Let the countdown begin! It is now less than two short weeks until the Washington Post Hunt, one of the few big exciting puzzle events on the East coast. The Post Hunt will be held in downtown Washington D.C. at Franklin Park. The event starts at 12pm EST and is free to play. Just show up and they take care of the rest!
For anyone who is new to Post Hunt and wondering what it’s all about, here’s basically how it works. The game consists of five main puzzles spread out across the city (but all well within walking distance). To find the puzzles, you must refer to a colorful map found in that week’s issue of the Washington Post Magazine. At the beginning of the event, the announcers tell you the coordinates of the five puzzles, and you find them on the map. Lastly, you might pick up a goody bag of necessary items (supplemental materials for some of the puzzles, etc.), and then you’re on you’re way! You have three hours to find and solve all five puzzles and return back to the starting location for the End Game. The End Game uses information from each of your five solutions and sends the players on a fast-paced wild goose chase from clue to clue. The first team to make it to the last clue wins a fabulous prize!
What are the puzzles like?
The puzzles are fun, clever, and unique, often utilizing people and objects in real space. The physical aspect of the puzzles helps to accommodate the thousands of players the game draws every year. Past puzzles have included racing mascots that had to be interpreted as currency, cookies that had to be tasted and identified, a performing gymnast whose cryptic words had to be deciphered, and monoliths that had to be seen from a new perspective. Usually, at least one puzzle references back to something found inside the Post Hunt Magazine, like a feature or article. Three hours is usually plenty of time to find and solve all five puzzles, with a bit of break time if you’re ahead of schedule.
What is the End Game like?
When everyone is gathered around after the three hours is up, the first clue for the End Game is announced in some way. This clue usually gives a location on the map, and everyone starts running there (or to wherever they think it is). Another clue is found at that location, which leads to another, and another. Sometimes the clues require you to do something like call a phone number, find a certain person, or decode information. Generally, the game masters give 30 minutes for teams to make their solving efforts and then come back to the starting location. They always say that if the End Game hasn’t been solved in those 30 minutes, they’ll give a hint at that time, but I’m pretty sure it has always been solved by then. Usually the top few teams are separated by only a few minutes.
Last year I described the End Game as a lottery and a race. Personally, I thought that the answers to each of the clues were not necessarily the only logical solutions (or even the most logical), so I found it very frustrating to try and work out. The chances that you’ll start down the “correct” path and even find the first clue are slim. The chances that you’ll find it and manage to get there and traverse through the rest of the clues faster than the other teams is even slimmer. Like I said, the top teams are usually very close, and a lot of it comes down to having a team member who can run several blocks to the last location!
In our case, we failed to decipher the first clue correctly, but tried to follow the crowd when everyone took off running. We never even made it to the first clue, even after splitting up and trying several different possibilities. I was kind of angry about it at the time, but after reading through Todd Etter’s recap of being on a winning Post Hunt team a few years ago, I think my perspective has changed a bit and I can see that there is probably a lot of value in having previous puzzling experience when it comes to the End Game. I think last year, my outlook was that every puzzle should be easily solvable if the person solving is just clever enough. And I do think a lot of the main five puzzles are designed to be easily solved by the majority of players. But now that I believe in the Puzzler’s Toolbox, I think I can see how the End Game might be more tailored to include those common puzzle conventions and things that only experienced players might think to try. Things that might seem illogical to a rookie solver might be the most elegant solution to a veteran. Realizing this has got me a lot more excited about this year’s Hunt!
Preparing for the Post Hunt
If any of you read my DASH recap, you’ll know that I love to be prepared. Sometimes it can feel like I’m being overly serious or giving myself unnecessary anxiety, but I think preparation really helps me relax on the day of the event. And it often pays off when something I thought to bring turns out to be useful.
The first step in preparing for Post Hunt is to make sure all my friends know about it and find out who wants to go. We had a group of 5 or 6 last year, which will be expanding into a group of 10 or 11 this year! We’ll probably need to split up into two groups, but it will be fun to hang out together before and after the Hunt. Half of the fun of Post Hunt is talking about it afterwards! I also need to figure out if anyone needs to carpool with us up to D.C., or if we’re going the day before and staying the night to visit with friends.
Next, we need to make our game plan for the day of the event. The most important part of the plan is food! I get super grumpy when I’m hungry, so food planning is always important to me, especially during social events. Last year I remember we brought some lunch foods and ate them during a break between the puzzles. This was alright, but I think if possible I’d like to do what we did at DASH again and eat a big brunch beforehand. Post Hunt is much shorter than DASH, so we don’t have to worry too much about getting super hungry later on, but it would be nice not to have to carry food around and stuff like that. Getting IHOP before DASH was great food-wise, but we ended up having to wait quite a while to get seated, which made me feel a little stressed and rushed while we ate. Maybe this time a more fast-food sort of place might be a better choice.
Last year we all went to a diner and got dinner after the Hunt, which was a great time to talk about everything that happened and relax after an exhausting day (for those of us who where extremely out of shape!). Maybe if there is time, we can all enjoy a few rounds of board games after the Hunt as well!
The next most important part of planning for Post Hunt is probably fitness! Last year, Nick and I had both been working from home for a few months when Post Hunt came around, and we were extremely out of shape. Running during the End Game was the real killer, but we were exhausted even just from walking casually from puzzle to puzzle for three hours. That’s unacceptable! I would say we’re in a little bit better shape than we were last year, but we could still use some pre-Post Hunt training. Two weeks is just enough time to get our endurance built up a little bit via Dance Central for the Kinect! As for the End Game, last year we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, and that was exhausting both mentally and physically. I think I said something last year about maybe sitting the End Game out this year, but I’m not really sure what I want to do. I feel like I need to decide something in advance to avoid getting caught up in the rush and feeling like I have to run and follow the crowd, but maybe not. Thinking about last year, if we had taken our time and managed to correctly decipher the first clue, we would have had plenty of time to just walk to the first location and receive the next clue at least. That would have been satisfying! So maybe we should focus less on speed and more on progression this year.
Then there is general comfort and fun on the day of the event. It’s probably going to be super hot like last year, so measures for hydration (Sigg water bottles), nourishment (snacks!), sun protection (LOTS of sunscreen, maybe a hat, sunglasses), and keeping cool (hand fans) are a must. Last year we had enough extra time to take two nice breaks, one of which was at a place with bathrooms and air conditioning. So I guess my plan to make that happen again is to solve the puzzles quickly? Haha.
Post Hunt doesn’t require as much office supply-style preparation as DASH did. There are very few papers or need to write anything down as most of the work takes place in your head. Last year I brought a code sheet and a cipher wheel, but I never needed them. I’ll probably bring them again just in case. I’ll definitely bring a copy of the “Have you tried..” PDF, that is certainly useful since it can be easy to get stuck mentally on Post Hunt-style puzzles.
This year, the creators have promised Post Hunt will be crazier than ever. That makes me a little nervous, but I’m sure it will be a blast! Who else is super excited for Post Hunt this year?