Monday, October 8, 2007

Puzzlehunt 11 - Caught in the Net

This past weekend was Microsoft Puzzlehunt 11, hosted by SCRuBBers. The event had a Tron theme and the opening was particularly entertaining. It was based on the digitizing laser scene from the movie (with a rubber duckie provided by a team replacing the orange - we had all been instructed to bring one or more rubber duckies which were used in a later puzzle). Of course, the demo went awry and the users (all the teams) were instead digitized into the computer. The lights went out and the MCP's henchman appeared to inform us that we would now be working for the MCP. It's amazing how well a white costume trimmed with neon glo-sticks can mimic the Tron movie costumes!
To get access to the puzzles, we had to solve the first puzzle, Enter the Code. Three event posters with the tagline "Enter the Code" had been hung behind the stage during the opening. When the lights went out we saw they had been painted with luminescent paint to spell the code MCP. Entering the code gave us access to a slick, Web-based UI developed in Silverlight for viewing and interacting with the puzzles that teams had unlocked. Once we had solved the initial set of puzzles, we unlocked access to four metas represented by the colors red, yellow, green and blue along with four locations on campus where we could send team members to play a mech game that appeared to be the final meta.

Here are some of the puzzles that were highlights of the event for me. I apologize if I'm not mentioning a particular puzzle or anyone's contribution to solving a particular puzzle - with this type of event where multiple puzzles are worked by multiple people over a long stretch of time, it's hard to keep track of ALL the details, particularly when you throw in a bit of sleep deprivation...

Peer to Peer Networks

This was the first puzzle that I worked on, teaming up with Steve. It was a set of crossword clues that resolved to answers containing 2 instances of a particular double letter (e.g. Snoop Doggy Dogg for G). Once we had the string of letters, Nikhil looked over our shoulder and realized that it was a string of other words/names that double letters could be associated with (e.g. Milne -> A.A. Milne). The added letters spelled the answer BLAZE.

Air Traffic Control

Cyndy, Stan and I worked on this one, which was a list of locations specified in lattitude and longitude. Most locations were over airports and the airport codes spelled out something like GO CLOSE GET DIGITS. Zooming in on the satellite view of each location revealed numbers specifying a final location in lattitude and longitude. The purpose of the non-airport locations became clear and somewhat amusing now - the very tip of the Washington Monument was used as "point" in one of the numbers and the W in the end field of Husky Stadium specified West for the longitude value.

Karaoke Revolution

This was a CD with music clips. There was a string of binary digits around the outside of the CD label, which Jeff W. and I dutifully decrypted as 5-bit alphabet encoding to get the not-so-helpful message, "Karaoke Revolution Karaoke Revolution", although this did turn out to be a useful hint to a later step of the puzzle. Along with Nikhil, Steve and Chelsea, we then went down the wrong track of identifying song titles and artists before realizing that both Roxanne and Little Red Corvette had lyrics containing the color red. Sure enough, every clip contained either red, yellow, orange, green, blue or black. Treating the blacks as character breaks, the colors specified the 1's in 5-bit alphabet encoding, to give COUNT AFTER BLUE. Counting the words after "blue" in each clip containing blue gave us the answer.


This appeared to be a puzzle to find a single word that would fit between two other words to form two compound words (e.g. mother ship shape), but after we had passed the puzzle around to pretty much everyone on the team, we weren't getting much traction. I was particularly distracted by one word pair, Chicken _______ Climbing. I kept wanting to complete Chicken as Chicken Shit, but somehow Shit Climbing just didn't sound right... Towards the end of the hunt, this wound up being a good group solve when someone realized we could fill movies into some spaces and cities into others (so Chicken Climbing was really Chicken Little Rock Climbing, which made a lot more sense) and we all filled in the remaining gaps quite quickly.

Duck Hunt

This was an instruction-based puzzle that involved moving a farmer, Elmer Fudd and 5 ducks (2 of which were rubber duckies) around a 5 X 5 grid. Cyndy had just written a very similar puzzle that Jeff P., Owen, Chelsea and I had solved during Cyndy's annual Birthday Hunt, so Cyndy walked Chelsea, Charlie, Steve and me through this one. Jeff and I had picked up a devil duckie as one of our rubber ducks and customized it with the thought that it might be used for a location puzzle where we could show a little team spirit, but it turned out that only the members of Los Jefes got the chance to appreciate El Jefe Duck...

Boulder Dash
This was just a string of morse code with no character spaces. I was really kicking myself on this one because a similar (much shorter) string had appeared in Puzzlehunt A and I had been meaning to write a decoder for this but had never quite gotten around to doing it. So, at 3 in the morning, after a manual approach proved frustrating, I threw together some code to at least print out all possibilities for a stream of morse code. The stream was too long for this to be a practical way to decode it in its entirety, but it at least helped to find the options for smaller chunks. By then, I was feeling the need to get away from this puzzle, so fortunately Owen stepped in and had the stamina to crank through the rest of it.


The puzzle involved various views of a Halo game where words had been traced out that would be readable when viewed from the position of the player who was shot during the sequence. Kevin and others had looked at this while I was napping and had the phrase NOT BRIDE OR HUMAN TO POE, which we were stuck on for quite a while, but HUMAN and BRIDE seemed to be possibly incorrect. After searching around for Poe quotes involving either human or bride, we finally hit on the poem, The Bells, and realized that BRIDE was actually BRUTE, giving the answer GHOULS based on the poem's content.

Rainbow Six

This was a collection of cryptic clues with a numeric letter shift associated with each clue. Several of us solved a majority of the clues, but then I was completely stuck on the next step. Shifting the first letters of the answers didn't help, nor did interpreting the shifts as alphabet encoding in the hope of a hint. I later realized I was completely the wrong person to look at that step of the puzzle, because when we put the answers up on the board for everyone to view, someone realized they were all one letter off from sports team names, which just isn't my area of expertise. Shifting the changed letter told us to map the cities on the map, which spelled out the final answer.

Colossal Cave

This was a choose your own adventure game played on foot walking through the levels of the bldg. 16/17/18 garage to visit columns that were identified by a level and a pair of numbers (e.g. D 4-1). At each column, we collected a page that described that step of the adventure and the available choices. Nikhil, Steve and I did this one and I think we were all happy to be out of the conference room and moving around at that point. Once we had the path that led to an ending that didn't involve the adventure killing us in some horrible way, the column numbers called out lines and words in each page that led us to the final answer.

In the end, we had a good number of the regular puzzles solved along with a couple of metas. As time was running out, we weren't very close on either of the remaining metas, so we focused on finishing any of the remaining puzzles that we could. We had one puzzle that we'd been blocked on since the previous morning which had photos of people in place of semaphore flags on semaphore characters that read FIRST NAMES. We knew the people all had the same names as Brady Bunch characters and we had noticed that Alice was conspicuously absent. All of a sudden, I heard Cyndy at the other end of the room exclaiming, "Hey, Alice was in the center - that's why she's not here!". Turns out the puzzle was semaphore mapped to the grid of characters from the Brady Bunch opening.

All in all, it was a good hunt. While we didn't achieve our goal of finishing a hunt for the first time, we had a great time. Kudos to SCRuBBers for providing a highly entertaining weekend filled with quality puzzles and a good balance of challenge and fun!



Post a Comment

<< Home