tablesaw: A tablesaw in action. The blade disappears when it comes in contact with a hot dog. (Virtually Unscathed!)
(No, I didn't forget. I just didn't feel like finishing. Now I do, again.)

The green eggs held clues reading compass points, rag, every 24 hours, latest information, Personals,
Top Secret, commercial, and PICTURESQUE announcement. These clues led to the classified section of the April 11 Daily News. There, after a bit of searching, one could find the following ad under "Announcements":
PICTURESQUE landing site found! Cmdr. Grad flipped his space helmet!
The words "picturesque", "grad", and "space helmet" clued my graduation portrait from the University of California, Santa Barbara, which I attended wearing a toy space helmet under my mortarboard. By flipping the photograph around, the agents found a memo from the aforementioned Cmdr. Grad, accompanied by four photographs taken from the landing site. The memo mentioned that an alternate landing site was needed, as well as a means of directing aliens to it.

At the landing site, there was no egg, but taped to a pole was another photograph. This photograph was also from a nearby location, directed to the landing site. When the agents tracked down the source of this new photo, there was another photo taped to another pole. Repeating the process twice more led to a final photograph, apparently taken from among some trees. By taking the position of that last picture, the agents were situated to find the gold egg, which had previously been concealed from view.

Background and Construction
This was one of the first puzzles I came up with, and it went through a few changes. I'd been thinking about using a classified ad for a while. They have been used to great effect for things such as magic tricks, and I thought it would be fun to find something in plain site. Then, as I was walking around the neighborhood one day, I saw a sign for a lost dog. I thought it might be fun to use signs saying "Lost Egg" to lead solvers on a path through the streets by my house.

I decided to use photographs to direct solvers to the first "Lost Egg" sign. But as I got a clearer idea of the theme of the hunt, I decided that it would be better to do something with a landing site. Seeing my graduation photo made me think that the alien name "Grad" and the clue "space helmet" would be a good combination that would fit well in a short ad.

At this point, I was planning on using basic "Detour" signs to lead the runaround. It wasn't until I went out with my borrowed digital camera that I thought of using more pictures to direct the solvers. It clicked as a good idea, and it helped me finalize the route they'd need to follow.

Agents in Action
This was the first clue tackled by the agents, and so there was some prompting involved. When it was clear that they were thinking about a newspaper, I said, "You know I picked up the Sunday newspaper, if you think that would help." I had culled the classified section to get rid of unnecessary employment and used-car ads, but there was still a whole lot of space to look through. There were several agonizing minutes where the page was open to the right area, and I was staring right at the ad, but nobody else could see it. I probably should have dedicated more clue space to focusing on "Announcements", but eventually it was found.

I'm sure that many of you, reading above, thought that it would be a stretch for solvers to think of my graduation picture from that ad. It certainly wasn't for my parents, who immediately began quizzing me on where I had put that helmet. After convincing them that they didn't need the actual helmet, they began looking for he picture.

My cousin, who lives next door, definitely took the lead on this step, since she new the area the best. She very quickly identified the landing site from the given photos, and she, my other younger cousin, and K. ventured off to find it. More than any other puzzle, I was worried that the components of this one might have been taken or blown away, so I made sure to give them my cell phone in case they encountered problems.

After a little while, they called, confused as to what to do next. I talked them through the idea of using the picture as a detour method, which they generally had figured out, but they were still unable to find the next step. After taking care of some business, I ran off to meet them.

As I approached the second location, I got very worried. The girls weren't by it, and I couldn't see the photo. Thankfully, it was because, on my way there, they had found the photo, taken it down, and were already looking for the next location. I waved them on, and went back to headquarters. The agents did need some more cell-phone prodding to finally find the golden egg. I was told by K. that it had more than a bit to do with the three girls, still in pretty, pastel Easter dresses, not wanting to go too close to the bushes where the egg was hidden.

(This puzzle can't be solved by you at all anymore, so I didn't try. I am trying to find a good scan of my graduation picture, and if I find one, I'll add it to the entry.)
tablesaw: "The Accurate Tablesaw" (Accurate)
Step 2: Red CluesThe red eggs held clues reading assassinate, murder, physician, surgeon, sport on a plank, fortunate, beneficial, and inexpensive butt. Which suggested my copy of the game Kill Doctor Lucky [link changed 6/22/11; original link to "http://www.cheapass.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=CAG&Product_Code=CAG001"]. Inside, instead of the low-overhead, high-concept game we've all come to know and love, there were several pieces of paper.

First, there was an alien communication regarding Step 2: Drawing Crop Circles. Corporal Flerg has returned his notes to Ensign Dronn, making special mention of the section of the design that crosses itself like an X and explaining the concept earth crops to the young ensign. It's clear to see why this was needed, because also included in the box was a diagram of the prospective site of the circle. Finally, there were twenty-five pieces. (The agents' tetragrams were already cut, but that's difficult to do over the Internet. If you'd like to solve on your own, you can download an image in which the pieces have been randomly arranged and rotated.)

After correctly reconstructing the original crop-circle design, the agents used the clues in the alien communication to dig in an area in my backyard that corresponded to the place on the diagram where the X ended up. After going down a short way, they found the next gold egg.

Background and Construction
This puzzle was changed in probably every possible way before it was finished. Originally, I wanted the location of the golden egg to be located around the church down the street from me. But as Easter grew closer, I became worried about two things. One: The church would attract a lot of families. A lot of families means a lot of nosy kids. A lot of nosy kids means a higher likelihood that the egg might be located and messed with before the agents reached it. Two: I wasn't sure what parts of the church and its grounds would be accessible at what times. The spot I wanted to use (adjacent to a rosary of stepping stones around a garden of roses dedicated to Mary) might or might not be locked by the time the party got started.

At about this time, I decided to try to use the movie Signs as an inspiration for the aliens. It didn't completely pan out, especially since I couldn't locate a Signs-inspired font for the messages, but it did leave me with the idea of a crop-circle puzzle. While eating dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, I mused about the piles of mostly loose dirt in my backyard not being conducive to crops. From there, I thought that the idea of digging up my yard might be pretty fun, or at least surprising.

More on Puzzle Design )

I drew a 10x10 grid on graph paper, selected a good area for a 2x2 square to hold an X, then divided the rest of the grid into non-square tetragrams. Then I drew a loop. Then I cut out the pieces. Then I tried to figure out how to give information to make the placement of the pieces easy.

The grid I'd drawn just didn't want to be easy. I tried so many things, but nothing gave enough information without providing a shortcut to placing the square piece. I also had trouble fighting against the urge to turn the loop into a logic puzzle. There are lots of pencil-and-paper logic puzzles based on figuring out how a loop fills out a grid. I had to keep reminding myself what it would look like. In my mind, I saw Bartok quickly filling it out while Mel and Maria looked dazes/bemused/bored. I quickly shook it off.

Finally, I accepted that the answer would be to give the outlines of all of the pieces. To do this, though, I had to scrap the hours I'd already put into the grid and draw a new one so that, instead of only one square piece, there would be several. Karmically, once I had recut the tetragrams and drawn a new loop, the puzzle was satisfyingly difficult. Clarifying which pieces were "end pieces" by adding the dark borders made it easy enough for me to consider it complete.

I went into my backyard and took pictures of four patches of dirt, after digging them up a little bit and smoothing them with a rake. Then, I arranged them into a square, and lined up my prospective burying spot with the area that would hold the X piece. I overlaid the outlines of the pieces, and the puzzle was finally complete.

Agents in Action
This was the last communication found by the agents. In retrospect, I wasn't incredibly happy with the cluing, but things worked out satisfactorily in the end. My biggest regret was that "sport on a plank" was way, way too ambiguous for "board game", especially since one of my cousins is on a diving team. Regardless, they figured out that "killing" and "doctors" were important, so when my mother stumbled upon the box of Kill Doctor Lucky (conveniently laid on the top of a stack of boardgames), she immediately knew it was right.

I left the house to help the agents working on Step 3, and soon, I saw some agents wandering around my backyard with the diagram. When I found out they hadn't solved the puzzle, but were hoping to shortcut by finding loose earth, I sent them back inside.

Later, I found them digging. In the wrong place. They had solved the puzzle, but couldn't locate it in my backyard. I realized I'd made a foolish mistake. Although the diagram I have online is nice and colorful, clearly showing four different locations, the printed version, in black and white, isn't so clear. In my enthusiasm, in printing, I didn't realize how hard it would be to distinguish the sections. So the agents were using the main resource they had (two flower pots in one shot) and using them to orient the X. I clarified their locations, and soon they were digging in the right place. I had to do the ultimate excavation, though, since they were still a bit hesitant about digging in my yard.

So, though it had troubles, I liked this puzzle a lot, probably because I went through so much grief putting it together. But all of the wrinkles ironed rather well, and the hunt went on.
tablesaw: -- (Default)
Step 1: Yellow CluesThe yellow eggs held clues reading: etching, hanging, holy men, up, down, staircase, illusion, and frame. These clues suggested the print of M.C. Escher's "Ascending Descending" hanging in my living room. When the framed picture was removed from the wall, a sheet of paper was found taped to the side. It was a communication from the aliens researching Earth: "Step 1: Gather Information". (Remember, for best results install Catharsis Cargo.) The instructions from Lieutenant Skit-Tee ask Cadet Grumk to find the information listed below, compress the findings using a set of formulae, then call back for further instructions.

To make sure that people didn't try to solve this by jumping onto my computer, I expressly told solvers not to use the "In-tor-net" in their research. The trick here, was that all of the information was findable within my living room, most of it on my coffee table. In fact, solving at home may be impossible because at least one item is definitely not on the Web, and another answer was taken from a cute, but outdated resource.

The formulae have been removed from the online version of the puzzle because they manipulated the numbers to create a phone number. Specifically, the phone number of a very appreciated journal reader, [livejournal.com profile] skitty. At my request, she had modified the outgoing message on her voice mail, giving the solvers a final equation. That equation led solvers to my next-door neighbor's house and to the golden egg underneath the decorative numbers of her address.

Background and Construction
The idea of coffee-table trivia came pretty early, and festered for a while. While looking at one of the books which would become a reference, I thought that a Calculatrivia-style quiz would be good, because it would help me narrow down the answers I was looking for around my house, and it would allow me to easily manipulate the answers into an answer-ish form. I collected answers as I cleaned my house. Anytime I found something that was interesting, likely to contain numbers, or that seemed appropriate for my coffee table, I would flip through it looking for some good digits. I collected a small list, and they managed work into the parts of the phone number very well.

Agents in Action
This was the third puzzle found, and it was found pretty easily. My mother and a young cousin picked up on what it meant pretty easily, and they directed my father to take down the picture. I was helping some people get Step Three started, and when I turned around, my father was swinging the print around, showing everyone (except himself, of course) the hidden sheet. Bartok looked at it and said, "Oh great, we're going to have to use the Internet for this one." Alarmed, I pointed out that actually, they probably didn't.

I lost track of this puzzle for a while, and so I can't tell exactly what happened. Most people were focusing on the other puzzles, but after a while, agents returned to it. A few tentative answers had been put in, but most were mysteries. As more people started working on the puzzle, people started to realize that they'd seen related objects before. You see, when DeB and Bartok got arrived earlier than everyone else, they amused themselves by looking at the strange and interesting items on my coffee table. So many of the questions seemed very familiar.

This was the last puzzle completed, and it ended with my mother reading off questions and having everyone else scour my coffee table for books likely to have the answer. When it came time to do the formulas, however, there were some problems. First, I had forgotten to bring a calculator. I thought I had one, but it turned out to be a remote control to a stereo system I never used. So there multiplication bits took a little while. Second, there were two typos in the formulas, causing two of the numbers to be slightly off.

A Digression on Puzzlers and Nonpuzzlers )

So, finally armed with the correct phone number, the agents called Commander Skit-Tee. It took them two calls to get the message correctly, but the directions and the number led them clearly down the street. It didn't take long for them to swarm onto my neighbor's yard and grab the egg.

(The puzzle can be solved without being in my living room, but I would say it's decidedly less fun. Anyway, the answers are available, regardless.)
tablesaw: -- (Default)
Most of the briefing was just atmosphere patter, nothing that wasn't included in the documents I mentioned in the last entry. I did field some questions though to straighten out how things would work.

Something I had neglected to put in the documents was that everyone was on a single team, working together. This was one of the most important changes, I felt, from last year and from other hunts I've seen run like this. One of my goals was to make the hunt more accessible to people who would just be dipping their toes into the water, as it were. I think that a competitive atmosphere hinders that, since dabblers feel they need to get out of the way of the true competitors or get confused about who they are supposed to be helping. Definitely no complaints, and everyone worked well together.

For the first step, everyone was to collect thirty-two eggs hidden in and around my house. They were divided into four colors: red, yellow, blue, and green. Inside each of the eggs was a clue. Taking the eight clues of each color would suggest an object in or around my house that would contain an intercepted communique between the alien invaders. That communique could be solved to lead to a location that was within a five-minute-walking radius of my house.

The first four communiques related to the first four steps of the aliens' plan. Step 1: Gather Information. Step 2: Draw Crop Circles. Step 3: Land Spacecraft. Step 4: Kill All Humans. By foiling each of these steps, the agents learned more about the final step of the plan. Step Five, the Alien Genetiforming Dance, was a complicated process the aliens were using to adapt their DNA so that they could safely live on their conquered planet. If the agents could follow the instructions of the Alien Genetiforming Dance, they could find the birthplace of the aliens (and the berthplace of their ship) and save the earth.

I'm going to tackle each step/puzzle separately, talking about how it was supposed to run, how it did run, how it was designed, problems that arose, and what I learned. But first, I'll talk about the first eggs. They were pretty simple, and they were all found fairly quickly. Last year, I was singularly devious with my egg hiding, but this year I decided to ease up. One reason was that I had used up lots of the good spots last year, and I didn't want it to be a game of Husker Du for the returning players. Also, last year was very egg-finding based. This year, I had more to go on, so I thought that easier eggs would speed things along. I avoided putting eggs in unlikely containers, and instead I opted to place them in locations that were hidden unless you were standing in a particular spot.

Sadly, the egg that I hid the best did not survive. With great care, I had managed to wedge a yellow egg in between the citrus fruits on the tree in my back yard. The colors blended perfectly. But, just as the guests were arriving, I noticed that the cool canyon breeze had interceded, and my favorite egg was now lying exposed on the patio cement. Briefly, I considered tape, but thought better of it. Maybe next year.

Also, two eggs went unfound. They weren't noticed, so much, because not all eight of the clues were necessary for each color. One was in my hot pot (as I discovered when I went to make tea the next morning), the other was on the window sill behind my sink.

The easy eggs, and the accessible first step were a big help too, since even my parents, whom I thought would be hanging back, found it easy to get involved merely by wandering around the premises peeking around corners. Of course, as usual, the star egg sniffers were the youngest players, my cousins Maria and Maggie, who went at things with full force.

When about 80% of the eggs had been found, people began to trickle into my living room to start opening them. Pretty soon, the agents were on their way to finding the puzzling alien messages.
tablesaw: A tablesaw in action. The blade disappears when it comes in contact with a hot dog. (Virtually Unscathed!)
As you may know if you listened to the AudBlog, I was still frantically cleaning as the beginning of the party came around. Bartok was the first to arrive, punctual as ever at 2:30. He was pleasant and accommodating as I continued to run around the house, cleaning things. We chatted, etc. Things were pretty much in order by three, when DeB showed up, and I started set out the chips and dips and jelly beans.

(I'd like to mention that Ken's Peppercorn Ranch) is a very fine dressing for crudites. However, I was disappointed that the baby broccoli that I procured from Trader Joe's didn't get eaten as much as the celery or carrots.)

Eventually, everyone arrived, [livejournal.com profile] cramerica, [livejournal.com profile] wjukknibs, K., Mel, two of my cousins, and my parents, in addition to DeB and Bartok. Artistry called and said he'd be late, so I held the opening till about 3:45, when I started to explain the investigation/game to the assembled agents.

I don't think I'll have time to go through all of it, so I'm just going to link to copies of the files, for now. You, like my guests, can read over them and ponder their meaning while I drive home from work to continue writing. I will tell you that your experience of these documents will be greatly enhanced by installing the X-Files and Catharsis Cargo fonts.

The first document was a brief introduction from Special Agent Fox-in-the-Henhouse Mulder. Attached were two procedural documents. One explained the course of the investigation to come, and was titled HOW TO STOP THEM. The other document was the beginning of the final puzzle, the Alien Genome Dance. The other steps of this complicated mating ritual would be revealed later.

Because it wasn't clear whether everyone there was going to be working very actively, I devised a system of Field Agents and Supervising Agents, which, I hoped, would allow people to feel free to participate only as much as they wanted. There was an extra document for each. The Field Agents received general instructions on how to attack the puzzles. Supervising Agents got tips on how to stay involved without feeling obliged to run around too much.

I handed these out early because I'm the type of person who likes to read through the program before the show starts. So were most of my guests, so there was much reading of the documents before things even got started. Then, the briefing began . . .
tablesaw: -- (Default)
My journal is oddly bare right now. I know, it's been bare before, but the "oddly" part is because there are two sizable entries that have vanished. I'm pretty sure I know where one went. I tried to do an Audblog this morning (possibly yesterday morning), but I may have hung up before I pressed all of the extra buttons to end recording and post the message. Apparently, that ain't good enough.

The other post was long, and was written on Wednesday morning, after I had gone to work packing zero hours of sleep, fueled by energy and anticipation of the festivities that were to occur on Sunday. I was pretty wacky that day, so I haven't a clue what might have caused the entry to disappear. LJ may have eaten it, but then again, I may have just forgotten to hit "Post".

Anyway, the short version is, I was really hyped this week, the party went well, and I slept for a very long time afterwards. Now, I'm pretty relaxed.

I'm going to start writing up the puzzle that accompanied the party, it'll start showing up in sections. In the meantime, I've got a bright and more or less clean house in which to sing dance twirl and do anything I want. So I thought I'd do some reading. But I've been having trouble getting started on new books, recently. The last new book I read was recommended by [livejournal.com profile] shadesong when I was in Boston. So I got to thinking, maybe if I read a book chosen by others, it'll be easier to start and finish. So, obviously, it is poll time.
[Poll #278572]
I'm doing this from memory. Next time, I promise I'll try to represent the second half of the alphabet.
tablesaw: A tablesaw in action. The blade disappears when it comes in contact with a hot dog. (Virtually Unscathed!)
There are still several days before my Easter party. And yet, my house is half clean, and the puzzles are near completion. This is strange and new territory for me.

Also, I have cable TV.

Life, she is too good to me. Where is the stress?
tablesaw: -- (Default)
Today's Ash Wednesday, and I managed to get home in time to catch the early Mass at my parish. Today was the first time in my life, though, that I was forced to wash the ashes off of my face when I got home. You see, the priest (monsignor, perhaps?) who imposed the ashes upon me was a bit old school. For one thing, when he recited, "Dust you are and to dust you shall return," he did it in Latin. But he also was using a thumb that was still wet from blessing the ashes with holy water. So, instead of getting a wispy, ashy memento mori that slowly disipated in the wind, I got a big black mud-caked cross on my forehead that would not be moved. I washed it off when I noticed it before dinner because I wasn't sure I'd remember to clean it off before I went to bed.

Also, I'd like to see a priest use a sermon that tackles the Gospel reading that says, "But when you fast . . . wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden," right before smearing a big old, "Look at me I'm fasting" symbol on your forehead.

And since it's Ash Wednesday, I have forty-seven days to plan for my Easter Party/Egg Hunt/Puzzle Hunt. (Yes, forty-seven. The forty days of Lent only go up to Palm Sunday.). I know my structure, I know my ending, and I have a vague idea on some of the lower level puzzles, but I need to really get cracking on them. I also want to actually have invitations this year, sent out by Saint Patrick's Day.

And speaking of Easter, I think that no matter how you feel about Gibson's new Jesus movie, you'll agree with yesterday's Dork Tower.

Finally, I think I should introduce a regular reader of my journal, my mother. Hello, Mom! I point her out to you, because at a recent meal we shared, I learned that she was also reading the journals of my friends, sometimes regularly. It's already been noted by [livejournal.com profile] shadesong, and she remembered details of other people too. So, just, be aware. And don't worry, she doesn't have her own journal.

WedNYTX: 9:15.

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