Amazing Race Season 18 – Episode 1

Hello puzzle-lovers!  I’m going try my hand at blogging this season of  The Amazing Race (U.S.)!  I’ve actually never watched an entire season of the show, but the few episodes I’ve seen have always seemed fun and exciting, with a couple of cool puzzles thrown in each week.  I won’t re-cap the entire episode, just the puzzle-like challenges.  Even if you don’t watch the show, maybe these posts can inspire you for your own puzzle adventures.  WARNING: These posts will obviously contain some spoilers for the show, so read at your own risk!  I will probably stick more to puzzle details, though, and not which teams did well, or poorly, or got eliminated.

The Amazing Race is a reality TV show where teams of 2 race around the world, completing challenges in the hopes of winning one million dollars.  Teams get ahead in the race when they complete challenges and find destinations quickly, or win immunities by finishing a challenge first.  Teams get behind when they take too long on a challenge, get lost on their way to a destination, get penalized for being the last to complete a challenge, or are sabotaged by other players.  The last team to complete certain legs of the race are eliminated from the race.

Season 18 is titled “Unfinished Business” and features 11 teams who already participated in, but did not win, previous seasons of the show.  Episode 1 aired last Sunday (you can watch it here), and the teams had their first challenge on a wind farm in Palm Springs, California.

Paper Planes

At the starting line of the race, the teams faced their first challenge:  search through a field of paper planes, retrieve the correct one, and return it to the host for a clue.  Each plane had the name of an airline printed on the side, and was connected to a pike and stuck in the ground.  The host told the teams he needed them to bring back a plane for “Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.”  It was up to the teams to figure out that the correct planes read “QANTAS”, the acronym for the airline.  With the editing of the footage, it was pretty hard to tell just how long it took teams to find the correct plane, but it was clear that it took many of the teams a few tries with incorrect planes to figure out the “QANTAS” part.  My husband’s advice to the teams still struggling to find the right plane after that point:  “The planes are arranged in a fairly grid-like manner.  Go through them systematically instead of searching in random directions.”  I liked this challenge for its visual appeal–hundreds of white planes with giant wind turbines in the background.  Very impressive and beautiful!  Also interesting is that this was a fairly simple puzzle, but it must have taken the crew hours to put together and set up.


Nautical Compass Code

The first “Roadblock” challenge of the race required one member of each time to scuba dive in a shark tank (complete with sharks AND a sting-ray) in Australia and retrieve an artifact.  The artifact was a round wooden “compass” with symbols and letters carved around the inner edges.

The teams weren’t sure about the purpose of the compasses until they reached their next destination, where three rows of nautical flags were strung up above a balcony.  The flags were a code, and the compass held the key.  The show didn’t go into much detail about how the code and key worked, but it looks like the compass depicted that each flag simply represented a letter or a number.  The hidden message contained three parts:  1) Where the teams were supposed to go, 2) Who they were supposed to find there, and 3)  A secret code to tell that person.

I love codes and ciphers, so I thought this puzzle looked pretty fun.  But it was interesting to see what happened when different teams approached this puzzle.  The first team, who was pretty far ahead at this point, seemed to breeze right through the code (again, it’s hard to tell for sure with the editing).  The next few teams also seemed to do pretty well.  But when the bottom few teams were all working on the code, and time was running short, things started to get hectic.  Some teams stopped deciphering the code half-way through, opting to follow other teams to the location, unaware that they needed to say a secret phrase.  Several teams deciphered the whole code but somehow missed a vital word of the secret phrase, forcing them to return to the flags to try again.  I wonder if the code was more complex than what the show explained, if people were missing entire words in a letter-by-letter code, or if it was just the stress of the situation making the teams careless.


Final Thoughts

I thought the puzzles this week were simple, but fun.  The fact some teams seemed to have a really hard time with these simple puzzles sort of underlined how stressed out and panicky the teams can get on this show when the pressure is on.

While watching this episode, my husband and I couldn’t help but compare it to the one reality show that we have watched a few seasons of (and which is one of my favorite anythings ever):  The Mole.  Compared to The Mole, it felt like the puzzles in Amazing Race were a bit lacking in their presentation.  Amazing Race simultaneously under and over-explained their puzzles to the viewer.  For example, I would’ve liked to have seen a diagram of the compass used in the Nautical Flags puzzle, and an explanation of how the code worked (though I’m pretty sure it was just a simple substitution code).  At the same time, I wish they hadn’t explained every single step of that puzzle before the teams even got there.  It might have been fun to share in the excitement of the first team deciphering the code and then figuring out what its instructions meant.  But I guess I have to keep in mind, this show is called The Amazing Race (action!), not The Amazing Puzzles and Mysteries (too bad, though, because that would be an awesome show).

The next episode premiers tomorrow, so expect another post soon!