A World War II bomber flies overhead. “Cool,” I think to myself. “That must be a clue.” I get out my digital camera in anticipation of another, and am shortly rewarded with a nice photo of a low-flying vintage bomber.
Five minutes later another one flies directly above the teams assembling below in a sunny park near San Jose, California. However, I’m aware that when playing The Game, it’s easy to get in the mindset of searching for clues where none exist.
Despite the fact that The Game has been around for almost 35 years, many people who might enjoy it (and excell at it) don’t yet know about it. The basic format for The Game is: solve a puzzle which tells you where to go to find the next puzzle, drive to the next puzzle location, and repeat continuously for 36 hours non-stop. The Wikipedia entry on The Game provides a pretty good overview of the history, but doesn’t describe the puzzles.
The puzzles you typically find in a Game are not easy to explain. There are no easy puzzle categorizations, although many puzzles incorporate some common themes. For example, you might find elements of semaphore, Morse Code, binary, Braille, cryptic crosswords, and the like during a game, but the free-form nature of the puzzles means that you can’t rely on being able to easily identify how to go about solving any particular puzzle. Figuring out how to start solving a puzzle is usually the hardest part.
Here’s a silly little example that I created. As part of our team’s application to participate in the No More Secrets game we were required to list a hypothetical “crime” that we had committed in the past, and in the spirit of the game I decided to encode my response in a little puzzle of my own. Our team is The ‘B’ Ark, which takes its name from a group of “telephone sanitisers, hairdressers, management consultants, and documentary film producers” described in the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My imaginary “crime” fits my B Ark persona:
The puzzle above doesn’t follow any particular style that I’ve seen before, and it might not be immediately obvious how to solve it, but once you see the trick it’s tivial to decypher it. The puzzles in a typical Game are several orders of magnitude more difficult, but equally unconstrained. In addition, a Game puzzle will often involve recursion, meaning that once you’ve solved the first step of the puzzle, you need to apply the same technique to the result that you got from step one in order to get the acutal solution to the puzzle.
Our team flew to San Jose last weekend to participate in the No More Secrets Game in the Bay Area. The solution to one of the pre-game puzzles posted on the No More Secrets web site produced information indicating that the game would start at Saturday morning at 9 AM in a particular park in Sunnyvale, California.
As it happened, the bombers were not part of the game, but I wouldn’t put it past this particular Game Control team to knowingly schedule the start of the game to coincide with the bomber fly-over in order to create a deliberate ruse for the puzzle solving teams. Several of the puzzles in this particular game seemed (whether intentional or not) to have misdirection built into them.
The No More Secrets Game began with some clever romantic misdirection. After the teams had assembled, the team captains were brought up front and given packets. Each packet contained a large printed scrabble tile, and on cue the captains turned them over to face the rest of the assembled teams. Many people expected this to spell out the first clue, but it turns out that this also had nothing to do with the Game.
The tiles spelled out “JESSICAWILLYOUMARRYME?”, and if you’re curious, Jessica said “yes” to the guy at the end holding the “ME?” tiles.
One of the great things about the Game is the fun places that Game Control will send you, especially in the middle of the night. The first Game that The B Ark participated in was The Mooncurser’s Handbook, which was a Game in the Seattle area based on the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of my most memorable experiences from that game was running alone through an 80 acre corn maze by the light of the full moon at about one in the morning, looking for some little glowsticks that marked the clues.
When a group of puzzle solvers decide to organize a Game, they usually rent out locations like the corn maze, or at least get permission from a land owner to stage a puzzle. However, there’s always the chance that someone might “report all SUSPICIOUS PERSONS and activities to [the] Police Department”, as you can see from this photo of our team in action. Fortunately we had no such trouble.
We had a lot of fun playing the No More Secrets game, which is the point. There is no prize for winning, and the Game Control folks don’t get paid for the incredibly hard work and long hours involved in preparing a game. If you play The Game, you do it for the fun, the challenge, and the experience. So to all the folks involved with planning and running the No More Secrets game, a big THANK YOU!
For a much more engaging description of what it’s like to play The Game, you might enjoy this series of articles by The B Ark team member Matt Baldwin who wrote about our participation in The Mooncurser’s Handbook game: