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DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Tue 02 Apr, 2013 10:01 pm
by dickoon
(...and in 14 locations across the USA on Saturday 18th May.)

It's not the sort of culture-free language-neutral puzzle contest that is at the heart of this site, but DASH is a yearly-ish puzzle hunt whose spirit is neatly captured by the full expansion of its title - Different Areas, Same Hunt - and it's coming to London for the first time this May. It may be close enough to the core topic to be of interest to forum members here.

Essentially it's a contest where teams of 3-5 compete to solve a series of puzzles set in various locations around the different cities. I believe that the time taken to get from location to location is not counted in determining who is fastest, so it's not a sprint to get from one place to another - feel free to take your time, stop for breaks between puzzles and so forth, within a reasonably generous overall time limit. The London event will start at 10am, from a Central London location yet to be announced, and I believe the hard deadline is 6pm, but teams are expected to take probably around 4-7 hours to solve the hunt.

The puzzles are not culture-free and are deliberately cryptic, with figuring out exactly what is required being part of the challenge. The best way to find out what the puzzles are like is to look at the puzzles from previous years on the DASH web site. Given that people have been preparing the hunt for many months, I feel confident that the puzzles will be interesting, challenging and well-playtested. (Not least in fourteen different locations across the US the week beforehand!) The most familiar thing to compare it to is the team event that Phil Hannay and I ran at the UK Open last year, except it's likely to be about 3-4 times bigger and something like 9-16 times better. There's also a pervading ethos to make sure that people keep finding the whole thing fun, with hints available as required.

The charge is £25 per team, but it's a non-profit, non-commercial event. Registration is open now until April 27th (?) - and while places are limited, I believe that the UK leg has room for 25 teams of which, so far, two have been filled. I am in the late stages of putting together a team (which happens not to have any UKPA members on this occasion) and dearly look forward to being beaten, or not, by at least two or three UKPA teams. Tell your friends!

I'm very confident about this being a spectacular event - and, more to the point, I'm quite hopeful about it being a tremendous social event, bringing together lots of interesting people who would surely be interested in the UKPA's activities, but who might also start to form a community to put on other interesting puzzle-related events over time. If you enjoyed meeting up at the UK Open, this is the best excuse you're going to get to meet back up face-to-face for a few months.

I don't know who's organising the London leg. (I have suspicions, but I don't know for sure.) What I do know is that all the London-specific information is available here on the DASH web site and there's also a more general FAQ as well.

This is hugely exciting, I reckon. Fingers crossed that I get to catch up with some of you there!

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Thu 04 Apr, 2013 3:34 pm
by PuzzlerNickG
I'm definitely interested in this. If anyone else is, let me know and we'll see of we can get a team organised.

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Sun 07 Apr, 2013 5:41 pm
by GarethMoore
Sounds fun, so I'm interested.

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Sun 07 Apr, 2013 7:10 pm
by Janix
Yes - I'm interested. Hopefully it will have stopped snowing by then...

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Thu 25 Apr, 2013 8:54 pm
by Janix
Are we doing this: Nick, Gareth? Anyone else...

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Thu 25 Apr, 2013 10:25 pm
by dickoon
There's a meeting in a pub at lunchtime on Saturday where people will be getting together to try old puzzles, discuss the event and so on. You might want to consider going even if you're still thinking about whether to take part or not. It's unlikely that I'll be there - lots of travelling for just one afternoon - but lots of lovely and puzzly people who would surely be interested in the UKPA mission.

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Fri 26 Apr, 2013 12:15 pm
by PuzzlerNickG
I'm probably going to go to the Saturday meeting. I've emailed the organisers and await their response.

The registration page suggests there's still lots of team spots available (18 at time of posting), so I'm confident we'll still have time to claim a spot.

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Tue 30 Apr, 2013 6:24 pm
by dickoon
PuzzlerNickG wrote:The registration page suggests there's still lots of team spots available (18 at time of posting), so I'm confident we'll still have time to claim a spot.
I've seen it suggested on Twitter that registration in some areas has been extended to May 4th. Registration for London is still open, but don't hang around too much!

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Tue 07 May, 2013 11:13 pm
by dickoon
I've seen it suggested on Twitter that the final registration date for London is now May 12th, so you know what to do.

It does occur to me that there will be (a few) dozens of people interested in puzzles present at the event so it would be a great place to get the UKPA word out. Probably best to check with the guy responsible as to what would be available but I can imagine that it would be useful to have a UKPA flyer or somesuch to distribute.

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Wed 08 May, 2013 8:47 am
by PuzzlerNickG
We're all sorted. I'm joining a team with Gareth and others. Ken, unfortunately, can't make it.

I could wear a recent WPC t-shirt, though weather might mean it's covered by full-length waterproofs. :roll:

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Mon 27 May, 2013 11:58 am
by dickoon
So DASH happened in London on Saturday a couple of days back. The weather stayed dry, despite threatening to at least shower in the morning, and I found the puzzles, the company and the event at large all to be glorious. Speaking on behalf of others is dangerous but I think it's reasonable to say that everyone on my team had a fantastic time and I'm pretty sure Nick G., at the very least, did as well. I'm guessing that the other DASHers around these parts are likely to have done so too!

The puzzles were very much not the language-free culture-neutral staples of WPF fare; they tended to rely on wordplay and pattern recognition. Indeed, there was far less of a focus on logic than I was expecting. While this may not play to our particular strengths, I guess that this helps towards accessibility to a wider audience.

There were nine puzzles in total, each programmed to take 25- to 60- minutes in duration. Many teams earned bonus points by solving them more quickly than these par times; there was also the option to solve each one with hints as required for a slightly lower point return and no opportunity for a bonus on that puzzle. There were nine teams of 3-5 solvers and I understand that every team saw every puzzle and made their way - with hints as required - through to solving the final puzzle, which depended on the answers to the first eight and spotting a commonality between them.

I will highlight one puzzle in particular as being among the most spectacular I have ever had the joy to witness. In short, it was Meta-Extreme-Connecting Walls. The puzzles and answers will surely be posted to the DASH 5 web site imminently, but if you can't wait, i'll describe the general principle
UK readers will surely be familiar (though non-UK readers might not) with Only Connect, whose seventh triumphant series is in progress on BBC Four right now. One round there invites teams to arrange sixteen items into four groups of four, such that the groups have a common property, though this commonality may potentially be rather obtuse and lateral. The counterpart puzzle here turned up the difficulty by inviting us to partition walls of 25 items into five sets of five, though each set was illustrated with an item or two to get you started. Having as many as five walls to work upon kept everyone busy, and there was the tactile fun of affixing physical stickers to the answer sheets and moving them around as required. Upon dividing the walls up correctly, and arranging them into row-wise and partly column-wise alphabetical order as requested, it was then possible to use the background shading as a simple cipher to generate an instruction to determine which of the stickers should be used to form the source material for a *sixth* wall, playing by the same rules. Determining the commonalities in this meta-wall led to a description of the answer to the puzzle. This was incredibly intricate and a wonderful feat of construction; I doff my cap to whoever devised it, not least because they are surely a US-based composer, possibly less familiar with the show. As it happened, three of the members of my team (not me!) have successfully submitted questions to OC, thus we were on reasonably familiar territory.
That was the detail of the most sensational and beautifully designed puzzle, but the standard of the puzzles at large was broadly very high, with every puzzle clearly thoroughly playtested and strong theming throughout. The vast majority of puzzles were extremely parallelisable, so several solvers - every solver? - could work on the same puzzle at the same time. Teams moved from location to location to solve puzzles; our path was broadly up and down the Euston Road, between UCL and the British Library, taking in a cafe and a couple of pubs along the way. Teams were not penalised for travelling slowly, taking refreshment or liquid adjustment breaks along the way as required; you were only on the clock between taking a puzzle and submitting your answers. Staff were on hand at each location to check answers and provide hints as required.

There were nine teams in all; I think it would be polite, as well as fair, to suggest that four of them had much more experience with this sort of puzzle at large than the other five. A team named after, and probably representing, the Magpie small press magazine of unusually difficult crosswords found all the wordplay completely to their taste and burned through things at a considerable rate of knots. (Rumour is that they had got together and worked through every puzzle from every previous DASH already; points for dedication and preparation, and how well it has paid off!) The final scoring has not been announced but it seems a racing certainty that they must have won the London leg with what I suspect will be likely to prove a metaphorical Champions' League performance. I know that they were a few minutes faster than us on each of the puzzles where we had times to compare.

Other than that, our team (Riddler on the Hoof - effectively an online UK game show fandom team, with Ronald occasionally of this parish and three other gents who I know on Twitter) managed to power through most of the hold-ups, and I know the Moore and Less team (featuring Gareth, Nick and friends) and the Two Jesters, Two Lesters And A Bloke From Chester team (including Phil Hannay, with whom I ran the tiny team hunt event at the UKPA con in 2012) all managed to mow the puzzles down apace. Again, I look forward to the scoring being published.

If there was a way in which DASH did not meet my hopes - though, I am pretty sure, this was due to my expectations being awry rather than a fault of the design, which worked as intended - it was that I didn't get to spend as much time with other teams as I would have liked to have done. (The first puzzle did see us working in super-teams made up of three teams; this wasn't scored, so primarily acted as a way to stagger the teams starting their second puzzle and thus ease the rush of many teams all arriving for the second and subsequent puzzles at the same time.) The problem is that because teams solve at their own pace, they will finish the hunt at their own pace and so cannot all be guaranteed to be in the same place at the same time afterwards.

Sadly the Magpie team had all disappeared by the time we got to the final location to start our last puzzle; if they came back after having eaten, I fear I didn't recognise them. It would have been lovely to get to meet them and find out just who was part of the team that day; I know there's a fair degree of overlap between the Magpie editorial team and our own competitions and a good chance that some of them will get to read this. (Follow-up question: Magpie team, out of curiosity, was it this thread that brought the event to your attention?) Likewise, I know that Ronald went and spent some time with Moore or Lesk after the hunt; after he came back to sit with us, I tried to marshall our team over to sit with them and make further connections but sadly they too had gone! Never mind. There was some inter-team mingling, mostly among the outfits who stayed and ate dinner at the pub. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed getting to meet the Game Control team as well.

Many thanks to Jordan Smith and the rest of the UK organisers. Jordan was an experienced DASH player in Los Angeles and bravely got up to be the first on the London dancefloor, lighting the metaphorical DASH touchpaper within the UK. Other members of the staff had come across from the US for the event - or, at least, combined a holiday to the UK with bringing their expertise of this particular DASH incarnation from over there to over here. It was a delight to get to meet lots of new and exciting puzzle-y people, not least those whose puzzle experience has manifested itself in all sorts of different ways. There's a wide world of puzzling out there far from the WPF events, Logic Masters both Indian and German and family. Frankly, that turns me on. Let's keep in touch and keep spreading the word!

There's a whole lot of work that goes into running a DASH; not only do the cities' organising teams submit their own puzzles for consideration for global syndication, each local organising team has to plan their own route and organise not just a local staff (all of whom must be trained into really understanding their puzzle, or puzzles, and be prepared to stay around to help even the last team through) but also local playtesters to spot special difficulties that might be faced in one city without arising in the others. In the UK, there's also the issue of localising the puzzles as well; not much was required, though we were provided with a list of US state postal abbreviations that proved essential for one puzzle and it's tempting to wonder whether this list was required by the teams solving the same puzzle within the US. I get the impression that the London organisers reflected the delight of the teams solving the puzzles. There is definitely a bigger puzzle community in the UK than this forum alone has tapped and that has to be a good thing all round.

If you couldn't make it, you missed a treat. Fingers firmly crossed that people (maybe the same, maybe others) will step up and organise the party to make a DASH event happen in London next year. If you didn't get the chance to play this year, do start considering whether it might be your cup of tea for 2014... and if you're reading this, then I'd bet good money at short odds that it just might be. You'd better believe that as soon as I get a scent of the details then I will sound the alarms here. Anyone who thought "the UKPA con was great - why must it be a year between our meeting up?" should start to pencil this in as a second fixture - and, being a single day, it may be more convenient for all the members in the south.

And yet, much as DASH takes place in 14 different cities in the US, there's no reason why it has to be restricted to happening in just a single city in the UK at some point down the line. Just putting that out there... ;)

(Edited: corrected prior misquote of another team name.)

Re: DASH 5 puzzle hunt in London on Saturday 25th May

Posted: Fri 31 May, 2013 6:58 am
by Ziti
Greetings from Albuquerque, New Mexico! Or "NM" as it were...

I'm really happy to see that the London DASH event went off smoothly and hope that everyone enjoyed it. Through the miracle of coincidence, I also hope some of you had a chance to meet a former soccer teammate / work-boss of mine (Kristin, who's employed I believe as a post-doc in town). It's truly a small world, puzzle friends.

To answer the question down below -- at least at our location, we were provided with a code sheet but not a state postal abbreviations sheet. Admittedly, at least one teammate wasn't completely certain that some of the bigrams were/weren't postal abbreviations, but for the most part that portion of the puzzle struck us as second-nature; I see those abbreviations all the time and use them frequently. I'm sorry to report that we could have used a lesson in counting during that puzzle tho... :)