Tracy (wateredsilk) wrote,

The Game

Anybody remember me posting about The Game earlier? Y'know, S.P.I.E.S. and that cute little coat-of-arms with the dead possum back here? Yeah, so that was this weekend and here's the follow-up post.

The Game was rather...intense. I'd counted on things being frantic, and I'd anticipated not getting much sleep, but I don't know if I'd really mentally prepared myself to be constantly on the move for 36 hours straight. It was a little daunting and a whole lot draining. After a full day of "classes", the revelation that our "dorm room" for the next 18 hours or so was going to be a cramped SUV broke my heart a little, especially after waking up at 5 that morning. I probably fared better than expected, but my entire team was pretty punchy by the end. That said, I still had a lot of fun and would probably do it again.

Under the cuts is a lot of detail, so if you want the summary, here goes: Game = good, but long and frustrating.

Morning Preparations

The night before we'd had a low-key celebration for The Boyfriend's birthday, and while that wrapped up early, it still took us awhile to get to bed after packing, so I ended up running on about 4-5 hours of sleep. We had to wake up early to shower and make sure we had everything before leaving to pick everyone up, rounding out our team of six. After that, it was off to our designated meeting point at the Emeryville train station. At 7:30 AM, on a quiet Saturday morning, it was easy enough to find; all we had to do was keep an eye out for masses of people wearing huge backpacks. Some of the other teams put a lot more effort into their appearance than us. Custom t-shirts seemed to be de rigueur, but a couple of teams went all out with brooms and robes, and one team in particular ran around the whole time in full pirate gear. I was wearing green and had a scarf in Slytherin colors, but we were definitely on the shabby side. Game Control did a great job with their own costumes, always staying in character, and keeping us in the Hogwarts spirit.

Anyway, we parked, checked in and were immediately sent off to the nearby movie theater on foot. Maybe we'd been wrong about catching the Hogwarts Express? Apparently there was supposed to have been a nice presentation inside the theater itself, but the teenage manager who was supposed to open it up overslept, so Game Control made due with a laptop and some speakers. Everyone crowded around for a very nice sorting ceremony with a digital Sorting Hat (We were sorted into Slytherin, surprise, surprise.), and each team was given a packet filled with assorted Game accoutrements, including a House color bandana which we had to be sporting at all times unless we wanted to be docked House points. We would get House Points for solving puzzles, naturally, but the teachers could also award and dock House points as they saw fit, and we later learned that the actual scoring was a fairly arbitrary system, since we were just supposed to be there for fun. Our bandanas also had some mysterious lines drawn in with permanent marker; our first puzzle! We later deduced that the lines corresponded to semaphore, which spelled out the password for our dorm portrait.

Once the Sorting Ceremony was over, we were given breakfast (paper sack with string cheese, danish and juice or coffee drink) and were then herded back to the train station. We were right about the Hogwarts Express! But we still had no idea where we were going. That is, until the station manager accidentally let slip over the PA that the Hogwarts folk would be heading off to Sacramento shortly. All the regular passengers were probably wondering why all the weird people wearing bandanas all went "Ooohhhh!!!" at the same time.

Onward to Hogwarts!

So yeah, train ride! I think trains are fun, so I enjoyed that part. While on the train, we were handed a copy of the Daily Prophet (next puzzle), which was filled with all sorts of information, including the headline story about the disappearance of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Cassandra Cross, and the appearance of a mysterious element known as Mugglium, which drains magic from witches and wizards. Eventually, we were also given a bag full of assorted Jelly Bellys and Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. In order to know where our first class was, we had to sort the jelly beans. The initial information packet instructed us to bring along a couple of egg cartons, so that mystery was now solved. Thankfully, I didn't have to taste all of them, since some of the disgusting flavors were in there too. Once that was done, we were given a new picture-based puzzle to figure out how to get to our class. They were all various landmarks around Downtown Sacramento, so we just had to follow the trail on foot to know where to go. After getting off the train, we eventually ended up at our first class, Defense Against the Dark Arts, which conveniently coincided with lunch. This was at an actual restaurant, so we weren't brown-bagging it again, thankfully. Once we finished eating, we were given our textbooks (Pretty, custom printed little paperbacks that were chockfull of interesting information and code-breaking information) and "magic" wands by our substitute teacher, Professor Gurzzny and set to practicing spells.

The wands were actually pretty neat, if extremely frustrating at times. They were actual wands, in that they were nicely stick-shaped and did things when you waved them. In reality, they were a bit of complicated electronics and programming where little lights and a couple of motion sensors were built in to respond to specific motions. If you cast the spell correctly, rapidly waving the wand back and forth would give you a message. So the wands were way cool. Less cool was the system they had in place for which motions you needed to cast the spells. They'd developed a system of phonemes (sounds) and corresponding "mwanemes" (movements) that would, in principle, allow you to spell out any word. Unfortunately, their grasp of phonetics was less than perfect, which resulted in a lot of hair-pulling trying to figure out which sounds you were trying to cast. (We nearly got points taken away because one of our team members got into an argument with the teacher over whether or not "jaw" had the same vowel sound as "portkey". The teacher took the points away, but gave an assistant teacher gave them back after acknowledging we were right.) In addition, the movements for longer spells were extremely complicated, and they had to be fluid, rapid and precise. You could tell that GC really loved the wands, and someone put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to making these suckers work. They were their babies, so it just made me feel bad for learning to hate them so much over the course of the night.

Because no one actually managed to master the wands during class, rather than solving the puzzle, we were just sent off to our next class, Potions. Potions class was presided over a mean old man, apparently a recent hire originally from Durmstrang, who would inexplicably speak to us in German before switching over to a very bad Scottish accent. Our task was to solve a logic puzzle which involved recreating special award-winning potions. They provided us with a bunch of various unmarked potion supplies and we had to identify which wizard made the potion, in what year, and which ingredients went into the potion based on the clues. While I'm not really any good at logic puzzles, I thought this was kind of fun, since they gave us actual chemicals to work with, so the results were more dramatic than pouring different Kool-Aid mixes into water. When we were done with the potions, each was a distinct color and corresponded to the colored border on the outside edge of the paper. Decoding that led us to the location of our next class, Care of Magical Creatures.

I loved this class, and I figured I'd love it from the moment we got there. Why? Because they had a freakin' enormous dude to play Hagrid with a happy, rumbling laugh and a wild fake beard made of yarn. It was awesome. He also awarded me extra points for answering some questions about magical creatures. For this class, we were listening to a message encoded in a long series of magical animal sounds while sucking on Otter Pops. Mmm...Otter Pops. Identifying which sound went to which animal proved to be one of the only things I was especially adept at, so that's probably another reason I liked this part. In any case, we solved the puzzle quickly and were then sent off to a nearby park where our portrait was waiting to give us access to our dorms.

Dorm Room Drama

Each collective House met up around their portraits, and there was a bit of collective mindthink for how to solve the puzzle and gain access to the lockbox that came along with it. Our portrait was a Medusa-looking woman wearing an elaborate and colorful jewel necklace. The frame was also set with similar jewels, so we had to figure out how the necklace corresponded to the frame somehow. Because there were so many people around, I wasn't really necessary, so I wasn't paying much attention and practiced using the wand instead. From what I understand, the portrait password gave you some clue on how to read the necklace which indexed into the frame, but I really have no idea. It took everybody a long time to figure this one out, and we were told to cast "Salazar" if we wanted a clue. I did manage to cast the spell, one of the few, but someone else got it before me, so it didn't really matter. Anyway, once the lockbox was open, each team found keys to our "dorm room".

Why the " "? Because once we got the keys, we also learned that our bloody dorm room was supposed to be parked in the nearby mall parking lot.


This part made me more sad than angry, truth be told. Initial communication gave every indication that we would be in a dorm room for the night, so I figured that even if we didn't get a lot of sleep, we might be able to get a little, or at least have a stable base of operations where we could sit and think. Apparently Game Control had a different idea in mind, so the six of us were squashed into the SUV along with our bulging bags. Joy.

Once packed in, we turned on the vehicle and headed out of the parking lot. It wasn't until we were on the road for a couple of minutes that we got the message that said, "Wait! Do NOT leave in your enchanted, mobile dorm room yet!" Wonderful. So we turned around and headed back to the mall where we listened to the rest of the message. The driver had turned off the radio when we got in so as to be able to better concentrate on maneuvering the boat out of the lot. Not an unreasonable action, I'd say, but it cost us some time and peace of mind. Anyway, on the message was our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher telling us he was working for the Ministry of Magic and it was imperative that we meet him in Hogsmeade to discuss the disappearance of Cassandra Cross. He'd provided us with a map, but we had to be careful not to be caught out of our dorm by any other teachers, or else we would be docked House points. So it was off to Hogsmeade for our intrepid and sneaky students! Alas, our self-appointed navigators didn't think to let the sneakiest students look at the map, otherwise we might have avoided some unfortunate run-ins with the teachers. Apparently it was a Marauders Map, which meant that the little footsteps indicated people afoot. I didn't get a chance to look at the map until after we'd been docked five points on three separate occasions, so I was a bit frustrated when I realized what had happened.

We eventually reached our destination and spoke with Professor Gurzzny about Cassandra Cross's disappearance. He told us about how he'd worked with her on research about the Draconus Device, a magical machine that drains the magic of all the nearby wizards and transfers it to the wielder. Giving us a packet which had information about her last communications (puzzle!), he urged us to find her and locate the pieces of the Draconus Device to ensure it would not be put together. After the meeting, we holed up in a corner by the parking lot and spent a geological age trying to solve the puzzle. I didn't work on this one much, so I really have no idea what took us so long, but I was extremely frustrated by the end, having spent the last couple of hours practicing with the stupid wand, been scolded by teachers, and also dropping the nice digital camera we borrowed (It wasn't broken, just scuffed up a bit). Previous to being reprimanded by the various teachers, I also had to use the toilet quite badly, and after getting docked the points and talking to everyone I ran into, the best help anyone from Game Control could give me was that I could use the bathroom at a nearby restaurant if I bought some nachos. Swell. I'm not buying nachos just so I can use the bathroom while I'm in a rush, ya lousy, no-good, sonofa...ahem, anyway, we found a public restroom, so I didn't have to kill anyone or wet my pants. Suffice to say, my mood was less than sunny by this point, but we eventually finished the puzzle, cast the stupid spell, and got back into the SUV for some travel time.

Hardcore Travelogue Action!

Our first destination via "dorm" was the Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Folsom. It was a fairly drab stretch of the river, and the boys spent a fair amount of time snickering at the people who went to fish there. Game Control had set it up where we had to snatch a broom off of a carefully balanced pile without knocking the rest over. Nimbus? Broom? Get it? Haha, yeah, right, cute. I guess the name was the only reason they wanted the location. Anyway, the puzzle that was hidden inside the broom actually was kinda fun. It looked like an incomplete and inaccurate game of Minesweeper. We figured out that if you filled in the blanks, you could then read the brooms/bombs as Braille dots. That told you that you needed to correct the mistakes and then connect the mistakes to spell out the answer we were supposed to cast. Boom! We had our next destination! Elegant puzzling at its best! We were pumped! We were jazzed! And now we were off to some obscure intersection that we couldn't even find on the map...oh.

Not to fear though! We did eventually find where we needed to be, but it did take us a little while. If not for the GPS, I think my team would've ended up going on a murderous rampage by the end of The Game. In any case, once the obscure intersection was located, we found ourselves at the entrance of some posh community with a fountain, hunting around in the dark for a packet which contained a mirror with a frame. The frame had some funny mirrored writing on it that told us to drum rather than spell and the mirror had some other funny coded writing on it. (They stole the code from the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland! I might be the only person who realized that and cares, but still!) Anyway, once we decoded the whole thing, it gave us "Puff the Magic Dragon". Here's where the rest of my team got really frustrated, because we drummed out the rhythm to "Puff the Magic Dragon" but we didn't get anywhere with it for a long time. Then we figured we might try drumming out a little more of the song, so we got to "Puff the Magic Dragon lives by the sea." Still nothing. Finally, in a half-hearted, desperate attempt, someone finally drummed out, "Puff the Magic Dragon lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist in the land called Honalee." Success!

The boys were ranting about this one for awhile. Why? Because there was nothing there to indicate that we needed to drum out a significant portion of the song, and, as our previous efforts with the wand showed, it was extremely difficult to use the damn thing. You could never be of what was wrong when you cast a spell, so most of the time you'd just keep blindly trying things, praying that you weren't doing something fundamentally wrong. I know that at one point, I was just wildly flailing about and accidentally cast something, so it was a real headache trying to ascertain what we were supposed to do with what we felt was clearly the answer.

Anyway, by this point, it was late and we were hungry, so it was a good thing that our next stop was at Gringotts to make a withdrawal for dinner. "Gringotts" was definitely the coolest location in the whole game. They'd managed to find this cafe in Placerville that had an actual mine shaft at the back. It was a really awesome spot and added a tremendous amount of atmosphere to everything. The "goblins" gave us some cash, some "gold coins" and we went to the Mexican place next door for dinner. As we ate, we got a chance to work on a nice, little, elegant puzzle on the specially stamped coins which involved Morse code and base 3. The word we were supposed to cast was the most difficult we'd encountered thus far, but I managed to cast it on the second try. This lifted our spirits immensely, because while we had been behind, when we left, we saw the same people as when we came in, still frustratedly waving their wands around.

Saving the World One Puzzle at a Time

Our next destination was a truck stop where some carefully marked bottles of Gatorade-type liquid. The puzzle involved some fancy-schmancy color-coding whatever. Silly ROYGBIV. It took a long time and was rather annoying, but once we had that figured out, we were sent off into the woods and found ourselves next to a river and headed down a trail where we found--gasp! Cassandra Cross! Our missing Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher! She'd apparently gone crazy, so she was really pretty entertaining, hopping about with exuberant cries of "Helloooooooo!" for whomever she encountered. There must've been some kind of stall in place so that the groups of teams were carefully spaced out. We went down with a couple of Hufflepuff teams, and she made us all do "I'm a Little Teapot". Because my boyfriend had done such a lousy job the first time, she singled him out to do it alone, and his exuberance caused our maniacal teacher to award us 25 extra points. Once that was done, we were told that the Draconus Device had been split into 16 pieces and each team would be able to collect one piece, but we would have to pass tests set for us by each of the four House founders. Once all these pieces were found, we would all have to work together to destroy it and save the Wizarding World. After that she singled out a person from each team and wrote down the secret spell necessary to destroy the device (DYNAMYTE) on them. Our guy had it written on his arm, but I heard later that some poor soul had it scrawled across his forehead. She also gave us a paper with a new puzzle on it. This one involved figuring out a bunch of spells in our "textbook". We couldn't manage to actually cast the spell, so we had to call Game Control to let them know what was happening and sacrificed the 5 points we'd have gotten if we were successful. That was frustrating, but there was some satisfaction in learning that we were the only team who managed to get a cell phone call through, saving us a half mile trek to the nearest payphone. Game Control gave us our next location, and then it was off to our first Founders Challenge!

Actually, not quite, apparently they diverted us off into the woods some more for a massive, blinking light grid set to a long tedious message. Each flashed pattern was connected to a specific animal sound, so we had to be really vigilant about copying things down. Once everything was copied down, we had to map it all into three separate grids depending on what the animal's Ministry of Magic rating was, spelling out the answer. We couldn't cast this one either (stupid wand), but we did get sent off to these enormous statues and our first Founders Challenge! Gryffindor was the first to beat, and we got a little squishy ball with blinking LEDs in it. This puzzle frustrated us immensely because when we were given the ball, we were told specifically not to squish it, so when we decoded the lights and got "American" we assumed we were done. Apparently, the guy handing out the balls wasn't the normal helper, so he gave us faulty info, since the only way to get the rest of the puzzle was to squeeze it some more. We were ready to kill, but Game Control tried to smooth things over by awarding us 15 extra points for our trouble and sent us on our way.

Next up was Ravenclaw's puzzle. We showed up at some weird mobile home sales lot with a coffee truck set up. The truck gave us all cups of tea, and we figured out we were supposed to drink the tea and then read the "tea leaves" at the bottom (they'd printed special picture messages there). I drank my tea, but because we hadn't had a bathroom around except for one particularly foul outhouse in the woods, none of us had used the bathroom in the past 10 hours or so, and we really had to go, so we took the tea and went to find a gas station. Bladders comfortably relieved, we settled in to solve. Now, this one was a good puzzle, but it was really poorly timed. Drinking warm herbal tea and then sitting down to puzzle out what the obscure and ambiguous pictures at the bottom were sent just about our whole team to sleep. I managed to stay awake along with one other guy, but I was so exhausted, I could scarcely keep my eyes open. I was determined not to pass out unless someone else woke up to keep the other guy company, because I figured if we all fell asleep, we'd be in danger of not waking up again for a long time. They eventually did wake up, and I passed out for a very short while. When I woke up, we managed to finish the puzzle and somewhat refreshed by our little nap, we bounded on to the next location.

Slytherin was the next Founder to beat. We showed up at a park where we were given some cereal bars (whimper, is that all?) and the next puzzle. It looked like a bunch of teams were working on it when we got there, but in true Slytherin-fashion, we crushed this puzzle and gained some ground. I also took this time to do an extra credit assignment we'd been offered earlier, which was to make a model of a magical creature of our choosing. Our firecrab was cobbled together from the egg cartons, duct tape, super glue and the leftover jellybeans. I'll be the first to admit, it was a pretty sad looking firecrab, but it was the best I could do given the circumstances.

Hufflepuff was the last Founder, and we ended up getting some help on this one. Several other teams were there when we arrived, and one of the Hufflepuff teams told us the combination to the lockbox by accident when they saw us coming, thinking we were in their House. The lockbox was the same as the one our dorm keys had been in, so it didn't matter too much since we would've figured out what to do anyway since one of our team accidentally cast "Ravenclaw" while trying to practice "Dynamyte", which would've easily clued our memories, but it did save us a little time. Inside the lockbox was a packet containing these fun little magnet thingies that we used to construct various structures based on colors, markings, and some other things. What made it more fun was that a fellow Slytherin team was working alongside us, so we were giving each other feedback and support throughout. With the last Founders Challenge done, it was on to the final stretch.

End Game

We were instructed to go to the Ziggurat building back in Sacramento. I have no idea if that's the real name of the building, but it definitely looked like a ziggurat, and it's where we were instructed to drop off the "dorms", after cleaning them out as best we could. Laden down with all our stuff, we set off, first encountering the gate keepers who made us undertake three Trials of Agility, Strength, and Reason. Agility meant one of us had to run to a lamppost and back. Strength meant someone else had to pick up the biggest guy on our team. And Reason had me hopping up and down on one foot, which meant we failed, since I was supposed to know that was a stupid request, but whatever. It didn't matter, since the last thing we had to do was demonstrate we could cast Dynamyte, and we were given our piece of the Draconus Device and told to walk across the bridge to this restaurant/hotel/riverboat thing. Once there, our piece was taken away for safekeeping by the teachers and we were greeted by the teams that had gotten there before us. We had a nice room set aside for our group and it looked like we would be getting some actual breakfast/brunch. When all the teams were finally amassed, we were allowed to eat and then it was time to destroy the Draconus Device. But wait! It appears our substitute Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Gurzzny, was actually evil and wanted it for himself! Shock and awe. Anyway, naturally all the students banded together to defeat Professor Gurzzny with "Dynamyte", and good prevailed once more. Evil defeated, the headmaster then thanked us for all our work and proceeded to award the House Cup. Hufflepuff was fourth, Slytherin third, Gryffindor second and Ravenclaw first, but the top three teams were all within 15 points of each other, and with the arbitrary points system, we all knew we did pretty well and were satisfied at the end. Sweetly emotional, out of character speeches were made by Game Control, the students were allowed a little time to chatter away amongst themselves, and we discovered there were a number of puzzles that some teams got but others didn't depending on time, and we all had a good time connecting with fellow puzzle nerds. Then we were rounded up and whisked over to the train back to Emeryville.

Once on the train, they distributed another copy of The Daily Prophet where it happily informed us of our good work, proving that the world was right again, and I think there was another puzzle in there just for fun, but we were pretty dead, so I just passed out for a little while on the train. It was kinda painful opening my eyes when we pulled into the station, but once we were home, I felt drained, but pleased with our performance. I know two of my team members probably never want to do this again, but I would, and I hope I have another opportunity to.  It would've been nice to know that we didn't need to bring anything along with us beyond, say, the GPS device, but from what I heard, this is mainly a characteristic of this particular Game Control's style.  It would've been really, really nice to know that we wouldn't have a dorm room, but c'est la vie.  Now that I have an idea of what to expect, I think next time I'll come with a little less stuff, a little more sleep, and a lot more enthusiasm for the unknown.

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  • International Talk Like A Pirate Day

    Yarr, so I haven't posted in months, I know. 'Tis awful of me, just awful, but I still be here! I admire all of ye landlubbers who keep up with it.…

  • Serenity Now

    Damn my eyes! Some days, I swear, it's as though I deliberately set out to overload my brain. Watching Firefly while staring at food porn is too…

  • Don't Cry Over...

    The saying calls for "spilt milk", but in my case, I think I'm going to substitute "spoiled milk". Admittedly, I'm not the most fastidious of cooks.…