Thursday, September 5, 2013

Day 4, Part 1: BSB in Cincinnati

After a strong day 3 performance leading us to Cincinnati, we met again in Lytle Park for the start of what we were told would be the longest leg of the trip. On tap for the day was going to be:
  • a set of 5 linear clues in Cincinnati
  • a driving puzzle to Indianapolis (which would unexpectedly add Indiana to my puzzle hunt in every state goal!)
  • a set of 10 parallel clues in Indianapolis that we can solve in any order
  • a driving puzzle to Chicago
  • a set of linear clues in Chicago leading to the final location.
Josh and Sean kicking it off in Cincinnati's Lytle Park.
Josh warned us that he expected this leg to go past midnight, and he'd be cutting us off at 3 AM in Chicago if we hadn't finished by then. He also told us that there were only 62 minutes separating first and last place going into this leg, so the overall outcome was very much still in doubt.

As a result, we started this leg with our game faces on, an agreed upon hint strategy (we'd take hints if we were ever stuck for 20+ minutes without progress, to be sure we would keep moving and not overpenalize ourselves when we were spinning our wheels), and some great enthusiasm for a long day of puzzling.

We grabbed our supplies for the day - another cryptex (one of the small ones this time!), some wood slats with holes in them that Wei-Hwa quickly identified as a "guess what number I'm thinking of" parlor trick aid that he'd seen before, and a set of 5 (apparently linear) clues to work on in Cincinnati.

What's with the key next to Caesar on Clue 5?  Took us our first official hint to figure that one out...
After some quick internet searching, Dan discovers that there is a mural called "Mr. Tarbell tips his hat" nearby, and so we scurry back to our car to drive there, thinking that we were going to drive as much as possible today to save time, even if it meant there might be some sites where I'd have to circle in the car while we gathered data.

We pull the van right up to the mural to the point where you can almost read the plaque from inside the car, and find that the mural contains the name Tim Parsley, an anagram of "Salty Prime", and thus, the key to the associated Vigenere. Decoding the message and reading backwards gave us: LOOK ON MEMORIAL HALL.

A search for Memorial Hall in Cincinnati returned two results - one on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, and the other more formally known as the Hamilton County Memorial Building. Since the latter was closer to where we were, we decided to try that first. Fortunately, that was the right call, and we soon thereafter arrived at this building.

The inscription we were looking for was on the left side of the building.
Once here, it took us a few minutes to find the inscription that Jason and the NRA would both approve, but eventually we spotted it: "The pioneer with axe and gun redeemed the continent." Writing this around the perimeter of the grid we were given gave us a fairly ambiguous way to pull letters from the grid given a pair of letters used as X and Y coordinates. There was a minor error in the puzzle that Josh later texted us about, but we were able to get a message that led us to believe we were looking for a "Martha" something.

A quick search on "Martha" in Cincinnati indicated that there was a famous passenger pigeon for whom a new mural had just been painted in downtown Cincinnati. Confident that was the intended destination, we headed out just as the two other teams (who had joined forces and were now working together as one) arrived at Memorial Hall. We hoped that would be the last we'd see of them until the finish line...

A very nice mural, but not the right Martha.
We got to the mural, and the fact that it hadn't even been finished yet clued us in to the fact that we'd gone to the wrong place. Some more careful decoding of the previous message reveals that we were actually looking for "Martha STITES", and that we could find her grave at Washington Park, which was *right across the street from Memorial Hall*, where we had just solved the previous puzzle. Argh.

So we drive back to Washington Park, just in time to see the other team starting to search the park for Martha. I walk by the sign first, and hoping not to give away the location, I keep walking right by it hoping the other teams don't notice before I would circle back and take a quick photo. This doesn't work at all, as Devon notices it not seconds after I pass it, and this of course makes it look like I'm just following them. Jeez.

The obstructed view of the Martha Stites sign I finally got after I foolishly pretended I didn't see it.
So at this point, we were basically exactly tied with the other team on this leg, and we set out to decode the message. This was a trivial line-word-letter cipher that decoded to: "HECKER YEAR SHIFT". This time we were a little more clueful than last time, and realized that there was a giant statue honoring a guy named Hecker not more than 50 feet away.

Hecker memorial, but which date do we use?
The tricky part here was that there were two dates on the back of the statue visible from the Martha Stites sign, but another, different date on the front of the statue, which was the one we actually wanted. (We believe this is what the "It could go either way." message from the previous clue was referring to...) We zeroed in on this pretty quickly to get the message "NINETEEN UNDER FIVE WREATHS FOR A CAESAR SHIFT". Clearly this was the message we needed to make sense of Clue #5.

After a few minutes of doing some internet research and looking around our surroundings, one of us notices that across the street, right next to Memorial Hall, is the Cincinnati Music Hall, which is nineteen letters long, and written on the eaves in giant letters beneath 5 giant wreaths! Not wanting to tip off the other team to this discovery, we retreat to the van (in the opposite direction) and discreetly drive over and park in front of the Music Hall to work on the clue.

You can only barely see the tops of four of the wreaths here.
Time passes, and we have no leads. I go up to the building and take pictures of all the plaques, and even talk to staff there to find out if there is anything Caesar-related in or around the building. At some point, we notice the other team working on this clue in a glass elevator entrance just across the street from us. We try all sorts of Caesar shifts and Vigenere shifts, and nothing works. We can't figure out why there is a key next to Caesar. The other team leaves. More time passes. At one point, I go to search for "Caesar key", but get distracted with some other blind alley before doing that. After about an hour of spinning, we finally break down and text in for an official hint. And it helps! We need to apply a "Keyed Caesar" with the key Cincinnati Music Hall. None of us had ever heard of a Keyed Caesar, but I kick myself repeatedly since I had thought to try searching for "Caesar key" before we took the hint, but never did, and Keyed Caesar would have shown up as the third result. Argh.

Anyway, this final clues decodes to a phone number which, when called, gives us a poem that suggests the location of our drive-to-Indianapolis puzzle, behind a sign with a polka-dotted guy near the Taft Museum.

Jonathan poses with the Indy driving clue in hand.

So not only did we finish this about 30 minutes after the other team, we also incurred a 30 minute penalty for taking a hint. So we've completely blown that hour lead we had at the start of the leg, and it is like the race is now starting from even. So we head off to Indianapolis in what we believe to be a virtual tie for first, and hope for the best! Next up... the driving clue to Indianapolis!

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