March 1st, 2014
|07:47 am - The DASH 6 puzzle hunt is coming to London next month|
Registration has recently opened for the sixth annual DASH puzzle hunt, which is being run in cities across the United States and also in London on Saturday 26th April. I'll bet sovereigns to satoshis (because doughnuts cost more than a dollar these days...) that it'll be tremendous. If you like the idea of getting together with a team of friends, exploring your city and solving puzzles along the way, pitting your skills against the rest of the world, this is probably the best social event of the year. At worst, it's a fun and unusual yet mild sort of adventure to share with your friends. Get time off work, get childcare, get your team together, get it in your diary and just get in there.
DASH stands for "Different Areas, Same Hunt" and refers to the way that, as it says on the tin, people across the English-speaking world will be facing the same puzzles. We'll all be competing on the same day, but in different time zones; the London event is set to start at 10am and that's a pretty typical local time for things to kick off. The starting location within London is yet to be revealed, but probably reasonably central.
Teams of 3-5 players solve something like 8-10 puzzles over the course of most of a day; teams are expected to take something like 5-7 hours to get them cracked. Assume that each puzzle will be hosted in a different location, and there might be as much as 2-3 miles' walk in total to get from one to the next. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles and there's no advantage in doing anything but dawdling from location to location, enjoying (I hope!) the weather. It's a non-profit event and the charge for the London branch is, as last year, £25 per team.
One new feature this year is that each team is required to bring a smartphone running either iOS 7 or Android 4.0.3 (or, I imagine, newer); this is because a lot of the administrative heavy lifting of the hunt will be performed by a new app called ClueKeeper. I have some curmudgeonly reservations that it would be churlish to moan about because I'm looking forward to trying it out and seeing how it works in practice. It may well be the necessary step if locations want to go from handling dozens of teams (many dozens on the West Coast!) to handling hundreds of teams in the fullness of time. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, Enigma machines and so on, too.
DASH has historically tended to have a concentration on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern-recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. It would be a shocker if there weren't at least one metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end. Last year had a simple but flavoursome story that ran through the event very effectively, too. Take a look at past years' puzzles from DASHes 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 (thank you, Manfred Mann) to get a feel for the form. You can also get a feel for the difficulty level that way.
On the issue of difficulty, almost everyone says "Buuuuut I'm no good at puzzles". I say that myself, and offer my lowly finishing positions in the last UK Puzzle Championship and the first round of the World Puzzle Federation's Grand Prix as supporting evidence. It's the impostor syndrome talking to us all, but it's also the reason why you solve the puzzles in teams and you shouldn't feel worried about not being able to crack every puzzle yourself. Familiarity helps and practice - while by no means essential - certainly doesn't hurt. (Not least because it's fun - or, at least, a good predictor of whether you'd enjoy the real thing!)
I have a long-held contention that DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:
1) It's possible to register for Easier Puzzles at the very start of the hunt;
2) Very funkily, and possibly uniquely, it's even possible to register for "DASH Junior" puzzles, intended to be solved by a team of (probably 10-16-year-old) kids accompanied around the course by a non-solving chaperone;
3) It's made clear that it's always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they're required, and there's never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
4) It appears to be considered a desirable property in the puzzle design that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle to a greater or lesser extent, because it's fun to get a sense of "we solved this together between us";
5) In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times. A saying goes "Everybody likes solving puzzles; nobody likes not solving puzzles". The London location took great pride in the fact that every team got through every puzzle, eventually, with differing levels of help; I don't think it'll be any different this year.
Last year's event was superb; I wrote about the ways in which it was superb at length at the time. I'm hopeful that the puzzles will be at least as good this year. I'm also hopeful that the social side of the event will be better this year than it was last year, not least because people will know each other from last year's DASH, but also because quite a few people will meet each other at Puzzled Pint in London from month to month. Word of mouth has got to have a strong effect, too - likely there will be networks of friends, and friends at one remove, to get to know.
I know quite a few people who are going already, so the precise combinations of team formation are yet to be finalised. I can quite easily think of a couple of dozen of you who I think would enjoy it and I hope to see you there. (Make enquiries about team formation below - or, perhaps, if you're interested in puzzle events in London, you might like to pop along to Puzzled Pint?) Registration is open now. I haven't seen a closing deadline, but each location has a limit on places. I believe London is limited to 25 teams, and four of those spots went in the first 12 hours. Last year London had eight teams; this year I'd be shocked if it didn't have at least twice that many, and it may well at least come close to filling up altogether. London's also looking for volunteers to help on the day and/or playtesters if you like the concept but can't make April 26th.
Further afield, spaces in the Bay Area and Seattle are filling up at a rate of knots, and there are locations all across the United States. Incidentally, it looks like Portland might be struggling to find local organisers, which is a real shame as it's been ever-present through the first five years - and the previously-announced Pittsburgh has also dropped off the location list, at least for now. There were 15 locations last year and I would expect about a similar number this year - but, most likely, more teams overall.
If you have questions, you can find out more about the London event and more about DASH in general at the web site, or the London Twitter feed and so on. Fingers crossed that I get to see many of you there next month, and fingers crossed again for kind weather that day. :-) Until then, we can but ponder over the citrus-looking logo!
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