As I was putting the finishing touches to part 2 of my Red Bull Mind Gamers Recap yesterday I was quite content that most of my (carefully-considered, composed) ranting was over. This chapter was intended to be a quick overview of how we struggled, or not, with the other puzzles and why. But information has come to light in the last 24 hours which has changed what I will write, and as such maybe make it seem more of a complaint than a story. I want to be clear that I’m not looking for an apology, nor vindication for our performance. It’s intended for those genuinely interested, hopefully including the organisers, to know what it felt like to play and how it feels now. Hopefully this will lead to better experiences for everyone, in any context, in the future (and I’m finding the writing quite therapeutic).
We left off with me thoroughly perplexed by what had just happened on puzzle #1 (see part 1 for the method). We had fumbled our way through and now found ourselves facing a long corridor. We sprinted down the corridor and around the bend. We were now facing another corridor which we set about apace. Part way down we noticed there were lazers crossing the path and moving. They weren’t very bright and there had been no notice of entering a maze/secure area (I think this may have been changed for day 2) so we almost ignored them completely. But we decided it was better to avoid them, where possible, whilst continuing through. But we certainly didn’t slow much. I wonder if our time through this section may have actually benefited from failing to recognise the lazers, so racing through rather than slowly and carefully trying to avoid them. It was certainly one of the fastest times according to the results (though I have some doubts about their accuracy).
Round another bend we got our first view of the now infamous Vortex Tunnel. Our performance here was comical yet somehow still fast. Ken read the key instruction, “find the symbol that matches yours” and dashed into and through the tunnel ready to enter his answer. I didn’t read the instruction (because they were videos that cycled through multiple pages) but followed blindly to the other end of the tunnel. Sera and Sharan then asked if we knew what we were doing, which I didn’t and Ken suddenly became unsure of, so crossed the tunnel again to watch the video. It was at this point I found that the rotation of the tunnel was making me feel very weird indeed. We learned what we needed to do, quickly found our symbols and crossed to the far side (with me staring at the floor to minimise the dizziness). We weren’t sure if the interface was working correctly, because strangely the enter key was a big X, but our symbols were accepted and the hidden door opened. Somehow, despite our toing and froing, we were the quickest team through this section on day 1.
Next it was probably my favourite challenge, Firewall. At first glance it appeared to be a lazer maze, and if you watch some of the highlight videos you will see people approaching it as such. Luckily we quickly assessed that there was no way this could be navigated by anyone other than an Olympic gymnast, so that couldn’t be right. The keyword in the instructions (thank you Puzzled Pint) was “break through the firewall” suggesting we had to break the lazers rather than avoid them. Unfortunately I believe that subtlety of language was lost on many ESL players, presumably along with what a firewall was. After some shuffling and squirming we managed to break all the red lines. At this point green lines appeared that we guessed we had to let pass while still breaking the red ones. Luckily we were correct and after a small adjustment we were clear.
I’d like to refer you to my description from part 1: “You had to insert all eight pegs while turning all the lights on. Turning all the lights on with seven pegs was very straightforward, but the eighth would then turn two of the lights off. There was obviously some trick to it but after spending a lot of time we decided to bypass it.”
Ken is usually our go to guy on all things mathematical. After some experimentation he became convinced this puzzle wasn’t possible as (just pretend I’m wording this correctly) the parity of the puzzle suggested it could only be resolved with an odd number of pegs, and eight ain’t odd. Knowing as much about parity as I do about complementary colours, I assumed a mistake or incorrect assumption had been made and didn’t give it much thought. Shame on me for doubting Ken. After a number of people reported the same experience Red Bull have investigated. They discovered that jiggling a peg in a hole could cause the switch to fire without the peg being removed. This would change the parity of the puzzle to require an odd number of pegs rather than even. In other words, it now becomes impossible! Their view is that this didn’t materially affect the results, but depending on your definition of materially this can’t be true. My recollection is that we got to a state of all lights being on with seven pegs inserted pretty quickly. We then fumbled around for a few more minutes before bypassing the puzzle. At best that’s a 6+ minute swing in our time. The intangible effect is the increase in frustration and feeling of uselessness that we’ve encountered another puzzle that we can’t solve and we don’t know why, which undoubtedly changes mind set going forward.
Our heads now close to falling off we go through the open door and are confronted with two more doors. I don’t recall any instructions in this stage at all but apparently there were some that said something like “your team must split up and won’t be able to hear each other”. Now, how do you interpret that? Without trying to be flippant, “won’t be able to hear each other” sounds more like a bet than an instruction to me. After we entered the room and found our qubits (another colour puzzle, great!) it became patently obvious that you could hear each other with only a marginal increase in volume. Apparently what those instructions meant is “you’re not allowed to communicate verbally/audibly” forcing you to visually communicate through the wormhole/tunnel. In blissful ignorance of this we proceeded to shout our way through, incurring a time penalty on every occasion. Also apparently there was an audio signal that sounded every time we were penalised. But guess what? You can’t hear distant audio signals when you’re shouting. Our five minutes of attempted solving, plus five minutes for giving up and moving on, deducted something in the region of 20 minutes from our time.
If you think that’s the end of our frustration I’ve got bad/good news for you. This post is getting pretty long, but if you scroll back up to the top you’ll see the (fictional) symbol for entanglement. This is supposed to represent that two qubits when connected through a wormhole would look different on either side (because of ‘science’). This symbol was in our research paper to explain how entanglement works, and also in the room to illustrate, for the first time, that this is where we needed to use this information. Using the symbol as a reference we reasoned that a red, purple and blue qubit on our side would become red, yellow and orange on the opposite. From there we were able to form six pairs and put them on the corresponding slots. It was at this point that nothing happened, so having spent over five minutes getting this far we decided to bypass it.
Again referring to my write up in part 1, I said I was confused about how this puzzle was intended to work. The other players I spoke to afterwards had various theories about making the qubits a single colour, forming colour wheels, applying entanglement to the slot numbers and other such speculation. We’ve now learned that the correct method for this puzzle is exactly what we were doing. When you had the six pairs correctly matched up, regardless of where you placed them, the door would open. So why then did it not work for us? Any guesses?
That’s right. Because this diagram isn’t how entanglement works; it’s simply intended to represent the idea of entanglement. In correctly applying entanglement theory the red and green on one side would be the opposite way round. Of course! So not only did we need to learn the theory from the research paper (external knowledge), we had to learn it well enough to correct the diagram that was given to explain it. I am still lost for words on this. This is akin to the instructions saying “press the red button” and the solution is to press the green one. “I can see where this could act as a red herring” is perhaps the understatement of the century.
Despite all that we limped into the last room and attempted to bend some realities. We could complain that some of the joints that weren’t supposed to come apart did (you can see in later photos they’ve been wrapped in gaffer tape) but frankly it was lack of time and exasperation that stopped us more than anything physical.
After writing all this I’m somewhat impressed we got as far as we did and/or are of sane mind. It’s at least given me some fresh perspective for discussions of worst/most frustrating puzzles in the future. Three parts down, but at least two more to come to talk about the Finals night and overall conclusions. Stay tuned.