Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 3, Part 2 - Exploring the Biggest Small Town in America

Previously on Day 3 of the Great America Race:

Rich took us on a three hour tour of Columbus and its surrounding suburbs. We enjoyed breakfast and a little light interrogation with Ajit and Lise. Josh gave us our first packet of puzzles. We rented some bikes and visited 17 different locations before going to one we were specifically told to in the clue. We then cleverly solved the first puzzle.

The Grande Sappho sculpture we were directed to was no more than 50 feet away.

I'm pretty sure she was flipping us off. Look, I'm no art expert but that's just rude.
Our second clue was composed of a riddle indicating we needed to find some shapes on the sculpture's backside (no wonder she was flipping us off) and use them to create a new version of the pigpen cipher. It also included a code comprised of said shapes.

We searched the sculpture and found the following interesting pattern comprised of intersecting triangles between the years 1887 and 1925. The enclosed sections matched promisingly with the shapes in our ciphertext so we were pretty confident we had the right data.

We struggled a bit on this one because besides the usual ambiguity where a coded symbol can translate to a few different letters, there was also a little ambiguity in how best to assign letters to regions. While we were still trying some possibilities, the other two teams arrived. It seems they also ignored the instructions on the clue and visited multiple wrong locations. Additionally, they had opted not to use the bike system and so they had suffered a much greater time penalty. We silently congratulated ourselves on making at least one right decision and realized we would have a nice advantage in reduced travel times between clues.

Eventually we had an assignment of symbols to letters that would allow the decoded message to start "YOU ARE" and end "HERE" with six letters in between that stubbornly refused to translate to anything other than gibberish. I decided I wanted the message to be "YOU ARE ALREADY HERE" but it was pointed out to me that our letter assignments wouldn't allow that and that six letters weren't enough to make "ALREADY" anyway. Still, we knew from deciphering the Morse given in the next clue (you'll see a picture of it soon... just hold your horses), that there would be some arches involved and looking around, I saw three arches very close to where we were sitting. So I got up and surreptitiously made my way over to check them out so as not to reveal to the other teams my intentions (I did this by putting my hands in my pockets and walking slowly while whistling).

Sure enough, under the arches on the far wall was a tile pattern matching the one from the next clue.

I told you I'd post it. You need to be more patient.
There was text on the tiles and taking the indicated letters spelled "TUTSTUE". Hmm... what could that mean? Is it reference to the ancient Egyptian's word for Tuesday? I was unsure but a little quick Googling revealed that there is a Tuttle Park in Columbus and undoubtedly "STUE" referred to some statue there. The park was about a 20 minute bike ride away which was a little further than I liked but still I hurried back confident that I had discovered the next location.

On my way back, I noticed that the opposite wall also had a tile pattern matching our clue. I was pretty happy with my current reasoning but I figured it wouldn't hurt to check the indicated letter positions on this wall as well. These letters spelled "LIBRARY" which felt a little too on-the-nose to me. But the rest of my team disagreed and so we grabbed our bikes and sped off to the library.

I was trying to be stealthy and so I didn't take any pictures of the arches or the tiles underneath. So you get this picture of a baby chick on a kitten instead. OMG, look at how adorable they are!
The Columbus Metropolitan Library was one of the sites we had visited when trying to solve the first clue and so we were able to make our way there only getting lost twice.

In front of the library was a sculpture of Peter Pan playing a flute which seemed relevant to the "toots are played" line from our clue.

Though the mice pictured in the clue makes me think Josh thought this was the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
We used the dedication on the statue, "For the children of Columbus in memory of George Peabody Munson, aged six", and when aligned with the alphabet, the "x" conveniently lined up with "h". Wei-Hwa was able to decipher "CITY HALL" from the beginning of the ciphertext and while we never quite agreed on the rest, we had enough to proceed to the next location.

When we arrived at City Hall, Dan and Wei-Hwa went to check in their bikes while Rich and I looked around for the quote needed for the next clue. We found it on a plaque on the statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall. We filled the quote into the grid, pulled out the colored letters and slowly deciphered a message leading us to the COSI Museum.

Outside the COSI museum was a neat-looking kinetic sculpture designed to illustrate diffraction. There was also a plaque describing how sunlight is diffracted into rainbow colors and clued additionally by the poem, we used the ROYGBIV color names as a 7-layer Vigenère decryption. This would have been a chore to do by hand but thankfully Rich used his laptop and we had a message in moments. We ended up with the phrase, "GET TO DA CHOPPA" which at first was confusing, but Wei-Hwa helped clarify its meaning by screaming it aloud with his best Austrian accent. If you haven't had a chance to hear his Schwarzenegger impression, try to get him to demonstrate it for you. It's uncanny.

Children fleeing in terror from us was not an uncommon occurrence. Or perhaps they were just responding to the urgency in Wei-Hwa's voice and were making their way to da choppa.
We knew the Arnold quote was from Predator and the infrared image of the hand from the next clue seemed to confirm that angle. But we didn't have a solid location like after solving the last few clues. I wandered into the museum thinking maybe they had some kind of infrared exhibit but didn't find anything promising. (It's a cool museum though; similar to the San Francisco Exploratorium.)

At a loss, we were about to visit a nearby hospital that had a helipad (and then I guess our plan was to sneak or bluff our way onto the roof so we could search the helicopter we were hoping was there?) when Dan announced that he had found reference to an Arnold Schwarzenegger statue in Columbus. It seems one was erected last year in front of the Veterans Memorial to commemorate the annual Arnold Sports Festival that takes place in Columbus. It's located directly across from the COSI Museum so if we had just started walking, it would have been impossible to miss. Using the line-word-letter cipher given (which I've just learned is called the Arnold Cipher, how cool is that?) we got a message leading us to the Celebration of Life statue down the street.

I think everyone needs a little time to process the glory of that last photo so we'll continue with part 3 tomorrow.


  1. That last picture will now be my wallpaper.

  2. I love how Wei-Hwa is once again showing his rebellious side in that last picture.

  3. This picture alone makes running the race totally worth it.