A work puzzle hunt

As mentioned in a previous blog post, a few weeks ago we ran a work treasure hunt. In reality, it wasn’t really a treasure hunt. It combined elements of escape rooms, puzzle hunts and treasure hunts. This, most definitely, was not just a case of wandering round a town looking at statues, buildings and fountains (although you’d have to do a little of that too!)

I wanted to blog about the experience so that others could learn from our mistakes and steal some of our ideas and materials if they wanted to do something similar. I’ll mention it many times below, but a Door in a Wall provided inspiration here. Immitation is the sincerest form of flattery… If you haven’t played their games then I’d highly recommend you check them out!

Set up

We decided right from the start that we’d be trying to get quite a few teams involved, probably 10-20 teams of around 3-5 players. We reckoned that was enough teams to make it a lot of fun, and enough people on each team to make it sociable without the team being slowed down too much.

With 10+ teams, we knew that a conventional treasure hunt wouldn’t work very well unless we spread them out, so we decided to do a hunt where there were lots of small trails. We could equally have done a circular hunt with people starting in different places, but I wanted to see how clever people would try to be when presented with many overlapping trails (mainly because I’d been too clever for my own good on a Door in a Wall event and got hopelessly confused). It also meant that we didn’t have to make sure people stayed on trail – if they got lost with one trail they could just give up and continue with another.

All we’d give them would be a clue booklet and a map. The clue booklet was easy – we threw together a Google Doc as we went along – but the map was a little trickier. I tried a few things out, but eventually went for MS Paint and screen captures of OpenStreetMap followed by painstaking hand edits to remove unnecessary detail. Had City Dash tweeted about Ink Atlas just a few days earlier, things might have been very different!

The Trails

I won’t bore you with detailed accounts of the full set (we ended up with 18!) – I’ll give details on some of the more interesting and fun ones, then summarise the more basic puzzles at the end. You might notice that there are quite a lot of phone number related puzzles. That’s because we work for a telecoms company, so can set up phone systems for this with (relative) ease. How you go about doing it is up to you – perhaps you just use your mobile voicemail for the evening, perhaps you can set up some voicemail accounts at your work, eVoicemail services might do the job if you’re willing to pay, or something like Twilio might be able to help you if you’re geek enough.

Tesla’s Teleforce Trail

treasurehunt-teslatrailThis was my favourite of the puzzles (I might be biased, since I created it) but I blogged about it before, so I’ll just give you a quick summary. A mission document sent you to a UV message which sent you to a phone message which sent you to a “weapon design centre”. Once there you had to get an access code to unlock a laser pointer which, when placed in a launch vehicle, would shine off a mirror and hit a map.

Careless Talk Costs Lives

One of my partners in crime created a World War II inspired mission to intercept a code book . Your briefing told you that you were impersonating an enemy agent and to make contact with his handler. When you phoned him up, you were told to go to a specific location and collect a code. You could then use that on the next phone call to access a different recording, which (while you were listening to it), walked you down to a lamppost, where we’d hidden a (copy of a) ration book. When you retrieved that, you needed to phone back to your commander who told you that the ration book needed to be used with the menu of a local pub to generate another code (specifically, only one item on the menu used the first two items in the ration book, and when you took its price, you could use the ration book to generate a code). When you called back with your final code, the German handler told you to use a scytale attached to the pub menu to get a location and search there for the final code word.

It’s all Greek to me

This was the most cerebral of the puzzles (in other words, I couldn’t understand it!). There were a series of numbers and letters that you collected from the local area using clues in the booklet. The question then had a series of Greek letters and a set of grids with lots of Greek letters in them. Using the letters/numbers you’d collected, there were instructions on how to choose a set of 26 of the Greek letters in the grids to make an alphabet decoder that you could use on the series of letters (e.g. take the grid corresponding to answer 1, skip the first X characters according to answer 2, remove the three characters after character Y according to answer 3, the first character in the grid corresponds to answer 4). The decoded phrase gave you a final simple question to answer.

The Identi-tea trail.

This puzzle led you round a lot of tea rooms in our offices, getting you to pick up letters along the way. It then used a code wheel which we made to decode this to a set of initials and a phone number. When you phoned that number it played “Love in an Elevator” which hinted that the lift was the place to go – where we’d hidden a floor plan with the relevant initials. That took you to a desk with some binoculars, a compass and a suggestion you look in a particular direction. In a window about 50 metres away we had a tablet with a web page which flashed out some instructions. That took you to the final answer which was “Earl Grey Tea”

Lost Connections

This trail was a series of funny posters that were stuck up on trees and noticeboards in the local area. Each poster was for a lost item, for example a lost turtle that went by the name of Michelangelo and might be carrying nunchuks, a lost ring with a picture of the One Ring on it and a warning that it might caused invisibility or malevolence and a lost Wally/Waldo, with a big picture of him. At the bottom of each poster was a different phone number with some sort of riddle:

  • one played Les Miserables’ “Look Down”, and under the poster was a ceramic snail hidden at the base of the tree containing the answer
  • a “My first is in X but not in Y” type puzzle, with a physics theme and the voice in a Stephen Hawking style.
  • the LotR puzzle had a Gollum voice reading out a puzzle about how to make a ring, where we mentioned chemical elements, and then you needed to take their symbols and rearrange them to form a word.
  • there was a recording of a series of songs with the first letter of each song making a word.
  • another recording had a clue for Winter with a Game of Thrones clue.
  • finally we had Morse code, which was easy to generate using this website.

Recording these was a real pain – phoneline quality is poor, and recording voice is difficult at the best of times. We had to speak clearly and slowly – people weren’t going to be listening in a quiet room!

The final step in the puzzle was to take all the answers from the riddles and find the connection. IIRC the answers were up, bed, winter, half, show and dream. I’ll leave you to work out the connection.

If you want to see/steal the posters, I’ve uploaded them all here.

The Crossweb trail

Shamelessly stolen from A Door in a Wall… We drew an outline of the town’s market square and marked on specific points where there were words on walls/buildings/signs, using grids with the right number of letters. We then highlighted particular characters within those grids and used that to construct a URL. On that webpage was a crossword (with clues but without numbers written on) and a separate clue that led you to a set of paving stones where the numbers were marked on for each clue, and a set of squares within the crossword that would form a word. The clues themselves were a mixture of answers from an adjacent graveyard, general knowledge and a couple of things you would likely have to search on the internet.

The blank cheque trail

This one took you around Estate Agents in the local area where we’d put in fake adverts for our office buildings. Each advert had a price, and a clue taking you to the next one. At the end you needed to fill in a blank cheque we’d provided with the sum of the house prices and deliver to a particular location. The reaction you get from people when they realise you’ve got local business involved is great, but obviously you’re very reliant on the businesses following through – there was mild panic when at 5pm they hadn’t yet put the adverts up!

The Agloe paper trail

Another of my strokes of genius. This one involved adding a whole load of fake items to our map (Google Agloe if you’re not sure why!). There was no further explanation except six questions saying things like “Where’s the church?”. We accepted grid references or street names as answers. This was the final entry in our booklet, so sadly didn’t get much love. I suspect many people didn’t get the reference, and didn’t think to Google it when they had so many other trails to choose from, but I think the idea has merit if people know the local area reasonably well, and it’s great because you can do it in the pub at the end!

Other trails

There were a variety of other trails we used which, while specific to the local area, could easily be generalised. These helped to bulk out our trails so that people had plenty to get on with.

  • The school trail – linking a series of schools around the area. Some were existing schools, some were sites of former schools and one was a place that advertised itself as a dance school.
  • The water trail – we linked up a variety of water troughs, fountains and water pumps around the area.
  • The animal trail – every town has a bunch of animals on shop signs, coats of arms, shop names etc.
  • The find me follow me trail – I stuck stickers in a variety of phone boxes around town. Each had an anagram of a local place, and the first letters of those formed another anagram
  • Monopoly trail – parking, jail (police station), “Park Lane”. You’re bound to have a bunch of Monopoly related locations in your town.
  • 3 Little Ducks trail – get some plastic ducks, put some numbers on them and tie them to weights with fishing wire before dropping them in a river. For bonus points make them tricky to reach… We provided a garden cane to each team, which added to the fun of the evening, watching people wander round the area with the cane.
  • The explorer’s trail. Probably won’t work in most places, but we used a combination of explorers and place names to move you round the town (Dora! plus Raleigh, Carter and Sydney in our case).
  • The Sign of Four. A simple geocache inspired trail. Start clue led you to a particular street sign. Behind that was a film canister containing a clue, with a magnet stuck to the film canister to let it stay in place behind the sign. Repeat for three other signs. It was backed up by a vague Sherlock Holmes story which could have been much more elaborate if I’d had time.
  • Like the estate agent trail above, we’d also got charity shops involved, and they’d put cats (a reference to one of our products and the theme of the clues) in the windows.

And finally

We congregated in a pub at the end and I raced through checking answers and putting the results into a spreadsheet. It was all quite rushed, because people were impatient to know how they’d done. After that though, I got a chance to talk to people and hear what they thought. They’d loved the variety of puzzles, the fact some were easy and some were tough, the involvement of local business and (of course) the laser puzzle. What’s not to like about lasers…?

I’m not going to deny that it was hard work, but the results were more than worth it. If you’re vaguely tempted, then I recommend giving it a go. Just make sure you’re not doing it alone!

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