Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
15Jul/130

WarTron – A Weekend in Boston, Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series WarTron

With the sun coming up, and a new challenge awaiting us we rejoin the puzzle chase as we head toward the Whiz Gamestore.

Arriving at the Whiz Gamestore

Arriving at 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.

Pondering what we had to do

Pondering what we had to do

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:

Rules for playing chess

Rules for playing chess

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.

Figuring out the markings on the board

Figuring out the markings 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.

This is not a Clue.  Something of an inside joke

This is not a Clue. Something of an inside joke

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!

GotoVision Database output:
##################
## BIGMAC SAYS: ##
##################

I'm amazed your program group has made it this far! Maybe you aren't a total waste of system resources after all.

Navigate your data transfer vehicle to Denny's Restaurant at 494 Lincoln Street in Worcester, MA and you might be able to recharge.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: TRUE;
}

##################
## END OF LINE. ##
##################

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.

Coded Coasters

Coded Coasters

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.

GotoVision Database output:
##################
## BIGMAC SAYS: ##
##################

Excellent. You've successfully completed all my benchmarks. But you were a little slow, and I already found other ways to accomplish my goals! So I won't be needing your help after all, LUSERS.

Drive your data transfer vehicle to the BANCROFT TOWERS secure memory location on Bancroft Tower Rd in Worcester, MA. Please bring your BITE!

Don't worry, nothing bad will happen to you. Only programs who disobey me will be punished!

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

##################
## END OF LINE. ##
##################

Bancroft Towers

Bancroft Towers

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.

Disabling the Guardians

Disabling the Guardians

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.

Message programs

Message programs

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!

GotoVision Database output:
REM
REM ---LISA GOTO 1999/12/31---
REM

Finally finished digitizing all those VHS tapes. Found some interesting old video journals! Like this one, for instance:

http://boston.gotovision.net/19870906

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

REM
REM ---STOP---
REM

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.

Getting out of the computer

Getting out of the computer

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.

Soccer Puzzle

Soccer 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!

The Completed Soccer ball

The Completed 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.

GotoVision Database output:
REM
REM ---LISA GOTO 2002/10/17---
REM

Note to self...

It's funny how people just assume that a rocket in the middle of a public park is disarmed. Don't they realize that it's expensive to disarm rockets and far easier to just stick it in a park and hope for the best. There's a great example of this kind of criminal government laissez-faire at GODDARD PARK at 51 Auburn St. in Auburn, MA. Parking is available at the library just down the street.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: TRUE;
}

REM
REM ---STOP---
REM

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.

Take Aim

Take Aim

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.

GotoVision Database output:
REM
REM
---LISA GOTO 1989/12/31---
REM
Note to self...

For future reference, the WEBSTER HOUSE at 1 Webster St, Worcester, MA would be a great place to hide the back door for the BIGMAC!

{ BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: TRUE;
}

REM
REM ---STOP---
REM

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...

Simon Says

Simon Says

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!

Only Solutions.  The team at the end of the weekend.

Only Solutions. The team at the end of the weekend.

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.



7Jul/131

WarTron – A weekend in Boston, Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series WarTron

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.

A rather worried Professor Goto gives us some advice

A rather worried Professor Goto gives us some advice

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:

GotoVision Database output:
/*
//
// COMMENT BY PROFESSOR GOTO
//

Looks like you were right, BIGMAC really is up to no good. We're going to need to shut him down. We can't trust that cellphones are secure, there's a PAY PHONE AT THE REST AREA BETWEEN EXITS 33 AND 32 ON I-495 SOUTH. Head over there and give me a call.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

//
// END COMMENT
//
*/

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.

A cryptic message in the form of a QR Code

A cryptic message in the form of a QR Code

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.

Setup at a bench to solve the phone puzzle

Setup at a bench to solve the phone 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".

Ben listening to DTMF tones

Ben listening to DTMF tones

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:

GotoVision Database output:
/*
//
// COMMENT BY PROFESSOR GOTO
//

Perhaps you should try calling that number.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

//
// END COMMENT
//
*/

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.

GotoVision Database output:
/*
//
// COMMENT BY PROFESSOR GOTO
//

Back in the 80s this whole area was a military installation but they've started selling everything off. We housed BIGMAC in a small nondescript building and in the intervening years someone's turned the surrounding area into a private club. If you want him to forget all this nonsense about Global Thermonuclear War you're going to have to go reboot him manually. Head to the Harvard Sportsmen's Club at 250 Littleton Country Road, Harvard, MA and do what you can.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

//
// END COMMENT
//
*/

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.

Waiting to gain entry to the next area

Waiting to gain entry to the next area

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.

Things don't go quite to plan when we plug-in

Things don't go quite to plan when we plug in

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.

EL Wire is put to good use to create a program inside the machine.

EL Wire is put to good use to create a program inside the machine.

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.

Our ID Disc, and the next puzzle

Our ID Disc, and the next puzzle

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!

GotoVision Database output:
##################
## BIGMAC SAYS: ##
##################

Welcome to MY world, lusers!

Oh, what's the matter? Are you confused about how you ended up INSIDE the computer? I won't bore you with the technical details. The important thing is, I'M in charge here!

Maybe you thought you were hot stuff out there in meatspace, but now you're just another bunch of ones and zeroes... mostly ZEROES! HA. HA. HA.

The good news is, I'm looking for more programs to join my elite supercomputing force. Maybe, if you're efficient enough, you can come work for me. If not... well, let's just say there's no room on my server for bloatware.

Drive your data transfer vehicle to the STERLING ACADEMY OF GYMNASTICS at 15 Industrial Drive, Sterling, MA. Park your vehicle then look for my minions--er, I mean, helper programs to guide you in for your first benchmark.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

##################
## END OF LINE. ##
##################

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!

Light Cycles!

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'.

Long exposure trails are good fun in the pitch dark

Long exposure trails are good fun in the pitch dark

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.

The team having had fun on the light cycles

The team having had fun on the light cycles

Having completed the challenge, we're given the keyword 'QUANTUMDECRYPTER' which leads to the next clue from BUGMe:

GotoVision Database output:
##################
## BIGMAC SAYS: ##
##################

Not bad. Not GOOD... but not bad. Of course, in order to join my special squad of ultra-high-performance programs, you'll have to demonstrate loyalty as well as efficiency!

Come to the STRAND THEATRE at 58 High St, Clinton, MA for a special feature.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

##################
## END OF LINE. ##
##################

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.

Time to go watch a movie

Time to go watch a movie

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.

Fresh Popcorn

Fresh Popcorn

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.

A mesmerizing cycling of colours

A mesmerizing cycling of colours

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.

GotoVision Database output:
##################
## BIGMAC SAYS: ##
##################

You're not doing too badly. I'm pleasantly surprised!

For the next benchmark, go meet one of my loyal helpers at the CAMELOT COHOUSING COMMON HOUSE on Village LN in Berlin MA.

Please park your data transfer vehicle in the marked visitor bus sockets. As this is a residential area, once you exit your vehicle, please be very quiet. The last group through wasn't able to follow these simple commands and I had to de-rez them... but you're smarter than that, right?

{
BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: COOKIES;
}

##################
## END OF LINE. ##
##################

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!

Getting ready to put out Bit together


Getting ready to put out Bit together

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.

Folding our pieces to make a bit

Folding our pieces to make a bit

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.

Recording all the elements in a spreadsheet

Recording all the elements in a spreadsheet

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.

The Assembled Bit

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!

GotoVision Database output:
##################
## BIGMAC SAYS: ##
##################

How about a nice game of chess?

I know just where you can find one: at the WHIZ GAMESTORE at 122 Turnpike Road, Westborough, MA.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: TRUE;
}

##################
## END OF LINE. ##
##################

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.



3Jul/131

WarTron – A Weekend in Boston

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series WarTron

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.

The Team. (L-R: Brett, Ben, Clayton, Brian, Me)

The Team. (L-R: Brett, Ben, Clayton, Brian, Me)

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:

login as: solutions
solutions@boston.gotovision.net's password:
******************************************
** WELCOME TO GOTOVISION BUGME **
** Bug Management Engine version 0.9a **
******************************************

The current time is 06/22/2013 01:03:35
Defense Condition at DEFCON 9

GAME TIME ELAPSED: 00:00

MAIN MENU
1) HELP -- how to use the BUGME system
2) STATUS -- view your team status
3) NEW -- create a new issue
4) UPDATE -- edit an existing issue
5) KEYWORD -- internal database lookup
6) HISTORY -- previous keyword queries
7) EXIT -- disconnect from the system

Please select an option: 5
Enter keyword: example

GotoVision Database output:

// begin_plaintext

*** ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: WEEKEND WITH WARTRON START LOCATION ***

That wasn't hard was it? Now you know where to meet us on the morning of Saturday June 29th!

LOCATION DETAILS:

Please meet us in PEABODY PARK located at 23 Sylvan St in Danvers, MA. We will be by the small gazebo at the water's edge. Plenty of parking is available right next to the park on Peabody Ave.

We'll begin at 9:00 AM sharp but would like to request that you arrive approximately half an hour early so that we can disseminate materials. Please bring a computer with you to the start location so that we can ensure that our tech will work with your machine.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

*** END OF MESSAGE ***

// end_plaintext

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.

The B.I.T.E

The B.I.T.E

A look inside the B.I.T.E

A look inside the B.I.T.E


Each device was coded to the team

Each device was coded to the team

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.


Brett getting his laptop setup to talk to the B.I.T.E

Brett getting his laptop setup to talk to the B.I.T.E

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.

Some of the teams congregating for the start of the weekend's puzzling activities

Some of the teams congregating for the start of the weekend's puzzling activities

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.

Professor Goto and her assistant Ross

Professor Goto and her assistant Ross

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 ...

The start proper, as Ross is left to bring us up to speed

The start proper, as Ross is left to bring us up to speed

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 ...

caption

caption

... 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!

Brett giving chase as Ross is dragged away

Brett giving chase as Ross is dragged away

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!

Our first puzzle

Our first puzzle

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:

The first puzzle courtesy of our B.I.T.E.

The first puzzle courtesy of our B.I.T.E.

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.

BODEGA
SOCIAL
REARMS
ARCING
SCALES
PASCAL
SCALAR
SHADER

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.

Working hard on the estonianevasive

Working hard on the estonianevasive

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:

GotoVision Database output:
// begin_plaintext
/*
//
// MESSAGE FROM ASSISTANT ROSS
//

Something terrible is going on and we need to get to the bottom of it. I have some information for you but I don't dare transmit it through an electronic medium. The Army Corps of Software Engineers has taken me to their special base at PATTON PARK on Bay Road in Hamilton, MA. I hear they're hiring, perhaps if you apply for a job you'll be able to infiltrate the base. If you can get in, come find me and I'll tell you where to go for help.

LOCATION DETAILS: The entrance to the parking lot is on Asbury Street just before you get to the park.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

*** END OF MESSAGE ***

// end_plaintext

It may have taken us longer than we had hoped, but we were off and running now. Next stop, Patton Park to rescue Ross.

Ross held captive by the military as we solve a Tank Puzzle

Ross held captive by the military as we solve a Tank Puzzle

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.

The Tank Puzzle

The Tank Puzzle

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:

GotoVision Database output:
// begin_plaintext
/*
//
// MESSAGE FROM ASSISTANT ROSS
//

See if you can distract the Sergeant. He used to be a teacher so if you turn in your application form, you may be able to occupy him long enough to talk to me.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: FALSE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

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!

GotoVision Database output:
/*
//
// MESSAGE FROM ASSISTANT ROSS
//

If I'm right, we're going to need PROFESSOR GOTO's help. She often makes herself hard to find when she's working on a project. If you search her residence at TOWNEPLACE SUITES at 238 Andover Street, Danvers, MA, you'll probably find some clue as to where she is. Her butler Alfred usually hangs out by the pool, find him and he will let you in and show you around.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: TRUE;
}

//
// END COMMENT
//
*/

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.

QR Codes hidden throughout the room

QR Codes hidden throughout the room

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.

The Gideons left more than just the bible in this room.

The Gideons left more than just the bible in this room.

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

n XXXXXXX.....X.XXXXXXX
s .....................
e ..X...X..X.X..X.X..XX

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.

Ben giving us the correct code, while I fill in the DIY QR Code sheet

Ben giving us the correct code, while I fill in the DIY QR Code sheet

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:

GotoVision Database output:
/*
//
// COMMENT BY PROFESSOR GOTO
//

You didn't think this would be *easy*, did you? I told you, I'm really busy working on a project.

Unless it's the end of the world, I'd rather not be disturbed.

Go meet my staff at the MOTEL 6 at 95 Main Street, Tewksbury, MA, I've asked them to take care of you for awhile. They seem to spend most of their time hanging out by the pool (which is behind the IHOP) so I suspect you'll find them there.

{
BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: TRUE;
}

//
// END COMMENT
//
*/

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!

Motel 6, and time for another Hotel room ransack

Motel 6, and time for another Hotel room ransack

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!

Locked in the hotel room it's time for another hunt

Locked in the hotel room it's time for another hunt

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.

I fail miserably to open the lock

I fail miserably to open the lock

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!)

Clayton gets the lock open

Clayton gets the lock open

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.

Locked box #3 and more hints

Locked box #3 and more hints

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.

An extra clue that may be useful

An extra clue that may be useful

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.

Brett finally cracks the lock

Brett finally cracks the lock

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.

caption

caption

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:

GotoVision Database output:
/*
//
// COMMENT BY PROFESSOR GOTO
//

Since you're wasting all this time anyway, why don't you at least make yourself useful? I dropped off some of my favorite necklaces for repair at LUSH BEADS in the Western Ave Studios, in Lowell, MA (122 Western Avenue, Studio A-313). Why don't you go pick them up for me?

{
BATHROOM_LOC: TRUE;
FOOD_NEARBY: FALSE;
}

//
// END COMMENT
//
*/

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.