Mar. 1st, 2014

chris: (puzzle)
Registration has recently opened for the sixth annual DASH puzzle hunt, which is being run in cities across the United States and also in London on Saturday 26th April. I'll bet sovereigns to satoshis (because doughnuts cost more than a dollar these days...) that it'll be tremendous. If you like the idea of getting together with a team of friends, exploring your city and solving puzzles along the way, pitting your skills against the rest of the world, this is probably the best social event of the year. At worst, it's a fun and unusual yet mild sort of adventure to share with your friends. Get time off work, get childcare, get your team together, get it in your diary and just get in there.

A little more background, and why I'm probably talking to you. Yes, you. Don't make me name names. )

Last year's event was superb; I wrote about the ways in which it was superb at length at the time. I'm hopeful that the puzzles will be at least as good this year. I'm also hopeful that the social side of the event will be better this year than it was last year, not least because people will know each other from last year's DASH, but also because quite a few people will meet each other at Puzzled Pint in London from month to month. Word of mouth has got to have a strong effect, too - likely there will be networks of friends, and friends at one remove, to get to know.

I know quite a few people who are going already, so the precise combinations of team formation are yet to be finalised. I can quite easily think of a couple of dozen of you who I think would enjoy it and I hope to see you there. (Make enquiries about team formation below - or, perhaps, if you're interested in puzzle events in London, you might like to pop along to Puzzled Pint?) Registration is open now. I haven't seen a closing deadline, but each location has a limit on places. I believe London is limited to 25 teams, and four of those spots went in the first 12 hours. Last year London had eight teams; this year I'd be shocked if it didn't have at least twice that many, and it may well at least come close to filling up altogether. Further afield... )

If you have questions, you can find out more about the London event and more about DASH in general at the web site, or the London Twitter feed and so on. Fingers crossed that I get to see many of you there next month, and fingers crossed again for kind weather that day. :-) Until then, we can but ponder over the citrus-looking logo!
chris: A birthday cake in the shape of a slightly cartoon-like panda (Default)
1) A couple of weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] meggitymeg and I went down to London and stayed overnight, with the focus of the trip being to attend the fourth month of Puzzled Pint in London. Meg had been to the first three, and indeed is the only person to have solved at all of them; this was my first time down. The event was a glorious success, exceeding my expectations by far. It was a treat to catch up with delightful puzzle people, some of whom I haven't seen since DASH 5 last May, plus first known face-to-face meetings with [livejournal.com profile] i_am_magoo and [personal profile] pseudomonas, though I have long enjoyed both their blogs.

It occurs to me that I have written far more about Puzzled Pint on Facebook than in long-form blogging. Imagine taking part in a pub quiz with your friends... )

Meg and I turned up a good half-hour early and were far from the first to arrive, with others we knew arriving in fairly rapid succession; Meg brought [livejournal.com profile] malachan along last month and he has become a convert, we brought another friend (M.) along for the first time and it was good to see Nick who had come some way up from the south coast as well. (Not nearly as far a journey for him as visiting us for our MIT Mystery Hunt cell, but still a trek!) Meg had also previously solved with some of the people on the next table along, and so on and so on. Very seldom do I get to see so many lovely people in the same room at the same time, short of games cons. This is effectively a monthly evening-long puzzle con.

Delightfully, this month had a rather bigger attendance than the previous three months. (I believe the figures are something like 24 in 5 teams - 14 in 3 teams - 23 in 5 teams followed by, this month, 49 in 12 teams.) This big jump did cause a problem for the London organisers who weren't expecting the number of teams to more than double, but good news all round - not least for the bar hosting us! - and everybody ended up with puzzles to solve in the end, a couple of teams after some degree of pause.

The puzzles were fun, though I think it's probably fairer to Puzzled Pint to consider the accumulated mass of puzzles over the months as a whole than to pick on individual months' puzzles. It's probably important to say that this month's was probably more of a speedwork challenge than most for people who recognised some of the themes. (See also the talk by Ian Tullis at the most recent Game Control Summit, passim.) Nevertheless the theming was particularly cute and the meta especially well-suited. Many thanks to everyone who constructed, edited and tested the puzzles, and particularly to Dan and Lisa for being lovely and running the event.

I am happy to recommend Puzzled Pint, particularly in London. It's always fun to introduce existing friends who do not consider themselves particularly puzzle-oriented (after all, Meg has really caught the bug...) and I would be happy to team up, at least once, with anyone reading this, particularly if you think you won't know anybody else there. (That is, assuming I'll be there. Meg and I should be there in March for a casino-themed event, at least.) Let me know and I shall mark my dance card accordingly.

As an aside, in other Puzzled Pint news, this weekend, Meg and I went to [personal profile] xorsyst's in-laws' holiday flat in Llandudno for the most glam housecon ever. The venue was stunning and better-appointed than even the rare-splash-out hotels we've used. (We're pretty low rollers, though.) The company was great, too; several people I hadn't seen for far too long, and delightful to get to properly spend time with [personal profile] alobear and Dave. Meg reran the January Puzzled Pint for our two teams of three, which was great fun once again, and a bigger chunk of that fun. It was also a rare and wonderful opportunity to be introduced to new board and card games of recent years; there were no immediate stand-outs, just several 7/10 games in 9½+/10 company.

2) The day after Puzzled Pint in London, Dan, Meg and I went to Hint Hunt in a rather... insalubrious part of London, a couple of minutes along the road from Euston station. We played their original "John Monroe's Office" room and escaped with a little over three minutes of our allotted hour remaining. It was tremendous fun and rather thought-provoking.

Locked room escape games have existed for a couple of years now and are reasonably familiar, so I cheerfully admit to being quite behind the times in only getting to play now. I have blogged about them in passing before, updating that post from time to time when I have more news. In London, ClueQuest's second room opened at the weekend; further ahead, Escape Hunt's ambitious-looking expansion plan calls for them to open in June.

The staff at HH were both professional and lovely, erring - if at all - on the lovely side. The young lady who briefed us on our introduction, and also hinted us through our game, was pretty much a consummate example of what you'd hope for from room escape customer service. Her accent was clearly Central European, though her English perfect; I asked her if she was Hungarian, which turned out to be an excellent icebreaker question, particularly if you have a geeky interest in the history of the genre. )

Players are requested not to spoil the experience for others, so it's hard to know how much to say. However, the verbs describing the actions you will do most frequently during your hour are search, read, unlock and (to a limited extent) decode. There are a great many unusual and fun toys to play with during your hour, a strong sense of progression between the layers of the puzzle and plenty of pleasant surprises. You are kept very busy for the entire hour and it's very easy to feel you have attained a sense of flow, and I write that purely so that I can name-check Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some of the leaps of logic feel a little arbitrary, particularly at the very end, but in practice that doesn't matter much. Was it enjoyable? Yes, hugely so.

I'm now going to wildly extrapolate based on having played one (1) locked room exit game and looked at the web sites of at least half a dozen others, and say that I suspect there is a wide variety of approaches taken, across the world, to the issue of difficulty, and take a wild guess in great detail. )

Anyway, very nicely done and firmly recommended to those who think they might enjoy it, yet with a sense that playing only one room at one centre merely scratches the surface of what the genre has to offer. I will continue to look out for developments, not least because new ventures tend to be good matches for crowd-purchasing sites and you can occasionally pick up a Groupon Wowcher or somesuch to play a new centre at an attractive rate. Come on, new centres: be closer to here!

3) OK, let's rush around the other things more quickly. You've hopefully seen my post about DASH registration being open, so I won't go into detail again. Still: very cool, strongest recommendation.

3a) While looking for more English-language information about the incredible Czech-language puzzle hunt tradition TMOU, I discovered puzzlehunt.eu, an English-language puzzle hunt in, of all the places, Saarbrucken, Germany. (It's just over the border from France, a few dozen miles around from Luxembourg. If you hit Switzerland then you've gone too far.) Investigation by others suggests that it's something of a pan-European educational mecca, hence the hunt being in English.

The really remarkable thing is the independent reinvention of so many coding, encryption and other administrative properties that are very similar to the ones that evolved in the US-based puzzle hunt tradition, without me being aware of established contact between the two, and that's practically anthropology for your anthology. Disappointingly, the same investigation has suggested that the games in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were not followed up by one in 2013 and might not be followed up again in the future; "three up and three down", and I'm very sad not to have heard about these at the time. Still, at least players there would only have hundreds, rather than thousands, of miles to travel in order to play in DASH. :-/

3b) Another online hunt coming up is Puzzle Boat 2, sequel to you-guessed-it The Puzzle Boat, both by the hyper-prolific Greg ("Foggy") Brume, who also displays his exceptional creative fecundity in his P&A Magazine. Both the first and second liners are available online for solvers to have at in their own time, but the second voyage also offers a prize for the first team to solve it after the opening date of March 23rd. The first Boat is free, the second carries a $60 charge - which might seem a little sticker-shock-y at first, but the 100+ puzzles (and metas) are expected to take a sizeable team many hours, so that's an eminently reasonable price and I suspect it may well be a spectacular labour of love.

3c) If you prefer your puzzles logical, the World Puzzle Federation are staging a circuit of 90-minute logic puzzle contests, each available over the course of a long weekend every fourth week. The first contest was set by German constructors; I enjoyed it, but it was deliberately World Championship calibre. There were 12 puzzles to solve in the 90 minutes, the median performance was around four correct answers, and I came far from the bottom of just the 375 names that made it onto the scoreboard (mind you, about three times further from the top...) by getting a second puzzle correct.

The second contest is the Slovakian Grand Prix, taking place this weekend. There are sixteen puzzles rather than a dozen so fingers crossed that there are more at the relatively accessible end of things than there were in the German round. You have until the end of Monday (by central European time, GMT+1) to solve it, so don't hang around too long, particularly if you're stumbling for a humbling.

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chris: A birthday cake in the shape of a slightly cartoon-like panda (Default)
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