What I’m Backing
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So my buddy Vasili over at Zousware Cabal (where, coincidentally, we’ve also been having a friendly Mass Effect 3 discussion) has been participating in this Georgia Tech-run scavenger hunt called “Get a Clue!” for 8 years now. Somehow, despite knowing him for approximately all that time, I’ve never gone with him – but this year I did.
GAC doesn’t have an official web site, so finding good information about it can be a pain (though there is a post on Zousware from last year); suffice to say that you and a group of your friends spend all day deciphering clues and driving all around Atlanta. Some people, Vasili told me, simply don’t enjoy it; being stuck in a car with the same people for over 12 hours can be fairly taxing. Other people just don’t enjoy the endless problem solving. But some, he said, really have fun with it. So on Saturday I joined him and his friends Shaun and Nathan to take a stab at it.
At around 8:30am a quick orientation began on Georgia Tech campus. There we learned that this year’s theme was “The End of the World”, partially indicated by the GAC leaders all wearing tin foil hats. Basic rules were given, waivers were handed out, and finally we were all given a single box of resources and the warning that we should all be back by 10pm to be in time to drink the kool aid and board the space ship that would take us all to safety!
Apparently each year the box holding the resources changes. In true end-of-the-world spirit, we were given a box of Twinkies.
Our Twinkie box had a packet full of useful basic information (braille alphabet, semaphore, binary/hex/decimal/alphabet conversions, how-tos on a bunch of different puzzles) as well as a box of dominoes, a CD (unfortunately ours was scratched, but it ended up not making a difference), a big piece of sticky tape (actually a clear sticky book cover), and of course Twinkies.
And our first clue.
Around 9am the 20-or-so teams scattered with their first clue and started solving. Our first clue (and probably my favorite of the entire day) was a big grid of random pictures, each associated with a binary number. The title of the clue was “REMember, one picture is worth 1111101000 words”.
The binary part was easy: 1111101000 is 1,000 in binary and each picture had a number associated with it. Clearly each section of the grid represented a letter. But it took us a few minutes to determine how we were supposed to order the pictures and spell out the right words.
Then suddenly it clicked: One of REM’s most famous songs is “It’s the End of the World”. Derp.
Immediately Shaun whipped out his phone and looked up the lyrics.
“That’s great, it starts with an earthquake” – we had a picture of an earthquake epicenter. Letter number 1. We were off.
After about 15 minutes of deciphering lyrics and pictures we had a location: Lilburn Skate a Long. Plugging “Lilburn Skate a Long” into our phones gave us the address we were looking for, so we put it into the car’s GPS and sped (safely, of course) down the road.
And that was how the rest of the day went. Arrive at the destination, find the clue, figure out what we’re supposed to do, spend the next 30-60 minutes solving the puzzle. Mostly, it was a lot of fun. It was a sunny and breezy day and we spent the whole time laughing and solving puzzles together. Really, I could think of a lot of worse ways to spend a Saturday.
It wasn’t entirely sunshine and roses. Unfortunately the last 2 clues of the day were the most difficult, and in the end we didn’t have the time to solve either of them and had to call into Game Control for the answers. The final puzzle was a giant 16×16 sudoku puzzle and when at 9:30pm we realized we’d messed it up at some point and would have to start all over again, we unanimously decided we were done for the day. I don’t think anyone minded much.
Like I mentioned earlier this was my first year doing GAC, and I thought overall it was really fun. What I thought was especially clever was that the group running it this year (apparently the previous year’s winners are in charge of the next year’s game) set up each team and each clue with a QR code (that’s a 2D square barcode). Whenever you got to your next clue you scanned the QR code on the clue to “check-in”. From that check-in screen you could enter your answer or ask for hints in exchange for time penalties. Apparently every year prior to this one the only way to turn in your answer was to call into Game Control. I thought it was an appropriately tech savvy way to handle 20 teams turning in answers all day.
Some of the clues were pretty clever as well. I think the first one, with its multiple steps and creative thinking, was my favorite, followed by a musical clue that, though we thought it was a poor decision to assume we’d be able to know the notes by ear, was still nifty in its hiding of the next location.
The ones that were straight-forward puzzle solving were less interesting; often they were more about knowing the trick of how to solve that type of puzzle as opposed to thinking creatively.
We didn’t win (in fact, we weren’t even close; we came in about the middle of the pack), but I’m definitely down for doing this again next year. I hope another group gets together to do it! And make sure you keep an eye on the Zousware Cabal for Vasili’s thoughts….he’s much more critical of this year’s game than I am. ^_^