Ever since I watched Midnight Madness as a kid, I had someday hoped that I would get to participate in some sort of all-night puzzle hunt. I had followed the Game community in San Francisco pretty closely since Games Magazine published their article on the Jackpot Game in 2002. And I had even managed to fly out to SF for a couple of Shinteki hunts, which are awesomely fun 12-hour puzzling events. But I had always wanted to do the full-blown Game.
Luckily for me, as I got back from Shinteki 2008, a few days later, the website was launched for Ghost Patrol, a full-length, 30 hour-long puzzle-solving adventure all throughout the San Francisco area. They were starting the application process, which usually includes things like solving puzzles, building a structure/device of some sorts, and occasionally a video submission. The goal is to weed out teams who really aren't serious about participating.
I really didn’t give our team much shot at getting accepted, being that we were a rookie team and that most of us lived in Virginia. But we went ahead and submitted our application along with our Ghost Patrol commercial that was required as part of their "creative" portion of the application. However, hearing that 48 teams applied, I pretty much figured we were going to be out of luck. I had already resigned myself to “simulating” the event by driving around DC for 30 hours, solving Jumbles, and running through a cemetery with a butterfly net and an open jar.
But we were fortunate enough to be chosen. We were so thrilled.
Our team was Boneless Chicken Cabaret, the same name of the all-chicken improv group that Corey, Jack and I have performed in for quite some time in venues across the country. Two of us had participated in Shinteki 3D, and we also the lucky victors in the recent Washington Post Hunt.
The Boneless Chickens for Ghost Patrol were Jack Reda, Chris Guthrie, Corey Finkle, and Brian Kirk and myself. Being that we were basically rookies, we held weekly online puzzle sessions, solving our way through various old Games such as Genome, and No More Secrets. Hopefully, we would be prepared.
Despite being 3 hours later for us East Coasters, none of us could get much of any sleep the night before. Call it nerves. Call it excitement. Call it one too many tacos. Really not the best strategy when heading into an all-night marathon, but what are you gonna do? I think Jack and I had 1 hour sleep between the two of us. Ugh.
We dressed in our themed Chicken shirts, decked the van out with Chicken magnets, packed the van with all our nerdy gear and headed down to breakfast. As teams started to trickle in, any grogginess I had quickly dispersed. We had breakfast with Dan from Briny Deep and John Owens, my gracious captain from Shinteki 4.
We were also excited because we were being joined by Amber Levinson, a PhD student at Stanford who was going to be tagging along with us for the event, doing research for an article she was writing about the Game. Ghost Patrol HQ had contacted us and asked if we wouldn’t mind her joining us. We thought it’d be fun… plus we needed all the help we could get.
We made our way into the conference room, and we were immediately impressed by the professional look of everything. The full color posters. The bright name tags. And whoa.. what’s this? A handheld electronic device looking like something of a cross between a whack-a-mole mallet and a TSA security wand. As we held the device, our team name scrolled across the digital readout. Cool! They called it the ShARC. I’m still not sure what it stands for.
We pored through all the other materials: A handbook (complete with instructions on the devices, a code guide, and a spirit reference section), a UV light, a magnifying glass, a box of crayons… er, I mean “Friction Activated Chroma Sticks” (everything was themed, of course). In the back of the binder, there was a CD which we used to install the OWL flash application onto our laptops.
It was all very exciting, if not overwhelming. I regret that I didn’t have more time to read through everything, because it certainly would have helped down the road. Turns out we were to use the ShARC to zero in on ghosts and input data into the OWL flash app. The system worked really well, and with one exception of being told to drive into the Bay, both devices performed flawlessly.
The objective for our team was to go out into the field and capture a number of ghosts collecting info on the following seven qualities related to the ghost in question.
- Favorite Flavor
- Date of Death
- Cause of Death
- Place of Death
Ghost #1 – Benign Booga
After meeting the staff from Ghost Patrol, the Game was underway with the objective of capturing a “Starter Ghost”, if you will. They killed the lights in the room, and immediately several things leaped out. A 3D image on the screen had marine life spelling out “Aquamarine.” There was a sound of a dog barking, which led us to “Dogfish” for the animality. Written in ultraviolet reactive paint on the wall guided us to the posters on the wall of a dust-buster and a bunny, which gave us “Buster” for the name. And because of the underwater theme, we inferred that the dog had drowned.
After getting this four bits of info (along with Bacon Ripple which was given as an example input), our ShARC guided us across the street to a bookstore, where we were handed the next clue. It was Scooby Doo, with a speech bubble containing the following photos:
A lion roaring, a cup of tea, Roo from Winnie the Pooh, a bunch of naked butts, a washcloth, and the game Go.
We ripped through this quickly getting ROAR-TEE-ROO REARS RAGO, which in Scooby talk is “Forty-two years ago.” But there was one extra wrinkle. Because it was a dog, we had to factor in dog years, so dividing by seven gives you 11/8/2002 as the date of death.
The ShARC sent us two miles away near the water at a park, where we had to first have a team member throw a Frisbee at two cups positioned on the tops of sticks. The goal was to knock off a cup AND have a team member catch it. Corey was clutch on this activity, only taking four tosses to knock off both cups.
The clue we received was a Frisbee owned by the dog who had died. It had teeth marks from the bottom and top, creating various indentations on both sides of the Frisbee. At first, we thought they looked a lot like constellations, but we then quickly realized that it was a Braille encoding on the top and bottom spelling out OCEAN FLOOR, the place of death.
At that point, we had all the info we needed to capture our first ghost. We walked to the end of a pier, captured the ghost with our ShARC device and loaded our Ziploc baggie with slime from an urn left at this location. We received an invoice code of LOYALTY, which we called into Game Control. They were sending us out into the field for real, specifically Chinatown.
Post Ghost Video: After capturing each ghost, the OWL would play a cool animation showing how each ghost died. The first one was pretty sad... a dog waits as his owner swims out to the ocean. The owner never returns, so the dog decides to swim after him and ultimately drowns. Eeeep.
Ghost #2 – Kung Fu Fright
We got into our car, and headed into the city. The first fun surprise was that my power invertor immediately blew out, emitting smoke and smelling like burnt yak. This was seriously bad because our puzzling life depending upon the batteries of our laptops. We luckily had a backup one but between that an a flaky van rental electrical supply, it wasn’t really charging that well. (Lesson learned… don’t buy a power invertor from a guy in an alley in Budapest. I bet it wasn’t really owned by Heidi Klum either. Harrumph.).
Anyway, Chinatown was quite the fun crowded area for a bunch of puzzling nerds to be running around. The theming of each of these puzzles was great and perfectly fit the area and the theme of the ghost. We truly felt like we were hunting ghosts as we pointed our ShARC device up and down the streets of SF.
We arrived at a park with a flower-like grid on the ground and dragon in the shape of an S in the center. The letters L-I-M-E ran from the center to the outside, spelling out SLIME. We were also handed a sheet with a copy of the pattern along with 11 crossword clues. I had solved many puzzles like this in Games Magazine, so we nailed it fairly quickly. Spelling around the rim was SEPTEMBER TENTH. We arrived at the century from the spirit guide (13th century) and the Year of the Dragon was hinted by the dragon on the ground. So it was just a matter of input various years that worked until we got the right answer.
We walked a few blocks where we found our next clue, a series of rubber… could it be... Boneless Chickens!!! Alright!!! Given that we had seen Scooby Doo in a previous clue, we were psyched at the possibility that each team was woven into a clue somehow. Turns out, we’re pretty sure that wasn’t the case.
Inside the chicken was our next clue, a series of recipes on Chinese-restaurant themed paper. The catch was that the ingredients didn’t match the recipe. And it looked like each recipe was a particular chicken dish. We channeled the power of the chicken on this one, because everything clicked and we flew through this clue.
Indexing into the ingredients (using the measurement amounts… 2 cups Tomato = O) for each recipe you got a word that was a synonym of a word in the recipe. For example, UNCOLORED was the word for Vegetarian WHITE Chili, and so on. Then you had to identify the chicken recipe on the card and notice that it was an anagram of the word you got earlier with a letter added in. On the UNCOLORED card, the recipe was for Chicken Cordon Bleu. UNCOLORED + B = CORDONBLEU. Doing that for each recipe spelled out OBSIDIAN, which was the aura color.
We were then sent to another location and received a small jar with the message “Your Name Written on a Grain of Rice.” At this point from what it looked like we were in second place, tied with the Burninators (only the Scoobies were ahead of us). We felt like Monmouth in the NCAA tourney, trailing Kentucky 3-2. Whether or not teams were split up at this point, we weren’t sure. But at least for a brief moment, we felt the awesome excitement of thinking that perhaps we were somewhere near the lead. YAH!!! This quickly changed one clue later.
Emptying the jar we had a bunch of really tiny ovals with colors around the edges and a single word in the center. When we inspected the dots even closer… holy crap!! There were tiny lines on each dot, which Brain noted that you could interpret each circle as a big bulbous letter. This spelled out WHO IS ON RICE. Jack decided he needs to go to the bathroom and abandoned us.
We then had to match each single word (e.g. JEAN, CORAL, AMBER, OLIVE) with a colored dot to hopefully spell out a message. Unfortunately, we have the color matching skills of an elderly mole rat, so this took far longer than it should have. We had CORAL as blue, OLIVE as green (reasonable, but unfortunately it was supposed to be black, I think), and AMBER as gold. The horrible irony of this all was that we actually had an Amber on our team, and even though she said “orange” we heard something to the effect of “oranggnkasdln… GOLD!”
We finally sorted it all out and got RONI CHOW as the message. Rice-a-Roni. Nice.
We walked a few blocks. It started to rain lightly. We received our next clue, a karate DVD complete with a badly translated cover. The movie was great… with subtitles that were bad translations of famous American movie phrases. Example: “Planet Earth is Under My Reign!!” = “I’m the King of the Word!!” (Titanic).
This was where things really bogged down as halfway through watching the video, our only laptop with us (never mind that we had three in the car we forgot to bring!!) basically ran out of battery power. We had to quickly jot down the rest of the titles and were unable to go back and look through the phrases. Thankfully, Amber offered to walk 20 blocks to the van to get another laptop.
As we waited, we tried to identify the rest of the movies, but we weren’t able to go back and note the other key part of the clue, which was the “Chinese” characters above the translations. Turns out there were the same number of characters as the last word of each quote. And if you took the letter that matched the Chinese symbol for Rising Sun (hinted on the cover of the DVD), you got the final message. Unfortunately for us, we watched as several teams passed us on this clue. Indeed Kentucky had hit four straight three-pointers.
Finally, with Amber’s arrival with a new PC, we got the rest of the message, which spelled out BRING ANOTHER FRIGGIN LAPTOP YOU NOOB IDIOTS, or something to that effect.
If Chinatown had whacked us in the side of the head with the DVD clue, it kicked us in the collective nuts, scales and stars with the next one, a series of fortune cookies with fortunes and lucky numbers on each slip of paper. We failed to notice that the lucky numbers were a unique set from 1 to 72, so we were trying to decode numbers where we should have been trying to solve for six letter words. Each fortune hinted at a word, which we could then use to spell out an acrostic message. The message mentioned something about a BLIND SOOTHSAYER and referred to the I Ching symbols in our handbook.
At this point, Jack spent 30 minutes trying to find a bathroom again.
Back to the clue, we had noticed the symbols, and had tried to convert them to Braille. Unfortunately, we were doing it left to right then top to bottom (the traditional East Coast method) instead of top to bottom and then left to right (apparently the West Coast way). There was a section on Braille in the handbook that described this pattern, but I’m sure we skipped right over it, because we were too smart to actually read stuff. Lesson learned. This was our first hint from Game Control and we really appreciated a nudge in the right direction. We quickly translated the message which read HEY DUMB*&%, READ THE MANUAL WE GAVE YOU. This hinted very vaguely to Chunky Monkey, the favorite flavor of the Ghost.
The final clue in SF was a fan with letters along the top and dots below some of the letters. We also were given a list of five-letter words such as FIGHT, LUNCH, and FATSO. If you read from left to right and spell out each word, noting which letters have dots below them, you get binary values such as 01001, 10010 and so on, which translated to IN THE DUNGEON, the place of death for Mister Kung Fu Spirit. We solved this in just a couple of minutes, regaining the pride and dignity that we left boiling in a wok hours ago. We quickly captured the ghost, headed back to the van and called into GC for our next mission.
Ghost #3 - Pirate Dread
Our next mission was in the Presidio. The Sports Basement had been haunted by the ghost of a pirate and the Boneless Chickens were on call. We arrived at a beach covered with flags and a treasure chest. We had to blindfold team members who would then walk into the sandy flag area and dig for buried coins as we guided them with vocal instructions. This gave us twelve coins with words on them such as BARGEMASTER, ESCROWING, and STRONGHOLD. We then proceeded to an open treasure chest we saw various items such as a crown, gems, and gold. We quickly noticed that each item in the chest was located inside a word on the coin with an extra letter thrown in. For example, BARGEMASTER contains GEMS with A tucked inside. Doing that for each coin gave us TAHITIAN BEACH, as the place of the pirate’s death.
We then headed up to a Pet Cemetery, where we were given a set of photos with gravestones. The catch was that each gravestone had the name digitally removed. So, we first had to find each grave and note the missing name. Also, near each grave was a colored flag (red, blue, yellow, or black) and a number. At first we tried splitting up, but we quickly regrouped and found that a much quicker approach was to visit each site together and everyone would look through their stock of photos and find the correct one.
The first step was to order each image according to the flag number and index into the pet name according to dots that were on the card. This spelled out SEVEN GROUPS COUNT DOTS. On the backs of each card was a colorful parrot with the words PAIR-IT, written in the colors of the spectrum. The next step was then to notice that all 28 pets could be paired up into groups of two related names (e.g. CAESAR-CLEO, BORIS-VLADIMIR, SILVER-GOLDIE, and so on). Then you had to look at the flags by each gravestone and combine those colors using third-grade art school knowledge. So, if one pet had a red flag and its partner had a blue flag, you’d get purple for that pair. After doing that, we had 14 pairs of animals, with each color represented twice. Adding up the total dots on those photos for each of the seven colors, gives you alphanumeric numbers, which covert to MAN O WAR, which was the animality.
This was one of our favorite clues and we really teamed up well on this one. We also were amazed that they found so many pairs of pets in the cemetery. We did however notice some “fake graves”, but still it was an amazing clue from start to finish.
Jack again left to find a bathroom. His bladder is the size of a grain of rice.
We then headed up the shore to a fort right under The Golden Gate Bridge, where we received a CD with a pirate shanty entitled “Here’s to Me Grog.” (This has now replaced “It’s a Small World” as the song most likely to be stuck in my head forever.)
As the rain grew heavier, the light of day slowly disappeared, and as the wind howled around us, we huddled in our van, listening to this song over and over again. We noticed that the song featured three singers (high, medium and low voices). Also, the voices either could be heard on the left, right, or both speakers.
The first task was to go through the song over and over again, identifying all the parts. Then, we were convinced we were going to be converted the voices to trinary because we had three voices and three speaker configurations, which yields 27 possibilities, perfect for a mapping to the alphabet. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and Jack, who had returned, in a moment of waste-free inspiration, figured out that it was in fact, Braille, with the left speaker and right speaker converting to the left and right sides of a Braille character. I think this wasn’t on our radar at first because we were only 1/3 into the event, and we had already seen two other Braille clues. A bit surprising to see a third. But we were excited to solve this, unaware that we’d be randomly humming this tune for the rest of our lives.
Our next clue was when it really started to pour and we found a lonely staffer, freezing in the rain, handing out clues. (By the way, huge props to all the volunteers who sat for hours waiting for teams to arrive. Thanks!)
Team XX-Rated was also here and for the next chunk of time, it felt quite lonely as no other teams show up. Minutes later, the volunteers closed the clue site.
The clue involved the journals of two pirates, who were raiding various islands in the Caribbean. We had to logically deduce the amount of coins each pirate took from each stop and that converted to an alphanumeric code. We got stumped a bit on this because Trinidad is actually an island and so we miscounted islands which resulted in several inconsistencies. (We later found out that XX-Rated was making the same assumption). We called GC and they help sort out our problem and we were off again. But as a result, we were skipped over a conch shell clue, I believe.
We then arrive at the next clue site, which we find out has been closed down due to a clue breaking. It looked really cool, too… a clue with larger than life sand dollars.
Jack went to the bathroom for a fourth time.
But more importantly we had captured our third ghost. BOO-yah. We drove away, then quickly turned around realizing we had forgotten Jack.
Ghost #4 – Hirsute Haunter
We were instructed to drive to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we would be parking and doing the entire next leg on foot.
Our first clue was at the Musee Mechanique, where Corey and I were dropped off to start working on the clue while the team parked. At this point, I was a big-time doofus because I left my backpack in the car, which contained including laptop, scissors, pencils, paper, tape. That would have been a big help because the clue invovled cutting stuff out and taping it back together. Lesson learned.
The location was a cool, but creepy collection of various carnival machines. Think Zoltar from the movie Big. Only there were about 60 of these types of machines. French beheadings, English electrocutions, Swedish disembowelings, Prussian ape attacks. Name a country and a violent act, and chances are it was there.
We had to identify various machines and write the answers into winding puzzle pieces. We then supposed to create two full squares of puzzle pieces and then overlap them to spell a message. There were two problems with realizing this. One of our puzzle pieces was printed the wrong direction (which resulted in garbled message) and furthermore coincidentally, the first letter of every clue of one of the squares were all letters from A-G. We thought for sure this hinted at a musical clue, especially since there were player pianos throughout this room. Finally, a call to GC got us back on track and even with the mistake in the puzzle piece, we finally got the correct answer.
When we got the answer, we were told to put a quarter in a certain Wizard machine, which dispensed our next clue. Very cool, and I’d love to hear how GC was able to pull that one off.
We stopped for a quick dinner (next to the XX-Rated team) and pondered our next clue. A series of astrology fortunes. This was a classic case of overthinking a puzzle, for while we were mapping out calendars, trying to align various stars and birthdates, and project a star map onto the ceiling, Brian (who had the puzzle) goes, oh… I've tried something simple and I’m getting NESDAY at the end of this but that’s probably not right. (we slap head with doh sound). We quickly focused on Brian, who had gotten the rest of the message in no time.
We then received one of the most fun team clues, 3 Ring Circus. The puzzle consisted of a bunch of curved pieces featuring images of celebrities and random items, each with a colored border. Each set of colors could be matched to create a three circle Venn diagram, with overlapping members. To top it off the Venn diagrams also perfectly matched the color wheel diagram in our book.
So, for one we had a Yankees jersey, an oriole, and a pirate forming the group “baseball teams,” the Yankees jersey, a barber pole, and a zebra forming the group “stripes” and an elephant, oriole, and zebra forming the group “animals.” We then had a question mark in the center, so the idea was to find something that belonged to all three. In this case, it was TIGERS.
Doing that for all the groups, got us Bill Murray, Tigers, Ringmaster, Blue Man Group, Rainbow, and Balloon. From that we guessed CLOWN, which referred to the aura of CLOWN BLUE. But we still weren’t sure how CLOWN was perfectly the right answer. We wanted to try to take the final six answers and form three more groups and you can kind of do it with Circus, Colorful, and uh… B-words? Anyway, were happy to solve this one quickly, and it was a fun team effort.
Jack went to the bathroom again. Amber still had yet to go (Yay Amber!)
Our next clue was a series of mini puzzles bound in a booklet entitled "Circus Fun." The theme was elephants, as there were elephants on the cover and on the back stamping on a crossword grid. We plowed through the minis pretty quickly, although we swore that we had a zipper instead of what we later figured out was a road. Then we got really stumped on what to do with all our answers. We had various words WALL, SPEAR, SNAKE that were supposed to fit into a grid, but it wasn’t working out.
Unfortunately, none of us were familiar with the parable of the blind man and the elephant (stupid West Coast poem, I guess….) so we had to call GC for a hint. Turns out each answer was how a blind man described various parts of an elephant (e.g. WALL is SIDE, SPEAR is TUSKS, SNAKE is TAIL and so on). The final answer spelled out “NICE JOB RIPPING OFF THE COVER OF A CLUE AND USING IT TO BLOW YOUR NOSE, EINSTEIN.” This led us to RISERS, which was the place of death.
This was a really nice themed set of puzzles, which looking back on it, were really well done. I’m just mad that we overlooked the huge clue of John Godfrey Saxe on the front cover. If we had seen that we could have possibly solved the whole thing without doing any puzzles!!! Aarrrghhh… Lesson learned. Look at the entire puzzle before diving in.
The next clue was brilliant, even though it was a quick solve. It was a series of animal crackers that were carefully cut in half or in thirds. On the edge of the box were new ingredients: KEY LIMON, COFFEE LEMON, COLA, GINGER, MELON, ZERO SUGAR, and ?. The goal was to find the missing ingredient.
You had to realize that part of animal cracker meant to use part of that word, so the front half of MONKEY would be MON. Doing that you could form all the ingredients on the box with three pieces left over: an entire CAMEL and the middle of GIRAFFE, which gives you the missing ingredient: CA-RA-MEL.
Ironically as we were busy solving each word, Brian just stared at everything and guessed CARAMEL. Boom. After I got back home, I actually solved this puzzle in full, and when people ask what Ghost Patrol was about, this is the clue I show them. Nice job, Ian!
Finally, we arrived at a series of sandwich board type “put your head through the hole and take a photo so that you look like a circus figure thingy” (at least I think that’s what they’re called). Each face also had a particular type of facial hair, each in the shape of a letter. If you take a picture of each board, you’ll notice that certain parts of the board reflect the light. And counting these items gives you the method of ordering the letters. Answer was: MADAM BARBU, the bearded lady who was trampled by an elephant into a ghost.
It was nice to fly through the last two clues, and we had captured our fourth ghost. The event was halfway over and we weren’t the least bit tired. Hopefully we’d be able to keep this momentum through the wee hours.
Ghost #5 - Split Spiritual
We went back across the Bay into Oakland where we arrived at an artist’s studio to find an abandoned house with two puzzles. And the best news for us… electrical outlets! We quickly charge all our laptops, so that our blown power invertor wouldn’t hurt us anymore and for the rest of the event we were fine.
The backstory for this ghost was great. He was struggling artist with a split personality and he had killed his love and then later killed himself. The puzzles were all about this dual nature.
The big puzzle in this room was a series of drawings of the artists’ various suicide attempts along with a statue in the center of the room that was lit with three lights: red, green, and blue. In the drawings, the background was either white, magenta, or yellow and there were colored shadows in various directions.
The first step was to determine the order of the suicide drawings. This was a fun quick deductive exercise because each failed attempt was carried into subsequent photos. So, if he slit his wrists in Photo #2, he’d have slit writs in all the later photos. By the end, he had a hole in his head, a hole in his stomach, slit wrists, a noose around his neck, fried hair, and a rope attached to his ankle. Pretty humorous.
After figuring out the order, it was clear that for each drawing, we needed to deduce which lights were shining on the artist and from which direction. We noticed that the lights were attached to what appeared to be a 3x3 grid, which allowed you to freely move the lights. However, because other teams started to show up (I think Team Snout was one of them), we opted to try to figure this out without moving the lights.
It was a slower process, but more rewarding because we were able to figure it all out in our heads. After solving for all the lights, we noticed that Brian had an extra sheet of paper he was looking at. Doh! It was a worksheet for this very puzzle and we didn't know he had it. At the bottom of the worksheet were three colored grids, and it was clear we were supposed to trace the path of each colored light. When we did so, we traced out the letters A, S, and the symbol for Arsenic, which appeared in our book. So, the answer, and cause of death, was ARSENIC.
This was my favorite puzzle. It told a story, fit the theme of the ghost perfectly, was integrated right into the environment, and was a type of puzzle I’d never seen before. Props to everyone involved with this!
In the other room, there was what appeared to be a colorful self-portrait of the artist. Sections of the painting were numbered and on the floor there was an artists palette with the colors red, yellow, and blue. However, if you ran the UV light over the painting, you saw a very different image… the figure was grinning maniacally and holding a knife. Very cool. Also, when we black-lit the palette, two more UV colors showed up.
We quickly realized we had to determine what colors were used to create each area of the painting and convert them to binary based on whether that color was used or not. For example, the green background, was made up of yellow and blue, so that would be 01100 (using the order of R,Y,B,UV1,UV2), or the letter L.
Great idea for a puzzle, but the big problem was that it was really tough to identify the two different UV colors and sometimes both were used, which made it even harder. Combine that with not knowing which order to read the colors and there was too much ambiguity for us to get a clear answer. We confirmed some letters with GC and after that were able to get WEREWOLF, a great answer for a puzzle about a dual personality.
We then headed to another house where we were greeted by the nicest volunteer in the game. This house was full of clues… .a colorful cryptogram, a message in the backyard and a secret handwritten note. We were stumped for a while on what to do next, when I decided to run my black light around the kitchen behind some skulls. We discovered a series of arrows in invisible paint that lead all around the room. This lead to another written message.
Our new friends from Coed Astronomy were here and we figured we might as well let them in on the fun, so we all together followed the path of arrows around the walls. They returned the favor by pointing out that we missed seeing a test page from the printer upstairs. Turns out this was the key to cracking the colored cryptogram, as long as you read it backwards. Thanks to working with Jan and team, we all finally nailed this clue. Another great use of environment to create a true feel to this ghost.
We then headed to another house and received two more clues. Two themed pieces of art which involved drawing extra lines in key places to spell out BY POLAND, the place of death, and MIN WAX, which when we took the opposite, gave us MAX WAYNE, the name of the ghost.
I think we missed two puzzles on this ghost, Auto-antonyms and Bananas Foster. What those mean, I have no idea… someday perhaps I’ll find out.
Ghost #6 – Rockin’ Wraith
We were instructed to head back to the hotel, where we saw a bunch of teams piled around tables in the conference room where we started the whole event.
We’re first told to head up to a hotel room to investigate a ghost who was a former rock musician. We found a series of numbered Gold Records on the walls and an animated stereogram on a monitor, which was a spinning toilet. This lead us to look in the actual toilet tank of the room. Inside was a slip of paper with a bunch of blank letters.
This clue fell pretty quickly. We took the nth letter of each artist and ordered them based on the slip of paper we found, after we filled in the numbers ONE to TEN. This gave us I AM IRON MAN, which led us to BLACK SABBATH as the answer for the aura color.
The next puzzle was another favorite of ours. It was ten bottles with various labels and words highlighted in white. We were supposed to pair them up by drink types first (gin and tonic, rum and cola…), however we didn't need that step, realizing quickly that the words at the top phonetically sounded out a familiar song 9 DEAN EYE ON BAH TOOLS OFF BEE RON THE WALL = NINETY NINE BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL.
We figured this gave us the correct order of the bottles and then we were to determine the tune that they played when you blew into them. Other teams were also trying to identify the song. Wei-Hwang was playing an actual thin keyboard he’d brought. Turns out, we were wrong and this cost us some time. Finally, we were advised to enter that song into the OWL, where we got the message “Make sure yoU’Ve blown it”
Doh… the black light again. When we ran the light over the bottles we found the first one had a line and the rest had multiple lines each with a word above it. We then thought perhaps we had to fill the bottles with water in order to reproduce the song 99 Bottles of Beer. We took the bottles up to our hotel room, deduced what note we needed and filled up the bottles accordingly. When we took the word above each water level line, we got the message BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY FLAVOR. The answer was BOHEMIAN RASPBERRY, the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Yee-ha.
This puzzle was awesomely clever and again I can’t image how much time it must have taken to write invisibly 45 words on 22+ sets of bottles. Wow.
Side note: this whole time, the Scoobies were huddled on the floor solving some sort of tangram looking puzzle. It looked fun, but we knew we’d likely never see that one. :)
The next clue was a CD entitled "My Badass Mix" with wacky song titles like "Koalas Can Inject Shamans" and "Thy Breath Gags Eels." Each song was a nicely crafted mix of two artists. After we identified Michael Jackson and Santana in the first song, we realized that you can find both artists in the song title (Koalas…) with one letter left over. We quickly ripped through this one, as SHREDDER was the answer, the name of the rocker ghost. We had captured our sixth ghost.
Sadly, we missed 3 clues on this leg… I didn’t think we took that long on the three we did, so they must have allotted less time overall for this one or something.
Ghost #7 – Visionary Vapor
By this point, it was something like 4 or 5 AM and amazingly, Chris, Corey, and myself hadn’t slept one bit (Jack only about 20 minutes, too, unless he was sleeping in the bathrooms). We really weren’t even tired at all. I think this speaks volumes to how engaging the overall event was and how walking was emphasized over driving.
We were sent to a house where we were found a series of tombstones in the backyard. Each one was one of the team’s slogans. Good thing Corey noticed the sign in the front which said “Dig your own grave” However, it was very difficult to do this secretly in front of other teams such as the Scoobies. So, we figured who cares and we dug up a box.
We went back to the van and opened up the box where we found six bones with various markings. We recognized these as symbols from our book, and each symbol fell into one of six categories. We struggled with this clue, mostly due to the late hour and also because solving this in the van was not an ideal place for such a manipulative puzzle with fairly small pieces. I wish we had gotten this clue earlier, where we could have done it outside. I really don’t like solving physical puzzles in the van. Usually a lot of people get left out and it’s much easier to get bogged down as a result.
We had to take a hint from GC which hinted at matching the symbols according to their various groups. We were trying to match the symbols, but one was marked wrong and this caused some problems. Also, we were supposed to overlap them so that the symbols actually touched each other as opposed to side by side. Once we tried this, we quickly got six letters spelling VANITY, the cause of death.
The next clue was one of the coolest because we finally got to use the Sprite we’d be told to bring with us. It was six test tubes filled with six different colors. The caps of the tubes spelled out PRIEST. There were also lines marked high up on each tube, above the liquid.
When you rearrange the tubes in rainbow color, you get SPRITE. Aha! We filled our tubes to the desired levels and amazingly each color changed to a new one. So, we now had orange, purple, orange, orange, purple, yellow. We thought for sure the next step was to take the letter on the cork and shift it according to how many places the color shifted, but the solution was actually simpler. We just had to take the colored letter on each cork that matched the color of the liquid in the tubes. That gave us PEPPER, the favorite flavor. As a Dr. Pepper fan, I now had a natural bond with this ghost.
We received our next clue, a series of spirograph looking drawings with symbols on each point. Below each drawing were two six letter words. We also had what looked to be a legend for the symbols grouped by 21 representing consonants and 5 representing vowels. This clue really stumped us and we eventually had to take hint. Turns out you have to follow your way around the path of the spirograph spelling out the word below it, going two spaces for consonants and one for vowels (the element that really tripped us up). This allows you fill out the legend, which then when you apply the algorithm to one extra drawing with no words below it, you get BATHTUB, the place of death. Kudos to Chris for leading the charge through this one while my brain was in fuzzy land.
Our next stop was at another neighborhood house where we received three smaller clues. The first was a really elegant Tarot card puzzle, which Brent from the Scoobies and I raced to solve first. He beat me, of course, but I think I held my own. ;)
The nice owner of this house had cooked up a pot of chili for everyone. But I passed, knowing that Chili + 6 AM + Van for 8 more hours = (you do the math).
Jack, of course, downed a bowl of chili.
The clue involved missing letters from various Tarot cards and when you connected the cards that had similar missing letters you got various Roman numerals. You then grabbed the missing letters from the cards of those Roman numerals to get TEN HOSTESS. Card ten was WHEEL OF FORTUNE, so the answer was VANNA WHITE. Very nice.
The other two puzzles were pretty straightforward. Both had neat mechanical devices. One involved “divining with dice” which when rolled on a special table, were forced to land a certain way because of magnets underneath. This was neat, but I wished there had been a little more to this puzzle because it was basically just following directions straight out of the book. From this we got the date of death.
The other puzzle was a custom-made Ouija board, which when you moved the marker across a number it buzzed. Then when you moved it around the letters it buzzed again on a certain letter. If you did this for each number, the board spelled out MS. FORTUNE, the name of the ghost. Cool idea for a clue.
It was fun to solve this area with the Scoobies, too, as it gave us some semblance of being near the lead, when in reality, we were way behind them. Apparently they were told to “slow down”, so they stopped to fix the sand dollar clue (well done!) and other stuff such as writing a novel and baking a wedding cake. Sportsmanship like this would never happen if big prizes were awarded so I’m glad the Game isn’t overtly focused on competition.
Our spirits were high again as we captured the 7th ghost. At this point, we called into GC where we were told to enter a code. When we did, we got an error message… something about a containment breach. Apparently we had released all the ghosts from our device. Uh oh… sounded like a big problem was brewing. We were sent to Oakland for a “special mission.” We’re not sure what this was or if this was all according to script, but anyway we headed to Lake Merritt for the final ghost.
Ghost #8 – Persnickety Poltergeist
Our first task was a Bocce game (technically “Boo-ce”), where we tossed four colored bocce balls to a target ball and Ian Tullis, who was manning this clue would look at the position and shout out a one word exclamation such as “Awesome” or “Va-va-voom!” It appeared the order determined which word we got. After some well-place throws, we cracked the algorithm pretty quickly. In order of closest, RYGB was the letter A word, RYBG was B, RGYB was C and so on. This gave us an entire alphabet to work with, which we used to translate three other bocce positions which had already been set up. This gave us GNU, the animality of the ghost.
In retrospect, we could have just rolled the three combinations that we needed, but it was more fun to figure out how the lettering worked.
Our next puzzle was in a Gazebo, where we were handed a puzzle entitled Nerd Battleships. It was a transcript of a game between two players and when you tracked the hits and misses and added the columns of each hit, we got the message FOR EACH FAIL FLAG LETTER MIDDLE. This was a clearly a hint to use semaphore, and we tried all sorts of things before getting a small nudge from Ian that the ratio of hits to misses was 2 to 1… wasn’t that interesting?
We then figured out that each miss could be logically be paired with two hits to draw a unique semaphore letter for each miss. This spelled out something, but I can’t remember.
We were sent to the next site where we had to drive a remote control car through a maze to receive our next clue. The puzzle was two 12-sided dice and 12 slips of paper with either three or four digits on them. We quickly realized that these numbers were each on a ring of the die, with a unique number from 1 to 12 on top. Jack then started trying to use binary on each slip of paper, giving ones if the number was on the slip of paper and zeroes if it wasn’t. We had this clue nailed but unfortunately we over-interpreted the maze as a strong hint to travel around the dice counter-clockwise starting exactly where the car starting… in the lower right. We thought for sure this was the reason for the maze. Turns out we were wrong and it should have been clockwise. The message we eventually got was OVUM’S SYNONYM, or EGG, the favorite flavor.
We walked a bit further and received the clue that broke the chicken's back. And the sad thing was we solved it almost immediately. The clue was a chemistry related clue that had the words at the top A8 T6 O M3 I C7 -> m a s o n s. Below this were several words that looked like complex chemical formulas. We figured out pretty much right away that A8 meant to take the eighth element on the periodic table that started with an A, which was Am. Thus we needed to find the second letter of every two letter element abbreviation, according to what number subscript was given.
We really liked this clue, but it was a big-time chore to count through the periodic table for each letter and figure out what the nth appearance of each was. This was not the clue to get this far into the game for us because of the all the brute force that was required. To make matters worse, the puzzle had some typos, which when combined with a mistake or two by us made us think that each line had an intentional mistake. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t sleep!
Anyway, we called GC and when we found out there were no intentional mistakes, we corrected the errors. Then the clue got really fun as each phrase hinted at an element. Many of them were very clever and had us laughing… even after all our struggles. For example, “IMA HUNGRY SO…” was “IODINE” and “TRADE ANIMAL COATS FOR CASH” was “SULFUR” and “UC BERKLEY: CHECK THEM OUT” was “CALCIUM” (Cal… see um?). Nice.
The final step was to write the symbol for each clued element and then use the subscript given below this new symbol to spell out the month of birth SEPTEMBER. The last three elements were the exception… we had to just use the actual atomic numbers, which gave us 28-20-02 or SEPT 28, 2002.
We were so tired from this clue, that we made another mistake. We opted to not walk back to the car and instead tried to walk around Lake Merritt. This took forever because most of the lake was hidden behind a giant building. The XX-Rated girls tried to warn us it was a long walk, but we were stupid stubborn guys and we did it anyway.
The next clue energized us, however. It was a series of cards, each with five words. Amber immediately noticed that it was Taboo, or more appropriately, Ta-BOO! We had to identify the theme each card, which always began with a TA. So, for example, the card with Lion, Chair, Wild, Circus, and Whip were the taboo words for TAMER. On the back of each card was a BOO word such as BOOMER. We had to pair the front of one card with the back of another using some stickers. In this example, we had a picture of a King with Myrrh, so we had BOO-MER and TA-MER. This created a looped path from the front of one card to the back of the next and so around the circle. There were also roman numerals on the cards, and when we read them in order starting with TABOO we got numbers which converted to the letters PERKWKNILE which we used to guess PERIWINKLE as the aura color.
After reading other writeups, it turns out we did one step incorrectly, when we went from one side of our looped path to the other, we should have been reading the Roman Numerals in the opposite direction, so XI, which gave us K, actually should have been IX for I, and vice-versa. Luckily, this didn’t mess us up.
It was time to capture our last ghost, where we watched the tale of a nerdy gamer who died from a real life Lightning Bolt spell. Pwned. But this ghost was indeed persnickety, as he had released all the other ghosts. These ghosts reformed into a massive Ghostly Glob and it was our mission to capture this final Boss ghost.
We headed to a cemetery where we found 7 more puzzles waiting for us. Our OWL device told us that in order to free each ghost and have their spirits rest in peace, we had to solve or provide what was wrong in their lives. Next to every puzzle were urns of slime, which helped us (using our collected slime samples) match each puzzle to the correct ghost.
These puzzles were easier than the rest but provided a perfect way to wrap up each ghost. For example, the puzzle for the dual persona of the artist was a grid of letters with each letter appearing exactly twice. You literally had to cut the puzzle leaving one of each letter on each piece. Solving this split the ghost, allowing one to rise to heaven and the other downward to hell. Very nice.
The others were equally nice. To cure the heartbreak of the circus performer, you were given a bunch of playing card halves. By mending only the cards with hearts, you got the alphanumeric message TIME, which was the perfect cure for a broken heart.
We reunited the dog with his master, sent the pirate to visit his angry crew, gave Karate Kid a sensei, and helped the rock star write his opus, and so on… As each ghost was freed the Ghostly Glob got smaller until it disappeared.
We were done. We had finished Ghost Patrol, our first game!
Afterwards, we headed back to the post-Game party and chatted with many other gamers. We congratulated GC on a great job and they deservedly received a standing ovation. I thought at this point we’d be completely exhausted having no sleep, but we were still on a high for the next several hours.
I learned a lot from our first Game:
- Always look at the entire clue first before diving in to solve it. Well-written clues have subtle hints all over the place.
- Have a fanny pack of essentials that you want with you at every clue.
- Try the simplest things first.
- Bring an oil drum for Jack to pee in.
- Don't bring a power invertor you got from a cereal box.
- Try to sleep more than an hour before the Game starts.
What really impresses me, though is the extra effort to make sure that everything fit into the overall story. The wonderful story. The really slick graphics. There were no superfluous puzzles. And very few paper puzzles, too. The cumulative effect was that it was a completely immersive and wonderful experience that we’ll never forget.
Thanks, Ghost Patrol!