Erika, Becca, Zach and I drove down from Philly to DC on Saturday night and went to bed immediately after arriving at Hobart. In the morning, Zach was off playing frisbee. John and Hannah came over to enjoy a crepe breakfast. Hannah had plans, which was a shame because she would've loved the Hunt. Erika and I went and bought a newspaper, since the Post Magazine was essentially the game book. We ate crepes and eggs while we prepped for the Hunt, reading about past clues in the magazine and watching old Hunt clues on video.
The four of us Metroed down to the site, arriving around 11:45. It was raining off and on, as it would continue to do all day. John found his sister Jane and her husband Mike, who would be joining us since the rest of their team bailed. I'd been told that Jane had prepped especially well, and was really good at this stuff. Noon came, the coordinates were given out, and we were off!
We went to a random one of the 5 spots on the map, 13th and H. Fortune cookies were being handed out. We grabbed a couple. The fortune inside all of them said on the front, "He who has discerning taste will know success." The back said, "LEARN CHINESE: dian y*ng yuan --movie theater." (And some Chinese characters, of course.)
Erika noted that the cookie tasted like coconut, and Jane realized that the movie theater reference referred to the fake-looking movie ad in the magazine that she'd noticed and pointed out earlier. One of the movies listed was "Coconuts" at 11 am. (At the address where we were standing, by the way, which was not a movie theater.) The first puzzle's answer was "11". I looked at my watch. It was 12:10. We might just kick some ass and have time left over for lunch, I thought. At this point, John's friend Lucy joined us for the rest of the afternoon.
We went to Franklin Square park, where the Nationals' mascots were in a roped-off area. Soon after we got there, they all lined up and started racing, along with a person in an animal costume continually being described by the race announcer as a "male hoofed ruminant." (Kosher!) Roosevelt raced very poorly, barely getting off the blocks. The top 3 finishers, "in the money" as we were told several times, were the ruminant, Washington, and Lincoln.
We went off to the side to figure out what this meant. I confirmed that the presidents were all in fact wearing the correct numbers of their presidency. After a bit, someone pointed out that the ruminant was a buck. Yay, money allusion! So, buck, plus Washington is on the $1, plus Abe is on the $5...so 6? Or Buck One Five...$15? Neither 6 nor 15 were possible answers. Finally, I thought of coins. "A buck twenty-six!" Jane high-fived me. The answer to the second puzzle was 126. Apparently we all missed the fact that it was called the "Race for Change". That might have helped a bit.
We walked down K street to the library past 9th. Even before we got there, someone pointed out that the Second Glance puzzle in the Magazine (the "find the differences between these two pictures" puzzle) featured two pictures of the library. We thought this was a secret, and snuck off to some less-crowded place in front of the library, until we realized that everyone else had also figured out at least this much.
We all sat down and started doing the puzzle in pairs or threes, getting 11 of the specified 12 differences pretty quickly. We were struggling on the 12th, wondering if that was a clue. Only at this point did someone realize the three signs in front of the building, obscured by the large crowds: "13?", "14?", and "15?". Aha! There were three differences between the first picture and the building itself! It didn't take a few of us long to figure out that all three were the picture having "U" instead of "V" in words like "PVBLIC". And this was a very Roman Numeral-themed Hunt. 15 still wasn't a possible answer, and neither was 125, but 555 was! Woohoo! We were breezing through!
On the way down 7th street, we ran into Sarah, Scott, Laura, and Elon walking the other way! They were Hunting too! I figured I'd probably see some people I knew.
When we got to the Chinatown Arch, we were handed a sheet of Chinese translations by a woman saying, "You have to see the whole thing." Look Up Chinese Characters! Or, Look Up: Chinese Characters!
The arch has 3 prominently-placed characters. According to the sheet, which I'm SURE is genuine Chinese, they translate as, "Too small. Think vastly bigger." Hmm. We all step back a bit. I decide to split off of the group for a minute, and run around to the other side of the arch to see if the characters are any different there. The same. I step back a ways, expecting to find a whole bunch of characters in a row, up higher on the arch where they can only be seen from far away. Nothing. And then, I get the idea out of nowhere to see if the whole arch is the shape of a character...
I run back. "Guys, I think I've solved it. Which of these characters is shaped like the whole arch?" It was the one glossed as "angry men". Twelve angry men! 12! I got this one almost completely by myself, and Dave Barry thought it was the hardest one. I was quite proud.
At this point it wasn't even 1:00 yet and we only had one clue left. Hopefully it wouldn't be too hard.
We returned to the main Post Hunt stage, which featured 3 stand-up comedians rotating through the stage. The emcee kept referring to them as a group as "The Washington Post Comics", and though their names were mentioned, they were more prominently referred to as "the first comic", "the second comic", and "the third comic". I considered briefly how annoying it must be to give a 90-second routine every 5 or 6 minutes FOR THREE HOURS, before I realized that the people in the mascot costumes back at our second puzzle had it worse.
The first comic kept joking about crocodiles, the second kept joking about elementary school janitors, and the third, penguins. (The second comic was quite good, by the way. The first time that we saw him, he was doing a very tame version of the aristocrats joke, and apparently some other time he deliberately acted like an awful comedian.) If it weren't already obvious enough that these were references to print comics in the Comics section of the paper, there were volunteers handing out copies of the comic section.
We immediately found the hidden "EIGHT" in Frazz, the second comic. We were sure the first comic was referring to Pearls Before Swine, but hadn't found a hidden number in it yet. And while it should seem obvious that the penguin comic was Opus, we were also second-guessing ourselves. The Post comic section, you see, is trying out 3 comics during the Doonesbury hiatus, and this week was debuting the third comic. So maybe that was, you know, the third comic.
We'd had enough of the repetitive stand-up and retreated to the back of the parking lot to get a clearer look through the comics. On the way back there, a man stopped me and asked me if we'd gotten it. I said, "We're about halfway through this one, but we already got the other four." Only right as I was opening my mouth did I realize that this was Gene Weingarten himself! Good thing I didn't realize sooner; I was starstruck.
Anyway, the "SIX" in the beer can in Pearls was found, and then, as I broke away from the group again to try to find Gene again and scam a hint out of him, they found the "NINE" in Opus. (If you still have your Sunday comics, from DC or elsewhere, they should be in your versions too! Try it!) I was waved back to the group; they were certain the answer was 689. At 1:15, we were finished the initial 5 puzzles.
We took a lunch break at Teaism. We relaxed and wrote out our 5 clues for the Endgame in what we thought was the right order. The clues: "Seek letters that end in a PS" "The first letter is the 14th letter, and the third letter is the 13th letter!" "(All you need to do is remove eds from the middle, and the SOLUTION is right in front of you.)" "The answer for you begins for me." and "If second comes after first, what comes after third?"
The way the Endgame works is that it's almost a mini-hunt unto itself. You start with 5 nonsense sentences keyed by the 5 numbers you've found so far. Those 5 clues plus a clue given from the stage at 3:00 should lead you on some journey. The end of the journey usually reveals some sort of password, combined with instructions on how to deliver it and claim your prize.
At 2:53, the comedians finished to a round of applause, and "Don't Stop Believin'" started playing. We all started wondering about Sopranos-based clues, but it was just a red herring. At 3:00, Dave and Gene built the final clue: two giant wooden scimitars formed into an X. That's all.
After just a couple of minutes of all of us wondering aimlessly, I say, "Guys? 'Crossed swords' has an 'eds' in the middle." The third clue, which was actually supposed to be the first clue, comes to the rescue. Becca immediately exclaims, "Crosswords!" Jane says, "I think we have to go somewhere else." We run to the back of the parking lot, out of hearing from any other group.
We're not sure if we need this week's crossword or last week's solution. So we split up into two groups, half doing the crossword and half trying to figure things out based on the other 4 clues and anything else we can find. We hit a lot of dead ends, doing anagrams of words and stuff. This was our main downfall. Finally I say, "Guys? The SOLUTION is right in front of us. We only need last week's puzzle!" People quickly figure out the words that the 4 clues refer to, and we end up with, unscrambled, "FORMER NAME CAPS", and then, "FORMER NAME CAPS HOME". I'm googling the Washington Capitals on my phone throughout that, but by the time we finally unscramble, someone realizes. "Former name of the Verizon Center. MCI." "1101", I say. Roman numerals strike again.
At 3:30, we're stuck. We're sure we have the final answer, but we don't know what to do with it, so clearly we're missing something. I say, "Guys, keep thinking, but I'm going to the Verizon Center." I sprint away. I arrive there, and tons of other groups are there. There's a sign that says, "Think like a Roman." In my head I scream at the sign, "I did! 1101! But what do I do with it?!?!" I run around, finding the bowling alley with the big "X" on all of the windows. I keep relaying information back to Erika and Becca by phone, until they tell me that it's over. 3 winners had come in. (We later learn that they all came in between 3:22 and 3:29, before I even ran away.) I amble back, listening to the final explanatory speech over the phone until I rejoin the group.
As I see it, we solved 10 of the 15 steps of the Endgame:
1. Crossed Swords = Crosswords.
2. Use the solution from last week.
3. "For me" = "FORMER"
4. First/Second/13th/14th letters = "NAME"
5. Ending in PS = "CAPS"
6. After third = "HOME"
7. Former Name of the Capitals' Home.
8. Former name of the Verizon Center. (Hey, easy for a local, but some out-of-towners who aren't sports fans might not know where the Caps play, or #9, what that place used to be called.)
11. Go to the building marked 1101 on the map. (Doh! Wrong direction!)
12. Find the sign in front of it that said something like, "Montgomery Consulting Industries. For opportunities in the District, call TODAY!", followed by a phone number. MCI again! Call the phone number, hear the message, "No, we said call TODAY!"
13. Call "today", 202-518-2008, and hear the message, "To win, write down your captain's name, your cell phone number, and the Roman numeral that got you here, and bring it to the man in the Red Sox hat at the corner of Elm and Maple."
14. Figure out that Elm and Maple are two words in the crossword solution, which meet at "L".
15. Find the "L" on the map (which had lots of random letters on it), sprint there, and win.
We were probably only about 10 minutes behind the leaders before we got stuck on #11. I am quite proud of us. We all high-fived and went home. What were the 7 of us going to do with a trip for 4 to a Florida resort, anyway?
I haven't been able to stop thinking about it or talking about it since. I loved the wrap-up article and chat; especially the chat, in which I had two questions answered. I keep thinking about how I can't believe it was step 11 that foiled us, when we had all looked at that map for so long. (That amazing map. At least one reference in it to The Eleventh Hour, one of the great books ever penned, and quite Hunt-related.) I'd even found a lot of hidden letters, but I ignored the address-like numbers. We still might have gotten stuck on step 12 or 13 or 14 (though certainly not 15), but at the time we felt really close! Such an awesome feeling. There's no way the team of the 7 of us will all be together again, since even if we all come back, we'll surely have friends with us, and it will surely make sense to split into several teams. But what an awesome group we were.
I had such a blast, you have no idea. Thanks, Gene and Dave and Tom! And thanks, teammates! I'm totally going back next year. Who else is in?