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.