Category Archives: Projects

DRAGONBALL 24HR: Lights Out

Tomorrow, I embark on the race of the lifetime. I’ll be attempting to virtually drive non-stop1  around the Le Mans race circuit for 24 hours entirely solo, raising money for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance. I’d be delighted if you could join me.

Earlier this year, I jumped head-first into the hobby of simulation racing [sim racing] by buying my first wheel-and-pedals set; a Logitech G29 Driving Force Racing Wheel. I’ve long been a fan of racing video games and motorsport ever since I was child, but this was my first foray into the heady world of sim racing. I’d love to race in real life, but sadly lack enough of the talent (and money) to go motor racing for real – so this is the closest I can do.

Behold, the rig:

Last weekend (10-11 June 2022) was the 90th edition of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans: an endurance motor race around the city of Le Mans in the heart of France. I’ve twice attended the race in the past (in 2010 and 2011) as a spectator, and there is such an incredible feeling and ‘buzz’ around the whole event; it is proper electric. I’ve got huge respect for the drivers, who are able to stay on the limit for so long; each sharing two-hour stints with two other drivers in a car over duration of the 24-hour race.

Before rules were introduced which mandated that each car had to be piloted by a three-driver team (for obvious safety reasons), two-driver teams were common – I can only imagine how demanding that must have been to keep alert through day and night for so long. However, only one driver in history ever completed the full 24 Hours of Le Mans entirely solo: Edward (“Eddie”) Ramsden Hall, who undertook the feat during the the race in 1950:

“When asked what provision should be made for the, er, more fundamental of human functions during a 24 hour solo drive, Eddie Hall’s advice was short and succinct: ‘Wear green overalls.’”

Frankel (2017), ‘The One-Man Squad that Took On Le Mans

When I started sim racing earlier this year, I was really intrigued to try to see if I could do the same – race for 24 hours straight, and live to tell the tale. But I didn’t just want to tell the tale – I was keen to put it to good use to raise some awareness about a good cause at the same time. 

I considered a number of charitable causes that I could do this challenge in aid of: however, I wanted to choose one where I thought my contribution/donation would be able to have a direct and noticeable effect – a meaningful impact, rather than being just a drop in the ocean. The answer was somewhere close to home: the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA).

In the current time (post-pandemic, cost of living crisis, cuts to public services), it feels important to be able to ensure that critical medical services are available to anyone when needed; where urgent medical attention could, quite literally, be a matter of life and death.   

It’s the only facility (and charity) of its type in this local area and so it is one-of-a-kind – every time I hear or see the chopper going overhead, it’s kind of reassuring that there is an air ambulance facility still flying and helping save people’s lives: you never know when it might be you (or someone you love) that needs it.

As a side note: when I was originally designing the car livery for this challenge before I had even settled on HIOWAA as the primary recipient, I chose the car number ‘56’ simply due to its similarity to my initials (“SG”) and a naïve pipe-dream that it would one day grace a race helmet of mine. However, little did I know that the number 56 is the call-sign of the HIOWAA air ambulance (“Helimed56”) – clearly this was, as they say, a sign.

It’s not going to be easy – it might not be a physical challenge in the ‘traditional’ sense (I guess I’ll get a bit of cardio from steering the wheel and putting pedal to metal, but that’s about it), but it will be a challenge to keep up the energy and focus for a full 24 hours; especially as I’ll be live-streaming and potentially engaging with any viewers who drop by.

This is also all going to be pretty “new” to me: so far, the longest I’ve spent racing at a time has been a few hours – this will be quite a different beast. I’ve also never live-streamed before – in the run-up to this challenge, I’ve had to learn how to operate and set up livestreaming software, and practice being on camera whilst talking-and-driving. I think I’m up to the challenge; though I might need a constant supply of coffee to avoid sleeping at the wheel.

The hardest part will be when the Sun goes down – I’ll need to devise strategies to keep the momentum going and avoid drowsiness coming on. I estimate that I’ll complete around 360 laps over the course of the challenge, so I’m going to be seeing the same landmarks (grandstands, trees, road signs, advertising hoarding) over and over so will have to avoid the impulse to switch off completely – hopefully I can get into a rhythm of good lap times to keep me alert.

At the time of publication, we’ve already raised over £700, which is mind-blowing – I’d like to say a huge huge huge “thank you” to everyone who has contributed so far, it is absolutely amazing. The JustGiving campaign has already exceeded my wildest expectations – there has been strong support from family and friends and even some more far-flung supporters, and the green light hasn’t even gone out yet!

Thank you SO SO SO much – your support really makes a difference to the charity and the services provided by the air ambulance team, and I hope that I have even helped to raise more awareness of HIOWAA and their good work – even amongst motorsport fans further afield who may have stumbled across some of my posts or videos on social media. 

Right, we’ll there’s just around 24 hours to go now ’til it’s lights out and away we go – so I’m gonna go get prepared. See you at the end of the race 🏁

[Zinar7]

1 Well, minus the occasional bathroom break. I’m not a monster (!)

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Dragonball 24HR: FAQs

Over the 2nd-3rd July 2022, me and my co-driver David will be attempting to virtually drive non-stop around the Le Mans race circuit for 24 hours in the Project CARS 2 racing simulator to raise money for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance [HIOWAA].

Since this is a frankly barmy idea (and one that we will livestream via YouTube) that will subject both of us to a fair amount of public humiliation regarding our bad driving, it that would be massively appreciated if you can help us make it through this ordeal by sparing a few bob for the fine folksHIOWAA.

You can find more details, including links to donate towards our £1000 target, here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dragonball24-for-hiowaa

  • Why are you raising money for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance?

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA) is an air ambulance service serving the counties of Hampshire and Isle of Wight in Southern England, responding to major trauma injuries and other incidents in need of a fast response/transfer to hospital.

HIOWAA’s Air Ambulance and Critical Care Team Vehicles are operational 7 days a week and attend an average of four incidents per day; many of them life-saving. The Air Ambulance can be anywhere in Hampshire within 15 minutes, and operates from 7am until 2am, 365 days a year. 

To support this work, HIOWAA rely entirely on donations from the community: it costs approximately £15,000 a day to keep their life-saving service operational, and they receive no direct government support.

  • Where does the money go?

All of the money raised from fundraising events (like this!) get funnelled back into keeping the HIOWAA vehicle fleet in the air and on the road, supporting their medical personnel in treating critical incidents across the South Coast. Every £50 donated could help HIOWAA purchase two high-quality thermal blankets, five packs of tourniquets, or replace a complete set of defibrillator pads.

HIOWAA’s Critical Care Teams are made up of Specialist Critical Care Paramedics, HEMS Doctors and Pilots; all equipped with state-of-the-art technology and advanced medication. The Air Ambulance is a twin-engined Airbus H135 helicopter (“Helimed56”): they can be at the scene of an incident within minutes, ready to deliver the same level of care that you would expect from a hospital emergency department.

You can find out more about where your donation goes by clicking: here.

  • Why aren’t you using <INSERT RACE SIMULATOR HERE> ?

It might be a few years old now (2015), but Project CARS 2 still looks fantastic and we wanted to give viewers something pretty to look at; especially the weather and day/night cycle effects.

As racing sims go, it might not be quite the pinnacle of physics realism when compared to something like Assetto Corsa Competizione, but it’s more than enough for a silly challenge like this. Plus, it natively supports multi-class, 24-hour races at Le Mans, so that’s ideal.

  • What race conditions are you using?

We’ll be playing an offline (single-player) race vs 90% AI difficulty. Between us, we have only been sim racing for a few months, so this AI difficulty setting is reasonably well-matched to our current skills.

We’ll be driving for 24 hours of both real and “in-game” time: we can only swap drivers for bathroom, food and rest breaks when the car goes into the pits – much like the real racers at Le Mans – and won’t be permitted to pause the game unless there’s a severe issue.

Weather is on RANDOM and with a realistic day/night cycle for July in the centre of France. We might get rain, we might get clear skies – we’ll leave it up to the RNG Gods.

All damage will be visual-only, i.e. not performance-limiting: we don’t want bad luck (or bad driving, which is much more likely) causing our race to end and ruining the challenge. Likewise, all flags and penalties will be suppressed, so we don’t run the risk of disqualification if one of us accidentally exceeds track limits too many times. The Toyota TS050 Hybrid is fitted with a native Traction Control (TC) and Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), but otherwise we’ll be using no driving aids.

There’s a grid of 31 other cars on the track, across three classes of car: LMP1-H [the class we’ll be in], LMP2 and GTE. Our starting grid position will be RANDOM, and the race gets underway via a rolling start.

  • When does it start / finish?

It’ll be lights out and away we go at around 0700 UTC on Saturday 02 July 2022 (that’s 08:00 UK time). Unless there’s any technical issues, the finish time will be at 0700 UTC the following day, Sunday 03 July 2022.

  • How will you go to the toilet?

We’ll have to wait until the next time the car comes in for a scheduled pit stop for fuel or tyres, and let the other driver jump into the rig.

  • What happens if the game crashes mid-race?

We’ll just restart in a new race, and drive until we’ve done a full 24 hours of in-game time. Hopefully we get through the whole race without any technical issues this time, but if any pop up then we’ll get back into the game as quickly as possible and continue until we’ve completed the full stretch in the car.

  • What happens if the steering wheel breaks?

If there’s a critical failure of the sim rig, then we’ll switch over to a gamepad to finish the rest of the race; even if that means having to switch to another video game. We ain’t quittin’.

  • What does “Dragonball 24HR” mean?

When me and my friends travelled to France by car & ferry to spectate at the 2010 and 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, we stickered up our cars like racing cars; pretending that we were entrants in a fictional endurance race called the “Dragonball 24HR” (riffing on the Cannonball Run and the Gumball 3000, but more geeky). We even designed a logo for it, which you can find below on the left:

When choosing to do this challenge, it made sense to resurrect the monicker and pretend that we’re a part of a legendary and lucrative 24-hour race myself, for great justice. You can see the updated logo above, on the right.

So, the short answer is: “it doesn’t mean anything”; but the long answer is: “it means everything.”

  • What race track are you driving on?

This is the Circuit de la Sarthe, the 8.5-mile route around the Southern end of the town of Le Mans in central France. It’s a mix of purpose-built racetrack and public roads (which are closed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans event) and has been supporting motor races for around one hundred years.

  • What car are you driving?

Unfortunately, due to technical issues, it’s not possible to drive the Lola-Aston Martin DR1-2 Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) car which was mocked and stickered up in aid of this challenge (see screenshot below) – instead, we’ll be in a Toyota TS050 Hybrid from the 2016 World Endurance Championship.

The Toyota has a 2.4L twin-turbo petrol engine with an 8 MJ hybrid-electric system, which can be deployed for short bursts via a button on the steering wheel. And it is fast.

  • How far do you expect to get?

Based on my estimates, we’re likely to complete around 12 laps between each pit stop; meaning that we can cover (12 x 8.47 = 101 miles) and fuel back up every 45 minutes.

So, with a fair wind, we should be able to complete around 375 laps in 24 hours; or 3175 miles – that’s about the same distance as London to Boston as the crow flies. However, we’ll be tired and sleepy, and probably crash a lot, so you can’t rule anything out.

  • Do you have any sub-challenges?

We are aiming to:

  • Complete over 360 laps over the course of the race
  • Crash fewer than 24 times (i.e. less than one major inchident per hour)
  • Set a fastest lap better than 03:30.000
  • Not fall asleep at the wheel
  • Finish “not last” in the LMP1 class by the end of the race
  • Raise as much money as we can for HIOWAA

  • What are those logos on the car?

[Fictional]

  • Penistone Oils: A joke from the British version of Top Gear. When you cover up the last eight letters, it sort of spells a rude word… I’ll let you work that one out for yourselves.
  • JLB Credit: This is the fictional loan and credit company that Mark works for in the Channel 4 show, Peep Show. I watch a heck of a lot of Peep Show, so it made sense to include the brand here.
  • Larsen’s Biscuits: Another one from Top Gear – this time, if you cover up the “L” and “N’s” then the remaining letters spell “Arse Biscuits”, which is obviously funny.
  • Racing Sports Network: This is the sports channel that broadcasts motor racing in the Disney-Pixar movie, Cars. It made sense to nick a bunch of the fictional brands from the franchise, hence why you’ll also see Hostile Takeover Bank, Clutch Aid and the Piston Cup logo smattered around the bodywork.
  • Octan: A bit of a retro one here; it’s the fictional gas and oil company from LEGO City playsets from the mid-90s onwards. For some reason, it’s always stuck with me even though it’s not the most recognisable LEGO marque these days.
  • Xero Gas: Another fictional gas and oil company, this one is from the Grand Theft Auto series of video games; particularly GTA V.
  • Mr. Fusion: The Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor is the power source used by the Mark II DeLorean Time Machine from Back to the Future. BttF is one of the greatest films ever made, hence it’s appearance here.

[Real]

  • Nurofen: I strongly suspect that, after 24 hours of gaming, my head will be pretty sore and in need of some pain relief.
  • Rich Energy: Well, I couldn’t not include this one, could I? The whole saga is far too long to go into here, but suffice to say that it’s become a bit of a meme in the F1 world. I’m yet to actually track down a can of it but, if I can, then I will attempt to taste-test it during the livestream.
  • Haribo: I like sweets.
  • Michelin: The original Aston Martin DBR1-2 livery was already plastered with Michelin logos given that those were the tyres that it ran, and I was too lazy to photoshop them out. So, yeah.

  • Are you really sponsored by any of those brands?

Haha, no, of course not.

  • What steering wheel are you using?

It’s a Logitech G29 Driving Force wheel (with pedals). It’s towards the budget end of force-feedback steering wheels, but seems to suit me just fine.

FYI: I also have the Logitech G Driving Force Shifter but, since the Toyota TS050 Hybrid has a flappy-paddle system that we can control from the steering wheel, we don’t need to use it for this challenge.

  • What are those gloves that you’re wearing?

They are F33L IT SR2 sim racing gloves. You can buy them for yourself here: https://www.f33l.gg/shop/sr2-sim-racing-gloves-new (they didn’t pay me to say that, either).

Thank you for the donations and support so far – we still have a little way to meet the next target of £1000: if you are able to help us make it through this challenge by sparing a few bob for this fantastic cause, then that would be most excellent 😊❤


You can find more details, including links to donate towards the fundraising target, here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dragonball24-for-hiowaa

[Zinar7]

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That’s A Puzzlin’: Part 2

Puzzlin_2

In my entry last week [That’s A Puzzlin’: Part I], I chronicled a little about the curious puzzle-box that Pete and I put together for a holiday I took with a two handfuls of friends at an impromptu board games retreat out in Devon last month.

In that post, I covered the first three of the five puzzles which made up the quest; so it seems only fair to document the final two, and apply some closure to what it all led to. Let’s find out:

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Puzzle #4: Rings

The purpose of Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was, in essence, to lead the player’s brains to think about using the Study as a hint mechanism for future clues involving books. Pete had always wanted to put in book cipher as one of the puzzles; so, having pre-prepped a candidate book with which to hide a cipher in the form of coordinates to specific page numbers, lines and words, we dropped the envelope containing Puzzle #4 on the hallway calendar on Friday evening.

I’d already hidden a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit on the bookshelf in the study when I placed the Lovecraft code within Puzzle #2, so all the players had to do for this one was to interpret the riddle and hunt for a copy of the book – which they dutifully did after a minor amount of head-scratching. Then, using the three-number combinations, they would then need to construct a sentence (to be even more accurate, a question) using the specified coordinates; likely using a bit of trial-and-error to work out what the number combinations meant before stumbling on the correct structure: [PAGE NUMBER] [LINE NUMBER] [WORD NUMBER].

20170221_184321

Doing so would, eventually, translate the following trivia question, giving the solution to Puzzle #4 (and on which we had banked on our player’s Lord of the Rings knowledge to come up with the correct answer; an assumption which stuck):

HOW
MANY
RINGS
OF
POWER
WERE
GIVEN
TO
MEN
?

The answer, of course, is nine; giving the directional combination (←↑) corresponding the runic ‘H’ symbol on the original “combination lock clue page”.

Now, I haven’t (yet) explained the importance of this so, before I introduce the fifth (and final) puzzle of the game, I’ll briefly go into the meaning of it all.

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Early on, Pete and I had identified that, if we dropped the various directional combinations in order across the weekend, it wouldn’t be impossible for a brute-force method (of trying all of the combinations for the last code) to bear fruit once four-fifths of the code had been ‘unlocked’. To counter this, we aimed to drip-feed the combination parts not in order, such that the risk of brute-force entry would be minimised. To add an extra layer of puzzling to the game, the players would be given clues which associated with five directional combinations (associated with five symbols) which then would then need to work out what was linked with what.

The symbols for each would be hinted at in the form of small markings on each of the initial clue envelopes containing each puzzle: Puzzle #1 (Jigsaw) had a rudimentary London Underground symbol; Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was a love-heart for obvious reasons; Puzzle #3 (Pigpen) had a ‘#X’ representing the two pigpen keys; Puzzle #5 (Limes) had a five-pointed star for reasons that will be revealed in the next section; but Puzzle #4 (Rings) had a runic ‘D’ because this is the symbol which is drawn on Tolkien’s map in The Hobbit marking the secret door on the Lonely Mountain. When placed all together, they would lead to a string of directions to be entered into the padlock, eventually releasing the goodies within.

Puzzle #5: Limes

The fifth, and final puzzle, drew experience from a meme that has been orbiting our circle of friends for many years: the meme of hiding limes in each other’s houses.

This tradition kind of started at the annual party at Dan’s house (“OckFest”) whereby limes would be hidden in bizarre places in Dan’s kitchen, intending them to be uncovered while performing unrelated tasks; for example: finding a lime in the box of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes when pouring out the morning cereal; discovering a lime hidden inside the tube of kitchen roll when reaching to mop up a spillage; hearing a lime fall out of a hollowed-out French baguette when beginning to make a sandwich.

Without wishing to blow one another’s trumpets too heavily, Pete and I are professionals when it comes to the international sport of Lime-Hiding. It was inevitable that we would initiate this tradition at The Winter Games 2017, but I forget which of us had the genius of incorporating it into the Puzzle Box game. Either way, the task for the players would be to figure out how many limes were hidden in a particular room, and then to use that number as the final directional combination.

The initial clue was provided in riddle form:

How many of I
Are plucked from the tree
And made into pie
You’ll find that’s the key

See? It’s a pun. KEY LIME PIE. Like, a key to a box that’s also a hint for the players to try and find some limes somewhere.

On each lime, we drew a five-pointed star and a number specified in Roman numerals: however, the trick was that the limes would not be numbered consecutively. Overall, four limes would be hidden, with numbers I, II, IV and VI; the twist being that, if the players simply entered ‘six limes’ as the solution, they would be incorrect. Y’see, we had circled the ‘I’ in “How many of I”, indicating that the players should not – in fact – be counting the number of limes, but instead the number of ‘i’s in the numerals written on the limes; equaling five, yielding the directional combination (↓↑).

Furthermore, the missing numerals (III and V) were simply a red herring designed to make the players hunt even harder. Yes; I know I’m a meanie.

Because our original plan to hide limes in the kitchen became untenable because of the sheer people traffic that would be present in the kitchen at any one time, we were forced to change tack to hide limes in the games room annex where it was much easier to steal away time to distribute some fruit about the place. Hence, to do this, and while deployed at #TheWinterGames, I hastily mocked up an additional sheet of paper giving a hint towards the players looking in the games room by scribbling “Want to play a game?” and including it in the envelope right before deployment.

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However, due to a simple lack of properly thinking through the implications of that phrase, we kind of didn’t realise that that’s also a quote from the movie Saw, spoken by the main antogonist, ‘Jigsaw’; causing everyone to suddenly barrel down the hallway into the Dining Room (where Puzzle #1 [Jigsaw]) was still set up, frantically searching for an answer. Secondly, everyone appeared to miss the “key lime pie” solution to the clue and instead immediately leapt to the solution of “four-and-twenty blackbirds”; since, like limes, these are also a Thing™ which can be found in a tree but also baked into a pie, according to the nursery rhyme. In retrospect, it was actually a little satisfying to have the players burrow down the wrong rabbit-hole in search of this unintentional red herring [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #2”] but, at the time, it was immensely stressful to have to watch them struggle down a futile path and yet not be able to interfere, lest I give the game away.

However, some gentle nudging highlighted that the solution was in fact ‘limes’; at which point, several reconnaissance groups were despatched to the various rooms of the house to hunt for round, green objects. After a short while, one of the search  parties returned with four limes, and fairly swiftly cottoned on the Roman Numerals code; arriving at the answer of ‘five’.

So, our players now had everything they needed to open the box; and open the box, they did. Also: I’d love to say that I’d planned to paint the box green to match the limes, but that was simply happy coincidence.

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Puzzle #Z: Endgame

So, with great expectation and encircled by a perimeter of excited (if still confused) faces, one plucky adventurer keyed in the winning combination (↓↑↓↓↑↓←↓→←↓←↑), undid the chains and, with mild trepidation, lifted the lid of the confusing green box.

Inside was a map.

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A map of the house, with an ‘X’ marked on in big, black pen. (Which Pete and I had to scribble in on location, after we’d figured out a good place to hide the prize).

The ‘X’ on the map led the participants out to the back garden where, under the cover of darkness in the late hours of the previous night, I had wrapped the final prize booty in an old carrier bag under stone lawn roller in the approximate location of the ‘X’ marking. Following a brief period of scurrying and scouting, the booty was located by a tall, loud Spaniard and brought inside to the metaphorical sound of bugle-horns heralding the arrival of a monarch returning from a crusade.

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And so, with the ‘pop-thmph’ of the cork ejaculating from the bottle and reverberating off the living room’s wall, the adventure was over; the puzzle was solved. I’ll be honest: it was a heck of a lot of fun putting it all together and I adored the act of thinking to think laterally to come up with mysteries and conundrums that would (hopefully) confuse, but enthuse, an odd assortment of my friends.

Undoubtedly, there will be another #TheWinterGames; where Pete and I join forces to do something like this again remains to be seen. Perhaps it’d be not quite as fun if the players knew who was doing it all, but perhaps that would give us even more scope to add complexity given that – in event of them getting “stuck” – they’d be able to ask for help. I don’t know, we’ll have to see what the future brings.

Either way, it’s been mighty enjoyable recapping and documenting what happened in a wonderful house a month or so ago; and I hope it has been for you, too. Godspeed, puzzlers.

[Zinar7]

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That’s a Puzzlin’: Part 1

Puzzlin_1

Almost a month ago now, myself and thirteen other board game fanatics whisked ourselves into the wilderness a house in rural Devon to spend five days (#TheWinterGames) playing board games, chilling out and having a good time.

With the above in mind, and knowing that our cohabitants were the type(s) of people to appreciate a good mystery, my friend Pete and I hatched a plan to make a series of puzzles; beginning with a simple box locked with a directional padlock and a series of cryptic clues, that would entertain throughout the weekend.

Our initial aims of this endeavour were as follows:

  1. Make an interesting puzzle-box, treasure-hunt thing to amuse people during #TheWinterGames
  2. Have a series of puzzles, each yielding a number with which to punch into a combination lock; roughly one per day
  3. Have something interesting/rewarding to find once all the puzzles have been solved and the box has been opened

To complete the above three objectives, we proceeded to put together a spiffy wooden box, some chain and a wonderful combination lock (that you unlock using a combination of directions and which looks enthusiastically like the D-pad from a video game controller) which would serve as the booty for a treasure hunt-slash-escape room-style puzzle that would blossom over the long weekend.

After sourcing a plain, pine wood box and decorating it colourfully using some bright green ink, we had a serviceable lockbox that would mysteriously appear after everyone had arrived for the weekend and, hopefully, prove sufficiently interesting to pique their curiosity. For all of the puzzle materials (letters, envelopes, etc.) I wanted to give it an ‘aged’ feel to it to sort-of imply that it was all spooky and mysterious and done by some sort of benevolent ghost, so went to great efforts to tea-stain and crinkle the paper to make them look like aged manuscripts, and used a fountain pen (and my best joined-up, slanty-posh handwriting) to make it look old and not easily identifiable as mine. It worked.

We came up with five puzzles in total, each one of which would yield a directional code which, when all put together, would each lead to a letter or number; equating to a two- or three-digit combination of UP-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT directions when cross-referenced on a cheat sheet (see above). Discovering the complete code and entering it into the padlock would, eventually, unlock the box and reveal its clandestine contents; but not before the previous five puzzles had been solved.

Thus, at circa 1800 on Wednesday night, the lockbox (and first clue) was deposited in the study. Game on.

M11

Puzzle #1: Jigsaw

We’d always wanted to include a jigsaw puzzle in the remit, but had some initial difficulties in figuring out how to make it lead to a single number for input into a combination lock.

While visiting family over the Christmas holidays, I stumbled upon a jigsaw puzzle of the classic (modern) London Underground map in my parents’ games cabinet and hatched an idea to have the players identify a single station on it to find the solution. The plan was to leave out a piece showing Camden Road, and then for the players to look that up on a sheet to get the right code; see below. So far, so good.

 

Except: in my eagerness to make the puzzle not quite as time-consuming as it could be, I went through the jigsaw bag removing all the blank white pieces of the jigsaw, so that only the map itself was there, and two things happened:

  1. I accidentally took out some parts of the map itself, including the whole of Leicester Square station, and
  2. When writing the list of stations with associated letters/symbols, I kind of forgot to write Camden Road, because I’m an idiot.

However, because (1) and (2) happened at the same time [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #1”], we could change the first solution to be “Liverpool Street” (giving an ‘R’ and therefore ↓↑↓) and pretend that it was always supposed to be like that. So, taking great effort to be VERY QUIET INDEED, we snuck downstairs very early on Thursday morning while everyone was still sleeping and re-programmed the lock suck that the new code made sense. Thanks to good fortune that no-one walked in at the wrong time to find us fiddling around, I think we got away with it. Bingo.

Puzzle #2: Lovecraft

We’d kind of figured that it made sense to put the most time-intensive puzzle (the jigsaw) at the beginning, just in case it took longer than expected for the players to finish it; from which point we could drip-feed the following, smaller, puzzles which would be less mandraulic to solve. In reality, we needn’t have worried at all, because the keen-fingers badgers had smashed it out before the end of the first night.

So, with that in mind, the next puzzle was dropped mid-morning on Thursday, where an envelope bearing a love-heart was left on the mantelpiece of the sitting room. In contrast to the speed at which the jigsaw was complete, the envelope sat above a wooden love-heart dangling in the fireplace and which NO-ONE SPOTTED for TWO WHOLE HOURS, despite Pete even setting up a Nerf gun target range trying to pew-pew at the dangling heart immediately below it.

When it was finally discoverd, the players found a riddle, in French, thus:

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Dans le Salle de Dessin,
La clé que vous trouverez,
Ou l’Ombre Jette,
Dans le Métier d’Amour

Loosely translated (I used Google Translate, so don’t judge me), this says:

In the Drawing-Room,
The key you will find,
Where the Shadow is Cast
In the Craft of Love

Earlier that morning (whilst also re-programming the padlock code), I’d planted a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories on the bookshelf in the Study, in amongst a bunch of other books belonging to the house. In essence, the clue aimed to lead the players to the drawing-room, and find where a shadow is cast in the Craft of Love – i.e., find a Lovecraft book on the shelf and turn to the chapter for The Shadow Over Innsmouth; one of the most famous Lovecraft stories and which we banked on at least some of the players knowing.

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After some brain-racking and some book-searching, the players eventually deciphered the clue and found the book; identifying a little ‘26’ mark at the bottom of the first page of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and giving them the direction key ↓←↓. With that, Puzzle #2 was complete.

Puzzle #3: Pigpen

I always wanted to weave in a traditional cipher into the puzzle series, and Pete liked the idea of having an “X Marks The Spot”-type puzzle with a treasure hunt inside the house, so we opted to combine the two:

Having found the blueprints for the house on the interwebs, we tried to figure out a clever place to hide something and lead to with a map. Realising that the Study and the Apple Store bedroom were identical and size and shape, this seemed a logical place to roughly sketch a room and get players to figure out a) which one it is, and b) to search inside it for the next clue.

The clue they had to find was a small, square envelope on which a “#X” was drawn on the front, matching one on the map sketch. Once found, they would open it to find a pigpen alphabet key, and a series of symbols which they must decode. The “clever” bit [note: author’s inverted commas] was making the code upside-down, meaning that the players would have to rotate the code by 180 degrees and then translate it, else it would not make sense if translated directly. To hint at this, I drew a little rotate-y arrow and a line, which had the added bonus of players thinking that they had to translate the code’s mirrored reflection instead of rotating it by π radians. I love red herrings.

Anyway; translate it correctly, and the players would reveal the solution:

X M A R K S T H E S P O T

giving ‘X’ (←↓) as the solution, and Puzzle #3 complete.

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And with that, and because I’m all out of words for one week, I will leave the second half of the story ’til Part 2, which I’ll post in a weeks’ time. All that’s left to say is: good puzzlin’, y’all.

[Zinar7]

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