The game began at 2:00 at our home. Twenty-five friends and relatives, some creatively dressed as their favorite detectives, were split into teams. Each team came up with a name, then were handed a packet, inside which was: a map, some scratch paper, a pen, and their first clue, a sudoku.
A word of caution. I made this game ridiculously long. And it’s going to take a ridiculously long post to review it all. You’ve been warned.
Puzzle #1. Sudoku
Each team had a different sudoku, and each puzzle had some squares highlighted, using two different colors. When solved, the highlighted squares resulted in a set of two four-digit numbers, like 4700 & 2600. Knowing the boundaries of the map and the way the Chicago grid system works led you to realize this represented a street intersection, the location of your next clue.
Analysis: Not everyone does sudoku. Also, when you download a puzzle and then tinker with where the numbers go, you potentially make it ridiculously hard, sometimes impossible.
Puzzle #2. Lost cat
Upon arriving at the intersection, each team found, stapled to a tree or taped to a pole, a poster announcing a lost — actually, it said confused — cat. Or so it seemed. Closer inspection revealed a simple letter-drop word puzzle.
Each of the six cat posters announced a different next location. For instance, one said “Kenmore brand midget stainless fridge.” There’s only one place where they sell Kenmore brand anything, and there’s only one Sears in the designated area, at Lawrence and Winchester.
Analysis: Turns out it’s illegal to post signs on poles and trees in Chicago. This was a problem for one team, who was greeted by staples on an otherwise empty tree. Also, this requires a hell of a lot of set-up on our part.
Puzzle #3. Poem
From step 2, each team went in a different direction. The rest of the clues form a circuit; each team started in a different spot and continued around. For this example, let’s head to Sears.
In the refrigerator section of Sears on Lawrence, there were only a couple mini-fridges. In one of them, in the mini-freezer, was an envelope. Inside which was this poem:
When I find myself feeling savagely miffed
about strong-armed socialites and misbegotten TIFs
I consider sailing away on a reclassified skiff.
But as I pass by the food and catch a whiff
Or notice a show with my favorite working stiff
I think, “Good news or bad, what’s the diff?
I need something personal, no buts, ands or ifs.”
You’ll need a knowledge of local culture to get this. Stop reading here if you don’t want the answer.
Analysis: Cooperative staff, good hiding place, fun clue.
Puzzle #4. Personal ad
TIFs? Savage? Arm-strong? Classified? Why, it must be the Chicago Reader. Sure enough, turn past the food and show reviews to the classifieds, find the personal ads, and scan until you see the one that starts with “XXX,” and you’ll see this:
XXX – He’s your standard adrenaline junkie with no fear and a lousy attitude. When the US Government “recruits” him to go on a mission, he’s not exactly thrilled. D[RVOS;YU BOFRP.
Or at least you should have. The Reader classified department, in its infinite wisdom, kept the English but sliced off the part that looked like gibberish, leaving just the description. To make up for this, I had to give everyone a copy of this cipher in their starting packets. Less elegant, but so it goes. Stop here again if you want to try to figure out the answer.
Analysis: Major malfunction. Can’t rely on the Reader staff to know a cipher when they see it. Otherwise, people seemed to dig the concept.
Puzzle #5. XXX
Finally we see some literal connection between the theme and the puzzles. After realizing the code is meant to represent a horizontal finger shift on a keyboard, teams were to decode it and reveal the words “Speacialty Video,” a local video store. You then were to go inside, locate the sleeve for XXX, and find a paper slipped in there with this clue:
XXX‘s Vin Diesel was in Boiler Room with Ben Affleck who was in Sum of All Fears with Morgan Freeman who was in Batman Begins with Cillian Murphy who co-starred with Rachel McAdams in a 2005 thriller. Figure out its name and you’ll know where to look for your next clue.
Know what it is? You’ve got three… two… one… yeah, I didn’t know either. But Sarah did, and swore our friends would. We didn’t hear a complaint about it, so I’m guessing she was right. The answer is Red Eye.
So where to next? Here’s where this clue goes off the rails. Red Eye is a free Chicago daily. There are honor boxes all over the place. If you looked inside the box outside Specialty, you saw this taped inside, “Not this one. Walk one-and-a-half blocks north.” Up the block you’d find another one. Look inside and it said, “Keep going. Try kitty-corner from here.” Ha! What’s more fun than being led around by ambiguous signage? Finally, across the intersection was this note, “Bingo! Your next task: go three doors down to the Brown Elephant and try on some pants, or a blouse, or a dress.” Wha?
The point was to get you in the dressing room of the Brown Elephant, a second-hand shop. In there you find a slip of paper leading you to your next destination: “Where Johnny of the Yankees is rewarded an Apple computer.”
Analysis: The Red Eye trick worked, but somewhere along the line we heard the Brown Elephant slips fell down or were stolen. Also this required too much time in this part of town, with heavy traffic and far away from the rest of the game.