Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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A once-in-a-lifetime puzzle hunt

I've mentioned Dan in the past, haven't I? Over the course of the past year, Dan has become family-by-choice to both Meg and me. Dan was part of our DASH 5 puzzle team, then we hunted together remotely on some online hunts, then he came up for ChrisCon and played our Puzzled Pint recast, then he has started (co-)running Puzzled Pint in London. Five months in, and to his great credit it has proved a hit, to the point where I'm not worried that "a bad month" or two will put the event in danger of fizzling out. (April's event happens on Tuesday 8th; the location puzzle is out now!) Dan is very dear to us both.

So this story starts nearly six months ago when Dan tweeted "It's my birthday in November. Please make me a treasure hunt around London. Thanks.", as you do. Remarkably, Scott took up the request. In December, the day after the second London Puzzled Pint, Meg accompanied Dan around London on this hunt. A great day was had by them both. Accordingly, they purchased a commercial self-guided London hunt for a trip to London for New Year's Day and enjoyed that as well. In February, Meg and I went down for PP, and the day after, the three of us played and enjoyed HintHunt, as discussed. Meg was very specific about wanting me to come down for the March Puzzled Pint, but also mysterious about the reason.

It wasn't hard to guess. The March Puzzled Pint was excellent and happened ten years to the day from the day Meg and I first met, but the main event of the trip was on 12th March, ten years to the day from the day Meg and I first... told each other that we loved each other. (I wrote about the day only a couple of months after the event - nothing changes there, then - back at the time as a Friends-locked post on my steam-powered LiveJournal.) We tend to have a lot of anniversaries (legal marriage date, real marriage date...) and there's the small matter of Valentine's Day as well, but 12/03/04 was always a memorable date, thus 12/03/14 was quite a milestone to celebrate.

Meg and I both busily prepared for the event in our own way, in the days up to the event. I stayed up late the night before Puzzled Pint, making her an anniversary 'zine with 100 (almost entirely happy) memories from the first ten years, which raised some hand-squishes, a few laughs and lots of happy reminiscence while we were waiting for a train. Meg had been working long and hard on her particular project and managed to give nothing away before the day, even when I did rather rudely attempt to discern what was on her screen once or twice.

In practice, on the 12th of March 2014, we first travelled out to Heathrow in order to see gwendolyngrace and etakyma for the first time in years (since our real wedding and since a HPEF event, respectively) sharing lunch with them at the airport; happily, theirs was a friendship where it was very quick and easy to get back up to speed. Meg had told me that she wanted to spend the afternoon with me, but hadn't said why.

After waving them off to airside, Meg handed me an envelope. Opening it, it contained a puzzle. *grin* Over time, it transpired that she had written me my own hunt, even more special and personalised than the ones that she had been on. To do this is a great labour of love and the finest gift that one puzzle fan can receive from another (or, if they're very lucky, from a whole community - see also the slideshow and the podcast with a fuller description). It turned out to be the case that the hunt retraced our first day together. Could there be a sweeter or more perfect anniversary celebration?

Puzzle one read:
Solve the clues below to discover your first destination; once you’ve travelled there, you’ll receive your next puzzle!

(defining characteristic of the summer months) PLUS (letter resembling the Greek eta) PLUS (what Kat Grainger did to win a gold medal in 2012)


(small insect known for eating through wood) MINUS (Stephen King’s best-selling novel about a killer clown) MINUS (approximately 2.71828) PLUS (x in [x^2 = -1]) PLUS (Simba’s childhood sweetheart) MINUS (letter denoting top marks in an exam)


(rank achieved by Ylvis on YouTube’s list of Top Trending Videos of 2013 with their song ‘The Fox’)


(type of tree popularly used at Christmas) PLUS (abbreviation for ‘saint’ or ‘street’)


(means of travel used by wizards) PLUS (a pirate’s favourite letter)
This was a word rebus with lots of really fun clues. Solve along at home, if you like, or just select the following text which is whited-out in spoiler prevention: HEAT + H + ROW = HEATHROW TERMITE - IT - E + INALA - A = TERMINAL ONE FIR + ST = FIRST FLOO + R = FLOOR for HEATHROW TERMINAL ONE FIRST FLOOR. I needed the tiniest quantity of Internet checking to see just how ring-a-ding-ding Ylvis had been, but we enjoyed wandering back through Heathrow, and it seemed only appropriate to make our way to the arrivals section, little changed over the decade, where we had first met. It was a sweet place to which to return. There may have been a selfie. Actually, that day, there may have been a very great many selfies.

I had dared to hope that Meg might have been at work on an enterprise such as this, but thought that - at very top whack - it would only be so ambitious to conclude as to where the two of us had met for the first time. After all, don't hunts normally conclude with a meta-puzzle? After achieving the correct location, Meg cheerfully dinged in confirmation of attaining the right place and pleasantly surprised me by withdrawing a second puzzle from her envelope.
Congratulations on solving your first puzzle! By now, I hope you’ve had a chance to think back upon the anticipation you felt ten years ago and to reflect fondly on how things have changed over the last decade! To discover your second destination, simply answer the question below.

The name of which tube station consists of two words, both of which are synonyms for the word ‘pylon’?

If you need a hint, just ask. Once you’ve found the correct answer, you’re free to set off – but there’s a twist: after Hatton Cross, your entire journey to the above destination MUST take place above ground!
I did need a hint, and a bigger one than just starting at the standard tube map would provide; the third online thesaurus site I tried gave the answer. Spoiler: TOWER GATEWAY.

The above-ground stipulation was a tease; at first, I thought the plan might be to require bus transport, but (only slightly loosely interpreted) it reflected the fact that the London Underground's Piccadilly line is a surface railway most of the way. We changed at Earl's Court and West Brompton, then took the Overground to Clapham Junction and then on to Shadwell, more for the excuse to use some infrastructure that I had not yet used... but also, as it would turn out, to save us from retracing our steps later in the day. We took the DLR for the last leg of that journey.

Our lunch had been a lovely, chatty event, but it went on rather longer than Meg had expected, so Meg gave me puzzle three while we were in transit - and good job, too. This was a beast.
Congratulations on reaching your second destination! In order to obtain your third location puzzle, you must first break the code and complete the action(s) revealed below.

Wow. Spoiler and thought processes: At first I thought "that looks like a load of Morse symbols with all the spaces removed, but that surely looks very unlikely - after all, there are nine dots in a row; how can that be?" Having ruled out the right approach and then flailed with some counting approaches that went nowhere, I went back to the first approach. You don't know, other than by trial and error, whether the first character is made up of 1, 2, 3 or 4 symbols, then how many symbols make up successive characters. However, once you get a promising-looking bigram or trigram going, you can often spell out the rest of the word - and, from there, the rest of an instruction, in context. The instruction decodes to FIRST BEATLES SONG TO REACH NUMBER ONE IN AMERICA - and at first I thought that we might have to re-enact walking across Abbey Road at the pedestrian crossing outside the studios, but a search revealed the true answer to be I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND.

Incidentally, it was a remarkable choice of phrase that looked so unlikely to be solvable by the actual solution technique. If you want to play along at home, or if you set me this puzzle and I'm making you play along at home in revenge, you can try to use the same method to extract a reasonably familiar phrase from this little lot:
(Tip: I'd start from the run of four dashes and work rightwards from there; getting the second half of the phrase will help you with the first half.)

By this point, I hadn't caught on that we were recreating the whole of our first day - and, even if I had, I very probably wouldn't have been able to remember that part of the day. We crossed Tower Bridge, hand-in-hand, as we had done ten years ago, made our way to a convenient bench underneath and then Meg pulled the next of her bag of tricks out.
Congratulations on solving another puzzle! By now, you might be thirsty – find a pub or café in which to sit down and have a drink while pondering this next puzzle, which will reveal your third destination.
Important holidays to remember:
  • Valentine's Day 2012
  • Easter Monday 2014
  • Summer Bank Holiday 2014
  • Thanksgiving Day 2016
  • Chris' Birthday 2017
If I mark through these dates on my calendar once they've passed, it's so much easier to see what's left...
Spoiler and thought processes: This was a beautiful and intricate piece of construction with a cute twist at the end. Often when you get a wordsearch, the things you don't find are as relevant as the things you do find. A little investigation revealed the dates. Happily, none of them were after the 26th. At this point, it becomes reasonable to use A=1, B=2... to translate them into letters, and the flavourtext can be interpreted as a suggestion that you mark through those letters where they appear in the wordsearch. The final delight is that the unclued squares spell out, in various directions, MERIVA, TIGRA, CORSA, ASTRA, ZAFIRA and VECTRA, so we're off to Vauxhall.

On reflection, this was one of the highest points of a very fine day; the weather held out, and there was a good match between solving location and puzzle. At this point, I did have more of a clue as to what the story would be, and could effectively start to backsolve the puzzles from my memory of what happened next in the real world! It was a short but pleasant walk along the Thames to London Bridge and a reasonably short journey (by Tube - sadly, no direct trains at that point) from there to our next destination.
Congratulations on reaching your third destination! You’re close to where you need to be, but not quite there yet. In order to find out more, solve the puzzle below. It may take you eleven weeks to get there, but the answer you discover will tell you exactly where to stop.

This was a 9x9 Sudoku grid, with five coloured squares indicated by letters ROYGB below:
_ 8 _ 9 _ _ _ _ _
6 _ O 7 _ 3 _ 1 _
2 _ _ 4 _ _ 6 _ _
_ _ 7 8 _ _ 3 9 6
_ B _ _ _ R _ 5 1
_ _ _ _ _ 1 _ _ _
_ _ 4 6 _ 2 _ _ _
9 _ _ _ _ _ Y _ _
_ G 3 _ 4 _ _ 8 5
Meg later said that she had used an online Sudoku generator set to "hard" for this one and in truth progress was stumbling. I made a mistake along the way, but happily one that could be repaired. Meg took one of her favourite photos of me of the day. I only solved as much of the Sudoku as was required to get the five coloured squares, but even that wasn't the end of the puzzle, with some more highly hunt-like interpretation required for the next instruction. Spoiler and thought processes: Eleven weeks is an unusual thing to feature in flavourtext; having translated this to 77 days, it took me rather too long to recognise that there was a number 77 bus leaving from Vauxhall. More subtly, and extremely cunningly, it takes someone who really knows London to determine the significance of a five-digit number; it turns out that bus stops have unique five-digit numbers, and happily stop 75463 was just a few stops down the 77 bus route, and let us off roughly where I had expected to go next.

This location offered us the biggest giggle of the day: the first meal we had shared as a couple was at an Ethiopian restaurant, which I had known from having worked at the fifth Mind Sports Olympiad at South Bank University, a block up the road. Sadly, the restaurant was no more. (Meg had even dispatched titanic_days who kindly performed a recce mission to confirm this.) Nevertheless, even if the restaurant was no longer there, the bus stop at which we first performed a spoony cuddle, in the guise of protecting Meg from a biting wind, remained fully in service, for both omnibus and cuddling double duty. With time slightly against us, I backsolve-guessed what the next puzzle's answer might be and hopped onto the 77, to be delighted to learn that my intuition proved correct:
To discover a clue to where you’re going next, read on….

Are you ready to figure out your next destination? Maybe you’ll be travelling by boat, this time. Or possibly via cable car! Really, though, it’s time to get a move on. Vauxhall is nice enough, I suppose, but the next location is better. I think so, anyway.

Not to rush you, but there’s a definite pattern to the places you’ve already been today. Can you see it yet? I know we joke about you being forgetful, but you’re the romantic one in this relationship, so I have faith that you’ll figure it out.

Ten years ago, we spent the day walking all over this city. Our cheeks hurt from all the grinning we’d been doing. My feet were killing me, but I didn’t care. Neither of us had any way of knowing what our future held, but we took a chance. I invited you in, and the rest, as they say, was history.

All of this reminiscing about the very beginning should ring a bell, and by now you should have puzzled out the fourth location!
This was the most personal and charming clue of the whole day, and one where in practice you really will need the spoiler: It's always worth looking at the first letters of sentences of longer blocks of text. (Sometimes lines, sometimes last letters, sometimes letters after punctuation marks, that sort of thing.) These spell out AMOR VINCIT OMNIA. You would be forgiven for interpreting this as "Huh, we're off to Berlin to look at a Caravaggio", but in practice it's a very personal reference to a message we had engraved on the inside of matching eternity rings that we had given to each other, early in the long-distance stage of our relationship, at South Kensington tube station.

This one didn't detain us long, but there was something of a race against time as we had train tickets only valid for a single train, and slightly less of a buffer of time than would have been ideal. It all added to the excitement, and kept a big smile on my face. At the next location came the next puzzle:
Congratulations on reaching your fourth destination! To find out where to go next, solve the puzzle below; once there, perform the task as directed, and in return you’ll receive the puzzle for your fifth and final location!

9 53 60 102 53 53 53
16 92 25 68 15 57 58
102 74 17 53 6 19 8
7 22 7 39 92 [*] 16
57 16 1 15 34 23 [+]

((The [*] symbol refers to a mirror image of the number 103 and the [+] symbol refers to a mirror image of the number 10.))
Another extremely cute gimmick; when you're seeing a bunch of numbers, you don't expect to see some of them printed backwards, and it made me giggle to see them. Spoiler and thought processes: Numbers that go up to about 110-ish are often associated with chemical elements, particularly when one of your favourite puzzle-solving references is a code wheel kindly sent through by rhysara with many codes on, not least a Periodic Table. This is a standard feature of most puzzle reference tools; iOS 7 users may particularly enjoy Puzzle Sidekick.

Take the element symbols associated with the elements with the relevant atomic numbers. The twist, quite literally: for instance, as element 103 is Lr, treat the mirrored 103 is Rl! This then spells out, with separation added later from context: F I Nd / No I I I / S U Mn Er / P La Ce / No W / Cl I C K / O N / Ti N Y U Rl / S H P Se V En - and while the TinyURL in question may no longer exist, at the time it pointed to this video - again, something of a running joke between us - whose instruction to "Kiss The Girl" was gratefully accepted, not least as the Aster House hotel at Number 3, Sumner Place was indeed the place at which we first kissed.

With very little time to lose, Meg spoiled me with an eighth puzzle - a picture puzzle, which I shall host at my fancy new hosting space as part of exitgames.co.uk:
Here it is – the puzzle that will reveal your fifth and final destination. I hope you’ve enjoyed your trip down memory lane this afternoon – I know I have!
Again, some of those are things we've enjoyed sharing over the years, others are in-jokes, and some are just funny. Nevertheless, there is a simple pattern: King Kong, King George, the Kings of Leon, King Henry VIII, Billie Jean King, King Tut (buried in his jammies!), Larry King, Carole King and Martin Luther King form the shape of a cross, hence King's Cross is our final destination.

Happily we made it back in time with 15 minutes to spare before our train; just long enough to use the facilities and to pick up burritos for the journey from Benito's Hat. Sadly the burritos would be the day's only disappointment, but they didn't spoil the day at all. The journey back was straightforward, unlike the journey back the previous month. (That had been delayed by close to three hours, but we did get our train fare back. Remarkably, East Coast threw in a couple of comped First Class returns as well, though they forgot to put said comped tickets in the envelope first time and had to be chased by Twitter.)

Straightforward, that was, except for:
Enter each of the locations (tube stops) you visited today in the order in which they appeared to reveal the secret message!

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8   9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16   17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24   25 26 27 28 29 30 31
32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39
40 41 42 43 44   45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
55 56 57 58 59   60 61 62 63 64

43 10 14   51 6 46 37 9   31 28 15 24 48   27 7 25 2 52 5 23 11
36 28 61 10 59   20 41   52 23 57   12 53 6 23
3 38 16   12 31   39 62 32 46   12 10 58 51 13 2
No great surprises here, just a gentle test of memory, giving the spoiler: TEN GREAT YEARS TOGETHER / HERES TO TEN MORE / ALL MY LOVE MEGGIE - a perfect way to end a brilliant day. Well, I say no surprises, the existence of a metapuzzle to be solved on the train journey home came as a surprise. I was delighted with each and every new puzzle; even if the hunt had been just one location long, taking us to the place where we first met, it would have been charming. (We also joked that perhaps a hunt starting at an airport might not just involve surface and underground transport, but might turn out to be a long-distance hunt indeed! Something for a twentieth anniversary, perhaps...)

I am incredibly fortunate - far more so than I deserve - to have been able to spend ten years knowing, and almost all of them with, someone so supportive of my passions and able to throw herself into them, and share them with me, with such talent, dedication and imagination. Every puzzle was a hit, and every puzzle reinforced a happy memory with another reason to celebrate it ten years later. Many thanks to A. and D. for helping out, and superlative thanks and love to Meggie for an anniversary day where I find it hard to believe that it might ever be topped. ♥

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