Backstory: I have agreed to run a Treasure Hunt at this games convention, in co-operation with a friend, Martin Burroughs. This is the sort of treasure hunt which involves solving lots of cunning puzzles and a modicum of running around and/or making a bit of a monkey of onesself, rather than the sort of treasure hunt which involves primarily observational skills within a relatively compact area. I have run such a Hunt at the equivalent event last year, which was quite a lot of effort and only modestly successful. Quite a lot of preparation for this year's hunt remains to be done on-site, simply because you can't take advantage of the venue's natural interesting features from a distance. Still, there are many cracking puzzles planned and so this should be a top-notch hunt.
Friday 0700: have finished preparing for the weekend away, writing reviews for fanfic whose next chapter will be out by the time I return and so forth. Go to bed.
Friday 0900: get up. Shower. Pack for the event - Manorcon, taking place in Birmingham University.
Friday 1035: get dropped off at train station. Train will leave at 1053, eeeexcellent. Queue to purchase tickets. Am behind one female senior citizen in queue.
Friday 1037: overhear that a train leaving at 1053 will be delayed. More time in case this queue moves slowly, which is a good fault. Senior citizen has a very complicated query and is being dealt by the most helpful and chatty (and attractive) of the counter assistants.
Friday 1039: person in other queue asks me if I had dropped the £20 note on the floor next to me. Pick up note. It looks OK. Check wallet, discover I have not. Confused, ask other queue inhabitants if they have dropped it. They have not. I put the £20 note in my wallet and am wracked with guilt and confusion.
Friday 1052: still behind said senior citizen. The train I want arrives. If I leave the queue and jump on the train now then the journey will be about £4 more expensive (you can't buy Young Person's Railcard tickets on the train, so I would get a full-price single to Darlington and have to buy the ticket I'm after in Darlington). As the train will be delayed, decide to tough it out in the queue and hope.
Friday 1053: train departs. D'oh. It's the other train leaving at 1053 that will be delayed. Curse Middlesbrough Station's acoustics plus lack of sleep for this schoolboy error. Middlesbrough Station has the grand total of two platforms and this is almost certainly the only minute of the day at which two different trains leave.
Friday 1055: confused, get into other queue and purchase train ticket. Next train will leave at 1151. Senior citizen still occupies the attractive counter assistant.
Friday 1056: note that this is frankly bad karma coming around to me because I am sure that I did something very similar back in the autumn of 1999 involving trying to book a train ticket to London which incorporated a break of journey on the outward leg in Birmingham. (This was at a time when there was one queue for "immediate travel" - which I was technically correct to be in - and another queue for information and reservations. At least seven people queued up behind me and I got lots of looks.)
Friday 1100: shop to purchase miscellaneous artifacts for the Treasure Hunt: two economy packs of 100 balloons plus one pack of crayons. Slip the £20 note of someone else's money into the charity bucket on Woolworth's counter while nobody is looking - only then look at the note on the bucket to see whether it really is going to charity. (Non-specific Middlesbrough children's charities, which will do.) Still wracked with confusion and guilt over what to have done with said £20 note. Conclude that what I have done - as Roy Walker used to say on Catchphrase - "it's good, but it's not right". Might have done something different if I had seen the £20 note myself and if nobody had seen me pick it up.
Friday 1151: catch local train to Darlington. Read The Times.
Friday 1240: train from Darlington to Birmingham arrives in reverse formation - ie, first class at the back, pleb class at the front. Train does not have a Carriage C full of unreserved seats. (A little-known UK train travel trip: Virgin Cross-Country and GNER trains which are made up of many carriages habitually tend to assign their carriage C to unreserved seats - so, if you haven't reserved a seat, make a beeline for carriage C.) However, carriage B is a first class carriage which is covered with "available to passengers with all classes of ticket" signs. Bling bling - business class upgrade bonus!
Friday 1300: fail to get much (any?) sleep on train. The extra legroom and seat width are nice but the seats are not particularly more comfortable. Lose most ambitions to travel first class on Virgin CrossCountry again in the future. It would be nice to give first class a try on their new Virgin Voyager rolling stock, especially as the seatback angle on standard class is unexpectedly, uncomfortably shallow. Quite a large fault in what is otherwise an impressive train. (This completes today's Rolling Stock Review. Don't call me a trainspotter; I am a rail service enthusiast.)
Friday 1500: reach Birmingham New Street, am overcome by habitual fit of giggles in enthusiasm at forthcoming event. Wander around town to find appropriate bus stop. All Brum buses are now exact fare, so purchase copy of the Birmingham Evening Mail in order to make change.
Friday 1530: check in at ManorCon, visit bedroom, start to unpack, wander round games room. Martin has not yet arrived. Have quick lie-down in bedroom, but fail to get to sleep.
Friday 1630: more wanderings around games room. Martin arrives! Go to bedroom, discuss what needs to be done on the treasure hunt. Find a higher-scoring answer to one of Martin's puzzles than Martin had - discuss what to change to make the puzzle absolutely clear.
Friday 1750: ring offices of Birmingham Evening Mail to put a spoof "in memory" ad into Saturday's paper. This spoof ad will contain an important clue used in the Treasure Hunt. Only after giving ad do they tell me the price, a frankly ludicrous £25. Am shocked, but have no alternative.
Friday 1830: have prepared as much as possible for now on the Treasure Hunt, so can get down to main business of the weekend. Visit canteen and am impressed by range of choice: veg curry, chicken curry, veg chilli, beef chilli, fish, pizza, "luxury cheese lattice" (luxury cheese? As opposed to...?) and salad. Anticipating a curry-filled weekend, opt for veg chilli. It's not bad.
Friday 1900: after nearly four hours, finally get to play a darn game. First game of the event is "Puerto Rico", which has caused a sensation among the board game fandom, the like of which hasn't been seen for five years. I have previously played this three times and think the game is good rather than great. Am reasonably pleased with my play, but am beaten into second place (of five) by someone who clearly has an excellent grasp of the game.
Friday 2100: might have played Carcassonne at this point, can't remember the exact sequence of things on Friday night. Visit the second-hand games sale at some point, too, and purchase an attractive picture book of early 20th century board game boards for £5. A relatively weak selection at this year's sale, but it's always run very well.
Friday 2200: very entertaining four-player game of "The Settlers of Catan" with Nick Parish (extremely witty and kind friend from University), Tony Dickinson and James Pinnion. Nick is already making a good impression on his box of 24 Kronenbourg 1664s. Game is very jolly and full of considerable singing. Most enjoyable game of Settlers for months. Jim P wins, which isn't unexpected.
Friday 2330: am talked into another game of Puerto Rico with a now highly lubricated Nick Parish and some others from Oxford University. There are some new players who need to be taught the game; Puerto Rico is a pretty tricky blighter to teach, especially the first time you're teaching it. The play is very slow - some naturally slow players, some players not really concentrating on the game, some players thinking far too hard. Get off to a good start, but make many mistakes and finish a distant last.
Saturday 0200: go to bedroom. Sort out more Treasure Hunt stuff.
Saturday 0230: go to bed. Get to sleep easily.
Saturday 1130: wake up, shower, dress.
Saturday 1230: get lunch. Hmm, same choice of food as dinner yesterday. Have fish and chips, choke a little on fishbone.
Saturday 1330: go shopping with Martin Burroughs. Take about 20 minutes to find nearest supermarket which is about what we've been told it should take but simultaneously about twice as long as it feels it should take. Purchase chocolates as a prize for Treasyre Hunt. Purchase copy of Birmingham Evening Mail in which the ad we placed yesterday has been transcribed accurately. Purchase onion, half cucumber, cabbage, 6p carrot and 5p of garden peas - these vegetables will be used in one of the puzzles. (When was the last time man bought 5p of garden peas?) Checkout assistant mumbles disparaging remarks about our selections and questions the relationship between myself and Mr. B.
Saturday 1530: more board games in afternoon. Can't remember the specifics, but there was probably a game of Modern Art somewhere in there, which I nearly win. (Four strong players and one first-timer, who provides a highly random factor.)
Saturday 2000: sixteen of us assemble to visit the Dilshad, the world's finest Indian restaurant yet discovered. Discover we only have two cars, so call two taxis. Am in a car with Messrs. Parish, Phil Hannay and Declan Waters. There is much singing in the car on the way to the Dilshad, specifically the second half of "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" (a song which I previously declared I disliked so much that I would not sing it, but the mood overtook me) and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" from the musical film of the same name. Receive much good-natured and entirely fair abuse for not having previously got the tapes into position properly. (Really, there was very much fast-forwarding and rewinding trying to find one of the best songs on the tape and it was only due to good fortune that we find anything suitable at all.)
Saturday 2015: have excellent meal at the Dilshad. Poppadom and a disappointing range of accompaniments (two: mint sauce and dry salad), almost a full jug of their wonderful mango lassi, the Chicken Tikka Pathia Puri starter which has been absolutely divine for something like four years running, a miscellaneous Chicken Tikka Balti (unexpectedly spicy for a dish with no particular heat markings) and garlic nan. As is about 80% likely, am so filled by starter and lassi that I struggle to eat much more than half the main meal. Slow service, but excellent food, though, well worth £20. Conversation is extremely fine, largely spurred on by the fact that the Oxford Diplomacy Society Alumni team managed to win the Team Diplomacy Championship, which is a shock of perhaps 50-1 proportions. Conversation is rather higher-brow than in previous years with much discussion of weddings. The attraction of regular Mornington Crescent has waned, so this time we play Colour Mornington Crescent. Cleverest suggestion, by D. Lester Esq.: Heathrow T-ermine-als 1, 2 and 3.
Saturday 2300: Nick Parish takes control of the cassette system on the way back. Have a particularly lusty rendition of Spitting Image's "The Chicken Song" and Chas and Dave's "The Sideboard Song (Live)". Fortuitously also manage to find "John Kettley Is A Weatherman" on the tape. Actually manage to set the car rocking with the vehemence of our own in-car entertainment. Mr Parish is quite, quite merry by this point and dances in the car park entertainingly stupidly. So do I, but I don't need to be drunk in order to do this. Apparently we are singing so loud that we can be heard from the 9th floor of the bedroom block - and the car park is a good 50 yards down the hill from the bedrooms - but this seems unlikely even to us. Would be nice if it were true, though. A strong contender for the mantle of the best "Singing In The Car On The Way To The DipSoc Balti" trip ever.
Saturday 2345: meet up with Martin Burroughs, borrow the ManorCon computer and produce the computer versions of the remaining few puzzles which previously existed in handwritten form only.
Sunday 0230: pack up computer, go to bedroom. Use candle to draw candle-wax "invisible ink" clue on the back of the "one sheet, two clues" puzzle.
Sunday 0300: get to bed. Mind is still buzzing.
Sunday ~0400: get to sleep.
Sunday 0800: wake up, shower, dress.
Sunday 0845: go to breakfast: fried bread, croissants, toast, generic puffed rice, juice. Predictably, not really worth the effort.
Sunday 0915: go back to bed for quick nap. Fail to get back to sleep.
Sunday 1000: get back up, play in "Fuzzy Heroes" spoof-miniatures-wargaming-but-with-cudd
Sunday 1230: meet up with Martin and start final round of preparations and checks for afternoon's Treasure Hunt.
Sunday 1255: start the queue at canteen for lunch starting at 1300. Oh look, it's exactly the same choice as both times before.
Sunday 1307: canteen finally opens for business, grr. Grab chilli and go and help Martin set things up. Pose around the building in a number of positions to have chalk outline drawn around me, representing the various positions of the "dead body" whose murder must be investigated. Make final final checks that we have all the equipment in place.
Sunday 1355: although we said we would start the hunt briefing at 1345, only now do we get it started. (Many people are still later than us because of the canteen's sloth.) Briefing goes well and gets lots of laughs, mostly in the right places, though I completely forget to mention that we have important reference materials in the mission control room.
Sunday 1415: wave off hunt participants in the Ron Pickering stylee - "Away you go!" - and so cross off one of life's smaller ambitions. Finish assorting reference material around the mission control room.
Sunday 1430: open mission control room for business. Wait for someone - anyone! - to turn up for help.
Sunday 1448: participants start to turn up for help. We tell the participants the things we forgot to mention in the main briefing as they arrive.
Sunday 1503: start giving recorder recitals for the "Marvellous Musical ManorCon Greengrocery" puzzle. The aforementioned selection of vegetables are displayed on a table. I play the scale of C major and then play the notes C-A-B-B-A-G-E, indicating that the cabbage is the vegetable whose number is a puzzle answer.
Sunday 1512: first team comes in with complete solution to the hunt. Blimey, they've got it right. However, they haven't brought their answer in the envelope. Tell them to go back and get the envelope.
Sunday 1513: second team comes in with complete solution to the hunt - and they DO have their correct solution in the envelope. Reiterate envelope stipulation, which I was specific about in the briefing, even if I had thought it up at the last moment.
Sunday 1514: slightly strained situation as there is a race between the leading teams to hand their solution in, inside the correct envelope. Am very slightly disappointed that the result of the hunt will be decided by a minor technicality.
Sunday 1528: third team solve hunt correctly.
Sunday 1542: so do fourth team.
Sunday 1545: so do fifth team. Hurrah, one of the teams has actually got the hunt wrong!
Sunday 1558: sixth, seventh and eighth teams hand in their answers (sixth and seventh are correct, eighth is wrong and misunderstands the hunt spectacularly in their answers). Three teams forget about their envelopes, five remember, so conclude that I was clear enough about the envelope and it just serves the errant teams right for not paying sufficient attention to detail.
Sunday 1600: debrief hunt, discuss puzzles. "Invisible ink" puzzle gets satisfyingly many groans. Get to use "It was a blatant clue!" dialogue from Red Dwarf (5.06, "Back To Reality"). Hunt has proved very popular and gets lots and lots of good feedback.
Sunday 1630: tidy up rooms, remove chalk marks and so forth. As part of the hunt, the teams have blown up approximately 150 balloons between them, so we now have three large bags and three boxes of inflated balloons. Plan some benign mischief involving dumping scores of inflated balloons onto an unsuspecting convention at an opportune moment.
Sunday 1730: after further investigation, the opportune moment I was hoping to use turns out not to be so opportune after all - the only people who would see the large dumping o' balloons are the people who would be least likely to be amused by it. Consider alternative benign mischiefs that can be performed with 150 inflated balloons. Decent-looking alternatives are few and far between - the only high-profile dumping opportunity would come so late in the convention that it wouldn't catch people in the right mood and it might not permit sufficient time for clearup. Am quite disappointed that exciting plans for maximised mischief did not come to fruition.
Sunday 1830: run a tournament in the word game "Blank" because the expected organisers cancelled. IMHO it's a very good game for a rolling tournament at a con in the style that we had organised, but a lousy game for a family. Eight partnerships take part plus a single player from France who very gamely scores 2. Winning score is about 106, which is pretty credible for a first-timer. Best-scoring word - and also probably most impressive word - is TRIANGULATIONS by Phil Hannay for 16. Someone tries FELLATION which would also have been worth pots of points but, undeservedly, it isn't in Word's dictionary. (FELLATIO would have been.) Dave Percik and Mark Wightman win; Dave leaves early so Ming wins the copy of Blank that we were using for the tournament as a prize.
Sunday 1945: play more board games. Two new ones up to this point: "Res Publica", a deliberately-fiddly trading game where the deliberate fiddliness unfortunately does not actually make the game more fun; "Dilemma", which crosses mild Prisoner's Dilemma elements with mild dexterity elements and tends to get the worst of both concepts rather than the best. A few laughs, but not one I'll be in much rush to play again.
Sunday 2130: party of seven go out to Imran's, a different balti house which was a regular Manorcon visitng haunt several years ago. Unfortunately people don't really know the way. Some delicate mobile phone interactions are required to get the appropriate information. Am stuck behind Phil Williams in the car. Phil is an absolutely monstrously large bloke - about 6'5" tall, about 6" broader than even well-built me and probably weighs a good 300 lbs., though only proportionately large rather than having a huge beer belly. Fortunately Phil is great fun and has a fine sense of humour. Unfortunately he has a small car and this means that the person sitting immediately behind the driver's seat has incredibly small legroom. Imran's is pretty decent for food (poppadom, chicken tikka - served on a sizzler! - sweet non-mango lassi, mixed chicken tikka vegetable balti and a really nice combination three-ice-creams-and-pear-sorbet desert) and the conversation is once more hilarious. Today's MC variant is Nobility Crescent, starting with Earl's Court, Baron's Court and the like and peaking at Nick Parish's incredibly tortured yet brilliant description which sort-of-just-about justified a play of Tooting Bec. You had to be there. I should like MC to be retired from our conversations as it cannot possibly ever get any funnier than it was this weekend.
Monday 0030: sucker Nick Parish into sitting behind Phil on the way back. Today's singing is again pretty vociferous, but neither Gordon Aickin nor driver Phil take part. Start with a quick round of "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" and wind up with a very lusty "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". A good result for all concerned.
Monday 0045: Kevin McGowan is still playing the same game of Railway Rivals that he was playing when we went out for the curry. RR is a fine game, but not 3h15+ fine. The game is apparently nearly set to finish and Kevin is about to go to bed. Decide that Kevin is a suitable stooge to have a box of balloons dumped over him. After all, he has committed the cardinal sin of daring to have his birthday at a games convention when in the company of lots of his friends who happen to have overactive senses of humour.
Monday 0115: Kevin's game finishes, he finishes chatting and finally goes to bed. We are sat on the balcony above; when he passes underneath, we (self, Phil Williams, Phil Honeybone) dump the box of balloons and start singing "Happy Birthday" to him very loudly indeed. Balloons miss by about two or three yards, but the point of the attack gets across coherently. Happily, Kevin takes it in the intended spirit. Not nearly as exciting a balloon-dumping as I was hoping, but good just to get a dumping in at all.
Monday 0130: Philip Honeybone and a few other late-night vampires find a suitably silly optionally-drunken late-night game to play, "Concerto Grosso". Players alternate in turning cards over from their stacks. The cards have pictures of rabbits which are taking part in an orchestra. If a singer, drummer, conductor or cymbalist rabbit is revealed, all players must make an appropriate gesture. Misgesturing forces the erring player to take penalty cards. Players running out of cards win. I am expectedly rubbish at this but the game is just the right sort of zaniness for this occasion and this tiredness.
Monday 0300: go to bed, exhausted. Get to sleep pretty quickly.
Monday 0845: get up, don't shower, dress, get breakfast (same as day before, same waste of time). Go back to bed, fail to get back to sleep.
Monday 1000: get up again, pack bags.
Monday 1030: check out, only half an hour later than requested. No problems.
Monday 1100: more board games. Teach four newcomers (inc. Ian Harris, who has a deserved reputation as being The Nicest Bloke In The Hobby, wife and friends) how to play Modern Art. The newcomers understandably have some difficulty in correctly valuing the paintings on sale. Highlight 1: buying two Karl Gitters in a fixed price auction for 50 (when the Gitters would turn out to be worth 50 each) then selling one Karl Gitter in a sealed bid auction and gettting 55 for it. Highlight 2: selling two Christin Ps in a sealed bid auction for 90, only for them to turn out to be worth nothing. Final scores: 596-411-284-277-270. My 596 is a personal best, but under very unusual circumstances. Hmm - seems like I need to think harder about how to teach Modern Art to first-timers, specifically the part about valuation of paintings.
Monday 1230: prizegiving. Last real game of the con is Durch die Wuste (W-"u umlaut"-ste) with Kevin McGowan plus 3 others; a great game, which is underplayed. I get what looks like a fantastic opening position but blow it. My long blue chain surrounds an oasis, blocking it off from everyone else, which is an unusual thing for a long chain to do. I make an endgame miscalculation which means that the bonus for longest blue is split, I don't claim even a share of the bonus for longest white and the game ends a turn too early for one of my chains to reach an oasis. All told, probably a 10-point loss and a 5-point swing relative to a close rival on top of that. I come 4th/5 in something like a 63-60-46-45-44 ending. Still a great game, but a frustrating error on my part.
Monday 1345: the only game that the remaining clapped-out stragglers are fit for is that well known board game con game table football on the free table on the balcony (using a pool ball!). I am hopeless at this, but we work out a handicap by putting me on a team with the best player and it works out about OK. Then an even better player turns up and cleans house.
Monday 1445: call it a day. Catch a bus to Birmingham centre, walk to New Street station. 1600 train turns up at 1624 and loses another 10 minutes or so en route to Darlington. Fall asleep very briefly after Sheffield, having decided there wasn't going to be a ticket inspection, only for the first inspector we'd seen all journey to wake me up. Change at Darlington to what should be a through train from Bishop Auckland to Saltburn. However, the train has the good manners to break down in the station and so all passengers must alight and get on another train on the opposite platform, even the ones who weren't expecting to change.
Monday 2020: arrive home, tired but very happy. An excellent weekend: good company, good times, good Treasure Hunt, good prospects for future events, good games.
What makes a good weekend? This makes an excellent weekend. It also makes a 4500-word LJ entry which takes 2h20 to write. Time very happily spent!