WARNING: Long post. Lots of DASH7 spoilers. Approach with caution.
I’m now six reviews behind from an escaping perspective (which is as far as I’ve been since this site started) but they’ll have to wait to give me chance to pass timely comment on this weekend’s (main) activity. I don’t really intend for the below to be a review as such, more just an explanation of what happened and what we thought of it. Happy to answer any questions in the comments.
I’ve been aware of DASH for a number of years now, after initially being introduced to it by some puzzle-loving American friends. ExitGames’ previews and reviews of this and last year’s events give a good indication of what it’s all about. Since it came to the UK I’ve made exploratory enquiries about participating without getting very far. But this year, after encouraging more interest via escape games, the planets finally aligned and I boarded a train for the capital.
A team of three of us signed up for the novice track, along with eight other teams. I’ve previously done quite a few online puzzlehunts but nothing in real life. The others had done nothing like this before. So ‘novice’ was a pretty good description of us. We installed ClueKeeper on our phones, rammed a backpack full of stationery and other essentials, and set off to a London park.
We arrived what we thought would be ‘quite early’ but found a lot of people already assembled. As we neared 10:00 the numbers had swelled to about 100. While we waited for the start we heard much discussion of Puzzled Pint and other events, “by average solve time they must be one of the favourites” was one of my favourite quotes. The rest of the team were a little intimidated. I was just happy to be there and enjoying the weather (I can only assume that every such event is so lucky).
After a slight delay waiting for a team that never showed up (criminal!) we received a very escape-esque briefing, just with a little more emphasis on not breaking yourself rather than the room contents. The theme, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, would be, well, he who shall not be named(‘s enemy). Scoring for the event would be based on your performance on each puzzle against a given ‘par time’. We then received the first “unscored” puzzle. We didn’t really know what that meant but didn’t hang around to think about it. In hindsight I realised that it’s just a fun way of staggering the start times (for the next puzzle) while also getting people into the mood of the theme.
For ‘Entering Your Name into the Cup’ we were given four copies of the same page of a spell book. We had to swap our duplicate pages with other teams until we had all the unique pages. The spells were numbered but there were two twos and no four! Perhaps the numbers weren’t about order after all, hmm. In what would become a recurring theme for the day we pretty quickly worked out all the relevant parts of the puzzle, but struggled to put those parts together. As the puzzle was unscored there was no par time, but our 25:01 seemed slower than most.
The next puzzle was the ‘Weighing of the Wands’. A clue sheet explained all the different types of wand-wood that were available. And the instructions told us how we might identify them and work out their different weights. This required both word play and maths and was a lot of fun. Unfortunately we gaffed on one of the themes meaning one of the words in our answer was wrong. We proceeded to waste about 10 minutes trying different variations of that incorrection before the GM pointed out our error, leaving us eight minutes over par (38:14).
One of the very welcome features that you might not realise in advance is that you’re only timed when working on puzzles. You can take as long as you like travelling between puzzles, so we took the opportunity to make a caffeine stop on the way to King’s Cross Station, the site of our next puzzle.
When we finally arrived most teams were well underway with ‘Interview with Rita Skeeter’. This puzzle had three parts; first very clever wordplay, then logic, and then a combination of the two. We started by all focussing on the wordplay before realising that we could do the logic section in parallel. We finished the words just in time to find disaster on the logic; we’d gone wrong, and we couldn’t undo our pen marks. Massive lesson learnt: bring pencils and erasers along with everything else. The next few minutes were spent redrawing the grid on plain paper before getting back to the solving. We worked through it successfully this time, and quickly combined it with our words from earlier to get the final answer. But our error had cost us a potentially under par score (40), coming in at 44:30.
While we were solving the GM had called by to remind us that we were ‘muggles’. At the time we just nodded and smiled, but when checking the instructions (which appear on the ClueKeeper app after submitting a correct answer) I realised why it was important. ‘Magic users’ could get to the next puzzle via the ‘real’ Platform 9 ¾ in the station. Muggles should walk around to the quidditch pitch at St. Pancras Gardens. We would later discover that many teams had (hilariously) felt they were magic users so headed into the station. We were happy to walk.
On arrival we were given our first task of the day. In the absence of a broomstick licence we had to prove that we could handle one by hunting down the snitch. In other words, put this broomstick between your legs and run over there and back. It was a little silly, but like so many things, we accepted it without question. On approval we were given the ‘Quidditch’ puzzle, aka ‘beaters and keepers’. This was a word search but with crossword-esque clues rather than a simple list. Very quickly we realised every term we were looking for contained ‘beat’ or ‘keep’. Shortly after that we realised that the beat or keep bit had been removed from the grid. Shortly after that we realised that that section of the word was represented by a beater or keeper symbol. When all words had been found you discovered the answer. That combination of discovering the method bit by bit accompanied by the beautiful surroundings probably made this my favourite puzzle of the day. But perhaps we were enjoying ourselves a bit too much as we slipped nine minutes over par (44:07).
Next we were off to Granary Square. For many teams this was their lunch location. We decided to make do with a snack. In doing so we were the only team to discover ExitGames’ bonus hunt. The odds were quite staggeringly against it. Go us!
Buoyed by this we dove straight into the next problem, ‘Tea for Two’. We worked out the first bit and the ‘twist’ quite quickly but what to do in between evaded us. Even after receiving all the hints (that are delivered automatically, intermittently, while you’re working) we still weren’t sure what we were looking at. Finally we fumbled and forced our way through, almost 12 minutes over par (36:57). I think partly we have ourselves to blame for again working in ink when the chance to start over would have been good. But for us there was a bit of anti-logic in the solution, so unsurprisingly this was our least favourite puzzle of the day. Surprisingly nobody else seemed to struggle with it at all, so maybe it was just us.
Our next stop was the King’s Place Gallery. Here we were met with our second challenge; the taste bud test. I quickly identified my jelly bean as bubblegum. Hayley, perhaps wishfully, suggested baked beans for hers, which turned out to be vomit-flavoured. Katie was even more confused trying to match the taste of dirt. Afterwards you got to keep the rest of the packet. I don’t think we did.
The next puzzle was called ‘Potions and Sabotage’. This is why we’d been asked to bring scissors and sellotape. The method involved cutting out lots of triangles, splitting them into groups, forming those groups into pyramids (nee tetrahedrons), rolling those pyramids across a grid to eliminate possibilities, applying the grouping rules to the leftover words, and then deriving the answer. Simples. This was the most impressive construction of the contest, from both the question setters and us! We passed in a morale-boosting four minutes over par (39:38).
We giddily made our way upstairs, impressed that we were moving on while so many others were still there. Then we found that the next puzzle was in the same place. D’oh! So on to ‘House Elves Help’. This was a two-sided grid (which we noticed instantly; apparently a lot of teams didn’t) with a set of tiles to place on it through word association. After some debate how to associate the words we found our way and managed to cover the grid. We then covered the grid with paper and flipped it over to see what lay on the other side. Crucially we missed the message that had been revealed by the tiles on their original side, so we had to flip the grid again. After reading the message we then needed a third flip but, ruefully, this time we decided to turn over the individual tiles rather than the whole grid. This meant our columns were in the wrong order, so wasted at least 10 minutes looking for an answer that wasn’t there. After calling in GM help we fixed it but finished 12 minutes over time (47:02).
Our final stop was The Star of Kings pub just up the road where we met our third challenge. This was to capture a monster! Luckily we had to capture its likeness with paper and coloured pens rather than a net or cage. It was swiftly dispatched. The next puzzle was the appropriately titled ‘Monsters’ but we didn’t start that before a well-needed trip to the bar. Monsters was a logic puzzle, drawing out and navigating a maze based on a set of rules. We still didn’t have a pencil, so we erred on the side of caution, making sure every step was correct before taking it. Despite the cautious approach our combined efforts delivered one of our best performances of the day, just 94 seconds over par (41:34).
A further stop at the bar preceded the final challenge, ‘Regarding the Cup’. In a complete change to the earlier obstacles, this was 60 minutes to complete a series (15 I think) of simpler posers whose answers could be passed through a ‘matrix’ to provide part of the ultimate answer. We set about it as quickly as we could, randomly picking up any puzzle that took our fancy. We’d already solved three or four by the time the first clue came in, “you don’t have to solve every puzzle before using the matrix” which was sage advice. By the time we’d solved a few more we could tell where _ _ I W _ Z _ _ D C _ A M _ I _ _ _ was going and sent in our answer 15 minutes *under* par.
We collected our certificate, petted our duck, and there was much rejoicing!
Our total time, start to finish, was just under 7.5 hours. But it didn’t feel anything like that. Our Solve time was 5:37:29, 12:28 over par. We scored 315 points, placing us 3rd in London (out of nine) and 53rd internationally (out of 148). ‘Chuffed’ was perhaps the understatement of the day. And with a pencil and a few fewer mistakes it could have been even better.
I’ve already written a lot more than I expected to, so I’ll keep the summary brief. Puzzles = brilliant. Organisation = brilliant. Weather = brilliant. Whole experience = brilliant. Sign me up for next year!