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Ok, which one of you in the Bay Area owns this car? Fess up! (Via a friend who spotted it on the road today)
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I enjoyed this writeup of what sounds like a great ballroom puzzle event.

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The USC puzzle hunt is coming up next week. Is it possible to participate as an entirely remote team? Are there groups in the Bay Area planning on participating, either with a local component or entirely remotely?

http://uscpuzzlehunt.com/index.php

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By pure happenstance, I discovered recently that, for a couple of model years starting in 2008, Chrysler made what I can only describe as the ultimate puzzle hunt van.

Called "Swivel 'n Go", it was an option on the Town and Country (aka Voyager, Caravan, etc) minivan, where the second row of seats can swivel to face the rear. A table rises from the floor on a stalk. Promotional photos show kids playing cards, having a game of Scrabble, etc.. The third row is a bench, so you could actually squeeze five around the table.

Notably, you could do this while moving, assuming folks are OK with facing backward while driving.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this option didn't sell well among the muggles, who complained about silly things like "limited legroom" and "this is actually totally useless", so it was cancelled before too long.

It's probably good that there aren't many van games any more, otherwise I'd be sorely tempted to pick up a used model -- and the very last thing I need is an 8-year-old minivan with weird seating collecting dust somewhere.

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Ana and I did the Headlands Gamble this weekend. It's not a puzzle hunt, but people were curious, so here are my (spoiler free) impressions.

First of all, I'm glad I did it; we had a good time. I have some quibbles for sure (more on that later) but for us, it was a fun adventure with moments of legit amazement. However, given the price, it's hard to give an unqualified recommendation. And, of course, everyone's experience will vary.

To avoid spoilers I won't discuss anything about the specific story, locations, characters or activities in the game. Even so, if diving into a completely unknown adventure is an important part of the appeal for you, then you might want to avoid reading much further. (Maybe have someone who knows you read it for you.)

Again, this isn't a puzzle hunt. It's more like a live action version of the video game L.A. Noire. I hasten to add that the Headlands Gamble is (obviously) not set in L.A. and doesn't use the film-noir style! But it is similar in that you are a detective, driving a fun car to a variety of picturesque locations, talking to a variety of colorful characters, collecting clues, and piecing together a mystery. If this sounds like fun, it's because it is fun! In fact my only real quibble is that there wasn't quite enough of this fun.

The characters we met were probably the strongest part of the experience. The acting was good and flowed well into the story and the setting. I'm not used to role playing or improv acting, but we had the whole weekend to ease into our roles, and repeated encounters with important characters helped us feel comfortably immersed. (LARPers may find this old hat, but it's a new experience for me.) The actors brought a lot of energy to the encounters and worked to draw us in, while giving us plenty of freedom to make conversational choices in a natural way.

We were in-character and in-story from pick-up to drop-off. They didn't spend time explaining how things work; there was no briefing or debriefing; we just had to roll with it. I quite like this, but it was a little disorienting at first; it took a couple hours to get the hang of things.

The story follows the rough conventions of the mystery genre; there is a crime, there are suspects, there are leads and alibis, there is discovery and resolution. If you generally enjoy those conventions, you'll be happy. If you demand ironclad nitpick-proof logic, or prefer a more mathematical type of deduction, then you may be disappointed. There were a couple of loose ends we never quite figured out, but it's quite likely we missed something. We certainly hit the major points.

You get a tablet running a custom app which keeps track of characters, locations, messages and the like; it's the equivalent of a video game's electronic notebook. (They also give you paper and pen, if you're so inclined.) The tablet also helps with navigation. There were a couple of technical glitches during our game, but nothing that came close to interfering with the story.

Now, at the same time as you're playing detective, you're also being a tourist. They give you plenty of opportunity to explore the locations you're visiting, tips on interesting things to do, background on the area, and of course they set up food and lodging. Probably my biggest complaint is that there was a bit too much touristic exploration that was only loosely tied to the story; I was eager to get on with the investigation! But I'm sure other people have a different view. (And, from a logistics point of view, it gives the organizers a time buffer. Having run plenty of events, I can very well appreciate the logistics challenge of running something like this.)

You are well taken care of during the event; if anything, I was overfed. The overnight lodging was comfortable and charming. There's no five-star extravagance, but there is a tremendous amount of attention to detail; absolutely nothing was generic or boring. The organizers work hard to provide a personalized experience, often to an astonishing degree -- I can't say more (spoilers) but it goes above and beyond.

All told, throughout this event there is no doubt that you are at the center of a Major Production. At its best, you really do feel like you've been transported into a movie. Some rough pacing and occasional consistency slip-ups aside, we loved it. If this seems like your bag and the price doesn't make you faint, then you should definitely consider signing up.

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I earned a promotional discount to a new escape room opening in Santa Clara. www.beatthelock.com I'd love to gather a local team. "This promo is $10 off/person/ticket, and valid until January 15th, 2016."

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Update from the Lab —

Good news, again! Turns out we’re just a little bit less “sold out” than we thought, and we now have a small number of additional spots available for the rerun of this year’s Black Letter Game. If you’re interested (or know someone who might be — the game makes a great holiday gift for any puzzle-minded friends), visit www.blacklettergame.com to learn more.

This will definitely be the last batch of subscriptions available for this year’s game. (Mr. Gravamen, our account manager, found the box of additional artifacts while cleaning our offices over the Thanksgiving weekend.) So act soon!

Professor Roman Debellatio
Program Director, Intern Assessment Program
Black Letter Labs

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TFW you're in a foreign city and chance on a photo of a Bay Area puzzle hunt team.
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