DASH4 Report Part 5

Click here for Part 4!

It’s finally the final part!

Let’s start this post the same way I started Part 1, by going over what we brought to the event.  This time, I want to look at which of our materials we ended up using, and which we didn’t.

Stuff we used:

In the Backpack:

  • Snacks! — Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, and donut holes turned out to be pretty great snacks that our team enjoyed.
  • Small notebook — Since we were kind of strapped for writing surfaces, this thing came in handy.  I just spotted it when I was buying other stuff and it was only like $2, so not a bad investment!  The margin down the middle was pretty helpful too.  Though I failed to recognize that Nick P had claimed this notebook as his own, which caused some friction when I commandeered it during the Lighthouse puzzle.
  • Dry erase markers were used with the clear folders, so success!  Just wish they weren’t so finicky.  Next time I wouldn’t bring the double-sided one I have since one side never works (a pain!).
  • The TONS of pens/pencils in the side pocket — Although, somehow, despite having tons of writing tools, I think we all at several points said “I need something to write with!”  Haha, it was so hard to keep track of everything!  I tried to keep a pencil in my back pocket, but a lot of the time it ended up back in the backpack.  Next time, I’ll put pens/pencils in both of the side pockets of the backpack since none of us could remember which pocket they were in.
  • Small umbrella — It didn’t start raining until near the end of the game, but we were out in it long enough that we probably would have gotten pretty wet without umbrellas.  And it was pretty cold by then, so definitely a good call to bring one!
  • Windbreaker — It was cold!!
  • Tissues — The cold weather was giving me the sniffles.
  • Phone — Technically this was in my back pocket.  We didn’t use it that much, but we did have to look up a few crossword-style clues on several puzzles.  I also attempted to use it for the collab puzzle.

In the Binder

  • THE BINDER!  This turned out to be a pretty good idea!  It was a good way to keep everything together and put away older puzzle materials.
  • The map I printed out got us to the IHOP and then to the Ellipse, and studying it in the car got me familiar with the area in general, but the one GC provided was all we needed after that.  I don’t know why I didn’t just replace my map with theirs… Instead, I put theirs on the back of the binder which caused a lot of confusion when my teammates had trouble locating it.
  • Graph paper — We didn’t use it much (and I didn’t bring much in anticipation of that), but it was useful for the Lighthouse (boat trajectory) puzzle and the other puzzle.
  • Clear folders — For a while I thought we might not end up using these, but they were super helpful during the Great Pyramid puzzle.  We went down so many wrong paths and made so many mistakes on that one that our whole puzzle page would have been black if we hadn’t been using the folders and dry erase markers.  Hooray for non-destructive editing!


Stuff we didn’t use:

In the Backpack

  • Luna Bar — I brought this for myself, anticipating that we might not get to eat and I might be starving at some point.  Instead, I don’t remember actually feeling hungry at any point in the day!  Pre-DASH IHOP was a huge success, I guess!
  • Most of the office supplies — Didn’t need scissors, tape was provided by GC.  As for the paper clips and hole punch, if we had had more time I think I would have liked to organize some things and maybe group the puzzle papers together with a paper clip and put some of the rules/info sheets in the binder somehow (should’ve just used the clear file folders for that).
  • Ruler — One of the items specified by GC and used in the first puzzle.  We DID use the ruler on that puzzle, mostly because I had specifically bought it for DASH, but we could have just as easily used the side of a piece of paper or something else straight.  Oh well, I needed a new ruler anyway!
  • Camera  — I’m sad this one didn’t get used.  I took some pics at the start, but after that I didn’t take a single photo!  I think it was a combination of feeling pressed for time and having trouble accessing the camera (which was just somewhere in the backpack).  I really wish I had been able to take more photos!  I didn’t even get a team photo!  Gotta find a way to remedy this next time.
  • Cell phone charger — Although my phone was indeed dying by the end of the day, there was never a good place to stop and charge it.
  • Some of the extra clothes and most of the just-in-case stuff, but that’s why it’s just-in-case!

In the Binder:

  • The “Have you tried” PDF and my list.  Although we got stuck during some of the puzzles, it never really felt like there was time to go through those lists.  Most of the time, it felt like we were kind of close on a lead and not that there was some key element we were missing or something.
  • The 2009 DASH code sheet.  They just gave us a new one, which I figured they would.  It didn’t hurt to bring the old one though.
  • Blank printer paper — I think there was one point where Snooze needed something to write on, and I got him a piece of blank paper, but the rest of the time people just wrote on the puzzle sheet or the back of an old one.  And it was way easier to just tear out a piece of the small notebook paper than try and get something out of the binder.
  • My home-made cardstock cipher wheel.  Someday, somewhere, I’m gonna have to do some shifting really fast, and my cipher wheel will shine.  Someday…

So I think we ended up using most of the stuff that we brought.  Or at least, the things we didn’t use weren’t obtrusive (a few sheets of extra paper in the binder weren’t any kind of burden).  I’d consider that some successful planning, especially for a former pack-rat like myself.

The one thing I wish I had brought is more writing surfaces!  Between the four of us, we had one clipboard, one small notebook, and the binder.  The binder was awesome, but it ended up becoming too much of a central resource location.  We would close it to make it a writing surface, but then there would be stuff we needed on the inside.  I think having at least one clipboard was good for securing the puzzle page, sometimes more than one would have been handy.  The notebook was great because it could be used as paper and a surface for the puzzle paper.  Is there some ideal formula of notebooks and clipboards?  Can I get some sort of clipboard/notebook hybrid?

Things also started to get messy after a while.  We didn’t have a good system for keeping things organized throughout the day, and there were a LOT of different materials to keep straight:

  • The current puzzle page or pages
  • Our note papers
  • Pages of puzzles we had completed and their notes (we started trying to keep these in the inner back folder of the binder, but other things would get put back there too and it got messy)
  • The colossus map (always on the back of the binder, but should have been on the front)
  • The Mayan calendar (this one probably got moved around the most when we needed it to be accessible. Should have been on the back of the binder)
  • The answer sheet which told the GAST for each puzzle (mostly stayed in the inner front pocket, but often got covered up)
  • Miscellaneous rule and info sheets (should have gone right into the clear file folders from the start.  I think at least one made it there)
  • Later in the day, the collab puzzle (another reason for me to get angry at this puzzle!  haha.. still not sure where that one should have gone, maybe hole-punched and put into the binder?)
  • All the little yellow pieces we got from each puzzle (Nick W kept them in his wallet which was an amazing thing to do)

And that’s not to mention keeping all the other stuff we had brought (pencils, pens, jackets, camera, etc.) organized.  Knowing now how many and what type of materials get distributed at DASH, I think I could do a better job organizing things as they were given to us and designating specific places for things.  It probably would have been a good idea to sit and take a few minutes at some point to assess everything and get a more organized system in place, but as Nick P pointed out after, I felt super rushed the whole day.

For as much as I like to plan and prepare and be in control of things, I have a bad habit of getting super caught up in the moment and throwing all my good sense out the window!  I think during DASH, I got this “We have to go fast!” tunnel vision the whole day, and it only got worse with every small setback (taking too long to find the 2nd puzzle location, the collab puzzle, etc.).  When we got a new puzzle, I would rush through reading the instructions out loud, causing me to miss vital pieces of information (like [spoiler]Dr. Ben Isaac Nary[/spoiler]).  I might have thought I was saving precious seconds, but we might have solved that puzzle 10 minutes faster if I had read the text carefully.  (And really, “precious seconds” only matter when you’re one of those teams that is winning by a one minute margin!)

Same thing with the organization.  I might have recognized during the day that things were messy and it was hard to find certain items when we needed them, but it never even crossed my mind to take VALUABLE time to do something like organize.  Next time, I’ll try to look at each new puzzle as a fresh start to take it easy, slow down, and be more careful and aware.  Maybe I could also set a timer to go off every 30 minutes or so that tells me to calm down, as well as get my camera out and take a picture!

I think most of my analysis here will be about my team and our experience doing a puzzle hunt for the first time.  I can’t say much about the organization and execution of the event itself except to say that we all thought it was well-done and extremely enjoyable.  But briefly, some Pros of the event:

  • The puzzle locations were a manageable distance from each other, usually only a few blocks apart.  Far enough to feel like we were travelling around, but not so far that it seemed like a burden to get there.
  • Every location had plenty of places to sit and work, and the only one that felt maybe a little bit crowded for us was #2.  One location even had picnic tables which was great.  And the ending location was perfect in my opinion.
  • Lots of shops and food nearby.  We didn’t take advantage of them for most of the day, but it was nice knowing they were there.
  • GC were all very helpful and nice.
  • The puzzles were fun and well-made!

And briefly, some Cons:

  • The word search calendar was perhaps more difficult than it should have been (a GC that helped us said they found the same thing during playtesting).  This one is frustrating because it wasn’t really objectively hard, it was just one of those weird things where four people can stare at it for 10 minutes and still not see the word.  I would maybe recommend a note in the instructions:  If this takes you more than 5 minutes, PLEASE just get the answer from GC.   We were way too hesitant to give in for some reason.  (Though maybe a lot of my suggestions are just things to cater to first-time teams like us, and most of the attendees have done at least one similar event and would know better!)
  • There were a few times that GC didn’t seem to know the puzzles very well, but it might have only appeared that way as they tried to interpret our notes and progress and determine the best way to hint.
  • The collab puzzle seemed much more involved than the way it was presented.  Again, I recommend GC discourage first-time players from signing up for this one in the future.

Let’s get back to some of the things we discussed after the event.  We were all blown away by the scores of the top teams.  It was almost unbelievable!  How could anyone solve a puzzle in just five minutes?  I brought up the concept of the Puzzler’s Toolbox, and how these great teams are mostly made up of people who have been to tons of events and who have seen a ton of puzzles, so they know what kind of conventions to expect and they have a huge repertoire of past puzzles to draw from.  Their experience also lets them deal properly with all of the little things that slowed us down during the day (keeping our stuff organized, having enough writing surfaces, etc.).

We also talked about parallelism and group-think/hive mind a bit.  A recent Wired write-up about the WHO game talks about members of Coed Astronomy all simultaneously working out different aspects of the puzzle as soon as it’s being read.  “It all makes sense in retrospect, but in the moment it seems like magic,” says the article.  I think we managed to capture the tiniest speck of that work style when Nick P started taking it upon himself to work out the second halves of the puzzles while the rest of us worked on the first halves.  We seemed to fall into roles (well, only these two roles) naturally depending on how each person felt about the puzzle.  I wonder if any teams have certain roles assigned to each member, or if it just depends on the puzzle.  The “hive mind” idea has to do with all of the team members having a robust toolbox, so when one person starts down a path of thought, the others can pick up what they’re doing pretty quickly.  We were on the far, far opposite end of the spectrum at DASH.  There were times when we were very out of sync, and explaining our methods of thought to each other usually took a lot of time and effort!

Thinking about all these factors, the top teams don’t seem quite as unbelievable.  Ah, to be one of those teams.  We imagine them leisurely walking from site to site, stopping for ice cream, taking their time on the collaborative puzzle.  Mike had been joking with us before that his team might go see a movie in the middle of the day.  Those top teams probably could have!  As exciting as the race atmosphere is, it certainly sounds nice to take it easy (during the non-puzzle moments).  It’s so weird, puzzles and puzzle hunts are just these fun entertainment-based events, but there is definitely a feeling like you can improve and get better, and that is very appealing.  Why is DASH5 so far away??  I want to try all our new skills out now and see if we can manage to complete all the puzzles in the allotted time!  Does anyone know of any DASH-like events coming up between now and (preferably) the end of the year, and on the East Coast?  I need a DASH 4.5!

A few more miscellaneous thoughts that don’t really warrant a paragraph of discussion:

  • Solving outdoors was fun.  Solving indoors, each team having its own table in some sort of ballroom/conference hall also sounds very fun!  Are there any events like that?  (I know that’s sort of what Real Escape Game ended up being like, but that’s only an hour long.)
  • I think we need a new team name.  Unless we’re Team ClavisCryptica.com (our big inside joke of the day!)..  Our name sounded kind of lame and boring compared to other teams who had fun/funny names.  I also feel kind of bad since the name was basically mine, instead of something we came up with as a team.
  • One thing we discussed after the event was learning to trust the puzzle designer.  It’s so much better to trust that they designed things well and on purpose than just to assume something is wrong, poorly designed, or a red herring.  Sometimes, we just needed someone to bonk us on the head and say “These puzzles are well-made, fools!”
  • As GC acted out the backstory for DASH, I was reminded of Larry Hosken’s write-up about Doctor When and his discussion of the role of narrative in puzzle hunts and Games, as well as the creators of Doctor When talking about the same thing on SnoutCast, saying how most puzzle hunters don’t care much for the narrative and want to get straight to the puzzle parts.  This got me thinking a lot about my own preferences and interests, which I discussed with Nick W on the car ride home.  These are things I’ll probably want to discuss further in a future post, but I think I am really interested in narrative/experience based events, though not necessarily as they relate to the traditional puzzle hunt.  (Dang, I said these thoughts didn’t warrant entire paragraphs!)

Overall, DASH was interesting for us.  On the one hand, I’m so amazed that our team even solved as many puzzles as we did!  I was getting pretty nervous when Nick P and I tried to do the 2009 puzzles.  They seemed so elaborate and difficult, I thought there was no way we were going to be able to solve any of them in real-time without hints.  But we did!  So that was awesome.  On the other hand, I feel like DASH totally put us in our place, haha.  We were one of those “consistently taking longer than the GAST” teams, and we basically ended up running out of time.  The more I read about The Game, the more I would LOVE to play one someday, but I definitely appreciate that I’ll need many more puzzles and hunts under my belt (and a team of similarly experienced people) to even have a chance of surviving (or even getting a shot at registration?)!

So thank you DASH4 organizers and GC for putting on a great event!  It was a great first puzzle hunt experience for us, and it gave us a lot to think about.  Can’t wait for next year!

6 comments on DASH4 Report Part 5

  • Rhys

    It was fun reading about the experience from your point of view. While I still consider my own team fairly new, we are starting to wrack up some experience and reading your post made me realize how far we’ve come.

    As for the top teams, I knew they were good, but I had no idea how fast they were. My team ran DASH in Boston this year so we got to watch it unfold and, holy shit, our two top teams solved the Great Wall of China in 3 minutes each. It boggled my mind.

    If you’re interested in reading about DASH from the Game Control point of view, I’ve written a post about the experience.

    As for other such events, there is a puzzle hunt calendar which is great for keeping informed about such things.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks so much for the link to your post, I really enjoyed reading from your perspective as well! And I’m excited to read your posts on the MIT Mystery Hunt and the WHO Game!

      Haha, it’s funny to think like… unless I were to do GC for a DASH, how many years of puzzle hunting would it take before I could catch a glimpse of those fast teams at the front!

      Thanks for stopping by =) I’m sooo super new to all of this, it’s really exciting to connect with other members of the puzzling community!

      • Rhys

        Also a few of the top teams actually stopped and had lunch prior to finishing the course. It makes me feel like such a beginner. It was incredible to see first hand.

  • Larry Hosken

    “I think we managed to capture the tiniest speck of that work style when Nick P started taking it upon himself to work out the second halves of the puzzles while the rest of us worked on the first halves.”

    That’s pretty good. Depending on how many folks on your team are beginners, it might make sense not to divide up the work _too_ much. E.g., maybe the team noob isn’t helping much with, uhm, anagramming country names so you’re tempted to give him something else to do… but long term, he might learn more if he’s working with the group, talking about what they’re doing, etc.

    Some rules of thumb that work for me; other folks might have better ones:

    If you’re watching someone work on a possible solution and you don’t understand, watch and learn.

    If you’re watching someone work on a possible solution and you understand and you can help, then help. (E.g., “Hey, while you work on it from the beginning, I’ll work on it from the end so we crank through it twice as fast.”)

    If you’re watching, you understand but you can’t help (“Aww, we already have three people crowded around the list of country anagrams, I can’t even see it”), try to guess at the next step.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks for the advice! We were a team full of noobs at DASH, so it was just a fun experiment to see how we all worked and what our strengths were. Any division at all was sort of a happy accident.

      Great rules of thumb! Thanks! I think often when I didn’t understand, I was quick to try guessing at the next step instead to try and save time. I think you’re right, in the long-run it’s probably better to try and learn!

  • Ouroboros

    Thanks for writing-up your experience! I’ve had a great break from the Black Letter artifact.

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