My fellow Fellow, Maggie, was invited to join a team for the sixth annual Washington Post Hunt, and she invited me along. I was impressed that adding a chemist and a chemical engineer to two neuroscientists represented diversifying the team, but I was in for the adventure. We were trying to sort out our respective strengths for the team: Maggie is an expert on pandemics, and I was going to be the go-to person for water and drought issues. We were quite lacking in pop culture expertise, but since the Hunt focused on problem solving rather than trivia, we were OK.
The information for the hunt was included in the pull-out magazine of the Washington Post, and we were told to bring the entire magazine since anything was fair game. In advance, we were to determine the answers to five questions. At noon, we would be given five numbers to go with the letters to the answers and we would use those coordinates on the map in the magazine to find the clue locations. On the shuttle bus to the event, the four of us compared notes about our answers to the first five questions, and we realized that we were all extremely prone to overanalyze questions. I was not the only person to Google an answer that looked quite obvious! These questions were intended to be very easy so that everyone would end up in the right places.
One of the instructions emphasized in the Post Hunt magazine was that the answer to every puzzle was a number. That number would correspond to one of the numbers on a list of clues that was also in the magazine. At 3:00, we would gather to receive a final clue which would point us toward the ultimate answer. So here were our adventures with the five clues:
Clue #1. We stood in line to enter a tent by the sign that said, “EXIT.” Inside was an actor delivering lines such as, “Alamo the Remember!” and “Country your for do can you what not ask.” He finished with, “You thank. You thank.” On the way out, we received a program and admonishments to read the program carefully. On the back cover was the credit, Owty T. Newt. When read backwards, as all the information had alluded to, the answer was “Twenty two.” Easy Peasy, right?
Clue #2. Back at the main stage we were treated to a Pirate Dating Game. The name of the first Pirate was “Meyer,” the name of the second Pirate was, “Boney Ed,” and the name of the third pirate was “X, ” all provided on large tablets so we could see the names written out. Also at this location, the Hunt staff were handing out eye patches and eye patch instructions, with each instruction corresponding to a letter. So, the bachelorette asked a question. “If I were a cat and you were a dog, what would we do for our first date?” Meyer said, “Arr.” Boney Ed said, “Arrrr!” X said, “AARRR!” When asked to choose, the bachelorette said that she didn’t want to choose any of them. She walked beyond the bachelors to a big tablet of paper and announced that she was choosing #4, and wrote the number on the paper.
Huh? Where does the eye patch come in? While we were puzzling, the skit repeated, and this time, the bachelorette asked, “If I were a high tech website, how would you get around my firewall?” Everything else was the same, except perhaps that the “Arr” responses involved more leers and suggestive gestures as the pirates started padding their parts. So one of my teammates figured out that “Arr” referred to “R” on our eyepatch instruction list. R said, “Important: The purpose of this patch is concealment. Leave no eye uncovered!” At the same time, I had lined up the names: MEYERBONEYEDX4. I covered up the “eye”s and came out with: Mr. Bond X 4, so 007 x 4 = 28. The clues were designed to have an “ah ha!” character so you’d know them when you got them.
Clue #3. At the third stop, one of my favorites, a young lass dressed in yellow with huge sunglasses came out and sat in a chair. Behind her a Hunt staffer held a sign saying, “What’s missing?” A cast of characters proceeded to walk down the sidewalk, circle around the girl in yellow, and walk back. Maggie got the first one, and I managed to figure out the rest:
A man with a white cardboard backing with numbers up to 100, 101, 102, etc. He was dressed in red, and there was a large red beach ball in front of him. He was obviously a thermometer, but… Maggie looked at me and mouthed, “Mercury.”
A woman wrapped all in white with a white face. Unfortunately, she had no arms. I realized she was the Venus de Milo statue, so she was “Venus.”
A buff man with a leather skirt, Roman helmet, and a sword. “Mars.”
A man wearing a yarmulke and carrying a golf club would walk a short distance, take a small stroke and complain, “Oy Vay!” I groaned when I figured out he was a Jew Putter “Jupiter.”
A very skilled woman navigated the distance hula-hooping all the way. “Saturn.”
A woman who carried on her back a large reproduction of a pair of buttocks. “Uranus.”
A man wearing flippers, carrying a trident, and wearing sunglasses. “Neptune.”
We briefly got side-tracked because some of the characters but not all were wearing sunglasses, but we finally decided that Earth was missing. There was an Earth on our map with the number 24, so we eventually made our way to that spot. We knew we were in the right place because there were several Hunt staffers there near a sign that said, “+192.” We added them together, got 216, and since that was on the clue list, we were good.
Clue #4. We arrived that this location, and from a distance, we could see a crash test dummy being punished. One of my teammates said, “Stocks.” When the configuration was hauled up in the air, several of us predicted that we were looking at a “stock crash” and indeed the number 1929 was on our list. We watched the poor dummy plummet to the ground, said, “Yep, got this,” and jumped up to go on our way.
Clue #5. We struggled being very close to this one for a while. We arrived at a site behind the White House, and each of us was given a wrapped candy. I looked at it and said, “It’s a square.” So we started scanning the clue list, but we found three perfect squares. One of my teammates took the plunge, sampled the candy, and when asked what flavor it was, she said, “Root beer.” OK, so “Square root beer.” Now what? We were at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, but 40 was not one of the options.
Eventually, one of my brilliant teammates realized that the spot on our map was noted by a candy bar. In our Post Hunt Magazines, there was a fake ad for a restaurant called, “Candy Bar.” It listed numbers for red wines, white wines, and 289 beers. The square root of 289 beers is 17. Triumph!
We finished this segment nearly an hour early, so we were able to get some refreshments before the 3:00 clue. At 3:00, on the main stage, the announcement was made, “The clue is about to start.” After a short time, the announcement was made, “The clue is finished.” Huh?
I’ll cut to the chase at this point. The endgame is supposed to involve dashing around following instructions to be the first team to end at a certain point. Unfortunately, the Hunt masters outdid themselves and made the endgame so difficult that even with hints, almost no one even made itr to the first step. One man actually did finish the whole hunt without hints, and I don’t think anyone begrudged him his honor of winning.
At 4:00, we all gathered back at the Main Stage to go over the clues and the answers. The MCs were very good at working the crowd, and as they were explaining each clue, they would pause and allow the audience to fill in the blanks. There were some minor disputes. In the planet clue, the MC asked, “What was missing?” and the audience’s responses were split between “Earth” and “Pluto.” The MC knew that the Pluto fans were just being difficult and he pointed out that Pluto hadn’t been a planet for years. The first MC cheerfully placed all the blame for the overly challenging endgame on the second MC, who came out to explain how everything was supposed to work out. There was some good natured booing from the audience, but everyone remained in good spirits. I was happy that we had worked our way through the first five clues successfully, and I didn’t feel too badly that we hadn’t sorted out the endgame.
I don’t know exactly how many people were present for the Hunt, but I read the next day that the crowd exceeded the 2012 crowd, which numbered over 12,000. Maybe next year, we’ll do team T-shirts.