Thursday, December 25, 2008

¿El Vino de Los jefes?

I think the sign says it all.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Shinteki 4 - Child's Play

This past weekend, Los Jefes (along with several other Seattle teams) flew down to the Bay Area for Shinteki Decathlon 4. This was our second Shinteki and it was every bit as good as Shinteki 3-D, with puzzles that were consistently high-quality and fun. This year’s theme was Child’s Play, so Jeff P. and I were particularly happy to have Cyndy and Jeff W. joining us so we had some parental experience on our team.

The Puzzles
Superstar – Run a “battle” app on LEON (the Palm device each team uses to submit answers during the event and an excellent Midnight Madness reference) where a "Shintekimon" character whose name you enter battles other teams and eventually battles Superstar (played by Rich Bragg with fabulous sparkly glasses and a wand). After completing battles, the app gave hints that gradually revealed the pattern of the name required to defeat Superstar (based on rock, paper, scissors battles between the R’s, P’s and S’s in the character names).

Hike to Find the Children’s Songs – This involved hiking up the Lookout Trail at Montalvo County Park and finding signs that displayed obfuscated children’s songs. At the top of the hill we got a sheet where the titles of the songs could be filled in acrostic-style to get the final answer.

Connect 4 – Thanks to this puzzle, I had a certain Common Market song stuck in my head all weekend. This was one of my favorite puzzles from the event. It started as a dropquote written on Connect 4 pieces that could be dropped into a Connect 4 game to spell quotes from Shakespeare's sonnet 18 on each side and to form a large "15" out of the red pieces. Once we'd solved the dropquote, we had a free hint come available that indicated the pieces represented a calendar for May and June, 2008. At that point, we knew June 15th should give us the answer but we wound up having to pay for a hint because none of us made the connection that that was Father's Day (not even the actual father on our team, Jeff W.).
Stop, Stop, Go Solve Some Anagrams - While Cyndy and Jeff W. parked the van, Jeff P. and I played a game of Stop Stop Go to get the next clue. I never really thought about it as a kid, but I think the real fun of that game is the thrill of being sneaky and getting away with something (or maybe that just reveals something about my character). The clue consisted of eight sets of eight anagrammed words where each anagram had an extra letter. This was a fun puzzle and a nice setting.
B is for Basil, Assaulted by Bears - Earlier in the day, we'd driven by the Winchester Mystery House and I commented that I'd always wanted to see it. As it turned out, I only got to see their gift shop, where we retrieved the next clue, a set of quotation balloons that had to be matched to pages in The Gashlycrumb Tinies, by modifying the balloon text using each child’s means of death.

Jenga – As you might imagine, this was a Jenga game, which in this case came with an algorithm for playing Jenga that produced a tower that read YAHOO down one side’s profile. Cyndy and Jeff W. manipulated the tower skillfully. I was just happy to have team members with good physical dexterity, because that is definitely not a skill that I bring to the team.

Rooster Row – Start the See and Say, enjoy the entertainment and interpret semaphore characters (just make sure you know which end is up). ‘Nuff said.

Colorful Books – This was a booklet of children’s book covers with missing titles, retrieved from under a big mosaic book at a San Jose library branch. Each title contained a color which could be colored in on the back pages of the book to produce well-known images.

Monopoly – This puzzle provoked our only (minor) gripe about the event. The puzzle itself was cool – letter bigrams mapped onto a Monopoly board at a park that had an actual Monopoly board in the ground with properties sponsored by San Jose Chamber of Commerce members. We were off on one of our bigrams for extracting the final answer, but had enough of the message to think we were looking for the sponsor of the Go tile, which was the Children’s Discovery Museum. However, LEON did not acknowledge that answer. We eventually decided to scratch on the puzzle after getting partial credit for the earlier steps so we’d get a chance to see the final puzzle. At the wrapup, we learned the correct answer was “Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose”. If we hadn’t been pressed for time, we might have thought to try that too, but a “keep going” message from LEON definitely would have helped here.
Candy Store - The final puzzle was a set of eight mini-puzzles, each themed around a particular candy. We managed to solve half of them and a remaining bonus puzzle before time ran out. Our favorite was Dots, which was a box of Dots candies where each color represented a Morse character that could be made using - you guessed it - dots.


Here’s another slightly belated blog post about SNAP 3, which Cyndy, Jeff P., Jeff W., Nikhil, and I did a couple weekends ago. This was a Seattle offering of Coed Astronomy’s mini-game that was held in San Francisco that weekend. The Seattle organizers adapted the event to be held on the University of Washington campus by providing teams with answer sheets that redirected them from the original answer (the San Francisco location for the next puzzle) to a location on the UW campus.

The event started in Red Square where an initial puzzle with multiple choice trivia questions pointed us to the first location. The puzzle at that location was Lego pieces with words on them which had to be constructed into a triangle such that each row spelled out a calculation that produced the numbers 1 through 12 reading from the top of the triangle to the bottom.

The third puzzle took us to a nearby grassy area where we received a bunch of colored foam cutouts with letters on them. One piece conspicuously contained the letters Y A R, which made Jeff P. and I speculate that the puzzle was made by Yar Woo of Coed Astonomy (turned out it was). We wound up needing the 5 point hint on this question to nudge us towards constructing 3-color country flags from the squares where the letters on the 3 squares anagrammed to the country’s name. This puzzle led us to an interesting rebus puzzle outside the Allen library where rebuses of San Francisco neighborhood names led us to an alphabet encoded answer using the neighborhoods’ zip codes.

The next puzzle was a reverse-crossword which started as a word weave to construct the completed grid and then we had to determine the list of words that composed the clues and use them to form the final phrase that gave the answer. This was an interesting puzzle, but definitely required a lot of process and I think we were losing steam partway through. Fortunately, this was followed by a quick, fun word search puzzle themed around a mural at a San Francisco school.

The metapuzzle was located at the Suzzallo library and included something that I hadn’t seen before – instead of using the results of each puzzle, the meta incorporated techniques used in each puzzle. It started with crossword clues that resolved to words that had been on the Lego triangle we constructed. Taking the Lego pieces from those words gave us colors that could be used to compose flags to get further along in the puzzle. Unfortunately, we were blocked on this step for a long time and wound up paying for all of the available hints which didn’t help at all with individual steps of the meta but instead just hinted that we needed to use the information and locations of earlier steps, which we already knew. The final step used the zip codes of the neighborhoods where each puzzle had sent San Francisco teams. We realized after solving this that we could have jumped ahead to the final step and just applied zip codes here, which we heard some teams did. It’s unfortunate the puzzle was short-circuitable in this manner, but overall it was really cool how each of the earlier puzzles was so tightly integrated into the meta.

On the whole, the puzzles travelled well. There were cases where the experience might have been slightly better in San Francisco (e.g. we later heard that the neighborhood rebuses puzzle was found hanging among the art at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, which would have made it interesting to find), but the puzzles were still very satisfying to solve in a different location. The Seattle organizers did a good job of providing any contextual information that was needed (e.g. for the mural word search puzzle, an image of the mural was included on the back of the answer sheet that led us to the puzzle location). I hope we’ll see more of that type of event sharing back and forth. It’s a whole lot easier to drive to UW than it is to fly to the Bay Area and it allows more teams to enjoy a particular event.

Puzzles from Down Under

Los Jefes did the online Melbourne University Puzzle Hunt again this year. I find this an interesting event in a few ways, the first of which is the timing. The puzzles are released every day over the course of a week at noon Melbourne time, which is 7:00pm PST, so every evening we get a fresh wave of five puzzles that take over our evening and various other bits of non-work time the next day.

Another interesting aspect of the event is the nature of the puzzles, which tend to be somewhat oblique. These puzzles would annoy me if they appeared in the events we do regularly, but in an event that happens over a longer time span and where we take a more recreational approach, I find them entertaining. They tend to stick with me through the day and often provoke interesting, though totally unintended, trains of thought. For example, Steve Googled the text from the first panel of Barn Dance and found a totally unrelated, but very distracting video. Similarly, when we (and nearly all other teams, based on the standings) were blocked on Pocket Monkeys, Nikhil started wondering if it was based on the QBasic Gorillas video game, which led to a few of us playing around with that for a while. Jeff and I found that Offhand's message could be interpreted to include the phrase, "Russian space potato", which first sounded improbable, but then became intriguing when we discovered there is in fact a Chinese space potato. Alas, it turned out the puzzle was merely intended as reference to Sputnik, which was much less interesting.

Jeff's favorite unintended result from this Puzzlehunt was the audio file which he created while trying to solve Tracks after Jay and Michelle had solved the first half of the puzzle. He knew he needed to interpret the numbers from the first half of the puzzle as music and this is what he wound up with by interpreting the numbers as positions on a music scale. According to the answer page, the numbers were supposed to be guitar tablature for the opening to Stairway to Heaven, so it sounds like we were a bit off...

Some puzzles also cause you to learn quite a bit more about Melbourne that you otherwise would. As a result of Orientation, I can now tell you the exact location of all the ATM's at the University of Melbourne. I even checked out parts of their campus on their 3D campus tour. It looks nice. And, as a result of International Relations, I can tell you each of the sister cities of Melbourne, as well as that Osaka is home to the regional snack takoyaki. Take a close look at the second image in the left column of that puzzle and perhaps you will notice the subtle shading of octopus meatballs. Those are no mere meatballs, as our team had thought throughout the event.

Overall, it was a fun distraction for most of my non-work waking time during the week, but by the end I was happy to have some spare time again to catch up on all the things I should have been doing that week instead!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Midnight Madness

Last weekend, Los Jefes played in the Midnight Madness Game, hosted by Snout and Drunken Spiders. This was an invitation-only Game where teams got one invitation for themselves and one to give to "a friend". We managed to snag Mystic Fish's extra invitation when we heard they were looking for someone who wanted it. Not all the regular Jefes could make it due to the short notice, so a couple of Silly Hat Brigade members rounded out our team (thanks Jett & Jackie!).

It's hard to go wrong theming a Game around Midnight Madness because the theme itself is so entertaining and GC did a great job of keeping the event tightly themed. We looked through telescopes (sort of), played commercial jingles, looked for a necklace in someone's cleavage, played mini-golf and just barely missed the chance to beat Star Fire! GC even arranged for Don Luskin, one of the people who inspired the movie, to chat with teams before the event. This was announced by GC holding up this shot from the movie credits, which initially resulted in teams trying to "solve" the credits page and completely ignoring our special guest.

The Puzzles
Midnight Madness Trivia - After a fabulous a capella rendition of the movie theme song, GC had teams in turn have one representative answer a trivia question about the movie in order to get the first clue. Of our team, Cyndy had watched the movie the most times (five), so she fielded our question (What vehicle did the white team use? Answer: mopeds).

Cryptic Card - The first clue was a card containing cryptic clues that resolved to Vista Slope near Google HQ. This was a nice, quick group solve for us.
Telescopes - From the top of a hill, we had to spot sets of 3 equations posted in the windows of nearby buildings. The equations resolved to a combination for a locked mailbox. Once it got dark, GC provided telescope-like tubes with the equations pasted at the end to replace the data in the windows. This was an unfortunate early clue because it seemed all of the teams were blocked on it. We eventually called GC for guidance and I don't think we would have ever thought to do what the puzzle required, which was to substitute 3 for X in each of the equations and add the results to get the combination.

It's Probably Not FAGABEEFE - From there, we went to Acorn's house where we got sheet music with snippets of commercial jingles, each with one incorrect note. Keyboards were provided, but our piano skills were lacking, so we retired to the van to use a tool to play the jingles for us. We combined the wrong notes into a final jingle to produce the answer (Klondike Bar), but unfortunately none of us recognized the Klondike Bar jingle so we called GC and played it for them to get access to Acorn's downstairs bar where we were given actual Klondike Bars (yum!), one of which contained the next location. We also had a bit of real-life drama at this location when a police car pulled up behind our van and a cop questioned us about what we were doing. Apparently, some of Acorn's neighbors think people sitting in vans with laptops in the middle of the night look suspicious. Go figure.

The Brewery - Here's where the cops should have thought we looked suspicious. The clue directed us to look behind a brewpub and their back patio door was open, so this resulted in teams roaming through the patio and outside storage area of the brewpub. Jeff finally gave up and called GC who directed him near a plant outside the walls of the patio (oops!). Direct quote from Jeff while retrieving the clue: "Ow, ow, ow, it's in a friggin' cactus!" The clue was 3 nonograms which gave the rebus Cards - Null - Coffee, for our next location, Cardinal Coffee.

Look Between the Two Giant Melons - True to the movie, the next clue was located on a necklace worn by a woman with considerable cleavage. The letters anagramed to "The Metro", which we tried to interpret as a golf location since by then we knew we were closely following the movie. Turns out we weren't looking for Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland, but instead for the entertainment paper rack (heh heh, rack) in the lobby very clearly labelled, "The Metro". Inserted in the papers were word searches that contained every synonym you could possibly think of for boobs. The sheer silliness of this clue just might have made it my favorite.

Hitch a Ride with the Old People - This featured an "old" man and woman (who I believe I recall as Cassandra Cross in the Hogwarts Game and she was equally entertaining here) who offered us a ride around a parking lot while telling us a rambly story. The rest of the puzzle was finding the pattern in the words they had trouble recalling.

Mini-Golf - This was a series of 18 images at each of the holes of a mini-golf course. Unfortunately, we missed hearing the recording at one hole instructing us to play air hockey (the air hockey table had a card with the form of the answer word for each hole) and another recording that said "Fore!" didn't strike us as noteworthy given that we were playing golf. After a nudge from GC, Cyndy quickly pieced the information together and realized we needed to come up with words starting with "Fore" for each of the images (e.g. "Foresee" at right).

What, You Mean It Really Is the Band? - At the Emeryville train station, we listened to mixed songs (one on the left channel and one on the right) and had to look for common sounds in the band name and song title of each pair. The clue included some unfortunate DJ banter referring to "Madness, no, NOT THE BAND, Midnight Madness!" which we (and other teams) took as a hint that the clue was not looking for anything related the band. A call to GC put us on the right path and we headed to the next location.

Dun Worry, I Hide Body - Dancing Hare Krishnas handed us a failed clue which they were skipping teams over (although it did have a fabulous picture of Curtis Chen in a Leon wig) and the next clue which was LOLcats (yay!) with proofreading notation (ugh!).

Beat Star Fire - We were just walking up to get our chance to defeat the Star Fire game when GC texted all teams to head to the final clue since the first team had made it there. No Star Fire for us.

Big Balls - The final clue took us back to Stanford where teams chased large, white inflatable balls with data written on them around a field while GC and other team members tried to chase us away with large inflatable hammers. Next step was to sort the data into sets and quotes, each with a missing word. This gave us what we read as ONE TTA HARRIS. GC kindly informed us we were really looking for the Onetta Harris community center.

After munchies and chatting at the wrap-up, we headed back to Oakland Airport to fly home. It wound up being a long wait, since our 7:42 flight was delayed to 8:50pm. This gave us just enough time to solve one of the Melbourne University Online PuzzleHunt puzzles (blog post to follow) which were posted at 7:00 before boarding our flight home.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Madness, Midnight Madness!

Los Jefes was lucky enough to make into the Midnight Madness: Back to Basics Game that's coming up in a couple of weeks (some info here and here). This is awesomeness! However, I'm afraid I may slowly be transitioning from excitement to delusion.

Yesterday morning, on the way from brunch at Hales to downtown, we passed this interesting old neon sign shop on Leary Way. I've always taken notice of the recovered neon signs they have strewn about, but as we were zipping by I could have sworn I saw the following sign (mildly Photoshopped to match my "sighting"):

Afterwards, I mentioned this amazing "Leon" sign to Donna a couple of times. However, she just looked at me a bit oddly and asked, "Are you sure it didn't just say neon?". Hmm, that actually made a lot more sense, but I could have sworn it said Leon, however improbable that might have been.

Well, turns out Donna was right and maybe I am a little just a little worked-up over the upcoming event:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Microsoft Iron Puzzler II

This past weekend, Los Jefes competed in Microsoft Iron Puzzler II. Unfortunately, there were only 5 teams competing this time, fewer than half as many as last time. We're hoping this isn't a trend, because we've had an awesome time in both of the IP's that we've done and we're looking forward to more! The best information we could gather was that some teams found the event fell too close to PH 11. Personally, I think a month is more than enough time to recover. :-)

On Friday night, Cyndy, Jeff P., Kevin, Nikhil, Steve and I gathered in our usual conference room for the authoring phase. This event's puzzle ingredients were monkey, chip, lead and star, with a set of puzzles revealing a 5th ingredient: orange. I had an existing paper puzzle idea that could incorporate the ingredients, so we went with that as our paper puzzle. Nikhil once again provided an awesome non-paper puzzle. The background music is Code Monkey by Jonathan Coulton and I haven't been able to get it out of my head all day!

I'm honestly not sure how to characterize our third puzzle. I have to admit, I still love this puzzle, even though we were really disappointed that no teams solved it. We were brainstorming puzzle ideas and saw an image of Barrel of Monkeys where the monkeys came in red, green and blue. This led us to the idea of combining monkeys representing RGB colors with well-known movie scenes. Kevin had a clever scheme for the RGB colors to yield resistor colors that indexed the movie names. Cyndy mocked up Gone with the Wind with some particularly maniacal-looking monkeys from Publisher clip-art and Jeff suggested putting it all to the tune of Brass Monkey by the Beastie Boys. We encoded the message MUSIC MINUS RUM - as it turns out, a Brass Monkey is rum + vodka + orange juice, so SCREWDRIVER was our answer. Once we'd gotten that far, I'm sure everyone can understand that we had to make the monkeys dance... From what we gathered after the solving phase, the RGB to resistor colors step was too much of an unclued leap of faith for other teams and the dancing was an unintended data stream, which we should have identified in test solving if we hadn't all fallen in love with the dancing monkey puzzle and been utterly spoiled for test solving (our takeaway - next time, author in smaller groups!). Ah, but it still makes me laugh out loud every time I look at it...

Apparently, one team was short a puzzle and GC asked us to provide an extra puzzle since we'd mentioned we had two candidates for our final puzzle, so I threw in my Walk the Line puzzle. I'll admit I found it not truly satisfying that it used the same underlying encoding as our other paper puzzle, but I guess I was just noticing groups of five this week...

The solving period was brief but fun. Both this year and last year, I've been really impressed with the level of creativity for puzzles produced in such a brief timeframe. This time around, we did see more errors in puzzles - one in particular that allowed us to get to the very last step of the puzzle and have the right approach, but be unable to solve it - very annoying! Nonetheless, there were some very cool puzzles - I particularly enjoyed the cryptic crossword where puzzle ingredients sometimes occupied word intersections (although the use of Pb for lead did trip us up a bit). Other puzzles that stand out for me include a crossword embedded in a tree with types of monkeys as vertical answers and a puzzle with images representing letters encoded in 5 bits, which conveniently turned out to be very similar to a puzzle I made for Cyndy's spy-themed birthday hunt this summer. There was a cool backwards cryptogram entitled The DaVinci Code, which unfortunately had a particularly nasty final step that kept us from solving it. The Pringles puzzle (a container of different flavors of Pringles chips with various data written on them) produced by the winning team was also fun - well, fun for me anyway, because Nikhil and Cyndy did all the data munging and my contribution was just to get past the final step by noticing that the flavors of Pringles listed on the fake Pringles wrapper were in the form of a Braille cell.

In all, it was a fun weekend of puzzling. Too bad more teams didn't get to enjoy it!