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07 April 2008 @ 11:17 pm
When Midnight Madness starts to get to you ...  
This weekend marked my official entry into the Bay Area puzzle scene as I competed in my first game with the Five Blind Boys, a team with some friends I met during the National Treasure Clue Hunt several months ago. By adding on me and nickbaxter for this Game, a strong team had seemingly gotten stronger. While they don't really count records in these things, we did end up finishing first, about a half hour ahead of the Burninators who were the next closest team that wasn't "skipped" ahead a clue during the course of the hunt.

The event was themed around Midnight Madness, a 1980 Disney film featuring an all-night puzzle hunt that is most notable as being the theatrical debut of Michael J. Fox in a supporting role as a whiny brother. As far as puzzle hunt theming goes, this event had it in spades. The film passes through a set of locations in LA (Griffith Park Observatory, a piano factory, a brewery, a restaurant, a miniature golf course, LAX, a video arcade, and finally the Bonaventure hotel) and this hunt found locations between Palo Alto and San Jose that could match up for all of those places. This certainly took a lot of effort, as getting a whole golf course to stay open hours after its normal closing so twenty-some teams could search around its holes at 2 AM cannot be a simple (or cheap) thing to do. Along the lines of the movie, the clues also all tended to be "old school"; while this often led to clues that were difficult to decipher without hinting, it did mean that clues were not forced to use Morse or Braille or Semaphore as a Midnight Madness hunt should not need a code sheet.

In addition to stellar theming (that reached its humorous peak after hitchhiking at 3 mph with an old couple that wouldn't stop talking), there were a couple really stellar clues. To match the 8800 keys from the movie, we went to a house with 88x keys - probably seven different electronic keyboards - and given a set of scores to what turned out to be commercial jingles. In addition to identifying what the jingles were by playing them, we found each had an incorrect note. Extracting those incorrect notes and placing them in alphabetical order by jingle gave us another jingle which was for an item we were meant to ask for at the Bar. It was a well executed puzzle and given our team's ability to both play music and identify themes, we got through it rather efficiently. The "airport" clues were actually at several locations as we first had a difficult radio clue, then a set of papers handed to us by Hare Krishnas, then a set of LOLcat pictures found in a locker of sorts. The Hare Krishna clue, which most teams were skipped over, was another one I rather enjoyed. It involved a biblical essay that had tons of typos. Except, while most typos were on all the copies we had, there were some changes, particularly in the middle of the document, that changed on what turned out to be 4 different copies. The "chast virjin" [sic] became a "phaste virjin" [sic] and so on. I figured we should map out where all the different errors were on a single sheet and shading in those incorrect places drew a picture of a greyhound, the logo for a nearby bus station. Really well executed clue in my opinion. The LOLcats clue involved us finding an order to the photos by making a word chain, and then using some editing marks to extract more normal english letters from LOLcat speak. From there we were off to an arcade where a modified version of Star Fire, the video game played in the movie, was waiting for us. It was fun to try to figure out how to break this game as other teams at other computers/tvs were trying to as well. Several teams figured it out rather close together to set up a race back to Stanford for some final clues.

These last clues were also really good (which made my feelings ending the hunt much better than during the middle when the clues were not agreeing with me as much). We had a quick game of seemingly "infinite color" mastermind as we had to figure out how to get a teammate in a hissy fit back. Giving him 4 word phrases would elicit a particular response. We figured out we were doing mastermind, but took forever to figure out the 4 words we needed, particularly after we got to the "[teammate's name], you are _____" part of the clue. After lots of reasonable adjectives, and a lot of unreasonable ones, we got the one we needed to reach the final event. Here, lagging teams were again jumped ahead to engage in a game of kick-ball of sorts on the Oval lawn at Stanford. 6 large blown-up balls that looked like volleyballs were on the field with red and black words written on each of them. You needed to gather those words, but to do so you needed to venture on the field to move the balls/read what was on them. On the field were members of GC holding air hammers to try to hit you. If you got tagged by a hammer, you had to return to the sideline. Needless to say, as I have good vision and could read from the sidelines, I was doing all the data collection while others ran onto the field. It lasted awhile until the balls started popping, and then the character of the "game" on the field changed. Still, we got almost all the words and went to the solving part. The puzzle involved a total of 84 words, 12 total sets of 7 that belonged in groups (like Bond Films, or Elements, or Monopoly Spaces, ...) but each group, when placed in a natural order, had a missing member from what would have been a grouping of 8 consecutive items. We got the groupings easily once we had all the words, but also quickly saw how to order the groups to read out the location of the finish line.

Overall, while there were some definite moments of pain with some hard clues with seemingly too many possibilities to work with, there were several memorable puzzles in this 15-hour game and for my first one as a participant, I felt I contributed a lot. My team was great, and I hope to compete with many of them again, even if I am still considering myself a "free agent" for future events. Thanks to Snout for putting on a fun night of Midnight Madness. Now, to catch up on sleep and get ready for Goa.
zundevilzundevil on April 8th, 2008 06:12 pm (UTC)
Chair-E Point
Anything that references Midnight Madness is, by definition, a Good Thing. In the alternate universe where my imagination lives, future Albuquerque-based puzzle hunts would be preceded by a viewing of that masterpiece. And would, unfortunately, be troubled by random late-night crime and other nefariousness...such as it is.

Did the preponderance of hunts in the Bay Area influence your decision to go there after your PhD?
motrismotris on April 8th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Chair-E Point
While I rationalized it more to colleagues as wanting to work in the third major biotech/science area after already being in SoCal and Boston, the puzzle scene may have made that statement much easier to make.
Maelstrommlstrm on April 9th, 2008 04:15 am (UTC)
I was wondering when someone would do a Hunt based on Midnight Madness. :) Did they have a suitable Leon?
motrismotris on April 9th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
While they had someone for the role of Leon, it was one character that did not match the raw power of the role in the film.

I'm still very curious about Leon's backstory in Midnight Madness such as why all the teams instantly knew who he was when he revealed himself at the captain's meeting. Unlike the movie, none of our teams needed convincing to compete in the all-night game.