DASH4 Report Part 1

DASH4 Washington D.C. Report


Woo-hoo!  We had a great time at DASH4 on Saturday, now it’s time to tell you all about it!  In extreme detail, because this is my blog and I do what I want!  And who knows, maybe there are some people out there who are curious about puzzle hunts and also huge over-preparers like me and want to know every little detail.  =)

*WARNING*  This post will contain tons of DASH4 spoilers, so if you want to wait until they post this year’s puzzles on the DASH site and try them yourself, you might want to avoid these reports.  I’ll try to black out any spoilers on the actual puzzle descriptions.

Without further ado, here is Part 1 of my DASH 4 Washington D.C. report!

From Left to right: Nick W, Snooze, Nick P. Nice poses!

Team:  Clavis Cryptica
Members:  Natalie (me), Nick P (my husband), Nick W, Snooze

Like I mentioned before, I really like to plan and prepare for things as much as possible, so I spent a lot of time last week getting everything I thought we might need together and organized.  My big good idea was to get a 1-inch 3-ring binder to help keep all of our materials organized.  Between the four members of our team, we had just one backpack full of stuff, and it worked out pretty well.  Here is a list of everything I brought on Saturday.

Binder with a map on the front

In the Backpack:

  • Snacks:  Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, devil’s food donut holes, and a luna bar.
  • The Binder, a clipboard, and a small ringbound lined notebook that had a margin straight down the middle
  • Office supplies in a zippered bag:  Small scissors, tape, several paper clips/gator clips, dry erase markers, a hole punch (to put things in the binder), big eraser, and a ruler
  • TONS of pens/pencils in the side pocket.
  • Small umbrella, camera, cell phone charger, car keys.
  • Clothes:  Windbraker and an extra pair of socks in case of rain (can’t stand getting soaked feet/socks!), T-shirt for Nick in case it got hot, both of our sunglasses.
  • Just-in-case Bag:  A small bag with tons of travel-sized just-in-case items like medicine (pain pills, allergy medicine, antacid), eyedrops, sunscreen, lip balm, tissues, band-aids, nail clippers, etc. (the bag and several items were part of a pre-wedding gift Nick received)

In the Binder:

  • On the front:  I had stitched together a detailed Google map of the area and slid it into the clear front folder of the binder, making it easily visible.
  • On the back:  GC gave us a map with the landmark/monument locations, so I put that in the clear back folder of the binder.
  • Inner front pocket:  Blank white printer paper
  • Inner back pocket:  The MIT Mystery Hunt “Have you tried” PDF, as well as a similar list I made for Post Hunt last year.
  • In the middle rings:  Graph paper, a few clear file folders that you can slide paper into, the 2009 DASH code sheet slid into one of the file folders (we had been trying to solve some of the 2009 puzzles a few nights previous, so the sheet was handy), my home-made cardstock cipher wheel.

On my person:

  • Smart phone
  • Driver’s License, credit card, and $20 in cash
  • Lip balm
  • Pencil
  • Long pants, long sleeved shirt, thick knit jacket.
At the end of the last report post, I’ll re-cap this list with what we did and didn’t end up using.
Various materials in the binder

We picked Nick W up at about 8:10am and started the 2 hour drive from Richmond to Arlington.  Along the way, we gave Nick W the rundown on what kind of puzzles DASH would have.  I also took some time to study Ballston area map I had printed out in order to avoid another Post Hunt Natalie-doesn’t-even-know-which-way-is-up-the-whole-day debacle.  (And it paid off, as my teammates were amazed by my superior navigational skills at DASH.)

We made it to Arlington with no problems and found the parking garage in the Ballston Common Mall.  I still can’t believe it was $1 parking for the whole day!  Really nice =)  From there, we walked a few blocks to an IHOP where we planned to get brunch with Team Dragons, Mike’s (Nick P’s brother) team.  It was a pretty chilly walk!  I had had my eye on the forecast all week, watching the temperature slowly climb from a high of 55 up to 61 degrees, and watching the rain forecast get pushed to later in the day.  But 61 was the high, and we were there in the morning.  The weather was so much better than it could have been, but it was pretty chilly in the morning!

Our rivals, Team Dragons!


I had recommended that we get to IHOP between 10:15-10:30 so we would have plenty of time to eat/visit before the event started at 12:00.  There were times I wondered if I was being overly cautious and that 10:30 was too early, but it turned out to be a good call because the IHOP was totally packed!  We got there at around 10:20 and put our name on the list and didn’t get seated until about 10:50.  While we waited, Nick’s brother Mike and one of his teammates arrived and our fourth teammate Snooze arrived.  After we were seated, we waited for one more of Mike’s teammates to join us, and we all enjoyed a hearty breakfast and good conversation.

Of course, being the worrywart I am I was nervous the whole time that we would end up getting to the DASH starting location late.  And of course, we ended up getting there a little bit early!  It was only a couple of blocks away, and we were done eating and paid for by around 11:40.

The D.C. starting location was a park-like area in between some office buildings called “The Ellipse.”  We arrived there and saw several groups of people milling about.  This was the place!  I think I had imagined there would be a lot more people there, I’m not sure why.  At some point during the day, I heard someone say there were 30 teams.  In the end, I liked the small size of the event since it never felt too crowded and we rarely had to wait for any materials or Game Control attention.

When we checked in, we were given a packet of materials and instructions which we went over and read aloud as a team.  The info sheet said the first puzzle wouldn’t start until 12:15.  It was so chilly outside, and I was wondering if maybe we had gotten there too early after all somehow, but the time passed really quickly as we reviewed the materials, and before we knew it, a member of GC was blowing a humorously high-pitched whistle and the opening dialogue was beginning!

Two members of GC played as actors explaining the game’s back-story:  The Mayan calendar had been misinterpreted — the world wasn’t going to end in December of 2012, it was going to end on April 28th, 2012!  That was today!  Our task was travel the world to different famous colossi, finding the inscriptions that made up a counter-chant to stop the ending of the world.  I thought the theme was really cute, and it did a good job justifying why we were solving puzzles at all (always a difficult task in any puzzle game, I think).

After the introduction, we were given the first puzzle envelope, heard some more dialogue/instructions, and then the clock started for Puzzle #1!  Go Go Team Clavis Cryptica!

We quickly found a bench to sit at and check out the puzzle.  Each puzzle of the day was themed after a different monument, and our starting location was the Golden Gate Bridge.  It took a few moments to get started since the packet also included some other non-puzzle materials.

**Some notes on scoring for anyone who hasn’t been to a DASH:  The puzzle clock starts when you receive a puzzle.  When you turn in the correct answer, the clock stops.  Each puzzle has a par, or General Average Solve Time (GAST).  If it takes you that amount of time or more, you are awarded the GAST number of points.  So if the GAST is 30 minutes, and you solve in 30 or more minutes, you get 30 points.  If you solve faster, you get an extra point per minute faster.  If you ever ask for a hint, you forfeit any extra points and you are only awarded 90% of the GAST once you do solve it.  That penalty only happens once per puzzle, so if you “buy” a hint, you get unlimited hints on the rest of that puzzle.  Since the clock stops after you solve the puzzle, your travel time does not count against you, except that any extra time you take during or in between puzzles will leave you less overall time in the day to solve everything.

PUZZLE #1 – The Golden Gate Bridge

Our first puzzle was two pages.  The first page had a number of clues with blanks after them, and the second page had a graphic of four land masses at the edges with water in the middle, and letters everywhere.

While I was trying to get the materials all organized, someone (Snooze?) had already started figuring out some answers, starting with [spoiler]”Booth’s target”[/spoiler], which would be [spoiler]LINCOLN[/spoiler], and then recognizing that [spoiler]”Emily and Anne’s kin”[/spoiler] was referring to the [spoiler]Bronte sisters[/spoiler].  We wrote in our first answer and found it fit.  We went down the rest of the list, but the only answers we figured out right away were [spoiler]”Explorer with his own day”[/spoiler], being [spoiler]COLOMBUS[/spoiler], and [spoiler]”SpongeBob’s purring companion”[/spoiler] which Nick P correctly identified as [spoiler]GARY[/spoiler].

Snooze worked some smart phone magic on the questions we weren’t sure about, while Nick P realized that the question about [spoiler]an elf, pirate, and king[/spoiler] would be [spoiler]Orlando Bloom[/spoiler], which was funny because we had just solved a puzzle from a previous DASH where he was an answer.

About halfway through, we noticed the pattern — [spoiler]that the answers were all the names of U.S. cities[/spoiler].  This made solving the rest a little easier, or at least it let us confirm our answers.  Once we had all the answers, we checked out the second page.  The instructions had said to use a ruler to find the bridges and circle letters in between.  One of my teammates quickly realized that the base of each bridge would be [spoiler]the two letters that make up the state abbreviation where each city answer is located.  For example, since one of our answers was LINCOLN, and Lincoln is a city in Nebraska, we would draw a line from N to E and circle the letters along the way.[/spoiler]  This was pretty quick work, and when we [spoiler]read the circled letters in order, they read “Now read every other letter left.”[/spoiler]  Nick P tried writing down everything and then following the instructions while I just tried doing it visually and writing what I got along the way.  I think my way was a bit quicker, but it was good to have two methods going.  Our last clue revealed itself as [spoiler]”Lowry book with Jonas”[/spoiler].  None of us knew off the top of our heads, but a quick Google search turned up [spoiler]The Giver[/spoiler], which met the criteria listed in the instructions of a title beginning with “The.”

We ran up and told a GC member our answer and were thrilled to hear it was correct!  Snooze had very prudently used the stopwatch app on his phone when we had first started the puzzle, and continued to do so for all the rest of the puzzles, so we knew that we had spent just 15 minutes on the puzzle.  The “par” or  Generous Average Solve Time (GAST) was 30 minutes.  We had just earned 15 bonus points!

We looked around and saw tons of other teams still huddled over their papers.  We had been fast!  That felt so awesome!!  Looking back on it now, however, there is a good chance that all of those teams were actually huddled over the same thing that we were about to be huddled over for the next 23 minutes: the Mayan Long Count Calendar sheet which was supposed to tell us the location of the next puzzle.

The Calendar was a sheet with a bunch of letters arranged in a circle area with a Mayan calendar sort of graphic in the background.  Each colossus on our map was represented by a small icon, and these icons were also interspersed throughout the calendar letters.  Right away, we started seeing [spoiler]some words[/spoiler] and realized it would be a sort of [spoiler]word search, and whatever icon was at the end of the word we needed would be the location of the next puzzle.[/spoiler]  At first, after we couldn’t find [spoiler]”Giver”[/spoiler] anywhere, we thought we needed to find an [spoiler]antonym of “Giver”, so we searched for words like thief, taker, etc.[/spoiler], but we didn’t see anything so we asked GC for a hint.  [spoiler]Not an antonym, a synonym![/spoiler].  Okay, we kept searching.  And searching.  We even went up and tried a few guesses that didn’t feel quite right (and they were quite wrong).  Finally, GC came over to help us some more.  We knew this wasn’t supposed to be the hard part!  We knew what to do but just couldn’t see it.  He was about ready to straight up tell us, but I was too prideful and instead asked him to just show us [spoiler]which quadrant the word was in[/spoiler].  He obliged, and we searched for probably another five minutes before someone FINALLY saw [spoiler]DONOR[/spoiler], not really even hidden, just totally invisible to all of us for some reason!  The GC that had been helping us mentioned that in playtesting a lot of teams had much more trouble with this part than anticipated.

GC confirmed that our next location was the [spoiler]Mausoleum at Halicarnassus[/spoiler] so we headed in that direction.  As we left, we looked around and saw that there were only a couple of teams left at the starting place.  It had taken us 15 minutes to solve the first puzzle and 23 minutes to figure out where to go next!  So much for our huge lead!  Looking back, we really should have paid more attention to the time and decided that even 5 minutes was WAY too long to spend on that part, and that there was absolutely no penalty for getting hints earlier on.  Instead, we (I) insisted on solving it ourselves.  It was supposed to be easy after all!

This did put a little bit of a damper on the rest of the day.  Not only because the high from our fast solve had been totally neutralized, but because we were so physically far behind most of the other teams for the rest of the day.  Team Dragons taunted us as we arrived at the second puzzle location so late, frustrating us to no end as we were sure we had solved #1 faster than them.  Arg!  Definitely a learning experience at least (I just wish I didn’t have to wait a whole year to apply that knowledge to the next DASH!)  But our minds were really too busy with solving the rest of the puzzles to linger on our rocky start for too long!

On that note, I’ll end Part 1.  This is going to be a long report, so this week instead of updating Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll post every day until my report is done.  So check back in tomorrow for Part 2 where we overlook an important detail, ask for our first hint, DESTROY one puzzle, and get some candy!

Click here for Part 2!

9 comments on DASH4 Report Part 1

  • Steve

    We had the same first puzzle (here in Seattle, 1/8th of the teams started at each puzzle location) and the same experience. Not the whole “taunted by other teams” part, but the “spent longer on the word search than the actual puzzle” part and the “overlooked the right word even though it was staring us in the face” part. Luckily, during that experience we basically found all the other words in the grid, and so on later puzzles it took us only a minute to find the next location. At least it seemed it only took a minute – I was always the one who was sprinting to the GC member to submit our solution. But in every case, by the time I got back, my teammates had found the next location.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Haha, well we were only taunted by Team Dragons because we had been trash talking them all morning =) A friendly rivalry! Glad you weren’t taunted by strangers though!

      That’s interesting how they split up the Seattle teams into 8ths, I guess there must have been a lot of you! And it’s unfortunate a lot of us seemed to get so stuck on the word search. Maybe [spoiler]DONOR[/spoiler] was just particularly hard to see for some reason! We also tried to take comfort in the fact that we had hopefully made the future searches easier on ourselves by finding some of the more hidden words =) Not sure whether it did, but like you said, it felt like it at least!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Steve

    I was definitely glad that the word search didn’t count against our score.

  • Tyler

    Your preparedness makes me want you on my team for the Shinteki Decathlon (a twelve-hour event with driving).

    • clavicarius (author)

      Too bad you can’t pay for registration and plane tickets in preparedness!

      I appreciate the comment though, sometimes I feel like I over-prepare to the point that it’s a bad thing.

  • Ouroboros

    It’s funny: the first thing we did with the wordsearch was search out words that terminated on the monuments, then those words got highlighted and copied onto another piece of paper.

    The wordsearch was the decoder that we would have to use eight times, so spending one person’s attention on that seemed worth it.

  • Jen

    Team Dragons?!?! Hahaha pshhhh. Man, I love your preparedness. I saw it in person for Post Hunt last year and was so amazed. You never know what you’re gonna come up against!

    This sounds so crazy! Especially since I haven’t highlighted the spoilers yet haha. Something interesting to think about is the role(/advantage?) of smartphones…

    • clavicarius (author)

      I neeeed to be prepared, haha. Otherwise my anxiety would completely take over!

      The smartphone issue is an interesting one… Doing some of the 2009 DASH puzzles, I found the pop culture-centric ones to be some of the most fun, but I would definitely need internet access to solve all the clues. It seems like access to smartphones gives the puzzle designer a little bit more freedom without having to worry about everyone’s knowledge about things like pop culture, history, vocabulary, etc.

      I keep thinking that a big stationary puzzle hunt in like a hotel ballroom or something could be fun. With that, maybe you could bump smartphone up to laptop and really go all out with the research aspect. Actually, a lot of the Black Letter Game puzzles require research outside of the puzzle, and The Stone was pretty much based 100% around internet research.

      Maybe I can do a post later about self-contained puzzles versus those requiring research. Interesting thoughts, thanks Jen!!

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