Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rich's Final Thoughts

Another Great America Race is in the books, and again I had a fantastic time.  There is definitely something I particularly enjoy about traveling across the country with good friends solving puzzles in great cities with unfamiliar environments day after day, and this is something that no one does better than Ravenchase.  Here are my parting thoughts on this year's race, which I believe was the best one yet.

Fewer, But Longer Days

As the only person alive to have played in all three Great America Races, I am uniquely qualified to discuss some of the differences between this year's race and the past two.  The most obvious difference between this year's race from past years is that it was only five days long, compared to eight, then seven, for the first two.  While I find the trend for this race getting shorter to be a little alarming, I can't imagine it would get much shorter (at least in terms of calendar days) than it was this year, since it just takes time to travel between multiple cities.  Without that aspect, this wouldn't really be the same race.

That said, despite fewer days this year, the days were *much* longer.  The first year we spent maybe 1 to 4 hours each day puzzling, and much more than that driving.  That year there was far too much driving to puzzling.  Last year, the ratio was better, as the days were more typically 5-6 hours of puzzling.  This year, however was off the charts, with multiple days that had over 12 hours of puzzling, and two days where we finished close to midnight!  Personally, I loved the long days, and happily accept the trade-off of fewer days for more puzzles.  In fact, even though we had only 4 official days of puzzling this year, by my count we spent more total hours puzzling than we did over the 7 days last year!

I think the biggest casualty of the longer days was that it made it nearly impossible to keep up with the daily blogging.  As a result, we are likely to vastly change our approach to blogging next year, possibly by having more, shorter posts, and likely won't strive to report on every gory detail.  Small price to pay for which is a much meatier puzzling experience.  Even better would be more days at the same length we had this year!

Scoring

The scoring system this year was pretty much the same as the past events, and I'd still love to see some reform in this area.  In a nutshell, GAR3 used a constant time penalty for hints, a system which essentially rewards the teams that punt faster on the harder puzzles.  I'd love to see that shift to a system in which the hints become less costly as time progresses, a system which encourages teams to try to stick it out, while still preventing them from getting doubly punished by being stubborn.

Another aspect about the scoring that I didn't love this year (or last year, for that matter) was the complete lack of transparency in scoring.  The first year we were given a complete standings after each leg that showed us our performance on the latest leg, and the overall standings.  This year we were only told the standings on a couple of occasions, and it was done pretty cryptically and non-transparently, to the point where we weren't completely convinced that Josh wasn't just making up the data on the spot to add drama.  This made it difficult for us to strategize in Indianapolis when we weren't certain exactly how hint penalties would actually be applied, and how we should adjust our approach accordingly.

Playtesting

I was very happy to see that this hunt was far more playtested than past year's, and it was evident in the quality of the clues.  This is particularly pleasing when you consider how difficult it might be to recruit playtesters for an event where you can only get 8 people to play in the real thing.  That said, there were still a handful of what I'd consider QC issues, things that having a second set of super detail-oriented eyes (like say a Wei-Hwa) pore over before publication could make a huge difference in the overall feeling of quality.  This is the sort of thing that is tough when you are a one-man show like Josh, but finding such a person that can help with that could make a huge difference.

Puzzle Style

Each year, I've become more and more impressed with Josh's puzzle writing abilities.  I love the very environment-heavy data extraction mechanisms, and have really come to appreciate and enjoy the "use the interesting environmental design pattern to create a new way of mapping the alphabet" approach that manifests in many ways.  These are puzzles that we aren't often exposed to in the west coast Game community, and it is too bad.  Every time I thought we'd seen every variation imaginable of these types of puzzles, Josh would cleverly come up with something new, and now I'm sure he's still got many more in store.  I also like that he works in all sorts of historical codes that were invented long ago.  This gives everything a very historic feel that works very well with the Ravenchase brand.

Strategy Changes for Next Year

There are a few things I think we'll want to differently next year, based on this year's hunt.  First, I think we need a way to duplicate the puzzles, as there was almost never enough copies of the puzzles for everyone to look at, and this can become a real issue (and occasionally a source of conflict) on a team of four alpha puzzlers like ourselves.  A printer/copier used to be a staple for my team in all van games, but we've gotten away from that as it has become more and more common practice for GCs to provide multiple copies of clues.  Providing multiple copies of a scroll seems like it might break the illusion of a real treasure hunt for Ravenchase, so I can understand the reason why multiple clues aren't given, but if that's not going to change, we'll need to adjust accordingly.

Second, with the longer legs, it was common for us to run out of battery on our phones, laptops, etc, and when we traveled we'd quickly run out of outlets.  Crazily, none of us thought to bring an inverter this year.  Next year that's a no-brainer.

Recruiting More Teams

The elephant in the room for this race is why it has been so difficult to recruit more teams to play.  At the end location, we discussed with Josh where the race might be next year, and he threw out the idea of a western US hunt this time, in hopes that it might get some of the Bay Area or Seattle communities to give it a shot.  Reasons I have heard for teams not playing so far have ranged from not wanting to take a week off work, to worries about the quality, to many other things.  Personally, I find the Great America Race to now be one of my puzzling highlights of the year, and it is sad that so many people that would enjoy it have not yet taken the plunge.  Let us know in the comments what it would take for you to join the race next year.  I can only imagine that the more teams play, the more Josh can justify putting even more manpower into the race, making it even better than what we've seen so far.

Puzzling Across the Country

As I've mentioned before, one of the nice side effects of the Great America Race is that nothing helps me more in my lifetime goal to play in a puzzle hunt in every state.  This year's race added Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to bring my lifetime total to 21 states!  This is up from 17 last year; I also added Texas this year based on a runaround hunt I did at this year's NPL Con. My new map looks like this:

For reference, here are the rules I set forth last year for a state to count:
  1. The hunt must be open to the public and have more than one team playing, so no "quick, write a puzzle so I can count this state", nor can I count private events like hunts at birthday parties or weddings.
  2. The hunt must involve multiple distinct locations, so conference room style hunts don't count, since really you could do those anywhere.
  3. For a state to count, the hunt must have at least one puzzle destination in that state.  It is for this reason, for instance, that I can't count states we drove through as part of GAR, even if we may have been working on driving puzzles at the time.
There is still some debate as to whether I should change the rules to count the states that we drove through while on these races that didn't actually have puzzle stops.  If we did, my total would be 26 (as it would include Mississippi and Alabama from GAR I, Delaware and Connecticut from GAR II, and West Virginia from GAR III).  What do you think?  Should those count?  Does anyone else come close to my 21 (or 26), or can I assume I've played puzzle hunts in more states than anyone on Earth?  I think I'll choose to believe that I'm in the lead until I have reason to believe otherwise.  :)

The Iron Raven's Last Word

Finally, after spending some time over the past year with the Raven, I learned a lot about its favorite things, and finally figured out the common thread.  Here are a few of them.  If you can figure them all out, I think you might find a message that best sums up this year's experience.

The Iron Raven's favorite square  - - - - - - * * *
The Iron Raven's favorite country  - - - * * * -
The Iron Raven's favorite medium  - * * *
The Iron Raven's favorite swimming hole  - - - * * * -   - - - - -
The Iron Raven's favorite hopper - - - * * * - -
The Iron Raven's favorite fairy  - - * * *   - - - -

The Iron Raven's favorite U.S. president  - - - - -   * * * - - - - -
The Iron Raven's favorite political system  - - - * * * - - -
The Iron Raven's favorite German city - - - - - * * * -
The Iron Raven's favorite Viking  - - * * *   - - -   - - - - - - - -

See you next year!

Friday, September 6, 2013

That's So Raven!

Iron Raven here.   I'm happy to be back in sunny California for another year, and thanks to those BSB guys for giving me a chance to share some of my pics here on their blog!

I see they showed some pics of me getting to Pittsburgh with them, but then the rest of the trip was a blur to me.  After that first day in Pittsburgh, all I remember was being stuck in a bag for days with no food or water.  Fortunately for my sanity, I was finally released back to BSB in Chicago at Kingston Mines.

The lighting wasn't great, but seeing Dan again might have been the best moment of my day.
 The next day, I had some breakfast with BSB and the other GAR teams at the Pittsfield Cafe.

Pittsfield Cafe was good, but didn't serve anything resembling a rotting carcass, my favorite food. 
At least they had some decent cream to wet my whistle.
 Then they set off to explore the city, while I took some time to socialize with the locals.
What?  Never seen a raven before?  Stupid xenophobic pigeons.
I was told that Giordano's was the best place to get some pizza for lunch, so I joined the BSB guys for that.
It took me a while to figure out how to open the menu.
Four pieces down, four to go. 
I shared a drink with Rich, since I was pretty full from the pizza.  We still convinced them to give us free refills, though.
After lunch, as the guys headed off to solve the Day 5 bonus puzzles from their hotel room, I decided to race them and solve them on my own, to see if I could beat them.

 First I grabbed one of those great bikes from the bike share program in Chicago.
Why fly when I can just use the super-convenient bike share program?
It was no trouble at all to find the brachiosaurus skeleton at the Field Museum.
This guy was no better conversationalist than those pigeons were.
After that, I headed over to the zombies statues, apparently called Agora by Magdalena Abakanowicz.

OK, so this should come in handy for decoding.
These guys were actually LESS friendly than the pigeons.
OK, this looks like the statue I'm looking for.
Apparently this guy had a lot of mettle.
I finished the last puzzle here with no problem.  Wonder how long it took the BSB guys?  I think they might have had a hard time finding all these wreaths.  Well, here are good pics of all of them for posterity.



Well, that was easy!  Once I showed I could solve these puzzle on my own, I flew back to find BSB just finishing up the same puzzles in their hotel room.  I thought it was lame of them to solve them from the room, but hey, who am I to judge?

Anyway, later on Rich and Jonathan took me on a tour of the Chicago Art Institute.  Here are a few of my favorite pics.
I tried, but couldn't get this guy to feed me.
Why so serious?
Hmmm.
This was one of my favorites.  Don't judge.
The friendly docent told me that this painting had two others beneath it!
I doodled this on a napkin once, not sure how it ended up here.
What?  Never seen an Iron Raven before?
I blended in nicely with this room of "art".
That's funny, this is my favorite date, too!
Umm, it doesn't really seem safe here.
This sure is a handsome fellow.  I'm sure his ears are symmetric even though I can only see one.
I love my stacks of wheat as much as the next raven, but couldn't this guy show a little range in his painting abilities?
Yikes, I'm out of here!  No one told me birds weren't welcome.

After that last painting, I fled the art museum and joined BSB on their trip back home.  Looking forward to a great year in California, and see everyone again at GAR 4!

Chicago chili?

Chicago isn't known for its chili. So instead I got a Chili Cheese dog at Portillo's Hot Dogs.


Mmm, this was a pretty good dog. A bit too small though. The chili was high on beans for me but otherwise pretty good.

Day 5: Chicago (Bonus!)

It is Wednesday, August 14, and Day 5 of the race. As you know, the race was originally supposed to last 5 entire days, but we had been told the night before that it had to be curtailed. So, after sleeping in, we head to a leisurely breakfast with Team Despicable (the Millers) and Rock Lobster (the Gaddys).

But lo! What should appear in our inbox but email from Czarda! The subject is "Chicago Thanks" and the contents are this poem:

Great to see all of you
and so all it had to end
Here is something chewy
Until we meet again

Attached to the email is this PDF.

The last poem (clue #3) is particularly amusing to us:

Six very simple Vigeneres
But which aligns with which
Is just a bit of mystery 
To scratch that brainy itch
Screw this guy and his vigenere
You scream unto the sky
As you search each keyword
Or frequency you try

You see, we had let it slip the previous day that Jonathan's fancy statistical Vigenere cracking system (worth a post in its own right) squeaked us through some tricky bits the previous day where we didn't technically have the key. When we hear about an implied sextuple Vigenere with arbitrary alignment, our minds boggle. We figure this is Josh's way of getting back at us with a nod and a wink; this one's hard enough to crack even if you have the key!  But, of course, that's clue 3; we have to solve clue 1 and clue 2 first.

Anyway, after receiving the clue, we do the only sensible thing and proceed with breakfast as planned. Wei-Hwa has a spinach pie. Stories are exchanged. Pictures fail to be taken, sadly, but a good time is had and bellies are filled.

After, we head back to our hotel suite to solve. Rich thinks he recognizes the photo, and indeed! It's a brachiosaurus skeleton mounted outside the Field Museum:


The obvious thing to do at this point would be to head to the Field Museum. But, you see, it's really comfortable in our hotel room, and I only have a few hours until my rescheduled flight, so we study the rest of the clues first. We recognize the cryptogram symbols below the photo from Day 1, and after some digging through clue archives we retrieve our key and decode it:

CLUE 1

YUMMY IT'S
SO CHEWY
I REALLY
LOVE THIS
CRACK
IT IS LOVE
OF PUZZLES
SO GREAT 2(?)
HACK

We have some trouble understanding this! Yummy it's so chewy? Is that another Wrigley reference? "I really love this crack"? Are we talking about crack cocaine, or a crack in the ground, or cracking ciphers? What's up with the grammar of the second half? Is that symbol really a 2? We haven't seen it before.

There's a zombie's head above clue 2, we notice. Hmm. Do zombies like crack? Or puzzles?

Clue 2's poem refers to a "code that you discovered, somewhere on the way." We think that's the cryptogram symbols, but we're not sure, especially since the references to chewy crack isn't really "helping us on the way" so far. But eventually we realize the ciphertext in clue 2 isn't Vigenere, it succumbs (mostly) to simple substitution! Then we know that the "code that you discovered" was actually keyed Caesar. We backsolve to discover the key, which turns out to be MAGDALENA ABAKANOWICZ. This is significant because she is the artist responsible for Agora, an outdoor installation quite near the Field Museum:


Aha! Zombies! So that fills in the path so far -- the image leads to the Field Museum, the zombie head leads to the headless statues, the poem tells you to use the artist's name with keyed Caesar, and that decodes the clue 2 ciphertext:

SEEK THE WORK OF A SAINT HERE ALONG THE WAY FOR THERE BENEATH THE STEED SIX WREATHS SHALL SAVE THE DAY

We figure this must be referring to something near the headless statues, and indeed in the same park (Grant Park) we find an equestrian statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens with six ornamental bronze wreaths under it:

(You can just barely see the wreaths around the base.)
The wreaths contain text referring to battles where the General served: "BENTON VILLE KENESAW", "JACKSON PORT GIBSON", etc.. Now, recall, we're still in our hotel room, so we can't just read the six wreaths. We can find photos with five of them, though.

And this brings us back to the "six very simple Vigeneres".  We have learned that when a Czarda poem says something is "simple" (like "solve this simple code"), it means it's tricky. This one is "very simple" and that strikes fear into our heart. Even if we have six keys (the phrases in the wreaths? the first words thereof?), do we have to shift them around? This could be literally thousands of possible combinations!

Fortunately, we discover that it's not that complicated. Instead of repeated Vigenere, it's a traveling Vigenere, where segments of the cipher are encoded with different keys. Using single words from inside the wreaths, we decode as follows:

NC QXOE GVVXBQT + BENTON = MY DEAR FRIENDS
XH NTH OE ADBFK + PORT = IT WAS AN HONOR
WO AFZROE SFNL + DALLAS = TO PUZZLE HUNT
BWKA XITA KWEX + FORT = WITH SUCH FINE
QHEDW ZED WOZRMSJ + EZRA = MINDS AND SPIRITS
VOAZZA OTSKU YAJ IFR LJPS WTG + ??? = ???

Now we really need that sixth wreath. I'm finally talking people into taking the drive to Grant Park (it's only 15 minutes!) while Rich is researching every battle General Logan ever served at. Just as I'm picking up the phone to dial the valet, Rich whispers to Jonathan: "Try CHAMPIONS". And indeed!

VOAZZA OTSKU YAJ IFR LJPS WTG + CHAMPIONS = THANKS AGAIN YOU ARE THE KEY

(Get it? The KEY for this message segment is CHAMPIONS, so...) Hooray!

We head for another meal of chewy, chewy Giordano's pizza, I take my tearful farewell and head to O'Hare, and the rest of the team rides off into the Chicago sunset. I'm hopeful they'll visit the field of zombies at some point, it looks pretty awesome. I leave with the warmest of fuzzies and the best of regards for the indomitable Czarda, my doughty teammates, and the other teams with whom we shared the adventure of the Iron Raven.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Day 4, Part 4: Gone With the Wind!

Having triumphantly finished with the Indianapolis leg, we set off towards our final stop, The Windy City!

The driving puzzle this time was a bunch of audio clips of lines from famous movies, and our task was to identify the movies and then fill them into the following grid:

Driving Puzzle to Chicago.  The bottom looks Greek to me.
Once we'd identified the majority of the movies, the letters of each color could be anagrammed to get a message that was something like "KEY IS FAMOUS CHICAGO BLUESBROTHERS LINE".  Around the same time, Jonathan seemed to find a good lead on the Vigenere key from the other direction, suggesting it was a 15-letter key ending with "TITHITIT".  Putting these two pieces of information together, we determined the actual key was just "HIT IT", and this decoded the text at the bottom of the page.  Well, almost all of it.  That bolded line didn't decode.

The non-bolded text, after applying the Vigenere, decoded to:

YOUR HEAD MUST BE IN THE CLOUDS AT THIS LOVELY PLACE
THOUGH SOON A SQUARE YOU MUST FIND WHERE COLUMNS SIT AND WAIT
THERE YOU SEEK SOMETHING CHEWY NOW INDEED
FOR HE MADE IT CHEWY TO HELP YOU TO SUCCEED
BY HIS MARK ON THE PLACE LIKE A FALCON YOU WELL KNOW
THAT WHICH WAITS IN QUOTES SHALL LEAD YOU FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD

We figured whatever this led to would help us decode the rest of the message.  As we had a lot of driving yet before we'd reach Chicago, we tried to see how far we could get.  We quickly realized that the place we were looking for was Wrigley Square (the "chewy" references) in Millenium Park (the "falcon" reference), and that we were looking for a plaque or reference to Wrigley himself.  With this in mind, we found this image online:
This sign was chewy indeed.
The large quote at the bottom was in quotes, so we figured that if this was in fact the plaque we wanted, it would be something from there.  But nothing worked to decode that last bold section.  Without any more leads, we eventually got to Chicago and just went to Wrigley Square in Millennium Park, only to find that this exact plaque was really the most likely candidate.  It wasn't until we were looking at the plaque in person that we spotted that the word "PERISTYLE" can also be found in quotes.  Surely that was it!  But no, it didn't work to decode the remaining crypto text either.  So now we were stuck.  We wandered over and checked out the Cloud Gate (aka the "Bean"), which was awesome, but didn't help us solve the puzzle.

Jonathan finally finds a mirror of the appropriate size.
After 20 or 30 minutes stuck at this point, we cried uncle and went for another hint.  Josh told us "don't forget to hit it!".  Of course!  We were supposed to have already applied "HIT IT" to that text, and *then* apply PERISTYLE.  This worked like magic, and gave us a phone number to call.

When we called the phone number, we heard a live rendition of "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz.  After a little research, we found that there was an Oz Park in Chicago that had statues of all the Wizard of Oz characters!  Cool!  And surely, we'd be looking for Scarecrow, who sings that song.  It was after 11 PM at this point, and were off to our second location in Chicago.

We were at Oz Park at night after it was technically closed, so we destroyed the evidence and instead show you this stock photo of what it looks like during the daytime.
At the Scarecrow statue in Oz Park, we found a scroll with a hand-drawn brain on it.  We examined it very closely to reveal that in the folds of the brain were some hidden letters that spelled out Kingston Mines, one of Chicago's oldest and most famous blues clubs.  (Shortly after, we realize that we were supposed to "fry" the brains, which would have melted away everything but the letters.)

So we head to Kingston Mines, a place I had visited many years before with my friend Sanmit, who lived in Chicago at the time.  I never would have guessed at the time that it would end up the finish line for an epic journey across the country some years later.  The finish line, I say?  Yes, that's right, when we arrive at Kingston Mines just before midnight, Josh tells us that the race is over and he hands us the Iron Raven!   He says we won by 2 hours and 6 minutes, and the other teams have already gone back to their hotels for the night.
Ladies and Gentleman, your GAR 3 Champions, complete with photobomber.
Confused that we wouldn't have another day of racing (later we found out Josh had a family emergency arise that he had to take care of back home, so certainly nothing to be upset about on our side), but happy that we'd defended our title, we hung out at Kingston Mines for a while to share stories with Josh and Sean, then we headed out to celebrate the best way we could think of: with some real Chicago pizza!  All the more famous places were closed at the time we were out, so we tried out Pequod's Pizza, which was open until 2 AM.

Nothing tastes better than victory except for possibly authentic Chicago pizza.
It was a great end to a great race... or was this really the end?  Stay tuned...

Day 4, Part 3: Circling the Circle City

When last we left our heroes, they were en route to Indianapolis from Cincinnati. Jonathan had prematurely cracked both of the driving puzzle Vigeneres, they had opened the cryptex, and they were starting to strategize how to tackle the next leg of the journey...

So... inside the cryptex we found four sheets of paper which we determined to be the set of clues we'd need to solve in Indianapolis.  The first page was a set of twelve photos of landmarks in Indianapolis, with a poem indicating that two of them were red herrings.  (Note: I'd love to share the fresh clues with you, but unfortunately we only had one copy of each page, and we wrote all over them before taking pictures of them.  Sorry...)

Page 1 depicting the sights and sounds of Indianapolis, without the sounds.
The next two pages were clues that we were supposed to pair up with ten of the twelve images.

Page 2 depicting the day's clues 6 through 11.
Page 3 depicting the day's clues 12 through 15.
The fact that clues 13-15 are labeled "Day 5" might have clued us in that this was going to be a serious challenge.
The fourth page was an ambiguous color acrostic that was clearly the meta, as it had spaces for us to fill in the answers for Clues 8-15.   Spaces to fill in the answers for Clues 6 and 7 were conspicuously absent from that sheet, but later we found out this was just a production error.

Page 4 depicting the Indy meta.
Also pictured is a cup of authentic Indianapolis chili from some local fast food chain called "Wendy's"

OK, so armed with all we needed to tackle Indianapolis, and still driving from Cincinnati, we decided to stop work on the initial puzzles (which we had mostly short-circuited by cracking the Vigeneres), and focus on researching where we'd find all those photos.

Progress on finding the locations of these photos was initially slow, partly because our internet connection was spotty on the road, and partly because some of these photos were hard to come by.  Eventually we determined that quite a few of the photos were in and around University Park, some were at the Indianapolis State House, and at least one was at the Crown Hill Cemetery.  One of the photos (of Ben Franklin, on the top right) had some tiny writing that we noticed and could faintly make out a question of "What glasses did I invent?"  So we were pretty sure that one of the answers would be BIFOCALS, but not yet sure of which Clue it went with.

We also found that one of the pictures (the Pro Patria statue, on the bottom right) was a statue made by Henry Hering -- a perfect candidate for one of the red herrings!  Later we'd find out that a second statue (Seated Lincoln, on the bottom left) was also made by Henry Hering, but alas that was not the other red herring.  Too bad, that just made it seemed like the first Hering statue was just a coincidence...

As we approached Indianapolis, we decided to go first toward University Park, since that seemed to be the place where most of the places we'd found were.  There were still four or five images we hadn't found yet, so I dropped everyone at the Scottish Rite Cathedral (across from University Park), which we were sure was one of the pictures and that it went with Clue 8.  After scouring the Scottish Rite Cathedral for a while, we got an unsolicited tip from Josh "not to overthink it", or something like that.  At that point, from the car, I looked up some details on the locale and found that it contained a 54-bell carillon, suggesting that simply CARILLON was our answer.  (It also suggested that there was actually no reason to visit that location at all, which was a little disappointing.)

Anyway, finally armed with our first solid answer, Dan, Wei-Hwa, and Jonathan set out to walk around the enormous University Park, while I sat in the car and did more research.   I finally struck the Mother Lode with this wikipedia page, which helped finish finding all the remaining images except for one (the one just below the top left, which looked like it *must* be in the cemetery).

The guys solved several of the other puzzles and identified what seemed to be the other red herring (The Depew Memorial, the fountain seen just to the left of the bottom right image).  We were able to solve all the puzzles we found there (and match up the Ben Franklin one we'd mostly solved on the road!), but one still eluded us.  We *knew* it was the right statue, and we *knew* it was semaphore, but couldn't quite get it to work.
Can you solve this?
RDS, DNI, NAO, TOI, NNC, ERZ, YNM, JZM
Anyway, feeling like we'd collected all the data we could, we moved on to the state house.  Here we found another answer (which I won't describe), and another one that we couldn't quite get (which I will describe).
This inscription is used with Clue 12.
Clue 12 lead us to the monument shown above.  It used a very clever self-contained mechanism in which the dates on the plaque were used to extract letters from the other lines on the plaque.  That gave us the letters IYBIDOCI, and we were looking for an eight-letter word that described Stephen Baldwin in the movie Threesome.  Needless to say, we were not certain we'd done this correctly, and that those were even the correct letters, but we had the data so we moved on.

Next we decided to tackle the image that showed a distant view of one of the buildings in University Park (the image to the right of the top left image).  We'd seen that building in University Park, and recognized the buildings shown on each side of it, so it was clear we'd have to go well south of the park to get to that vantage.  So we started driving south and looking to find the right vantage.  After a while, it became clear that due to other buildings in the way, it was going to be impossible to find that vantage.  This is when someone (I think Wei-Hwa) realized that maybe the image we had been given was reversed!  Sure enough, it was, and we actually had to go to the north end of Washington Park.  Doh!  That cost us some time.

So we head to the north end of University Park to find the right view.  There we find a plaque for a guy named GRESHAM, that goes with Clue 7.  According to the clue, "Add unto the mix an I, and with a simple anagram, you'll find a tag to try."  OK, great, so we need to anagram GRESHAMI into something.  Seems easy enough, but it had us stumped.  So we decide to press on.

At this point, we'd found all but two of the images, and still had a few clues that we think we've got the date for, but haven't finished yet.  One of the last two images we knew was in Crown Hill Cemetery (the one above the bottom left image), and the other (just above that) we felt likely would be there too.  So we head off to Crown Hill Cemetery, which we'd left for last since we'd noticed Josh has a tendency to end legs in cemeteries, and we felt that might optimize our routing for the day.

The cemetery is enormous, and as we approached it we started to worry that finding these two images was going to be next to impossible.  After driving around aimlessly at first, eventually we find some more detail on where the fountain we were looking for was to be found, and head over there.  The Clue for this one (#11) was not as straightforward as we expected, but we think the answer might be SERENITY, as that is a prominent eight-letter word on the sign.

It seems the other picture in the cemetery is up on a hill, so we start driving around and looking for a way to get to a higher ground.  Eventually we find our way up to the top of a hill to the very fancy burial plot of James Whitcomb Riley, a famous Hoosier poet.  We need to solve another Vigenere here, so we start trying out every word we see on the crypto text until one of them works, and this approach eventually gives us the solution word YOUNGEST.  In retrospect, the bolded letters in Clue 10 should have pointed us to "Poem Beast" to help us positively identify which word to use.

It is around this time that we receive a text from the other team (which remember is now both other teams working together), that they've punted on Indianapolis and started heading off to Chicago.  It is at this point, we decide to start playing strategically, but to do that, we need information from Josh.  We have visited all 12 locations, and have solved somewhere between 5 and 7 of the Clues, but aren't sure exactly how many since we don't have a way to verify our answers.

The first thing we ask is whether we can verify answers without taking any penalties.  Josh says that's fine, so we verify the answers we have, and find that we have 7 of 10 correct.  The ones we don't have yet are:
the semaphore puzzle (shown above), the IYBIDOCI anagram, and the GRESHAMI anagram.  Of course, we also don't know how far off we are on any of these either.  Plus we still have the whole meta to solve.

Unsure of the best approach, we decide to call Josh and ask him how penalties are going to be handled for this round.  For instance, we don't want to lose because the other team punted before us and we just are too stubborn to give up.  We also don't want to take a hint on a feeder puzzle if that would cost the same as a hint on the meta, especially if not solving the feeder puzzles doesn't hurt us.  So we call Josh to discuss, and he confirms that the other team skipped *a lot* of the puzzles, and that we had a pretty big cushion so should still try to solve it all.  Armed with this information, we decide to take a hint on the semaphore puzzle.  The hint just verifies it is semaphore, so we ask Josh for further hintage since we had already committed to the penalty on that one.  He tells us it is two words, the first letter is an N and the last is a T.  This provides us just enough of a crib to nail it, but I'll leave the specifics as an exercise for the reader. :)

As for IYBIDOCI, I eventually convinced myself that it was BI-IDIOCY, and that was a perfectly good word to describe Stephen Baldwin, but unabled to convince Dan to submit that, somehow I instead convince him to submit C III BODY.  Crazily that was incorrect, but eventually we do submit BI-IDIOCY, which is confirmed as correct.

As for GRESHAMI, we are so stumped by this one, we actually drive back to the park to see if we can find another word.  I don't recall exactly how, but at some point, we decide to try "HIS GAMER", which turns out to be right, and consistent with the "tag" to try, as in "gamer tag".   Hmm, not my favorite.

Anyway, of course all along we were trying to crack the meta without having every answer, but now that we do, it still proves to be difficult with the ambiguity of the colors mapping to multiple possible letters in the final output phrase, but eventually we get the message:  YOUR KEY IS WHAT CHICAG IS KNOWN AS THE BLARK [sic].  We debate as to whether the typos here were intentional or not (I argue that using CHICAG instead of CHICAGO prevented us from using CHICAGO as a crib), but nonetheless, this is enough to finish.  Using this key on the meta's Vigenere gives us a phone number which leads us to a baseball field near the Brickyard (aka the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) where we'll find our driving puzzle to Chicago.  Hooray!  This means we solved all of Indianapolis with (we think) only one charged hint, and surely made up loads of time on the other teams, who punted many of the clues, and still only left town about 90 minutes before us.

Off to the Brickyard we go.  On the way, I'm underwhelmed by what I expected to be a lot more impressive. I mean, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a world famous auto racing stadium, but from the outside it looks much more like some metal high school bleachers for a JV soccer field that just happen to extend for a mile.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway as I pictured it.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway as I saw it.
Anyway, we got to the nearby baseball field and found our driving clue, and started off towards Chicago confident that we'd finally gotten out to a lead that we would be determined not to relinquish.

video
Jonathan finds the last driving clue!


Day 4, Part 2: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

So armed with the knowledge that we're virtually tied for the lead headed to Indy, we approach this driving leg with more urgency than we had in the previous days. The driving puzzle is a fun one. As all the other driving puzzles, it came in the form of a CD, but this one had the title "Video Killed the Radio Rats", and on each track there was a TV theme song... played backwards!

We were also given a sheet of paper with two separate Vigenere codes on it (shown below), and another sheet that was nothing more than a grid of letters taking up the whole page. The obvious approach was that we would need to solve the first code using the CD, which would then in turn give us instructions on how to solve the second one using the grid.
This Raven speaks mostly in Vigenerian.
So we set off to identifying the theme songs, while Jonathan set off to just crack the Vigenere codes directly. It was fun identifying theme songs in reverse! Doing them forward would have been fun, but trivial, while in reverse there was just enough difficulty to make it quite rewarding to identify the songs. Themes ranged from Wheel of Fortune to Looney Tunes to Seinfeld, but once identified, it was pretty unmistakable in each case, and eventually, including revisiting some after we'd solved the clue, we got them all without doing any audio stream manipulation. Fun.

That said, we didn't get very far into the theme song identifications when Jonathan announced he had cracked the first Vigenere! The code is "DUNDER MIFFLIN". Shortely thereafter, this helped us to zero in on the solution of the CD puzzle to read "COMPANY NAME TRACK ONE"... which was odd since The Office was actually track 2 on our CD, but who's counting...

So applying DUNDER MIFFLIN to the code we were given gave us the message: "Using grids one through four upon the page of codes, align number one vertical below SD, number two horizontal below UV, number three below DN, then for four search the rest."  Clearly these were instructions on how to use the grid to solve the second code (shown below), but before we could really figure out what to do, Jonathan had cracked the *second* Vigenere too! This time the code was LIGHTNING MCQUEEN, and the second code decoded to: YOUR CRYPTEX KEYWORD IS CLOWN.

Pay no attention to the spoilerific pencil markings...
(Note: We wouldn't actually forward-solve this grid puzzle until the very end of the leg, for completeness, when Dan and Wei-Hwa discovered that we needed to use the small wooden overlays we had been given at the start of the day to find the answer. The letters those overlays yielded are shown on the image above.)

So we opened the cryptex! Around this time both we and our van were getting hungry, for food and gas, respectively, so rather than stopping for fast food and then make a second stop to get gas, we killed two birds with one stone and got sandwiches from the gas station mini mart while we filled up the gas tank. Jonathan stayed in the car to start inspecting the contents of the newly opened cryptex, while the rest of us went into the minimart.

Once back in the car, and after a spirited debate about the order that Jonathan found the four sheets of paper that were contained in the cryptex, we decided to put the details of the second step of the driving puzzle that Jonathan had short-circuited on the back burner in favor of strategizing how we would tackle Indianapolis, the details of which I'll share in the next post!