Gene Weingarten, Humor Columnist and Tom Shroder, Post Magazine Editor
Monday, May 19, 2008 12:00 PM
Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.
This is Gene. Tom and I will be here today to answer your questions about yesterday's first annual Washington Post Hunt. We'll also field complaints, dodge thrown bricks, loogies, etc. It was the first time that Tom, I and Dave Barry tried this in Washington; we expected it to go well until roughly two days before the event, when the weather forecasts began to sour, involving words like "driving rain," "lightning," and finally, "the possibility of hail." Then, news broke that Teddy Kennedy was being hospitalized for a seizure and might die. On that same day, Hunt Day, readers would awake to my column, written weeks in advance, about nutty calls to newspapers, headlined "Teddy Kennedy Stole My Panties."
All bad signs. But Teddy pulled through! And as you know if you are one of the 4 to 5,000 of you who made it out to the Penn Quarter yesterday, truly bad weather threatened but never materialized. (Unlike crowd estimates by the Park Police, which always used to count people and then, seemingly, divide by four) was based on the number of fortune cookies and Chinese-character pamphlets handed out.
I'm going to answer some questions here that were put to Tom, Dave and me by participants in The Hunt. The first is how did we three nincompoops manage to handle the daunting logistics of this? The answer is, of course, that we didn't. We three, working together in perfect harmony, could not manage to handle the daunting logistics of preparing a dinner. The Hunt went off essentially flawlessly because of the four most competent people on Earth: Julie Pearlstein, Carla Taylor, Nicole Marshall, and Julie Gunderson, all of The Washington Post.
Another question was how long this took us to design the whole thing. It was about four months. Some things had to be done a long time in advance, among them securing the use of the secret phone number 202-518-2008. (More on this below.) Also, Sunday comics sections are pre-printed and most cartoonists work many weeks in advance of their deadlines. So Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Berkeley Breathed (Opus) and Jef Mallett (Frazz) had to hide numbers in their strips as early as March. Getting custom-made fortune cookies took six weeks. Also, we had to ask Merle Reagle, the genius creator of the Post Crossword, to construct his puzzle for THE WEEK BEFORE the Hunt week in such a way that certain words were in certain places. (More on this later, too.)
HERE is the Puzzle-by-Puzzle explanation of the answers to the main part of the Hunt.
HERE are some pictures uploaded by hunters, and HERE is a small Post feature video following one team.
At some point today on the Post Web site there will be a video explaining the diabolical endgame, but at the moment I am writing this, it's not up yet. So I'm going to outline here, in complete detail, the last part of The Hunt that fewer than one in a hundred teams figured out:
Onstage at three o'clock, we assembled the Final Clue, which was nothing more or less than large wooden sculpture of a pair of crossed swords. That was it. Then we left the stage.
Smart people combined "crossed swords" with the first clue they had picked up from the five puzzles. The first clue read: "(All you need to do is remove eds from the middle, and the SOLUTION is right in front of you.)" The smart people figured out that removing eds from "crossed swords" leaves you with "crosswords." The even smarter people realized that we were not directing you to this week's puzzle, but to the SOLUTION to the previous week's puzzle: a little grid of words. The four remaining clues you already had then told you, in a coded way, to look for four specific words in that Solutions grid.
The four words, in order, were FORMER, NAME, CAPS, HOME. This was our somewhat feeble attempt to give an edge to local people, and create at least a brief informational barrier for the many teams from Miami that had their own experiential advantage coming in. (We were only partially successful. The second-place team were the Millareses, a big ol' brilliant extended Cuban-American family from Miami.)
Anyway: The former name of the Washington Capitols' arena was the MCI Center.
What help can "MCI" give you? Well, it's a Roman numeral. As a Roman numeral, it becomes 1,101.
And the really, really clever noticed there was a building address on the map of 1101 K Street.
At this point, all but about 10 teams were out of contention. (We had spies at various critical places.)
In front of 1101 K Street was a sign. It had gone up just minutes before. It said, "For Opportunities in the District, Call TODAY. And a phone number was given.
If you called the number, you heard a recording. Tom told you: "No, we said call TODAY."
No matter how many times you called that number, that's the message you got.
What you had to figure out that by "call today" we meant call today's date, in the district, namely: 202-518-2008. If you called that number, you got Tom again. A recording. And he told you to write your name on a slip of paper, along with your cell phone number and the Roman Numerals that got you to that site (that would be "MCI") and bring it to the man in a Red Sox cap standing at the intersection of Maple and Elm.
No, the Hunt was not over yet.
There IS no intersection of Maple and Elm in Washington. But there was on the "Solution to Last Week's Puzzle" grid on the crossword page. The answers "Elm" and "Maple" intersected in the lower left, just as we'd asked Merle Reagle to do. If you superimposed that grid on our map, you saw that we pinpointed the spot for you, with a little L, which actually was the letter of intersection in the crossword puzzle. If you ran there and found the man in the Red Sox Cap first, you won The Hunt. This year, those people were Jack Reda, Todd Etter, Chris Guthrie, and David Forrest.
One little last note: The man in the Red Sox cap was James Brady, the overall head of washingtonpost.com. The woman standing next to him, taking names, recording the order they arrived, and communicating to me when we had winners, was my wife, The Rib.
Okay, let's go.
Grrrr: I maintain that the people who actually solved it are freaks of nature.
Gene Weingarten: Understood. Completely understood.
Hey, Tom and Dave and I are quite well aware that WE could not solve our Hunt, if we didn't have inside info. We're not kidding about that.
Tom Shroder: We are totally in awe. But we also have learned from experience what people are capable of, so we are constantly reminding ourselves during the design phase that there are superbrains out there who can pick our feeble attempts at subterfuge apart with ease.
Rockville, Md.: Our team had a fantastic time. We almost bailed out at 10 a.m. because of the weather forecast, but fortunately, less reasonable heads prevailed, and we went downtown anyway. Three to 3:30 was such an adrenaline rush. We figured out the final answer, but not quick enough: we were jogging from Verizon Center towards the 1101 building when we heard Dave announcing the results from the stage. I think the real genius on your part was making the final puzzle just that perfect difficulty level, so that contestants can almost-but-not-quite get it (or get it, but not in time), so you leave feeling like you can get it next year. Our team felt like we gained valuable experience, which I'm sure will have absolutely no bearing on solving next year's Post Hunt.
Gene Weingarten: The timing of the finalists was interesting. The first six teams to get to the Man in the Red Sox hat clustered within seven minutes. Then there was a loooong delay. So long that the Red Sox man left, before the next wave arrived.
This is about perfect, in terms of our hopes for how the endgame will play out.
Tom Shroder: Experience is a HUGE factor in doing the Hunt. That's why we were so worried it would be a South Florida sweep, and why we put practice puzzles in the magazine and the wonderful Virtual Hunt that Amanda McGrath and Amy Kovac created online. Still, there's no substitute for actually doing a Hunt live. So we were thrilled that Nova and DC kicked SoFla butt. Next year should be awesome.
Miami "tropichunt.com", Fla.: Tom, Gene and Dave:
Thank you for a great Hunt! It appeared to be a huge success, and the Hunt first-timers definitely outclassed the veterans. I must say that the only real bad part of the day was me not winning, which I'm sure you'll start a Federal investigation about.
Can you tell us, puzzle by puzzle, who created which one, so that the public will know how to appropriately direct their hate email?
Thanks again, and I can't wait for the Herald Hunt in October!
Gene Weingarten: You know how we tell you, truthfully, that teams do better solving The Hunt than individuals do? It's the same with constructing The Hunt. Virtually every single puzzle, and every element of the Endgame is the result of layered participation by the three of us. Puzzles get refined constantly, as we are neurotically worrying over whether it is too hard or too easy, fair or unfair.
So I can tell you who originated ideas, more than who "did" the puzzles.
The "Second Glance" puzzle, involving the three VVVs etched in stone, was Tom's idea, as was, I think, the President's Race.
I came up with The Arch Puzzle. Dave's job vis a vis this puzzle was to keep worrying that it was too hard, warning us no one would get it, that it would be the bottleneck to the whole Hunt, and that I am idiot. After the Hunt he finally admitted he was wrong, but only after his second beer.
By the way, that great faux Chinese calligraphy on the Arch handouts were don by Eric Shansby, the artist for my column.
Dave thought of the Stand-up comics linked to the cartoonists in the comics. Dave also completely wrote the opening questions in the magaine, which I thought were brilliant.
The fortune cookie puzzle was probably simultaneously suggested by all of us, because it echoed a puzzle we did more than 20 years ago, involving candy canes that looked peppermint but tasted orange.
Tom thought of linking the endgame to the crossword puzzle, I refined it to being in Last Week's Solution.
I thought of MCI referring to the number 1101, and of "call today" reffering to today's date. I believe Dave thought of the diabolical notion of "Maple and Elm."
I'm actually not sure of some of these, now. They really were all group efforts.
Tom Shroder: Gene is pretty darn close, though the truth is, on some of these things WE never really know who thought of what. During the worst moments of Hunt insanity, our minds undergo a kind of Vulcan mind-meld. (Also, for weeks, whenever the phone rang, my family moaned in unison, "Not Gene again!")
But let me focus on one piece of puzzle development that I believe was absolutely critical. For weeks, we were very happy with ourselves for deciding to hide the critical message "former name caps home" and "elm/maple" in the crossword puzzle -- which Merl Reagle agreed to construct to our specifications. And then, I decided to race Gene in doing another Reagle crossword. I took an hour and a half, but only because I resorted to Googling three times. Even Mr x-word whiz Gene took about 55 minutes. I suddenly realized: It's going to be an hour before anyone can even BEGIN to solve the endgame! They have to solve the entire crossword puzzle first. Gene then went into his cave and considered this. Hours later, I got a call: "Last week!" he said. I'm like, "Last week WHAT?" But he'd hit it: all the solutions were already printed, on the X-word page, to LAST WEEK's puzzle. So if we could direct people there, they could begin to solve the endgame instantly. And for at least half a dozen teams it worked beautifully. We had a winner in about 35 minutes -- which to my mind is the ideal amount of time.
Doe a De, ER:"mature hooved male ruminant" + presidents + teddy roosevelt=Bull Moose. Right? Am I crazy? Was that a trap you intended, or did my team just totally overthink that one?
One of us read an entire article in the magazine about the crazy man that lived in Meridian Hill park, all because it mentioned 1912, the year that Roosevelt ran as the Bull Moose candidate. At least we learned something. Thanks for a great day!
Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha. That is CLASSIC overthinking.
In devising these puzzles, we try to use Occam's Razor.
McLean, Va.: It seems to us that you didn't really have to listen to the 3 p.m. clue to figure out the final solution (one could have started focusing in on the crossword puzzle before 3 p.m. and the 3 p.m. clue didn't give you any additional information other than to look at the crossword puzzle). Was this intentional and do you know how many of the winners had figured out "MCI" before the final clue was announced at 3:00 p.m.?
Gene Weingarten: We thought it was simply waaay too unlikely that anyone would focus on the crossword answers, and then, somehow, figure out the four key words.
Even if they had, though, it would have done them no good. The sign at 1101 K street did not go up until 33 o'clock, so if they had hit that site earlier, it probably would have totally screwed them up, and figured it was wrong.
Rockville, Md.: Gene,
Loved the Hunt, even though we didn't come close to solving it. And, by the way, I can confirm that you are in no way fat.
Can you please confirm with Breathed that there was another way to get the number "9" from Opus, besides having it written on the drug rep's coat? The comic referred to Breathed as having a problem with his neck, and showed him with his neck extended. There were three women, all numbered (although the first one seemed to have a "21" hidden on her shoulders). Of the three women, only the middle one, #9, also had her neck extended.
Thanks, and we are already looking forward to next year.
Gene Weingarten: You are insane.
Tom Shroder: And we made you that way! Sorry.
Arlington, Va.: All of our team members could not eat the fortune cookie for dietary reasons. Therefore, we were unable to successfully solve that puzzle. Did this type of scenario cross your mind when you designed that puzzle? We still had a blast, however. Thanks.
Gene Weingarten: Really? Oooh. No. We didn't think about it. Not Kosher?
Next year we will urge all teams to have a Token Goy.
Sorry about this. Y'know, you COULD have asked a stranger for help. Or... wait. The most coconutty thing about that cookie was its smell! You just had to smell it!
Arlington, Va.: I noticed that you had the lovely and brilliantly talented Hank Stuever (feature writer for Style) emceeing a foot race between four big-headed presidents and a person in a deer costume. Isn't that kind of like asking Neil Armstrong to oversee a Moon Bounce?
Gene Weingarten: Good analogy, but I hereby declare it The Most Important Achievement In Stuever's Career.
Wasn't he great?
Tom Shroder: Hank was great, and so were the Prezzes. I LOVED the way, between races, they went around the crowd and high-fived the spectators, just like at Nationals Park. It's what they do.
Washington, D.C.: What would have happened if nobody figured out the final puzzle? Was there a back-up plan?
Gene Weingarten: We would have given hints at staggered intervals. We will ALWAYS have a winner, even if the hints after about an hour amount to: RACE TO 14th AND F AND FIND THE GUY IN THE RED SOX HAT, YOU IDIOTS!
Washington, D.C.: Besides Dave, Gene, Tom and Liz (she gave me the comics!), what other major/minor celebrities made it to the Post Hunt?
Gene Weingarten: There were a few. The great announcer at the Presidents race was the great Hank Stuever, from Style.
Also at that sight, captaining it and at times taking turns inside the buck suit, were the estimable blogging team of Caitlin Gibson and Rachel Manteuffel.
Post star national reporter Josh White captained the fortune cookie site.
Mary Hadar, former editor of Style and now Post writing coach and all-around editing genius, captained the Arch site.
Washington, D.C.: First of all, a huge thanks to everyone who helped organize the Post Hunt. What a great event! I never would have thought I would have that much fun schlepping around in the rain. In Tom's final comments, it seemed as though there was some doubt about this becoming an annual event. I hope I misinterpreted this. You must have this again next year. The Hunters demand it!
I wish Dave were participating in the chat today, so I could thank him for being so kind and gracious to all the autograph hounds, including my 10-year-old, who is thrilled to have a signed volume in his extensive DB library.
Finally the ultimate compliment from my teenager: "It wasn't nearly as lame as I thought it would be."
By the way, Gene, did anyone have the nerve to take you up on your $5 challenge? You probably don't remember me among all your fans, but I approached you about an hour before the Hunt started (while my son was accosting Dave) and confirmed that you are indeed not fat.
Gene Weingarten: In my chat update last week, a poster claimed that having seen me on video, I was "fat." I indignantly explained that I am not fat, I am just a little, like, flabby. And I said that if anyone came up to me at The Hunt, scoped me out, and was willing to tell me to my face that I am fat, I'd give him or her a fin.
No one did! I actually had a pocket full of five dollar bills.
Arlington, Va.: GREAT JOB!! We had so much fun. A couple questions, though:
1. Who thought up the "fortune cookie" clue? That was BRILLIANT.
2. Were the "Washington Post Comics" actual Post employees?? So funny!!!
3. You are definitely not remotely fat.
Gene Weingarten: We've addressed the first and third already.
The comics were Dave George (janitors and emcee), Mike Wall (crocs) and Jeff Maurer (penguins). All guys well known at local clubs. I thought they were absolutely brilliant, given the crappy subjects they had to cover. I loved how they got edgier and funnier as the day wore on, making jokes about their own weariness.
Dave George even told the Aristocrats joke a few times, in family friendly - janitor related way!
Tom Shroder: I went up to the comics at the beginning to apologize for how few laffs they were provoking. I told them: Look, all these people care about is solving the puzzles, so they aren't even thinking about whether the jokes are funny or not. And they said: "Are you kidding? We work in COMEDY CLUBS. Compared to that, we are KILLING here."
Washington, D.C.: Any reason the Second Glance puzzle retained the PVBLIC while the other V's were turned into U's?
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, it was too small on the photo, and thought it was unfair to make it part of the solution. We solved that problem by not making it part of the solution: It wasn't changed.
Arlington, Va.: Gene and Tom,
We always thought of ourselves as the funny, smart girls (you know, as opposed to the pretty girls). Since we only solved two of the questions yesterday, how are we supposed to think of ourselves now? We're both 31 so it feels a little late to be reconstructing our identities. Thanks A LOT!
Gene Weingarten: This will sound a little patronizing, but solving two the first year you try this isn't bad at all. We talked to several smart-looking people who solved none.
Next year, you'll get 'em all.
Montgomery Village, Md.: Are you guys planning on doing something similiar in other cities? And if not are there are other organizations running puzzle hunts in, say, upstate New York?
Gene Weingarten: To our knowledge, there is nothing remotely like this anywhere. There are scavenger hunts and other puzzle hunts, but none of this scope and wackoid design. Tom, do you know of anything similar?
And no, we are never going to move it to another city. There's too much work involved to do ours alone.
Tom Shroder: No, but we are available to design the Paris Hunt at a moment's notice.
Maple and Elm, Washington, D.C.: Dear Gene,
I saw you at the Post Hunt and you were neither as ugly or fat as other chatters have claimed (maybe I had low expectations) but then you spoke and I understood why you are universally considered unsexy. Dude, you should work on that! You could be a total chick magnet.
Gene Weingarten: How does one work on the timbre of one's voice? Isn't that like telling me to be taller?
Tom Shroder: Amzingly, Gene IS a total chick magnet. I could show you photos.
Team Pretty Good for D.C.: First off, the PostHunt was a blast. The puzzles and clues were great, and it was fun running around downtown D.C., even our team's final sprint to 14th and F, most likely well after the top three had turned in their info. Which leads me to my one complaint: When we got to the final location, there was nobody there, leaving us to frantically re-read the map, our clues, and listen to the phone message again to make sure we were in the right place. How about putting a sign at the final location informing participants that they did, in fact, solve the puzzle correctly, but that they didn't make it in time to find the guy in the Red Sox cap?
Gene Weingarten: This is a very good idea, and we will do it next year (if there is a site to go to. Not all Endgames end with your having to be at a specific place.)
Sorry to those smart people who figured out what to do but were just a little late. We should have rewarded you with the knowledge you were smart.
(We had certificates to hand out, but there was such a long pause between the first wave and the second that we just left.)
Anonymous: Hi Gene and Tom,
I am one of the team of four who was followed around yesterday during the Hunt by your video team. My husband is a Miami native who first told me about the Tropic Hunt when we were dating (many moons ago). We were so excited to see it come to D.C. and we had a TOTAL BLAST (even in the rain, hail, snow, etc. of yesterday). We are even thinking of flying down to Miami in October for this year's Tropic Hunt!
Question: We have our T-Shirt, but are there posters available for sale?
Many thanks to all of you who put on the event. Great job. We are already gearing up for next year!
Tom Shroder: mm. Posters are a good idea. Also, possibly plush toys of the Presidents and Gene and Dave.
Fairfax, Va.: You had Caitlin and Rachel put on a buck costume? Are you guys insane?
Tom Shroder: They put it on TOGETHER?
Gene Weingarten: I laughed at the question, but Tom's answer is better.
Rockville, Md.: Tom, you don't look at all like I pictured you. I envisioned you as a portly bald guy with suspenders and a cigar. You are HOT!
Gene Weingarten: Hey, you know how my voice kills the hot? Did you see how Tom WALKS?
Tom Shroder: Mr. Swivel-knees is talking about MY walk?
Gene Weingarten: My walk is painful, dude. Yours is pure comedy.
Penn Quarter: Had a lot of fun at the Hunt -- thanks for organizing!
I was curious about the Franklin Square puzzle. The Presidents were on specific coins (and also on bills), but the buck was just slang for a dollar. Given the clue, it seemed like we were possibly supposed to focus only on coins. So we couldn't decide if the buck was a distraction or not. The problem is both 26 and 126 were in the clue list.
Did you think through this issue?
Gene Weingarten: Sure we did.
Basically, it was "A buck and change." By your logic, you would have had to assume that we had a male deer there for NO REASON.
After interviewing participants, we came to think that this was the easiest of the Puzzles. You overthought it, methinks.
Reston, Va.: I am relieved that a large crowd showed up. I kept worrying that it would be limited to your immediate family and homeless people. How confident were you that The Hunt would be so popular? And what criterion, besides blind hope and hubris, did you use to justify this confidence?
Gene Weingarten: We were completely without confidence after the late weather forecasts. Our giant fear was that the only people out there would be the 20 or so teams that we knew were coming from Miami. It would simply BE a Herald Hunt.
Tom Shroder: I was nearly suicidal at 6 a.m. when I signed on and saw the latest reports called for 80% chance of thunderstorms -- especially at the precise time of the Hunt, and one even predicted HAIL. And even at 11:15, the parking lot in front of the stage was still virtually empty. Then, in something out of a movie, people just suddenly materialized, and by noon, it was a see of umbrellas out there. The cavalry had arrived in the nick of time!
College Park, Md.: We had a great time, and hats off to you and the staff for pulling off an amazing day. But to nitpick on the endgame puzzle, unlike what you stated in the opening, the first clue was not the 'eds' clue, it was the third clue. The first clue (as numbered by the Post magazine) was PS, then N_M, eds, for me, and finally what comes after third.
We were tripped up by this but also by the fact that we thought the endgame clue would result in a number in the magazine printed clues. Not that we would have solved the endgame puzzle by any means. I was impressed by those that did.
Tom Shroder: The "eds" clue was the only one of the five clues in parens -- to set it off from the others and indicate it had a special purpose.
Gene Weingarten: Also, it WAS the first clue.
I'm looking at it right here.
This post is libel!
McLean, Va. (One right, three half-way there, missed the comics section): So how many teams made it [to] Mr. Brady?
Tom Shroder: Six before they left to come back to the stage. But we have heard from others that several more were on the way.
Gene Weingarten: Right. Actually, the team that arrived third was a fraud. They were apparently just following a running person. They put name and cell phone on their slip of paper, but not the additional thing needed: MCI. Which means they had not heard phone call, which means they didn't know why they were there, which means all they won was this here BOO.
Alexandria, Va.: This is Todd from the Boneless Chicken Cabaret. We were fortunate enough to win the Hunt, and I just wanted to first thank everyone involved in a fantastic event from start to finish.
As someone who spent numerous hours on Saturday night poring through The Post Magazine, I was wondering, how much thought goes into writing all the fake clues? We found so many interesting things in there and we were certain they'd come into play.
Ex: We noticed the clue "Gosh are hogs mixed up! What's laid?" gives you the word "DIAL". We thought we had stumbled onto part of the final answer!
Thanks again for a great time!
Tom Shroder: We made huge fun of Gene for obsessing over the fake clues for DAYS. He will be very happy, and suitably insufferable therefore, that they were appreciated.
Gene Weingarten: Oh, man! This is great. And from the winners.
But actually you misinterpreted that one. You weren't devious enough. It means DIAL BACKWARDS.
Washington, D.C.: Dude, the winners are hot! Who'd have thunk it?
Tom Shroder: And IMPROV ACTORS? What's up with that?
U St: While Hunting a bird pooped on me but I still had a good time. Please do this again next year. By the way, the cookie tasted nothing like coconut.
Tom Shroder: Wait, that bird poop was a clue!
Bethesda, Md.: Gene,
We loved the Hunt. Our team got 4 of the 5 main puzzles pretty quickly, but overthunk the library one for a half an hour before our "Aha, duh" moment.
But the endgame? We were totally outclassed. Were the winners really brilliant, or do you think they just came to a lucky realization? I hope it was luck, maybe then I'll have a chance next year.
Tom Shroder: Truly, part of it is self-belief. If you got the five puzzles, you can solve an endgame if you stick with it, and a few random thoughts break your way.
Gene: Was your son surprised at how many autographs you signed yesterday?
Gene Weingarten: He is always surprised when anyone seems to think there is anything remotely special about me.
Tom Shroder: Other than that he is e-specially geeky.
eds: The "eds" clue was the third if you go by the order that the five coordinates were given out in the first place. It was the first if you look at the five clues in numerical order. Hence the confusion.
(But our team got it anyway! All the way to 1101 before time ran out!)
Gene Weingarten: Ah, okay, but the most logical way to address it is in the order on the page. Still, as Tom points out: It was in parens. It was intended to stand out.
Pretty Good for Washingt, ON: Definitively, which of the five main puzzles was the hardest? Easiest?
Tom Shroder: The two hardest were the Second Glance Puzzle and the Arch puzzle. It was a little hard to tell which was actually the hardest in the field because of all the liars who raised their hands to say they had solved them.
Washington D.C.: Gene, maybe no one took on the $5 challenge because you looked so stressed-out and unfriendly. I smiled and made a Hunt-related comment, and you sort of grinned at me, gave a terse answer and walked away. Hard to follow that up with a "and boy don't you look slim!" sort of remark.
Tom Shroder: There are moments during the Hunt when things are going awry and we are in private agony. Otherwise we are very chirpy and cheerful.
Anonymous: Tell us about all the red herrings you put in the hunt. What was on the map and what numbers were on the clue list that you knew would trip people up?
Gene Weingarten: I hid an elaborate series of poem-related clues on the Clue Page that, for someone trying to scope out things in advance of the hunt, might have delivered a message about a feather...did anyone see this? I have a bet with Tom that at lease one person would, but I forgot to ask, from the stage.
Tom Shroder: The diabolical thing about the Hunt is that in addition to all the decoy clues built into it, red herrings pop up everywhere. I'm sure we'll hear of some things that got people going this year, but in the past, people have spent half the Hunt gathered around something like a dead bird on the sidewalk, or a map opened on the dashboard of a parked car.
Arlington, Va.: I fear that after watching the videos, I absolutely, positively, would have failed miserably at each clue in the challenge. Even buck-twenty-six, because I would have thought of the bills instead of the coins. I hereby submit my resignation as a Washingtonian and will be looking in the real estate listings for cities that carry "Slylock Fox." Greensboro, maybe.
Tom Shroder: The thing you are missing is the back and forth thinking that goes on when you are working with a team. Nobody would be likely to solve these with out that. It is an incredible demonstration of team power.
Bethesda, Md.: The Hunt was great, but something besides missed clues was puzzling me afterward -- if Weingarten hates the Boston Red Sox so much, why did the endgame involve a guy wearing a Boston Red Sox cap?
I just realized this morning (and burst out laughing) that the puzzle finalists had to race to a spot on the map labeled "L." In other words, "Go to L, Boston Red Sox."
Wow. You are one sick puppy!
Gene Weingarten: Because I knew that when the bit about the Red Sox was explained on stage, everyone would boo.
Post Hunt Post-Hunt: This was a great community activity -- super job! We had a great time.
I think you also did a fantastic community service. It seemed that the demographics of the hunters leaned toward the, shall we say, nerdy-video-gaming-dungeons-and-dragons element. Many appeared to be quite pale and -- ahem -- "fitnessly challenged," what with living in their mom's basements and only emerging for brief trips to Best Buy and all. The Hunt may have been their only exercise for the year! Way to go, fitness gurus (although maybe next year, spread the puzzles out a bit more and perhaps include some physical challenges to increase the heart rate a bit more)!
Gene Weingarten: Maybe this will influence some of you for next year. The winning team were four very buff guys, and once they figured out where to go, their captain raced to the Red Sox cap in a seven-block sprint. He beat the second team by less than two minutes, says The Rib.
So draw your own conclusions.
Arlington, Va.: We really liked the movie theater puzzle - and the coconut-flavored fortune cookies! When we found the fake movie theater ad before the Hunt began, we suspected a puzzle would somehow turn on the fact that the ad used the correct spelling for the plural of the word "coconut", but misspelled the actual name of the Marx Brothers film, The Cocoanuts. Was that a discarded part of the puzzle, or just a random anomaly?
Gene Weingarten: Hm. You get more Googlehits for "Coconuts" as the movie than "Cocoanuts." Is it inarguably with an a? If wrong, this was unintentional.
Tom Shroder: Actually I did know that. I changed it to the standard spelling (but neglected to tell Gene) because I wanted to make sure that the connection to the FLAVOR was clear.
End Game: So did you guys base the date of the Hunt on whatever phone number was available, or did you use a reverse directory to find out who had the number and then do some arm-twisting?
Gene Weingarten: The number was available! We starting jumping up and down and high-fiving.
Cube City: OK, I watched the video explanations, but I didn't see any mention of the woman staffer who aggressively begged for "change" near Lincoln Park. How did she fit into the puzzle? Was she part of the endgame? And how did you make her smell so bad?
washingtonpost.com: Post Hunt: Video Coverage (including the solutions)
Gene Weingarten: We had several such decoys around. We put a dead guy somewhere, too.
202-478-6465: For the answer to clue 370 (Gee, are you n I ok?) did you forsee that people would think this clue translated to the phone number represented by GRUNIOK? Just wondering, because we called that number around 1230 to see if it was a serviceable phone number. Answer: it's not.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, that was my intent.
judi: but aren't you ALWAYS suicidal the morning of the hunt, sir?
Gene Weingarten: Haha. This is Judi Smith, Dave Barry's research department, and a veteran of all Herald Hunts.
She has me here. Yes, Judi. I always wake up around 4 am. Did it this year, too.
Washington, D.C.: Gene,
I was on the third winning team. We actually did solve the endgame; we weren't following anyone. I am really disappointed that you made this accusation publicly, especially since I believe you did not contact any of us prior to posting that comment.
Gene Weingarten: Well, comon. I didn't name you.
Why didn't you know MCI?
I will believe you and apologize. BUT HOW CAN YOU NOT HAVE KNOWN THAT?
Germantown, Md.: Hi Gene, Tom & Liz (behind the scenes)
I was one of the volunteers yesterday who doesn't actually work for the Post. I had a great time. I was assigned the wonderful job of passing out the comics. It was cool to walk around the parking lot and see the various teams with maps, notebooks, pens etc... studying and reading! Even better when a team found the answer in the comics. This was the only one I figured out on my own but I guess after listening to the Comics on stage for three hours it was drilled into me. lol
And yes, they did get funnier as time progressed. I was worried I would have nightmares about penguins and janitors and crocs last night.
Anyway, had a great time! It was nice to meet you all. Hope this becomes an annual thing for the city!
Tom Shroder: I've heard from a lot of the comics volunteers who reported that three straight hours of listening to the same routines over and over was a religious experience. Hunt Volunteers totally rocked by the way. Obviously, this thing would have required National disaster relief without them.
MCI Center: Kudos for incorporating some DC-specific elements into the Hunt - the Nats mascots, the Chinatown gate, the MCI/Verizon Center. Those of us who have been flying down to Miami every year for the Herald Hunt were especially grateful to not only have a Hunt on our home turf, but one that felt like it was designed just for us, not just transplanted from Miami. Great job!
Tom Shroder: We always try to let the location inspire our puzzles, which is another way of saying that we aren't original enough to come up with them on our own.
Alexandria, Va.: Can you confirm whether there was more to the Chinatown Arch clue than simply connecting "Angry Men" with 12? The Post staffers there kept saying one of the clues was "If you don't get it, you don't get it," an obvious reference to the Post's advertising slogan, so we looked in the Post Magazine. On page 12, there was a story about Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Mystics, a team that plays on a -basketball] court. In addition, the hunt's preliminary question #5 had to do with the members of the Supreme -Court,- on which there was "no -Johnson-," and the right answer to this question was coordinate "XII," or 12. Seems too coincidental given all of the coordination elsewhere in the magazine . . .
Tom Shroder: There were three large Chinese characters on the arch, which were also on the handout. Their definitions were: Too small, Think, Vastly bigger. Plus volunteers were saying, "you have to see the whole thing". These were both references to the pictogram of the arch itself, whose definition was "angry men".
Is there any consensus on which puzzle was the hardest? It seemed like people were having most trouble with the Chinatown gate, but we got that one faster than any of the others.
We failed on the fortune cookie puzzle -- we thought it was orange, so we spent a lot of time looking in the grid for something that was "fat, but not overweight".
We got as far as NAME + FORMER + HOME + CAPS, but went too far back in time. Instead of MCI, we went to the Capital Center. The center of CAPITAL is I, so we looked on the map for the letter I. That didn't produce anything, so instead thought of Largo, site of the Capital Center, and looked on the map for a Large O. About that time, you began announcing the winners.
Tom Shroder: That's not bad!
Bedside Manor, Wis.: Guys:
Besides bruised egos were there any injuries?
Tom Shroder: I cut my finger trying to assemble the bell rope stanchions at the presidents' race.
Gene Weingarten: I just remembered this: AT the very first Tropic Hunt in 1984, I injured my right knee running up an escalator. This was the beginning of chronic knee problems.
The Hunt ruined my life.
Arlington, Va.: I don't think any locals participated in The Hunt as everyone seemed polite, did not rush around like idiots, and were generally friendly. Or was that a clue?
Gene Weingarten: You know what? It was a terrific crowd. I almost hate to say this because I am such an old curmudgeon, but people were really fabulous. Enthusiastic, polite, funny.
OMG THOSE COMICS WERE HILARIOUS: Hey Gene, Hey Liz.
Dave here from the comics stage. Overall -- very fun day. Doing standup in front of 5,000 people reading newspapers was really great. I now know exactly how flight attendants feel while doing the safety briefing.
My favorite part of yesterday was getting heckled by a guy complaining that I'd told the same jokes six times in a row. I had to tell him that all he had just accomplished was telling the entire crowd that he's been standing at this clue for 40 minutes because he's too stupid to figure out the answer.
Good times. Thanks for including us.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahahahahahaha.
Dave George, ladies and gentlemen. He'll be here all week.
Alexandria, Va.: Was the homeless man in the red hat (not Red Sox) who was sitting in the park to the north of 1101 (the park labeled "That was Easy") a plant? Or just a man who chose hats poorly that day? Our team and about half a dozen followers behind us tried to hand him our papers. He looked puzzled but amused.
Tom Shroder: It's a Hunt tradition to think that actual homeless people are clues. This has happened before.
Gene Weingarten: Funny moment from yesterday: When we were setting up around 10 a.m. the only two people at the Presidents Site (Franklin Park) were the aforementioned lovely Caitlin and Rachel. They quickly found themselves surround by homeless people who were Getting Real Physically Close and Curious.
I got this whispered call from Cait: "We need backup!"
Large help arrived momentarily.
Centreville, Va.: So the coconut problem could have been solved another way...! We went to the Regal Cinemas 14 Theater (in Chinatown) and inside, there was a huge neon bowling pin. And what does a coconut look like? A bowling ball! And how many pins are there in bowling? 10! Voila!
Tom Shroder: Genius!
Local Te, AM: GREAT Hunt! We were actually on our way to the 1101 point on the map when it was announced that there were winners -- so I HAVE to know: did a ton of people make it that far, or did we really have an actual chance (had we been a little quicker on our feet?)
Tom Shroder: Here's one of the teams that were on the heels of the "First Six".
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, again: There were the first six, and then a long hiatus. You are entitled to feel like the tier of Near Great Presidents. You weren't close to the Pantheon of Linc, Wash, and FDR, but consider yourself like Jefferson or James K. Polk.
Washington, D.C.: Third team quandry: I'm on the 3rd place team, too. Perhaps the 3rd team to arrive wasn't the 3rd place team. Perhaps we were the 4th to arrive but the 3rd to have the right answer?
Gene Weingarten: Sorry, I should have been more precise. Between the second team to win and the third team to win, another team arrived. But this team did not have the right code word. You came fourth, but won third place legitimately.
Sorry, I should have made this clearer. The teans that finished first, second and third were all legitimate winners.
Formerly Hialeah, Fla.: Hey Gene and Tom, the Post Hunt was a blast. Thanks. Gene, a couple of years ago I sent you an e-mail offering to help you if you did a hunt up here, having been to Hunts down in South Florida. It must have gotten lost due to insufficient e-postage. That being said, if I have an awesome idea for a puzzle for a future hunt, would you be willing to consider it if it was workable and/or warped enough? I realize that I would have to take a blood oath and be sworn to secrecy, give up my firstborn if I revealed something, etc., but I am willing to take that chance. If so, how would I go about pitching my idea?
Tom Shroder: Absolutely. We're always willing to steal good ideas.
Gene Weingarten: Send it to me at weingarten(at)washpost.com
The Library puzzle: Gene and Tom, I take issue with that one (even though my team got it anyway). VVV is NOT 555! That's DLV! Come on, if you're going with proper Roman numerals for the endgame, you have to know such an error would bug some of us!
(And my fiance got the Arch puzzle in about 10 seconds. But he's brilliant that way.)
Gene Weingarten: Ah. But nothing else was possible. 15 was not a possible answer. Neither was five times five times five. We made it so 555 was the only rational answer.
Northern Virginia: Woo! Just got home, and I'm proud to say that Team Spookymittens solved all the questions and figured out the endgame... at almost exactly the same time that word came that it was all over.
We have all sorts of plans and strategies for next year. So here's hoping there will be a "next year."
Thanks Gene, Tom, and Dave for bringing some much needed weirdness to D.C. This place takes itself way too seriously.
- Captain Joan
Tom Shroder: Thanks Joan. Spookymittens?
Gene Weingarten: Tom is being disingenuous. We have heard a lot of dumber team names, some of which are unprintable.
The second place winners this year wore t shirts that said Weapons of Mass Confusion.
Overthinker who apparently can't taste coconut: On the chinese puzzle, we were told to think bigger, so we looked at the biggest number, which was 1989, the year of Tiananmen square. And the clue there talked about things coming down, so we were looking for a statue.
It got more convoluted from there.
Gene Weingarten: Actually, that clue was another dummy. I wanted people to see 1989, when something came down. It was not a statue. It was the Berlin Wall.
Washington, D.C.: So how many fortune cookies did you guys buy? Was it another one of Gene's candy cane fiascos? How many were consumed? Where does one even buy coconut flavor fortune cookies? Oh, and p.s. I first saw the ad and thought to myself, "sweet, I wanna go see 'Duck Soup'...hey, wait a sec!"
Tom Shroder: We always come up with an idea -- coconut flaovered cookies! -- and then rely on smart production folks to find them in huge quantities (in this case, 15,000. About 5,000 were handed out). Nicole Marshall tracked down the cookies, and we tested them repeatedly to see if folks actually tasted coconut. They did. I thought the SMELL was even clearer than the taste.
What the Hey, Hank!: I have a bone to pick with Hank who did the announcing for the Presidents' race. My team had the answer 126 figured out but stayed by the course while waiting for a few other team members to come off the Metro, so happened to catch a few more runs of the race. In one of these races, the Lincoln character accidentally beat the Washington character, though the Buck still won. In our answer of 1 Buck + 25 cents + 1 cent = 126, this order didn't matter, however, Hank made big deal of the fact that "don't pay attention to the order you just saw, listen to this order for the clue..." then went back to the order of Buck, George, Abe as is was for every other race. So my team was completely thrown off thinking the answer could not be a simple addition problem if the order really mattered that much. I blame my team's loss on Hank's part as we subsequently spent a great deal of time focused on getting a different answer which at one point involved complex fractions and time on a watch... Hank owes me a trip to the beach. Or at least a margarita.
Tom Shroder: Hank will be dealt with harshly!
Gene Weingarten: We've already killed him.
No, he was asked to have them finish the same way every time.
Washington, D.C.: Gene Weingarten: To our knowledge, there is nothing remotely like this anywhere. There are scavenger hunts and other puzzle hunts, but none of this scope and wackoid design. Tom, do you know of anything similar?
Not to denigrate in any way your efforts, but in fact, there is. It's called The Game, and it's often played in the San Francisco Bay Area. The duration is 12 straight hours (no sleeping allowed) and involves driving all over the place. You're allowed to bring supplemental materials, too. I, in fact, brought a physics textbook when I played, The Game, and USED IT!.
Tom Shroder: Well, all night driving is not really remotely the same, is it?
Gene Weingarten: I don't know about the game, but I am guessing also that it is not humor oriented.
Washington, D.C.: My fiancee and I apparently have terrible senses of taste (we never thought the cookies tasted odd), but we were actually on the right track with the endgame anyway. Turns out the phoenetic Chinese in the cookies sounded like "dining one", which made us use the page number of Tom Seitsema's restaurant review in the magazine -- 44. The clue for that was "This is the answer" with "is" in italics. So we were this close to having "Caps" "itals" "former" "home" "name"... sadly, we screwed up one clue and I ended up yelling at my mom while she told me the Caps used to play in Landover, Md. Still, we had a blast and are in for next year!
Tom Shroder: Wow.
Gene Weingarten: You should have run to Landover!
Fairfax, Va.: Since Northern Virginia won this year, don't we have rights to host the Potomac Hunt next year?
Perhaps Old Town Alexandria?
Tom Shroder: That's actually a possibility. And maybe we SHOULD change the name.
Arlington, Va.: Do you test out the puzzles on anyone -- friends, family, etc. -- before deploying each one in a Hunt?
Gene Weingarten: Sometimes. We were very concerned about the taste of the fortune cookies, but the taste tests were pretty conclusive.
Dave contends we should have tried out the arch first, but I think we have already established here, in his absence when he cannot defend himself, that he is wrong and an idiot.
Arlington, Va.: Getting custom-designed comic strips was awesome. Did these same strips run nationally, or only in The Post?
Gene Weingarten: Nationally! The three cartoonists just did it, as a favor to all of us, and all of you.
Potomac, Md.: Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the 2008 Post Hunt.
Will there be a 2009 Post hunt?
Tom Shroder: As of yet, there are no court injunctions barring us from doing so.
Gene Weingarten: Quick answer: I'm pretty sure we will. This was just too much of a blast.
I deserve accommodation: I am allergic to wheat, nuts, shellfish, gluten, MSG, dairy, eggs, Rise Krispies, and vodka martinis. Mascots with large heads give me panic attacks, and I'm agoraphobic. Also illiterate -- I'm dictating this to my dog. I felt this year's Hunt was completely unfair to me. Please send me a T-shirt and I'll consider dismissing my impending lawsuit.
Tom Shroder: It's in the mail.
A buck and what now ?: Are you guys able to pat yourselves (or each other) on your backs ? Because seriously, I think you should.
Gene Weingarten: We can pat each other on the backs, but we are guys, so would never that do anything involving touching.
Arlington, Va.: How fast did the best teams solve the preliminary puzzles? We got them all (correctly) in an hour, and then took a two-hour lunch break while we puzzled over the clues. (But, despite that, we bombed on the endgame.)
Gene Weingarten: An hour is great. We found one team that had solved em all in about the first 50 minutes, and we couldn't recall anyone being that quick before.
Mt. Vernon, Va.: Can you buy Post Hunt shirts?
Gene Weingarten: I believe so. I'm going to check, and please ask again during my regularly scheduled chat tomorrow.
Re: "possibly plush toys of the Presidents and Gene and Dave": I'm thinking bobbleheads.
Tom Shroder: They already ARE bobble heads.
RE: Coconut: Our (incorrect) logic but correct answer: We saw an advertisement in The Magazine for a trip to Florida with a picture of palm tress (where coconuts come from) which also mentioned The Post Hunt and The Washington Post. It was on page 38. 3 + 8 = 11 which was the correct answer (as there was no #38 clue).
Tom Shroder: Just shows you. . .
Gene Weingarten: See, this is exactly why we put in passwords and thus such: To prevent people winning for the wrong reasons.
Wheaton, Md.: So, the Presidents' question was titled a Time for Change -- GW and Lincoln make 1:16. Which is exactly what the baseball with the Nats hat was pointing to. And then "ruminating" about the ruminant led us to find four question marks in the map -- hence 120. Grr..
Tom Shroder: Yikes.
Washington, D.C.: are there any ethical implications in the fact that the Magazine's "second glance" labeled the top photograph as "original", when in reality it was altered? Oh, and thanks for making me read the lamest section of the Magazine -- I hate second glance.
Gene Weingarten: Believe it or not, Tom and I discussed this! We decided to risk the professional criticism, on the theory that NO ONE would be so SMALL MINDED to call us on it.
Parishu, NT: Tom Shroder: No, but we are available to design the Paris Hunt at a moment's notice.
I think that one's been solved, over and over and over and over again.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.
Tom won't get this, I predict.
Washington, D.C.: No no no... I typed "grimmed". Gene grimmed at me. He did not grin, as in smile. He grimmed as in, made a grim, annoyed face.
washingtonpost.com: My bad.
Gene Weingarten: What? Who is this? I try to reserve scowls for family and friends.
Philly: How fast did the quicker groups solve the first five puzzles? We got through them in about 75 minutes, after realizing that we really didn't need to hurry. Did any groups make it through all five, but have to rush to do so?
Tom Shroder: It's amazing how quickly people tend to get through these. The Hunt was originally FOUR hours before the Final Clue, but we realized that for the last two of those hours, most people were just sitting around, puzzling through the clue page.
Gene Weingarten: I think if we held a special Hunt only for winners of previous Hunts, we could make the puzzle part last only about an hour.
Greenbelt, Md.: Thanks guys! I've never had more fun feeling like a complete idiot! We only solved one puzzle. Can't wait for next year.
Gene Weingarten: Maybe next year you'll solve TWO.
No, actually you will all find Year Two much easier. People get shellshocked the first year. It's just all so ... puzzling.
Alexandria, Va.: Please don't tell me that you are now the "Official PostHunt of the Washington Redskins"!
Tom Shroder: The Redskins are The Official Football Team of the Post Hunt.
Clarksburg, Md.: The Hunt was a blast (and speaking of blasts, we wasted WAY too much time trying to figure out how the fireworks drawing figured into the solutions). Thanks for keeping it clean enough to bring kids along, and clever enough to stump the adults until we were almost (but not quite) ready to give up. What a sadistic mixture of fun and frustration, too, to be trying to solve a puzzle while watching others walk away with smug grins after figuring it out before the rest of us poor schmucks had more than a clue. Great job, guys; thanks Washington Post (and other sponsors), and please do this again next year!!!
Tom Shroder: We had reports from the Fortune Cookie volunteers that people were standing there while their children were saying "It's coconut!" and the adults responded, "Quiet, we're trying to solve the puzzle!"
Alexandria, Va.: On the question of other Hunt-like games, there are many other puzzle hunts, but none have the scale and accessibility and entertainment value of the Tropic/Herald/Post Hunt. I've heard that the original Tropic Hunt was inspired by a game run by Dave and Anna Harris (and others). Do either of you know where they borrowed the idea from?
Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure they borrowed it. I think what they did on a small scale -- and what we copied on a huge scale -- had no precedent.
They are David and Anna Harris and Len and Adreienne Nabutovsky.
No takers?: So you were left with a pocket of $5 bills? Do you have any idea how many beers that can buy?
Gene Weingarten: Why yes, I do. I discovered it shortly after The Hunt!
Bowie, Md.: Two notes:
The library question was based on the fact that there were "12 differences" between the two pictures... and the way that the big red cards were laid out, with 13, 14, 15 (and the question mark) made me think that the numbers were 12 apart -- i.e., a difference of 12. 132, 144, and 156 fit, and that would have made the question marks 2, 4, and 6... or 246, which was a possible answer.
Strangely enough, I ended up getting 555 a different way than the intended VVV from this clue: I didn't eat the fortune cookie, and thus missed the coconut reference, but saw "movie theater" on the fortune, and so walked down the street to the Warner Theatre, which is in a huge building with no address on the 13th street side... but if you're looking directly at the 13th street entrance, just to the left of the entrance is the number "555" etched into the stone. (I know it's not a movie theater, and that that building is 555 13th Street and, I suppose, not technically the same building, but the other side of the fortune said something about "good taste," so I made the leap.) Weird coincidence, huh?
Anyway, I wanted to write and say that despite the rain, this was one of the most enjoyable things I've done in a long, long time. I can't wait until May 2009. No wonder people love living in Miami!
Tom Shroder: You can see why we advise psychological counseling for those who have participated in the Hunt.
The Buck Runs Here: For ages, we were convinced it was supposed to be a "stag." So we spent a long time puzzling over which president was unmarried, and what number was he, which involved a phone call to my parents (Dad was on Jeopardy, Mom used the Google) that didn't help at all.
And exactly what time did the buff winning team approach The Rib and Mr. head honcho guy?
Gene Weingarten: Roughly 3:22, I believe. Incredibly fast.
Arlington, Va.: I teach special education students, so I have a vast knowledge of several small things, and I realized that next year, I should bring some of my students. My blind child would have gotten the coconut item right away (well, I did, because I HATE coconut and my aversion was the answer). Also, a bit of autism could work in your favor. Any winners with disabilities, besides alcoholism and insomnia, in the past?
Tom Shroder: Chronic immaturity is big in winners.
Washington, D.C.: So today's puzzle: What do you do with 10,000 leftover coconut-flavored fortune cookies?
Gene Weingarten: It's a good question. We once had to dispose of 35,000 candy canes, so there is precedent.
Knowing The Post, it's going to charity.
From Tom and Dave and I: Thank you all hugely. You made it great. Hope to see most of you next year, and most of you tomoro, at my regularly scheduled chat.
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