Over the weekend of the 29th June 2013, I traveled to Boston to join up with a few of my puzzling friends to take part in a 36 hour puzzle hunt. Put on by the GotoVision crowd, the even was themed around War Games and Tron hence the name WarTron. Given that I grew up with these movies, and have a love for puzzles, when the East coast puzzlers asked if I'd be interested in joining them I jumped at the chance.
The next few blog posts will track our progress over the weekend, and review some of the puzzles we completed. It's going to be a long journey, but I hope you enjoy it!
Back in March, myself, Nick Baxter, Jeffrey Aurand, Brett Kuehner, Ben Graef, Clayton, Brian Pletcher and his wife got together via the joys of internet telephony (Skype) and Google Spreadsheets to compete in the qualifier for the live event. The qualifier involved solving a number of puzzles which were hosted via an online telnet connection into a computer system much like that from the War Games movie. Inside the computer we had a number of programs we could run including Tic Tac Toe, Global Thermonuclear War and Chess. With some work, we found a series of keywords which led us on a merry chase to gain access to BigMac and the eventual solution to the puzzle. Having ranked #5 out of the competing teams, we were invited to the weekend even which is where this story starts.
I flew out to Boston on the Friday afternoon, and was picked up at the airport by Brett and Ben. We headed out to Brian's house where we spent some time playing with puzzles from Brian's collection before heading out for some dinner, and ice cream. Given that we were planning to be up for 36+ hours straight, we opted for a fairly early night, and headed to the hotel in Danvers, which was close to the start point for the weekend's events.
Before the event started, we were given some instructions on how to log in to the BUGMe system which would be our link to submit puzzle answers over the weekend. Logging into the system using the instructions provided gave us the output below:
With this information, we made our way to Peabody Park, handed in our waiver forms and received the arduino based device which would be our companion over the weekend. The part was a great starting location, with a pagoda that would have provided shelter if the weather had decided to be wet, a nice roomy grass area for us to congregate, and a pond as a backdrop, making for a great location all round.
We were the first to arrive, and had a rather rocky start. Having plugged our device into Brett's laptop, we got no response from the device. Laptop number two was tried, with no luck, before trying laptops 3 & 4. With no luck we went to a second B.I.T.E. device, which also didn't respond before going back to the first laptop, and a third device. We eventually had success thanks to Brett's experience with arduino devices. Each of the boxes was coded to a specific team so we still had to solve the problem of not being able to talk to our own box. Ross, from the WarTron team tried to connect to our B.I.T.E. using his laptop however he had no success either. At least it wasn't just us. As it turns out, a quick push of the reset button on the arduino thanks to a small gap in the case, and we were talking to our box, and ready to start.
Sadly we weren't the only team having issues, and it took a while to get everyone organised and able to talk to their devices. The team worked pretty hard to get everyone ready, and given the issues we'd been having, we were one of the last teams to be ready. Given our problems we were able to help a few other teams get their laptop's connected so it was a good way to get to know some of the teams we'd be playing with.
While we were getting setup, the female character in the black suit (below), known throughout the weekend as Professor Goto, was wandering round having a fake phone conversation. We thought it might be useful to see what she was talking about so while Brett and Ben were working on getting the laptop setup, I spent a few minutes wandering around behind her listening in to the conversation. Professor Goto was clearly having a bad day, perhaps because of the problems that Ross, her assistant pictured below, was unable to get the 'super secret high tech devices' working, and given that she had already fired someone that morning, was not looking forward to whatever was about to happen. So nothing particularly useful, but it was a nice way to set the scene, and start getting people into the mood.
At one point shortly after the photo above was taken, a rather heated argument between Professor Goto and Ross erupted, ending up with Professor Goto storming off, with Ross giving chase, trying to convince her that everything would be fine, he'd get the devices working, and she should stay. Having none of it, she was off and wasn't to be seen from again for quite some time. Scene set ...
Sarah on the left introduces herself, and welcomes us to the event before handing off to Professor Goto .... who of course is no-where to be found. In her stead, Ross is left to fill us in as to what's happening, and kick off proceedings. Around half way through his speech, he is rather rudely interrupted ...
... by the military! Despite his protests of innocence, he is escorted away for whatever he and Professor Goto have been doing. Brett gave chase in the hope that something useful would happen!
Although its a little hard to see in the photo, Ross threw out a number of pieces of paper which Brett duly scooped up, and the first puzzle was thrown at us. Quite literally!
With the slip of paper in hand, and a few guesses as to what to do, we quickly get our first taste of what the B.I.T.E was going to do over the weekend as it starts flashing the lights on its top, and beeping at us rather loudly. All the teams are in the same boat, so we quickly grab a seat, pull out the laptops and connect to the B.I.T.E using the code provided. Fortunately that silences the box, and gives us access to the information below:
There's a couple of fairly obvious paths to look at from the message we received, and clearly the sequences of words in the bottom left were our clue.
So what to do with this list? Well as seemed to be a bit of a theme over the weekend we started off in completely the wrong track. I'm not going to tell you how we started to solve this, however we found a way to index into the words above using the 'estonianevasive' which gave us the output GSECCSSH. Now the SSH part of that gave us some hope that we would have something useful since the BUGMe system was ssh based. Getting nothing from that, and seeking some help, it turns out there's an entirely different way to use the words above, and perhaps pairing letters could be useful. Seems that we'd found a rather unintentional red herring, and were heading way down the wrong path. The other hint that we're given is that there should be a ref in the B.I.T.E that could be useful.
As we're sitting working, the B.I.T.E goes off with an alert twice causing it to start beeping at us and flashing it's lights. Seems that BigMac was going to talk to us through the B.I.T.E. over the weekend and taunt us LUSERS while we tried to solve the puzzles and prevent Global Thermonuclear War.
Armed with that knowledge, we start again, and realise that there is in fact a useful pairing, and we get internet country codes out of the words. Taking the countries from each word, and tracing a path between them based on the order in the word, we're given semaphore codes, which give us letters, and after two passes of the words we end up with the Beach Boys song 'KOKOMO'. Success! Puzzle one solved, and we enter the keyword into the BUGMe System:
It may have taken us longer than we had hoped, but we were off and running now. Next stop, Patton Park to rescue Ross.
When we arrived, we found Ross and the military woman in a pagoda, where Ross was not allowed to talk to us, but did take away the B.I.T.E. to run some checks since they had been misbehaving for some people. We handed over the device, and were given an Army intelligence test to try to solve. Puzzle number two, and a completely different style of puzzle from the first one.
Here, had a series of images, which we had to match up, and a string of numbers down the centre of the page. The hope was that the numbers we crossed through would give us an index into the items, and another keyword to help us progress in the puzzle hunt.
We fared much better here, and solved this fairly quickly once we'd figured out what we were doing. A quick hint toward the end and we had the solution ... This time the keyword is 'CONTAINS'. Throwing that into BUGMe we get the useful information below:
While Ben and I distract the officer, the rest of the team talks to Ross, gets the B.I.T.E. back and also the keyword we need to get to the next puzzle. This time it's 'SEARCH'. Putting that into BUGMe we're given the following useful info and the location of our next puzzle. This one was going to be fun!
Arriving at the new location, we're escorted into a hotel room, and given directions not to remove anything from the room as Professor Goto gets angry if her things are moved, but to search the room for clues, and come out once we think we have everything.
Entering the room, we quickly spot some QR codes in plain sight, and start the hunt for more. In total there are 32 codes to be found, and working as a team we photograph all of them, note their location in the room, and also scan the codes. Some were pretty well hidden, including one inside the vegetable drawer of the fridge, one inside a pot in the cupboard, taped under tables, inside lamp shades, and even one in the bible.
After around 10 minutes, we're interrupted by a knock on the door, and we confirm we've found 31 codes. As it turns out we later realise we'd found all 32, but it didn't matter. We're given a pack which contains a copy of all of the QR Codes, a numbered diagram which links boxes with vowels, as well as a couple of blank QR code grids and given the suggestion that we have lunch nearby while we work on this puzzle. Given that it's close to 12pm we do just that.
One of the codes we scanned gave us the clue "This EUrO goes with square 0; match the pictures with the squares before using any of the outputs that you got when scanning the QR codes". This is our start point, and we start by identifying what is in each of the pictures, as well as pulling out excel to enter all the data we gather. As we've found in previous puzzle endeavors like this, having excel to sort lists, and perform indexing into words is hugely useful.
There's a few of the items which are a little harder to be 100% sure of the intent such as a dripping faucet, and a Combine Harvester. Is the intent that we use 'Faucet or Drip'; should we use 'Thresher, Combine or Combine Harvester'? Working through the puzzle, and again with a little nudge from Game Control, we find out that the images contains a set of all possible combinations of vowels, and the code sheet we have allows us to place the images into the grid.
When we scanned the QR Codes, we got input along the lines of
Once we had an order we had a fairly good idea that these codes would give us the correct location to fill in squares in the QR code, and allow us to create a new QR Code which would hopefully have the solution keyword.
Starting with the Euro QR Code as the initial location, we followed the connecting lines in our diagram to each box in turn, either adding of subtracting a vowel to give us the QR Code with the correct combination of vowels and the order we needed. With this knowledge, had an order for which line we would fill into the DIY QR code, based on what each scanned QR Code gave us as information.
As Ben, Clayton and Brian read out each series of X's and .'s I filled in the grid and eventually went back with a black marker to colour the boxes of our new QR Code. Nearing the end I had three members of the team hovering over me hoping that we'd have enough redundancy in the QR Code that it would scan and we could solve the puzzle. Finally done, we scan the code, and get 'NEFARIOUS' as our keyword. Success, and we're off again:
It's back into the car, and another 10 minute drive to the second hotel room. Having had a lot of fun on the last puzzle, as a team we're in good spirits, and looking forward to the next challenge. We're off to another hotel, and given that the last hotel had us tossing the room, we're hoping for another similar fun challenge. And we're not going to be disappointed!
Being greeted by two of Professor Goto's staff, next to the pool, we are told that we'll be heading into a hotel room, and we need to find the items to help stop BigMac. Professor Goto now realises that through our efforts, clearly something is going on and she is going to look into the issue.. Keep investigating, and see what we can find. Oh, and we're now locked in the hotel room until we solve the puzzle and get out!
Ben quickly spots a small circular coloured card with a number on it, and the rest of the team goes to work finding more. I find a tool chest with a padlock on it, as well as a couple of number cards, and the team find the rest of the cards, hidden under pillows, in the bathroom, under the ashtray (in this no smoking room). We don't have a key to open the box, until Brett spies it in plain sight hanging up on a coat hanger, right above where I'd found the box. Good job on observation there for me!
Opening the tool box, we have a smaller box inside with a combination lock keeping it closed. We've also found a code card, which has the GotoVision logo, where the O's are colour coded. Matching up the coloured cards, we have the combination for the master lock, and promptly open box #2.
Ok, so perhaps not so promptly, as I fail miserably to open the lock. My excuse is that I never had a locker in school, and as such never had to use one of these. Apparently they're common in the US. (It's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)
So handing the lock to someone who knows better, we open the box, and find a third locked box inside, as well as another code card.
We quickly set about trying to open this new lock, flushed with success from having quickly opened the previous two locks, and of course found the progress to be somewhat more challenging.
While we'd been searching, this clue was hidden in plain sight on one of the beds. Seems like this might be a good time to use the clue! Thinking outside the lock, we attempt opening the lock by starting in the opposite direction you would normally start when opening a master lock (no I have no idea what that is!) and we have the lock open! Ok, so it wasn't quite that simple, and took three experienced Master lock openers to crack this one, but we did get there.
Inside this, we're given another two slips of paper, containing a cryptic puzzle, and after some tricky math, and I think we need to be honest here, some significant luck with a good guess as to what to do from Clayton, we've cracked the code an have ourselves another keyword.
Puzzle solved, we now have the next keyword 'JIMMY'. Anyone else starting to notice a puzzle themed keyword for each puzzle solved? entering this into BUGMe we get the next location:
So looks like we're off to a bead store for this one ...
Seems like we're in 8th place at this point although it's a little hard to tell for sure based on the way the timings were recorded, but we're having fun which is all that really matters! I'll leave you there for today. I'll continue with the next set of puzzles soon, so check back to see how we get on.
After leaving you in the previous post heading to the bead shop for our next puzzle, we pick up the trail as we are entering the building to the shop. We seem to be in a rather interesting industrial section of Boston, and the building itself is something of a building site, however that aside the signs do seem to point us to a real shop, and we proceed into the elevator, not quite sure what to expect.
Heading inside the shop after ignoring the sign telling us to turn right when we got out of the elevator and turning left instead, we see a few familiar faces sitting around a table, and tell them that we're here to pick up the necklaces for Professor Goto. With this information, and clearly the correct code given we are handed a number of strings of beads, as well as a music CD, before being promptly directed to an area where we can sit down and work on the puzzle.
So with beads in hand we head for the tables and get ourselves setup for a new challenge. Ben get's the job of listening to the Madonna CD and identifying all the tracks on the album. In the meantime, the rest of us notice that there's a resistor hint on the CD case - "I can't resist swaying back and forth to the words of my favorite Madonna Songs! - Lisa" , and all the beads match to the colours found on the casing of an electrical resistor, so we start trying to map the strings, and assign the correct numbers in sequence for each string based on its register value hoping that it will be useful. We also note that the strings themselves are different colours, and suspect that again using the resistor values, we'll get some sort of sequence to the strings.
Ben quickly works through the CD, and lists out the track names for each track. Reading down the track listing we spot that there's a phrase encoded in there. "Beadsfitlyrics". So how on earth does that help us?
Well as it turns out we were on completely the wrong track with the resistors. Another Red Herring that we fell right into. Ben and Brian spotted something very interesting about the bead colouring on the strings, and also the CD Cover. If you look closely you'll spot that the cover reads "WE LOVE MADONNA", and there's some interesting loops at the ends of each word. Well turns out that if you take each of the strings, and split them into three even rows, looping the string at each end, the same as the CD shows, you'll get letters out of those strings!
Doing this with each string, you end up with a set of letters, and then it's back to the clue encoded in the track names. Going through the lyrics of all the songs, Ben spots that TUTBMP, the letters from one of our strings matches track 8 on the CD "This Used To Be My Playground". With that gem under our belt, it wasn't long until we'd identified each track which matched to a string of beads, and after some indexing into each of the five strings, we end up with the next keyword. It's time for an 'ENCORE'
(Ed. Sarah got in touch to let me know that actually the resistors were part of the bead puzzle, we just managed to solve it without them. The resistors gave word length and the final ordering. Guess we got lucky on that one!)
The next stop, and the next puzzle was in another small park, this time at the top of quite the steep hill. Brett's van was struggling a little with the load but we made it to the top of the hill, and driving into the park we see a couple of teams sitting around on the grass poring over their notepads. Parking the van we wander over to a bench with a number of people crowded around it, and unsurprisingly we're greeted with the next puzzle.
We're told that the board is the next puzzle. That's it.
The board has a number of screws with different sized heads attached to the peg board. Some of these have washers under them, and it's our job to figure out how to decode it. We quickly identify the three sizes of screw heads, and map out the board, as well as taking a number of pictures for reference, before finding a shady spot of grass to start working.
We've not been working long before the WarTron helper comes across and asks if we need help. We're maybe not the fastest at solving these puzzles, but we're not ready to give up yet, so we tell him that we have a couple of ideas and we're going to try those first. A few minutes later he's back, and looking to help us again. Apparently the teams have been having problems with this one and he's been told to 'hint us heavily' with this puzzle. Apparently it's a direct translation of one of the mappings in our decoder cards.
Clayton already suspected that this was linked to the braille code, and sure enough we found a mapping which translated to some sensible looking letters, and we ended up with a very strange phrase which related to the Boston Molasses Disaster and this gave us our next keyword: 'FLOOD'.
Well it must be time for food again, and given that it's now 17:00, it may not be a bad thing. The day seems to have really flown by, which must be a sign that we're having fun.
We arrive at the Panera bread at the same time as two of the other teams, so looks like we're being co-ordinated in our arrivals and it's good to see that there are more of the teams running at around the same pace as ourselves. We'd felt rather slow after a poor first puzzle, but perhaps we're gaining ground again now.
Entering Panera Bread we see Sarah sitting, and I'm handed two copies of a word puzzle. Sarah tells us that we don't have to eat here, but they do recommend that we take time now to eat. We're happy enough with the location so grab a table a little away from one of the other 4 teams we spot, and order some food.
The puzzle is a crossword style puzzle, where a number of the letters in the answers have boxes around them. I smell a phrase about to be given to us.
As it turns out it wasn't quite that simple. Working through the clues, we start filling in the answers and spot that there's a lot of the marked letters which are 'oo'. While that's not entirely a bad sign it does leave us wondering as to what we're going to have to do to solve this one.
Happy that we were on the right track, we continue solving the clues, and start to spot that the 'oo' boxes are spacers, and the odd letter which isn't a null spell out the next keyword. Looks like we have a 'CIRCULARSAW' this time. Quickly finishing off the last few bites of dinner, and entering the keyword into BUGMe, we get the next location. Looks like there's still a couple of teams sitting working on the puzzle, and we feel like we've made it through this one pretty quickly.
So the next location is an Arcade, and we're all hopeful that we'll end up playing Tron. There's a buzz of excitement at the thought of this next location, and it seems rather fitting given the theme of the weekend.
As we're driving to the arcade, the B.I.T.E. which has been quiet for a while decides it's time to wake us all up with a new alert, and starts beeping and flashing at us. Ben pulls out the laptop, connects to the device, and silences it. BigMac has decided it's time to taunt us LUSERS again, and tell us he's looking at Thermonuclear War. He also gives us the familiar message that the only way to win is not to play.
Once inside memories of playing at the arcades from my youth returned quickly. I'm sure I spent far too many hours playing Galaga, R-Type, Pacman, Missile Command, and many others, and as we walk down past the rows of arcades, I see all of these titles, working, playable, and chirping the familiar sounds enticing us to play.
Heading towards the back of the arcade, we enter a small room with tables set up and a number of teams working on a puzzle. We approach the WarTron team, and they hand us a roll of coins and tell us to "Go do something impressive". Given our recent message from the B.I.T.E. we suggest that we don't want to play, as that's the only way to win. Having confirmed that we do have to play, we reluctantly take our stack of tokens into the arcade to find something impressive. (Ed. Who am I kidding, we're like kids in a candy store!)
Ben admits to having spent too many hours playing Ms. Pacman, so we decide to give him a shot at setting a high score there. Sadly, despite a good attempt, his high score isn't that impressive, and we head off to find something else. Brett sets a high score on Missile Command, and the WarTron team accept it, especially given that the other scores on there were seat earlier in the day by one of the other teams. Success.
With the top score set, we are given the next puzzle, but before getting down to the serious job of solving it, we get to relax a little and have fun in the arcade, spending the rest of out tokens.
Finally exhausting our supply of quarters, we head to the back room and the next puzzle. An envelope full of quarters, and a clue: "Target: Capitals". Flipping over the paper copies of the quarters, each has an image from an old school video game on the back. Matching these up into sets, we have the first step toward solving the puzzle.
Having created the sets of coins, we go about trying to find some way to order them, and how that might give us some sort of keyword. The sets each have three arrows in them, plus one pacman. Two of the arrows have forked tails, and one has a square tail. All of this has to be useful, but the question is how. Initially Clayton suggests that by placing the quarters into the corresponding states and looking at how many point towards the pacman symbol, we could relate that to the Pigpen cipher, where the arrows would represent the lines, and if the Pacman was in the centre, it would be a dot as though the pacman were eating a pill. Turns out that was a little more complicated that what we needed.
With a fair few teams sitting around, the room is a bustle with progress, and we spot that some teams have a printed map of the US which they're using for reference. We ask, and are quickly given the reference. At least it meant for the non-American, I didn't have to worry too much about my geography.
Getting nowhere fast, we get a hint, and realise that we were on the right track, but just hadn't spotted the sequence we needed. Turns out that the arrow without the notch was the start point, and the pacman the destination. With that confirmed, we quickly translated the coded coins into letters into semaphore, and decoded the keyword 'CASUALTY'.
Passing on this keyword, we're handed an envelope with an invitation to a gallery, and given another keyword: 'INVITATION'. Putting that into BUGMe, we get the confirmation of the address written on the invitation. Somehow the address seems familiar to us, but we're not quite sure why. Perhaps we're getting a little tired.
Heading outside, it's dark now, and clearly the 4th July has come early here, as there's a lot of fairly impressive fireworks being set off just to the back of the arcade. We're not stopping to look at the fireworks though, we have another puzzle location to head to.
As we're nearing the location we start to recognise where we're going, and laugh given that we'd commented earlier in the day when we arrived at this warehouse location that we really didn't fancy heading here at night. The location looked a little 'interesting'. We're fairly re-assured though that the WarTron team wouldn't send us anywhere dangerous, so we head on into the now familiar location.
Handing over our invitation at the door, we're directed to the art gallery and follow signs, passing a number of other teams sitting in the corridors, who are already working on the puzzle.
Being greeted by someone looking strangely like a military officer, we're welcomed to the gallery, invited to help ourselves to snacks, and to take as many pictures as we like. Given that it's now dark out we're advised to start taking naps and to take extra care when driving as the police are out in force, checking speeds on the freeway, and pulling people over. Good to know that the team is watching out for us, and doing all the can to make the event as safe as possible.
Picking up the index card with a list of sponsors, we take a wander round the gallery, and it's not hard to see that all of the artwork has been defaced! With a couple of exceptions, we quickly identified the artwork from some iconic games such as Bioshock, Galaga, Metal Gear Solid, Portal, Tron, Mass Effect, and Pacman. Fortunately in the couple of cases where we weren't absolutely sure from the images alone, the games tag line which was printed on the poster allowed a quick google search to clue us in.
Taking all the information we thought we needed we wandered the halls back to the room we'd solved the bead puzzle in, pulled up a table and started work. We also took the opportunity of having power in the building to charge all of our phones, laptops, tablets and the B.I.T.E.
There was a lot of information here, between gathering the names of the games, the defacer of each poster, the sponsor of the poster, and the credits to the artist on each. Time to go back to excel, and start entering all the data we have into a spreadsheet. Ploughing through the data, we try finding links and start well with what looks like some promising options. As we continue trying different combinations of the data, we realise that we're not making great headway, and resent to asking for a hint.
Perhaps part of the problem was the heat in the building. Given the construction work, there's no AC in the building, and it's humid in there too. We're all suffering a bit, so the large fan was a welcome blast of air.
With the hint in hand, we sit back down to complete decoding of the puzzle, and with a few struggles along the way eventually extract another appropriately themed keyword. Entering the keyword 'MUSHROOM' into BUGMe, and we get the clue below.
Despite slow progress, we're not the last to leave, and we felt quite good about that. Although we didn't find out until after the close of the event, only six of the twelve teams saw this puzzle, given the way the system routed teams to different puzzles based on the space available, and how well you were doing.
Could we be off to a meeting with the elusive Professor Goto? Well, you'll have to wait for the next installment to find out, as I think I've written quite enough for this post. Stay tuned for more to come soon ...
Leaving you hanging after part 2, not knowing whether or not we were off to see Professor Goto or not, it's about time I continued our journey. A short drive from the gallery, and we were in the middle of a housing estate. The somewhat familiar sign of a Wartron helper skulking around on the street let us know we were at the right location, and after parking the van we had a quick chat with the helper. After giving some suggestions for the 'Words with Friends' game he was playing we headed to the front door of the house where Professor Goto quickly ushered us inside.
We had a very quick conversation with the Professor, where she seemed rather antsy, and quite worried that someone was out to get here. Clearly something is wrong, and BigMac is misbehaving. Telling her that BigMac is going to start Global Thermonuclear war, she tells us it shouldn't be possible and that we have to help her to stop it. Almost as quickly as we arrived, we're ushered out the front door, with a card in our hands and the keyword for the next puzzle location. Back to BUGMe, and entering the keyword 'LOOK' once we're back in the van we get the next clue:
Hoping that there were no local police tracking what appeared to be a rather clandestine meeting leading to a rest stop, we proceeded out along the I-495 towards the rest stop with Brian Navigating, since adding a GPS point wasn't going to be easy.
Once safely at the rest stop, we proceeded to the public phone to find another team crowded around, so we patiently waited, while watching closely what they were doing. Once they'd decided they had all they needed, we crowded around the phone ourselves, and found a convenient QR code to scan. Doing that led us to a website with an mp3 of some DMTF tones. Thinking initially that we had to use this to place a call, given the last clue, we tried with no success to play this sequence back into the phone before accepting that it wasn't going to work and setting up on one of the nearby picnic tables to solve this puzzle.
We had a few ideas as to how to proceed, and all of them involved figuring out what the numbers were in the DMTF sequence. In true meme style, a quick search on the app store and "There's an app for that".
If you want to try this one out for yourself, then head to this link and have a listen.
With one phone to play the tones, and another with the app to decode them, we quickly had a string of numbers, and the appropriate pauses marked between tones, to allow us to start trying to find a signal among the noise. Initially thinking we had to make words out of the keys pressed, we explored that for a few minutes until we realised that there is no letter assigned to '1' on the keypad, so ruling that out we looked for other codes.
B.I.T.E. had a reference for frequency codes in it, so we had a quick look there to see if we could assign the tones to notes on a scale, however the DTMF tones don't map nicely, and we ruled that out too.
Around this time, one of the other teams wandered over to us, and asked if we'd left a bag sitting. We hadn't but we became the custodians of a lost bag. Phoning in to Game Control, we let them know we had the bag, and carried it with us for a few puzzles until we could re-unite it with its owner.
Back to the puzzle, and we were making some progress decoding the numbers and distilling them down to a phone number '5082031736'. How we got there is Left As An Exercise For The Reader. Entering this as a keyword into the BUGMe system we had the next clue:
Not very helpful, but at least it was confirmation that we had the right number before phoning some poor stranger at 2am!
Calling the number we reached Professor Goto's voicemail and were told that to shut BigMac down we'd have to visit him in person. Apparently she's entered his location into the BUGMe system, and entering the keyword 'ANALOG' will give us the information we need.
Another puzzle solved, and we're on the road again. Off to a private club in the middle of the night to reboot BigMac. Surely it can't be that easy?
Heading to the new location we comment about the fact that the road is becoming gradually more and more narrow, and we really seem to be out in the middle of nowhere. Glad that we'd decided to fill the car with petrol a couple of puzzles back we know we're on the right track when we turn onto a short road with a barrier and there's a couple of cars sitting waiting to be allowed through, and a familiar WarTron helper braving the mosquitoes to see us on the right track.
After 10 minutes or so it's our turn to enter, and we make our way down the dirt road to a rather secluded area, where quite a few of the teams are already in their cars presumably working on whatever puzzle we're about to encounter.
Following a very energetic helper as she runs ahead of us while we remain in our car, we park next to a barn and get out. We need to use our B.I.T.E. to hack into the BigMac computer, and reboot him. are presented with a laptop at a Windows login screen and the USB cable is presented to us to plug-in our B.I.T.E.
Plugging in, the B.I.T.E start flashing, and makes some interesting sounds. Our guide comments that this isn't supposed to happen. "What have you done, it's not hacking into BigMac! You're being drawn into the computer!".
At this, some lights turn on around the barn, and we're guided into the machine. It was a really fun way to recreate a scene from Tron, and once inside the cosplay continues. We're greeted by a program who asks us for our identity discs.
Letting the program know that we didn't have ID discs, he asks if we're users. Of course we play along and confirm that we are. He hands us glow strings to disguise ourselves while we're inside the computer and also hands us our own identity disc. The whole scene was well done, including the 'program' trying to give a glow string to empty space, having not realsied that we had all been given one already.
Exiting the barn our car had been moved for us, and we climbed back in to solve the puzzle encoded on the ID disc. Not quite sure how the car was transported inside the computer for us, but we'll go with it.
Inside the car, we found that we now had some new listening material in the form of a CD, and having parked we started to look at what the next puzzle contained.
Contained on the back of the disc were three rings containing a ring of lines, a ring of words and another ring of lines. Some of the lines ended with a dot, and a number of the words were in bold. After a few minutes of rotating the rings, we had an alignment which allowed all words in bold to match the dots, and we could read from one dot, following a line to the end dot, creating an interesting phonetic string as we did so.
Ben who was tracing the path was reading out the words to the team as we took note of them. Brett was attempting to get a quick nap in since he was driving, but both he and I had our ears prick up as we hear Ran-Dumass-Is-Meme-Ore-Eye and Bonnie-You-Man-Are-Key-Tech-Sure. With this under our belt, it wasn't long until we'd phonetically found all the computer related terms and instructed the younger members of the team what a Von Neumann Architecture was.
Each of the phrases pointed us to find the track name for one of the tracks on the CD we were listening to, and thanks to Shazam we find out we're listening to Arena by Daft Punk. Entering 'ARENA' into BUGMe we get the next clue, and almost to the second the B.I.T.E. starts flashing and beeping at us.
At this point we really start to investigate whether there's some sort of wireless interface inside the device as we can't believe that within seconds of us entering the keyword the device has been triggered. As it turns out it wasn't that clever, merely a timer set when we'd plugged the B.I.T.E. into the laptop and us solving the puzzle exactly within the time expected!
After a quick bathroom break at the nearby portapotty, we were heading back out of this area, and leaving a good number of the teams still in their cars puzzling over the disc. We were pretty happy with our result, and felt that we'd solved the puzzle really quickly.
Arriving at our new destination, I'm sure we were all like kids in a candy shop again as we see a circular area set out with red EL wire, and three bikes also wrapped in EL wire. Looks like it's time to ride the light cycles!
Sadly one of the three bikes is broken (a flat tyre) and as such one of us is going to have to run rather than cycle. I guess even inside the machine a light cycle can end up with a flat! Brett, Ben and Clayton start cycling (while Clayton Runs) around the circuit, while Brian and I are left to direct the action from the sidelines. We have a scoreboard which reads '001', and we're told we'll get a point when it reads '111'.
This is a simple game of 'Mastermind' played with light cycles, and we quickly solve all three rounds by moving Clayton back and forth in relation to the two cyclists. For each round we 'win' we're given a glow stick as a reward. Unfortunately, we have to hand them back at the end.
Having completed the challenge, we're given the keyword 'QUANTUMDECRYPTER' which leads to the next clue from BUGMe:
Liking the sound of heading to the theater for a special feature, we get back in the van just as the next team arrives, and head for the cinema.
Heading towards the theater we spot a familiar face, and noting that in-keeping with the idea that we're inside the machine, the helper waiting to greet us also has her light string round her neck. Over the weekend there were a number of little touches like this which really helped to make the event.
Entering the theater, we're directed to the concessions stand to pick up a bag of popcorn, and then take our seat for the movie. Not a traditional viewing experience, but certainly a clever puzzle hidden in here. Again Brett decided to rest his eyes for a few minutes while the rest of us worked on the puzzle, and I'm sure he'd have been happier if we'd taken longer but it seems we were quick on the uptake with this one.
What we're presented with is a mesmerizing cycle of colours with a couple of reference spots to stop us from going cross eyed while trying to resolve the patterns. The key here was to map the transitions across the colour wheel between each colour shown, with black being the end of a code. I mapped out around 3 minutes of colour transitions into my book, and then started to look for meaning, while Ben, Brian Clayton continued to watch the pattern. We all realised around the same time what the goal was, and independently confirmed that mapping the points gave us letters which spelled out the a phrase pointing us to the movie Jeff Bridges won an oscar for. Entering 'CRAZY HEART' into BUGMe and we're on our way again.
Not liking the idea of being de-rez'ed, we follow instructions, and quietly make our way to the hall as directed once we've parked the van at the new location. When we enter, we're told that there's milk and cookies waiting inside and we're handed an envelope and told that the WarTron team would like to see what a Bit would look like.
Knowing that we'd been told to bring scissors and tape with us, we suspected they may come in handy here!
As it turned out cutting wasn't required, which is probably just as well given that using sharp objects at 3am when you've been up since 8am the previous morning may not be the best idea ever.
We quickly start folding the sheets we were given using one pre-folded piece as a reference, and before too long we have a lot of folded pieces. Given that some of the words printed on the sheet are inside the final shape, I suggested that we record everything as I had a good idea it would be needed, and constantly folding and unfolding the pieces was going to be tiresome.
We did just that, and thanks to the reference we then had, assembling the shape became a simple job of finding the right pieces. But how to know the correct order. Each of the pieces had words on the flaps which were visible, and words hidden inside the shape. Using common phrases like "Skeleton in the Closet" we put the flap with the word Skeleton inside the pocket with 'Closet'. As we built up the shape, we had a number of points where two sections (or more) came together and we were able to verify that we had the right configuration. This proved useful as there were a few duplicate words in there which had more than one way they could be assembled, so the double check was useful.
With the Bit assembled each point of the star had a number, and by following the sequence, and reading round the star, we found five elements which were related, and some bold letters within each set. The sets were like "Policeman, Indian, Cowboy" etc which gave us the Village People. By calculating the offset of the bold letter in each set, we had an index into the set name, and from that another clue to the keyword was quick to follow. This time it was Bit related, and "The answer a horse gives" told us the keyword was 'NEIGH'
Entering 'NEIGH' into BUGMe and we have the next clue to shutting down BigMac. Seems like he's taunting us!
(Ed. If you'd like to make your own papercraft bit, let me know. The WarTron team are happy to pass on this puzzle ...)
And if you're wondering what happened to the lost bag, it was re-united with its owner here!
It's starting to get light outside now, and it looks like our Chess skills are going to be tested. I'll pick up the chase again when we get to the game store, but for now, I'm going to rest my eyes for a few minutes. Doubt I'll get much sleep, but a cat nap can do the world of good.
With the sun coming up, and a new challenge awaiting us we rejoin the puzzle chase as we head toward the Whiz Gamestore.
At just after 6am we arrive and heading inside we're handed a Chess gamebox and find ourselves a table to setup and work over this puzzle. At least the last hint about playing chess was accurate. Question is whether there are any chess masters in our team. I know it's been a long time since I played seriously.
Inside the box we find the expected chess board with a few modifications, and a set of chess pieces. There's also a clue card giving us various directions about how to play, and what rules we should use. It reads a little like this:
Instantly we went off on the wrong track here, and tried to over complicate matters by attempting to find a well known five move checkmate game where black wins, and apply that to the board. I'm pretty sure we lost some time there, and I have to confess that's where I thought we had to go. Instead, we should have setup the chess board, and solved the clues in the puzzle. Each of the clues allows you to figure out which piece should move, and where, based on the words printed on the board.
So for example, the first move for white is Pawn to shop; that being the place you'd buy a used camera. The image here isn't great, but you'll see the shop sticker on the right of the board, and of course given that it's a pawn there's only one possible piece which can move. Continuing in this vein, you'll make the moves necessary, and get the confirmation that Black does indeed win.
Of course with this done, the puzzle is only half way to solved as you need to resolve the second part of the puzzle. We got a chuckle when we suggested that what "A Dieter Sees" is "His Feet". Sadly not the right answer, but a good one at 6am, with no sleep!
With a set of letters created based on the hints that we had to remember where we had moved on the board, and by removing a piece (interesting mechanic here as you had to remove the letter from each piece from one of the words) we finally had a subset of letters and the keyword.
Entering 'SACRIFICE' into BugMe, we got the next clue. And yes, it took us far too long to solve this!
Well it looks like it's time for breakfast, and another new puzzle. I'll say up front, that this was the least favorite puzzle that we tackled all weekend. It's obscure, we were tired, and the hints we were given when we were stuck were particularly poor! It was also particularly unhelpful that the Denny's in question hadn't been warned that their regular breakfast crowd was going to be replaced by 60+ hungry puzzlers. That said, let's have a look at what we were up against at the Denny's.
We have the six coasters pictured above, and nothing much more to go on. Ordering breakfast, and starting to think about what we have, we note that we have a Sheep, Fans, Siri, A Dad and baby, Iris, and Suns; along with a cryptic code at the bottom of each coaster. Also note the wording around the coaster. That's going to be a clue, however it really didn't strike us as to how to use it.
After a little work, we realise that we can rework some of the objects depicted, and be left with all four letter words. Converting these into Morse Code, we attempted to use the codes to index into the words, to remove the noted number of dots and dashes from the words, and all sorts of interesting combinations, none of which were helpful.
Brett decided that having eaten, and not much enjoying this puzzle he was going to go grab some shut eye, as had Clayton, so with Myself, Brian and Ben left, we scratched our heads and being perfectly honest, got nowhere.
Frustration, lack of sleep, and stupidity setting in, we asked for some clues. Having gleaned nothing useful from the clues and wasted another 20 minutes, we asked for some more clues. And then yet more clues before we finally made some progress. The idea here was to use a Sparse Code and create the word represented by the picture in Morse code, using only the number of dots and dashes in the code at the bottom of the card. From here, you entered the dots and dashes onto the coaster, using the corner squares where you had merged the letters and the long spaces where you hadn't. From that, you then took the dots and dashes left in the light grey, and created a letter for each coaster, finally getting you to the keyword 'BRAINS'. Something which we realised were not functioning very well for us at this point.
Grateful to have this puzzle behind us we hit the trail again.
Arriving at Bancroft towers, which looked a little like a castle in the middle of nowhere, we had our next puzzle. Before we could solve it however, we had to complete a quick challenge.
As you can see from the grin on Professor Goto's face, and the fact that I'm picking something up from the floor, I found an unintended solution to this one. Turns out what we were supposed to do was spot that there were a number of flying disks positioned in front of that box, and throw them at a sensor in the box, disabling the guardian programs (person with a pugil stick and a fencing mask) and allowing us to pass. None of us spotted these disks though, and instead Brett distracted the guardian by going right, while I ran like a maniac straight for the switch and hit it. Now the end result was the same, and my method worked, however not really what was intended. Having seen what we were supposed to do, it was a nice Tron themed scene, and should have been good fun.
That out of the way it was on to the real puzzle.
We were presented with two message towers which would give us a message. We had a handshake first which established a protocol, and gave us a numbering system which we could use to decode the message we'd be given. The video below shows the message, although it may not help without the handshake to give you a reference point. The reference is this from memory. 4 and 5 may be wrong!
One hand - 1
Two Hands - 2
Three first bumps - 3
Clasped hands slap - 4
Fist Bump - 5
Hands crossed on chest - End word.
With the message recorded, we decoded each character, then had to encode the message into 5 bit binary. That gave us some letters, and a new keyword. Time to enter 'EMBODY' into BugMe to see a new video, the next location, and then connect our B.I.T.E to the terminal to get out of the computer!
Knowing that we're off to Greenhill park as our next location, we approached the exit program (who looked a lot like Ross) which was waiting for us to connect the B.I.T.E., hack the computer and transfer ourselves back to the real world. Given the fun we'd had with the Bite earlier, we were hoping things would work as expected, and fortunately they did.
Passing under the archway we were met on the other side by Ross, glad to see us back in the real world. With our new location identified, and the sun well and truly up, and it now being mid morning on another beautiful day in the Boston area, we're headed to another park and another fun puzzle. By now we've forgotten about the coasters, and have had a lot of fun with this last puzzle.
What we get is the sheet of paper above with a lot of hexagons and letters. Well time to put the thinking caps on. We quickly spot that some of the hexagons contain colours. The top left for example has BLUE written clockwise, starting at 3 o'clock. This leaves two letters unused, which in a puzzle, can't be coincidence. We quickly work through trying to identify colours in the squares and realise that not all of these are in English. Points for identifying which languages are used.
Anyways, cutting a long story short, we notice that there's a coded message in there which reads along the lines of "Prune Hexes Save Red. Taped Edges First One *" Let me know when you spot it!
So doing that we finally have a puzzle that requires scissors, so carefully cutting out saving the reds, we tape up the edges, and we're left with a soccer ball!
Following the instructions we had from decoding the puzzle, we read along the taped edges of the ball, starting from the '*' and get our next keyword 'GOALTENDER'. Entering it into BugMe, we get the next clue.
So one more park, and as it turns out what would be our last puzzle before the endgame. This final puzzle has us trying to fix BigMac's targeting system, and with several pages of puzzles like the one below, we first have to figure out what we're doing before we split up the work and try to solve the puzzle.
The goal here is to find the names of major cities encoded in the spaghetti, and using the crossword style numbers to help we could tell how many letters each city had in its name, and that each section had four cities hidden in it. There was also a blank circle, which we'd need to figure out the letter contained within it, and from that deduce how to decode the puzzle into a final keyword. I'll let you try to find the cities in these yourself, but if you want a hint, you'll find Hong Kong coded in the bottom grid.
With a bit of a struggle, and some good guessing from Brett, we finally managed to decode all the puzzles and get the keyword 'PYONGYANG' mere minutes before we received a text from Game Control telling us to head to the final location for lunch, and the endgame to play out.
Heading to the final location, and felling good that we'd solved the last puzzle before our time ran out, we were in good spirits. Arriving at the restaurant, we get our final puzzle. Throughout the weekend, we've had on the back of our badges the code 'G=', and during the night our identity disk told us that '=4'. So we had a way to translate but no real use for that info until now.
We get handed a card which has a logo similar to that on the back of our name badges and the equation (C-D)*(F+A). Also on the card one of the balls on the circuit board is coloured in. So this last puzzle needed us all to cooperate. We had to gather each others letters, numbers and codes, figure out the equations, and then create a pass phrase by joining them all together in the order of the dots. Turns out our code was 'K' and that fits into the phrase 'USUCKATSIMON' quite nicely. So we now know that we'll be playing Simon Says at some point.
There was a fair bit of waiting around at this stage, as it turns out there were a few technical problems upstairs, but since we were all getting along just fine, and enjoying the company, and talking to some of the other teams it really wasn't a problem. Once we're finally let upstairs, we are told to connect our B.I.T.E. to the 'terminal' and not to disconnect it. This is what we see...
Once everyone is ready we have to hack into Bigmac using the terminals, and in some way enter the USUCKATSIMON code into the system. As it turns out, directions here from the Game Control were particularly poor, and after some heated exchanges from a few teams, we eventually managed to enter our codes correctly, and start a game of Simon Says ... where we ended up with a few technical issues. There were a few of the systems which weren't inputting correctly, including ours, which meant we never got to play the final game. All in all not a huge loss as it didn't work very well, however it was a fun idea, and got all the teams working together.
With BicMac finally defeated, we reached the end of the endgame.
With that done, food was served, and the weekend was officially over.
I'd like to extend a huge thanks to the entire team, from Game Control to all the people who helped them out over the weekend. I had a lot of fun, and want to say thanks for all the effort which went into producing this, plus all the helpers who were on site at each puzzle to keep us sane, encourage us, and really make the event what it was. You guys Rock!
I hope you've enjoyed the writeup, and if you'd like to know more about any of the puzzles, or try them yourself, let me know. The team have allowed me to distribute the puzzles, so just get in touch.