Yesterday was the 5th Annual Washington Post Hunt in downtown Washington D.C.! Get ready for a full report of my Post Hunt experience. As always, the puzzle explanations have been promptly posted over at the Washington Post website, so you can check those out to see the official puzzle recaps (with photos and video!).
Here we go! Long post ahead!
Last year I was on a team of about 5 people, and they were the only people I knew at Post Hunt. This year, I spread the word and managed to wrangle up a whole mess of people! We were a team of 4; me, Nick, Nick W (who had joined us in April for DASH), and Kearby (I think this was his first puzzle hunt!). Nick’s brother Mike had a team, Snooze (another DASH teammate) seceded from Team CC to form his own team, and our good friends Jen and Greg also had a team of their own. Four teams! Wow!
We figured we would all end up splitting up during the actual hunt, so I invited everyone to get brunch before the event like we did with DASH. This time we opted for something more fast-food (Così), rather than somewhere sit-down (IHOP). Me, Nick, and Nick W drove up from Richmond to D.C. (grabbing a copy of the Washington Post Magazine on the way, which I studied in the car), and Mike (who actually lives really close to this year’s starting location, Franklin Square Park) directed us to the more residential area where we could find free street parking. We ended up parking on O and 12th, not too far from the Così on 14th and H. We walked with Mike down to Così and found Jen, Greg, Kearby, and Snooze’s whole team! One of Greg and Jen’s teammates joined us later, and we all enjoyed some breakfast foods and conversation.
The timing for brunch worked out pretty nice. I recommended 10:30, and that let us take the morning kind of slow and hang around for a while. The park was really close by, so we still had a little bit of time to debrief Kearby and Nick W about how the day would go down. We were right about our teams likely splitting up — somehow all four teams separated as soon as we reached the park!
At noon, they started giving out some announcements about the day; 1) Watch out for ducks in the park, 2) If you see a clue location full of people, just move on to a different clue and come back when it is less crowded. In particular, don’t everybody try and solve the stage clue at the beginning. 3) The large bowling pin statue in the park has nothing to do with the stage clue.
Then they read the numbers that corresponded with our letter answers from the opening clue questions, giving us five coordinates on the map. Here’s where they were (the starting location/stage clue is the left-most star, 4E):
We decided to make our way to the farthest away clue first and work our way back, similar to last year’s strategy. The stage was actually the upper left-most clue of the five, rather than more centrally located like last year, so we were basically walking to the opposite end of the map, clue distribution-wise, rather than more centrally-located like last year. Still, our strategy seemed as good as any, so we walked. And walked. And walked. And it sure felt like a long walk! That’s probably because it was a long walk — 1.3 miles according to Google Maps. Wowza! We saw a lot of the other puzzle sites along the way, but they were totally full of people so we stuck to our plan to get down to 13M. By the time we finally made it there, it was 12:34pm.
As we approached the clue site, we could hear a song playing over loudspeakers. Familiar, but before our time. A staff member gave us a sheet with a chess/checkerboard printed on it, where one square read “Start Here”. Our first mission: get as far away from that music as possible! It was super loud, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to talk over it. Good move, team!
We found a nice place to sit and got to work. We had already noticed earlier that the magazine had a page with chessboard on it, so we turned straight to that. The board had letters overlayed, so we started trying to work with that. The night before, I had written out all the words I could see. Nick had suggested it might have to do with moving pieces around the board, so I had also written out all of the four-letter words the “horse” piece could make, since it seemed the most unusual. While none of these ended up really helping, I think it helped prep my mind for the next connection. My first (only?) “a-ha” moment of the day was recognizing that the song (and chorus) was “Night Moves”, in other words “knight” moves on the chessboard. Aw yeah!
Only one problem — our chessboard worksheet was turned/inverted so that the white and black squares didn’t match up. So which square were we supposed to start on? Nick and I started on doing things as normal, starting on a black square, while Nick W and Kearby tried starting on the white squares if the board was turned.
Nick and I quickly found the word “FIND” by making knight moves around the board. This seemed too good to be a fluke. We knew some of the clues would send us to different areas of the map, so we thought it might be telling us to find some image on the map and go there. It felt like a strong lead, but it didn’t really get us anywhere. Kearby and Nick W didn’t really come up with anything by turning the board. Every time we went back to “FIND”, the inversion of the colors kept nagging at me. ”It has to be significant,” I kept saying. I thought it would be really foolish to ignore such an obvious inconsistency. We had spent quite a bit of time on the puzzle and decided it was time to move on.
Things weren’t off to a good start! It felt like we had done the “fun” part of the puzzle (figuring out “knight moves”), and we were stuck just brute-forcing the rest. And nobody likes to brute-force a puzzle!
That name sounds misleadingly awesome, the clue was just being handed out at the Spy Museum, our next-closest clue on the way back. We had seen this one en route to the Chess puzzle, and had caught a glimpse of a clue that said to go somewhere else. We had also seen a ton of people at the U.S. Navy Memorial, so we thought that was maybe connected. We picked the clue paper that said the following:
“PSST. HERE IS A HINT: WHEN YOU HAVE FOUND THE DREADED RED NUMBER, YOU WILL HAVE COMPLETED THE FIRST STEP OF YOUR MISSION. THERE, YOU WILL SEE THIS FROM A DIFFERENT TYPE OF PERSPECTIVE, AND YOUR MISSION WILL BE DONE.”
We moved away from the crowds and studied the clue. The paper was higher quality, so we tried holding it up to the light and such, but nothing was revealed. There seemed to be a lot of people crowded around the Spy Museum looking inside, so we did as well. We noticed an ad in the window for something about 007, and the 007 was in red. I justified that the image on the map over the Navy Memorial was a golf hole with a red flag that said 7. We couldn’t really explain how this red number was dreaded, but hey, all of those people down there couldn’t be wrong, right? (WRONG WRONG WRONG)
We got to the memorial and it was like a bad case of déjà vu. This was the same location as the scratch-off puzzle from last year, and just like last year there was TAPE ALL OVER THE GROUND. Last year it was yellow tape. This year it was black tape, blue tape, and oh hey, RED tape. There were two pieces of red tape that kind of made a 7. There were black tick marks all around the circle with red ticks every so often. Can anyone tell me what all that tape is for?? Is it actually supposed to be there, or do the Post Hunt organizers go put tape there every year, even if there isn’t a puzzle there? We tried to justify why we were there — maybe since we were standing in a circle with flags above us, that kind of felt like we were inside a golf hole looking up? Nothing felt very strong. All the people were just kind of milling around, trying to figure out what to do. But there was nothing to do but get 100% stuck and decide it was time to move on to the next puzzle.
Bowling Puzzle Pt. 1
It was about a 15 minute walk back up to the pizza slice on the map which marked our next puzzle. There was a large blow-up bowling ball moving around in a weird way. A staff member handed out cards that read the following:
“Your first roll was pretty good, But some you didn’t smite. Now you have to find that wood Because what’s left is right.”
There had been a large bowling pin statue back in the park, and we had actually seen another one on our way to the Chess puzzle. Someone on our team remembered that there was a triangle shape highlighted on the map, and we quickly determined we’d need to search that area for any more pins. My teammates knew that each of the pins had a number, so that would help give us our answer (apparently the pin in the park was labeled with its number, but we never checked it out).
But on the way to the triangle area was our next puzzle!
An auctioneer was selling some objects, announcing what they were, taking fake bids from the audience, and then eventually announcing “Sold!” for x number of dollars. (Apparently this guy was a real auctioneer! Cool!). We arrived in the middle of the auction and heard the last three items: A kayak, “poop” (a large poop-shaped sculpture), and a racecar. Each of the final bids seemed to be an answer in the magazine. My teammates cracked this one really quickly, realizing that each of the item names was a palindrome, and that only the final item (the racecar) had a final bid number that was also a palindrome. Our first answer of the day: 26,062.
Bowling Puzzle Pt. 2
Moving on, we made our way down K street, which was the center of the bowling triangle. We looked down the cross streets at each intersection, hoping nothing would be hiding on the diagonals or in between blocks. When we were one block from the base of the triangle, the cross streets went a little too far for us to see, and there were some extra blocks we felt like we needed to check, so we split up. Nick and Nick W went left, Kearby and I went right. Our search was fruitful, as Kearby and I found the 6 pin hiding between two blocks. We decided to go down the Massachusetts Ave. diagonal and work our way back to the park from there, just to do some extra checking, but we didn’t find any more pins, and the pins we had found appeared nicely on the answer page: 268! Our second answer!
Nick called and said that they were at the stage in the park, and the clue was about to start. Kearby and I arrived about halfway through but were able to go back and watch when it started again. Here’s how it went down:
On stage stood four costumed characters: a pig, a dog, a chicken, and a fox holding a torch. A person in a mouse costume pushed a man in a chair around the stage. The mouse would stop the chair in front of different animals (this seemed to be random), and the man would say an expletive phrase into the microphone, bleeping himself out with an air horn (“Mother ****!” etc.), sometimes mumbling less profane swears under his breath along the way. Finally, the mouse would stop the chair in front of the fox, the mouse would say “Click!” into the microphone, and then the fox would jump up and down, emphasizing that the toy torch was lit. Then a man held up a sign that said “Where do you go now?” The end.
My teammates realized that the torch-wielding fox was actually Firefox, the web browser, and the mouse character was a computer mouse “clicking” on Firefox. Sooo.. internet something! We tried to figure out what the other animals represented, but couldn’t come up with anything. We tried to do some free association with what we were seeing: internet, censorship, Mac (the jumping icon was very Mac-like), browsing, website, etc. There was also a strange installation in front of the stage that was basically a board with several large keys hanging on it. We noted the shapes, numbers, and position of the keys, trying to interpret something from them, but had no luck. Maybe they were for the End Game?
It was getting kind of late at this point, and we didn’t have much hope for solving any more of the day’s puzzles. That’s when Mike and Snooze started coming by to visit our team and talk about the puzzles. I don’t remember who all said what, and in what order, but I’ll try to recount everything we learned.
- Snooze’s team figured out the next step of the stage/internet puzzle: Where do you go when you use Firefox? The web! The map had images of a spider and a spiderweb, obviously the next place to go. Unfortunately, it was 1.2 miles away from the park, a 23 minute walk one-way, which was about how much time we had left before the End Game. But somebody on Mike’s team knew a team that was actually over there, so we passed along the message and got the following back: There was a board with a list of browsers and version numbers. Firefox’s version number was 6.2, or 62, an answer on the list. At some point, Nick W also realized that the man on stage swearing represented a “cursor.” Groan.
- Mike helped us out with the Chess puzzle. We had gotten so caught up on “FIND” and the inverted color problem that we never really tried to make just a number. It turned out you could spell “FIFTEEN” with knight moves, a correct answer. Bah.
- Mike said he had seen some other teams working on the Spy / red number puzzle, and that they had a sheet of paper to overlay on top of the clue for that puzzle. The paper had holes cut out that revealed certain words or letters. Based on the words in the clue, Mike figured there was a “hundred” involved, and that the number ended in “and one.” Pretty good deducing, and he later overheard that the answer was 131.
This was a brand new dynamic of knowing multiple teams at the hunt, and all of us being pretty equally stuck. At first I balked at the idea of sharing answers, but it definitely made the rest of the day more fun by letting us all at least attempt the End Game. We didn’t even really need to entertain the thought of how we would address our answer sharing if we finished the End Game, since that was such an unlikely outcome!
The End Game
Soon, it was time for the End Game! Again, all four of our teams were split up across the park. The announcers said that one of the five main puzzles in particular was quite difficult, so if there was no winner in 30 minutes, they would announce the answer to that clue. This was unusual, as usually they just give an End Game hint at the 30 minute mark. Whatever, the End Game had never lasted more than 30 minutes without a winner.
They also said that, of the five main answers, the first would refer directly to the first End Game clue. After that, the other four answers would be used later in the End Game.
Finally, the clue was announced:
“Look for it where the sun don’t shine, then it’s your call.”
I knew right away what the first half meant. Most of the pages in the magazine had a series of symbols on the bottom, including a sun. The symbols were different on each page. I had written down every page’s symbol the night before, so I started searching for the one that didn’t have a sun. Despite all my prep work, I think my teammates found the page just as quickly as I did just by searching through the magazine.
Now that we knew where to look, we needed to apply the clue from the first main answer. It read:
“When you know where to look, it’s as easy as the 340th, 343rd, 612th, and 660th. Then just follow the instructions!”
The page with no sun was a whole lot of text, and my teammates decided we had to count either letters or words. Letters seemed impossible, so words it was. There were several moments where we got a bit overwhelmed at this idea. Count 660 words?! There’s no way they would want us to do that! Do we start in the body of the text or the title? There are too many variables! This is crazy!
But Nick W and Kearby stepped up and totally counted the hell out of those words. Putting in markers every 50 or 100 was extremely helpful. Our first result produced “MAPHDBY98.6″, which almost kind of seemed like something. I noticed it was 10 characters and dialed it in on the phone, remembering “it’s your call.” I got an automated response about it being a disconnected number, but with a weird announcement number. I tried to decipher that number, but it didn’t make any sense.
On the double and triple check-throughs, we got the results “MAPHD18098.6″, no longer phone number material. The fact that it said “MAP” seemed so significant, so we kept looking at the map, and letters HD. We thought about 180 degrees, plus 98.6 degrees, etc. This part got kind of frustrating since we felt like we had something, but didn’t know what to do with it.
3:30 arrived, and they announced, to our surprise, that there were no winners yet! As promised, they announced the answer to the “hard” puzzle which, to our great surprise, turned out to be the bowling puzzle. We were surprised since this one certainly didn’t seem difficult, just walking-heavy. (In the post-mortem chat, Weingarten confirms: ”In this case, the hard one wasn’t hard because it was intellectually challenging: It involved more investigative walking than many of you wanted to do. (Or maybe thought we would require.)” )
It was about 3:40 before the first winners arrived. Meanwhile, members from the other three teams had been visiting us and sharing info. We had all gotten the same result and were equally stumped. Mike told us about how the previous hunts had 7-digit phone numbers, and you had to assume the 202 area code, which was big news for us but didn’t get us anywhere. Jen said something about degrees that I didn’t really understand, except that we had two numbers that were degrees (but they were lifted straight out of context that already said they were degrees, how could that be significant?). Mike also received a picture message of a clue that another team he knew had found on a bowling pin somewhere. It said to “text your name and phone number to”, and then had a picture of a witch. Mike really wanted to figure it out, but no luck.
Finally, after an unbelievably long time, they had three winners and could announce the answers to everything! And there was much booing! Here is the short version of the things we learned that we didn’t already know:
- Chess puzzle: The inverted colors were an accident. Ugh.
- Spy puzzle: The “dreaded red number” was not a number in the numerical sense, but a number as in “one who numbs.” There was a picture on the map of a dentist wearing red scrubs administering a shot to a patient’s mouth. Not only are dentists dreaded in general, this particular dentist had dreadlocks. If teams went there, they would receive the overlay paper with the holes cut out. Very clever! Interesting note: Mike’s team actually went there, thinking maybe “number” meant “clothing” (as in “that sexy little number”), but they said they didn’t find anyone or anything at the location. Might have just been a staff person standing there inconspicuously.
- Stage puzzle: The only thing we didn’t manage to identify (with four teams’ worth of brainpower) was that they keys on the board represented (wait for it) a keyboard. Sigh.
- Find the page with no sun (we did that!)
- Count the words mentioned in the first answer (yeah!)
- Get MA PHD 180 98.6 (so far so good)
- Realize that these are all degrees. (oh..yeah… I guess that’s true…)
- Call 202-DEG-REES (WHAT??)
- Receive the message “Congratulations for getting this far. Your pin number is 10.”
- Go to where the 10 bowling pin would be on the map.
- Hey, there is a pin there now! It has a sign that says “Text your name and phone number to” and a picture of a witch.
- Use the rest of the answer clues to convert each letter of WITCH to a number.
- If you text your name/number to this number, receive a response that says you didn’t follow directions.
- Text, literally, “your name and phone number” to the number, receive instructions to go to the “secret tower” and take a digital picture of the digital clock and bring it back to the stage. The “secret tower”, like “dreaded red number” is actually an image on the map of a guy in a crook mask sitting in a tow truck, making a “shh” signal and pointing to a location on the map.
- Take a digital picture of the digital clock, return to the stage, and whoever’s picture shows the earliest time is the winner!
Now it’s time for some analysis, yeah!
Loved the general idea of the puzzle, especially with the song playing, very nice. Inversion of the colors was a pretty bad mistake, very frustrating. From there, we just got so caught up in the word “FIND”, totally forgot to look for just a number. I think if the chessboard had been correct, it would have felt less like brute force, and we might have focused all our energy on the one route and got around to finding the answer. But I still feel this one was mostly our own fault. Gotta stay focused on the numbers! All of the puzzles that wanted you to visit a second location were pretty explicit about it, those instructions weren’t hidden.
We made the huge mistake here of following the crowd. It felt wrong that the answer would be something in the museum window, with all these people crowded around to see. It felt wrong that 007 was a “dreaded” number. It felt wrong that so many people were standing around the Navy memorial, not finding anything. The wording of the clue felt wrong if “this” meant anything other than the clue page. Everything felt wrong, but we did it all anyway because it was easy and we couldn’t come up with anything better after a few moments of thinking, and you hate to think that maybe all those people are right and you’re foolish not to follow. Really should have thought more critically about this one, removed ourselves from the crowd. And DAMN THAT TAPE, EVERY YEAR! A good puzzle otherwise, I think. Lots of puns and wordplay this year! Need to think more critically about all the strange images on the map in the future.
Only problem here is that this seemed like an example of a brute force puzzle. We had already walked so much that day, and walking was all you even got to do on this one. This didn’t really feel like a puzzle at all, more of a scavenger hunt. Frustrating to feel like maybe we were missing something because we didn’t want to canvas the area that thoroughly.
Easy, fun, clever, satisfying. That about sums it up!
General consensus: too much extraneous information! Three extra animals and specifically timed but inconsistently delivered swearing took us way off track. Still, we could have gotten “web” with a little more critical thinking. Our big complaint with this one (and it sounds like we weren’t the only ones) was the distance from part 1 (the stage) to part 2 (the web), which was over a mile and on the opposite side of the map. The announcement at the beginning all but said “don’t do the stage puzzle first”, when the only sensible order was to do the stage puzzle first, then head to the super far away Chess puzzle which was right next to the web. We saved the stage for last and didn’t have a chance. Even if we had had enough time, I don’t think any of us wanted to hike the extra 2 miles for that one. In general though, the puzzle was pretty cute. Props to the costumed actors, how exhausting!
The most interesting part, the part I hated last year. It was completely different! They read the clue, a few people took off running, but mostly everyone stood or sat very still for a very long time. In fact, I would say 95% of the players never left the park. It’s almost as if the creators read my blog from last year and said “Hmm.. how can we keep from making everyone take off running at the beginning?” and their solution was to make everyone sit and count hundreds of words before going anywhere. Actually, I’m guessing they did this on purpose to avoid the chaos of even more players than ever running through the streets of D.C. en masse, which is dangerous. It was great for me, I never felt those bad feelings from last year of running mindlessly, getting exhausted, and feeling overwhelmed.
The End Game also felt a lot more within reach this year, just because we managed to sort of solve the first clue. The subsequent clues didn’t seem that far-out this year either. My goal for the End Game this year was just to make it to the first clue location eventually, since I felt like that was something we could have done last year if we had done things more thoughtfully. I feel like we kind of achieved my goal this year since we did solve the first clue.
It’s very interesting that it took so long for the winning teams to start arriving. Then again, it took quite a chunk of time to count all those words in the beginning, and then the complete route of the End Game covered just over a mile, which takes time. Add in some waiting time for responses to text messages, and getting the Witch clue wrong the first time, and I guess I can see how it would take well over 30 minutes.
A few more general thoughts…
Better than last year:
- No goody bags. Firstly, I never understood the organizers actually paying to distribute red herrings. Secondly, it was one less thing to have to carry/worry about, which was nice.
- The End Game was so much better in every way!
- The weather. It was absolutely gorgeous!
- My basic navigation skills. I actually knew where we were and which cardinal direction we were facing all day! Last year I was totally hopeless.
Worse than last year:
- The layout of the puzzles. I think we covered about 2 miles worth of walking last year, with the two farthest puzzles being less than a mile apart. This year, we covered 4 miles, with the two farthest puzzles being 1.3 miles apart (a little more if you consider the edge of the bowling triangle to be the North-easternmost puzzle) and we didn’t even make it to all the locations.Important — the farthest puzzle last year lead to another location, which was back towards the direction of the main stage. Almost backwards this year, the main stage puzzle lead to another location, which was practically as far as possible from the main stage, near the farthest puzzle. Walking is fine, whatever, but that web really should have been closer to the park, especially if they were going to tell us not to work on the Stage puzzle first. And for that matter, if there was one puzzle that could have accommodated a larger crowd, I think it was the stage puzzle.
I heard some people saying they keep spreading out the puzzles every year to help accommodate the larger crowds (over 12k this year), which makes sense I suppose (though all of the puzzles we went to were still pretty crowded), but maybe they can implement more crowd-wrangling methods like the End Game word counting instead of spreading out more. The post-mortem chat has confirmed that the creators have heard this feedback and will try to build more leisure time into future hunts.
- In my post about physicality, I talked about how Post Hunt really takes advantage of the player’s physical presence in their puzzles. This year it felt like there were more cards/papers handed out and less physical stuff to observe/navigate. This is almost definitely a result of the increased crowds, which make those sorts of clues difficult. (Although I guess I can’t whine about not enough physical puzzles and then complain about having to walk to find bowling pins.)
I felt like the difficulty of some of the puzzles this year was ramped way up.
Two three puzzles required moving on to a new location (rather than just one last year), and we failed to find that location both times for two of the three (and this was the one puzzle type I felt like we did really well on last year). The Chess puzzle was just a big mess for many reasons. But then the last two I felt were pretty tame. I think my team did a great job, but again we struggled with time management. I definitely wasn’t expecting the puzzles to take so much time, after we had an abundance of extra time last year. We spent a long time on our first two puzzles and basically made no progress. I think I have a few items to add to my “Have you tried” list, and I think we might need to recognize that for every puzzle we have ever solved in Post Hunt, we have known we were on the right track and solved quickly. We need to recognize that if we have worked on one for more than 5 minutes and still don’t have a good lead, we’re probably wrong somewhere and it’s time to take a big step back and try again.
And since it played such a big role in my DASH posts, here’s a breakdown of the “equipment” I brought to Post Hunt, and what was useful:
- Backpack – The only one on our team, useful!
- Tons of pens – Useful, but still found myself without a pen at several points throughout the day. Am I going to have to make a bandolier??
- Water – Didn’t really drink it until late in the day, but was useful at dinner. Maybe more useful if we get to the End Game someday.
- Just in Case bag – I think the event is too short to justify the weight of this bag. There are convenience stores all around anyway. Not useful.
- Clipboard – Super useful!
- Binder – Fairly useful, we ended up with some papers and things but they could’ve just gone in the backpack. Good for having the map out all the time in the front pocket though.
- Small notebook – Always the star of the show, with its lines and middle margin. I might need to get another one of these! Useful.
- Clear folders/dry erase markers – Actually useful for the Chess puzzle. If only we had managed to solve it.
- Snacks – Not useful since we ate brunch beforehand.
- Sunscreen – I put sunscreen on once in the morning and didn’t burn, which is impressive. A hotter day might necessitate more sunscreen, but yesterday it was not useful. And heavy.
- Camera – Aww yeaaah, useful! I actually took some photos! Didn’t manage to take any of the puzzle sites though, maybe next year.
- Cell phone – Useful for keeping in contact with the 3 other teams of friends we knew! And good when we split up for the bowling puzzle.
- Puzzles solved by Team Clavis Cryptica (legitimately): 2
- Puzzles solved via group effort across 4+ teams: 5
- Distance walked during the hunt: 4.0 miles
- Total distance walked the whole day by me, Nick, and Nick W: 6.5 miles. (Nick W, you have permission to lay down and die now.)
- Comment that gave me the most giggles of the day: ”Hey look, that guy is waving a hat!” (Everything is a clue.)
That’s about all I have to say on Post Hunt this year! We didn’t solve as much as I would have liked, and we about walked our legs off, but we still had a great time! I can see a lot of room for improvement on our part for next year, and it was great to get a chance to build up some more puzzle teaming experience (and expand my network of friends who might like to join in future hunts and events!). Thanks so much to all of the organizers for all their hard work. Looking forward to next year!
Now I want to hear from any readers out there who made it to Post Hunt! What did you think? Favorite puzzle? Most frustrating puzzle? How far did you get on the End Game? What ridiculously wrong path did you travel down?