Recap: P&A 70 (aka Lion, Schmion, Backsolved)

(P&A 71 was released today, which means the answers are now online for P&A 70; so here’s my spoiler-laden recap of our experience solving the last issue, themed around Madeleine L’Engle.)

For a change, we weren’t racing to be done for soccer reasons; the Midnight Riders actually had a pub trivia night (well, afternoon) at 2, but we knew we wouldn’t make it to Boston by 2 and it had already been a busy holiday weekend, so we decided to punt trivia and focus on puzzles. As it turns out, we finished just after 2 (starting at noon Eastern), so this was a very quick issue for us.

My printer prints pages in reverse order, and so New Year’s Eve caught my eye right away. I got the aha immediately (from the flavortext and spotting the anagrammed “INFINITY”). Jackie had picked up Earth Day, but I asked her to help spot a few of the remaining math words, and after switching from the incorrect ordering (vertical) to the correct one (horizontal), we submitted the answer from six out of nine letters at 12:06. As usual, I went to the Stats page to try to identify the low-hanging fruit, but at that point our solve was the only solve! So I flipped through the stack and New Year’s Day seemed approachable; that was solvable with only about 2/3 of the grid filled, submitted at 12:14 (after incorrectly submitting the plural form). As it turns out, the first two answers we got were probably the two of the most helpful in breaking into the meta, but we didn’t know yet that they were paired!

Now there were a few other solves on the Stats page, which led me to Mother’s Day. The third clue on that one was the break-in, and I submitted the answer at 12:19. At this point, Jackie had the gimmick on Earth Day and most of the grid filled, and we worked together to figure out the answer at 12:25. We then teamed up on Flag Day, which wasn’t too bad (12:29). Now there were six puzzles solved on the stats page, and the only remaining one was Back to School, a word search. Faced with the choice between a word search and an unsolved puzzle, Jackie wisely ran toward the unsolved, grabbing the logic puzzle Independence Day while I dealt with Back to School. It was tedious but not too difficult, and I finished it at 12:42. We now had six puzzles solved, and according to the Stats page, no other puzzles had been solved by anyone else.

Jackie kept working on the logic puzzle, while I focused on Christmas Eve. I ID’d a lot of pictures and didn’t see a common thread, so I employed a standard strategy for this sort of puzzle… Google various combinations of likely interpretations and hope the results yield, say, the lyrics to You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch. Once that page came up, I was able to ID all of the pictures except the Eel and the termites. (Fun fact: Early in our relationship, Jackie wrote a short Christmas puzzlehunt for me that featured a Grinch song parody; the lyrics were about me, and the extraction involved looking up the long bits at the end of the verses. I bring this up in case anyone doubts that I married the perfect woman.)

I was stuck on extraction and so was Jackie (having finished the logic portion of her puzzle) so we worked together to finish the extractions for Independence Day (1:07) and then Christmas Eve (1:09). We then worked together on President’s Day, and after filing the grid with what seemed like garbage letters, I wondered aloud, “What does this have to do with presidents?” and she had the aha moment that the letters (mostly) corresponded to last names of presidents. Once again we tried reading vertically before we read horizontally, but then we had an answer at 1:25.

Nine answers and no ideas on the meta… I had noticed MON in LEMOND and thought from the date pages that we might be using days of the week, but I didn’t know how that would work with the clocks, and there weren’t day abbreviations jumping out of the other answers. Jackie got to work on the anaquote lyrics while I started chipping away at the cryptic clues in Valentine’s Day. I was noticing some overlaps between clue answers (PANACHE/PANACEA, for example), and when Jackie had about half of her lyrics identified and was trying to do the same creative Googling we’d been successful with before, I thought about the title and noticed the Days of Christmas gifts in the artists. Initially we counted wrong when indexing and got a key letter wrong, but after correcting the L, we got from ?EC?LA?MUSI? to an answer at 1:55.

Jackie went to move her laundry, and I still had cryptic clues to solve, but I figured that with ten out of twelve answers, we should really be able to break into the meta. After some staring, I found MIN/UTE and SEC/OND (now having SECULAR MUSIC was very helpful) and figured that SECOND/MINUTE/HOUR/DAY/WEEK/YEAR would fit the clocks and calendars. I filled in the ten answers we had and wanted the letters to somehow fit the sequences of wrinkles… they did not. But the other ends of the answers did seem to spell something, and with ten out of twelve answers, the meta answer fell at 2:04.

Based on the meta mechanism, the remaining answers needed to be of the form R*AR and T*Y. Since one of the remaining puzzles (First Day of Spring) prominently featured lions, I tried ROAR as a wild stab… Success! Jackie returned and we teamed up to finish Valentine’s Day; we knew the first and last letters from backsolving and worked out the second and fourth (and first) letters as intended, which was enough to figure out the answer and secure a complete.

January Update: Two months later, we never figured out how the lion/lamb puzzle worked. I’ve looked at the solution now, and it appears the lions and lambs are just showing you which letters the hidden Boggle words start and end with; if that’s the case, I cry foul at the fact that some of the corner squares are indicated by icons orthogonally adjacent to the letter, and some diagonally adjacent (see, for example, the two lambs in the bottom center grid). I don’t see any reason to place them inconsistently unless they’re trying to be something more involved than “next to a letter”).


Miscellaneous Updates (or Keeping Up a Blog is Hard)

Sorry again for the long delay between posts; the end of the semester can be busy for academics like me, and it only gets busier when (a) you have to report a whole bunch of students for exam cheating, and (b) you’re hosting Christmas for the first time (we made a prime rib roast and didn’t poison anyone!). Most of my own puzzle solving has consisted of logic puzzles from past WPC/WSCs, some online programming challenges,  and test-solving some top secret Microsoft Puzzle Hunt puzzles for a friend (which were very good!).

The MIT Mystery Hunt, which is for me the highlight of the puzzling year, is in just a week, and I’m sure I’ll have lots to say about it afterward. In the meantime, let me take care of a few loose ends and bits of news:

  • There’s a new issue of P&A out tomorrow, as Foggy tends to schedule around the Mystery Hunt in January. This means that I’ll be posting a solving report on the last issue soon, and it also means you should purchase and solve tomorrow’s issue, as it’ll make for a nice Mystery Hunt appetizer. For the first year in a while, I won’t be solving it at a math conference, so I look forward to getting to use my own printer instead of staking out a FedEx Office store.
  • Another pre-Mystery-Hunt tradition is Kevin Wald’s excellent pre-Hunt cryptic crossword, which takes its theme from the previous year’s Hunt. Kevin’s cryptics are often very densely structured in general, and I’m always impressed at the connections he finds within the pre-existing Hunt theme/structure (especially when it’s one I helped write, and thus one I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about!). You can find this year’s puzzle and previous years’ here.
  • One of our Hunt team members, Tom Buehler, did a ton of filming during the 2017 Hunt (which we wrote), and he’s just released the final cut of his 52-minute documentary. I think it’s really good, and it’s worth watching if you’re getting psyched for this year’s Hunt and want to walk down memory lane (and get some insight into how we handled the re-staged events for the teams that outran our intended schedule), or if you’ve never participated in an on-location puzzlehunt and want to know what they’re like (there are some really nice visual segments showing how some of the puzzles are solved, so it’s a nice watch for newbies).
  • There’s a ClueKeeper hunt happening now in conjunction with an upcoming film called Solver. The main page for the hunt is here, and the puzzles are appearing on Instagram. I found the first six puzzles pretty uninteresting (though to be fair, they’re intended for a more general audience). The seventh, by escape room podcaster Errol Elumir, is more intriguing, and I think I know how it works, but I haven’t been able to crack it yet.
  • Embarrassingly, I still have yet to post about the puzzles from our July NPL Con extravaganza, despite writing three novelettes about the logistics of putting it together. I really will get to it at some point, hopefully before next year’s extravaganza.

I intend to be at the opening ceremony for this year’s Mystery Hunt, assuming I’m not totally foiled by MIT’s more restrictive parking policies (as of June, it’s no longer a free-for-all on the weekends, so beware). If your a reader who knows what I look like and we’ve never met, feel free to say hello!

Recap: P&A 69 (aka Damn You, Bender)

(P&A 70 was released today, which means the answers are now online for P&A 69; so here’s my spoiler-laden recap of our experience solving the last issue, themed around Isaac Asimov.)

I’m writing this report a week after the fact, but I jotted down solve times, which should help jog my memory. But before I recap our solve path, let’s have a little chat about QR codes.

QR codes seem to show up more and more frequently in puzzlehunt puzzles, and I haven’t heard anyone else describing them as the bane of their existence. I’ve probably run into half a dozen puzzles where I figured out how the puzzle was supposed to be interpreted as a QR code, but the actual interpretation seemed impossible. The things that drive me crazy are:

1) Unless the black squares are perfectly black and the white squares perfectly white, scanners don’t seem to work.
2) All of the scanning apps I’ve tried don’t indicate any difference between “I don’t see a QR code in front of me” and “This QR code is invalid.”
3) Despite the fact that there are a million apps that scan codes and give output, there seems to be no place online to manually enter a QR code grid and convert it (or explain why it doesn’t convert).

To skip to the end of the report, I figured out what to do with Bender the day before I actually solved it, because I could not get the %$#% QR code to translate. When you know exactly how a puzzle’s supposed to be solved, but you can’t solve it for technical/transcription reasons (and you’re not even sure which)… that’s not much fun. Fortunately the rest of this issue was more enjoyable, we started when the issue was released, at 1pm ET. Jackie solved with me, but joined about 15 to 20 minutes late.

My printer prints documents in reverse order by default (which is sometimes annoying for logic puzzle competitions, in which the light warmup puzzles tend to appear first), so Watson was the first puzzle off the presses. It was a fairly straightforward break-in, and I solved it solo and submitted the answer at 1:08. Checking the stats, I saw that solvers were getting AquaCom quickly, so I broke into that and solved it at 1:25. I translated some of the Call numbers from phonespell without knowing what to do with it, and then worked on Rosie. Once I had the gimmick for that, I was able to extract an answer at 1:41 with only about half the grid filled.

Meanwhile, Jackie had joined and had been working on Th Stpfrd Wvs, occasionally calling out a crossword clue she needed verified. (I’m old enough to have actually read the “Cheers and ____” column in TV Guide.) I came over as she was extracting letters, and was able to wheel-of-fortune out the answer at 1:44. I think at this point we worked on Bubo together for a while and got the clue phrase KINGLY FOURTH; we saw that several of the winged creatures/items had “king” varieties and assumed we had to take fourth letters of these. This didn’t lead anywhere, because it was very very wrong. (We didn’t correct that thinking for a long time.)

After some frustration, we switched to Astro Boy. Jackie had the insight that the names could be spelled by tracing the graph edges, and I suggested copying the same letters to the right side, since the circles were in the same place. Together, we got to the answer at 2:16. Actually, at some point during that time, I think I split off and looked at Tik Tok while Jackie was getting the Astro Boy aha, because I finished Tik Tok four minutes later (at 2:20), and I know the deciphering for that took more than four minutes.

Once I looked at Optimus Prime, it was pretty straightforward and we finished it at 2:31. Meanwhile, Jackie was solving more phone numbers in Call and had the insight that they matched in pairs. I joined in and figured out what to do with the area codes, and we got the answer at 2:39. Then I looked at R2D2 for the first time, which fell by 2:53. Jackie bit the bullet and started chipping away at the cryptograms in Vision. She read me some of the clues, and I not only recognized who they were but was pretty sure they all had eyepatches; since Jackie had actually read the flavortext, she figured out that left vs. right would be important, and we submitted the answer at 3:32.

From roughly 2pm on, we’d also been looking periodically at the meta with no luck, and we weren’t yet sure whether we should be filling things into white boxes or gray boxes or both. Even with ten answers out of twelve we weren’t sure what to do. I figured out that the letters in Bender translated to either BLACK or WHITE, but then struggled with making the resulting QR code scannable. (I colored in the BLACK squares with pencil… not good enough. Colored over it in sharpie… not good enough. Then I manually filled in a grid in Excel… still no, probably because I had a couple of squares wrong.) Meanwhile Jackie had what seemed sure to be a useful insight, as it was possible to fill an answer in the gray boxes reading across one row and an Asimov title (I forget which one) across the corresponding white row so that the letters matched. But after pursuing this further, we couldn’t find any more instances that worked. I went back to QR codes, and Jackie figured out that the first words of our answers (with two missing, of course) seemed to fit into the top boxes, so we should be generating something else for the bottom boxes.

We were already running late for yet another Revolution home game, so Jackie was packing up the car when I yelled (not literally) “Eureka” from downstairs. I had already pictured Silver Surfer in my head when we got WEB SURFER as an answer in a robot-themed issue (I know he’s not a robot, but he looks like one) and I got lucky enough to get the phrases “Silver Surfer” and “platinum blonde” in my head at the same time, allowing us to submit the meta answer at 5:00, make the top ten, and have me be much less cranky at the Revs game than I would have if I were still thinking about the meta. In the car on the way to the game, I was attempting to backsolve the remaining answers, and I realized what the Bubo answer was and why without the puzzle in front of me. But after numerous attempts to force the Bender answer (my most promising option was POTATO BUG), after the game I resigned myself to translating the entire grid into letters and automatically translating it rather than coloring by hand. The resulting grid was only a square or two off from my previous Excel file, but it scanned instantly, and the resulting challenge (resulting in a complete for the issue) was trivial compared to the QR code-grappling that preceded it.

I’m curious to know if I’m the only person crazy enough to be trying to work out the Six Authors meta-answer with five out of six issue answers. I have some incredibly vague theories, and while I don’t think cracking it would allow me to guess the sixth answer in advance, I think it might give me a bit of an advantage on the November issue… [NOTE: I wrote this paragraph in September, and in this month’s issue, Foggy revealed that there is no pre-written meta for the six answers, but he’s inviting readers to create a meta they feed into, Spaghetti-style.]

Watercooler: Endgames

Well, so much for posting a watercooler every Thursday. It’s been an insanely busy few weeks; on the puzzle front, BAPHL 16 was quite fun, Puzzle Boat 4 was fantastic (track down a team if you haven’t, you can still register and solve), and I’d like to congratulate the United States team for earning silver at the World Puzzle Championships. I qualified for the World Sudoku Championship for the first time this year (held right beforehand in the same location), but unfortunately a week in India in the middle of the semester wasn’t feasible, and the chaos of the last few weeks convinces me this was the right decision, if a sad one.

Thanks for those who shared ideas/experience about puzzle testing on my last discussion post; quantity wasn’t what I hoped for, but quality was top notch. It’s definitely interesting for me to hear about practices for events I haven’t written for, like MSPH or Puzzled Pint.

Today I’d like to talk (and encourage you to talk) about endgames; by this I mean the last portion of a puzzlehunt that wraps up the story and usually has some amount of puzzle content. By nature these tend to occur in large-scale hunts– I wouldn’t call the final metapuzzle of a P&A issue an endgame, per se– though I’ve definitely done some BAPHLs where the last meta or metas felt like a separate phase of the event, especially if that phase occurs at a new location.

Naturally, since I have the most history with Mystery Hunt, those are the endgames I have the most opinions about, and there have been some controversial Hunt endgames. In 2015 (20000 Puzzles) after a very slick, clean Hunt, the final endgame was a sequence of time-consuming activities, including a Family Feud game and a task to take something like a hundred selfies. Setec reached the endgame when there was a glut of teams and were thus given a delayed start; I went to sleep instead of participating, and several members of my team wished they did the same.

On the other extreme of time commitment, in 2007 (Hell) we gave teams a construction task that was (in my opinion, and I didn’t write it) one of the most elegant puzzles I’ve seen in the Mystery Hunt. We thought that in itself would be a satisfying conclusion, and since teams had done another runaround earlier (and had “found the coin” five puzzles into the Hunt!) we basically surrendered the coin when teams showed up with a valid solution to the puzzle. The reaction to this was almost universally “That’s it?” I’m not a huge fan of the final runaround, but obviously a lot of solvers look forward to it.

On the other hand, putting too much into the endgame risks a situation where too many solvers don’t see the coolest stuff in your Hunt. 2013 (Coin Heist) was a Hunt with a lot of problems (I think that’s been accepted) but it had a very ambitious heist finish with high production values that even had tasks for large teams that couldn’t send everyone on the runaround. I think it was the most creative element of the event, but because the Hunt ran long, I believe only two teams got to experience it. (On the other hand, some cool elements of endgames can still be shown to people who don’t make it there in person; the GlaDOS interaction at the end of 2011 (Video Games) was a great audiovisual experience, and thankfully it translates somewhat well to video.)

Due to the number of teams participating in the Hunt now, it’s ideal to have an endgame that supports multiple teams at once. I’ve completed several Hunts now where there was a queue and we had to wait for another team to finish before we could start… this is not fun, because you usually have nothing to do during that time (though it’s a good excuse to get people to clean up, or in 2012 (Producers), to get everyone on your giant team to participate in a gigantic award-winning production number from Man of La Mancha). My first Hunt was 1998 (Enigmatology) which ended with two teams looking for the coin in the same weight-limited elevator, requiring the two to make a deal to search in shifts to prevent anyone from getting hurt.

I get super-stressed-out during an endgame if I think there’s any chance of being passed… At the end of 2016 (Huntception), our team was broken into a whole bunch of subteams (which, by the way, would have completely sucked were we a small team) and my subteam got lost; Left Out was beginning the previous task as we completed it, so I was panicking that our group of three people was literally going to cost our team the entire Hunt. In 2009 (Zyzzlvaria), I know that one team (the name-changing team I later joined and constructed with in 2014) had figured out enough about the endgame in advance (based on information we designed not to let teams figure out enough about the endgame in advance) that if they had finished their last meta earlier, I am completely confident that they would have blazed past Luck, which would have been exciting for them and supremely unpleasant for Luck.

For me, I’d like the Mystery Hunt endgame to be a brief brisk victory lap with interesting Hunt content and low pressure.  I was really happy with what we ended up putting together this past year (Monsters et Manus); we knew we wanted to have a significant middlegame accomplishment, and I thought it was a great concept to have our RPG middlegame take place with figures on a tabletop hex grid, while our endgame took place with actual solvers standing on a life-size hex grid. We ended with a short-ish runaround which was a lot more dramatic with musical scoring, and because we had three sets of hex tiles and Mystereo Cantos costumes, we ran more than a dozen teams through it without (as far as I know) requiring any team to wait for a significant amount of time.

So what do you like in an endgame? What don’t you like? And what endgames have you found memorable (for good or bad reasons) in the Mystery Hunt and other puzzlehunts? Have at it.

Watercooler: Puzzlehunt Testing Practices

Let’s see how this goes…

One thing I really want to do with this blog is get conversations started about different puzzlehunt construction practices. I’ve had lots of experience constructing in certain areas (Mystery Hunt, BAPHL, NPL Con) and none at all in others (Microsoft Puzzle Hunt, DASH, BANG, The Game, etc.). Different formats and different audiences present different challenges, and I’d love to hear about everyone’s experiences from all angles.

As a starter “watercooler” topic, on my last post eudaemon asked about puzzle testing, specifically in reference to online hunts. In the last year, we’ve seen some online events that were, in my opinion, extremely clean (Galactic, REDDOT) and less so to varying degrees (SUMS, Cambridge). Of course, testing is just as important, if not more so, for live puzzlehunts… a posted PDF may be easier to edit on the fly

I’d love for people to chime in with stories and opinions about puzzle testing. To constructors, what’s worked well for events you’ve helped write? What hasn’t? What are good practices in general, for the people who test and/or the people who organize testing? And for solvers who perhaps haven’t written before, how can you tell when a puzzle probably has or hasn’t been tested, and what do you think would help?

Thursday is usually my “work from home” day, so I’ll try to get in the habit of posting these on Thursdays; though we’ll see based on participation whether there’s actually a demand for weekly prompts. Comment away!

Joined In Progress – REDDOThunt

A Singapore-based online hunt called the REDDOThunt began this morning at 10am ET and will be continuing for another 35 hours or so. I heard about this event on a while ago, but I didn’t mention it here for three key reasons:

1) I wasn’t sure what to expect, not having participated in any events created by the authors.

2) The warm-up puzzles they posted didn’t set my world on fire (no offense to the authors, since they were intended for a less seasoned audience).

3) Honestly, I forgot.

But having said all this, I’ve been working through it as a solo solver, and I’m pleasantly surprised; I’ve solved nine puzzles and the first metapuzzle so far, and so far they range from fine to quite good. I recommend checking them out; if you’re going for points, the first-round puzzle values drop when hints come out, at 10am ET Saturday morning.

Congrats to Aviations Laws for already cutting through the thing like a knife through butter, and good luck to anyone already solving or who decides to join the fray. I’ve got a semi-local work conference to attend tomorrow, so I’ll be solving for another hour or so before sleeping and then disappearing for much of tomorrow.

Recap: Mark Halpin’s Labor Day Extravaganza 2017

(This is a recap/review of Mark Halpin’s 2017 Labor Day extravaganza, When First We Practice To Deceive. Puzzles and solutions are both posted. This recap contains spoilers for some puzzles, including the final metapuzzle. If you haven’t already, go solve them first, and tip Mark generously.)

This year’s Labor Day extravaganza was another in the late-summer/early-fall series of “puzzlehunts that happen to be on a day when Dan and Jackie also have a soccer game to go to.” Mark mentioned to me beforehand that the puzzles might be a bit easier than usual, but the metapuzzle a bit more involved than usual, and I’d say that was accurate; Mark’s puzzles often have very creative but challenging extractions, and we got stuck on those steps less often than in previous years. The meta on the other hand, was something we made pretty much zero progress on until we cracked it (with most of the puzzles solved). Here’s a play-by-play of our solving experience.

I started with Rabbit, since I’m familiar with that puzzle type (having solved and written them), and getting INTETINE made it clear that the results would be body parts minus letters. Once I had about two-thirds of the letters, I started thinking about answer extraction; I expected the resulting letters to be reordered since the strings were alphabetized, and head to toe seemed natural, but I wasn’t sure where all of the body parts were, and since the thyroid essentially wraps around the windpipe, I dismissed this and got stuck.

Meanwhile, Jackie had started with Cobra, and as I started to spin my wheels, she announced she’d finished one of the three grids, so I joined her and worked on the third while she did the second. We finished them around the same time and got the answer. After I showed her where I was on Rabbit, she got a few strings, and I started drawing letters on a diagram of the human body (with the ones that were unclear to me written next to each other horizontally). From this we were able to fill the blanks at the bottom of the page, but we couldn’t work out what to do with our list of fish deletions.

To change things up, we decided to work on Ape together. It was easy to get started, and Jackie nailed the “backwards” gimmick on the areas that were giving us trouble, which led quickly to a solution.

Jackie started working on Dog (the cryptic) while I worked on Owl, which didn’t put up too much of a fight… Once I finished it, I checked in with her on the cryptic, on which she was surprised that the entries were all going in normally, since she was expecting letters to be deleted; I pointed out that several words had a letter that COULD be deleted (I think she’d noticed this and dismissed it) and we caught that the first six rows could make ANSWER. Knowing what to do, she was able to pull an answer with only about two-thirds of the grid filled in.

As we were solving puzzles, we were getting animal positions on one of the meta grids… I was filling this in as we went, but at this point, we had no insight on the meta. We did go back to Rabbit at this point and I started randomly trying fish body parts… I was surprised that FIN was right, and when I told Jackie, she thought it made sense as a fish’s “limb.” I was expecting something more akin to the other strings (my previous best guest was FIST, interpreting the string as “FISH minus a letter” = FIS and yielding, as the others did, a string one letter short of a body part).

At some point I’d picked up Pig and found a few food items for some of the largest enumerations (PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE was a break-in) and handed the puzzle off to Jackie, who got further than I did because she noticed the ones that “hopped” over letters. I was working on Cat and managed to make some ten-letter phrases associated with the villains (MR BABADOOK and BRIDEZILLA were first, though I stalled after this because some of the others had looser associations). Around now, our friends showed up to go to the New England Revolution-Orlando City game with us… I spent another half hour multitasking between finding Cat phrases and being social, and I found some more on the car ride over (thanks for driving, Jackie) but after that we took a five-hour break to watch the Revs crush Orlando City 4-0. Apologies to the Kaka fans who showed up for Brazilian Night and saw their hero get totally shut down.

I solved more Cat phrases by cell phone light on the car ride home, and when we got home Jackie and I teamed up on the rest and worked out the answer extraction (which was neat). We then worked together to finish Pig; once we had all of the food items, we were stuck on what to do and thought the flavotext clued Pigpen, but we couldn’t see how to apply that cipher. I came up with the idea of sorting the letters alphabetically by what they crossed (I figured that was unconstrained enough to be constructable) and once we shaded as directed, we realized at the same time that this was where Pigpen came in. Jackie was mildly disturbed that I could remember the Pigpen cipher without references (it’s a lot easier to remember the order of symbols than with Braille and Morse!).

Jackie broke into Gull by finding PEPPFRMINT while I worked on Horse, which I initially avoided because I thought it was a bunch of separate chess problems. Then I noticed the knight’s tour on the second page and found enough entries to realize the items were cards in Knightmare Chess, which I’ve never played but always adored as a concept. Thankfully, Mark posted a research shortcut so I didn’t have to track down the card text, and I realized why there were thirteen items/diamonds and fourteen diagrams… these weren’t fourteen different games, they were boards from the same game! Jackie was getting tired (it was close to midnight if not past at this point), so I helped her wrap up Gull and she went to bed.

Returning to Horse, I worked out that (5,11,6,14), (13,12,3,1), and (4,7) were consecutive strings, and I figured I’d apply the modifiers to the numbers in diamonds (I still wasn’t sure how those affect gameplay, but Mark explained it to me later) and index into the card names, to force the solver to know which cards were used at which points in the game. Rather than finishing the sequence, I tried those strings in different spots and Wheel of Fortuned the answer. I had also been poking at Raven on and off and had “THE MATRIX” and “HUXLEY” (the latter of which Jackie came up with as the only likely novelist/philosopher) but had little more than that. I also realized that the gray circle enumerations in Anansi’s Web fit the answers nicely, so I filled those in, but was exhausted and had no further ideas, so I went upstairs intending to go to sleep.

But then! I remembered I’d briefly thought about whether the puzzle answers were cluing things (CHANGE GEARS seemed to be pointing heavily toward SHIFT, and WYRM toward DRAGON), but I hadn’t gotten anywhere with those. On a whim I decided to go back downstairs and see if those words fit into the web, and they did like a glove. I was able to fill in most of those (albeit with INCREASE instead of SNOWBALL) and Googling “fiver rabbit” revealed the big aha. From there, each step of the meta fell like a domino, and I was able to submit the two meta answers just before 2am. We named our team The Teal Bunbury Appreciation Society in honor of Teal’s performance in that day’s Revs game (Kei Kamara scored a hat trick, but Teal worked his ass off throughout the game and deserved some recognition as well).

The next morning, I noted the full leaderboard [well, I thought it was full, but since writing this recap, I notice it’s been extended to a top twenty] and was glad I stayed up so that we could make the list, at #6… pretty good given the five-hour handicap! I then wrapped things up by working out the answer to Raven, which I’d backsolved from the meta, came from, getting the aha from SWEET POTAT/JOEY.