(This is a recap/review of the DASH 9, which happened this past Saturday in all of the cities. Puzzles and solutions are not yet posted. This recap may contain spoilers, but I’ll try to avoid them where possible, especially for puzzles I recommend.)
Once Boston registration opened for DASH, I immediately registered a Mystik Spiral team with the intention of filling it up later. As it turns out, many of our MS regulars were busy, so for a long time our team was me, Jackie, and Jenn Braun. After a successful run at Escape Rhode Island (where Mystik Spiral XL set a record that has since been broken by Dan K. Memes, which is a team I am not on but which I *think* is named after me? It’s complicated) we picked up Matthew Gardner-Spencer and his infant as a fourth and fourth-and-a-half member, though some time between then and event day, we lost the two of them and gained Scott Purdy. The max team size was six, but in retrospect, I’m really glad we ended up with four, because that seemed like the optimal number of solvers for many of the puzzles.
For anyone who doesn’t know, DASH stands for Different Area, Same Hunt; a central group writes a one-day linear puzzlehunt and recruits local organizers to assign the puzzles to locations and administer the event. Solves are entered into ClueKeeper and time between solves doesn’t count toward your score, so if two puzzles are half a mile apart in my city and a block apart in yours, the competition is still fair because the walking time doesn’t count. (Not that it should actually count for anything, but if you rank teams by total start-to-finish time, we had the fastest time. Lunch breaks are for the weak.)
This year’s theme had shades of Indiana Jones to begin, but a few puzzles in, it became clear that the actual theme was based on Arrival. That’s actually an ingenious theme for a hunt the size of DASH, because (a) it’s one of the few recent successful movies that is essentially about a protagonist spending the whole time trying to solve a puzzle, and (b) it really didn’t have enough plot to sustain more than nine or ten puzzles. We had on-and-off rain throughout, but since we were ahead of the pack in Boston, we generally had our first pick of a solving area at every location, so we were usually able to find a protective awning. (Puzzle 3 was probably the most weather-affected, as there was enough wind and rain to get us from the side… naturally it stopped right after we finished solving.) After we finished, we had lunch at Granary Tavern, and when we emerged the weather was absolutely gorgeous, proving the event should have been moved to 2pm. (As a side note, shout-out to the Zinneken’s food truck, where a fellow Revs fan served us really delicious waffles for dessert.)
We were in first place in the country when we finished, but we figured we would probably be passed by other teams as they finished; in the end we placed fifth, and only second in Boston as we were passed by one of a swarm of Galactic-Trendsetters-affiliated teams (another finished in second on the other side of the country).
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Puzzles I especially liked:
* Explore The Chamber, What Did We Miss?
The recurring thread of the event was a set of polygonal tiles that were assembled in various configurations to translate symbols into words. Explore The Chamber taught us how to use drawings of the configurations to extract those letters… mostly, they taught Scott and Jenn this while Jackie and I split up two mini star battles. The organizers helpfully gave us two pages with copies of both star battles, which is good because I broke mine, and then Jackie managed to solve both of them before I fixed mine. Perhaps this is why she kicked my ass in last year’s USPC.
Then What Did We Miss? revealed that all of our translations had been wrong because we were missing a third of the tiles, and “mistakenly” using the wrong translation system! Adjusting our interpretation of the language felt very thematic, and it was neat to use the information we’d produced earlier in an entirely different way.
Incidentally, I thought hints came a bit too fast on some of this year’s puzzles. For example, on What Did We Miss?, we figured out the tiles needed to form a 3-D object and were very excited to figure that out; my phone gave us that information for free about two seconds later. We’re a pretty fast team, so I imagine that most teams ended up being told that rather than figuring it out on their own. I get that you want hints to flow continuously so that teams don’t get stuck for too long, but I thought the hint curve felt too aggressive on some puzzles.
* Wide Field Array
This was a word search variant that didn’t set the world on fire, but I thought it was a great example of a puzzle where everything you need to do is elegantly contained within the elements of the puzzle itself. (I think there was a hint in the flavortext to the final extraction that we used, but we probably didn’t need to.) We had the second-fastest time on this puzzle, so maybe it was less clear to others, but I enjoyed it.
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Puzzles I especially disliked:
* Radio Telescope
“Dislike” is unnecessarily strong here (I used it in my first recap and am trying to be consistent in terms of format… I should probably change it). This was still an enjoyable puzzle, but it didn’t feel as tightly constructed as the day’s other puzzles. Why was the criss-cross on a cube? Why were the numbers presented the way they were? How were we supposed to know for sure that the fourth item on the list was a five-letter-word and not the more specific seven-letter-word? All of these elements were solvable, but for me they felt like a lot of interesting ideas combined with a staple gun.
* Prevent Hostilities
ClueKeeper now has built-in Zappar support to allow augmented reality in their hunts. This is a really cool idea… that felt misused here. We were told to point our phone at a target, and that process revealed a 3-D rocketship, that we looked at and got very little information out of. Eventually we focused on the puzzle element of the puzzle and got a sequence of colors… After a while someone noticed we had colored buttons, so we could enter that sequence! Which we did. Over and over. We were checking our work yet again when we got our first “hint”… which explained that what looked like a window on the rocketship was actually a button, and that until we pressed it, all our colors were disappearing into the void. This seemed more like instructions than a hint, and I didn’t love that part of the puzzle was guessing how to use the app.
Meanwhile, at least one of our teammates couldn’t see my phone easily and was getting really annoyed by this. Now granted, if it was more clear how we could start the code entry, we wouldn’t actually have had to look at the phone for as long as we did. But it wasn’t ideal to have the big finish reveal (which honestly wasn’t much of a reveal) happen on a small screen. The idea of translating a message into symbols (instead of the other way around) in the last puzzle was a good one, and I liked the makeshift objects gimmick. But entering the encoded message into Zappar didn’t really add much, and the lack of guidance in how we should interact with the object subtracted a lot.
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So that was DASH. I have to admit that the linear puzzlehunt is not usually my favorite format… If I’m stuck on something, I like to be able to look at something else and/or try to solve around the obstacle by solving enough other puzzles. But I found this DASH to have better continuity than the others I’ve solved, and we were never stuck long enough to stop having fun. I wish the weather had cooperated more, but it was a great day. Seven tentacles up.