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Follow one team as they race against thousands of other competitors to solve the complex puzzles of the first-ever Post Hunt in Washington, D.C. More About the 2008 Post Hunt Video by Anna Uhls/washingtonpost.com

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By Tom Shroder
Sunday, May 17, 2009

I rolled out of bed on May 18, 2008, and went straight to the computer. As the forecast popped up on the screen, a wave of nausea rolled through me. It read: "80 percent chance of severe thunderstorms with damaging hail."

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In just six hours, the Post Hunt would premier. We'd issued an open invitation to the entire community to gather downtown at noon to embark on a bizarre form of safari, in which groups of friends, family, work associates or, in some cases, strangers, roved the streets, racing to unravel a series of large, wacky and increasingly challenging puzzles built on a massive scale and woven into the landscape.

The problem is that until it is experienced, the appeal of the Hunt is difficult to imagine. It's like getting miniaturized and dropped into a giant game board. It's like being Nicolas Cage unearthing buried secrets in "National Treasure," without the threat of death or life imprisonment. It's an opportunity to turn the gorgeous core of monumental Washington into a playground for you and a few thousand new friends.

Too bad, I was thinking mid-morning, as black clouds rolled in over the almost empty expanse in front of the main stage. Too bad more people aren't going to discover the Hunt. Our band of brave volunteers was set to execute the Hunt come rain or hail the size of NFL linemen, but who would be there to see it?

A few small knots of people drifted listlessly into the empty lot. A crack of thunder underlined the certainty of doom.

At 11:25, my cellphone rang. "It's me," my wife said. "I'm on the Metro. The train is packed, and everyone on it is carrying the Hunt issue."

Even before I hung up, little rivulets of people began to stream in from all directions. Soon the rivulets were torrents, and the lot rapidly filled. On cue, the raindrops began to fall on the rising tide of people, which bristled with unfurling ponchos and popping umbrellas.

Eventually, about 5,000 people spent the next four hours playing in the rain, laughing and whispering urgently to one another, scratching their heads and jumping with excitement when the solutions burst into their brains. If you look at the videos, you can see the joy in the faces when the celestial lightning strikes.

There was some literal lightning, too, but at the end, as everyone gathered around the stage to hear the mysteries explained, cheer the winners and good-naturedly (I think) boo the creators, the clouds parted, revealing that behind the storm, it had been a beautiful day all along. And that's exactly what I'm forecasting for Sunday. See you at the Hunt.

Tom Shroder can be reached at shrodert@washpost.com.


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