10,000 Brains Teased in Post Hunt

By Christina Antoniades
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, May 18, 2009

You had to be clever. And maybe a little devious. And to really compete in yesterday's second annual Washington Post Hunt -- a quirky urban brainteaser played out on the streets of downtown Washington -- it helped if you'd invested in a little preparation.

"It really helped to have a lot of brains," said David Shahoulian, who was on the six-person puzzle-savvy team that won the event -- and $2,000. "We talked a lot." Shahoulian, who lives in Dupont Circle.

Without witnessing it, just understanding exactly what the Post Hunt is can take some brainpower. In a nutshell: Competing teams received an opening clue at noon yesterday at Freedom Plaza, then fanned out over several dozen blocks to solve five real-life puzzles -- from a mock congressional speech to fake monuments. Each puzzle had a numerical answer; the winning team completed the event in a little more than three hours.

As an estimated 10,000 puzzlers hit the streets, there were a few hairy moments. The clue that involved faux monuments drew the attention of a Secret Service agent before the hunt began, said Washington Post Magazine Editor Tom Shroder, who hosted the hunt with his co-creators of the event, Dave Barry and Gene Weingarten. "We had to explain why we were aiming a 12-foot cannon at the White House," Shroder said.

Hard-core hunters had pored over instructions in The Washington Post Magazine the moment it was posted online Friday and discussed clues within the protective circle of a team huddle. True devotees arrived not just with the official copy of the Post Hunt map, but also with a laminated copy -- the better to read should it rain, as was the case last year.

The hunt, which grew out of a similar event launched by the Miami Herald in 1984, attracted a host of Miami hunt veterans. "We take this seriously," said Abby Lynn Ross, a Key Biscayne native who competed in the Miami hunt for 18 years with her husband and now-adult sons. This year they sported "Forget It. We Will Win" T-shirts.

Actually, Ross has never won, and didn't seriously expect to. "We stop for lunch," she said. But nearly two decades of decoding has convinced her it's not sheer smarts that wins the game. "The most important thing is just to think outside the box."

That was certainly a skill displayed not only by Shahoulian but also his girlfriend, Emma Filstrup, and their fellow winners Serena Hoy, Jim Reilly, Jenny Hunter and Tom Jawetz.

Even for those who didn't aspire to win, a little brain-stretching proved fun. "It's awesome," said Eli Samuelson, 11, who with his parents hit the hunt on a whim. By midafternoon, Team Eli had solved only one puzzle, but they were all grins. "There's a lot of creativity," said Eli's mom, Lori Merrill.

Eli's take on a winning strategy? "You have to think simply," he said. "And complicated."


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