Deanna (dr4b) wrote,

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:  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:

The pretty pandas

A memorial that was on the side of the road that coincidentally looked like part of our event

The squirrels in Almaden Lake park were really aggressive

Richard's need to capture this for Yuan is what inspired me, during the real event, to explicitly say in the instructions to teams, "Three of you need to be on the broom... the remaining members should feel free to follow and take photos and videos!"

Dan and Francis cheating at Monsters

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).

Some photos from Site 1:
The Triwizard cups for San Jose

Richard and I milling about as "professors"

San Jose's marauder map

Rich as Hagrid addresses the crowd

The crowd (the reason they are across the street is just fortunate or unfortunate placement of our starting location at a train station so there was a bus lane)

Richard holds up the start code in case anyone missed it

Teams assemble their spellbooks and start working on the first puzzle


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:


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 site highlights:

The Burninators return from getting the Snitch (and get mocked by Keko from Judean GNUs)

Various teams return triumphantly with Snitches

Air brooming got extra style points

These guys decided to fly their broom backwards

These teams high-fived each other in passing

This was my worst nightmare -- muggles riding bikes down the path as our players were trying to fly.  Fortunately, nobody got hurt.

Players solving at benches, under the trees, and by the lake

The youngest one to get a Snitch

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.

Highlights from the Potions site:
Channing (national DASH lead) and Lizzie stop by and try out the Potions setup
Bob is actually a chemist in real life
The kids both wanted to do it
Tynan works with Tom so I think he was trying to mess with him
IMG_5224 IMG_5227
Some teams had a lot of fun with the science experiment aspect of it

A better look at our materials

One team specifically asked if they could set off a baking soda and vinegar explosion, and by then it was fairly late in the afternoon so I said sure, just go away from the table :)

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.

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)

A few photos from Locations 8a and 8b, Monsters:
Meeting Charlie and Joe outside the arcade
One of the team fights Monsters with the actual whack-a-mole
Charlie is really into his job as Gamekeeper
Corey and Melinda are holding down the Monsters in the other side of the mall
Teams worked on the final puzzle in the food court

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...


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 :) )
Tags: puzzle hunt
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