Terrier Parking

Terrier Parking is the first puzzle idea that I came up with for the hunt. You see I really love geography and map based puzzles, but I think the drawing letters on a map, as exemplified by Spoiler So Good They Named It Hull, is a horrible, inelegant way to do an extraction. More on that when we get to that puzzle. So, I was looking for an elegant way to extract an answer from a map based puzzle that was local to Boston/Cambridge. There are of course a number of ways to do that.

I found my answer while I was trying to find some lunch on the Boston University campus. I walked past a parking lot and noticed that it had a name, but it also was lettered, in this case ‘N’. I came up with an idea where I would take pictures around town that featured clocks, or had a readable watch in the foreground. Your goal would be to identify the location of the pictures. The pictures would be matched by the hour shown on the clock, and the vector from the first of the two pictures to the second would roughly match the direction of the hour hand on an analog clock at the given hour. The minute hand could encode some kind of hint using the first 26 minutes of the hour. Each vector between the two images, would happen to cross through exactly one BU parking lot.

This was my first idea. It was May, and I was excited, but, David, my editor was mostly confused. He did suggest that it’d be cool if there was a “canonical set of clocks in the area” we could use, but I certainly couldn’t find any. In July he taught me the first thing I needed to know about writing a puzzle:

I think we can do better. It doesn’t really have much meat to it yet – you look up the things and read off the answer.

I’m also worried that the parking lots are sort of randomly stuck in now. When you get the puzzle, it is a clock puzzle. You go ahead doing clock things, and eventually you get some lines. And then you’re supposed to notice that the lines all contain BU parking lots – I think that will either be underclued, or we’ll clue it in some inelegant way (flavor text or something). It would be better if we could have parking lots and/or BU be involved from the beginning

Other than that we were going to have high standards for our puzzles, the key takeaway was that a puzzle needs to be cohesive. If you start with clocks you should end with clocks, or at least a twist on clocks. I then had another idea. This idea wasn’t great but it was more cohesive in that it started with cars and ended with parking lots.

Instead of a clock/watch in each picture we can include a specific kind of car… Now they must identify the car and the location from the photos. Locations that are paired have the same car associated with them, this is how you pair the locations to form the lines. The read off order is provided by the model year of the car. The oldest model year is the first letter, then so on towards the future. If we’re lucky we can spell something like BUPARKINGLOT with our model names.

I cited three puzzles I’d worked on in past years, Panorama, Stand, Soooo Cute! that were similar to the ideas I’d presented. But, David didn’t like the idea, saying:

I think that the first part should be very interesting; enough to be a puzzle on its own, almost, since the second step is just an extraction. I think that there’s not enough substance if it’s just “identify pictures of cars and match identical pairs.”

From what I can gather from our wiki, Stand appears to be a pretty bland ISIS puzzle, and I can’t make heads or tails of how Panorama worked. I claim that Sooo Cute! was also pretty ISIS-ish. I think we can do better than all of those, if we can think of a really creative, non-ISIS first part *i.e. not “just identify everything and see which match”).

So I also learned the second thing I needed to know about writing puzzles. ISIS stands for Index Sort Index Sort, which, I’ll freely admit is an apt description of my ideas thus far. Now, Stand is a puzzle that I described to people many times when describing what Mystery Hunt is, and why it is fun. It provided me with the best story of my 2012 hunt experience, except for winning of course. It did that while being a straightforward ISIS puzzle, so that’s not a terrible thing, but as I learned, it’s not a great thing.

So with those ideas shot down, I began a month plus of sitting around trying to think of a way to do something with BU that would end up with points on a map so I could use the parking lots. I was also hoping to wait for our standards of what makes a good puzzle to drop a bit. On September 5th I posted the idea that actually made it into the hunt.

I’m not going to black out the spoilers here, because as the author of this puzzle, I’m going to recommend that you don’t bother to solve it. It takes a while do the data lookup, which is fine for Mystery Hunt, but you probably have better things to do with your time. Also, once the BU Spring 2013 Semester is over, the puzzle will be unsolvable.

The puzzle provides 8 class schedules for students at BU, one for each letter in the answer. Each schedule contains 4 courses, 2 red and 2 white. However, the schedule also includes all the labs and discussion sections for those courses as if you were actually taking them. The classes however, are not identified by their numbers, instead they are presented with:

  • A GPS Coordinate that looks like 42.348 420, -71.101 601. This you soon discover corresponds to the building in which the class occurs.
  • The name of the lecturer for that class
  • The room in which the class occurs.

This information, when combined with the times that you get from the fact that you’re given a schedule, vastly over defines a course at BU. All you really need to define a course is the lecturer and the time, as the lecturer can only be in one place at once.

The clues for the next step are all in the funky looking GPS coordinate. For starters there are red and white classes and the 42 and -71 are read and white. They are outlined so they can be read on both red and white classes. Then there is the space separating the decimal part of the coordinate into two 3 digit parts.

What you’re supposed to do is use the 2 red classes from a latitude and the 2 white classes to form a longitude. To do so, concatenate the 3 digit courses together with the appropriate colored whole number part. You can do this in 2 ways as the order of the two courses is not defined at all. The GPS coordinates of the buildings at BU will have similar higher order digits as the parking lots, so this will help you figure out the order. However, if you do it correctly you’ll get a point that is in a BU parking lot. This is confirmed as the correct pairing by the title of the puzzle. Then you read off the letters of the parking lots in the order of the schedules. See the solution for a fancy table that does all this work for you!

We tried a couple different versions of the puzzle. Only the last two versions included the lecturer. It turns out the BU website is much easier to search if you have the lecturer, and this reduced the data lookup time by half or more. Prior to their inclusion you pretty much had to write a website scraper to get the data you needed.

We also went back and forth a couple times on how much of the GPS Coordinate cluing to do. Our first successful test solver thought we made it too easy, but when we tried it again without that info, no one solved it, so in the end we used all the cluing we had come up with. Given the overall difficulty of the hunt I’m glad we went with as much cluing as possible, so as to not add to the length/difficulty problems too much.

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