a page from their starting packets. Each page depicted a giant Scrabble tile which collectively spelled "JESSICA WILL YOU MARRY ME" with Jeff holding the "ME". It took Jessica a few moments to realize she was the one being asked, but she quickly said yes as Jeff got on one knee to present the ring.

Coed Astronomy took our Pit Stop idea from The Mooncurser's Handbook and tweaked it, replacing an assortment of activities with a single linear track of paper puzzles. I'd call the approach a success. It accomplished GC's main goal of slowing down leading teams while still providing them with something fun to do, and as a player it was often welcome to have a place to hunker down for a while and collaborate on puzzles in a setting more conducive to group-solving than a van. The final pit stop was, I think, an unfortunate choice, creating a sense of anticlimax. You really want the event to end with a triumphant surge of van-based puzzling, giving teams the sense of closing in on a finish. Instead, teams wound up staying at one location for hours, first doing a clever and fun series of puzzles (see below) and then killing time at the pit stop before moving on to the wrap party. Briny Deep was inexplicably on fire at this point, burning through the pit stop puzzles with criminal intent while esconced in comfy chairs, so in that sense we didn't mind...

I wasn't crazy about the answer submission system, which had teams phoning in the answer, receiving a new code word in response, and entering that code word into a laptop app to receive instructions on where to go next. It enabled GC to tweak the route and timing on the fly, so I can understand why they chose that approach, but the two-tiered system felt cumbersome. I suspect I'd have objected less if the app was on a Palm instead of a more-awkward-to-carry laptop.

The event's theming and story did nothing for me. The narrative was more of a distraction than a feature since it had no bearing on anything we were actually doing and wasn't particularly compelling. Narrative is hard-- I've only seen two games, The Apprentice: Zorg and Hogwarts, really nail it-- so that's not a knock against Coed Astronomy.

As in so many Bay Area Games, most of the locations were just clue drops with no correlation between the site and the puzzle, either thematically or mechanically. There are some teams who claim not to enjoy conference room-based puzzle events, but I'd argue that if the locations don't matter I'd rather just stay in a conference room. What's the point of sending me from one place to another if I don't need to interact with the location somehow, either in discovering the clue in the first place or solving it once I've got it? Why not just let me sit in a comfortable environment and solve a serialized set of puzzles instead? For Mooncurser's, most of our puzzles were tied in some way to their location. Players bowled at the bowling alley, watched a movie at a movie theater (and got a science fiction movie / theater - themed puzzle at the Galaxy 12 theater), traversed the corn maze, used statues as decoders at a sculpture garden, assembled a sign post at a sign post (well, they would have it they hadn't been skipped over it for time), played food Boggle after lunch, floated down a river to decode nautical flags, solved a song titles puzzle at the Experience Music Project... the locations mattered. Sometimes they can't. Sometimes you just need to get people from point A to point B, and the drive is too long so you need to put a clue somewhere between them to break up the drive. I get that, and that's fine. But most of the locations in a Game should, IMHO, fall into one of two categories: someplace cool or unusual and therefore interesting in its own right, or someplace thematically or mechanically linked to the puzzle found there. Otherwise, what's the point?

GC was friendly and helpful throughout, and we had no glitches either in puzzles or in logistics. We had a great time, and greatly appreciate all the effort that Coed Astronomy put into planning and running the event. I know how much work it is. Thanks!

A clue-by-clue rundown after the jump...

Punch Cards: A series of numbered punch cards with crossword clues. Each answer contained a directional word (UP, LEFT, SOUTH, etc). Tracing the path of the directions on each card yielded letters, and reading the letters in numerical order of their cards provided the answer. A nice first clue-- what to do was immediately apparent, and the form factor made it easy to parallelize and get everyone involved.

Triangles: The basic idea of this puzzle was similar to one I created for Mooncurser's (which was in turn adapted from a puzzle designed by my friend Aaron Weissblum), so I was initially quite psyched to tackle it. A bunch of triangular tiles were divided into thirds, with each third containing a terse text clue (UNIT OF WEIGHT, ANIMAL SOUND, BEAN). The triangles assembled into a bigger triangle by matching edges whose clues are homonyms/homophones of each other. Unfortunately, we matched CLOCK SOUND and BIRD as CUCKOO (instead of TICK and... CARDINAL, I believe), which caused us to have a couple of tiles that we matched only loosely or not at all and just shrugged off, figuring we had enough correctly assembled to get us started on the next step. Then by the time we got into the next step and got a mess of lousy data, we'd forgotten that we had some fudged connections. So we wound up blowing a good chunk of time on this puzzle unnecessarily. I didn't like the fact that once the thing was assembled, the clues on the outer edges didn't need to be solved in the same way that the inner clues were-- there was a completely different encoding system that kicked into effect at that point. That felt inelegant and cost us a bunch of time. Sigh...

Rock Wall: Our team went into the main entrance of the gym, where a climbing wall wth lots of interesting stuff marked off in tape awaited. The tapes were all different colors, and some were numbered and labeled with jazz and rock singers' names. As little girls had some kind of activity class around us, a bunch of grown men in pirate outfits hunkered down to try to figure out what was going on. Meanwhile, no other teams were there. We took photos of the wall and copied down as much data as we could, but feeling increasingly uncomfortable about being in the way of the kids, we exited and called GC. Turns out we were supposed to be around the corner, where a side entrance brought us to a room full of climbing walls. I got into a harness and climbed one of them, but Dann was much faster at it so we just let him do all the rest (my fingers were locked into claws after just the one climb). Each climbing path had a circle of pegs with words on them at the top, each circle corresponding to a rock we were given. Once we collected all the data we made short work of the puzzle, which involved finding the pair of words in each circle that could be anagrammed into the matching rock (AMETHYST, GRANITE, etc) and then reading those two words in the circle as a semaphore letter. I was amazed at my teammates' knowledge of rocks-- left to my own devices, I'd have had to resort to Googling a list of rock types and searching for likely anagram candidates.

Chess: At the Computer Museum we picked up an enormous chess-like board and a page of images grouped into sets. We quickly realized each image represented a six-letter word that could be found in a 2x3 section of the board, and that each section contained a chess piece on one of the squares thereby giving us a letter. So we got the initial message in short order. And even though three of us independently at some point said, "Hey everyone, 2x3 means Braille" we couldn't make the necessary leap of merging all the 2x3 grids from each image set. There were too many other approaches that seemed possible for us to converge on the right one. The puzzle would have been much stronger had it internally clued the merging step. There was also no reason for the words to be arranged in different patterns within the 2x3 grids-- some were simple loops, others were in rows, others were in S-shapes, etc. That seemed like signal, but it wasn't. All the words should have just been simple loops. We burned a lot of time here before getting nudged onto the right track by GC. This puzzle could have been really nice with a little more refinement.

No Morse Egrets: An audio clip gave crossword-style clues which solved to phonetic approximations of various team names (including ours: TIMBER KNEE DEEP!). The timing on this drive-and-solve worked out perfectly for us, since we solved it just as we pulled into the destination town, and everyone on the team enjoyed pitching in. A good group puzzle.

Pipes: A walk through a lovely covered bridge produced a word association maze. The hardest thing about solving this was doing so outdoors, where gusts of breeze threatened to blow away the pieces. I would have enjoyed a larger, more complex version of this puzzle, but word association puzzles are smack in my wheelhouse.

Phone Mastermind: The puzzle itself was entirely pedestrian and straightforward-- playing it by phone didn't alter the basic Mastermind process. Not sure why they bothered with this clue at all. The location, on the other hand, was superb. We loved the blue whale skeleton outside the marine center, and the view of the ocean was pleasant enough that we took a few minutes to just enjoy it.

Numbers: It's always satisfying to be the guy who cracks a puzzle, so when we sat down to look over the list of clues that came with this crossword grid and I realized that they made sense if you put a number in front of them, I was pretty happy. How we managed to not think of treating the values in the table as X and Y coordinates boggles my mind. Unlike the chess puzzle, though, this one was totally our fault. A nice puzzle.

Lego: Another cool location, out on the beach with a shipwreck at the end of the pier. The puzzle was also a great concept-- given a small set of Lego pieces, match each overhead schematic to the correct side view, assemble the pieces properly, and view from the front to see a letter. Except they picked a word that was too backsolvable. Once we had HIP????, we immediately called in HIPSTER. All this puzzle needed was a more carefully-chosen answer. Assembling the Legos was fun, but if a team can short-circuit a puzzle, they will. We'd rather have needed to assemble every letter.

Bank Heist: A huge disappointment. This clue had been built up over the course of the preceding clues. First we received a blueprint of the "bank" we needed to break into. Then we received a couple of transparencies that overlayed the blueprint with additional information about security measures we'd need to overcome. All good, and it seemed to be setting up a nifty scenario. But the reality was lame. Talking our way past the guard required no particular approach-- there was no puzzle to it, it was just basically wheedling until he decided to let us in. Once inside, we had to fish something out of a jacuzzi, which just wasn't very hard or interesting. Finally, the "motion sensor" we had to avoid tripping was a person with a squirt-gun who would fire if our operative's belt of bells made a sound. Turns out you can move pretty quickly in such a belt without jingling. The whole thing was an enormous let-down after the multi-stage build-up. There was no puzzle content, and the physical challenges weren't challenging. There was also a flow problem, in that many teams arrived more or less concurrently, which didn't help matters.

Vowels: This puzzle at the candy shop was one of my favorites (but then, I love word puzzles). Pairs of clues solved to words where all the consonants were the same, but the vowels might not be (e.g. ARENA/URINE). Treat AEIOU as a 5-bit sequence and generate a 5-bit value for each pair of words by turning a bit on if the corresponding vowel appears in the second word of the pair and not in the same position in the first word. If the vowel doesn't appear, or appears in the same place in both words, the bit is off. That gives you values in the 1-26 range, and therefore letters, giving new words. These words can also have their vowels changed, and so on, recursing to a final answer. A solid, fun paper puzzle.

Game of Life: A nice example of interacting with the environment. At this building, a large exterior window looked into an office where, on the far wall, computers were running identical programs. The top of the screen had pairs of monochrome pixel patterns arranged in three pairs, with colons between each pair. The rightmost pattern changed every second. Below those was a scrolling display of 5x5 monochrome patterns, followed by a set of additional patterns in other colors. We also received a PC "sequencer" app that showed us a single 5x5 pattern and three empty 5x5 grids. The grids were interactive-- we could toggle cells on and off, and a VERIFY button would presumably tell us if we had toggled everything correctly.

We'd been forewarned to know about cellular automata, and so we immediately recognized this as a Game of Life puzzle. I left my teammates to get busy while I used the bathroom. Some time later when I emerged, my team had gathered all the images and entered them into Excel, but hadn't figured out what to do with them. They'd tried evolving the first image in the app according to the rules of Life, but that didn't work. There were no obvious relationships among the patterns. I asked them to get me up to speed on what they knew and what they tried. The images at the top of the displays were obviously a clock, so we had the numbers 0-9. When they told me that the clock patterns were 4x4, I immediately knew what we had to do (although it really made no difference-- they could have been 5x5 and the puzzle would have been the same-- but for some reason the fact that they were smaller helped me jump to the right conclusion). There are only 4 rules in Life, which can be summarized as "If a [living | dead] cell has [x] living neighbors, that cell becomes [living | dead] in the next iteration" where x can have multiple values. The 4x4 number patterns were our primer. We had a sequence of 10 patterns, 0-9, and we had to use them to figure out the rules for a customized Game of Life. Once we had them, we could then correctly evolve the single pattern provided in our sequencer app. Once we did, it gave as a sequence of 26 5x5 patterns: an alphabet. This let us translate the sequence from the office into an email address. When we sent an email to that address, a message flashed on the screen in the office with our name and a bunch of colored symbols similar to the ones at the end of the office message. These symbols corresponded to the body of our message. We sent the alphabet next, discovered the symbols were essentially phone-spell (each symbol mapped to letters on the same phone key), and got the final answer.

I thought this was a super puzzle. There was a nice "aha" moment in figuring out what to do, and then executing it was fun and satisfying. I think it's hilarious that practically every team sent the alphabet as their message, which is undoubtedly the WORST possible choice, since any quick-thinking competing team could see that and short-circuit the entire puzzle. Better would be something like THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG, which gives you the whole alphabet but isn't as guessable. In practice I don't think any teams caught on to that and short-circuited, but the point remains.

Gibberish Songs: We powered through the next clue, a list of song lyrics turned into gibberish by replacing each word with a word that rhymed. A veteran of You Don't Know Jack's "gibberish questions", I made short work of this by simply reciting each word without the opening consonant. The whole thing couldn't have taken us more than five minutes to solve. That kind of success is fun to have, but I can't imagine it's what GC expected. A 5-minute puzzle just isn't worth the effort to create, test, and deploy.

Red lights: A large 5x5 grid of blinking red lights was positioned on the Stanford campus. Like everyone else we recorded the patterns and returned to our van. Life was still on our brain, but try as we might we couldn't get the patterns to evolve into anything interesting. We called in to GC to verify that Life was not the correct approach, just so we could get it out of our system and open our minds to other possibilities.

This was a puzzle that just should not have worked. Once Life was eliminated, there were no other clues as to what to do. All we had were a sequence of 5x5 patterns, and it was time to play "guess what the designers were thinking." But I did, in fact, hit on the right solution. The very fact that the data was so sparse limited the realm of possibilities. We were meant to XOR each pattern into the next one in the sequence, producing letters. Amazingly, however, three different people in the van all did the XOR wrong and got garbage. I could chalk it up to being tired, but we were sloppy. Once GC confirmed that XOR was the right idea, we got more serious about it and turned the task over to Excel. Excel is your friend. Excel doesn't make stupid mistakes. Always trust Excel.

DNA Runaround: Oh. My. God. Hands down, the worst puzzle in the event. This puzzle had a confluence of problems: my allergies were in high gear, our team was falling asleep, some of the data we had to gather was fuzzy, the puzzle had too many layers, it relied on a bit of data (that there's a DNA "start" codon) that many teams didn't have, the final step was very weak... a perfect storm of suck. A wide array of objects had to be identified according to the element (earth, air, fire, water) they could represent. These elements then mapped to the GTAC nucleotides of DNA, forming DNA codons. Then we had to leap there being a second categorization system for all the objects, this time based on card suits, which ultmately mapped to Braille. This was far too obtuse a puzzle for the time of night at which it was delivered. The final Braille step was extremely thin and unsatisfying, and the best thing I can say about the puzzle was that we got Pop Rocks, Swedish fish, Red Hots, and Airheads to snack on. I'm certain that James enjoyed this puzzle more than anyone else on Briny Deep, because he slept through it in the van.

Charades: NOW we're talking! Or not, since it's Charades. This was a perfect clue for the time of night, and I would have liked it to have lasted even longer. Each team got split in half, with one half "imprisoned" in a glass-enclosed, mostly sound-proof room and the other half left outside the room to "rescue" them. Each side had a seed word which they charaded to the other, and letters from each correctly-guessed word filled in blanks in the next one in the list. Ok, the mechanics of the puzzle aren't really the point-- the important thing is that we played charades back and forth between the two halves of the team until we got a final answer. We hear the Burninators hated this clue, which pretty much summarizes the difference between us and them [update: Wei-Hwa informs me that the Burninators in fact quite liked this clue, so it turns out this in no way illustrates any difference between us. =)]. Sure, there was no real puzzle here, but after the brain-sapping slog of the previous clue this was an ideal change of pace. I would have happily played charades for an hour here, but it only took us a few minutes to finish the chain.

Sodokube: A big metal cube, each side a 4x4 grid. Some cells had magnetic letters permanently affixed (six different colors, one color per side). We also received a supply of letter magnets in corresponding colors, enough to exactly fill the gaps in the cube. Inspection proved that each color had exactly the same set of letters, and that no letter repeated within each color. This was a sudoku cube. Once assembled, a path on the magnets traced out the answer word (MULTIDIMENSIONALITY). The hefty cube is a nifty artifact, and it's always nice to see a different take on a standard puzzle type. Ironically, we had an almost identical puzzle in Mooncurser's but cut it because, at the time, we thought it was too hard. It's also a suboptimal Game puzzle, in that a cube is difficult for multiple people to work with at a time. We wound up transcribing the data into Excel and splitting into two teams, one working with the spreadsheet and one with the cube itself. Kudos for the breakfast, however-- the quiches were lovely, and I particularly enjoyed the cheese-and-basil sandwiches.

Scrabble runaround: We started with a set of Scrabble tiles and a clue. At each stop, we got a new tile and had to anagram the set into an answer to the new clue. That answer became the basis for a very simple paper-puzzle that yielded the combination to a lock. Photos directed us to a nearby location where we had to unlock a mailbox containing the next tile/clue set. Lather, rinse, repeat too many times. This probably seemed like a good idea on paper, but in practice it went on a little too long and was only a 1-2 person puzzle. The ratio of walking around to doing fun stuff (solving puzzles) was too high. We wound up having 2 of us doing the walking and solving while the rest of the team followed in the van. The puzzles weren't meaty enough for multiple solvers to dig in. Tweaked a bit-- meatier puzzles, LONGER distances between mailboxes so that teams drove from point to point and solved during the drive-- this could have been a fun sequence, but instead it fell flat and wore out its welcome.

Sound maze: I slept through this puzzle-- possibly the first time I've ever napped during a clue. I understand it involved an audio tour of a park, and using the sounds to navigate from place to place. Other than that, I know little.

Double words: This was a very clever puzzle. We received two copies of the same puzzle grid, but while the puzzles on each sheet were identical, the sheets themselves weren't-- each had a different-colored note conveying essentially the same information. We weren't sure what to make of that-- it was clearly not just "here's two copies of the puzzle so you can work on it more easily", but beyond that nothing jumped out. The right edge of both sheets faded away, as if the copier was out of toner (and in fact the notes on each sheet mentioned such a toner problem). The puzzle itself consisted of crossword clues and boxes (most empty, but some already filled in) for the answers, with lines connecting some boxes to others in neighboring answers, indicating that the same letter was to be filled in for all such connected boxes (is there a name for this kind of puzzle?). Except it wasn't working. We filled in all the boxes, but some letters didn't carry over as expected and when we tried to extract a final answer we got parts that made sense and parts that were garbage. And then someone noticed that ?????LA?????? could be answered as either CHOCOLATE , as we'd done, or VANILLA , and it would still fit the clue. That's when the penny dropped, and we realized the same was true for EVERY clue-- there were two possible answers that fit. The faded right edge hiid the fact that the two different answers had different lengths. Brilliant! One set of answers went into one grid, the other set into the second, and presto-- a sensible answer. This was a great idea nicely executed, with a terrific "aha" moment.

My Voice is My Passport, Verify Me: To gain entrance to the next clue site, we basically had to play Karaoke Revolution and about a dozen correct notes. Our task was made a little harder by our inability to recognize our song, which (we later discovered) was Puff the Magic Dragon. So we were just trying to match the notes by feel, which is a lot harder than singing a song you know. Still, a few minutes of effort got us in the door.

Dragonquest: A very nicely conceived and executed puzzle in which parts of the Silicon Valley Microsoft offices were recreated in a medieval text adventure, and everything in the physical world had a virtual analog. We needed to open a locked box with colored buttons (a chest with colored gems) by determining the correct sequence to push. This involved talking to a portrait in the game that asked questions about pictures in the real world; finding half a parchment under the real toilet and the other half in the virtual outhouse; and so forth. While the rest of my team wandered the physical site, I explored the virtual one and called in when I found something of interest. That parallelization worked nicely. I wonder why they chose a horrid Scott Adams-style parser (GO N instead of just N) instead of a friendly Infocom-style parser. The parser cost one team at least an hour when their attempts to TOUCH RED met with "Don't touch that", where TOUCH RED GEM was required. Ugh. Happily, that didn't bite us. This was a fresh, innovative puzzle that worked well and I really enjoyed.

10 Comments

Hi Peter, I've been waiting eagerly for your write up all week! I just wanted to note that our short puzzles/activities were actually short by design; the idea being to give teams (particularly the non-lead teams) variety of interaction throughout the game and a quick sense of accomplishment if they just got spanked by one of the longer, harder ones (thus, the five-ten minute rhyming clue after the game of life clue, which in playtest, took teams up to three hours to solve). Pacing and challenge was something I think we really thought about a lot (puzzles and logistics really being the other two "top priorities", less so plot and sites as you note above -- although we tried to take the teams to some interesting sites). I'm not sure if we completely succeeded, but we really tried to design an experience that would be satisfying for both teams in the back half and the top half.

I too have been waiting for your write up all week - but for entirely different reasons. As the recepient of the caramel marshmallows that turned out to be out of this world good - I was hoping for a reveal of the source. You mention the candy store above, but without enough detail for me to find for myself. Mateys, anyone know the information I desire?

Marini's Candies
http://www.mariniscandies.com/

Glad you liked it! :)

Yes! While the website does not contain a listing for the caramel marshmallows - Santa Cruz is close enough for me to visit! Thanks!

Thanks for the thorough writeup, Peter! Regarding your observation about clues that aren't themed to locations, I think it's just a case of making a Game in your own image; i.e. focusing on the things that are important to you. When our team plays a Game, we actually don't really go for the location-based things at all, unless there's a great activity associated with it (like the bowling alley in Mooncurser's) -- a running joke when presented with a data collection clue is "Man, I wish they just gave this to us on paper". Yet we still prefer driving around to conference-room style hunts (even though we enjoy those too) because of the sense of adventure you get from travelling from location to location, so I would argue that at least for us there's still a "point" to collecting a clue that's out of its element, as long as it's a good one :)

I'm of the opinion that honest feedback is the only kind that's of any value, and sadly the things that usually stick in one's mind are the things that went wrong or that you wish had gone differently, so my write-ups can seem far more harsh than intended. So let me reiterate that I had a great time at Ho More Secrets, and the event as a whole felt smooth and well-considered.

I understand what you mean about data collection at clue sites. Some people felt we had too much of that in Mooncurser's. In retrospect I'd agree (although clues that some might consider data collection, like the sculpture garden and corn maze, I'd categorize differently). It's a tricky balance. Priority number one is that the clues should be fun. After that, I'd prefer a clue that's strongly tied to a location over one that could be given to me anywhere.

None of the Bay Area Games in the past few years have incorporated searching for your clue as an element of the Game-- you usually find them in plain sight when you arrive. The only exception I can think of offhand was in Justice Unlimited, when we had to search a foggy beach by flashlight (which was awesome). It would be fun to have a Game where the search was not only more important, but also fun. Shelby Logan's Run did a good job with this, but power boating, driving ATVs, and shimmying up rock chimneys are more of the exceptions than the rule. Still, I'd love to have to use GPS to find a buried clue on a beach (Yarrrrrr!), climb a tree (well, on Briny Deep it'd be Dann doing the climbing), hook a clue from a pier with a fishing line, search wheel wells in a parking lot, etc.

Ho More Secrets?? Now that sounds like a Game that I'd want to play in...

First off, I appreciate seeing your candor. I've run too many Games only to hear thinly veiled positive feedback (not helpful) as a result. I wish every team would write up something like this (ourselves included) to share their perspective. It's also nice when GCs admit what they thought worked and what didn't work.

While I agree on some of your points, I must disagree with others. Some of the clues you said "sucked" were actually well put together and clues the we appreciated and enjoyed. For instance, we rolled through the layers of the DNA elements and even knew it was the start codon (we just had an error on our coding sheet). And while we choked on the Chess clue (should have seen Braille), we still felt it was a pretty darn well designed clue -- the failure was ours.

So, for anybody posting honest feedback, try to be very careful separating how you & your team did with how the clue was actually put together. It's okay to say "we hated the clue 'cause we were tired & stumbled hard and missed the hints -- but it was a well designed clue". It's also okay to say "even though we rocked this clue, we disliked the monotony of datagathering and number crunching... etc etc"

As for sites.... I must agree--sites are what separate the Game from just another web-based puzzle hunt. We spent nearly 10 hours on Stanford campus (30% of the Game at a set of very familiar sites). This meant 10 hours without a good bite to eat or a chance to feel like we travelled at all. While breakfast was a welcome site, we all wanted decent coffee but didn't want to risk leaving too far off the Game path. The end result was that by noon we were all dehydrated and wishing for a frosty beverage.

Ditto on the double-confirmation approach. While it's great for a GC, it gets tiresome solving for random 7-letter words that then generate another random word to be typed into a laptop. I miss the good old "COVERED BRIDGE IN FELTON" solutions to puzzles -- no double call in necessary (just a little more work in clue-design on GC's end).

We weren't so sure about the PitStop (Field Office) approach. In the rear, we showed up with about 15 minutes to waste before being sent on. The end result of this added time was at least 1 skipped clue. While it worked to slow the spread up front, it works differently for different teams--- we'd just as soon have been skipped past field offices so we could work on the cool clues ahead (instead of the other way around). What if only the first 2/3s of teams hit the field office and the rest got leapfrogged *past* the field office. This would also work.

While I agree on some of your points, I must disagree with others. Some of the clues you said "sucked" were actually well put together and clues the we appreciated and enjoyed.

I didn't say any clue sucked. I did give a list of reasons why were didn't enjoy the DNA clue, including fatigue and allergies, summarizing the experience (not the clue) as a "perfect storm of suck". Had it ended after step 2, the clue would have been fine-- we actually did very well up to that point, and would have left feeling pretty good. But when we submitted the step 2 answer and were given step 3, we were completely ready for that clue to be done. I'll concede that double-mapping things into suits and elements may have been clever, but where the DNA sequencing made sense, the final Braille step made less. It was not fun for our team.

2. Regarding the chess clue, I gave specific feedback about where we got hung up and why, and concluded that the puzzle could have been great with just a little tweaking. That's a far cry from saying it sucked.

Generally, if you look back at all my past Game commentary, I think you'll find that I'm pretty good about separating "we hated/botched this clue" from "this was a terrible clue." I also try to back up my opinions with reasons, so the reader can see why my thumb is up or down.

Peter, you're right..... I confused "perfect storm of suck" with "Hands down, the worst puzzle in the event". My comments were definitely not aimed at you but to other readers in general about posting Game wrap ups. I, myself, have fallen into the trap of mingling our experience with the clue's actual design flaws/benefits.

Once again, I do have to agree with you on your point you just made in the post above.... arbitrary layering can bog down clues. It's easy to add another ROT13 layer to make a clue 'harder', but that doesn't make the clue 'better' and definitely doesn't make it more elegant.

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