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March 7th, 2016


11:56 pm - backdate: glasses adventure
In mid-February we had a reorg at work, which had its own effects on my life.  But in addition to that I had a bit of a glasses adventure that week.  During our post-reorg all-hands that Thursday (Feb 18) I accidentally snapped my glasses frame -- one side was bent out of shape so I tried to bend it back and totally failed.  (No, I wasn't just so stressed out that I snapped the frame, though someone thought that at the time.)

Of course I don't have backup glasses, because I'm a relatively new glasses-wearer and really the only things I distinctly need them for are staring at a screen or reading faraway scoreboards at stadiums.  I have astigmatism.  I'm even legal to drive without them, though I have to admit it's been nice having signs be less blurry at a distance.

I called the optometrist office and told them what happened, and they were super nice and said that since the glasses were still under warranty, even though I snapped them, they'd order new frames and tell the manufacturer that they broke under normal circumstances.  Hooray!  New frames would come in on Tuesday or Wednesday, and I'd just have to come by with the lenses and they'd put them in.

In the meantime, I kept using the glasses during work even though they were broken and only have one temple.  I mean, it turns out they balanced pretty well on my face as long as I'm not moving around.  If you didn't look closely you wouldn't even notice anything was weird about them; you might notice that yes, something is off.  You'd probably extrapolate an extra temple in there just because that's what you think should be there.

The next Monday, I did an idiotic thing.  I forgot that I had the glasses attached to my shirt (the collar, with just the one temple) and I went over to another nearby building.  I was visiting a few places in the building, and on my way back to my desk I noticed that, uh, I didn't have my glasses.  Huh.  Well, maybe I had been smart and left them at my desk.  No, I got back to my desk and they were gone.  In a panic, I ran back to the other building and retraced my steps.  Retraced them three times.  Asked a few people around if they'd seen a pair of broken glasses.  No dice.  Totally freaked out about this for like an hour.  Asked a friend in the other building to let me know if anything showed up on their building mailing list.

Finally having accepted that my optometrist was going to kill me for this, I planned to go to their office the next morning (Tuesday) to order two pairs -- a new one and a backup one, once and for all, so this silliness wouldn't happen again.  Except, I decided to stop by work first, rather than going straight to the eye doctor.  I thought that I hadn't actually checked the bathrooms in the other building, though I couldn't remember having stopped by -- also I thought there was a chance if someone found them, maybe they'd be around on the front desk or something.

Well, they weren't IN the building, but I found them on the ground outside the building on the grass!  I'm pretty sure someone found them and put them in a more visible spot, because I'm damn sure I didn't see them there when looking there the day before.  They were a bit more scratched up than before for sure, but still usable.  (There is a tiny blurry scratch spot on one lens, so yeah, I'll probably have to replace them eventually regardless.)

And then eventually on late Wednesday afternoon I called the optometrist after getting all freaked out, and the frames had just come in, so I went over to get them.  (It is convenient that my optometrist is really close to Google.)  And I went and ordered a new pair too.  Because duh.  I was really happy I didn't have to go over like "I LOST MY LENSES" after they were nice enough to order me new frames and all.

It's actually a little weird because I'm still wearing the old glasses regardless.  The new ones are shinier and have less dirt and scratches, but they don't feel quite right (they're a slightly different frame).  Still, it's nice to have backups.  And I'll be a lot more careful in the future.

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January 23rd, 2016


05:19 pm - MIT Mystery Hunt 2016
ERMAHGERD! MERSTERY HERNT! MAH FRAVIT TERPIC!

Just kidding, I don't think that even factored into this year's hunt. But that said, I wonder if I'll outdo last year's entry on length. Probably not, since we didn't finish this year.

If I was going to sum up this year's hunt with a meme, it would be more like...

yunoanswer

DOG DOG HUNT ENTRY DOG DOG DOG WARNED!Collapse )

I should probably edit this entry down, but it's already taken me bits and pieces of almost a week to write it, so I think I'll just post now and worry about coherency later.

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January 3rd, 2016


10:19 pm - Costa Rica, Part 4
(From arriving at Almonds and Corals.)

So after the hour of a boat from Laguna to the terminal, and 3 hours on a bus to Guapiles, and another 3 hours on a bus to Limon, our bus dropped us off at the very last stop at the hotel around 4:30pm. There seems to basically be one woman who works reception there, and she said she’s there from 7am to 7pm. Her English wasn’t awful but it wasn’t anywhere near good. She showed us to our room, which we had to get to by rolling our stuff along a series of boardwalk-like plank roads.

At first, we were actually kind of impressed by our room. I mean, the hotel consists of 24 cabins in the rainforest. Seriously in the rainforest. Like, you better be able to sleep through the sounds of crickets and frogs and monkeys and god knows what else, because there’s plants and stuff surrounding you everywhere, and there is no such thing as shutting the windows, the best you can do for privacy is to put down the curtains. The room had two beds with canopies on them, with mosquito netting hanging down from the canopies. A hammock was in one corner of the room and a jacuzzi was in another corner of the room, and a small bathroom with a toilet and a shower stall was another corner (which was also kind of weird since there was no real way to make the bathroom private either, just curtains, again). I think if I liked camping more, this place would have been great, since it basically was kind of like a luxury cabin. And at least there were outlets everywhere to plug our stuff into. And we had a fridge in the room, which also seemed pretty cool since we’d at least be able to have some cool drinks to help with the heat.

After a few minutes we had a bunch of questions, though, namely along the lines of…
- how would laundry work? we had seen on their website that it was possible, and we’d only brought 7 days of clothes with us.
- were there any tours we could do? otherwise this place was going to get pretty boring pretty quick.
- why didn’t the wifi have working internet?
- WHERE THE HECK WERE WE SUPPOSED TO GET DRINKING WATER FROM? All the signs in the room said that the water wasn’t drinkable, but unlike Tortuguero they hadn’t bothered to tell us where the water sources were.

Thus started our adventure of trying desperately not to hate this place too much.

As for laundry, they claimed to have laundry service, and gave us a paper to itemize what we wanted washed, with the caveat of: no laundry service on Sundays, and you have to have your stuff in by 9am to get it back same day. For internet, she was surprised it wasn’t working and said she’d reboot the router. For water, we could either fill up water bottles in the lobby or in the restaurant. For tours, well, they had a partnership with a company called “Se Ua” down the road, which was two Costa Rican guys who spoke English and would take you on various tours for various prices, she said “just tell me what you want to do, and I’ll call and book it with them”. And they had bicycles at the hotel that you could rent for a half or full day to go to any of the “nearby” cities or attractions.

Anyway, we explored a little bit and found the (actually) nearby beach (which of course you can’t actually go swimming in due to riptides), and the hotel restaurant, and things like that. We got dinner at the restaurant. They were very nice people but the menu was pretty limited, and worse… they didn’t even have half of the things on the menu. Like we wanted a tuna dish they had, but they didn’t have any tuna that night. And when we tried to order dessert after dinner, it turned out that they simply didn’t have any dessert (they made up for it by giving us fruit and ice cream, I guess).

And then… there pretty much wasn’t really much to do around the hotel itself -- seriously absolutely nothing -- no pool, no entertainment area, there was nobody at reception, and so on -- and keep in mind the location of this place, the nearest “town” was Manzanillo, about 2km away, and the nearest place that actually had anything for real was Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, about 11km away. It was pretty much impossible to go to either of them at night without a car because the roads were dark and these places are so small that getting a taxi would have been pretty complicated and possibly expensive (though I suppose we could have looked into it more; it's also not like there was really anywhere to GO at night anyway!).

So we filled the hot tub and sat in it for a while. It wasn’t REALLY comfortable for two people but whatever. Then we read books until it was time to sleep. By which I mean e-books; it’s a good thing we didn’t bring any real books as this room was so humid that our passports and all other papers we had were withery and damp by morning.

Sleeping through the night was an adventure in itself.  Keep in mind it was hot and humid, and then by putting down the mosquito netting, that pretty much made it impossible for any air to really move around our bed.  Another weird thing was that I thought the bed had memory foam, but it turns out it was just missing a plank and so there was a dip in the mattress under my hips that also made it uncomfortable to sleep.

The next day was Sunday. We were originally scheduled to do the “Crazy Monkey Canopy Tour” that morning, which is a zipline tour through the Almonds and Corals hotel grounds itself, and thought we’d go to Manzanillo for lunch after. However, after breakfast when we got to the front desk to report for our zip line adventure, the receptionist said,

“Oh, sorry guys. You are rescheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:30. Sorry I didn’t tell you until now. It’s Sunday you know, and the zip line guides didn’t show up today. Cause you know, it was Saturday last night and they were drinking. So, no tour today.”

Uh.

So we ask what we can do instead, like, can we do one of those tours listed on their poster?

“Oh, well, maybe, but you know, it’s Sunday, so a lot of things are closed, but, why don’t I call them and see if they can take you kayaking, how about that? Cause they can do that, it’s just a guy and his kayaks and a truck and all.”

So she calls and gets us scheduled for a kayak outing at 1pm.

We decide to go to Manzanillo for lunch. I’d looked at TripAdvisor a bit to see what was there and found a place called “Cool and Calm Cafe” that had decent ratings. Since it was just a mile or so away we decided to walk… which turned out to be sort of a mistake, it took 30 minutes to walk there in the heat, and it was a pretty boring walk at that (despite that this hotel claimed to be a great place to see monkeys and whatnot, the only animals we saw on our walk were ants and occasionally dogs). We walked around Manzanillo, but it’s pretty much a 2-blocks-by-1-block place. Seriously. I ducked into one of their “supermarkets” which is really more like a bodega, and got some root beer and ginger ale and a big bottle of water. It was 2200 colones. I gave them $5, they gave me 3 coins of 100 colones back each. Whee.

Lunch was pretty good, aside from the cafe having too loud reggae music blaring the entire time (the cook seems to be from the Afro-Caribbean descent part of the area). I got a casado with chicken, a casado basically being “rice, beans, plantains, and something”. Chris got fish tacos. They were decent. We were across the street from the beach so we could watch people playing. Lunch came to $26 (by which I mean it was 13200 colones and we offered $26 and they seemed happy with it).

We figured maybe we could walk back on the beach to save some time -- infact I’d read a review of Almonds and Corals which claimed that “Manzanillo is a 5-minute walk away on the beach”.

Except it turned out to be high tide. So. We got a little bit of the way in and then my waterproof hiking boots got completely doused in water. As a result of trying to avoid getting swept away in the waves, it took us 40 minutes to get back via the beach, even longer than it had taken to walk along the road. I was pretty miserable and wet and sandy and sweaty and all by the time we got back, and we had to meet the kayak group at 1.

I took a shower and Chris went to ask them what we should bring; he came back like “bring nothing, be ready to get wet”, so I took that to heart and brought literally nothing -- no phone, no wallet, no camera, no nothing, my feet in flipflops and no socks, my already-wet t-shirt, and my hiking pants.

The kayak guys came over in a truck, which of course had no seating, so we sat in the back of the truck with a girl from Norway who was also coming with us to kayak, and some guy I have no idea who he was, maybe he was just getting a ride somewhere.

We get to the beach/river at Punta Uva that we’re going kayaking from. Willie, the guide, says he’s going to unpack the kayaks, we should take a few minutes to look around the beach shops/etc. Chris wants to find a bathroom, so we do. I’m miserable because getting to the bathroom involves walking through some mud -- I already have bad balance and trying to do this in flipflops is super awkward and somewhat painful. And guess what happens when we do get to the bathrooms? We’re in Costa Rica, so people ask us for a dollar to use the bathroom. Except we have no money. So they say we can’t use the bathroom and that’s that.

Sigh.

Anyway, once we get on the kayaks it’s not so bad. Chris and I double up on a sitting kayak, and Norway takes a standing paddleboard. Willie has a seated kayak since he’s also bringing some snacks and stuff. There’s also a couple, I never caught their names either, and they’re doing the paddleboards too. So a group of 5 of us. We’re deliberately doing a slow easy kayak ride and stopping to look at wildlife and stuff. Infact, before we even get in we see a sloth in a tree across from where we start our ride. So that’s promising. Of course, I have no camera or anything else. Which was probably a good thing in some ways, but it’s a little sad to have no pictures of some parts of the ride.

Since I have no clue what time it was during the kayaking, I don’t know exactly how far we went. We pretty much rode until you couldn’t ride anymore -- there’s a point in the river where the boats basically are grounded in rocks because it’s too shallow, and that’s where we stopped to take a break. But before then we did have quite a wander along. We saw some bats under a bridge, and some birds and stuff, and we saw LOTS of turtles so I was happy about that (even one time, we came across a log that had a line of like 5 turtles all just sitting there; I really did miss a great photo op for “Turtles all the way down”).

The break consisted of eating some breadsticks and fruit and water and hanging out for a bit before setting back.

Of course, about 5 minutes into our return trip, the skies decide to open up and pour rain on us.  Which doesn't let up for the rest of the trip.  I was prepared to get wet so it wasn't that terrible, but it's sort of unfun to be kayaking out in the rain.

We get to the beach and Willie offers us all coconuts while he's getting stuff packed up.  I don't like coconuts, but he doesn't seem to hear me say that and I get stuck drinking juice out of a coconut.  (Spoiler: I don't like coconut juice either.)  Then, his truck wouldn't start because of some battery issue so a bunch of people help him push it a bit to get it started.  We get back to the hotel.  I go to our room to change and lie down; Chris gets in a little bit later because it turns out that he had to pay for the tour separately in cash (he thought it was done through the hotel, but no, they are entirely unaffiliated).  Whee.

We goof off some more by reading and whatever, and get dinner at the hotel restaurant again.  This time the guy running the place tells us that they DO have tuna, so we have it (it's not bad, but definitely overcooked).  AND they have desserts... well... they have one dessert, anyway, which is banana cake with ice cream.  Fortunately for them it's pretty good.  (And yes, when we came in that night they greeted us like "Tenemos postres!")

Again, the evening is a wash.  All we did on any of the given evenings was play games on our devices and read and whatever, and usually go to sleep by 10pm.  That night we also got our laundry together and tallied it all up on their laundry paper.

The next morning we get up, give our laundry bags to the front desk, have breakfast, and then go off for our CRAZY MONKEY CANOPY adventure!

Which turns out to be ziplining.  And utterly terrifying.  It was advertised as a "lovely and relaxing journey over the trees to see the monkeys and other animals of the rainforest" or something to that effect but in reality we were being guided around by two dudes who spoke about 10 words of English and we saw exactly one monkey (and that being, I saw it, not Chris, since the only reason I saw it was, while my guide was trying to calm me down at one point, he pointed out a monkey in a tree off in the distance).

The receptionist lady did a 2-minute explanation in English what was going on, and we got hooked up with all the ziplining gear, and then we were off.  I wish someone had warned me in advance that the first part of it would be climbing up several flights of stairs up a tree in the heat because I hadn't brought any water and my throat/lungs were already unhappy with me before we started.  And then I got totally freaked out when we got up to the top.  I'm not even sure why anymore, it was just super scary, the platform we were on was shaking a bit since the tree was shaking, and we were high up, and I'd never been ziplining before, and it was just freaking me the hell out.  Eventually I went down the first rope in taxi with one of the guides -- and ended up doing the first three ropes that way.  I had my eyes closed for the first two.  Finally on the fourth I decided to try going by myself -- and naturally I screwed up the braking and couldn't stop spinning and I got stuck about 10 feet away from the target platform and was TERRIFIED, dangling in the air over the forest, they told me to use my arms to climb up the rope to get to the platform.  SO scary.  The next rope I went by myself and kept spinning around again.  Then the next rope I went with the guide again because he said "this one is really fast, you should go with me."  The last few ropes weren't that bad -- I basically started doing them with my right arm to brake/steer instead of left (they had said use your strong arm, but I think these really were geared for right-handed people) and so I was able to get through all of the remaining ropes without any incidents.  Still, I was really happy to get to the ground.

Soaked in sweat, we went back to our room for a bit.  I don't even remember if I bothered showering again, I may have.  (I showered a LOT during this trip.)  And then we borrowed bicycles so we could go up to Puerto Viejo.  The bicycles were one-speed with backpedal brakes, like Google bikes, and like Google bikes they had uncomfortable seats and underinflated tires.  The road had two big hills at the beginning but after that it was pretty flat the rest of the way.

Puerto Viejo is about 11 km away from the hotel, so 7 miles or so.  Chris and I ride bikes 3 miles each way to work so it's not that huge a deal to ride like this, except we usually ride much better bikes in much nicer climates.  We stopped after 3 miles or so to drink some water, and then another few miles we stopped when we got to some roadside beach.  The road was mostly just green, with occasionaly houses or shops along the way, or there was one field with horses in it, too.  We saw some chocolate shops that had tours, and a wildlife rescue, but we didn't stop for any of that, just a few water breaks.

Eventually we got to PV, which is at least a bit bigger than Manzanillo -- the downtown is more like 5 by 3 blocks or so.  Riding through the town we could at least see that it was big enough to have things like doctors, a veterinarian, pharmacies, various stores, even hardware stores and supermarkets and whatnot.  Lots of churches and hostels and restaurants too, and of course a beach.  We went to an art cafe for lunch since it was highly rated on TripAdvisor and that worked so well before.  This one was called Como en mi Casa.  They were rated highly for having vegan and organic food, and sure enough, they were full of choices for gluten-free, organic, etc food.  They were at least laidback and spoke English and gave us their wifi password and had nice bathrooms so I could wash my hands and all.  BUT, it took forever for us to get drinks, and it was HOT in there -- they had outdoor seating but it was full so we were indoors on the second floor and all.  Also, we wanted passion fruit juice and they were out of it.  Chris got a mango smoothie and I got a lemonade with ginger and mint, except it was WAY TOO STRONG with ginger and undrinkable to me.  I had a tuna sandwich though and it was pretty good.  The rolls were yellow, which they said was from using turmeric.  Chris had a veggie sandwich, which he said would have been fine if it didn't have so much eggplant.  I dunno.

We rode around town for a bit after that, and then since we really didn't have anything better to do... turned around and started biking back to the hotel.  I mean, there weren't any obvious museums or other things in town to see, we rode along the different streets and saw the beach and whatever before turning around at least.

On the other hand, we had seen an ice cream stand on the road on our way up there and we decided to stop in there on the way back since it was about halfway between PV and the hotel.  This was probably the best thing that happened all day, or maybe the entire trip to that part of the country.  It was a place called "Alice", and had gourmet ice cream... I got chocolate and Chris got peanut butter.  They were awesome.  Apparently the chocolate came from some nearby region in Costa Rica, even.  The guy running the place spoke perfect English and offered us the wifi password and all, and when we got to talking with him it turned out he had lived in the Bay Area for a long time and worked in software, even at SGI, at the buildings Google currently has in Crittenden.  He said he was "taking a break" by running the ice cream shop, but that he'd been down there four years already.  It was such good ice cream!  I think it's kind of funny that we found the best ice cream in Costa Rica by pure random chance.

We got back to the hotel around 4:30pm and we asked the receptionist if we could schedule a tour for the next day -- the one for the chocolate farm, butterfly farm, and I forget what the third thing was on the list.  (They were mostly just random things grouped together.)  She called them up and said they'd be able to do a tour for us at 2pm.  Great.

Also, where was our laundry?  Oh, it'd get delivered to us.  Or something.

We chilled out a bit in our room.  The laundry still never showed up.  At 7pm I was beginning to get annoyed since I knew that officially the front desk was closed from 7pm onward, so who would we ask?  We went up there a little later and asked yet again, and some other woman was there and said she'd go figure it out, and so after a bunch of staff conferred, they did eventually come back with our laundry!  (So much for "same day afternoon return".)

We got dinner.  It sucked too.  Chris ordered bruschetta which was... just awful.  And again the only dessert they had was banana cake.

(I'm actually back in MTV now, it's taking me a while to brain dump everything.  To be continued...)

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December 30th, 2015


05:11 am - Costa Rica, Part 3
Might be a short entry, I just figured I'd type some while waiting for my alarm to go off since I woke up ahead of it yet again because it's so stupid humid and uncomfortable here.

So I last left off on our second day in Tortuguero. We had just gotten out of the pool and cleaned up and met up with our tour group outside the botanical garden. This turned out to be pretty boring for me. For one, we had 20 people or so trying to fit through very small paths (the garden is more like a jungle, lots of plants and a walking path arranged through them, and so many tall trees, etc) and so most of the time people couldn't hear what Carlos was saying; and also, he would stop every 5 feet or so to talk about another plant or tree. Some of it was kind of interesting but largely I was just very much like "ok, plants". So we decided to give up on the botanical tour. Since I was in the front of the group -- half the time I was wandering off ahead rather than listening anyway -- we decided to try to press forward rather than turning back. This didn't turn out to be a mistake per se, but holy crap that garden is a big twisty passage all the way through -- it took us quite a while to get out of there.

Oh, I forgot a detail about the first day -- after dinner Chris and I grabbed a flashlight and tried to go back to the frog garden to find frogs, without hte big group of people around. We only found one though, and it was in the same spot it had been in when the whole group was there. We gave up and went back to our room when it started raining.

So anyway, after the botanical walk we went back to pack up and hang out until dinner, except that I was an idiot and fell asleep for 2 hours. This night dinner turned out to be... well, it was odd. There was still the normal buffet table at one side of the restaurant, but the side we came in on, they had some kind of Mongolian Grill style pasta setup. PASTA. So you'd get a bowl and fill it with things like veggies, spices, meats, olives, mushrooms, etc -- and take it up to a chef who'd throw your stuff in a pan and then add your choice of pasta, and then your choice of sauce, and sautee it all together for you. So we did that. We ended up sitting with an older couple from Spokane that night who had been in Costa Rica for 3 weeks at that point and were heading home shortly; they hadn't been on most of our tours and they were like "there's a point at which you get sick of doing another walking tour and seeing the same animals, so we've been sitting on our nice rocking chairs on the porch and relaxing a lot."

Oh yeah, something else that happened that day was that our toilet broke. Like, BROKE. The handle that controls the flush valve, the stick controlling it snapped off. We told the front desk about it and they said they'd send someone up at 5pm, so we were also there when they fixed the toilet.

I forget if I mentioned this already, but there was no wifi in the rooms there AFAICT, and only the bar area had a wifi, which only had internet half the time anyway. I also couldn't get a 3G signal from our rooms, only from the area near the reception and port. So we were off the internet for two days for the most part there. The thing is that for the most part I didn't really care about that since we were almost always busy doing stuff while we were there, or sleeping.

Speaking of sleeping, of course I couldn't get to sleep until like 1:30am that night due to my nap. And we had to be up and ready and packed and at the boats at 8:45 to go to our next destination. So it was a bit of a rough morning for me.

We had breakfast with the Germany duo, who had gotten up early to find more birds. Something stupid that happened was that we got surrounded by flies because I had a packet of jam and only had it half opened on the table -- the amount of flies surrounding food in general was kind of disturbing but this was even worse, so I took the jam packet and put it on a ledge instead so the flies would go over there. Yuck. Sort of ruined my appetite for the normal rice-and-beans breakfast.

On the way out I saw a smaller iguana in a tree just walking near the dock! That part was pretty cool, that I had first learned to spot them, and second that they were around.

There aren't really roads to the Laguna Lodge, anyway, you pretty much have to take a boat to get there. I don't think there are drivable roads in Tortuguero Town either. They are 100% ecological there and so the most polluting things as far as I could tell were people burning things, and maybe the motors from the motorboats.

On our boat ride to the buses, at one point they stopped the boat and told us to put on our life jackets. We had sort of wondered why in general, when sailing along, we had passed a lot of boats where everyone was wearing them, but we weren't. Well, a little while later we ran into a boat full of policemen! Apparently the drivers of the tourist boats will warn each other about things like that, since a bit further after we passed the policemen, our driver shouted out to the other boat to put on their jackets. I guess it's like telling people to buckle up -- something you should do, but that is less comfortable, and that you could get in trouble for not doing. The policemen in the boat mostly just looked in on us and waved hi though, I'm not sure what else they were supposed to do besides check on lifejackets and other regulations.

We saw a few birds on the ride back, and a few cows too, and at one point there was another boat where someone dropped his hat into the water so our guide (Giovanni, not Carlos) went and got the hat out of the water (and then wouldn't give it back to them but kept it until we hit shore), Also a huge moth found its way onto our boat and then wouldn't leave; it was attached to the seat next to me for the entire ride.

We got back to the way station around 10:15 and then it turned out there wouldn't be a bus until 10:30 at least anyway. We went to hang out in their restaurant, where they sold a few local snacks but mostly sold shit like Doritos, Skittles, etc. We didn't buy any, though I did pay a dollar to use their Delux Banos again just in case.

Eventually the bus showed up with its glorious airconditioning and we rode to Guapiles, having lunch at the same place we'd had breakfast two days earlier, though since it was raining we couldn't really go into the butterfly garden this time. Chris and I ended up eating alone because we technically sat at a table we shouldn't have been at, but whatever.

At 1:30 people started transferring luggage out and onto other transports. We were catching an Interbus shuttle out to Cahuita/Limon/Manzanillo/whatever for our next part of the stay; we were on the same shuttle as Sonja and her husband, though they were staying not as far out as we were, so we were infact the last stop of people to get off the bus. The trip here took about 3 hours and at least there was a bathroom break at one point; we were also on the shuttle with like 6 other people who at some point turned off the AC which was quite annoying since it was very stuffy in the back where I was sitting. Anyway. Another fun thing was stopping at the gas station for bathrooms, I noticed it was 536 colones per liter for gas, which after doing a bunch of math worked out to around $4 per gallon.

Eventually we got to the Almonds and Corals hotel. I had read some reviews of this place which almost all turned out to be false in one way or another, or more like, I think they were specific to the experiences that other travellers had here. Ours were pretty different and in most cases, worse. But anyway, I should now get up for real and prepare to leave here anyway, so hopefully my next entry will come to you from a luxury 5-star hotel in Arenal!

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December 29th, 2015


08:31 pm - Costa Rica, Part 2
I think the last entry left off on that first day in Tortuguero, where after a bit of settling in and naps we went and got on a boat ride to Tortuguero town. The town has about 1500ish people although I have no clue where they all live as it basically has one main street that goes through it, which is mostly shops and eateries, although I guess there were some houses along it too. Carlos warned us not to buy coconuts and to be careful of getting ripped off by the locals, and to stay on the main street, so we did, and walked the entirety of it, which must have been about a mile. At the end you get to the gates to Tortuguero National Park. The weird thing is, most of the park isn't really accessible from there unless you have a boat. I still don't quite understand how it works; we had to stop in there and buy admissions to the park before going on our boating tours the next day, but it's not like anyone actually ever checked them.

I dunno, the main street had a ton of interesting-looking trash cans in the shapes of parrots, monkeys, owls, sloths, etc. And there was a church and there were some abandoned machinery things and whatnot. We stopped in at an ice cream place when it started raining and got some ice cream (one scoop for 500 colones which is basically a dollar). There were lots of dogs running around but very few cats, too. The dogs never seemed to be leashed or collared but also didn't seem like strays.

After buying a wildlife pamphlet in the gift shop, we got on the boat back to the Lodge. The next thing after that was going to be a sunset walk along the beach to look for turtles. Unfortunately, turtles are seasonal and we didn't find any; Carlos found us several turtle nests but they were all empty of actual turtles. Probably the most amusing animal thing we saw was... well, this dog had started following our group along at one point, and so we were walking along the beach and the dog started just barking at the sand and pawing. Eventually the dog unearthed a crab, all wriggly and full of claws, about 2 inches long. The dog barked, the crab wriggled. First the dog kinda jumped back like it was startled, but then when the crab wriggled again, the dog basically just ate it. CHOMP.

The other thing that happened on the beach walk was that the skies opened up on us. Chris and I hadn't brought our raincoats though I did bring an umbrella. He chose to stand outside it and get wet, so another woman stood under the umbrella with me. She was from Spain and her husband was from Belgium and they had just gotten married, this was their honeymoon. So when I mentioned I was from "San Francisco", this other group of ladies also turned out to be from SF -- well, east bay really -- but they were like "I figured, you had that SHN umbrella and all!" The other crazy thing was that the younger one, she had been studying abroad in Japan at the same time I was there, in 2010. Weird small world I guess.

After the beach walk there was a tour to go look for frogs, in the frog park. They come out at sundown, so we went in once it was dark, and Carlos got out a flashlight and people got out cellphone lights and we went and found a few of the frogs. It was pretty crowded though so it was hard to get pictures or really see them.

We had dinner with a bunch of random people again, which was Christmas dinner, with turkey and ham and stuffing and things. I remember they were playing Christmas music and I asked about it and was told it was a traditional children's song from Spain, so that was kind of interesting.

The next morning there was an optional 5:30am tour, so Chris and I went to sleep super early yet again and got up super early yet again.

The 5:30am optional tour and the 8:30am for-everyone tour were similar except for what part of the river we'd be going to, and obviously, the time of day. 5:30 was intended more for finding some rare birds that only come out super early. We got in a smaller boat -- it seated 18 and had no roof, though they brought ponchos for everyone. We stopped off at the Tortuguero park entrance, where Carlos explained that "this ranger hates me -- he asks for my ID when I come here. I've been doing this for 37 years. My ID number is 001. Come on." We got off and paid our admission fees and got back on the boat, which was a bit of an odd experience.

Since our entire boat was English-speaking, at least we didn't have to hear everything repeated in Spanish. There was a French group with a guy named Remy who had a really good zoom lens so he got shots of all the rare things we saw. We saw a Pudu bird, something like that, it looked like a stump on a branch. We saw a bunch of other birds, one called aninganinga, some other things too. We learned how to see Jesus lizards blending in on trees. At the end of the first run, we were in a narrow creek area with a bunch of tall sunny trees and pretty much every damn tree had at least one iguana in it, so we got really good at spotting them. Carlos said that people in Costa Rica call iguanas "chicken of the tree" kinda like tuna fish are "chicken of the sea". Note: we still haven't eaten iguana here as far as I know.

We went back and had a break for breakfast and to grab gear. Carlos said to be back at the dock at 8:40 prompt, and we'd keep the same 18 group on the same boat since it'd make the park tickets easier. He also said to grab a towel from our room to protect us from the sun, so Chris and I brought out our super badass hiking hats that have neck protection and all. And we were earlyish to get back, so we got on the boat first and stole the front seats! That part was exciting since we got a nice view of everything.

The 8:30 tour, we saw some more birds, and TWO sloths that had come down from the trees to poop (sort of funny since like, three boats all pulled up next to one of the sloths to take photos), and a super poisonous red frog that Primo the boat driver went up on shore to fetch to show us, and probably the most exciting part was when we were going down this one river and suddenly we saw some white-faced monkeys! There must have been around ten of them, and they were running up and down branches and jumping across the river, running up trees and hanging on each other and playing and doing all kinds of silly things. Carlos said it was very rare to see them at all, let alone see them just kinda playing and doing antics for us. They were practically posing for photos on the branches near our boat and just monkeying around.

Unfortunately at some point in the tour, around when we were finding crocodiles, my stomach felt really sick, which sucked, because we were kind of in the middle of the lake and I knew we weren't heading back to shore any time soon. I just had to sort of deal with it as best as I could, but it did make things kinda bad. Also it rained quite a bit and so we got out those ponchos and all, which also made it harder to see things and take photos of things and all.

We got back to shore and had lunch, which was at a table with yet another different group of people. Carlos was having a botanical walk at 4pm and until then was free, so a whole bunch of us got in the pool. Funny thing: while in the pool we spotted an iguana in a tree, and a toucan in another tree, and some other birds. Julie and Sebastian turn out to be super crazy bird watchers and they had binoculars and bird manuals and all and could tell us what all the things around us were.

After maybe an hour in the pool we got out to change and shower and do the botanical walk, but it turned out to be kind of boring.

(to be continued -- should sleep now again -- we're about to finally get the fuck out of Manzanillo, thank god)

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December 27th, 2015


08:01 pm - Costa Rica, Part 1
I wonder how much of an entry I can get out given that we have spotty internet at best and I'm trying to type this on the attached case keyboard for a nexus 9 tablet as we decided not to bring laptops with us on this trip, only tablets.

But anyway, this entry is coming to you from Manzanillo, Limon, Costa Rica, more specifically from a cabin at the Almonds and Corals hotel, our second-really-third stop on this trip (we have one more after it). I have on this trip already seen countless monkeys, birds, iguanas, and ridden on many many boats. I also haven't slept in an air conditioned room since our first night here. And I think I've eaten rice and beans as part of almost every single meal.

For the first time in a long time I'm on a trip actually planned out by a travel agent. Chris wanted to go to Costa Rica for the holidays and I didn't really have any better ideas, so he talked to someone through Google's travel services and blam, they planned us this trip. I don't even know how much most of this cost. He told them he wanted to see wildlife and beaches and volcanoes, and that's pretty much what we've gotten.

Well, our first day was just arriving in the country, really. And before that we had a snafu with the flights here. We flew United since I get miles and all, and we did SFO->IAH->SJO. (San Jose CA is SJC; San Jose Costa Rica is SJO) I spent the flight to Houston not sleeping and instead watching Hero 2015 (yet another Kimutaku prosecutor movie; I saw the 2007 version in the theater when I lived there), though the plane entertainment wifi cut out 15 minutes before the end.

At the gate in IAH, after our flight was delayed a little anyway coming out of SFO in the first place, we get to the gate and sit down, and then the agents call Chris's name to come to the counter. I have no clue what's going on as I sit there and guard our bags, but basically they tell him he's been upgraded to first class. He apparently says that he's traveling with his fiancé and wants to sit with her so don't upgrade him. Doesn't tell them my name or my status with them or anything. So they don't check on whether I had one and they don't give him the upgrade.

In the meantime, I had already *been* upgraded but I didn't know that until I got to the boarding. I even went up to the desk after Chris came back and explained my status and was like "wtf how did he get an upgrade if I didn't?" But they seemed rather annoyed by my complaining and they made up some excuse about his being the booking name or whatever.

Anyway, we go to get on the plane and when I give them my pass for my normal economy seat they go "oh, you've been upgraded to first class..." and they see Chris and it's just like "holy shit WHAT" all around. At which point the first class ticket they offered Chris is long gone so I get the choice of abandoning him and sitting in first class or staying with him in economy. So I end up staying with him which means they have to get my econ seat BACK believe it or not.

The upshot is, always ask and give enough info. Had I not been guarding our bags and let him handle it himself this never would have happened. I did spend half the flight being mad at him for essentially talking us OUT of first class upgrades because WTF.

So, we get to Costa Rica at like 11am or so. Customs and whatnot were very easy. We get out of all the things and meet with Tammy, our representative from the Costa Rica Dream Travel that our stuff is booked through. She even has one of those signs that says "RUBIN/LUHRS" on it which was kinda exciting because I've never been met at the airport from someone with a sign, at least not that I remember. She spends about 5 minutes explaining all the stuff in our packet to us and gives us travel vouchers and whatnot, and we make sure I can call her cellphone just incase we have an emergency anywhere along the line of our itinerary. She calls us a transport van and we're off to the San Jose Doubletree, which was our first stop of the trip.

Our van driver, unlike Tammy, speaks almost zero English. So to try to talk to him I end up resorting to the 6 years of Spanish I studied back in JHS and HS. I've actually always been able to understand spoken Spanish fairly well but I haven't been able to speak it pretty much ever (even in Japan I had a close friend from Barcelona who would often hang out with other Spanish speakers, and I'd listen to them and reply in Japanese). I did at least manage to find out things like the names of the volcanoes we were driving by.

We check in at the hotel and get our requisite warm cookie and then... realize we have no idea what to do, but at least we're in a reasonable hotel that has a restaurant and pool and whatnot, so we go eat lunch by the pool, and then proceed to spend an hour or two lounging around in the pool, or more like, the hot tub. Then I went and bought a whole bunch of postcards for people, since I reply to Christmas cards by sending New Year's postcards, a habit I also picked up living in Japan.

Chris and I had seen a Hard Rock Cafe on the way to the hotel not too far up the road, so we walked there for dinner. It turned out there was a live band event at like 8, but we got there at 6:30 and they let us sit in the bar area, where there was this big soccer game going on between Alajuelense and Saprissa; the waiter explained to us that this was kinda like the World Series of Costa Rican soccer, as Saprissa is like the great team of San Jose but Alajuelense was this powerhouse team from the middle of nowhere that was dominating this year. (In the last few days I have seen a TON of Saprissa gear all over the damn place; they have a maroon S that looks an awful lot like Stanford sports gear actually.) Anyway, we watched about 40 minutes of the soccer game and ate totally American-like food and whatever, it was still kind of wacky to be there. I wanted to get a Hard Rock Cafe San Jose shirt for laughs but they just didn't have any that looked like something I'd wear.

We went back to the hotel and crashed around 9pm, having done the redeye to get in in the first place. We were getting picked up at 5:30 the next morning anyway, which was like 3:30 California time, so that was going to be kinda crazy.

So, 5:30am, we get on this small shuttle bus, which drives around to several other hotels in the area before dumping us off at this Radisson hotel closer to downtown, where we transfer ourselves and our luggage to a bigger bus. It is at this point that we meet Carlos, who is our tour guide for the next two days (our meaning us and the other 40 or so people on our particular tour). It also turns out that somehow my name has been miswritten as "Pianna" on his sheet and so every time for the rest of the weekend when he is doing roll call to make sure everyone is there for whatever thing, he says "Christopher and Pianna?" and I'm like "Deanna?" and it still never got fixed.

But anyway. We do a few stops in downtown San Jose which is kind of interesting at least; we go through Chinatown and a few other areas. It is about 7am before we actually leave San Jose (our last stop is a hotel where we fortunately get to use the bathroom before the bus heads out. Chris comments that if we knew we weren't actually leaving the city until then we could have slept in and taken a cab to this hotel, but eh.)

We stop off for breakfast at a place called Selva Tropical in Guapiles. They are a butterfly-themed restaurant with a real butterfly garden in back. Breakfast is buffet-style, and is basically rice-and-beans with a few other options to add to it like plantains and bread and sausages and whatever. We sit at a table with a British-Indian couple who live in Atlanta and talk about random stuff. This ends up being a running theme through the weekend, since all of the meals are buffet-style and all of the tables seat 6-8 people.

The butterfly garden was pretty cool, if small. Lots of cocoons too and we even got to see some butterflies coming out.

Back on the bus for another hour or two to get to Tortuguero, or more like, to get to the boats that will actually take us to Tortuguero. We have a stop off at a rest stop like place... which advertises "deluxe bathrooms", where we find out one of the universal rules of Costa Rican tourist locations: it costs $1, or 500 colones, to actually use said bathroom. But, we're about to get on a boat tour for an hour so I figure I might as well.

We haven't actually changed money from dollars at all during this trip, as an aside. Pretty much everywhere is perfectly willing to accept our US money. Tammy had told us that some places will rip us off, and that the technical exchange rate is about 540ish colones to the dollar, but as long as we get at least 500 to the dollar we're doing fine. I've only received change once and it was in a little convenience store today, where I got like 3 drinks, they cost 2200 colones, I gave the cashier $5, and she gave me back 300 colones. Most times people just quote us something in dollars or leave it in whole dollars. Lunch today was 13200 colones and we gave them $26 and I think people were happy all around with the transaction.

But back to Tortuguero. We load all of our luggage onto one boat and then all of us people onto another boat. It's only about 10 minutes into the ride where I vaguely kind of regret that our gear is all in our luggage which is all on the other boat. I had sunscreen in my backpack, at least -- but halfway there the rain starts pouring down. Fortunately the boat has canvas window/wall things that we put down. Before that, Carlos was at least pointing out various things and talking about them in English and Spanish (it was sort of funny because when we were in Japan I'd have to translate for Chris, but in this case when Carlos started going on about all the types of turtles in the area and I was like "oo! turtles!" and then realized he'd just repeat it in English so I didn't have to bother translating); but with the walls down I just sort of zoned out mostly.

We got to the Laguna Lodge and basically, he gave us our room numbers and told us to get situated and then come eat lunch at 1pm or so.

Our room there was basically a cabin. They had blocks of 4 cabins together, with porches and rocking chairs. The room itself had two double-size beds, and some sparse other furniture, a few outlets that were nearly impossible to find, some shelves... a bathroom with a shower stall in it, and a fan. No AC, of course -- and the rooms were all street level pretty much so you had to close all the shutters if you were going to disrobe to take a shower or anything. It actually wasn't too horribly hot if you were in there with the windows open and the fan running, at least.

Another thing about this place -- they told us explicitly not to drink the tap water, and to fill up our water bottles from the tanks in the restaurant. Even to brush our teeth.

Lunch was another buffet, again with rice and beans and some other stuff I don't remember off the top of my head. And it was again a "hey, come find random people to sit with" situation. I think at that meal we sat down with Julie from Germany and her husband, and Sonja from Spain and her husband, odd that I mostly remember all the women's names but not the men's names. In most cases the women had better English anyway; though Julie and her husband had lived in Livermore for a while so that was kind of funny when they found out we're from California.

After lunch we explored the area a little bit and walked out to the beach, and then at 3pm there was an excursion to Tortuguero Town.

(hm, going to continue this in another entry I think, since I don't trust the internet here to reload it if I try to pick it up tomorrow)

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December 11th, 2015


12:37 am - Puzzlehunts of the last few weeks
I miss having entries about puzzle hunts to look back on after hunts. It's funny, but in Seattle we never had the notion of something being rebroadcast, so there was no reason for me not to go home and do a braindump about the day.  Now, it's like, if I do a hunt, usually we're not supposed to spoil people on anything because the hunt may be rebroadcast, or will be rebroadcast a week or two later.

But I mean, I'm feeling really good about how we've been doing at events lately.  It's funny because I'd gotten used to being part of a team (Liboncatipu) known for being one of the top teams in Seattle, but down here I feel like people are still surprised when Ducky Charms does really well in things.  (But we've been one of the top teams in pretty much every event we played in this year.)  My team won Palantir's hunt in early November, and won the Iron Puzzler in late November as well, and there were plenty of the usual suspects around to beat out in those.  We were 2nd or 3rd place in the final Shinteki Decathlon depending on how you count as well.  I dunno.  This past week Chris and I went to Puzzled Pint with just the two of us and finished all 7 puzzles in under an hour.  I still certainly enjoy it, but there are times where I have to remind myself that "these only seem easy because you have been doing this for 12 years." and also to keep perspective when we're feeling like "we can't solve this, it must be broken" (though Iron Puzzler is, of course, the exception to that).

I still think it's a good stretch when we have puzzle events every 2 weeks for a while, though.

On Oct 17 we played in the Mastermind Hunt with Corey and Melinda.  It's funny, I go into every Mastermind Hunt with an expectation of something being broken, and this was no exception.  Worse, this time it wasn't the puzzle that was broken so much as it was the staff that was broken - they told us to leave a site when we didn't have all of the information necessary to solve a puzzle.  Very frustrating.  (It was a boat display in the window of a game store on Pier 39, and there were strings of nautical flags hanging which spelled out the instructions; the staff member handed us a sheet of paper with the positions of the boats and said "This is all you need, you don't need to stay here", which was patently not true, as there were also pluses and minuses on the boats which were integral to the puzzle.)  Turns out we wouldn't have won anyway because we screwed up another answer, but the taste in my mouth from that hunt was unfortunately all about the one puzzle mishap, since that's pretty much how we spent the last hour -- trying to figure out what to do with this puzzle that seemed broken because we just hadn't gotten the information from the site, and we weren't about to go back a mile to get it at that point, though we did work out an info trade with Dan and Doug.  It's a shame, because up to that point it was pretty fun; we were mostly just doing the wander-around-SF-looking-for-stuff thing, and I do think puzzles are always a great excuse to get out on a nice day with friends and be active.

So on Oct 24 we played in the Telegraph Hill BANG.  Chris signed us up while I was in Japan and organized, which meant that it ended up being only me and Chris and Sean.  I think we were 5th or 6th place.  I can't even remember any particular things that slowed us down, puzzle-wise; everything was fairly solid and all involved Morse code in some way or another.  Even though I have the Morse alphabet memorized, there were a few that tested my brain on that (one involved all sorts of operations to letters, like reversing or flipping or shifting (like L flipped is Y because .-.. becomes -.--) which turned out to be really hard for me to do mentally for some reason).  We did have to climb up to the Coit Tower from the Embarcadero, which really sucked.  I did that climb a few years ago with Takuma and Kosuge and was clearly in much better shape back then because I don't remember it being nearly as awful.  One funny thing about the day was that the opening "activity" had asked teams to show up wearing either solids, stripes, or spots (for a Morse activity, being stripes as dashes and spots as dots).  Our team got spots.  But we weren't sure what to do about that since none of us own spotted clothing.  So Chris and I put little Chrome stickers all over our Ducky Charms shirts to be spots.

IMG_4499

The stickers kept falling off anyway, so halfway through the day I started "chroming" the GC staffers.  Every start code had an O in it, so I'd take off one of my Chrome stickers and put them in the O.

At the end of the day we were hanging out at the final location.  Richard had mentioned to me that Palantir was doing a hunt on nov 7th at Stanford, which he had discovered while looking at their Berkeley hunt.  So, since we were standing there, and Bruce was talking to Sean, I was like "Well, we have 5 of us right here, why don't we be a Palantir team?"

So I went home that night and registered us.  I also invited my friend Ken to come play since the team limit was 6 and Glenn was busy.  Ken works at Google and we met in the ballroom dance club, but he's also into board games and puzzles and stuff, and I had him join our Berkeley Mystery Hunt team the past two years since he's a recent grad from there and ostensibly could help us get around campus (but in reality he is a pretty solid puzzler.  I feel bad because he said that as an undergrad he'd try to do the hunt and his friends would flake out on him), and so I've been trying to invite him to puzzle events when I can; he also joined us when we did the Houdini escape room back in September.

Nov 7th was the Palantir Stanford hunt.  They run it from noon to 6pm or so, with lunch beforehand and dinner afterwards since it's technically a recruiting event for college students so they have budget for all kinds of stuff (but they let some non-student teams play too, which is nice of them).  I think in past years it's been in Octoberish, but this time it was in Novemberish, with sunset at 5pm or so.  Anyway, the crazy nutso thing here was that we completely blasted this hunt.  I mean, every single puzzle, we'd find some way to shortcut it.  Like we'd have three letters and say "LAS?  Must be LASERS!" and enter that.  Some were even worse offenders of having like 3 out of 8 letters and nutrimaticking out an answer (I think we did that having D_C___P_ and figured out DUCKTAPE from that).  Apparently we also just got lucky in some -- like there was a thing with transparencies and squares and words and stuff, and I immediately said "we're making a QR code", and I was also lucky in that my weirdo Japanese QR code reader app managed to read the thing on the first try -- afterwards a lot of teams said they had a lot of trouble getting it to read even after they had the whole thing done.  We short-circuited a Lego-themed puzzle by basically knowing letter sets based on the position of some squares and coming up with valid words.  We paralellized things really well too.  Almost every puzzle had some moment where someone would finish up the part they were doing only to find out that we'd just solved the entire thing from letter-guessing.  I dunno.  The puzzles were actually totally decent puzzles, just that since they were meant for college students and not necessarily superpuzzlers, we were able to blaze through them like that.

Towards the end of the day, we were That Team that arrived at every site first and left before any other team got there, and pushed GC to arrive early for us.  One of the sites was outside a gym, and we arrived at the same time as GC and basically said "well we'll go to the bathroom while you set up?" and did so.  And then we finished the puzzle and were talking to the GC guy, who told us to wait until the next site opened -- he was asking about other puzzle events and I said "Oh, you should see puzzlehuntcalendar.com", and he's like "What's that?" and I said "It's a website that lists puzzle hunts like this but all over the place -- in about 2-3 minutes the Burninators will show up here and a guy in a Trogdor shirt, that's Dan, he runs the site.  I think this hunt was on it too?"  And sure enough, about 2 minutes later the Burninators showed up, and GC guy was like "How did you know that was going to happen?" and I said "Well, usually WE'RE 10 minutes behind THEM... this is a weird day."

We finished the final meta before 4pm.

IMG_4767

Sean went off to hang out with some of his friends at Stanford for a little while, and in the meantime we weren't (well, Chris wasn't) sure if we wanted to hang out until the endgame.  Dinner wasn't going to show up until 5:30pm and prizes weren't going to be until 6:30, which seemed like a long time to be there with nothing to do (and we hadn't brought games or anything).  But then, like... the Burninators wandered over to our table, as did LXP, and so we compared notes about the day and then people started telling funny stories about other puzzle things going on (the SUMS puzzle hunt was going on at that time, which I think Wei-Hwa and Derek were both playing in).  And so we hung out and talked puzzles.  And it got dark.  And so we got out our flashlights and put them out on the table like candles.  And eventually food did show up, and we got sandwiches and continued nerding out about puzzles and other things.  Bruce said it was like "puzzle hunt camp", kinda like space camp.

Sure enough, we won!  (And LXP and Burninators were 2nd and 3rd place).  Of course, this year the prizes were not towels but instead were water bottles.  Not nearly as interesting.  There were frisbees for getting the first place time on a puzzle, and we picked up a few of those for our team as well.

Afterwards, Dan invited us over to his house to play boardgames, so we (well, Chris and I) did that!  We played a game of Alchemists with Wei-Hwa and Derek, although the main thing I enjoyed about it was having my cellphone check the chemicals, the rest of the game play wasn't as interesting to me.  I might get it a little bit more on a second play now that I get the whole picture about how the game works, at least.  And then we played a game of Codenames, where one team was Wei-Hwa giving clues to Thomas and Derek, and the other was Chris giving clues to me and Dan.  That was pretty fun.  It is often weird how things you think are "obvious" associations with words are not obvious at all.

Hm, I'll write about Iron Puzzler some other time.

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November 4th, 2015


10:56 pm - Today's not-really funny food story
I ate lunch at Backyard.  They had BLT salad.  Which meant basically salad with bacon and tomatoes and pasta.  So good.  I only had a small bowl of it though.

Anyway, I was being good today too, except we were supposed to go meet with a florist/decorator tonight for wedding arrangements, and then they cancelled on us (for the second time... I don't think we're going to use these guys) and so our wedding planner suggested that we meet up anyway so she could go over some stuff with us.

She had us meet up at a fancy chocolatier in Palo Alto!

A week ago I would have been totally psyched for a spontaneous "chocolate tasting" as it were -- and the proprietor was telling us about all these options for how to do gift boxes and whatnot with chocolate, or have a truffle arrangement, and so on... and the chocolates were delicious!  We got to try a whole bunch of them and he even gave us a bunch to take home (and while we were sitting in the shop going over some stuff with our planner he came by like "Did I not have you guys try our caramels?  Here, take some of those too" and dropped a pack of them into my bag).  They were so good and all I could think was HOLY CRAP THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO LOWER MY TRIGLYCERIDES AARRRRRGHGHHH SO YUMMY

Well, anyway, we have some interesting possibilities for chocolate if we want to go that route.  And we did have semi-healthy dinner at the Local 251 restaurant.  But damn, the universe is conspiring against me, I swear.

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November 3rd, 2015


01:02 pm - Funny food story (not really)
So, I am trying to figure out how to lower triglycerides, which basically means I need to lose weight.  This is really hard when working at Google because there's always yummy delicious fattening carbs and sugars around.

Anyway, yesterday I was pretty good (half a sandwich for lunch, some rice and chicken for dinner, and only one fun-size chocolate bar and a mini-cupcake because dammit they had cupcakes in the kitchen).

Today for lunch I was going to go over to Fishfood -- one of the newer and better cafes on campus -- because they had mac'n'cheese and fried chicken and cornbread and brisket and god knows what else.  I was planning to just get half a serving of mac'n'cheese and limit to that.

But I showed up at 11:45am -- which normally would be empty -- and it was packed with the chicken/mac'n'cheese line going out the door!

So I decided I didn't feel like waiting in the long line and went to Backyard to get a salad.  No eggs, no cheese, no avocado on it, and only a little bit of ranch dressing (I suck because the salad dressings I like are all creamy and bad for you, but I think maybe if I just use less, I'll be okay?).  And half a fudge brownie instead of a whole one.

Funny to me is that part how my desire to wait in line was a lot less than my desire to eat things that aren't good for me to be eating.

I don't necessarily think that I should cut out all of the food that I enjoy eating here, but I'll have to figure out a way to limit it.  Maybe even just taking half as much as I would have before, or trying to put everything in to-go boxes or some smaller container.  I'm going to try this for a week or two and see how it goes...

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July 6th, 2015


03:34 pm - Glasses
So I went to Pacific Eye Care Optometry on June 24 for my first eye exam in... ever, possibly.

Bad news: I got glasses :(
Good news: Google's eye insurance is crazy good.

I had been getting weird headaches and blurry vision during work for a while.  I'd usually just step away from the computer and go to the minikitchen or whatever until it cleared up. So I decided to see an eye doctor because this was really mostly happening at work, AND because I've noticed in the last few years that I often need to make fonts bigger to read things comfortably, and when I'm at baseball games I sometimes can't tell the difference between 3's and 8's (and 6's and 9's depending on font) on scoreboards.

I've never had glasses before, despite that everyone in my family has them and I stare at computer screens a lot and I'm getting old.

Anyway, Dr. Zaum was really cool and the office is super-convenient (it's right by the Krispy Kreme on the other side of the highway on Rengstorff; I was able to ride my bike there from campus in like 5-10 minutes) and she did all kinds of tests on my eyes and pretty much everything is fine except that I have mild astigmatism which is why things are blurry. It was pretty crazy seeing what everything looked like when there were corrective lenses applied (like the letters would just go from blurry to clear).

I think the last time I did anything eye-related would be when I got my CA driving license like 3-4 years ago, but at the time I was able to pass their vision test without any problem. Dr. Zaum said that I'm legal to drive since my overall vision is 20/30 but that my right eye is 20/50 and if both my eyes were that bad, combined I wouldn't be legal. Not that I drive much anyway; I wonder what the vision requirements are for biking 3 miles to campus.

Google's insurance apparently covers us for 3 pairs of glasses. I'm already freaked out about having one pair, so I'm just doing that for now, but she said it wouldn't be unreasonable to get a pair for sitting by the computer and a pair of sunglasses for riding bikes.  I did get the progressive glasses that darken when you get UV light on them and turn into virtual sunglasses.

Pretty sure I'm incapable of getting contacts given how freaked out I got when she poked lights at my eyes and things like that.

The glasses came in on July 2nd.  Chris and I went to Chicago for the weekend, from the 2nd to the 5th (we had July 2-3 off from work) and so of course I landed at ORD and got the voicemail about the glasses and couldn't pick them up until today.

This morning I got Chris to drive me over to get them, so he could also look at computer glasses -- he doesn't wear glasses either but has been saying that staring at a screen all day feels weird to him lately.  So he did that while I got my glasses.  It's mostly just WEIRD to be wearing them so far.  I fully realize they make things more clear than they were before -- it's striking to take them off and look at something and then put them on and it's like everything goes into focus.

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June 24th, 2015


11:57 am - DASH 7, the GC version writeup
(Warning: Super-long.  Took me about a week to write.  Full of mercifully-LJ-cut photos.  Contains spoilers.  You may not want to know this much detail of what went into bringing you all DASH 7 in San Jose.)

Prelude, or Entering My Own Name Into The Cup

I haven't actually played in a DASH hunt since 2012, when I went to DC and played DASH 4 with Matt and Kenny from my MIT Mystery Hunt team.  In DASH 5 I playtested puzzles in SF and staffed in Seattle (the Pandemic hunt, and Seattle-style, so I was dressed as a zombie in doctor's scrubs staffing outside the Overlake Hospital).  For DASH 6, I knew I wasn't going to be able to make it to the real event due to being in Japan, so I was part of the Game Control planning staff in San Francisco, along with Megan and Mike and Allen, and I spent around 40-50 hours over the course of 3-4 months playtesting puzzles and scouting locations in the city and running playtests.

I wasn't sure what I'd do for DASH 7 in all honesty, and then at Puzzled Pint in December, Yuan asked if I'd want to get involved, and at the time it sounded like there was no GC for the South Bay yet, so I said I'd get involved as "I'll co-GC in the south bay... and I'll co-write a puzzle... but I don't know if I can take on any of those on their own..."

Which is pretty much what happened.  The Hunt theme was determined to be the Harry Potter themed Triwizard Tournament sometime before I joined.  By the time I got to the signup sheet for writing puzzles, in mid-December, there was only one or two open, so I chose Quidditch.  A day or two later I actually came up with what I thought was a pretty decent idea for it, and even better, it was something that wasn't going to factor in with possible puzzles for the BANG I'd still like to write one of these years.  My original plan involved a play on words with beaters (which I thought would be drummers), chasers (which I thought would be alcoholic chasers... though I realized that'd have a problem with Junior DASH), snitches (like Snowden and such), keepers (wasn't sure but figured it'd be goalies of various sports).  I figured people would either find these things in a word find or a crossword grid or photos of the various people or whatnot.  I wasn't quite sure how to assemble this into an extractable puzzle though; one idea involved listing various "teams" of people and you had to make the associations with the Quidditch terms and points (chasers would be worth 10 points, keepers would be worth -10 points, snitches worth 150, something like that) but that seemed like it just wouldn't be that fun.

Anyway, cue mid-January when two things happened: 1) Channing asked people to please step up their puzzle drafts and get in first drafts soon; so I asked the national GC list if anyone wanted to collaborate with me as I had "a pretty neat idea but needed someone to help with mechanics" and 2) MIT Mystery Hunt weekend.

Dustin Foley from the Washington DC GC contacted me because he'd wanted to get in on puzzle-writing but didn't have any ideas and hadn't joined the party until too late anyway, and we were both going to be in Boston for MIT Mystery Hunt.  So, I outlined my idea to him briefly in email and then we chatted for about half an hour outside the Hunt wrap-up.

And Dustin came up with the brilliant word find that you actually got to play if you were in the DASH hunt last month (or if you weren't, look for the Quidditch puzzle on this page: http://playdash.org/DASH7/puzzles.php).  Infact, for a while I felt kinda guilty even mentioning myself as a co-writer on that puzzle as he pretty much really MADE the puzzle, I just had the idea.  However, I sort of redeemed myself a month or so later when I came up with the Quidditch broom activity which eventually turned into the Triwizard Challenges.

Teaming Up with Tom&Merry

In the meantime, I should also mention how the San Jose DASH trio of Tom, Merry, and myself came to be.  Essentially, I signed up as "I'll help GC south bay".  Merry Choi had been co-GC for Cupertino in DASH 6 with Channing, who became the national GC head for DASH7, so she similarly said "I'll help GC South bay".  Sometime in January, Tom Tabanao got talked into ACTUALLY GCing San Jose.  It's not too surprising as he works in the same area as Channing and Corey and Richard and other puzzle folks at Google.  So at Dr. Bob's ETPH3 hunt at the end of January, I came up to Tom before the hunt started as teams were milling around at the golf course, and we kind of had a conversation that from both sides went something to the effect of "I'm not sure you know who I am, but I heard we should work together for DASH 7 south bay GC.  Great, why don't we set up a meeting at work sometime this week?"

Fun thing about having your GC all work together (we're all Googlers) -- it's pretty easy to have GC meetings for an hour at lunchtime or things like that.  I think at first we were worried about these meetings looking weird on our work calendars so they were set up with backronym tech names like "Different Algorithm, Same Hashtable" or "Discuss Aerial Scouting Hunches" or "Ditching Administrative Suburban Headaches" or "Distributing Administrivia & Scheduling Huddle".

Actually, you can totally guess what those meetings were for.  Like, the aerial scouting one was when we had decided we wanted to use Campbell as a site but weren't sure where to start so we met to look at the map and figure out prospective places to scout out.  Suburban Headaches was our meeting when we realized that the city of Campbell was NOT GOING TO WORK without some serious administrative nightmares and a lot of money.  The scheduling huddle was to plan out our playtests despite that some subset of the three of us were out of town on almost every weekend in April.

First Location Attempt: Campbell

So yeah, we had discussed basically "Sunnyvale or San Jose" as possible locations and in an early meeting decided to try Campbell, as mentioned.  Without any idea at all about what the puzzles were like, Tom and I took a walking scouting trip around Campbell on a weekend afternoon in mid-February and totally thought it was awesome as a site.  Our route went between the Campbell Community Center and the Pruneyard (see if this map link works).  The community center had ample parking and a bunch of fields, plus picnic tables.  We were going to use sites like Psycho Donuts (small, but next to a Subway and across from a field with more places to sit).  There was a historic water tower with a park nearby.  The Pruneyard was an obvious destination with tons of tables and food places.  On the way there was a city park near highway 17 where we could have some kind of Quidditch activity, which I was already talking about even back then; I was joking we could even use their basketball court somehow (for the thematic having three hoops on each side).  Ainsley House was this lovely old historical house with a garden in front and in back; the idea of even using it as Hogwarts occurred to us.  There were multiple coffeeshops and such in downtown that would have worked for locations, and we wanted to finish at the Sonoma Chicken Coop, which Tom said had a large upstairs area that could be reserved.

Mid-February is also where I have my first email sent out to national GC where I suggest that for a Quidditch activity (the sign-up spreadsheet originally said something like "would be great if Quidditch puzzle has physical component"), cities could print out the start code on a snitch-like thing on the other side of a field and make teams send someone out on a broom to get it.  As usual, my initial concept was not what ended up happening...

Anyway, there ended up being several issues with Campbell.  First, the Sonoma Chicken Coop said we couldn't use their upstairs space because they'd be renovating in April and May.  Then, the city of Campbell completely failed to understand what we wanted to do (or maybe they did understand and were just being jerks).  There were all kinds of requirements like port-a-potties, security guards, a deposit for the fields... when all we wanted was a gathering place for like an hour.  It was going to cost upwards of $1500.  Getting the Ainsley site and the water tower were going to be similarly annoying.

We debated the idea of reversing our route, so I contacted the Sports Basement at the Pruneyard, which was happy to work with us (I described DASH as an "event that gets nerds to go walk several miles in the course of solving puzzles" as a way to appeal to their "we support events that promote physical activity" side), except that of course... they already had a race scheduled on May 30 and we couldn't use their meeting room until at least 10:30am.

Scouting the Second Location: Almaden (San Jose)

So after a week of this nonsense we scrapped Campbell and decided to try Tom's neighborhood, Almaden.  He suggested a route around Almaden Lake Park; we had a meeting to look through some potential locations/routes and we met on March 1 to walk through it.

As an aside, while Merry and I were well-versed in Harry Potter, Tom had never read the books or seen the movies or pretty much anything, which was occasionally a running gag... like when he suggested it be around a lake Merry and I were both like "Oh yeah, there's a lake outside Hogwarts in the books, with the thestrals and..."

Which makes it all the funnier that one of the better thematic things of our route was actually Tom's idea -- he suggested we have teams meet at the Oakridge VTA station and take the train one stop to Almaden.  "It can be like that Hogwarts train or whatever," he said.

Doing the route actually made us feel like we'd be in decent shape.  The city of San Jose had a bunch of the picnic locations at Almaden open on May 30.  The train station would be a lot easier than having people park at the park and have to get back there somehow.  There was, ironically, a Sonoma Chicken Coop there as well, which was totally empty at 3pm on a Saturday, so we figured it'd make a GREAT lunch stop.  The only catch is that we'd have to change the order of things a little as I'd found a picnic area that I thought would be ideal for Quidditch -- some tables with a big flat clear running ground next to it.

To get between the park and the mall area we walked both the walking trail, which had no potential real locations on it (I mean, we could have put out a picnic chair and had teams sit on the ground but that would SUCK), as well as Winfield Blvd, which ALSO turned out not to have any reasonable locations.  Google maps claimed there was a coffeeshop along the way but it totally wasn't true.  Still, using the train one way meant that if we had to have people walk from the park to Emerald Hills Golfland, a 10-minute walk or so, we could have the one really long walk, it would be fine.

Golfland was also super nice to us.  We went in, looked around at their patio/golf area, bought Icees (which I promptly manage to drop mine twice and spill it all over the place), and talked to the manager there, and he was basically like "you want a few tables for a few hours in the middle of the afternoon with no golf for a scavenger hunt?  Yeah, we can do that, we've been a scavenger hunt location before.  No big deal."  So that was awesome too.

Getting a final location turned out to be harder.  We talked to BJ's (which Bob had used in ETPH3 in Foster City so the manager said he thought he could do something similar) and Buca di Beppo in the Oakridge mall, but neither of those panned out and in the end Tom got a deal with Round Table Pizza.

I don't know the exact cost of our locations in the Almaden route, but they weren't bad at all.  The picnic locations in the park went for about $130 each IIRC.  Probably the most gratuitous cost for us was buying train tickets for people to go one stop.

(Also, as a funny aside; Tom and Merry and I playtested the Monsters hedge maze puzzle at the food court in Oakridge that day we walked through the route for the first time... and that food court is where the puzzle really ended up being.)

Playtests and Iterations, Part 1

Something I should probably mention is that I had very little to do with registration itself.  I helped Tom edit the FAQ page for the DASH site, but I believe Merry did all the work to get us set up with Eventbrite.  I also did very little work on Cluekeeper as well.  While I certainly feel like I put a whole ton of work into DASH this year as always, I know Tom easily did twice as much.

Onwards to playtesting, where we tested the validity of our route, recruited some staffers, and had other hijinks in order to improve DASH for everyone.

First, I was out of town from March 23 to April 13.  Tom was out of town for a portion of late March as well. And all three of us were out of town on April 18-19.  So we ended up doing two playtests in April -- one on the 11th and one on the 25th.

I wasn't there for the one on the 11th, but they ran it with 3 people on the broom for Quidditch, so that's where the 3-person broom was born from.  I don't know whose idea that was (I have an email from Channing who suggests it) and I still felt like it might be dangerous and/or people wouldn't want to do it, but the rest of GC insisted, so there you have it.

I was, however, there for a meeting on April 14th which I'll call the "OMG WE NEED COOLER STUFF" revelation.  This came from a playtester that might not want me mentioning their name here, where their basic feedback overall after the playtest was "This is a pretty good hunt.  You could run it next week for real and you'd be fine.  The only problem is that as a player I'd be like 'What did my $40 actually get me?  Every puzzle is just on paper and I don't really see a lot of extra production value."

So we brainstormed some ideas.  Quidditch had an activity, why not add in activities somehow for the other two tasks?  For potions, our initial idea was to have digusting jellybeans (Bertie Botts) and players would have to "show their skill at choosing ingredients wisely" by eating 5 jellybeans.  Tom also came up with the idea to have people go to the arcade in the mall and play the Whack-a-mole machine to "defeat the Monsters" for the third task... which got changed to "here's some tokens, get us some tickets and prove you can defeat monsters" so that the one or two thematic machines wouldn't just get tied up or have a long line if there was a bunch of teams hitting it at the same time.

Also, for stuff: why not have a real rubber duck at the end?  And real Snitches with the start code on them?  We brainstormed having better spell books (maybe even tying in puzzle 1 and the final meta, but eventually decided to just present the final meta as a spell book).  We hoped to get tetrahedron blocks made for the Potions puzzle, which fell through, although it seems many teams solved it without actually assembling the triangles anyway.

If you played in San Jose or a few other cities, the Potions activity in the end was a lot cooler: a piece of paper that you had to make an "eye-of-newt potion" to reveal the start code written in invisible ink.  This came out of Seattle and I don't think it propogated to all the cities; myself, I met up with Cathy from Seattle GC while staffing Shinteki Decathlon the weekend before DASH so they could hand off the envelope of invisible ink papers to me.

Other cities brainstormed other ideas for Monsters on the national mailing list; I know one city did a thing where players had to draw monsters to defeat them, and another had a pin-the-tail-on-the-monster sort of event, and another had a throw-beanbags-at-monsters sort of event.

Another cool artifact that happened was the Marauder's Map, which came from Kenzie in Austin GC.  They sent a template out to other cities to create our own.  I started working on this -- so if you played in SJ, the map you got, I came up with all the location names, but Tom made and printed the real file because I had rotated the map sideways.  It was sort of funny to come up with thematic locations for both real locations in the hunt and just other nearby places.  For example, the Petco near the mall was marked as "Magical Menagerie", a bank down the street was marked as Gringotts.  Beauxbatons and Durmstrang were other shopping centers on the other side of the area from Oakridge, and the final location was the Ministry of Magic.  The lunch location was the Leaky Cauldron, the start was Platform 9 3/4, the wands puzzle was at Ollivander's.  I think the only two that were real hunt locations that threw people were Madam Puddifoot's (the Tea shop) and Slug & Jiggers Apothecary -- during the actual hunt someone did ask me WTF that was when they showed up at Potions, like "I know all the other Harry Potter references on the map but not this one," and I was like "It's a shop in Diagon Alley."

Playtests and Iterations, Part 2

By the second playtest on April 25, we had a few of these things at least determined.  Another funny thing about this playtest was that since I had been out of the country I hadn't seen any of the puzzles except Rita Skeeter, Monsters, and of course Quidditch.  We had 2 teams playtesting that day, both experienced.  One was Pretty Pretty Pandas -- 5 people wearing panda hats -- and the other, that was Francis and Dan (who I knew from other hunts) and Michael (who I didn't) and they were called Leviosaaaaaa or something like that.  Anyway, since I hadn't done most of the puzzles I warned them in advance that "I'll be wearing my GC hat about 20% of the time and the other 80% of the time I'm just doing puzzles with you guys.  I'll let you know when I have to be GC.  Is that cool?" and so I was effectively the fourth member of their team.

I only really remember a few key times of the testing itself.  We got surprisingly stuck on the wands puzzle (for some reason we had a number wrong in the anagram one and couldn't get iphones, sadly).  Quidditch was fun to watch.  The Sonoma Chicken Coop was pretty empty for lunch, and the Rita Skeeter puzzle went much better than I remembered it being.  I hadn't seen Potions before, or Tea Leaves... we got annoyingly stuck at the end of Tea Leaves actually, with the right letters but unable to figure out how to anagram them properly (since looking for a name, not a word), and I ended up putting on my GC hat for a bit there since "we're at the point we would go ask GC for a hint if this was the real hunt, probably."  We made the same mistake in House Elves in playtest that most people made in the real game, not noticing the back side of the paper.  Alas.

Funny thing about the final meta in that playtest: the Pandas beat us to the final meta by like 20-25 minutes I think, but we solved it either faster than they did or around the same time.  They had kinda skipped most of the first part by guessing Triwizard Champions really early, so we had more of the mini meta puzzles done when we started the second part.  It was a very long slog but we had it down to like 4 possible antispells for Minotaur and then I noticed the flavor text about sealing a box since I'd done the two puzzles involving that.

During the wrap-up for this playtest, Rich (being the cofounder and primary engineer of Cluekeeper) asked if it would be possible to add "Cluekeeper" into the Quidditch puzzle as one of the keepers, which was a brilliant idea.  He even found a place in the grid where it would go.

A few pictures from the playtest:

LJ-Cut Playtest PhotosCollapse )

Solving the Constraint Satisfiability Problem of Staffing

Having two weeks worth of playtests, we started coming up with a plan for site opening/closing times, getting together our lists of volunteers, and trying to figure out how to fit all of their constraints.  Like, "These people want to show up at 1pm and be indoors, so we'll put them in the food court from 1-7pm", or "these two people have to leave at 12:30, so we'll put them at the starting sites," and so on.  We were lucky to have 9 volunteers not counting us or Channing, which gave us a lot of flexibility in having two people at every site (plus we had 4 people at Quidditch for the peak time).  Well, Merry was assigned alone at the Tea Leaves site for a while, but Tom and I would be only a few minutes away at Potions incase she needed a break, so that worked out.

We also had to have people at the reserved sites in the park at 10am for when the park ranger would come by and check the permits.  Fortunately those were Wands (Lakeview picnic area) and Quidditch (Tamien), our second and third sites, due to open at like 10:15 and 10:30am anyway.  Our 5th site, for Potions, was an unreservable picnic site called Greystone, so Tom was due to go there ASAP after the opening skit, basically.

Some of you know that I have a particular interest in making sure volunteers don't end up in certain particular undesirable circumstances, specifically
1) being alone somewhere staffing for hours with no bathroom, and
2) staffing for a shift for hours with no break for food (and/or sleep, if an overnight hunt).

As a result, all of the volunteers for DASH7 in San Jose either had an hour or two break in their schedule for lunch, and were either in a place with a convenient bathroom OR were in a place with 2 staffers and a bathroom within a 5-10 minute walk, usually in the park...

...well, except Tom and I.  My staff schedule was basically 9-10:15am at the train station for the opening, 10:15am-1pm as primary on Quidditch, 1pm-5:30pm as secondary on Potions, 5:30pm onwards at the final location.  And Tom was similar except he went from the opening skit straight to the Potions site to stake it out.  As organizers, though, it's not as terrible when we give ourselves bad shifts like that as when we put it on people who have graciously volunteered their time.  I brought granola bars along, too.

Revenge of Sonoma Chicken Coop

Speaking of our sites in particular, our 4th site, for Rita Skeeter and a lunch break, was the Sonoma Chicken Coop in Almaden.  Which we kept saying how it was a great location because it was huge and relatively empty so there'd be plenty of room for puzzlers, right?

Well, guess what... the Sonoma Chicken Coop closed down at the end of April, 5 days after our last playtest there.  I don't think there was ANY warning of this whatsoever.  And Tom had even emailed and confirmed with a store manager there about our event (we like telling places when we're going to randomly bring in 200 people on a Saturday afternoon and all), and they didn't tell him about this either.  We found out about it literally 8 days before DASH, on May 22.

So we had a brief OMGWTF meeting that day -- well, just a general meeting as well, with Channing and everyone to talk about the state of things.  I had just gotten in my Harry Potter robes that I ordered off Amazon, and we talked about dressing up Rich Bragg as Hagrid (which BTW worked awesome, see pics below), and then we had a "okay, WTF do we do about the lunch stop".

Keep in mind that the Sonoma Chicken Coop was at a small shopping center that also had Legends Pizza, and a small Thai place and a sushi place.  So we decided that our backup plan would be Legends, and that we would warn teams that the lunch and dinner places were both pizza and that they should plan accordingly.

Tom went to talk to the people at Legends the next day while I was sitting in San Mateo giving out Shinteki puzzles and waiting for Cathy to show up.  Corey and Melinda were replacing me and Chris at our Shinteki stop anyway so I let them know what was going on, as they were in the food court stop and so could tell teams about the food situation at that point in our route as well.

Week Leading Up To DASH... was Google I/O

Something else about this entire week was that May 28 and 29 were Google I/O, so I was up in San Francisco staffing codelabs there, and thus unable to really do anything to help out DASH during the week.  The only thing I remember doing was meeting up with Tom at some point to get my DASH staff t-shirt and to give him the papers for the Potions activity; other than that my week was crazy with getting stuff pushed out before the I/O keynote Thursday morning.  I guess I contributed to a few emails about the opening skit, which believe it or not (and of course you'll believe it if you've worked on events like this before), we were still hammering out up until Friday.

And then DASH day itself happened!

IMG_5089 copyIMG_5112 copy

As I mentioned, I had been planning to dress up as the Gryffindor Quidditch captain for quite a while.  So when my costume stuff came in, I sent out a photo to SJ DASH and it inspired Tom to get a Slytherin scarf, Channing and Lizzie to pick up Gryffindor and Ravenclaw robes, and Richard got the Hufflepuff robe and tie, so we had some people from all schools.  Another thing we did in San Jose (not sure if this was national?) was that, since the opening puzzle required teams to talk to other teams to acquire four separate sheets, we decided the best way to divide up the packets was to have teams pull their house name out of the Sorting Hat when they got to Hogwarts and were greeted by Hagrid and their professors, by which I mean Richard had a hat with house names in it and Rich Bragg was accompanying people off the train.

So, I showed up at 9am at Almaden station, where I hung out with various staff members waiting for players to join us.  Merry and Mike were staffing the registration table, but that was up at Oakridge station, by the mall, where players would park for the day, and then the players made their way down to where we were in three separate train trips.  To entertain teams that got there early, Tom and I wandered around telling bad Harry Potter jokes and trying to play up the house rivalries.

Eventually everyone was there and we were able to start up.  I have to admit, I had a script to follow, but I didn't want to just stare at the paper the whole time so I kind of got some of the things I was supposed to say wrong.  I don't think it actually mattered.  Mostly Tom gave the "boring" pre-game speech about rules and regulations and the lunch/dinner pizza situation and Cluekeeper and all that, and Rich (as Hagrid) and I announced the Triwizard Tournament theme, gave out the hunt start code, and told people to open their packets and figure out how to enter their names into the cup.  (This was the first puzzle, unscored, and involved players having to trade papers with 3 other teams.)

We spent about 30 seconds taking photos of players at the site and then Tom and I got in his car to get over to the park to set up sites 3 (Quidditch) and 5 (Potions).

A few photos from Site 1Collapse )

Quidditch!

Joe had already been waiting at the Quidditch site from 10am on to greet the park ranger; we got there around 10:20.  On the way over I also walked past another picnic site that was setting up a party and warned them that people might think their site was a puzzle location "so if some people come over and ask you about Harry Potter stuff, please tell them they need to keep going, and I'm sorry in advance."

Now, getting over to Tamien, the problem with the site that I hadn't realized before or in playtest was that there wasn't a really ideal way to set up the Quidditch run when lots of people would be arriving.  The nice flat stretch of grass there pretty much went along the route players would be walking from to get there, so we could either greet them in front and have them run to the picnic tables and back (and then go to the picnic tables again to solve...?), or have them walk past people brooming in progress, or... well, Joe suggested that he'd just wait out at this tree across the field and people could do that.  I was a little bit concerned about having teams running on brooms across the actual path where muggles would be walking dogs, jogging, and riding bikes all day, but it looked like probably the best layout to have given the space we were in.

I realize this is a little confusing so here is a diagram:

SiteDiagram

As you can see, the proposed path is along the flat grassy area (and part of the site we had reserved) but the actual path we ended up using worked out (mostly) better.  Players could come back and solve at the picnic tables and/or sit under the trees nearby.

(I realize the labelling there is a little misleading in one way: "where players came from" just means the path they were walking on; in reality the site before this was a 5-minute walk to the north along the lake, not right next to it)

We had a brief goose emergency too as a bunch of geese were napping in the area I was hoping to have people run through!  I was worried they'd be in the way but eventually when lots of people showed up the geese ran away.

Mike also showed up from the opening site, and Joe went out to wait with Snitches at the tree, and I put on my Quidditch gear, and the first team to show up was ReD'oh (aka the Guys on Scooters, aka Jessen and Stribs) at 10:40am, with the Burninators about 2 minutes behind them, and the Judean GNUs about 2 minutes behind them, and then after that there was the normal flood with a team showing up every minute or so.  What shpiel of mine the teams got was largely based on how many teams showed up at the same time as them and how far in they were; I kept refining my speech as I kept giving it (but some teams got an abridged version).  Also, as later teams could see the teams on the brooms before them going with 3 people it was easier to convince them that they also needed to go with 3 people.

Rich (as Hagrid) also showed up to help out about 10-15 minutes in which was really good as we eventually did run into a bottleneck where there were more teams waiting than there were brooms.

My speech went something like:
Me: Hi, newcomers!
Them: Hi.  Can we have the start code?
Me: Ha!  You think it's that easy?  This is the FIRST TASK of the Triwizard Tournament!  As you can guess by my getup and equipment, you're going to have to play Quidditch!  However, as you know, this is a very dangerous sport... have any of you flown a broom before?
Them, usually: Uhh... well... no...  (Them, sometimes: Oh, yeah.  I fly a broom to work every day.)
Me: Didn't think so!  Well, I can't possibly let you do the task until you show that you can get on this broom and make it fly... however, these are special 3-person brooms, and they won't fly unless 3 people from your team get on.  So, I'm going to need you to get on this broom and fly it out there.  See that guy in the blue shirt and red shorts out there?  He's one of our house team's keepers, and you're going to have to go get a Golden Snitch.  The start code you seek is on the snitch.
Them: [some way of determining who goes, usually nose-touching]
Me: Also by the way, those of you not on the broom are totally welcome to follow them and take photos and videos.  Good luck!

Then when they got back I'd usually be like "I'm so sorry, I was wrong, you were totally able to fly that thing.  I guess you can play Quidditch after all.  Here's your puzzle."

Teams that showed up when there were already teams getting the shpiel or that all showed up at once would usually get some abbreviated version just because we'd have to try to get them in line for a broom ASAP.  Rich helped with that a lot.  So it'd be like "Hi welcome to Quidditch we need you to fly a broom to get the snitch which has the start code uh talk to Hagrid thanks!"

At our peak we technically had 5 people staffing the site.  Charlie joined Joe out in the field, at which point my speech changed to "See those guys working out there by the tree?  They're on the house Quidditch team... a chaser and a keeper... I mean a beater and a chaser... whatever, you're going to have to fly out there and get a snitch away from them!"  Rich continued keeping teams in line recycling brooms as they came in, and Mike separated out puzzle pages and gave them to people after they'd entered the start code (which was really hard for me to do anyway since I was wearing gloves).

Some amusing things happened while staffing the site:

- With the Burninators, Wei-Hwa started entering the start code while they were flying back from getting the Snitch, so we were like "Dude, you shouldn't be texting and flying!  That's dangerous!"
- One of the teams actually did get almost run over by a bicycle, so they changed path to avoid the bike... then they signalled left when turning back onto the real path by waving their arm out to the left like a bike signal
- One team decided to fly their broom by having the broom bristles side out in front instead of in back
- Some teams got really into this and actually sort of fought Joe for the snitch with feints and things.  And some would come back triumphantly holding the snitch in the air
- One broom group high-fived another broom group as they passed each other

And, there was only one team out of 44 teams that I didn't make fly the broom.  This is because they were a couple holding a baby.  Up until that point, for almost any team where someone didn't want to fly (or in one case couldn't), the rest of the team would fly, but in this case I had a conundrum because I wasn't about to make them do something that might endanger their small child BUT I also felt like just giving them the start code wouldn't be fair AND they wouldn't get one of the snitches to keep AND it'd throw off our count (we knew how many teams and how many snitches, for when to close the site).  So I told them to take a broom and walk out and get a snitch and come back and that seemed fair all around (and they took a very cute picture of their baby holding the snitch)

Quidditch PicturesCollapse )

Around 12:15pm I left the Quidditch site to head over to help Tom out with Potions.  By then all of the teams had shown up and gotten their puzzles and many had left already, so Rich and Mike said they'd stay there for a bit before heading out.  It was sort of awkward carrying a bag of snitches and the three brooms and my bag and stuff through the park, but I eventually got there unscathed.

Potions and Sabotage (Mostly Potions)

By the time I got to the Potions station, about 7-8 teams had come through (and infact, my normal team, Ducky Charms, was still there solving the puzzle).  I ditched the robe and scarf and gloves because it was 80+ degrees out by that point, and switched to my DASH staff shirt, ostensibly also changing characters from being Quidditch captain.

So, I've heard varying reports of how this task was run in other cities.  We had gotten goldenrod-printed slips of paper from Cathy in Seattle which read: "Show your mastery of potions!  Make an eye-of-newt solution and brush it onto this sheet to reveal the start code for your second tournament challenge."  I think a few other cities did as well.  The idea was that teams would make a "potion" of baking soda and water and that would reveal the invisible message.

However, Tom went one step further with this.  He set up a mini laboratory with a cauldron of paper slips, another smaller cauldron of baking soda (aka "eye of newt powder") and then four flasks.  Three of them had water in them and one of them had vinegar.  They were colored red, yellow, green, blue.  If all went well, teams would get a little plastic cup and a q-tip and would reveal the start code without any hitches... but...

IMG_5240 copyIMG_5192 copy

The green one was the one filled with vinegar.

So when teams would come up, and as usual say "Hi, start code please?" and we'd be like "Hi, not so fast, this is the SECOND TASK in the TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT!" and tell them they'd have to prove their ability at Potions to get the start code.

(As an aside, with some teams I would say how this was the second task, and they'd be like "Wait, what was the first one?" and I'd be like "...Quidditch...")

We'd have them take a slip of paper out and read it, and hand them their "cauldron" (really a small plastic cup) and their stirrer (a q-tip) and tell them to use their "best knowledge of potions" to make a mixture to reveal the start code.

Some teams would just be like "ok, well, I like [color] so let's do that!"

Some teams would go "Oh, we're in [house] so clearly we should pick [color]'.

This led to an abnormally high number of Slytherin teams getting the vinegar and having the mixture explode on them.  Infact, by the time I showed up, Tom said "Don't hint, but if they choose green, please get them to step a foot or two back from the table before they mix it so we don't have to clean it up again."

Some teams would immediately say something like "Oh, I see, this is baking soda, so let's see which flask contains vinegar," and start sniffing them to decide which one to use.

Some teams didn't actually want to do the potions thing and they would get the slip of paper and hold it up to the light and be like "Hey, I can kinda see letters on it... this says Elixir, guys..." and I'd be like "Well, that's no fun, is it?" and/or say that they were clearly cheating their way out of Potions class.

One team had two children on it, a 14ish girl and a 10ish boy.  The boy had been super enthusiastic about Quidditch and likewise was super enthusiastic about Potions.  The kids started fighting so I was like "Whatever, we have a few extras, you can both do it."  Naturally the girl examined the flasks and picked blue and got the word to show up, the boy took green and got the mixture blowing up in his face.  And then after that he was like "CAN I DO IT AGAIN??"

I felt a little bit bad for this kid as they had a team of 6 people anyway and he didn't really have much to do.  I told the team about DASH Junior, but they said "well, she's a seasoned puzzlehunter already, we don't really need to put them on a junior team."  Which I don't think is entirely true if they were dragging around the younger kid all day and he was bored, but whatever.

The only downsides of our location were that 1) it was unreservable and another party had showed up, so we only had half the tables we thought we'd have and 2) there was a lot of wind since we were next to the lake still, and so every now and then a gust of wind would blow away the cauldron and our puzzle papers and stuff and it was quite annoying.

Other than that, I dunno, I spent about 3 hours at the site.  At one point Tom wandered down to check on Merry, who was a few minutes away at the corner of the park and had been alone all day, so she could get a break for a bit.  Channing and Lizzie also wandered by at some point.  I ate a few granola bars and Tom ate some leftover pizza that one of the teams accidentally left with us.

Potent PotablesCollapse )

We thought we'd seen every single team come by at around 3:40pm so we started cleaning up the site, spilling out the water and taking out the trash and all... and then the very last team did show up.  They had switched people around so a different set of 3 had been there in the morning, which is why nobody recognized them.  We gave them the puzzle and Tom's Google Voice number just incase they got stuck, and were on our way.

Winding Down

First we brought all of the Potions and Quidditch stuff back to Tom's house (remember, part of why we used this location in the first place was that Tom lived 2 minutes away) and then we went to the mall to check in with Joe and Charlie at the arcade and see how things were going, and then to see Corey and Melinda in the food court, because it sounded like we'd completely lost a team somewhere along the line.  However, upon investigation what we realized is, the reason we were seeing teams sometimes skipping over site 5 to be at 6 was that despite our city having reordered our route to go along with the puzzles, Cluekeeper still had them in the normal order.  So there were teams that were at site 7 that had gotten skipped over what we thought was 6 but was actually 5 and everything was (mostly) okay.

In the meantime as we were heading up there, I got two funny chats from the final location on the GC hangout, one of which was "a team has finished the whole thing but their phone died and they can't enter it", and then the next was "Ducky Charms has won!"

Which was kinda crazy because Ducky Charms is MY team!  Well, or in this instance it was Glenn, Chris, Jill, Sean, and Matt Wright.  I thought they were in 5th or 6th place when they passed through Potions and I figured the Burninators and scooter guys were sure to be at the final location first.  Turns out though that Chris or Sean or someone shortcut half of the Monsters puzzle by guessing "creature trapped" and just putting in Minotaur.

DCWin
Ducky Charms, the winning team in the Expert division!
(I took this from Jill's facebook page since I'm not sure anyone else got a team photo)

Anyway, so Tom and I finally got to the final location, Round Table Pizza, around 4:30.  Apparently there had been a few issues with the restaurant in that lots of teams had been coming in and taking up tables but not really ordering food.  This was clearly from a combination of a few things: 1) having pizza as the lunch and dinner stops, 2) having the food court right before Round Table, and 3) the earlier teams were getting there at 2pm which was way too early for dinner.

Since Tom and I hadn't really eaten all day, we figured we'd get there and get a pizza and at least alleviate part of the problem.  Or maybe we'd just throw some money at them from our DASH budget to keep them from kicking players out. But what ended up happening is, we got there, and my fiance Chris was waiting for me (by himself; the rest of Ducky Charms had all left), and I was super-hungry and wanted to eat, and he said "Why don't we go somewhere like Cheesecake Factory, since I already had pizza earlier?"

Chris and I got dinner and cheesecake at CF and then stopped back in at Round Table before heading home (I just wanted to make sure they didn't need any more help there, but it sure seemed like everything was under control).  So I ended up not really sticking around to see everyone solving the final meta but instead went home and chilled out for the first time in weeks (given that I'd spent all of May stressing out about Google I/O and DASH)

Few more photos from the last part of the routeCollapse )

Final thoughts?

I certainly had fun organizing stuff this year just like last year; I feel like I usually spend as much time staffing/organizing puzzle events every year as I spend playing them so I'm pretty sure I got in my year's quota working on DASH.  It was great actually being there for the real event this year and seeing everyone enjoy it and feeling like I had influenced that by co-writing a puzzle and co-organizing a location (as opposed to either missing the day-of and/or just staffing a site as I had in the past).  And it was good getting to know Tom, and hanging out with the rest of the "local" GC too.  (While our GC meetings always involved me and Tom and Merry, it was convenient to also invite Channing and Richard and Yuan to some of them as well, so we did.)

Yuan and Channing are not returning as national coordinators next year and need someone to take up that helm.  I can tell you there's no way that's going to be me, because I have my wedding to plan and still want to write my own puzzle hunt, which had to take a backseat while I was working on DASH.  I may step up to help organize the South Bay location next year too, who knows.  It would be interesting for someone not in the Bay Area to do this, to be honest, although it would certainly be a lot less convenient for all of us around here.  (It's really nice when you can just walk 20 feet over to the desk of the national GC head.)


Organizing DASH for five months while living with my boyfriend-then-fiance who was playing in the event and keeping it all secret from him also took a chunk of effort.  For meeting up for scouting, without giving away the location, I either borrowed his car or got rides to places.  When my Harry Potter quidditch costume stuff came in, he caught me trying to get a good selfie to send the team, and I was like "well, this supposed to be a secret but..." and he joked like "You're running a Harry Potter event and there's Quidditch involved?  OMG SPOILERS!" and helped me take the photo.  But other than that, he saw absolutely nothing of the event beforehand (aside from he'd occasionally hear me allude to things like "one or our sites just imploded" or "I need to go scouting again because our original place won't work" and such.

I was a little bit sad when reading blog posts saying that people thought DASH was too hard this year, and that certainly might be true.  I didn't see a lot of changes in the puzzles between Expert/Novice, and I know in past years we've taken the "novice" version of things and made that "expert" and then made an easier version of it for novices.  I think this year's puzzles may not have lent themselves well to that.  Paul Rundle contacted me at some point to ask how to make Quidditch into a Junior puzzle and I said "Take out all the references to things you think 10-year-olds won't get, make a smaller word find, have the remaining letters spell out the answer."  While I think that might have been overkill for the adults, we probably could have done that a little more with some of the puzzles for novice, at least.

Another super-sad thing that happened was that Thomas Gazzola, who was the Portland DASH lead, was hit by a drunk driver a few days after DASH and passed away.  I didn't know him, but I have a few emails from him, including saying how he thought he'd have a good site for the Quidditch puzzle.  So if you're reading this from Portland and somehow didn't know about his passing, I'm sorry :(

Oh, one last thing...

Epilogue from the Sonoma Chicken Coop

Remember I said how the Almaden Chicken Coop that we were going to use for a site closed?  Well, it turned out the Campbell one (that claimed they'd be "doing renovations in April and May" so we couldn't use it as a site) ALSO closed.  I was in Campbell a week after DASH and saw this...

"Renovations", huh.Collapse )

Sonoma Chicken Coop is dead.  Long live Sonoma Chicken Coop.

I hope you enjoyed reading my ridiculously long entry from the "other" side of the event, as it were, and I hope it gave some insight into what GCing an event like this may be like (and hopefully didn't scare anyone off of it :) )

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April 16th, 2015


02:50 pm - Not going to CMU Spring Carnival
I guess I should have mentioned this earlier, but Chris and I are going up to Seattle this weekend for Microsoft Puzzlehunt 16.  I really did think I'd go to Carnival this year, but in the end I figured that I'd rather do puzzles and I can go visit friends in Pittsburgh any time, really.  (Hopefully I'll manage a good east-coast trip sometime later this year.)

Carnival's always been timed badly for me recently due to my habit of spending some chunk of April in Japan anyway, which I also did this year.  We'll see, I guess.  It occurs to me that the Kiltie concert has already happened and things are underway, which just feels weird to think about.  I guess I'm getting old.

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January 22nd, 2015


07:34 pm - MIT Mystery Hunt 2015
A writeup! Only 3 days after hunt!

There are spoilers within. Random asked us to refrain from them since the hunt is going to stay online and be playable for a year, plus they are going to publish a book with the puzzle from one of the rounds. I can't spoil that round, since I saw very little of it, but the overall hunt... let's just say, if you are thinking of playing the hunt on your own, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS ENTRY IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS.

Also on that note, a warning: This entry is EXTREMELY LONG. I started writing it on the flight home and continued braindumping for a few days. I enjoy reading people's long hunt stories so I hope you enjoy mine.

Okay, I warned you. On several axes.Collapse )

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July 22nd, 2014


03:19 pm - my ankle saw its shadow and now i have two more weeks of wearing a cast
Just as a reminder:
June 6: move to mountain view
June 8: acquire bicycle
June 10, evening: take curb at bad angle in the dark, twisting leg underneath bicycle.
June 11-June 29: Treat as if sprained ankle
June 30: Get x-ray, find out ankle is actually broken
July 1: Get cast for broken ankle
July 1-21: What we will call "Adventures of Chrome Cast Girl" as I go around wearing a blue cast with Chrome stickers all over it, paint my toenails blue, try to cheerfully get through my 3 weeks of wearing a cast for my ankle to get better, begging rides off people, etc, etc.
July 22: Get the Chrome cast taken off, and now starting 2 weeks of Black is the new Chromecast.

Basically, I went to the doctor today, they sawed off my old cast, had me limp over for X-rays, and he's like "you still need to wear a cast for another 2 weeks or so.  It's healing, but it's still at a point where it could easily be displaced or bruised."

So I got a new cast put on.  I could choose colours again, so I decided to go with black.  I figure it's partially because I'm bummed out about the cast at all, but also I'm figuring I can match clothes to it a bit better.

Can't believe I have to wait two more weeks to clean off my right leg :(

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July 11th, 2014


07:09 pm - I haven't made a public entry in a while
Not that it really matters, but I'm beginning to wonder if I should just give up on the part of me that loves Japanese baseball and realize that I'm in the US and I'm never going to live in Japan again and trying to stay involved is just not going to work out.

This is mostly because I JUST found out that the Japanese national collegiate team came to the US on a US-and-Netherlands tour this summer.  I know there's USA-Japan next summer and I'm planning for that, but WTF?  Even though this was also the middle of nowhere in North Carolina, I totally would have made my best effort to go had I known.

But I didn't know because I just don't really read about Japanese baseball the way I used to.  I spend a lot of time on work, and on my boyfriend of 5 months, and I broke my leg a month ago (well, I moved to Mountain View at the start of June, got a bike, and had an accident on June 10 where my leg got twisted under the bike, I thought it was a sprained ankle but just found out on July 1 that it was actually broken, a displacement of the distal fibula, I have a cast until the 22nd) and so my life has mostly been focused on those things, especially with Google I/O on June 25/26, which took a lot of my time to prep for and to staff at AND I couldn't walk for like 10 days after my bike accident.

I don't know why this bothers me so much.  I guess people know I'm not really an expert on the current state of Japanese baseball anymore.  And quite frankly, working at Google and having a career is pretty awesome, and having a smart sweet boyfriend who does puzzlehunts and boardgames and takes me to musicals and all is ALSO pretty awesome.

Anyway, I dunno.  But yeah, things have been busy the last while.  In April, I switched teams from Chrome Devtools to work on Project Tango, which is a cool 3D computer vision Kinect-like Android device under the formerly-Motorola ATAP research division, and I've been working with super-smart people learning all kinds of crazy stuff about computer vision, so that has been pretty cool.  There was a lot of work with that to get ready for Google I/O of course, and breaking my leg 2 weeks beforehand didn't really help (unfortunately, the place I live is a 10-minute bike ride from campus but there's NO public transit there AND it's not on a Google shuttle route; the closest is to take a shuttle to Caltrain and walk 3/5 of a mile home, which I can finally do again since I have a walking cast but it takes me 20 minutes).  Of course, I did get a blue cast and put Chrome stickers all over it so it's a Chrome Cast, which is sort of funny I guess, or at least everyone at Google thinks it's pretty funny.  But yeah, I've been having my boyfriend Chris drive me around a lot, and/or begging rides from people to get to/from work in general.  I just took my first Uber ride yesterday actually, which was a lot cheaper and more convenient than I thought it would be.

I had been doing ballroom dance class at Google as well as lightsaber stage fighting, and I was ice-skating once a week, and playing ping pong, and I've had to stop all of that for a month, which has SUCKED in terms of exercise.

Chris and I went up to Seattle for Microsoft Puzzle Hunt in mid-June right before I/O too, where we played PH15 with Liboncatipu, and.... our team placed 3rd, which was pretty nuts!  I had to limp the final runaround on my broken leg, but the hunt had enough broken-ness towards the end that a lot of good teams got tripped up getting to/through the final meta.  I want to post more about it sometime but just haven't found the mental cycles to do so.

For the 4th of July weekend, since I got the 3rd and 4th off, we went to Napa, and ate a lot of good food and rode a wine train and toured a winery masquerading as a castle, and stuff like that.  It was a lot of fun and nice to spend a weekend out with him.  I'm hoping we can do a trip to NYC later this summer actually, but we're still working that out.

This weekend we're doing Berkeley Mystery Hunt and California Extreme.  So, we're busy and cool things are happening.  My life should be pretty good all things considered, minus the broken leg, but I'm just feeling so weird and melancholy over the Japanese baseball thing all of a sudden.

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April 14th, 2014


12:19 pm - Carnival, part 2
So, Sunday.  I woke up around 10:30am, the plan was to meet at least Derek and Nathan at the Oakland Mad Mex at 11:30.  Of course I was running a bit late, and as it turns out they had decided to get a group together anyway and everyone was running late!  I got there at 11:45 and they had just gotten the big table in the back.  The place was empty, so it wasn't a big deal, though.  It was me, Derek, Nathan, Brian, Jay, Alkas, and Chris joined us a bit later as well.  I made people order too many chips, but it worked out okay, and I got to have my mad mex burrito for old times' sake, yay.  The funny part is that Chris made us play credit card roulette for the check AGAIN, and even I entered it this time.  Alkas hadn't eaten food since he went to brunch earlier so he was in charge of it, and... bizarrely I was first out, and then Derek, and then Nathan, and... it seriously went around the table and came down to Jay and Chris, and of course Chris lost yet AGAIN although this time there was no cash for a "next level".  He was calculating the odds of having lost 4 out of 5 CC roulettes as like 1 to 840, which is about how much money it cost him over the weekend.

Everyone else was doing various stuff around Pittsburgh and/or going to the airport after that, so I went to Squirrel Hill for the pie party... although I made my way there over the course of like 2 hours.  First I stopped in Dave&Andy's again for more ice cream (there was no line and they had the Kahlua cookies'n'cream, so I think I win) and then I went to the Forbes Field wall just to see it, and I walked across the Schenley bridge to campus and went around campus a bit.  I was originally going to just walk to Barbara's house, but it was REALLY HOT OUTSIDE so by the time I'd gotten to campus and wandered around a little I decided to just take a bus up, and got a drink from Entropy so I'd have change to take the bus.  (Though I still had to walk half a mile up the hill even from the bus stop.)

Pie party was good, there were a lot of people and I did get to talk to some of them a little bit more, and meet some people's new SOs (well, one specifically, but he seems to not want to talk about it online), and there was something weird in that there were two people there who have changed genders MTF since the last time I saw them a few years ago, and I felt awkward when talking to them.  I was thinking about why I'm not very good with dealing with friends' transitions, and it's not that I disapprove of transgenderism, because I don't -- I think it's linked to my memory?  For people who've known me a long time, you know I have a bizarrely good memory for faces/names/numbers/etc, but also that if you give me wrong information, it's very hard for me to ever overwrite that, so I still know some birthdays as a string of things, like "it's not the 16th, it's the 23rd", and I also have a very tough time changing names for people in my head, so I still call people by their college nicknames a lot of the time even if pretty much absolutely nobody else uses that name (or in one case, a guy who was one of my PGSS students and went by his middle name up through high school but switched to his first name in college, I *still* call him by his middle name because that's just how he was introduced to me 17 years ago).  So I think this is just another case where I just don't know how to overwrite the data in my head.  There's a person in there, they have a name, they have associated numbers and memories, and since I don't see them on any regular basis to really build a new identity or anything, it's just tough for me to correct what is in my memory.

(I dunno, I was thinking about this a lot afterwards, because I mean, I have a lot of gay friends and I never have any problem at all with that, so why is it that trans is hard for me?  Yes, I realize I'm saying this in a public entry, but whatever.)

Anyway, aside from that, I juggled for a while during the party, and also did play some games during the party too, like Race for the Galaxy (where I am still convinced that it's a game that really suffers from "missed the boat" syndrome in many ways) and Factory Fun (where we would have played the full game out, except we were outdoors and sunset happened).  I actually did not eat any pie at all, so ended up going back to Roman and Kelli's place and we had Zaw's for dinner, which was also nostalgic in a good way, and we sat outside on the porch and I got to find out exactly how cheap houses are in Pittsburgh these days, which is a little depressing.

My flight back to SF was at 6am, so I called for a taxi to show up at 3:45.  I TRIED to take a nap but just utterly failed, and instead stayed up the entire night chatting with people online.  Took a shower around 3am and caught the taxi and got to the airport.  Brian was at the airport all night apparently, so I met him at the gate, and it turned out Jim K was also on our flight, and I slept through the entire flight (yay window seat, yay reverse redeye) and I got a ride to work with Brian since his girlfriend Dian was picking him up from the airport.  Yay! 

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April 12th, 2014


10:30 pm - Carnival
Wow, I didn't even write about Carnival in here last year.  I guess I was only in town Sat-Sun then and it was a pretty big whirlwind (arrive Sat, go to midway, go to SCS thing, go to cslounge BBQ, go watch SNS Assassins, go to Pirates game, go to dinner, go to Charlie's, go to ass-early return flight).

This year I flew in on the Thurs-Fri redeye.  Jenny and Brian and I were on the same flight, and Talia and her family too.  So the aforementioned 3 of us split a taxi to Oakland/Squill, and of course ran into some pretty awful traffic, but I arrived at Roman and Kelli's house by 8am.  I intended to just shower and change and go to work on the shuttle, but I had a terrible time sleeping on the flight and was exhausted, so instead I showered and napped for 2 hours and eventually Roman drove me to Bakery Square.  I arrived at the Pittsburgh Google office at 11am or so, figured out how to get to the cafe on the 6th floor, and camped out with my laptop and told people where I was, and eventually I had like 10 people join me for lunch, which was great!  After lunch mpa gave me a tour of the office.  I ran into many many people that I worked with at either Claritech or Whizbang all those years ago, which was pretty awesome, and I also ran into various CMU alums that I forgot were there too.  Eventually I ended up camping out in a microkitchen to do work for several hours.

I took a shuttle to campus around 5-5:30 and met up with the class of 2004 friends of mine.  They were all in town for their 10th year reunion and I kinda glomped onto their group (since I mean, a lot of them are my usual friends in SF/etc anyway).  We walked around midway a little bit and then decided to go to Fuel and Fuddle for dinner -- except we got to F&F and they were way too crowded, so instead we decided to go to Church Brew Works!  We had to walk to the hotel everyone was staying at first to get some vehicles, but we got to CBW and surprisingly had no trouble securing 3 tables together in the bar area for the 14 or so of us.  The difficult problem was figuring out what to order.  Eventually we ended up with 3 pierogie pizzas for the table, a ton of nonstandard pierogies, various other side dishes, I got the onion soup, and people drank a lot of beer (I had birch beer on tap, yay).  Some subset of everyone did credit card roulette for the check, and Phil won (and kept the cash as well) and Smoak lost (and had to pay the whole bill).

They had a happy hour for 2004 after that, so I got Derek to take me home to Squill, and then they all went to their happy hour, and I hung out with Roman and Kelli and also with Charlie who randomly showed up ("I saw the lights were on and I knew Dee was here!").  Went to bed early, like 11pm.

But I couldn't get out of bed until like 10am despite first waking at like 7.  Went back to sleep and kept slamming the snooze on my phone.  I eventually got up and ready, stopped by Bruegger's for a bagel just because, and walked to campus (wheeee).  I guess I got there around noon, and I spent a while in the UC bookstore looking at CMU stuff (and bought a few things like plaid pajama pants and a t-shirt), and then headed over to the SCS/ECE alumni event in the Gates building, where I ran into a bazillion bazillion people.  It's great to see everyone at that event -- and I know soooo many people -- but it's hard to really talk to anyone!  Like I need to make plans with jweill for Japan next week but we only had a little bit of time to really talk about that. Still it was good to see people, and eat ice cream, and wander around.  Also the swag this year was a USB battery charger, which is kinda cool.

I wandered around campus for a while with the 2004 gang because they were doing that and I wanted to go through Wean/etc anyway, so we did that, wandering in and out of halls and classes and stuff.  Eventually I left them in DH2315 and I made my way back to Roman's place for the cslounge BBQ, though I didn't get there until like 4:30pm (and I even took a bus up the hill to hurry that up).  Saw lots of people at the BBQ too.  Apparently some of them even still read my livejournal, which was funny to realize.  Well, really only Benoit, I suppose.  A few people asked me about my boyfriend, and I said "I'll bring him next year," which either guarantees we'll still be together then or definitely won't be.  I'm not sure which.  I watched Adam play Magic with Tao and Gopi's kid (who's like 8 years old and thus not really the right age to play with the other kids, he was SO psyched that anyone would play with him), and then I went back to Oakland to catch up with people at Fuel and Fuddle for dinner for real.  Yay.  (And Chris lost the credit card roulette AGAIN, with the cash going to Mark this time.)  So that was good, and we went to Dave&Andy's for ice cream afterwards, and then they all went to drink and play party games, so I made my way back up to Squill, this time walking the entire 2-3 miles, though I stopped in at campus briefly on the way.  Couldn't find the arcade that I thought used to be in the basement of the UC, that was sort of sad.  Oh well.

I should probably be asleep already but figured I'd write this if I'm still awake.  Yay.

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April 2nd, 2014


11:13 am - Neck things
So two years ago I had a herniated disc in my neck that caused something like 3 weeks of unending neck pain, shoulder stiffness, and my left arm eventually going dead, which sucked.  I did medication for it (anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants) and after 2 months everything seemed to have healed itself.  I think in theory I was supposed to do some therapy except that since my arm kind of got its strength back naturally anyway, I didn't worry about it.

2 days ago, in the middle of the Sunday-Monday morning, I woke up in the middle of the night with neck pain.  It didn't stop for the rest of the night, and felt an awful lot like it did last time I had this problem.  I got up, took some Advil, made an appointment at the medical center here at Google.  When I got home later that evening (I'd slept in Menlo Park for most of the weekend) I found my super-strong anti-inflammatory pills from 2 years ago and took one of them, and I put an extra pillow under my neck and slept pretty decently Monday night.

Tuesday afternoon the doctor told me that basically, once you have a ruptured disc in your neck, it's common to have relapses every now and then if you're not careful, and that I was doing the right thing by taking the anti-inflammatories.  She wrote me a new prescription for them, printed out a sheet of some orthopedists in the area, and basically told me to see whether things got worse in the next week or two, and if they do, go to an orthopedist and get an MRI and a new diagnosis.

I guess the worry is that since it's a recurrence -- it's possible that I didn't really truly heal up the first time.  Or whatever.  I'm just worried because they told me the first time that in severe cases, they do surgery and reinforce your neck discs with metal, and that just sounds awful, both the surgery and the metal.  I'm not sure what to do about this though as it sounds like it's basically just a degenerative condition that I can't *really* do much about except try not to do things that strain my neck.  :(

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February 17th, 2014


11:42 pm - I went to Seattle for the weekend!
And it was awesome!  I didn't really plan anything and for the most part didn't really leave Ballard and it was as perfect a weekend as I could have hoped for.  Oren and Melanie let me stay with them, and Carl was staying there too, and Adam and Rehana live around the corner, so basically I mostly just hung out with all of my lovely cslounge friends who I have been friends with for 17 years or whatever.  Like the first day I got to town and played puzzle fighter with Oren, we went to Chinook's for dinner with all 6 of us to try to keep Carl awake until a reasonable hour, and that's about it.  Second day we (Oren and Carl and I) got up and walked to Market St to see the Lego Movie at the Majestic (I'd seen it last weekend but wanted to see it again because AWESOME) and had cupcakes beforehand, and we watched more Olympic skating and then went to Taste of India with Adam and Rehana for dinner, and then Carl and Adam and I went to Adam's place to play Tzolk'in, the Mayan gears game, which Adam of course won, but it was fun and now I've learned how to play.  Today we went to lunch with Zach, and he took us around the Fremont Google office so I could badge into doors and collect it on my "visited offices" list.  And we had Thai food and it was great to see Zach and I also got to see Fiona the puppy again and she's still soooo cute.  (Oren's dog Cooper is also cute but he dislikes people so it's not really fun to be like "Will you be my friend?" and have him wander off, whereas Fiona is just a ball of energy and she's like "BE MY FRIEND BE MY FRIEND CHASE ME AROUND OH BOOOOOY!")  In the afternoon Django came over and we basically all just sat around in the guest room playing puzzle fighter and talking, for a few hours, and then Oren took me to the airport and I got Ivar's for dinner and now I'm home in SF.

Seriously, I think that it was really good to just chill out a lot of the time with Carl, and I'm really glad I decided to spend my long weekend in Ballard.  Yay.

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February 14th, 2014


05:17 pm - My long overdue MIT Mystery Hunt entry
(written in bits and pieces over a week or so)

I never wrote an entry about MIT Mystery Hunt when it happened, and that may or may not be a good thing.  I kind of do want to capture a little bit about this year since I rarely write up puzzle events anymore (either because they'll be rerun and there's not supposed to be spoilers, or because I just get lazy, or especially last year, because I've been staffing way more than playing lately).  I'm on team Up Late, if you don't know; got hooked up with them while I was still living in Seattle, bizarrely enough.

This year, thanks to last year being The Hunt That Would Not End, rather than scheduling a flight back on Sunday night, I scheduled one back on Monday afternoon.  (And after talking to people, I clearly wasn't the only person that did that.)  I also went and got a hotel room, figuring that whatever, I work at Google now, I can afford it even if I don't split it with anyone.  (Of course, in the end I split the room with Matt, Kendra and Jess for the first 2 nights and Kenny for the last night.)  This time, I'd even been to Boston inbetween hunts and met up with a lot of the core members of my Mystery Hunt team when I was there last summer, so it wasn't like an entire year and coming back like "wait who are you guys again?"

Anyway, so I showed up on a redeye Friday morning super-early, and realized that the best thing I should do was to go to the Google Cambridge office, which is across the street from MIT.  Found a cafe, got some breakfast, charged my phone and laptop, and even actually did some work for a bit.  After an hour or two I realized I should go visit friends in the office and I had coffee with David Rochberg, who I hadn't seen in YEEEEEEEEEAAAARRRSSS so that was really cool.  After that it was time to go to campus and help unload the cars, so I did that.  (You'd think we were moving into a dorm if you saw us unload for hunt -- people bringing in sleeping bags, a fridge, a computer and printer, tons of food, etc etc.)  Went to visit Left Out across the hall from us since I have a lot of friends on that team.  All the normal pre-hunt stuff, really.

Kickoff was in the Kresge Theater I guess (we have a few other CMU alumni on our team although it's largely MIT, obviously, but we were like "does EVERY college have a Kresge Theater?") and I spent a while going around saying hi to all my friends there, which took a REALLY LONG TIME although I couldn't find Sarah and Ross until right before the presentation started!  And I apparently missed a whole bunch of people too, evidenced by getting emails afterwards by one or two like "I saw you at kickoff but you were too far away to talk to".  I know that people joke about MIT Mystery Hunt being the Burning Man of the puzzle hunt scene, but it really is in a lot of ways.  All the teams are the different camps and you're all in weird numbered areas and planning to keep weird sleeping hours for several days and... well, at least I'm pretty sure there's less drugs at MITMH unless you count caffeine.  Sarah's team even had an entire room full of tents and beds and sleeping bags despite the warning at the beginning how "you really shouldn't PLAN to sleep on campus".

So anyway, kickoff starts as this presentation from John Galt on how there shouldn't be puzzles anymore.  And then he gets interrupted by the Cheshire Cat, who explains that Wonderland has invaded MIT and we have to go solve puzzles to fix the holes between the two worlds, and then the reveal of their actual team name this time -- Alice Shrugged, which is probably the most perfect pun in puzzle hunt history, aside from my own amusement at having come full circle since my first ever puzzle hunt was the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 7, which was ALSO Alice in Wonderland themed.

My team had decided beforehand that we were going to get a photo with Tim the MIT mascot, so we went to do that first... it was pretty funny since there were all these people in singles or doubles getting photos and then we run in with like 15 people.

Up Late Meets Tim

Good times.

So we grab some lunch from the student center, get back, and miraculously, the hunt has actually begun on time!  Whoa.  There were 3 puzzles to start, which we finished pretty quickly, and got some more, and we finished some more of those, and I was mostly just kinda helping out (I mean, with like 5 puzzles and 30 people that's how it goes).  Then a puzzle was unveiled called "Upstairs, Downstairs" which we realized was a runaround.  Despite that I didn't actually go to MIT, I love doing runarounds, because I figure, well, I flew to Boston, why the hell would I want to sit in a room the whole weekend?  So me, Ryan, Noah, and David set off to start looking around at some of these places, especially because we're in building 1 and some of them are nearby.  We very quickly realize that these descriptions are all a little bit... off.  That is, the first one we did was around the corner from us, and it said "An Athena printer can be found in Building 1 in an alcove directly across from Dr. Schuhmann's office", except that the printer is actually across from some other guy's office down the hall.  We take note of that and also notice there's a staircase between them and write down the number, and the first few we check out are all kind of like that -- two places with a staircase inbetween them.  (Which we only were caring about because the title was Upstairs Downstairs, which turned out not to matter at all.)  Off we go (minus David) on a campus-wide wander to find all the locations.  Some were definitely easier than others -- like some refer to distinct places like "as I go across the bridge from 16 to 56..." where others were just like, "does anyone know where there's an alcove with laserdiscs?"  (The answer: Building 16, 6th floor.  Someone on our team said "I think it's in 16, but I dunno where", so we started at the top and worked our way down.)  Actually the laserdiscs is notable because that was where we actually broke the puzzle mechanism.spoilerCollapse )
Armed with that insight, we plan a route around campus to go to a few more places and to try to get the 2-3 letters we think will break the answer string for us, and sure enough, we solve the puzzle a little while later.

By this point it's around 4pm and our team has solved a good chunk of the MIT round puzzles (which we found out later were purposefully supposed to be fairly easy).  Around then we received a puzzle called Black and White -- you had to go to HQ to get this because it was a huge sheet of letters and a tiny sheet of letters.  So I'm watching people go "hey, look, there's this passage from Alice in Wonderland but there are some other words in there too," I Google the other words and find out that it's a Taylor Swift song.  So we're highlighting the Alice stuff and the Taylor Swift stuff in green and red (happen to be the markers we pick up) and about 7-8 lines in I'm like "OMG THIS IS GOING TO BE A QR CODE" and everyone's like "naaahhhh" and I'm like "yeeeaaaahhhh" and then having had the insights to solve the puzzle I really didn't feel like going through more Taylor Swift lyrics :)  So I helped David enlarge the smaller one by taking a photo with my camera and gimping it up big and print out so he could do the same thing, since it was another combination of lyrics and another QR code.

A Swift QR code

I was signed up to do "Auditions" at 6pm anyway, so I left for that with Kenny and Kendra.  It had said to send "musical members of your team".  So what happened is, we got redistributed into 8 tables, and every table had a bunch of notes on it -- musical notes -- with little notations to clue you to where the next note may be.  The "puzzle" part of this was putting the notes together and figuring out what song it was.  A lot of other tables were singing Disney music so we figured it was a disney song, but... we somehow got stuck with Following the Leader, from Peter Pan, while EVERY other table got easier things like "When You Wish Upon A Star" or whatever.

Then we got sheet music to the song we were doing, and we were told to do the audition "Wonderland-style" which meant that every person would sing one word of the song, in order.  Of course, our song was ridiculous and we had this discussion of whether "teedle-ee-dee" was one word or three, but figured it didn't REALLY matter.  We choreographed it in such that the guy who actually figured out what song it was was the "leader" and he would just do various things like march or pump his fists and we would also all do that.  So every team got up and performed their song in their own fashion.  In the end, it turned out there was no puzzle to be solved by the songs themselves -- each group had one person get a "callback" and those people each got one word and we got a phrase as the "answer" for the entire activity.  This, as it turns out, was also to set the stage for the entire weekend of events that were not supposed to be stupid or frustrating although possibly embarrassing.

Notes puzzle

Audition

(Other events during the weekend that I did not go to involved Cards Against Wonderland, and the one I regret missing, Wonderwang, a word-based version of the British comedy gameshow parody Numberwang.)

Ian and I were originally supposed to sneak out for dinner on Friday night to a nice place, but I think since Lokie was sick and wasn't there, and a few other suspects that'd normally do that, we just got dinner from the student center instead.  Doh.  I decided to take that opportunity to run off and check into the hotel, too, since they didn't have rooms ready that morning.  I also took a 2-hour nap or so.  Matt texted me to let me know that 1) Kendra and Jess wanted to get into the hotel room and 2) we were ready to do another runaround.

See, during the original runaround, we had come across several QR codes with playing cards.  When we tried to do anything with them originally, we got a "sorry, your team can't access this yet" error and didn't think much of it.  Well, these were the runarounds for the MIT round.  We were told to split into 3 groups -- a Spades, Diamonds, and Clubs team, and to start in 3 separate places.

So I came back and gave Kendra a hotel key, and then we grouped up for this runaround.  Matt and I decided to take Spades, Ryan and Zach took Diamonds, Jeff and Dave took Clubs.

Spades was pretty reasonable.  We had to solve a bunch of riddles mostly.  There was one that required you to look through a spaceship photo and find some words, another had you sorting through faces on the staircase outside Lobby 7 (we came back to our room to finish that), another wanted you to find certain words on the sides of the buildings in Killian Court (it was nighttime so we just googled them), then we had to go up to Stata and find one by the Digi-Comp.  Let me stop there for a second because several things happened at that point:

1) We found Ryan and Zach looking TOTALLY FUCKING CONFUSED in part of Stata.  There was this thing on the wall with a satellite dish and some words and they were like "we're just not getting anything out of this".  We tried to help them for a bit and were then like "...sorry but we've got our own puzzle to find."
2) Bizarrely, we had a bit of a misadventure finding our puzzle.  See...
2a) we found this "Digi-Comp" thing which was like a pinball machine with pool balls showing you how mathematic operations work.  It was cool.  We played with it.  We took photos.  Etc.
2b) then we realized we had no fucking clue where to find our puzzle.  We thought it was in the Gates Tower, so we went up stairs.
2c) We found Nerd Crossing!  But no puzzle.
2d) but get this, the QR code was actually RIGHT NEXT TO THE DIGI-COMP AND WE JUST HADN'T SEEN IT.  I had even taken a photo of it.  Sheesh.
3) So we found the QR code at the same time as these other undergrad-looking kids, and all of us set out to figure it out.

Digi-Comp

Nerd Crossing

Eventually it turned out to be a list of donors at the front of the building.  Yay.  We went onwards to our next puzzle, checking back in the lobby, and Ryan and Zach were gone, so we figured, yay, they solved it.  We went up to a hall in Building 26, where first we had to double back to find our QR code, and also, those same undergrad kids were there.  We found it and found the thing it was referring to (cosmic ray chandeliers) and then went onwards to the Humanities building, where again, we pretty much walked there with the undergrad kids.

HOWEVER what happened there was pretty funny.  There was this weird poem that made absolutely no sense and it said something like to enter the major name over a "being that emerges from a poem".  We found an oyster, and on a whim I entered the department over it (I think it was Philosophy) and it was CORRECT?!  The undergrad kids, and Matt, were still wandering back and forth going WTF, so I called Matt over as subtly as I could to show him that we had the right answer and were leaving and to be quiet.  So we snuck out, never to see those poor undergrad kids again.  Ha ha.

Well, except really, the joke was on us.  I forget, I am skipping one of the puzzles as there were 8 total, but anyway, we ended up outside the Green Building and had to read a QR code outside it and use a plaque INSIDE it, only we couldn't get inside, AND it was FREEZING outside by then, so I took some cellphone shots of the plaque and we ran for cover in the nearest building we could find to solve the puzzle.  Which we did, and it was the final one!  Yay!  We were about to head back when...

...we ran into Jeff and Dave and the Clubs team.  Who were also apparently kinda stuck.

So we all regrouped back at Team HQ, where we found Ryan and Zach, and they ALSO were stuck and hadn't finished their runaround.  Doh!

Well, being as I am Queen of Runarounds and all, I was like NO THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE WE ARE HEADING BACK OUT.  So I joined the Clubs group, while meanwhile Rena solved the Diamonds puzzle (turned out you had to index into the word from the beginning, not from where the lines pointed to the word).

So our Clubs puzzles from there involved, let's see.  There was a bunch of little hero figures in a hallway and you had to figure out how many weeks it had been since they'd been there, and I'm like "look up the hacks page!"  Then there was a thing where we had to find these stickers on a door... in a hallway that Ryan and I had already gone to for the Upstairs Downstairs runaround, so I knew exactly where they were.  Then we had this really weird thing in Building 13 involving a bunch of professor's names.  This one was kinda clever -- they had 5 names but 6 spaces for the answer.  We were stuck on this for a bit because we had failed to notice that one guy was "W. Craig" instead of just Craig, and we thought we had the string "Lecin" as the answer.  We tried anagramming it, entering words like "Nicely", etc.  But with the W, I had the string "Lewin".  So while the other two were looking around for other ideas, I googled "MIT Professor Lewin" and found out there was a guy named Walter Lewin, entered "Walter", and it was correct!  BAM.  Our last puzzle involved a bunch of rhymes to clue things in the historical posters in the "150 Years of MIT Engineering" hallway in Building 1, and the Diamonds guys had finished so they joined up with us and we all solved it together.

Having solved the three runarounds we got invited to come to 26-100's basement at like 3:30am, so we went there, unlocked a big case using the three words as the combinations (That was cool), and got out a vorpal sword so we could defeat the Jabberwock.  Only thing is, when we met the Jabberwock he was like "DON'T FIGHT ME!  EEEEK!  I AM NOT THE BAD GUY, YOU NEED TO SOLVE THIS PUZZLE TO FIGURE OUT WHO THE REAL EVIL PERSON IS", and we received a Jabberwock deck of cards, which was essentially the overall MIT round meta, and what we find out is that "The Beast Is Ms Alice Liddell"... which meant from this point onwards the hunt was going to be in Wonderland, and we were going to be figuring out how to defeat Alice.  Whee.

I stayed up until around 6-7am and then went to the hotel to sleep for real, waking up around noon, grabbing lunch at Chipotle, and I guess I got back to the room between 1-2pm.  I helped out on some random puzzles and then we saw one called Oyster Card!  It was a London Underground puzzle combined with a Masyu!

Well, several things made me imminently qualified to do this puzzle:
1) TRAINS!
2) Masyu!
3) I had JUST GOTTEN BACK FROM LONDON and infact still had a Tube map in my bag.

Oyster card!

As it turns out, unlike every other team in the hunt, not only did we have the CORRECT Tube map -- from May 2013 -- BUT since I had just been there, I even knew exactly what the various errata were.  "Oh, yeah.  They're fixing the escalators at Embankment station as of January 8th, so that no longer transfers to Northern and Bakerloo."

Don't get me wrong, the masyu was still not that easy even armed with all that, but we still had a much easier time than many other teams from what I can tell.  Matt and Jess and I hammered out 2 of the 3 masyu puzzles and then we got the final answer by just kind of anagram-bitching the heck out of the trinary.  Woohoo.

Also, it was snowing that day, so I went out to frolic in the snow for a little.  It was actually a surprisingly warm mystery hunt, all things considered.

After we finished Oyster Card, someone said "Hey, there's a Japanese subway puzzle too, have you seen it, Deanna?"

LITTLE DID THEY KNOW THAT THIS WAS MY INTRODUCTION INTO THE MOST IN-MY-WHEELHOUSE PUZZLE I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED IN MY PAST 10+ YEARS OF PUZZLE HUNTING.

So this puzzle was called 1!2!3!4! 4649! which I immediately recognized 4649 as the word "yoroshiku" and the title as a song title, and as the solution even says, "This puzzle involves 3 things: (1) some massive and massively popular Japanese pop idol groups based in three Japanese cities; (2) the subway systems in those cities; and (3) a numeral encoding that links them together."

Yes, it was an AKB48 puzzle combined with a Japanese subway puzzle combined with goroawase.  Seriously.  I heavily doubt there was ANYONE else at Mystery Hunt this year who has as indepth knowledge as I do of all three of those things off the top of their head.

(If you are somehow reading this entry and don't know me, you have to understand that I taught junior high school English in Japan for several years, that I am a GIGANTIC TRAIN NERD, that I have been to 46 out of 47 prefectures in Japan by taking the trains, and that I'm pretty much fluent in Japanese, as long as you either like baseball or are a teenager.  Not that I like AKB48 that much on my own, but you have to understand that I was teaching JHS the year that they really exploded to fame, and so I heard SO MUCH ABOUT THEM from my 13-15-year-old students that I seriously can probably name almost the entire original team A lineup and recognize most of the popular ones by face.)

Seriously the only way this puzzle could have been MORE in my wheelhouse was if the people part of it was Japanese baseball players instead of teenage girl idol popstars.

So I sit down and distill out the entire puzzle before anyone else even really gets a look at it.  Immediately knowing it's AKB48, SKE48, and NMB48, I identify all the people, and quickly fill out the numbers for all the letters in the grid (I mean, every single 5884 is a Kobayashi for crying out loud), and then I get to translating back the subway stations from letters to numbers, and I quickly even see that "usv" is 758 or "Nagoya", which I know off the top of my head is H-08, Higashiyama line.  I got almost all the train stations and got stuck on maybe 2 -- especially Yaominami because I was convinced that 80373 should have been "yama minami" somewhere but couldn't find such a station.  So I call in Ian (who is Taiwanese but also speaks Japanese to some extent and we both have "kanji" listed under our "special skills" on our team website), and he double-checks my work, also gets a little confused with the subway stops, but we basically manage to figure out the answer to the puzzle and then I back-get the subway stops.  Entire puzzle done in less than an hour.

It's funny because a few people were later like "...yeah... that puzzle took us quite a while... we thought of you because of the Japanese baseball teams..." and I'm like "but it wasn't even baseball related!"

I can't really remember exactly where the next few hours went.  I think I spent a few more cycles on the IAP puzzle (THIS PISSED ME OFF TO NO END BUT MAYBE I SHOULD WRITE A PARAGRAPH ABOUT IT LATER) and helping identify songs for Compose Yourself, and things like that.  I do remember that I went off to grab food after doing the AKB48 puzzle, and there was some kinda pizza thing going on later on, and our team was in the midst of the Duck Konundrum at that point, and... the next thing I remember doing for sure was going to the Ice Cream Social that was being held between Illegal, Immoral, and Fattening and Left As An Exercise For The Reader.  This was Saturday night at midnight in Building 26.  Bizarrely, I was one of the only people there who wasn't on either of those teams or also in their hallway.  We found out that this was because a lot of the teams where we had friends were in the midst of getting to the final runaround then.  (Like we called a friend of ours on Death and Mayhem and were like "WE HAVE ICE CREAM" and he was like "THAT'S NICE BUT WE'RE UH... BUSY")

But on the other hand it was nice to take a break and see people and eat ice cream.  I hadn't seen a lot of the people on those teams up to that point so I could hang out with Sarah and Julia and Mark and Ross and Helene and everyone for a while and that was good.  And it gave me an excuse to get out and walk around again (since we hadn't had any runarounds in a while at that point).

Ice cream social

Ice cream social

I also used this opportunity, since I was in building 26, to go downstairs to the 2nd floor and visit the Rage of the Quebecois team, aka "the half of Manic Sages that I actually was friends with".  So I saw Sean, and Mr. Wright, and Glenn, and various other people that at this point look familiar even if I can't remember their names.  Seems I missed Dave&Jill and Darby and all but that's okay.

Also on the way there (or way back?  I forget) I saw where they had set up part of the final maze in the lobby of building 7, a thing where Alice and the Rabbit would be moving around with various objects.  Ankur was there with it so I took that opportunity to say hi and to complain that he wasn't around for Berkeley Mystery Hunt this year.  It's a very weird thing in that I know he recognizes me as someone he should know from puzzling but I dunno if he remembers that I was his computer science TA at Governor's School :)  Many of my PGSS students have been involved in MITMH in one way or the other (Keith STILL goes back every year with the Simmons team) and it's very cool.

So, back in the room.  We apparently had a puzzle called "Obsessive-Compulsive Dickishness" where they wanted us to call HQ to get it, so we do, and Dave and I go off to building 13, where we meet Zoz and another guy I don't know.  They show us a series of papers -- I immediately recognize it as The Oatmeal comic strip about Sriracha and make a comment as such ("It looks like spicy oatmeal") -- and then put it through a paper shredder right in front of us.  Since Jeff had apparently asked for "extra dickishness", they also threw it out of the paper shredder onto the floor, kicked the strips around, and then ran out of the room, throwing a freezer bag at us on their way out.  So we gather the strips up into the bag and come back to the room like "Well, at least it's not that fucking jigsaw puzzle", and then Jeff and Kenny and I and whoever else were around spend a while reassembling the comics.  There were XXXXXXXX's all over it instead of the real text, and every now and then a number (like "XXXX3XXX X12X"), so you had to find out the real text and get the real letters, all 30-something of them.  At that point it spelled out something like "juicy cock sauce that sounds like cocovan", which we read out to the other room and Ian immediately is like "dude, the answer is Coq au Vin" and we're like "ohhhhhhhh."

Jeff displayed intense OCD by completely taping together the final comic page, which was the "I love you.  -- the Oatmeal" in the real one but said "I love you.  --Alice Shrugged" in our version.

Dickishness

Reassembled oatmeal

Now let's see if I can remember all the crazy stuff that led up to me taking a nap around 6-7am.

So we finished that (and later on Zoz visited us and was like "nicely done.  send us a pic of that and maybe we'll include you in our wrapup slides.") and then I helped with some other puzzles, like some insight into Mashed Potatoes or whatever the mashup puzzle was called, and helping people fill out a crossword in Korean, and more attempts at putting together songs in Compose Yourself, and then... it got into those hours of the morning when only 10 or so of us are still there.  And we decided to tackle the Tea Party meta, since we had something like 9-10 of the 12 answers going in after I helped break mashups.

At this point we'd figured out that like, some of the things were part of 12 days of christmas, and some were Chinese zodiac, and some were full moons, and I'm like "wait, then we could totally backsolve some of this.  Like look, we're missing 7, that's "swans a swimming, right?  It's totally going to be Natalie Portman or something like that."

The phone rings 5 minutes later as we're still trying to get letters out of the proper places and it's like "Natalie Portman is correct for a Rose by Any Other... Deanna did you backsolve that?"

No, it turned out someone in Seattle who didn't even hear me say that had actually front solved it.  Ha!

So while we're still banging our heads on this thing and marvelling over my HILARIOUS BACKSOLVE, the phone rings another 5 minutes later and Mat or whoever the hunt manager was then says "uhh... thanks?" hangs up, and is like "guys, WHO THE FUCK SOLVED THE TEA PARTY META?  YOUR ANSWER OF GIVE HIM A HAND IS CORRECT"

Turns out it was Rena.  Sitting over on the other side of the room listening to us but ostensibly solving something else, she just kinda looked at the letters and at a 12-letter phrase and decided that the best way to help the hatter happened to be to give him a hand.

WHAT THE HELL.

Still, that epic guess pretty much eclipsed every single other epic guess during this hunt.  Seriously.

I should probably mention that it was our third or fourth meta at this point?  So we're like "OMG WE MIGHT ACTUALLY FINISH THE HUNT?"

Now, keep in mind that we were in building 1 and the final runaround went right past our classroom.  So like, Random actually went by while we were still finishing the Oatmeal puzzle, and I stuck my head out to hear the noise.  An hour or whatever it was after that I stuck my head out and saw Nick Baxter, and I was like "WTF!  what team?" and he's like "Luck!" and I'm like "congrats!"

And around then our buddies across the hall Left Out also went to do the final runaround (Dan and Corey told me that's what they were up to as they went off -- and I think we even passed by them when we went out to meet the Mad Hatter at 5am, they were still doing the final maze.  There was a lot more backstory behind that, that I found out the next week when I had lunch with them back at Google -- apparently they were asked to step aside and let Codex play through part of the final runaround because Left Out explicitly did not want to win the hunt but Codex might).

We saw Codex go by as well.  What a huge team.

Anyway, the Left Out guys got back around 6am and so Todd looked at our solved status for me since I was like "I want to take a nap but I'm worried we might actually be somewhat close to the end?"  We'd even had some GC visit us and tell us that we were doing well for a non-winning team and all.  But Todd said "you guys have several more hours -- go to sleep, you look super tired."  So I did, though I helped Left Out clean up and they gave us some of their snacks and stuff.  Rena and I both wrote our phone numbers on the board like "going to sleep, call us if the final runaround happens".

...for the record, no, we did not finish the hunt.  A whole lot of people didn't come back on Sunday once the coin was found.  Shrug.

So I slept until 1pm?  I came back, ate some bagels that were going to go stale, and then said "I want to see what's up with the vinyl record we got from the White Queen", so I went to the MIT Music Library in building 14, where they have record players.  It turned out that you really only had to listen to the record for the final runaround, which we didn't know.  The librarian was all like "Are you an MIT student?  You are totally not supposed to be here," but I explained Mystery Hunt to her and gave her my driver's license in return for headphones and a music machine password.  The record was just some words forwards and some words backwards.  I figured out how to record it to an mp3 file, emailed that to my team, and went back to HQ.

Did I mention that there was this IAP puzzle that I thought was a runaround but people told me it probably wasn't due to nothing being in the rooms mentioned on it?  I had an idea on my way back to the room when I saw an MTG poster, since we had picked up a clue from the puzzle of "put shows in chronological order" and just didn't know what shows.  So we went and looked at that... but yeah, that was wrong.  It really was an epic runaround, which is what I found out the next day at wrapup.  So sad.  I can't believe I didn't go check the classrooms myself.

Anyway, so hunt ended not with a bang but with a whisper.  We packed up the room and put stuff into people's cars, and then 10 of us retreated to John Hancock's for dinner, and the Patriots had already lost and we got to see the 49ers lose too.  Hooray?  Went back to the hotel, and Kenny was splitting the room with me that night, and we played through something like 15 levels of a puzzle called Walk Across Some Dungeons before deciding we were too tired and went to sleep.

I could write more about wrap-up, but that's online somewhere.  I did get my Legal Sea Foods fix beforehand, and the funny part was my flight was at 3:35pm and wrap-up ended at 1:45pm.  I RAN to the Kendall T stop (with Eric, kinda) and I did manage to make my flight, which Nick and Darby were also on.

I know it's already been said by a lot of people, but this really was a great hunt all around, definitely in terms of people having fun, which you would think would be the biggest requirement.  I don't feel like I was necessarily as productive as I have been in past years, but I also don't think I ever got to spend 18 hours straight doing runarounds, and I think that's actually pretty awesome.

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January 27th, 2014


08:05 am - 5 years
So my dad died 5 years ago yesterday, and what's weird is, I remember that at the time I wrote about everything here on LJ, but my instinct yesterday to commemorate was to change my FB picture to be one with me and my dad and to write about it there.

Oddly, I don't even think my dad ever had a FB account?  He did have an LJ account and I had a no-Dad filter here (well... it's really the filter of "I friended you, but I don't really know you, so didn't want you to see my REAL friends-locked thoughts").

Anyway, the biggest thing I thought about this year was how much my dad would have loved to get a tour of Google and how proud he'd be of me working there (and that I started working there on what would have been his 70th birthday).  Sucks that I can't do that.  But I also wouldn't be at Google now without the childhood I had of CODE ALL THE THINGS! so I guess it really does work out.

I had a pretty good weekend all things considered -- walked 7 miles through GGP with a friend on Saturday, went to a birthday party Saturday night, walked another 4 miles through the city with other friends on Sunday, then skipped the boardgames party I was invited to on Sunday afternoon/evening because I was exhausted.  I like being exhausted in that aspect.  Legs still hurt though, and tonight is ballroom dance class :)

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January 5th, 2014


11:59 pm - finishing off the London trip entry
I need to finish London in order to write mystery hunt.  (been doing this in pieces over the last few days/weeks and finished just now on the airplane back from Hawaii so it may be discombobulated.  This covers the week of Dec 30 - Jan 5)

Monday: I showed up at the London Belgrave office... and it turned out absolutely nobody was there on Chrome DevRel.  Oops!  So not only did I not know who to work with but I didn't even know where to go.  I decided to explore and found an awesome room that was full of Winnie-the-Pooh bears, comfy chairs, hammocks, bookcases with O'Reilly books, and was just a generally quiet nice lounge, and I worked from there the next two days.  Most of the office was very quiet.  I had lunch with my suitemates from the apartment actually -- they randomly recognized me in the cafeteria -- and the rest of the day was quiet.  I had my normal "10am" meeting at 6pm on irc with everyone, which meant that by the time I got out it was too late to see a show that night, but instead I still walked to Leicester Square and bought tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the next day (the guy at the box office told me it was the only available ticket in the next several days).  I got fish and chips for dinner at one of the tourist places in Piccadilly (I basically decided that the road between Leicester Square and Piccadilly basically is Broadway, and the entire area is Times Square.  It's VERY similar.  I walked home from there and attempted to do laundry, which was a bit of a disaster and I ended up getting little white lint balls all over my clothes.  Of course there was no lint roller at the apartment, so I had to go hunt for one.

Tuesday: I started off at the Belgrave office again (did I mention that breakfast there consisted of like 3 kinds of bacon, 2 kinds of sausage, and then random things like hash browns, tomatoes, and beans?) and after lunch I went to the Central St. Giles office.  I stopped off at a Tesco looking for a lint roller and failed, but after walking around CSG, which was almost entirely empty though I did meet a few nice people in one of the corners, I went to a Sainsbury's and DID find a lint roller.  Hooray Sainsbury's!  Oh, I stayed at CSG until 5-6pm though -- they had a nice library with a view of the London Eye and all kinds of crazy stuff, so I found an alcove with a comfy chair and did work there for a few hours.

I wrote more about Tuesday/Wednesday in another entry already.  Basically I saw the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical, had dinner at Shake Shack, and decided to skip the fireworks because the Underground wasn't really running downtown.

Wednesday: Walked to the London Eye around noon.  Decided not to go on it because it was too windy/cold.  Walked to Covent Garden, had higher-class fish and chips at a pub, spent several hours at the London Transport Museum which was awesome, saw a t-shirt that I wanted but didn't get (this comes back into play on the weekend), bizarrely had McDonald's for dinner before the Dirty Dancing musical.

Thursday: So this day I actually had a buddy in the London office as my mentor Addy came in for Thu/Fri to hang out and work with me!  Whee!  So we spent a while talking and planning our screenshot marathon for Friday, and having lunch and stuff like that.  Yay!  In the evening I had to switch hotels from the Google apartment to a hotel near Victoria station, so I did that and walked over to the London Eye in the evening.  It was a little rainy but not terrible so I rode the thing (also the great part was, no line!)  I walked back to Victoria, wasn't sure what to do for dinner.  I thought of going to Pret A Manger (WTF this shop is EVERYWHERE in London) but the one nearby was just closing as I was thinking of going in so I went to an Indian restaurant across from the theater Wicked was in.  It was TERRIBLE.  Seriously, I was the only patron in there for a while, the waiter was almost rude, the food was lousy, the naan was burnt... I've heard London has such good Indian food, how did I pick one of the worst ones ever?

Friday: We had planned to have a Screenshot-a-Thon (basically our devtools screenshots needed a refresh and it's hard to get it done so we planned to do that with a bunch of people) and invite in our GDE Umar (if you read DevTools docs you've seen stuff by me and Addy and Umar and Paul and Jared so it's not like my team is a secret), so that was what took up my entire day, seriously.  I mean, in the morning we did some prep, then Umar got there, then we had lunch, then Addy and Umar had some stuff to talk about, and then we started our screenshot-a-thon (since Jared in Boston was snowed in he joined us early, and Paul came in when it was a reasonable hour in CA).  It was actually a very surreal and somewhat boring experience in some ways — we’d divided up the pages to update, and thus we were all sitting there mostly silently doing screenshots.  At least it was slightly less tedious by having everyone together, and it was nice that like, at 5pm or so Addy took us up to the London version of a TGIF and we had some food and chilled out, and then did more screenshots.  Addy went home around 6:30pm, Umar left around 7:30 although we spent like an hour talking on his way out.  (He's a nice guy and we don't get to talk often.  He kinda reminds me of some of my old interns from Tagged.) I stayed in the office until 10pm and basically went back to the hotel and crashed.

Then I had a weekend of wandering around London before heading back home to SF.  Originally I thought I’d go see a couple musicals over the weekend, but it turns out that there are all these weird rules in London about what can be open on Sunday!  So a lot of the shows I was interested in didn’t have Sunday shows!  Grr.  Also it was rainy on Saturday and looked clear on Sunday, so I decided I’d see 2 shows on Saturday and go to Greenwich on Sunday.

Saturday started with me going to TKTS in Leicester Square, basically, and I got tickets to see the Mousetrap at 4pm and Once at 7:30pm.  Then I went to Masala Zone for lunch (on the recommendation of Chris and others)… though it didn’t open until 12pm and I got there like 11:30, so I ended up wandering around an area called Carnaby for half an hour, and then had lunch.  It was very very good!  Then I walked to Oxford Circle station and took the train out to Baker Street station, where my idea was to go to the Sherlock Holmes museum… until I saw that the line to get in was OVER AN HOUR LONG.  Sheesh.  So instead I went into the gift store, which was amusing enough for a little while, bought a keychain, and checked in on Facebook that I was at 221B Baker Street, which I decided was good enough for me.  I went back into Baker Street station and found the original restored 1863 platform, and took the train out to  Westbourne Park station, which is in Notting Hill, and I walked to the Museum of Brands, which I had seen on the Notting Hill map and thought looked like the most “obscure random thing I bet my friends haven’t been to” thing there.  It was pretty cool, they basically had packaging of things going back to the Victorian era, like soaps and flour and goods like that, plus of course fliers and stuff for the various royal coronations and marriages, and as time goes on they have wartime things and then the chocolate evolution and then just tons of stuff.  It was pretty cool in general, except that you weren’t supposed to take photos, which is tough for me because I tend to take photos of the signs at least so I can read them later.  I did sneak in some photos of old boardgames from 100 years ago and things like that though.

Then I walked to Notting Hill Gate and took the tube to Tottenham Court again and went to see The Mousetrap, which is an Agatha Christie murder mystery play.  No, it is not a musical, but basically, I had read about it being in its historic 64th season of the original run — it has even moved to another theater, back in 1974 or so, and they still had a performance on Saturday and then again on Monday, same cast, same production, etc.  So I saw the 25472nd consecutive performance of it.  It was really good, I totally did not guess the ending (although I did guess some of the identities of people and why they got killed).  They ask you specifically not to share the ending with people so I’m not really going to talk about the show here.

My next stop was at Once, which was actually also right near Tottenham Court but… I wanted to go to Covent Garden and pick up this “Keep Calm and Call Bumblebee” shirt I had seen the other day.  EXCEPT I get there and the market is being shut down.  I ask a guy where the funny t-shirt stand is, and he’s like “oh that guy?  his stand is only here Tuesday through Thursday…” and I’m like “WHAT” and… yeah.  So that was a little sad.  I got a belgian waffle for “dinner” at a stand along the way back to the theater Once was in.

Once was pretty good, I’ll hopefully see it again when it comes to SF in a few months, from closer up (my only complaint is that it’s basically staged such that there’s very little movement, there’s only one set, and so there was a tall guy in front of me and it was hard to see parts of it).  I walked back to Victoria again as was getting standard, and had Burger King for dinner of all things (don’t ask).

Sunday I went to Greenwich!  However, I took the Tube and then the DLR there, and I transferred at Bank/Monument, and well, you know, I kind of wondered, what monument is at Monument?  (I seriously didn’t know.)  So I get out of the station to wander around a little and I immediately see this monolith-like thing which is, of course, the Monument built by Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great London Fire of 1666 which started right there in Pudding Lane.  It’s 313 steps to the top and there’s an observation deck up there and you get a certificate for climbing it, but I decided I didn’t feel like taking the time (I asked the guys at the admission window how long it takes and they were like “How good shape are you in?  It can be 5-10 minutes or more like 30 if you are slow”, and I said “Awesome, thanks but no thanks, cheers” and left).  I did, however, take a brief wander around the area and found out I was right by London Bridge and so I walked across that and back too :)

The DLR was neat and then, Greenwich!  I went through the Greenwich market but it wasn’t all that interesting.  The Royal Observatory was pretty cool though, I paid admission to that and timed it so I got a photo standing on the meridian at about 11:55am and thus could post it to Facebook and such exactly at noon like “HELLO IT IS AS NOON AS IT GETS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD” from, well, GMT.  After that I went around the observatory and museum.  There was an entertaining little skit from this guy who basically acts out parts of the old Royal Astronomers and people like Christopher Wren and various kings and whatnot and tells the story of how the observatory ended up there and how the meridian ended up there (answer: every Astronomer bought a bigger telescope and thus had to build a bigger house for it so the meridian kept moving to THEIR telescope) and stuff.  Then I looked at clocks and things, and wanted to look at the camera obscura but it wasn’t open :(  I did, however, stick around until 1pm to watch the ball drop which signifies it being 1pm — apparently they have done that there for hundreds of years now, so sailors could set their clocks before setting sail.

I had lunch in the Greenwich Tavern on the way out — a nice Sunday turkey “dinner” — and then I went to Camden Market to look through their shops to see if I could find any funny t-shirts, and hey, get this, I found the Covent Garden guy, who runs a shop there on the weekends, and he was like “I only have the transformers t-shirts back at Covent Garden”, and despite there being a bazillion “KEEP CALM AND” whatever t-shirts there weren’t any other transformers ones :(  So after wandering around a TON of market stalls — there literally are blocks and blocks and blocks of market stalls on the weekend and you could totally get lost and find yourself in another town by the time you get out — I ended up getting a “KEEP CALM I’M AN ENGINEER” t-shirt and a Gryffindor Quidditch t-shirt.  (shrug)  I kinda liked a Yoda shirt of “CALM YOU SHALL KEEP AND CARRY ON YOU MUST, HMMM?” but not quite enough to think I’d ever wear it.  Turned out that Camden Market station is only open to exit, not enter, on Sundays, so I walked down to Mornington Crescent, and then rode the Tube out to Wembley Park so I could ride the Metropolitan Line, which I had not explicitly ridden yet, despite having bought a map of it.  Then I rode the Jubilee Line back in (which I also hadn’t ridden) to Bond Street.  I tried to go to Uniqlo but it was closed.  Ended up getting dinner at a place called Garfunkel’s (which is kinda like Applebee’s but British), where I had bangers and mash.  I walked most of the way home then gave up at Green Park and took the tube for one station from there.  Came home to the hotel and packed.  Then also found out that I could have leeched free wifi the whole time there by getting a “lobby password” which also apparently worked in my room.  Wish I had tried that earlier.  Oh well.

Monday I basically mostly just woke up and flew back to SFO.  The end?


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January 2nd, 2014


03:33 am - 明けましておめでとうございます!or How I spent my New Year's
I want to write about the rest of my trip but briefly my new year's was: NYE I went to see the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Drury Lane.  It was pretty good.  Lots of new songs (except for "Pure Imagination") and funny stage adaptations of things (I liked the golden ticket discoveries happening in a mini-TV set, and they gave actual personality to the grandparents, but the oompa-loompas were a bit odd/puppetish).  The Underground was shut down everywhere in downtown apparently, though, so I had to walk home from the theater, which was like a mile and a half.  There were a TON of people out walking towards fireworks viewing places; I decided I didn't feel like doing that, though I did have the choice to go back outside to the palace if I wanted to.  Instead, I spent a half hour around midnight lint-rolling my clothes after a mild laundry disaster my first night in the suite (I'd spent a while earlier in the day hunting for a lint roller on my way to/from our Central St Giles office), and then I went to sleep.

New Year's Day itself, well, I woke up and did a little research while listening to the wind/rain outside and then decided, whatever.  My plan all along for the day was the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and the Dirty Dancing musical in Piccadilly, and it was just a matter of what else would surround those.  So I decided to walk to the transport museum and take the long way around the London Eye, for a 3-mile walk or so.  I stopped by Westminster Abbey and Parliament on the way of course, but it was so windy and rainy... decided NOT to ride the eye for that reason and instead continued over the Waterloo bridge.  Got lunch at a fancier pub-like restaurant near the museum, more fish'n'chips, and then there was the transport museum.  I expected to spend HOURS there but in reality only spent like 2 hours there.  It was packed with tons of children who were running around and screaming, which was unfortunate, I also had a tough time taking photos because so many people in the way.  Amusingly when I walked in the first thing I saw was a Tokyo subway map with Nakano-Sakaue on it (my station when I lived with Kozo) highlighted.  How weird!  I spent a while in the gift shop and got some cool stuff, and then wandered around the area for a bit and walked to Piccadilly via Chinatown.  I really kinda wanted something quiet and tea-like for dinner but instead ended up at McDonald's around the corner from the theater.

The musical was... well, unlike other stage adaptations of movies, this one REALLY doesn't stand alone, they basically mostly just tried to redo the film on stage, which doesn't work in many parts.  On the other hand, the dancing was fantastic (apparently the guy who plays Johnny Castle is a British ballroom champion and it really showed).  One super-weird thing is that neither Baby nor Johnny actually sing at all, they just dance.  And Baby was clearly a decent actress while Johnny was clearly just a dancer, I thought his acting was pretty terrible.  They have Billy do a decent chunk of singing and there's another random staff girl who also sings a lot of the stage versions of the songs, and a few other characters get songs like the parents and Max and whoever.

I decided not to walk home after the play but took the tube to Victoria and went for a walk a little bit just to figure out where my hotel today will be, and then I came home, did more laundry, and packed, and slept.  Now I'm back at work at the Google London office!  Whee! 

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December 31st, 2013


11:19 am - metaphor scratchpad
I'm staring at a hammock full of Winnie the Pooh bears and realizing that this is like the perfect sharding/distributing metaphor in some ways.  I mean, to get a a bear of big brain, you can just keep adding bears of very little brain together and having them Think of their own little Things, and it's just a matter of making sure that their Thingish things can work together with the other Thingish things when they get out into the open and start passing messages about it.

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December 28th, 2013


09:18 am - UK trip continued
So, Friday Dec 27th wherein jiggery_pokery and I went to York for the day (I should backlog this later).  We got a slightly later start than anticipated but were still on a train at 11ish and in York at noonish.  We immediately went to the National Railway Museum, which was sort of the goal for the day... and we spent like 4-5 hours there in all.  I mean, in terms of train museums, and I've been to quite a few, this one is pretty huge.  There's a big main room with trains to look at (but not in, sadly) and a steam engine rotator demo, and a cafe (where we had small lunch-like stuff), and bizarrely, a shinkansen exhibit, which was one of the more memorable things to me because they seriously had a 1976 0 Series shinkansen there and the info about the shinkansen in general was from 1976.  VERY WEIRD.

There was a huge warehouse room with tons of just... stuff from trains.  Chairs, silverware, signs, model trains, light fixtures, you name it -- just things that had been on various trains at some point in the past.  They also have a model train there that they use for training people to use signals, and they also had a 9 3/4 platform sign that had been specifically made for JK Rowling's visit to the museum.  (We had to look that one up.)  Something about that room was, I was halfway through looking through it when realized I left my backpack in the cafe.  This was very distressing because my passport and Google badge were in there.  HOWEVER, despite us having left the cafe 10-15 minutes prior, the bag was still sitting there on the chair I'd been sitting at!  Wow!  I must say that I basically never left my backpack ANYWHERE again for the whole trip after that.

There was another big area full of train switching stations where you could watch the monitoring boards that show where the trains are starting/stopping, which lines are clear, etc -- and an observation deck outside it where you could watch trains going into and out of York station (and conveniently they had all of these things showing you exactly which trains would show up!)  The rest of that area was dedicated to talking about really bad train mishaps that involved mostly human errors in signalling where two trains would end up in the same place, collide, and people would die.  Also there was a section about how uniting the country in one timezone was necessary due to train travel (which I knew, but had forgotten originated in England) timetables.

The Station Hall had some royal trains and whatnot but other than that wasn't particularly interesting, and there was a train photography art room, and then we decided to leave and wander around York.  Unfortunately by that point I looked it up and found out that the Jorvik Viking Center had closed at 4pm (thanks to Puzzle Pirates I really did kinda want to go to Jorvik, it was the first island that my flag took over and I still own a shop there 10 years later).  Alas.  So, we looked for things that were still open in York and decided to go to THE CHOCOLATE STORY!

York Chocolate Story is not a tour of an actual chocolate factory, sadly, but you do get to hear a history of York and the chocolate production there, like the Terry and Rowntree families and how they evolved from making hot chocolate drinks into making real chocolates, and of course Rowntree and the KitKat bar, and we got to see a little bit of how chocolate is made, and we made chocolate lollipops, and ate truffles and all sorts of other samples.  They had a display of Japanese KitKats but didn't actually know what half of them were, which was kind of odd.

After that we walked around York a little and then took the train back to Thornaby and came home.  Amusingly, we ended up having McDonald's for dinner, and then I packed up and got ready to leave for the next leg of my journey.

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