Amnesia: The Team Advil Story

Team Members

The five hardy souls who braved the elements, the mental anguish, and a sleepless night in the Advilmobile, the Cadillac of minivans: Dave Flowers was a great help in solving the seeding puzzles, but was unable to join us for The Game itself.


Would you like... to play... a Game?

What is The Game? The best description of it is probably a marathon puzzle-based scavenger hunt, but really that's not quite it. The rest of this page should help sort out the answer to that question. One aspect that we won't be touching on much, however, is the storyline behind this particular Game. Each team was "playing the part", to some extent, of an amnesiac CEO wrapped up in a multi-billion dollar defense contract bidding war and framed for murder. Almost every site we visited had a "plot element" as well as a clue, and often we interacted with people playing other characters in this story. Besides providing ambiance (and sometimes a vague justification for why we were gallivanting around), the plot occasionally intruded in the actual Game-play in ways that could save a team valuable time if they were paying attention. We'll mention a couple of those below, but there's a lot more to the plot that we won't be describing, and a lot more beyond that that we didn't even get to find out about (we, and the other teams, tended to be a bit focussed on the Game puzzles themselves).

How did we end up in this Game? Gamers are a bit secretive about these things, and Games are generally only advertised to other Gamers, since one bad-apple team could quite easily ruin everyone's fun and destroy months of the organizers' work. Our team captain, John, got into this game only after some very dogged correspondence and proof of prior Game experience. Once he was accepted, we had to solve a puzzle just to find the Game instructions and information (one with an easy solution, granted), and then do another set of puzzles to qualify and determine our initial "seeding" among the teams.

Why the odd team name? It's a volleyball term for a team that doesn't get along -- duh. (At least that's what our volleyball maven Chris tells us.) Actually at the end of the Game we were surprised at the minimal amount of bloodshed within the team.

To prepare for the Game, we rented a van and brought along large quantities of food and drink, changes of clothes, walkie-talkies, flashlights, rope, maps and guides, GPS receiver, first aid, almanacs, tools, batteries batteries batteries, binoculars, cell phone, camera, CD player, compass, and a laptop (with an automobile power converter) stuffed with encyclopedias, puzzle solvers, a mapping/address-finder application, and more... for starters. Fortune favors the prepared mind, right?

Sort of.

But before we hit the road, here's a look at the pre-Game puzzles we had to deal with.

Qualifying Puzzles


This puzzle was a Java applet in which you played a game of Pong with the computer. There were five rounds in total, after which the game started over.

After playing for awhile, John leveraged a Java decompiler to regenerate the source code of the applet. He found the message that the applet generated when you managed to defeat the computer, "You've bested me," and believed that this was the solution.

Chris, using the old-fashioned approach of actually playing the game, determined that each round consisted of a fixed number of turns before the computer player would miss the ball. The five rounds had 16-15-11-5-19 volleys, respectively. Mapping these numbers to the corresponding letters of the alphabet produced the solution, Poker.

Lots O' Letters

This puzzle was composed of two parts: a "Dear John" letter and a grid of letters.

The grid clearly contained dozens of names of games, reading in conventional word-search ways (horizontal/vertical/diagonal) as well as in more convoluted paths (single turns, zig-zags, etc.).

Our first guess was that by eliminating all of the game names in the grid, the remaining letters would give us instructions for finding the clue inside of the letter. However, there were too many leftover letters for this to work.

John and Ming noticed that, by starting from the upper left corner and navigating according to Boggle rules, we could spell out the phrase, "The solution to the puzzle is...." But, while we could find other fragments in the grid, we couldn't string together the answer.

Finally, Robert figured out that the letter at the top of the page was the key for finding the correct path through grid. By picking out all of the letters "NSEW" in the letter and using them to navigate the grid, we were able to spell out the solution: The solution to this puzzle is a game dealing with the counting of the cards; the solution is blackjack.

Neon Galaxy

This puzzle consisted of a bunch of neon-colored squiggly lines, with numbers on either side of each line.

Robert and John both suspected that the lines corresponded to borders. Robert was thrown off by one of the lines, which looked similar to the Alaskan border but in fact was not.

John was able to identify the borders of Chile and Ethiopia, respectively, which proved he was on the right track. With some diligent atlas work, he was able to identify all of the borders. Once that was done, the numbers were used to order the countries on each side of the borders into a list; taking the first letter of each country in the specified order gave us the solution, Chutes and Ladders.

Seeding Puzzles

By solving these three puzzles, we were qualified to play in the Game. In order to determine the seeding of teams, however, there were three open-ended puzzles to be solved. The teams with the best overall scores on the seeding puzzles would have some as-yet-unspecified advantage in starting The Game.

Word Ladder

This puzzle required us to produce a word ladder (a series of words in which only one letter is changed to produce the next word) that used all of the letters in the alphabet, with the smallest possible number of 'rungs'.

Joel wrote a program to solve it, using the Webster online dictionary to converge on a solution. His program worked, but did not converge quickly enough to give us a workable ladder.

In the meantime, Ming started working on the puzzle. Her first ladder consisted of 44 five-letter words. She quickly knocked this down to 34 when she realized a complete section could be removed. Knowing that there had to be a shorter answer, Ming kept hammering on this ladder and managed to pare it down to 27 rungs.

Ming got her brother Patrick, an experienced Gamer, interested in this puzzle, sending him a copy of her 27-rung ladder. He worked for a few days and improved upon it with a 26-rung ladder of four-letter words (not dirty words, mind you, but actual four-letter words).

It turned out that there was an error in his ladder -- he had changed the same position twice in a row, not allowed under the rules. However, inspired by Patrick's ladder, Ming decided that four-letter words were easier and succeeded in producing a 24-rung ladder.

Not to be outdone by his sister, Patrick produced a 23-rung ladder, with the letter 'e' being the only repeat. Ming, evidently less motivated by sibling rivalry and somewhat sick of this puzzle, decided at this point that it wasn't worth the effort to get rid of that extra rung.

When the initial standings came out, we were in third place on the word ladder puzzle. Ming enlisted Dave's help -- he wrote a program and script to search for a ladder using /usr/dict/words, and found a perfect 22-word ladder of four-letter words. A few days later, he came up with a second ladder of the same length with a better tiebreaker score.

However, when the scores were updated we were still in third place. We tried using five-letter words, and Dave found the OED online, expanding the pool of available words. Dave produced some better ladders, but unfortunately they all used words that were not found in the official reference dictionary.

In the end, we weren't able to improve our ladder and ended up slipping out of the top five.

Number Weave

This puzzle gave us ten strips of paper, each composed of five numbers on each side. Our goal was to weave the strips together into a 5x5 grid while maximizing the difference between the sums of the numbers on the two sides of the grid.

Ming worked on this puzzle by hand for some time, generating a solution in the 1100s.

The problem was begging for automation, however; an exhaustive search of all possibilities was out of the question, so we looked into heuristics to improve our chances. Dave wrote a program that produced a solution of 1253.

Chris looked at the strips and noticed that many of them had a 'natural' direction -- that is, one side had much larger numbers than the other side, so that it was clear which way the strip would have to face in the final grid.

This observation reduced the number of possibilities to a small enough number that an exhaustive search was possible. He wrote a program to search all of the cases and came up with a solution of 1258.

While this result was optimal given our assumptions, one team was a bit more clever. They were able to find a better solution by wrapping the strips around in some tricky way. We didn't think to try that; neither did anybody else, since we ended up in an eight-way tie for second place on this puzzle.

Pipe Cubes

This puzzle presented us with eight cubes with paths on their surfaces, and required us to build a 2x2x2 cube with the longest possible loop on its surface.

We played with this one by hand for awhile, generating paths with lengths in the teens. John did an analysis of the problem, which gave us an upper bound on the path length of 41.

In the end, however, this puzzle also succumbed to an exhaustive search. Dave coded up a program to find the optimal solution, and his program found an arrangement of the cubes that included a loop of length 38.

Naturally, we weren't the only ones to figure this out -- we ended up in a nine-way tie for first place on this one.

The Game

Team Advil was at or near the top of the standings for much of the seeding period. Not surprisingly, however, some teams had been holding back their answers until the last minute. As a result, we ended up as the fifth seed out of 18 teams.

John stopped by Enterprise first thing in the morning to pick up the Advilmobile, and we all met at the parking structure near Roble field at 9:30 am on Saturday, full of excitement (and donuts) and raring to go. At about 9:45 the Game began.

Note about the map...

You'll notice that most of the clue numbers below have a pushpin icon (map) next to them. If you click on this, a pushpin will appear in the area map window to show where that clue led us to. (Clues without this icon are too close to the previous clue to get a new pushpin.) The area map window will open the first time you click on a pushpin; leave it open, and further pushpins should load and get "stuck into the map" very quickly.

If for some reason you're curious as to exactly where we were... click on the pushpin on the area map to get a window with a zoomed-in view of 6 cm to the mile (these are bigger images, 50kB-100kB). Sometimes we know exactly where we were, sometimes we're guesstimating.

Note about times...

For each puzzle we list the time we received the puzzle and the time we solved it. The latter does not include the time we spent traveling to and finding the next clue. The times are all best-guess estimates we made after the fact, since we weren't keeping a time log during the Game. So they aren't dead-on, but they should be relatively close.

0. map The Numbers Game

Begun: 9:45       Solved: 9:50

Each team needed an initial clue packet to be on their way, but to get their hands on it they had to win a round of "The Numbers Game."

The Numbers Game went like this. The first five teams from the seedings would all simultaneously display a number from 1-10. The team with the lowest number not chosen by any other team would get to start the Game, and the next team in the seedings would take their place in the group of five (eventually ramped up to 10 at a time).

It didn't immediately seem to us that there would be any particular tactic for this game other than double-triple-quadruple-guessing your opponents, but one of the teams came up with a novel approach: they came to the group with their choice of 1 already visible, so that the other teams knew they would have to either let them win the round, or give up their own chance of winning to stop them by also picking 1.

We played a 1 in the first round, then gave in and let that team win in the second round. Robert seriously considered sticking with the 1 just to screw that team and see if they would stick it out, but we opted against it.

We won in the fifth round with a 2, getting our "natural" seed. For our efforts we received a headdress (two plastic bowling pins on a hair band) that was required wearing for anyone who wished to talk to Game Control (GC), and an envelope containing:

  • A box of Cracker Jack which, in addition to the Cracker Jack and the usual prize, contained a Christmas light attached to a piece of paper that appeared to be a simple map (puzzle 21)
  • A drawing of a staircase, a sign, and a guy with binoculars (puzzle 8)
  • A possible clue (puzzle 1)

1. The Mailbox

Begun: 9:50       Solved: 10:10

The clue (?) -- which was on a sheet of paper entitled "This is NOT a clue!" -- specified a mailbox and a combination number, so we decided to tackle this one first by going to the campus post office.

We tried the combination specified, which did not work. A crowd of Gamers accumulated, milling around trying to open the box.

Every minute or so, a guy wandered over to the crowd, asked if we needed assistance, and handed someone a piece of paper. After the second time, somebody wadded up the paper, said it was a trick, and handed it to Robert. It was in fact a clue (puzzle 2).

2. map The License Plate

Begun: 10:10       Solved: 10:25

This clue was entitled "Pardon me, do you have a clue?" It specified a license plate number and a section of Campus Drive.

We drove around for a while, looking for a car with that license plate either parked or driving.

Joel spotted the car driving around and we asked for a clue as specified. (In hindsight, the Grey Poupon reference in the title of the clue should have tipped us off that we were looking for a moving car, not a parked car.) When flagged down, they rolled down their window and handed us a manila envelope containing the next clue (puzzle 3).

3. map The Identification Cards

Begun: 10:25       Solved: 10:50

The envelope contained:
  • A bunch of ID cards labeled with "GAMES" and an ID number, imprinted with various patriotic symbols and government buildings
  • A campus map with three locations labeled:
    • Memorial Church -- "Senator Simons"
    • Terman -- "Steve"
    • Old Union -- "Mike"

The Stanford map seemed the most direct one to attack, so we parked the van and investigated. We first went to the back of MemChu, where there was a woman playing the part of Simons. Here we learned that people from Game Control would be playing various characters in the plot of the Game, and we needed the headdress to talk to them even when they were "in character". Unfortunately we had left it in the van. So the team split up:

  • John went back to get the headdress
  • Ming stayed at MemChu
  • Joel went to Old Union, found he needed the headdress there as well (Mike explained that this was to prevent teams from splitting up and getting all three clues at once), and returned to MemChu
  • Chris and Robert went to Terman

John drove to Terman and met Chris and Robert. They tried to get a clue from Steve, but were told the whole team needed to be present. (We would find out a reason for this near the end of the Game.)

They next went to Old Union; Chris and John got a page with a series of hieroglyphs (puzzle 6); and then Mike, who worked for Lockheed, told them that he could answer any questions they might have. Robert looked unsuccessfully for Joel and Ming.

John and Chris went to MemChu, met up with Joel and Ming, and met Senator Simons; she told them that Lockheed was likely to win the contract. Robert tried (again unsuccessfully) to get a Stanford map at TresEx and the Tresidder information desk, in case we had any more detailed Stanford expeditions ahead of us.

The team met up at Terman, along with a few other Game teams. When it was our turn to talk to Steve, he asked us for our Congressional identification card. We didn't know which one was the correct one, so we got nothing. Most of us got back in line again to talk to Steve while John and Chris ran back to Mike to use Simons' information to ask him questions. They found out which ID was the correct one when he "inadvertently" showed them.

We gave Steve the ID. He went into a cardboard box and returned with:

  • Our ID card (now "burned")
  • Another hieroglyph (puzzle 6)
  • A compact disc (puzzle 4)

4. The Photoshop Paintings

Begun: 10:50       Solved: 11:15

The compact disc was a CD-ROM which told us we needed Photoshop, so we went to Robert's office.

The CD included 26 Photoshop files:

  • A Stanford map with artists' names and right-angle corners
  • A bunch of famous paintings, with several small circular gaps

We opened each of the paintings, identified the artists, and placed them on the map as specified by the names and corners. We got most of them right from memory, Robert being a veritable fount of art knowledge, but for a couple we used the Web to either find or confirm the answers.

On the finished map, it was pretty much impossible to find the hole that went all the way through to the map. Joel added a white background layer to help find it, but that was still a bit ambiguous. The hot pink color suggested by John pointed one out clearly. It marked a location by Lake Lagunita, where after some searching Chris found a man sitting up in a treehouse. This was Nathan, who said he designed the hieroglyphic code but had forgotten the key.

He gave us another hieroglyph code (puzzle 6, 8) that had directions to a "safe house", but told us that it was too dangerous to go there now. He also gave us the next clue (puzzle 5).

5. map The Mirror

Begun: 11:25       Solved: 11:50

The clue came in an envelope labeled "which is the fairest of them all?" Inside the envelope was a page covered with lines in three styles: solid, dashed, and dotted.

We went to White Plaza (the quote suggesting Snow White) and found nothing. After we had our fill of being stumped, we called GC; they suggested we pursue the "mirror" idea ("Mirror, mirror, on the wall...").

John then had the Eureka that we needed to reflect the lines about the long page-crossing line of the same type. Our first attempt at sketching this out was unsuccessful, so we returned to Gates, made several copies of the clue, and tried again. The result, when viewed in a mirror, was a picture of the Junipero Serra statue (minus the 49ers helmet in this picture) and "N 280"

We drove to the statue and found the next clue (puzzle 6).

Around this time it begin to rain, and the rain would only get colder and heavier from now until the end of the Game.

6. map The Red Herrings and The Arboretum

Begun: 12:15       Solved: 1:30

The clue contained the key to the hieroglyphic code, and we decoded the three coded sheets we had received:
  • Mike: "20th Ave and Noriega"
  • Steve: "9th Ave and Lincoln Strybing Arboretum Asia Garden path near 11th Ave behind green shack"
  • Nathan: "1630 10th Ave Apt A"

We went to 20th and Noriega: there was nothing there.

GC informed us that it was a trick -- Mike works for Lockheed (which we learned from the plot elements is our competitor for a defense contract) so his information was bogus.

We went to the Arboretum next, and after quite a bit of looking, Chris and Robert found the shack with the clue (puzzle 7). They returned to the van.

Ming and John stayed to work on the next puzzle, while the rest went to the safe house just to be thorough; there was a sign there indicating that there was no one there and that we didn't need to be there.

7. The Arboretum II

Begun: 1:30       Solved: 4:30

The clue contained:
  • A map of the Arboretum
  • A list of plants/locations:
    • Diaspyros Whyteana
    • Chain Fern (12)
    • 63B
    • ???
  • Pointers indicating the back and base of a sign

The pointers suggested that the clues would be found on the backs of the signs identifying each plant, and this was indeed the case.

We went to bed 63B, where we found a plant with a clue on the back of its sign: "visible from Nadina Domestica."

John went to the library; D.W. wasn't listed, and "Chain Fern" occupied a whole volume. We tried region 12, but it was all grass with no chain ferns.

We eventually found that D.W. was misspelled on the clue sheet, and located it in bed 26B. The back of its sign contained the clue "go to the hill"

We still couldn't find the chain fern: the book had a variety of locations where it could be found, and we went to the twelfth one listed, but couldn't find it.

After doing more botanical library research than any of us had probably ever done in our lives, and tramping around examining a good fraction of the entire arboretum, we called GC and asked for help. They told us that the general locations of the plants were indicated on the map. Major D'oh! Had it not been pouring rain, we probably would've examined the map more carefully and found this, but the regions were marked very poorly and were not at all obvious; GC admitted making a booboo there, but we were at fault as well for not examining the clue as closely as possible (lesson learned). We lost an extraordinary amount of time on this clue.

At any rate, they gave us the missing text from the chain fern, "about one mile south," completing the next clue (puzzle 8).

8. The Hill

Begun: 4:50       Solved: 5:20

The full clue read, "Go to the hill about one mile south, visible from Nadina Domestica."

We didn't see the hill, so GC directed us to it. It turns out that there are several Nadina Domestica plants in the Arboretum, and we were at the wrong one; as noted above, the map indicated the correct location.

At the hill (Grand View Park, in the Sunset), we found the sign and stairs pictured in the drawing we received in puzzle 0. The drawing included a set of numbers and arrows, which we interpreted as telling us how to choose letters from the sign to spell out the next clue.

The text spelled out, "Look at safe house." While we were building the clue, a GC member posted a sign indicating that we should call GC because the clue was compromised.

We climbed to the hill crest and looked for the safe house while Chris called GC. While we were there, we grabbed a bag of black sand (puzzle 10), as directed by the clue sheet.

Joel found the house with the binoculars and something fluorescent on the roof, which might have been an arrow symbol, but it wasn't pointing to anything in particular. GC informed Chris that there had been a sign of hieroglyphic code on the roof, but it had blown off. It was the next clue (puzzle 9).

9. map The Cliff House

Begun: 5:30       Solved: 6:00

The sign on the roof had said, "Cliff House, at bottom of hill, left, at end of tunnel."

We went to the Cliff House restaurant in the NW peninsula, followed a path down to a tunnel through a seaside cliff, and went to its end. John climbed over a bunch of rocks beside the ocean to retrieve the next clue (puzzle 10).

10. map The It's It Factory

Begun: 6:00       Solved: 6:30

The clue was a white tablet reading "101 -- Attractive, isn't it?"

We broke it open and found a bunch of black chips that spelled out "It's It" in mirror image.

Turns out that the black sand we had retrieved is magnetic when it's dry, so it was supposed to be dusted across the tablet (the chips were magnets, and the text was mirrored since the magnets faced the back of the tablet) -- "attractive" was actually a pun. But we didn't think of that, and the sand was wet from the rain anyway. According to GC, most teams did the same thing we did.

We motored to the It's It factory on 101, which had the next clue (puzzle 11).

11. map The Jellybeans

Begun: 6:50       Solved: 7:30

The clue contained:
  • Two identical strings of jellybeans
  • A list of Jelly Belly flavors, each with one letter underlined

We figured out that we needed to determine the flavor of each jellybean, and then string the underlined letters together to form the clue.

We stopped for dinner at a burrito place and ordered our food, but first did the jellybean tasting. We did the test meticulously, dividing each jellybean into pieces so that everyone could guess. And we used plenty of water to cleanse the palate after each taste. We probably could have skipped a few obviously implied letters, but we enjoyed solving this one, except for the "Jalapeno" flavor.

The result of the taste test was, "Redwood City, Broadway and CalTrain Station, arch trash." (That is a lot of jellybeans.) Apparently some teams stopped before spelling out the full word "trash" and assumed that the clue was on the track, much to the amusement of GC.

After we finished the jellybean tasting, we ate dinner (rapidly) and proceeded on to the train station. We found signs taped to the bottom of the trash cans, reading "use your head" and "clue or bust."

Inside of a bust near the trash cans we found the next clue (puzzle 12).

12. map The Analogy Grid

Begun: 7:45       Solved: 9:45

The clue contained:
  • A 4x4 grid with two slots filled
  • 14 other tiles to be placed in the grid
  • Instructions for placing the tiles
  • A phone number with nine blanks (only the first area code digit supplied)

Each tile was composed of a picture, and a hollow or solid rectangle in each corner.

Each row and column of the grid was supposed to be a pictorial analogy: the pictures could be interpreted in such a way that the four formed an A:B::C:D analogy. A picture could have a different interpretation in the row analogy than it did in the column analogy.

Ming guessed that the nine blanks corresponded to the nine inner junctions in the grid, and Robert guessed that the four rectangles at each junction could be interpreted as integers using BCD.

We got some of the tiles placed, then eventually called GC to get help on the rest. We had the right ideas on the remaining tiles, but some of their analogies were dubious (in our opinion) and we had balked at using them. (Later GC admitted that this was one of the nastier puzzles.)

The BCD read clockwise from the upper left rectangle, with solid=1 and hollow=0 (necessary to give us a correct area code).

We called the resulting phone number and they sent us to a bus stop across from Lockheed, on Porter Drive in Palo Alto. There was no one at the bus stop; we went to the next bus stop, where a GC member gave us the next clue (puzzle 14).

Night had fallen while we worked on the analogies.

13. The Non-Clue: The Orienteering Course

Apparently, there was supposed to be a three-path orienteering course in the foothills here. But because of the weather and time of night it was canceled. So GC skipped us ahead to the next clue.

14. map The Video Games

Begun: 9:45       Solved: 10:10

The clue was an audio cassette with a fill-in-the-blank track listing: each track had blanks for each letter, with a circle for one letter of each track.

We figured that we had to identify the tracks, write in the names, and the circled letters would spell out the clue.

The cassette consisted of sound effects from old video games; we determined the games (another puzzle that was quite enjoyable). To try this puzzle, click on the clues below to hear the sounds (11 KHz, MPEG1 200-600kB each or WAV 1-2MB each), then highlight the blank spaces below the clues to see the answers.

MPG   WAV   O _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ O _ _ _ _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ _ _ _ _ O _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ _ _ _ _ O _ _ _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ _ _ _ O _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ O _ _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ O _
MPG   WAV   _ _ O _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ O _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ O _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ * _ O _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ O _ _ _ _ _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ O _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ O _ _
MPG   WAV   _ _ _ _ _ O
We filled in the blanks and circles to spell out the destination: "Stevens Creek Dam." We had also been instructed to check in with GC, and they told us that the weather forced the clue to be moved from Stevens Creek Dam to a pay phone near a liquor store in Cupertino.

We went there and got the next clue (puzzle 15).

15. map The Maze

Begun: 10:30       Solved: 11:30

The clue was a maze, and a photo of two people on a bench. The envelope said, "Once you solve this, you should be heading west on the road in the solution. Site is not east of Redwood Gulch."

Robert tried (yet again unsuccessfully) to solve it using an overlay while we searched for a copy shop to make copies of it. We called information and found a Kinko's, where we made copies of the puzzle. Chris solved it almost immediately, but we didn't know how to extract the solution from the path.

We tried using semaphore to interpret the in/out direction at each node in the path (the nodes were all valence 8, so each node represented a unique semaphore letter). This was gibberish; we tried treating it as a cryptogram, but that didn't work either -- long cryptograms are impossibly difficult without word breaks.

We got stuck and called GC, who told us we were on the right track but that semaphore was wrong, and that this puzzle was similar to an earlier puzzle. Ming and Robert guessed that the eight paths out of each node represented ASCII (similar to the BCD code in puzzle 12), which looked good since the upper left path was always black.

Joel used the laptop to generate an ASCII table and we worked it out. Interpreting the nodes along the path with the upper left as MSB, and going clockwise from there, yielded the location: "Route 9, mile marker 26.3, enter park."

So off we went: a dark, long, winding, narrow road, rain, thick thick fog. After searching for a lot longer than we wanted to, we found the marker. There was a welcome mat by the side of the road, which we thought might be significant, but no bench or park entry in sight, just a lot of woods on a steep hill in dense fog in the middle of the night.

Feeling a bit endangered at this point, we tried to call GC, but we couldn't get the cell phone to work (a problem that persisted for pretty much the rest of the Game). However we had spotted a pay phone at a nearby intersection and used that instead. GC told us (a bit belatedly, in our opinions) that the clue (puzzle 16) was canceled due to the weather, and they were routing teams around it. (Chris, our "fog driver," had to be sedated at this news, and Robert took over.)

16. map The Non-Clue II: The Bench

Had the weather been better, we would have found the bench pictured in the photo in puzzle 15.

At the bench, there was a speaker buried in the ground, activated by a pressure sensor. Upon activating the sensor, we would have heard a recording of two voices, supposedly recreating the pictured conversation and sending us to the next location.

Since the puzzle was canceled, GC told us the solution. We went to a fountain at an intersection to the south, where we found the next clue (puzzle 17).

17. map The Rebus

Begun: 12:15       Solved: 12:15

The clue was a crude rebus indicating "Boulder Creek Bear Statue."

We entered Boulder Creek but didn't see the statue. In an exasperated mood, we immediately pulled off at a pay-phone to call GC instead of backtracking; GC told us where to find the statue, and we soon located the clue (puzzle 18).

18. map The Differences

Begun: 12:40       Solved: 1:10

The clue consisted of two similar pictures, with a bunch of minor differences. Each page said "2 words in 11 letters."

The differences were all objects that differed by one letter. By taking all of the letters that differed in each picture and anagramming them, we spelled out the next location: "Empire Grade Northern End."

GC clarified this destination: the location was supposed to have been near a Lockheed site, at a place which had apparently been used in past Games. However, there had been some problems there: Lockheed security was upset by all the activity, there were unmarked cars with no lights watching the area, etc. In fact, after the Game was over, we saw the following note on the GC "scorecard" for one of the teams on this puzzle: team mistaken for bombers. Yikes.

So we were sent to an alternate site, a lamppost near the road, farther away from Lockheed. In case there was a car at the lamppost, we were supposed to skip it and proceed to an alternate-alternate site for the clue, in Ben Lomond.

After a long and spooky drive, we were almost expecting the black unmarked sedans to be waiting for us at the lamppost, but there was no one there and we picked up the clue (puzzle 19) without incident.

19. map The Morse Code and the Cave

Begun: 1:20       Solved: 1:50

The clue was text composed of a series of "bart"s (Simpson, that is) and "bird"s that could be interpreted as Morse code.

It spelled out: "Your next destination is on Ice Cream Grade, at mile marker at 1.24. Head down the hill and you can't miss it -- it's not the truck. By the way, we hate morse code clues. Can't anyone design a simple morse code clue?"

We went to the mile marker -- found a couple of vans (from other Game teams) but no truck. Nevertheless this was pretty obviously the right spot, and we found a path down into the woods beside the road where we stomped around in the cold and rain for about 15 minutes.

Chris was the one that found a cave that contained the next clue (puzzle 20).

20. map The Food

Begun: 2:30       Solved: 3:00

The clue contained:
  • A bunch of food and drinks (yes!)
  • A Chinese food box filled with various Asian foods, with writing on the inside (of the box, not the foods)

The box unfolded to produce a 6x6 grid of four-letter words (and some non-words, actually).

Ming, recalling a similar GAMES Magazine puzzle, figured out that we could remove one letter from each of the words in a row to produce a food word. The first word she found, "noodle" was inspired by John's observation that the bag of food included a packet of ramen, which was seemingly not so useful to us.

By removing three food words in each row, the remaining letters spelled out the next location: "High St fifteen pt one White Bridge NE Caves."

We overshot the bridge, which as it turned out was actually on Empire Grade, and asked a UCSC guard for directions to both the caves and a gas station. We stopped at the gas station and then returned to the bridge, where there were a bunch of vans; as we got out of the van, a police car came by, stopped for a bit, and proceeded on (one of three "visitations" while we were there).

We found a cave entrance off the road, and John, Chris, and Robert climbed down into a real mudpit to find the next clue (puzzle 21).

21. map The Light Stick

Begun: 3:30       Solved: 4:15

The clue was a wooden post circled with eight rings of Christmas lights. Each ring of lights blinked with a regular period.

We initially had no watch, but estimated the top row of lights blinked every two seconds. We used this to estimate the times of the other lights.

Mapping the periods to letters of the alphabet, we got "BORED ???". We weren't positive on the last three and couldn't get them to make sense with the rest of the clue, so we got Joel's watch sent down to do better timings. This gave us "BORED WOK," and off we went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, after a bit of cleaning up.

We climbed over/under a set of chains to get onto the boardwalk, and tried to match the buildings to the map on the back of the Christmas light we received in puzzle 0. But before we succeeded, security told us to get off of the boardwalk.

We called GC and got the solution (after a bunch of busy signals -- by this point the storm had blown down many of the lines into their call center). The map indicated a telescope on the Boardwalk that was pointed at a lighthouse.

So we drove to the lighthouse. The pier had a warning sign for high waves during bad weather -- the waves were high, but not that high. We think. Afterward we learned that at times the pier was definitely not accessible, and that the last four clue packets had been washed away.

We proceeded on and got the next clue (puzzle 22).

22. map The Songs

Begun: 4:45       Solved: 5:30

The clue gave us a phone number -- we kept trying it, but it was always busy. A member of GC eventually informed us that the number had been changed and gave us a list of three new numbers to try.

The first one went to a voicemail system that appeared to be unrelated to the Game, and the second was busy. We got through on the third, which had a prerecorded message of, "I travel the world and the seven seas."

We checked a phone book for either Sinbad or Sweet Dreams references, and found a Sweet Dreams childcare listed. But when we called GC to confirm that location, they told us we were wrong. We needed to respond to the line with the next line from the song (it turned out that the puzzle used a slick voice recognition system). There would be six such lyrics in all, and we were told that we had everything we needed to solve this puzzle.

And in fact we did, because the CD-ROM that we used in puzzle 4 was also an audio CD. It contained 16 songs, all of which had lyrics pertaining to memory, searching, fun, etc.

We called the number again, just to give it a shot while Joel was finding likely lyrics in the songs, and Robert got all six lyrics on the first try. Below are the lead-ins; highlight the blank spaces to see the responses.

"I travel the world and the seven seas"
"Everybody's looking for something"
"If you are confused, check with the sun"
"Carry a compass to help you along"
"He's going the distance"
"He's going for speed"
"If looks could kill they probably will"
"In games without frontiers, war without tears"
"And when the car broke down they started walking"
"Where were they going without ever knowing the way"
"It's something unpredictable, but in the end is right"
"I hope you had the time of your life"
This got us into "our" voicemail system, which had two messages. The first was from Senator Simons, telling us to go to "Santa Cruz City Museum, 1305 E. Cliff Dr., whale statue." The second was from Steve, sending us to "820 Bay Ave., Capitola, by the trellis in the parking lot."

Since we knew from a plot element that Simons was getting payola from Lockheed, we followed Steve's directions, went to Capitola, and found the next clue (puzzle 23).

23. map The Colored Letters

Begun: 5:45       Solved: 8:00

The clue was a page full of colored letters on a multi-colored background. On the envelope was written: "Due to weather, clue has moved to beginning & beneath. Qs? Call GC."

There were two theories:

Letters could be grouped by colors to form words, and the background colors were used to disrupt color perception.
Letters that were near one another could be combined to form words to spell out the clue. In this theory the background colors were a red herring (GC had told us that this was a straightforward puzzle).

John and Joel pursued the latter, Robert and Ming pursued the former.

Everybody dozed off here and there at this point.

The word-groupings produced some tantalizing initial candidates but didn't seem to go anywhere after that. The color theory looked more promising; using the blue-purple letters, we were able to piece together the phrase "proceed from there," which sounded like part of a clue solution. So we decided the letters had to be grouped by color, then arranged in rainbow order. But we couldn't quite get the result -- we got fragments, but not the whole thing.

We called GC, and they helped us with some of it: we got to the park and beach where the clue was located, but still couldn't finish the puzzle and find the precise location, so we called GC again.

Turns out this puzzle was flawed in a couple of ways: in addition to poor color reproduction making it difficult to group the letters, there were also extra letters in the puzzle for some reason. (Later GC said that in retrospect, this puzzle was ill-conceived.)

We were eventually led to the pier that terminated in a concrete boat called the "El Palo Alto," the original clue location. But, as the envelope suggested, weather made the pier inaccessible, so we went underneath the beginning of the pier to find the clue (puzzle 24).

Sunrise had snuck up on us while we were alternately squinting at fine gradations of lettering hues and napping.

24. map The Letter Grid

Begun: 8:10       Solved: 8:20

The clue was a 12x10 grid of letters.

At the upper left, we saw "GO TO," but couldn't navigate beyond that. Scanning the grid for familiar phrases turned up a variety of locations such as "Moss Landing," so it wasn't clear which was the correct destination.

Chris then saw that the grid dimensions were identical to the maze we had solved in puzzle 15, so he tried superimposing the grid on the maze and following the path. This produced the solution, "Go to Mount Madonna and Summit Rds."

When we got there, a sign directed us up a hill, where we retrieved the next clue (puzzle 25).

25. map The Wood Blocks

Begun: 9:00       Solved: 9:45

The clue was a bag containing four wood blocks with writing on them: there were fragments of numbers, and two of the blocks had "A" and "H" on them, respectively. The blocks had holes that were glued and nailed shut; some of them had stuff inside.

Joel guessed that the reason for the holes and stuff inside was to fix the weights of the blocks.

We determined that we needed to find the weights for each configuration of assembled blocks that formed the numbers 1-12. These weights should then map to letters that would spell out the clue in that order. We weighed each of the blocks individually and then computed the weights for each number by figuring out which blocks were required to assemble it.

A straight 1-26 --> A-Z mapping produced gibberish.

John then noticed that the "A" block weighed 7 oz and the "H" block weighed 14 oz; so he guessed that we needed a 6-letter shift, which makes A=7 and H=14. This appeared to fail as well, producing "CHITACTAC..." But as we were getting on the horn to GC, John found "Chitactac Adams" on a map of the area, and GC confirmed that that was our next destination.

We went to Chitactac-Adams Heritage Park and found the next clue (puzzle 26).

26. map The Times

Begun: 10:15       Solved: 11:30

The clue contained:
  • A listing of hypothetical Game teams (by number) and patently bogus "finishing times," entitled "2:20 = mc^2"
  • A set of pages composed of groups of phrases arranged in various ways, many of which referred to places we had been during the Game, with one "??" in each group

We tried mapping the times to letters based on the notion that 2:20 --> E (as the title suggested). Since the times were in 20-minute increments, we tried alphabetic shifts of one letter per 20 minutes, from both the top and the bottom, both forward and backward. No luck. Since there are 36 20-minute intervals in a 12-hour period, we also tried mapping the times to A-Z0-9 in addition to just A-Z.

None of these worked, so we called GC. They said that analog watches suggest another possible mapping from times to letters.

We tries using the angle of the hour hand, and that didn't work. But finally, Robert suggested computing the angle between the hour and minute hands. As we computed the angles, Ming noticed the pattern 2:20 --> 50 degrees --> 5 ten-degrees --> 'E'.

Using this pattern, we decrypted the destination: "San Jose Egyptian Museum."

The other set of pages turned out to be the next clue (puzzle 27).

27. map The Museum

Begun: 12:15       Solved: 12:45

We had figured out that all of the phrases on the second page appeared in the hieroglyphic key we used in puzzle 6.

We began to encode the text into hieroglyphs, and expected to find the groups at the museum. By decoding the glyphs that belonged in the "??" locations, we would build a phrase that would lead us to the next clue.

Sure enough, after much searching around the museum we found all of the patterns (including one that was not a hieroglyph at all, but rather a sign in English on a nearby building). The result from assembling and decoding the missing hieroglyphs in each phrase was, "Call confirmation line and ask for mime m hairy back."

This made very little sense until GC told Chris to say it faster, which caused him to ask for "my memory back."

GC gave us the next clue (puzzle 28).

28. The Parking Lot

Begun: 1:00       Solved: 1:20

They sent us to the parking lot of the Rec Center at Santa Clara Central Park, and told us not to leave the parking lot.

When we got there (after a brief stop at the wrong parking lot), a couple of guys came by. One of them took off, and the other said he'd been watching the scavenger hunt and offered to help us find the next clue. Since we were told not to leave, we refused his offer.

After several attempts, he started to leave but hung around. He then came back, identified himself as a GC member and showed us his business card to prove he wasn't some random weirdo. Apparently this was meant to recreate a situation they had encountered in a past Game, where some unknown wacko offered to help out, got into their van, and wouldn't leave. We really were supposed to let him help us, but GC had been too insistent about us staying in the parking lot.

He took us around the block to the Swim Center on the other side of the park to the next clue (puzzle 29).

29. map The Finale

Begun: 1:20       Solved: 1:45

The clue envelope contained only a plot element, but on getting back into the van John discovered that the GC guy had left a photograph on the floor in the back.

The picture was a candid shot of our team's meeting with Steve in puzzle 3, which explained why the whole team needed to be present. Presumably, the GC operative had used it to identify us; it also made for a nice souvenir.

On the back, it had four locations specified by four people: Simons, Steve, Mike, and Nathan. We had to decide who we trusted and pick the correct location. Turns out that GC had hoped people would focus on the plot and call the plot hint line to figure out what was going on. But since they stressed that the plot wasn't central to any of the puzzles, no one did, and so lots of teams got this wrong.

We were among them: we knew that Mike was with Lockheed and had screwed us before, Simons was in with Lockheed, and we suspected that Nathan sold us out for cold hard cash, so we went to Steve's location. There was nothing there, so we called GC. Turns out Nathan didn't sell us out -- he actually won the lottery. Steve appeared to be with us, but he was actually working against us. The Nathan plot point we hadn't come across all the details of yet, but we could have figured out Steve's duplicity from the info we had, if we had been cogitating on it.

Anyway we went to Nathan's place, which doubled as Game Control and marked the end of the Game. Game Control was still there taking calls while they met the finishing teams and fed us. It was a kick to talk with them and the other teams about the Game, and look at the giant team-tracking charts they had plastered all over the walls. The anecdotes of how GC had to placate several different police departments along our path were particularly amusing, in a disturbed sort of way.

The Results

Not too bad for a team full of rookies. Technically we were eighth out of 18 teams, but the 5th-7th place teams all came in within five minutes of us. So we firmly maintain we were part of the 5th-8th place pack. :-) The terrible weather effects, and the fact that many teams were routed around some of the clues, actually made the placing in this Game a bit iffy. (As did the wildly varying amounts of help-line use by the different teams.) That may actually be the case for most Games; we don't know. But at least we're pretty sure that we did well, and in the final analysis we also had a mostly enjoyable adventure that will probably seem even more fun the farther we get from the frustrating parts.

Apparently this was the first Game for the team at Game Control; for being a bunch of rookies themselves, in a way, they had a very gratifying grasp of the need for backup plans and backup plans for the backup plans, and did a great job of shepherding all of the teams through the slings and arrows of both Mother Nature and local law enforcement. We're truly impressed by their creativity as well, and it's unfortunate that we didn't get to see all the parts of this particular Game in their intended fashion, but, oh well. Maybe the next time...

Because Team Advil will ride again!

Robert Bosch & Joel Baxter
Last modified: Thu Apr 29 19:56:08 PDT