This site makes no apology for a great deal of content about DASH as it’s one of the highlights of the year. If you couldn’t attend this year, here’s what you missed… and perhaps, just perhaps, it might make you interested in taking part in a future year.
Fair warning: now that DASH has finished, we’re into potential spoiler territory. Every previous DASH has had its puzzles posted online reasonably soon afterwards. If you didn’t play DASH, it would still be a lot of fun to get a group of your friends together and try the puzzles for yourself once they’re made available. This post is going to be fairly generic, avoiding the Aha! moments for each puzzle, but the comments may be more specific. Nevertheless, if you want to avoid spoilers altogether, best skip this post and definitely best skip the comments. However, if you played and want to relive the experience, if you played elsewhere and want to compare stories or if you know you’ll never play this year’s puzzles and just want to find out what you missed, then to get to the detail, click on the Portkey that is the “Continue Reading” button below.
This year’s theme was the capital-W Wizarding World, drawn from a well-known series of books and films, though it was impressive to see there was no mention of many of the most well-known specific intellectual properties at any point, particularly the H- and P- names. It was clear that the intention was that people unfamiliar with the canon would not suffer a disadvantage; from a fan’s perspective, there may have been one or two incidental references that might not reasonably be considered general pop-cultural knowledge. It would certainly be interesting to get the perspective of someone who played despite being hostile to the series and seeing whether they struggled.
As last year, there was an unscored icebreaker puzzle that required teams to co-operated with each other, eight regular puzzles and a metapuzzle with which to conclude. One slight difference is that this year, the metapuzzle was notified as being “extra credit” and teams could choose to skip it and solve it, unscored, in their own time – but, in practice, it was compulsory for competitive teams. The overall time limit for the hunt was extended, at extremely late notice, from eight hours to ten; on the Experienced track, using early data, the solving time for a typical team rose from 5:10 in DASH 6 to a projected 6:55 in DASH 7. (Technically, that’s the median time of the nine median-scoring teams. A general sense of “about a third longer than last year” feels about right.) More thoughts about the length and difficulty of the hunt some other day.
The icebreaker puzzle, Entering Your Name Into The Cup, provided teams with four identical copies of one of four double-sided sheets. Teams would swap them with other teams in order to end up with one of each (made more confusing by the double-sided nature of the sheets!) and invited them to assemble them into a book in a sensible order. The extraction to produce the answer required two different methods, always a cheeky twist. In London, this was played in a park… as a small but increasingly noisy carnival was being established at the other end. It was cute to see a hog roast stand being set up, which felt as thematic this year as the real-life lemonade stand encountered on last year’s DASH route did at the time.
The scored puzzles, in the order in which they were encountered on the Experienced track in London, were as follows:
- In Weighing of the Wands, played in the same park, picture clues were resolved, using three different methods, to types of wood from which wands might be made. These were placed in different locations on a picture of a set of scales to make the torque/moment they exerted balance, which clued three extractions. Can’t remember what the link from the extractions to the answer was.
- Off to the real life King’s Cross station – or, more specifically, the plaza outside it – for an Interview with Rita Skeeter, a puzzle with two elements. One element was some very cute wordplay to generate alliterative phrases and order them in a list. The second element was an unusual and fairly tough grid logic puzzle which generated a list of numbers that clued the extraction from the list. Happily, it was possible to backsolve from the partially completed phrase to the logic puzzle.
At this point there was a cute logistics stumble in London. The instructions for getting to the next puzzle charmingly suggested that magic-users should enter Platform 9¾ by the usual route and go to the Lemonade and Stuff stand, a charming callback to last year, whereas muggles should make their way on foot to the actual next location. However, this was done using a colouring coincidence that inspired teams on the Experienced track to assume that they were in fact magic-users and should be starting to look around the real life Platform 9¾ attraction at the station for their next activity. A lot of teams managed to forget that they couldn’t, in fact, use magic in real life. This wasn’t a deliberate Game Control gag at teams’ expense, just a rare instance where some thematic chrome got in the way of practicality.
- Next was the “Quidditch Pitch” erected in another London park – good job that the weather stayed dry – where the London version of the pre-puzzle thematic activity invited one team member to climb on a broomstick and retrieve a (happily dormant) Golden Snitch. The Quidditch puzzle itself (a favourite!) was a delightful and reasonably gentle wordsearch variant with clues to the hidden words – apparently Brit-picked, for the trapper-keeper is not known here – and a sweet twist on the “unused letters” trope for the extraction.
- Granary Square was the next destination for Tea for Two, a picture puzzle in a bed of letters; identify the images, make the connections, extract the message, modify according to graphics encountered along the way and extract the answer.
This had the name of a brand not known in the UK as an answer, but this had been explicitly hinted at in the introduction at the start of the day.(Apparently not.) My team derped away half a dozen bonus points or so by managing to completely miss one of the seven pairs in the extraction and thus trying to look for a six-letter word – which, as a name, wouldn’t make sense.
- On to King’s Place (home of the Guardian and the Observer offices and more) for Potions and Sabotage, preceded by a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean-tasting activity. My poor wife ended up with a “vomit”-flavour bean, which makes the stereotypical “Alas! Earwax.” seem rather mild. Being aware of what “delights” might lie in store, and being a coward, I decided against either biting or swallowing but still got slightly more of a taste of artificial earthworm than I would have liked. The puzzle was much more sweet; cut out cardboard triangles, assemble them into tetrahedra linked by common wordplay traits, roll them about a grid according to their common rule, identify the remaining words in the grid, order them and extract. The extraction was one of the trickiest of the day and a hugely impressive spot by my teammate Jason. Satisfying and admirable design.
- The same location also saw House Elves Help, another wordplay puzzle. We were given a grid (which turned out to be two-sided; it took us a little too long to spot that, and other teams much longer still…) and square tiles with names on each edge. Making compound phrases aligned the grid of square tiles, common letters clued each tile with a single letter, the letters spiraled out to form a phrase, then – turning the tiles and grid over – the letters on the back of the ordered tiles formed anagrams, with the grid giving the extraction. We derped a few more points away by mirroring the order of the tiles when we flipped them so while the horizontal extractions worked fine, the vertical extractions applied to the wrong rows and made no sense. Good puzzle, though.
- Lastly to The Star of Kings, a rare pub not showing the FA Cup final or participating in a distributed rock festival. The first puzzle, Monsters, followed a fun monster-cartooning activity with a set of three parallel logic puzzles. These were Nurikabe variants, the twist being that the sizes of the cells were encoded in pictures and had to be deduced. The extraction here was a little strange; once we had the technique, it was definitely possible to backsolve at least one of the clue words without solving the Nurikabe in full, which was just as well for us.
- At the same location, the final main puzzle, Regarding the Cup, was a collection of mini-puzzles! After a largely code-free day (only a shift cipher in Tea for Two?) these mini-puzzles were often pretty direct applications of a familiar cipher. The variety and ingenuity were a great deal of fun, and mini-puzzles definitely have their time and place. At the same time, they were really just a palate-cleanser for…
- …the meta-puzzle, Regarding the Cup, Part II. This was a real work of craftsmanship. What looked like a bundle of flavourtext turned out to contain a working manual by which you could teach yourself the Goblin language Gobbledegook, in conjunction with the vocabulary list of a Gobbledegook-to-English translator embedded within Cluekeeper. (Bonus points for facilitating it on the web site as well – very player-friendly when Cluekeeper accepts input from only one player per team.)
From there, the metapuzzle’s story went a little meta itself by suggesting that entering answers into Cluekeeper performed magic itself; to reverse the transfiguration performed on the titular Triwizard Cup, you had to perform the counter-spells to the answers to the earlier puzzles that you’ve entered along the way, which you deduce either from the context of some of the mini-puzzles or from relevant parts of the flavourtext of the puzzles earlier in the day.
Perhaps the extent to which this puzzle was successful depends upon the extent to which you were prepared to engage with the flavourtext and the theme. There was a lot more working out what you had to do from the story running through the flavourtext, as opposed to from the puzzle itself which had been the case in previous years; I can see how this might be more love-hate than most metapuzzles of the past. Our Potter-friendly team lapped it up; this was the one puzzle where we got the second best performance in London!
A very, very full day; so much to admire and for which to be grateful, and so many to whom to be grateful.
Lastly, it’s always fun to look at team names from round the world and to see how much fun people had with the theme. One which made me giggle was “I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter Beer“, though it’s hard to imagine a team name that can ever be better for this event than “DASH I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth“. Gordon’s alive!