Puzzled Pint, HintHunt and more

1) A couple of weeks ago, meggitymeg and I went down to London and stayed overnight, with the focus of the trip being to attend the fourth month of Puzzled Pint in London. Meg had been to the first three, and indeed is the only person to have solved at all of them; this was my first time down. The event was a glorious success, exceeding my expectations by far. It was a treat to catch up with delightful puzzle people, some of whom I haven't seen since DASH 5 last May, plus first known face-to-face meetings with i_am_magoo and [personal profile] pseudomonas, though I have long enjoyed both their blogs.

It occurs to me that I have written far more about Puzzled Pint on Facebook than in long-form blogging. Collapse )

Meg and I turned up a good half-hour early and were far from the first to arrive, with others we knew arriving in fairly rapid succession; Meg brought malachan along last month and he has become a convert, we brought another friend (M.) along for the first time and it was good to see Nick who had come some way up from the south coast as well. (Not nearly as far a journey for him as visiting us for our MIT Mystery Hunt cell, but still a trek!) Meg had also previously solved with some of the people on the next table along, and so on and so on. Very seldom do I get to see so many lovely people in the same room at the same time, short of games cons. This is effectively a monthly evening-long puzzle con.

Delightfully, this month had a rather bigger attendance than the previous three months. (I believe the figures are something like 24 in 5 teams - 14 in 3 teams - 23 in 5 teams followed by, this month, 49 in 12 teams.) This big jump did cause a problem for the London organisers who weren't expecting the number of teams to more than double, but good news all round - not least for the bar hosting us! - and everybody ended up with puzzles to solve in the end, a couple of teams after some degree of pause.

The puzzles were fun, though I think it's probably fairer to Puzzled Pint to consider the accumulated mass of puzzles over the months as a whole than to pick on individual months' puzzles. It's probably important to say that this month's was probably more of a speedwork challenge than most for people who recognised some of the themes. (See also the talk by Ian Tullis at the most recent Game Control Summit, passim.) Nevertheless the theming was particularly cute and the meta especially well-suited. Many thanks to everyone who constructed, edited and tested the puzzles, and particularly to Dan and Lisa for being lovely and running the event.

I am happy to recommend Puzzled Pint, particularly in London. It's always fun to introduce existing friends who do not consider themselves particularly puzzle-oriented (after all, Meg has really caught the bug...) and I would be happy to team up, at least once, with anyone reading this, particularly if you think you won't know anybody else there. (That is, assuming I'll be there. Meg and I should be there in March for a casino-themed event, at least.) Let me know and I shall mark my dance card accordingly.

As an aside, in other Puzzled Pint news, this weekend, Meg and I went to [personal profile] xorsyst's in-laws' holiday flat in Llandudno for the most glam housecon ever. The venue was stunning and better-appointed than even the rare-splash-out hotels we've used. (We're pretty low rollers, though.) The company was great, too; several people I hadn't seen for far too long, and delightful to get to properly spend time with [personal profile] alobear and Dave. Meg reran the January Puzzled Pint for our two teams of three, which was great fun once again, and a bigger chunk of that fun. It was also a rare and wonderful opportunity to be introduced to new board and card games of recent years; there were no immediate stand-outs, just several 7/10 games in 9½+/10 company.

2) The day after Puzzled Pint in London, Dan, Meg and I went to Hint Hunt in a rather... insalubrious part of London, a couple of minutes along the road from Euston station. We played their original "John Monroe's Office" room and escaped with a little over three minutes of our allotted hour remaining. It was tremendous fun and rather thought-provoking.

Locked room escape games have existed for a couple of years now and are reasonably familiar, so I cheerfully admit to being quite behind the times in only getting to play now. I have blogged about them in passing before, updating that post from time to time when I have more news. In London, ClueQuest's second room opened at the weekend; further ahead, Escape Hunt's ambitious-looking expansion plan calls for them to open in June.

The staff at HH were both professional and lovely, erring - if at all - on the lovely side. The young lady who briefed us on our introduction, and also hinted us through our game, was pretty much a consummate example of what you'd hope for from room escape customer service. Her accent was clearly Central European, though her English perfect; I asked her if she was Hungarian, Collapse )

Players are requested not to spoil the experience for others, so it's hard to know how much to say. However, the verbs describing the actions you will do most frequently during your hour are search, read, unlock and (to a limited extent) decode. There are a great many unusual and fun toys to play with during your hour, a strong sense of progression between the layers of the puzzle and plenty of pleasant surprises. You are kept very busy for the entire hour and it's very easy to feel you have attained a sense of flow, and I write that purely so that I can name-check Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some of the leaps of logic feel a little arbitrary, particularly at the very end, but in practice that doesn't matter much. Was it enjoyable? Yes, hugely so.

I'm now going to wildly extrapolate based on having played one (1) locked room exit game and looked at the web sites of at least half a dozen others, and say that Collapse )

Anyway, very nicely done and firmly recommended to those who think they might enjoy it, yet with a sense that playing only one room at one centre merely scratches the surface of what the genre has to offer. I will continue to look out for developments, not least because new ventures tend to be good matches for crowd-purchasing sites and you can occasionally pick up a Groupon Wowcher or somesuch to play a new centre at an attractive rate. Come on, new centres: be closer to here!

3) OK, let's rush around the other things more quickly. You've hopefully seen my post about DASH registration being open, so I won't go into detail again. Still: very cool, strongest recommendation.

3a) While looking for more English-language information about the incredible Czech-language puzzle hunt tradition TMOU, I discovered, an English-language puzzle hunt in, of all the places, Saarbrucken, Germany. (It's just over the border from France, a few dozen miles around from Luxembourg. If you hit Switzerland then you've gone too far.) Investigation by others suggests that it's something of a pan-European educational mecca, hence the hunt being in English.

The really remarkable thing is the independent reinvention of so many coding, encryption and other administrative properties that are very similar to the ones that evolved in the US-based puzzle hunt tradition, without me being aware of established contact between the two, and that's practically anthropology for your anthology. Disappointingly, the same investigation has suggested that the games in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were not followed up by one in 2013 and might not be followed up again in the future; "three up and three down", and I'm very sad not to have heard about these at the time. Still, at least players there would only have hundreds, rather than thousands, of miles to travel in order to play in DASH. :-/

3b) Another online hunt coming up is Puzzle Boat 2, sequel to you-guessed-it The Puzzle Boat, both by the hyper-prolific Greg ("Foggy") Brume, who also displays his exceptional creative fecundity in his P&A Magazine. Both the first and second liners are available online for solvers to have at in their own time, but the second voyage also offers a prize for the first team to solve it after the opening date of March 23rd. The first Boat is free, the second carries a $60 charge - which might seem a little sticker-shock-y at first, but the 100+ puzzles (and metas) are expected to take a sizeable team many hours, so that's an eminently reasonable price and I suspect it may well be a spectacular labour of love.

3c) If you prefer your puzzles logical, the World Puzzle Federation are staging a circuit of 90-minute logic puzzle contests, each available over the course of a long weekend every fourth week. The first contest was set by German constructors; I enjoyed it, but it was deliberately World Championship calibre. There were 12 puzzles to solve in the 90 minutes, the median performance was around four correct answers, and I came far from the bottom of just the 375 names that made it onto the scoreboard (mind you, about three times further from the top...) by getting a second puzzle correct.

The second contest is the Slovakian Grand Prix, taking place this weekend. There are sixteen puzzles rather than a dozen so fingers crossed that there are more at the relatively accessible end of things than there were in the German round. You have until the end of Monday (by central European time, GMT+1) to solve it, so don't hang around too long, particularly if you're stumbling for a humbling.

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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.

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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. Collapse )

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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Some football gambling ephemera

Meg's sister Sarah has been staying with us for the winter, since just before Thanksgiving. As usual, she has brought joy and laughter to our house. She has an exciting deadline to meet in the US, so unfortunately her time in the UK has had to come to an end. Accordingly, the last couple of weeks have been sad. The most faintly silver of linings of the recent Polar Vortex and its impact on Atlanta has been that her original flight home was cancelled and thus we got three extra days of sister time for free, but even that has come to an end. Today has been as sad as we feared - and, with taking her to Manchester to check in early for a morning flight, a tiring day as well. There is space in our house, but this does not make up for the space in our hearts. Long distance things don't get easier.

I have, as often is the case, retreated to find comfort in mathematics. The football pools were one of the foremost forms of gambling in the UK until the National Lottery launched, nearly twenty years ago. Simplifying, participants attempted to predict which (association) football games from a list would end as a draw - ideally, a score draw (1-1, 2-2, etc.) rather than a 0-0 draw. If a participant picked eight such games from a list of fifty-some - and some weeks there might only be four to find, whereas other weeks might have four times as many - then they would share a prize made up of a reasonably high proportion of the total entry fees. A scoring system shared some of the entry fees as consolation prizes ("second dividend", "third dividend" and so on) among players whose selections were near misses.

The relative difficulty of determining which matches would be drawn in this way made picking such a winning line a very difficult challenge, and a great degree of public interest was placed in trying to make accurate selections. There was a considerable degree of luck in the enterprise and its prominent place within public life was more a historical accident than anything else. Accordingly, it would be usual for participants to select more than eight matches and submit every possible combination of eight matches from the larger number selected. This was, technically imprecisely, referred to as a full permutation. However, the more possible matches were covered in this fashion, the more attempts at the competition were required and the greater the cost. In fact, the number of attempts required increased very rapidly as more matches were named.

The mathematically interesting part was Collapse )

Another discovery on a related search that I considered interesting was this index comparing different UK bookmakers' football gambling offerings in the year 1960. If Ray Winstone had wanted to "have a bang on that" at the age of three, what options might have been available to him? Again, they're quite intricate and interesting from a gaming perspective. Even then it was possible, though highly unlikely, to win many thousands of pounds for a stake of just pennies - and pre-decimalisation pennies, at that. There's also a degree of commonality in appearance between these bookmakers' coupons and the standard format of the football pools coupon that survived over the decades.

The conclusions I draw are Collapse )

None of which will help you make money betting on football, of course, and will only confirm how strongly the oddsmakers of the world tilt things in their favour. Still interested me, though.

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A good time for the UK game show fandom

This weekend, xorsyst, Nick as mentioned in my birthday weekend write-up and Martin who I've known from board game cons for, ooh, a good fifteen years all came to join Meg, Sarah and me. Sitting in Stockton-on-Tees, we helped rhysara's team, Left As An Exercise For The Reader, in the MIT Mystery Hunt this weekend. I had been hoping to do this for years and the event in practice was everything I had hoped for. There were a couple of spectacular solo solves in the UK and some strong contributions to larger team efforts; everybody had a part to play. Thanks to everyone who came to visit and to rhysara for enabling our fun. I get the early impression that this hunt will be very favourably treated by history, not least for its really good attitude and cleanliness; many thanks to everyone who spent so long organsing, writing and running the hunt. I may have more to say on this at some point, but this is not that post.

What I'm thinking about right now is that I'm eagerly looking forward to the next episode of the Fifty50 show podcast, which will have the results of the 2013 UK Game Show Poll. This will be the ninth year of the poll so it's a relatively big deal, especially as this year's poll apparently has a record number of votes. (I guess that this may still be low triple digits, but, hey, moving in the right direction.) It's generally felt that 2013 was not a good year for UK game shows. People say this quite frequently, but 2008 comes out as a good year and 2009/2011 had their moments. That said, even if this has been a bad year for UK game shows, I would argue that the UK game show fandom has never been in as good health as it is now.

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    pleased pleased

The Finnish Line

Earlier on today, I was idly wondering whether the increased tensions between China and Japan would be likely to cause World War III. The defence pact between Japan and the US looks like it wouldn't be likely to help avoid this, but further than that, I haven't a clue, don't ask me. However, it did lead to something much more fun.

So I was looking to see whether the UK had any other military alliances that I didn't know about, and while I'm no history buff, there weren't any particularly pleasant or displeasant surprises. On the other hand, on that Wikipedia page, I was amused to see the number of countries that have such things as Honorary Consulates in various parts of the UK. Finland has 26 such things, and in some somewhat unlikely, unglamorous locations that you might not have guessed.

Most entertainingly, one of them is within about a couple of hundred yards or so of where I work. That was a pleasantly surprising discovery! It's not something I had ever heard about before, and not something that I had previously ever thought to look for.

Investigating further, this story about a new Honorary Consul at the other end of the country suggests a little more about what an honorary consulate is and what an honorary consul might do. To begin with, it's an unpaid position, with a considerable emphasis on developing trade and commercial relationships between the two countries. I particularly enjoyed learning that this new Finnish Honorary Consul was already a Norwegian Honorary Consul, which strikes me as charmingly part-time and delightfully multiply international. I also enjoyed learning that this new Finnish Honorary Consul has not yet visited Finland, but this does not disqualify her from the position. (Similarly, the local Swedish Honorary Consul has a lovely web site, in passing suggesting that she does not speak Swedish.)

So, without intending disrespect, I am rather charmed by the thought that being an Honorary Consul might not be quite as big a deal as at first I thought it might be. With this in mind, I wonder whether it might be possible to embed my wife as an Honorary Consul for Georgia? The fact that she's from the state of Georgia, rather than the state of Georgia, might not actually seem to be that much of a handicap.

Sadly I will probably never have reason to visit the local Honorary Consulate; it struck me to be a fun and friendly thing to do, if I'm on shift on Finland's Independence Day (that's December 6th, Finn fans), to pop around at lunchtime waving a big flag and, I don't know, bring some flowers and a cake. It's not that it's a bad idea, it's just that the Finnish Embassy web site strikes me as being more official than and suggests that the consulate has moved from one shipping company's office to another shipping company's office, about five miles further north. So flowers, cakes and international relations might yet happen, in theory, but it just wouldn't be something I could do by foot on a work lunchbreak...

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    peaceful peaceful

There needs to be a UK puzzle hobby web site

There needs to be a UK puzzle hobby web site, for a broad definition of the puzzle hobby at large. I am as flaky as a cronut (*) and so am very unlikely ever to be the person to produce it, unless I get a sudden fit of enthusiasm and spoons over the coming Christmas period, but believe it when you see it, or when someone beats me to it.

Top priority list:

1) A list of UK live room escape games. At the moment this is easy: Hint Hunt in London, Clue Quest in London, Cryptopia in Bristol (as of last month), Keyhunter in Birmingham (as of last week), with at least Live Escape Game in Brighton and Puzzlescape in Manchester under construction, and I'm sure several others that I don't know about. I don't get the impression that they talk to each other, and I have only been able to construct this list through judicious engine searching. I think they should, and that people who like one might like playing others.

2) An aggregator of puzzle calendars. Excerpt parts of Puzzle Hunt Calendar that can be played from the UK, excerpt the puzzle event calendar ditto, add details of the UK Puzzle Association's events, Puzzled Pints and other UK events as and when they arrive. There was a big crossword shebang a day or two ago to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the cryptic, not that I heard about it in advance.

3) A list of puzzle hunts, contests, trails and other similar Thynges that you can do at home at your own convenience on your own schedule, even if you cannot make it to any of the above.

I also have a moderately long list of other things that a puzzle blog might include at some point but considering how badly I'm doing at keeping this one up to date, let's not run before we can walk! :-)

(*) This is an analogy that could not have been made a few months ago. Because I've never actually had a cronut, I don't know whether it works or not. Worth a go, though!

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Travis Penery, 1984-2013

This morning, social media passed through the very sad news that Travis Penery, one of the most passionate and knowledgeable members of the UK game show fandom, passed away far too young. We had heard a few days ago that he had suffered a stroke and was in intensive care; sadly he did not recover. A quick search suggests he had been a member of the fandom for over ten years, which feels about right; looking at the archives of the ukgameshows mailing list, back when it was really busy in 2002, Travis provided a great deal of the enthusiasm and excitement. You can see his love and desire to know all about the topic back even then, and you can see how spending a decade thinking hard and learning about the topic affected him in his more recent contributions to the respected buzzerblog, or his appearances on the wonderful fifty50 podcast. He was instrumental in keeping the records and drawing the connections that would require an expert's insight.

A few house moves ago, when it was clear I had to radically downsize my game show tape collection - because that's what we used to do back in those days, and I'm still not completely convinced it's not better than relying on the video sharing services of the world not to apply copyright restrictions - I was happy for a big chunk of it to end up with Travis, knowing there would be few who would enjoy it more.

There are a great many members of the UK game show fandom in mourning today. Even if you concentrated your fandom on just one show, you probably knew Travis. He will be widely missed. My condolences to his friends and family.

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A brief attendance analysis of the DASH puzzle hunt

I've never seen a table like this published anywhere, but there surely should be one and I have just been looking in the wrong places. It details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Albuquerque, NM---66+1
Austin, TX-2111213+4
Bay Area, CAY(SF)
Boston, MAY18262927+2
Chicago, IL--171410+1
Davis, CA-16151613+7
Houston, TXY----
London, UK----6+2
Los Angeles, CAY7222115+4
Minneapolis, MN----8+7
New York, NY-12242530+7
Portland, ORY6171919+2
San Diego, CA--7--
Seattle, WAY32474949+2
South Bend, IN---1-
St. Louis, MO---22+3
Washington, DCY14223331+1

Here are my initial thoughts:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with my apologies in advance.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus "Y" represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. For DASH 5, the numbers represent numbers on the experienced and newcomer tracks respectively.

3) Interpret "Bay Area, CA" using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5), PA = Palo Alto (1), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5). I apologise if some of those locations are not really in the Bay Area. (If you tell me that I am a bad person for jumbling Santa Rosa in with the others, I'd believe you.) Meg and I had our honeymoon in San Francisco and went out to Half Moon Bay one day. We had fantastic crabby cheesy bread there.

4) It's not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in.

5) Welcome to Phoenix, AZ and Pittsburgh, PA, both of which are new for DASH 6. Fingers crossed for good turnout for them even in their first year - but even if the first year is small, this shows how turnout can grow over time.

6) In my opinion, it probably reflects well on the decision to have parallel "experienced" and "newcomer" tracks at DASH 5 that every city had at least one team playing each track.

DASH 6 will take place on 26th April, 2014. There are some cities with popular DASH locations of several years' standing which have not yet signed up; fingers crossed that the event proves the most popular and most successful yet!

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Puzzle Hunts past

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I think a large part of why I've been so obsessed with puzzle hunts over the last (grief, I wish I knew how many) years, and have increased the extent of my participation over the last year or so, is a long-held belief that puzzle hunt participants and organisers are the people having the most interesting, exciting and relevant-to-me fun on the planet at the moment. It would be interesting to trace my obsessions over the years as to which different groups of gamers have borne that mantle as technology and availability have changed, but would take some serious research.

I've long kept a slightly suspicious but mostly admiring sidelong glance at the work of Fire Hazard's street games. Their action-movie-paralleled mission, with a serious focus on physical exertion, is seriously Not My Jam, but I love the thought they have put into clarifying their manifesto over the years and their generosity into making their assembly kit available for free. Effectively, it's the collected wisdom from years of design documents and experimentation. Similarly, I admire the clarity of thought that FH's principal Gwyn Morfey puts into his blog posts, but his preferences and drivers make it hard for me to feel I can relate to him. Interesting, cool, very likely to have lessons for puzzle hunt people to learn from - at least, if they're more open-minded than me - but very, very Other.

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Some birthdays are better than others

Some birthdays are better than others. Last year, on my birthday, we moved house, then went out to the supermarket. It wasn't the best. In contrast, this year was one of the good ones - the really good ones.

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Other than that, there are plenty of puzzle events coming up through the year from now to then, and already we've proved that it's practical for a team to keep in touch with Skype to work on a puzzle event together. If you've ever read stories of how spectacular these can be but thought that they were likely too difficult, I would particularly recommend the Octothorpean Order starting at 7pm GMT on Saturday 16th November (and probably clashing with all sorts of fun things like Georgia-Auburn and Schlag den Raab, so we'll need to get cracking). While it will have around a hundred puzzles, many of them will be deliberately introductory in nature so people can gain confidence in using and applying standard puzzle hunt codes and techniques. Start your own team or let me know if you want to join ours!

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