DASH 5 Prep

I can’t believe it’s finally DASH time again!  Pretty much since the moment DASH 4 was over, I’ve been ridiculously eager to play again.  Not only did we have a great time last year, we also had a lot of areas where we knew we could do better and couldn’t wait to try again.

I feel like my puzzler’s toolbox must have grown a lot since last year, and I even have an MIT Mystery Hunt under my belt!  But I’m definitely expecting DASH to throw some new puzzle styles at me.  And a lot of our flaws last year had nothing to do with puzzle solving!  Luckily, I wrote down last year’s experience in meticulous detail, so it should be easy to gather all my thoughts and make a game plan for doing our best at DASH 5.

Since we’re in Seattle now, we’ve had to leave our old teammates behind (sadface) and start fresh.  We had a few friends here who were interested, but they all had other plans come up.  Nick and I were certainly willing to play as a two-person team, but it seemed like it would be better if we could find a few other people to join us.  We reached out on the Seattle Puzzlers Facebook group and found Keith and Rachael who wanted to play but hadn’t formed a team.  We met up at Puzzled Pint last night and seemed to do well solving together!  It seemed like we were pretty well-matched as far as experience goes, while still having a variety of skills and specialties between the four of us.  I think we’re going to make a great team on Saturday!  (By the way, if you’re in need of any cool camping/outdoor equipment, Keith’s company has got you covered!)

Now, at long last, I get to go into DASH planning mode!  I’ve re-read all of my re-cap posts from last year and taken detailed notes about the things we learned.  Here are my plans for DASH 5!


This year I have two main objectives for DASH.  The first is to have fun, of course.  The second is to finish all the puzzles and the meta within the time limit.  Last year we failed to complete all the puzzles in time, and that was kind of a bummer.  It would be great to have a loftier goal (such as solving 5 minutes under par for each puzzle), but I think just finishing is both realistic and attainable.  The best kind of goal!


What to Bring:

Some things were more useful than others last year.  Here’s what I’m definitely bringing again:

  • Sunglasses – I know we’re in Seattle, and it’s probably going to rain, but the sun might still show up!
  • Umbrella – I know we’re in Seattle, and nobody uses umbrellas, but it’s worth keeping the puzzles dry!
  • One Backpack – I was surprised we only needed one last year, but it really was sufficient.
  • A million pens and pencils – In the heat of the moment, it’s impossible to keep track of your writing utensils.  This year, they’re going in every pocket of the backpack.
  • The Binder – My trusty green binder was invaluable last year for keeping puzzle materials corralled and maps easily accessible.
  • Notebooks that double as writing surfaces – Loose paper is pretty useless.  Small, ringbound notebooks are great.  (Some graph paper is good to have though)
  • Dry erase markers and clear folders – I was surprised we used these last year.  They turned out to be perfect for a puzzle where we had to fill in some shapes but did it wrong the first few times.
  • Camera – I swear I’m going to take more photos this year!
  • Tissues – Apparently I got the sniffles last year from the cold temperatures in the morning.


Morale / Team Dynamic:

I don’t remember running into any morale/energy issues last year, but they are always a threat!  I’ll do my best to try and make sure everyone is having fun and not feeling stressed.  I think Nick and I have become a lot more aware of when we’re suffering from “hunger grumps,” so we should be able to spot it before it becomes a problem (though I think adrenaline carried Nick straight through lunch and dinner last year!).

Last night, we talked briefly about our attitude as a team.  Our priority is to have fun, but we also like to do our best.  Keith says he has a bit of a competitive streak, and I think that will mesh well with us.  But we should probably agree upon a hint policy before Saturday.

On the topic of having fun, I think it’s important to try and make sure all team members are equally involved.  In my eagerness to do better this year, I’m afraid I might be prone to taking over the puzzle, or not hearing out other peoples’ ideas (a bad habit of mine, and the other person’s idea almost always turns out to be right!).  I want to do my best to take it easy, stop panicking, and approach the puzzles as a team.  Rachael is new to puzzle hunts, and I definitely want her to have a good time and feel that she contributed (though I’m not too worried after watching her crush a logic puzzle at Puzzled Pint last night).  One thing I am good at is delegating, and that happens to be a good strategy for puzzle solving and keeping teammates happy, so hopefully I can keep myself focused enough to make sure everyone is involved.


Time Management:

Our biggest downfall last year was TIME MANAGEMENT.  I failed to manage our time in a wide variety of ways!

  1. I didn’t keep us on any kind of schedule.  We only referred to our solve time vs. the GAST, but those moments in between (and minutes over par) really added up.
  2. I was unaware of the passing of time while solving (I was shocked at one point when an hour had passed, despite Nick’s efforts to keep me informed).
  3. I constantly felt panicked and rushed, which actually ended up wasting our time (when I glossed over some vital flavor text, for example).
  4. I let us waste time on unimportant things, like the wordsearch that showed us the next location and the collaborative puzzle.

This year, the first thing I’m going to do when we get the GAST sheet is write down a timetable that converts those par times into deadlines to meet.  It’s too easy to spend a few minutes over par on each puzzle and then end up behind.  If I can see that we were supposed to start puzzle 5 at 2:00pm, and it’s already 2:30, then I’ll know we need to ask for a hint pretty early if we’re having trouble getting started.  I might even set some alarms to really keep us on the ball.  Last year, Snooze would start a stopwatch whenever we started a puzzle, which was really helpful.  I think I need to wear a watch this year, cellphone isn’t cutting it.

I’m also going to try and keep calm during the event.  It’s fun to get caught up in the excitement, but going past that and into panic-mode is no fun for anybody.  If I am calm, collected, and aware of our time, we can always adjust our schedule, start asking for hints early, and get back on track.  If I’m freaking out and trying to rush, I’ll lose my awareness and start making bad decisions across the board.


Puzzle Strategy:

And as for some general puzzle strategy, I think there is a lot we can do to improve:

  • Slow down.
  • Read every word of the flavor text.  It might save you 10 minutes of trying to guess the encoding method.
  • Assume the puzzle is elegantly designed.  Trust the designer.  It’s a lot more probable that you’re just missing something than a heavily playtested puzzle is broken or unfair.
  • If you’re stuck, make sure you’ve accounted for all the elements of the puzzle.  Did you have leftover letters somewhere?  Have you used all the parts of the puzzle yet?
  • Take note of any work you do that seems “off.”  If that connection or answer felt like a bit of a stretch, it might turn out to be wrong.  Good to check back on when you get stuck.
  • Larry‘s advice from last year:
    • 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.
  • Backsolving can save time and confirm the work that’s already been done.
  • Perform sanity checks frequently.
  • Watch out for tunnel vision.  Step back and look at the big picture.


Food Strategy:

Eating is important!  Last year we had a big brunch before the event and that really helped carry us through to our late lunch (and then late dinner).  It’s earlier here on the West coast, so we’ll probably have breakfast at home beforehand this time, and hopefully we can have a proper lunch at a reasonable time.  If possible, it would be nice to take the longest puzzle to lunch and be able to sit, eat, and get out of the rain for a bit without wasting any time.  (Though I guess this depends on there being a place to eat near that puzzle location).  Or maybe we’ll be moving along quickly enough this year that we could actually be safe taking a lunch break?

(Pro-tip:  Make sure any restaurant you choose to solve in isn’t going to close any time soon!)

Having snacks in between puzzles is also a great mood-lifter. =)



Things got a little messy last year.  I want to make a habit this year of stopping after we turn in each answer and organizing our materials.  Maybe finished puzzles go in the back of the binder, and any pieces we collect will go in a bag in the binder.  Used scratch paper gets torn out or flipped over to a new page.  And so on.  I’m also going to make sure that the GC-provided map goes on the front of the binder, and anything else that needs quick access frequently (like last year’s Mayan calendar) goes on the back.  GAST schedule goes inside the binder, but front and center.


Other Preparations:

Studying a map of the area really helped me keep my head on straight last year.  I’m going to do that again.

Last year, there were some non-puzzle materials in the opening packet.  I want to make a point of making sure they get read and filed properly, as last year we kind of just stuck them somewhere and then forgot about them.


That’s all I’ve got in mind for now.  Who else is going to DASH this year?  Are you doing anything to prepare?  What do you want to improve upon from last year?  How is your weather looking?  (Ironically, the forecast here in Seattle is almost identical to DC’s last year!)  Are you playing with new people or a well-oiled machine of a team?  Are you unreasonably excited??

Go team Rather Dashing!

7 comments on DASH 5 Prep

  • Dan E.

    You don’t like the standard puzzlehunt clipboard?

    We usually end up designating individuals for navigation, answer sheet management, solved clue repository, etc.. They each keep the appropriate bits of paper (in whatever way works for them).

    Don’t forget your team uniform 🙂

    • clavicarius (author)

      Clipboards are good for the puzzle pages, but I prefer a small notebook for solving!

      I think I have a bad habit of designating myself for all of those tasks, haha.. Or maybe I just did it last year because I had invited everyone, and they were all new to puzzle hunts, and I felt responsible/obligated. This year I’ll try to delegate!

  • Steve

    Our prep was hiring a babysitter, and going forward, to try and remember an umbrella. One year we brought a tent just in case, but ended up leaving it in the car (luckily we didn’t need it).

    Different cities have different food policies… Different events as well. Especially for these on foot events, it would be nice to know more explicitly in advance how much food we need to be carrying. The good news is, downtown Bellevue has *plenty* of places to grab food if needed.

    • clavicarius (author)

      This is your umbrella reminder! =)

  • Chris M. Dickson

    Thanks, this is really cool. I’ll be sharing it with my team, who are as excited about their first DASH as I am.

    One open question: which things in the “What to bring” section, other than clothing, would you recommend as “one per person”, and which ones can be “one per team”?

    • Steve

      Added a few items from the Seattle DASH page
      Per person: Sunglasses, A million pens and pencils, Notebook that doubles as writing surfaces or clipboard, Tissues, snacks and drinks,
      (at least) one per team: Umbrella, Backpack, The Binder,Dry erase markers and clear folders, Camera, scissors, tape, smartphone with internet access and QR code scanner

    • clavicarius (author)

      Have fun at your first DASH!! Try not to get overwhelmed, and keep track of time =)

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