||[Sep. 6th, 2009|10:09 pm]
Yesterday at PAX, I won the "Planechase Challenge" puzzle event! WotC commissioned Lone Shark Games to put together the event for the release of the new "Zendikar" set for Magic. Sora mentioned this in a TxtLJ post; here are the details.
The event started out with five puzzles for the five mana colors, scattered around PAX. The white puzzle was solving anagrams of some of the Angel of Foo cards. The blue puzzle required us to find the two matching sharks in a collection of forty or so. The red one had us feeling out a pattern of hot and cool spots that formed a word. The black puzzle was finding the necessary components for magical hybrid creatures from a collection of plastic figures. And the green puzzle was a grid of creatures with power/toughness stats, where we had to swap the power and toughness of three of the creatures to make the rows of power stats add up to the same number, and likewise with the columns of toughnesses.
Completing all five puzzles earned us an invite to the Zendikar party at Trinity, and we'd heard some buzz about another puzzle event there. Jason and Sylvia and Sora and I made an agreement to cooperate on the puzzle for as long as was feasible, and to split any prizes we won as a result. When we arrived at the club, we received a club stamp, an invisible stamp, and a sheet with fifteen little pictures and some instructions stating we were trying to receive a message from the Hedron in the middle of dance floor.
The first thing we had to do is match each picture fragment to the large Magic cards posted around the club. The four of us spent the next fifteen minutes or so running around writing down the names of the cards next to the fragments; by the time the party "officially" started at 7 PM, we'd already gotten all fifteen down. We started thinking about gathering extra data from the cards to try to find messages, but we realized that that wasn't likely to be important, and a quick chat with Mike Selinker, the event's designer, verified this. So we cooled our heels for an hour, had some appetizers and drinks, and then gathered on the dance floor for phase 2.
The second phase was intended to narrow down the competitors from the assembled crowd down to five finalists. Five questions were read over the loudspeaker, and we had to text-message our answers (with our ID numbers) to the phone number they gave us. Each question was a word puzzle that took several of the card names (by number or in the listed order) as input. For example, the puzzle that I answered to become a finalist was finding the last words of two different cards that could be combined and anagrammed to form a synonym for "moves". I easily suspected TIGER and MESA as the two words, and after a false start with MIGRATES, I submitted EMIGRATES as the correct answer. Jason also got in, on the next question: Find the last word of a card name such that you can add the beginning letters of the previous two cards to create a word that means someone on a quest. Jason recognized INSTIGATOR as the base word, guessed at INVESTIGATOR as a possible answer, then verified the presence of the V and E in the cards prior.
Once the five finalists were determined, they told us that we'll know when we've answered the next puzzle, flipped on the black lights, and said "Go." I'd long since forgotten about the invisible-ink stamps, but I soon saw people looking at their wrists. I looked at mine, and noticed one of the symbols of the Hedron, with the letter 'A' next to it. Looking at other people with their wrist stamps, it became pretty obvious: we would have to map the Hedron symbols to the letters on people's wrists to spell out the message. (I personally think this was the most clever and elegant part of the whole event; there's something I really like about the fact that we'd been carrying around the data for the final puzzle all along.)
So then we're all running around, trying to match up the symbols to the letters and get them in the right order. I hadn't thought to take down the symbols earlier, so I had a fair bit of trouble getting them all in order on my paper. (It was only possible to see four at once, at the most, and often only two.) But apparently everyone else was having the same trouble; I think I was the first person to come up with a tentative answer. Due to a transcribing error I ended up with REACH UNDER MEN, and spent a couple crucial minutes trying to follow that to its conclusion before realizing I'd doubled the N, and the answer was REACH UNDER ME.
Informing Mike of this answer triggered the endgame. I had won the event at that point; all we needed to do was follow the instructions to the end. I reached under the Hedron, where there was supposed to be a scroll sticking out of the bottom tip. Unfortunately, in my attempts to extract it I ended up pushing it into the body of the Hedron, and Mike had to recover by whispering the contents to me so I could announce them to the crowd. So I got up, took the mic, and announced that I had received the Hedron's wisdom, and that it said COMMAND ME TO OPEN.
I spread my arms as if I was balancing the Hedron in the air between my outstretched hands, and in my best voice of authority, commanded "OPEN!" And we watched as the top of the Hedron started to rise into the air. They brought over a ladder, and I stepped up to retrieve the contents of the Hedron.
I came down the ladder bearing a silver platter upon which was one thousand dollars in twenties, folded to resemble a Black Lotus.
Suddenly everybody was cheering and clapping. The next fifteen minutes or so was a bit of a blur - photos were taken, I was congratulated and applauded and schmoozed upon just a bit, and Mike Selinker and Mike Fehlauer (PAX's main organizer) figured out how to get me out of Pioneer Square and back to my car at the convention center without getting mugged. Eventually we concealed the "Green Lotus" in a box, and they called us a cab. We stashed the prize in the trunk of our car - relying on security by obscurity, plus the lock on the trunk - and made our way up to the concert at the con, just in time to get a seat (along with Jason and Sylvia, who'd caught the first shuttle back), and we traded notes on the event before and between the musical acts.
So, that was awesome. We'll be taking pictures of the Lotus as we break it apart, soon. Per our agreement, we're splitting the prize evenly among the four of us (really, among the two couples). We decided to put a deposit down on a Geek Chic table - we'd been eyeing them in the Expo Hall anyway, and the price is pretty comparable to a nice piece of normal furniture anyway. I think Jason and Sylvia have some new video game systems in mind, but don't hold me to that.
As far as notes on the event go, we've recognized a couple places where we could have done better in the way we played. (We're really just lucky that nobody else thought to do these things either.) The first is recognizing that the Hedron was likely to play a part in a later puzzle and proactively transcribing the symbols onto paper. Trying to map the symbols on the object that we could only see half of into a full sequence was definitely not easy. Second, since we'd suspected that the second phase of the puzzle would rely on the card names as data, we could have prepared gridded versions of the answer sheet in order to prepare for questions that required us to read data vertically or diagonally. (Indeed, the final of the five questions asked us to find a word made of the sixth letters of some consecutive set of answers.)
Learning experiences are always good. But honestly? We can't complain much.
See the hyperlinks for pictures of the Hedron and the Lotus; more pictures to come.
I'd like to congratulate and thank Mike Selinker and Teeuwynn Woodruff at Lone Shark for putting together an amazing, fun puzzle event. (And good job to Wizards for hiring these guys. They know their stuff.)