Charlottesville Diamond Dash 2011, A Race Around the City

Charlottesville Diamond Dash - Group photo

A few weeks ago, my husband, our friends, and I participated in a fun race event, the Fink’s Diamond Dash, hosted by a local jewelry store.  These events seem to be becoming pretty popular as marketing tools for jewelers across the U.S..  A Diamond Dash is usually a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt that sends players all over their city, eventually leading the winners to an expensive diamond ring prize.  Though most of the promotional language for the Dashes uses words like “hidden” “hunt” and “find”, the rings are not actually hidden somewhere in the city, but are presented at an afterparty to the team with the most points.

My city’s Diamond Dash was set up by Fink’s Jewelers of Charlottesville, and SCVNGR, a company that provides its social mobile game platform for events like these (and also organizes the events in their entirety, I presume).  SCVNGR’s games utilize mobile phone technology, sending and receiving clues and answers via text message.  In our town’s Diamond Dash, teams were sent two messages for each clue:  the name and street address of a location downtown, and a question or riddle.  The questions would usually ask for details about the locations, such as names on inscriptions, or products in display windows.  If teams texted back the correct answer to the question, they would receive points and the next clue shortly after.  Teams got three tries for each clue before they were automatically sent on to the next one.

Photos by Jamie Reinicke Photography

Here is how things worked the day of the race:  Teams of two who signed up online and received approval all gathered downtown at the event’s starting place.  Each team registered, got a T-shirt, and was given instructions for setting up their cell phone with the SCVNGR text system.  At 1:00, the MC gave a countdown and all the teams sent in a text to the system to initiate the clues.  After a few moments, each team received a random clue from the system (having the clues be randomized kept everyone from flocking to the same locations all at once, and made things competitive).  After two full hours of racing, teams received their score (which they could also check any time during the race) and congregated at a local club for the after party where the winners and runners-up were announced.  The team with the most points (correct answers) won, and the tie-breaker was fewest incorrect answers.

My husband and I had a really good time during the Dash, even though we didn’t do very well.  We were woefully out of shape and didn’t know our way around downtown very well.  Nick played navigator while I focused on reading the clues and sending in answers.  At first, we relied on my smartphone and the downtown directories to find the locations, but then Nick realized that the address numbers were a lot quicker and more reliable (and he knew the street names pretty well from working downtown one summer).  Once we found the location, my observational skills usually found the answer pretty quickly (although I sometimes forgot to tell Nick the clue and was typing in the answer before he even knew what was up, sorry!).  We did get thrown off by a couple of red herrings which hurt our score, but for the most part I think we did our best considering our physical condition.  And we managed to get through the whole thing without getting into any Kent and Vyxsin-style bickering matches!  We had the worst score in our group of friends, and probably the most sore legs of all, but it was really a lot of fun and we learned our way downtown a little better.

We were pretty impressed with the organization of the race.  The clue system worked surprisingly well, and we were really pleased to notice that, although seemingly random, we tended to receive lots of clues within the same area before moving on,  so we rarely had to make multiple-block sprints to get to the next place.  The questions were fun for the most part, making us peek into shop windows, look for statues, and sometimes make calculations.

Photos by Jamie Reinicke Photography

Although it worked pretty well, there were a few hiccups in the system.   About halfway through the race, I started getting “wrong answer, try again” messages without having sent anything.  There was also a pretty big span of time during the second half when the messaging system slowed way down, with confirmations and new clues arriving several minutes (up to 5 and 10 for some teams) apart.

A few of the clues themselves were questionable as well.  At least one of the clue location addresses gave the wrong street.  One question relied on a movie poster that had been switched out for a new one, making the question impossible to solve.  Later in the day, after being asked by numerous puzzlers, the theater posted the answer to the question on the theater door, giving later teams an extra point over the rest.  One clue sent players to suite #300-something of a multi-story building, only to meet a confused doorperson who wouldn’t allow anyone past the lobby (which did not hold the answer to the question).  And another clue asked players to add up items on a restaurant menu, but nobody I spoke with managed to produce the correct calculation.  A few clues seemed to have answers that were too strict in their wording,  or the questions were unclear in what they wanted.

Finally, a strange rule caused us some distress during the game.  Some of these types of races let teams use bikes or other vehicles to get around, but ours was limited to walking (well, running) only.  In order to help enforce this rule and discourage players from cheating via car, the MC said that they had calculated the time necessary to get from location to location by foot, and that if a team answered a question too quickly, they would be disqualified without warning.  This rule was problematic for several reasons, the first being that it was pretty implausible for them to really know the walking time between locations and have that data accessible by the system (that would be a pretty complicated algorithm, my husband pointed out), so any number they had would be a not very accurate estimate (some people run, some people walk, etc.).  Secondly, this rule puts savvy teams in a tough position.  One of our friends knew the downtown area really well, and since several of the questions basically relied on downtown trivia, he knew some of the answers without even visiting their locations.  Was he disqualified for answering too quickly?  It’s never fun to be punished for being too good at something.  Third, my friends and I agreed to help each other out if we saw each other along the way, and we did frequently, pointing each other in the right direction and sometimes exchanging answers we had found (particularly for the questions that seemed to be broken or too strict).  It wasn’t until halfway through the race that we realized we might have disqualified ourselves by answering too quickly with our shared answers (as far as I know, collaboration was not against the rules).  The disqualification rule seemed pretty silly and poorly implemented overall (especially since it would absolutely take longer to find a parking space near the clue location than to just walk there), but we decided it was probably just a scare tactic to deter cheating and not an actual feature in the system.

From a puzzling standpoint, the questions were fun, but nothing very unique or interesting.  I think the race could have been improved with a few more complex, intellectual-based questions and puzzles.  More thoughtful questions would give teams a moment to catch their breath, and would give clever teams a chance to catch up with the fast teams (the winning couple were both runners, no surprise there!).  There were apparently a few activity-based questions set up by the race sponsors, but we didn’t get to those questions.

Photos by Jamie Reinicke Photography

Despite the flaws, we did enjoy the race and were glad we did it.  I don’t think any of us really wanted to win the ring (if we had won, we probably would have sold it), so it was all about the experience for us.  Here were my favorite things about the race overall:

  • Spending time doing something competitive with my husband.  Despite the fact that we both play video games, we rarely play together.  And when we play together, it’s rarely in competition with anyone else.  It was really fun to work together, feel good about our strengths (it’s funny looking back on how confident we felt during some parts of the race!) and work on communicating effectively without getting frustrated.  I think we did a good job being patient with each other (“I can’t run up this hill anymore, you go ahead!”) and making sure we had fun (“Let’s sit for a minute”).
  • Being unnecessarily competitive with other teams.  There were a few times when there were several teams huddled around the same clue location, trying to find the answer.  In one situation, everyone was looking for a “spaceman” in the window so they could text back the color of his space suit.  Once I had decided that the clown hanging from the balloon was probably said spaceman, I made sure we were across the street before I told Nick out loud (and I was right!  I hope I slowed those other teams down some more!). As a rule, we tried to start walking away from the clue location as soon as we knew the answer so other teams wouldn’t see us there and find the location more quickly.
  • Helping out our friends.  Our friends’ teams were totally exempt from all that competition.  We had hoped to be able to work together as a big group to begin with, but the randomized clues made that impossible, so we just helped out whenever we crossed paths.  It was nice to work together sometimes and share information, especially with the more frustrating answers.  The race was exhausting, and seeing our friends along the way was sort of a pick-me-up.
  • The breadth of the race.  My husband and I did our best to answer as many questions as we could, and to move as quickly as we could, but there were whole chunks of questions that we didn’t get to.  It was fun hearing afterwards about questions our friends got that we didn’t, and vice versa.  Even though it might just have been because we were slow-pokes, I really love a game or mystery that leaves something unfinished, or leaves you wondering “I wonder what would have happened if…” and gives each player a different experience.
  • Supplementary materials.  The week before the race, we got an email saying we could go to the jeweler hosting the event to get a secret clue that would help us with the race.  We happened to get the email right as we were heading to the same shopping center for groceries, so we went in to get the secret clue while we were there.  We were the first team to do so, and the lady at the store seemed really excited, which made us really excited!  The clue turned out to be kind of worthless in the end, but it added an extra layer of excitement and “reality” to the race, which is something I really appreciate (even if it was just an extra marketing outlet).

So good job, Diamond Dash creators.  We had fun, we’d do it again, and we now own a T-shirt with the jeweler’s company name on it.  There were a few flaws, but nothing that really made us feel like we had been cheated out of a win, or even a great experience.  I hope there’s another Dash next year!

Fun with my friends!

Photos of the event were taken by Jamie Reinicke Photography of Charlottesville.  Click Here to see more photos from the event.

3 comments on Charlottesville Diamond Dash 2011, A Race Around the City

  • Jen

    Awesome recap! I almost felt like I was going through it all again, haha, how exhausting! 😛 Fink’s had sent out a follow-up email asking for thoughts, and I never got to it, but you should totally make sure Fink’s/Diamond Dash people see this! You do a really good job summing up what it was like, and the little flaws.

  • Amber

    Thats so AWESOME and sounds so fun. What did the hints mean? I didn’t get to go this year and they are driving me crazy!!

    • clavicarius (author)

      @Amber, which hints are you referring to? The hint we picked up at the Fink’s Diamond store just explained how to solve one of the puzzles (using A = 1, B =2, C =3, and so on, you can add up the “sum” of a word. There was a clue during the race where you had to add up the “sum” of the artist’s name on a piece of art displayed in window). The rest of the clues during the game itself just corresponded to different things around downtown.

      I do remember when I signed up, they said to watch out for e-mails with special wording/hints, but I think I signed up too late to receive any of those (less than a week before the event). Is that what you mean? I’m curious what they were!

      (P.S. Sorry it took so long to approve your comment! WordPress stopped notifying me for some reason…)

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