I’m counting down the days until next Saturday, April 28th, when I’ll seriously participate in my first puzzle hunt ever, DASH! I guess technically you could say Post Hunt 2011 was my first puzzle hunt, but it seems different from the other hunts I’ve read about (maybe some combination of free/tons of people/all the puzzle locations being clearly marked/me sort of casually checking it out for the first time?). DASH will be my first hunt post-learning-that-these-puzzle-hunt-things-exist-and-are-plentiful, so it feels different somehow!
Listening to SnoutCast taught me that there exist puzzle teams–groups of friends who frequently attend puzzles hunts together and sometimes end up running their own. They have funny team names, T-shirts, and sometimes team leaders! This all sounded very exciting and fun to me, so I’m really pumped to have a Team Clavis Cryptica put together for DASH. Our name isn’t very interesting or funny, and we probably won’t have T-shirts, but I’m really interested in the team leader part.
I held several leadership positions in marching band in high school and college, and I really enjoyed those experiences. I liked the responsibility of making sure that everyone had everything they needed and of keeping everyone motivated to do their best. Now I’m looking forward to stepping into a similar role for DASH!
It’s a little weird to talk about a leadership position in something like a puzzle hunt. After all, it’s supposed to just be a fun day of puzzle solving. The idea of a “team leader” seems to immediately indicate that you’re taking things too seriously. But even things that are supposed to be fun can end up being stressful for a variety of reasons.
DASH lasts from noon to 7pm. That’s seven hours where 2-5 people (and in my team’s case, two of those people are married and two haven’t even met each other) must co-exist, each dealing with their own levels hunger, thirst, physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion, sun exposure, bodily functions, and social tolerance for the other people on the team. It has the potential for a stressful event before you even throw in the part about trying to solve puzzles together! Add that in, and you’ve got another handful of potential conflicts about what path to take when solving, where to go next, good ideas, bad ideas, hogging the puzzle, and who knows what else.
Another stressful element is the competition. Different members of the team might want to take the competitive aspect more or less seriously than their teammates. Even if the entire team decides to take it easy, it can be hard not to let the ticking of the clock influence you in some way. In both Post Hunt and the first artifact of the Black Letter Game, I let that competition aspect drive me crazy. I couldn’t stand the seconds that were passing, knocking me further down the leaderboard. It made me irritable and rendered me pretty much incapable of any critical thinking to solve those puzzles.
Combine all of these elements and you have the potential for one very stressful, exhausting, and not fun day. That’s where I want to step in as team leader, to anticipate and prevent conflicts and make sure everyone has a nice, fun, stress-free day. Here is a list of things I’ll try to do:
- Let my teammates know what they need to bring, and inform them that I’m bringing all the office supply stuff and sunscreen (don’t want anyone to have to carry any extra unneeded items).
- Anticipate and bring anything that might make the day run more smoothly (printed map of the area, band-aids for blisters, extra snacks, etc.).
- Make sure we all have each other’s cell numbers.
- Establish a meeting place for if we get separated.
- Bring lots of snacks because I get grumpy when I’m hungry.
- Organize carpooling, parking, and brunch before the game.
- Work together with my teammates before the event to establish ground rules regarding how competitive we want to be as a group, food/snack stops, bathroom breaks, and any other comfort precautions. My vote: if you are uncomfortable in any way, speak up and we will deal with it. Comfort is key on Team Clavis Cryptica!
- Talk about how we want to approach solving the puzzles, see if anyone has any strengths, weaknesses, likes, or dislikes. Figure out what we’ll do if we get totally stuck and our brains are fried (ice cream break?).
- Establish a safe word! We did this on a big family trip to Brazil. Our word was “pineapple”, and if anybody said it then everyone would cool down/back off/give that person some space. It was great for situations where anyone was feeling uncomfortable or pressured in any way, which can happen when someone like me might be trying too hard to make sure everyone is happy and content (I’m fine! Trust me! Can we just drop it?? Pineapple!!)
- Make sure everyone knows they should feel comfortable speaking up and that our primary goal is to have a fun time.
Again, listed all out like that it seems like I’m probably taking things too seriously. I’ll do my best to keep in mind that a leader who is overbearing about people having enough fun can be another source of stress. I’ll try to be a resource to the team as needed, not a cheerleader or a fun-enforcer.
Any puzzle hunt veterans out there have experience with teams and/or leadership? Do you find that any leadership is really necessary in hunts that are as short as DASH? Do you set up any ground rules in advance about comfort or the puzzle solving?