Dave Barry, Tom Shroder and Gene Weingarten, Post Hunt Founders
Monday, May 18, 2009 12:00 PM
Then you told us what you loved, what you hated and which puzzles turned your brain to mush. Post Hunt masterminds Dave Barry, Tom Shroder and Gene Weingarten took your questions and comments live on Monday, May 18.
Find full coverage, including video breakdowns of each puzzle, at washingtonpost.com/posthunt.
Fairfax, VA: This really does get easier with experience. After last year's fake ad, I scoured the magazine carefully. The clock article immediately aroused my suspicion because of Gene's fascination with clocks. Also, the prose seemed odd, somehow, way too stilted and lyrical. Little did I suspect.
Gene Weingarten: Do you know how hard it is to write something called "First Person Singular" without using the letter "i"?
It took about 15 hours to write those 300 words. Donny Sobel and I conspired on it. He is very literate, and we traded lines back and forth.
Tom Shroder: I think Gene may be the only human on the planet who, when the insane idea arose to write an entire article without using S, I or X, would light up like a neon sign, rub his chubby little hands together in glee and proceed to spend the next three days locked in his cave obsessing over it.
Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.
We're guessing most of you here were at the 2009 Post Hunt yesterday, which drew people from as far away as California, and at least one team that DROVE from Miami. Dave, Tom and I have been doing The Hunt for 25 years, and this may have been the biggest crowd ever: The official, inviolable and unchallengeable crowd estimate by The Washington Post says there were 10,000 of you.
Here's a link to the Post story on The Hunt.
Here's a link to the videos explaining the Puzzles, and how the Hunt was won. Probably by people other than you.
Okay, let's go.
10,000 Brains Teased at Post Hunt (Post, May 18, 2009)
Wait!: The web page says this chat starts at 12 ET! Yet it's 11:20 by my clock and you've answered a question! Is my clock wrong? Gene, do I have some rare disease that makes it impossible for me to tell time? Have I gone insane? (Well, let's face it, I was already insane.) Help!
Gene Weingarten: Somebody accidentally answered a question early not because he was stupid but because his knees hurt so bad he got confused.
Gene Weingarten: In other words, mistakes were made.
Tom Shroder: Heads will roll.
Easy Peasy: Hunt veterans would probably say that this was one of the easier hunts. I've heard that the 2008 Herald Hunt was one of the hardest. Do you guys have a sense going in of how hard a hunt is going to be?
Gene Weingarten: We do, and we're frequently wrong.
It's all guesswork; our ideal goal is to make each of the big puzzles hard but not too hard: So that maybe half the teams get. The end game we try to make so hard that we ourselves could not solve it, but that wildly focused, very sharp and somewhat lucky people can. Ideally, we want this to happen within the first twenty minutes after the three o'clock clue.
Yesterday, that part worked perfectly.
Where we were off was in estimating the difficulty of the Big Puzzles. The one that gave you fits was the human statue puzzle: We're guessing maybe five percent of the teams solved that one. We hadn't anticipated that: The one we thought would throw you was The Clock Man.
We're always surprised to one degree or another by how this goes. David Simon, the producer of "The Wire" and one of the smartest people I know, was at The Hunt. He and his team solved all the Puzzles but one: The bailout puzzle, where the answer was served up, in writing, RIGHT ON THE CLUE. Go figure.
Tom Shroder: A Hunt veteran sent me a note saying that he felt this year there must have been several thousand people who felt they were still in it at the endgame, and he thought that was a great thing. I have to agree. We want this to be challenging, but we also want it to be fun, and funny, and produce a lot of those thrilling moments when that light goes off in your mind and everything falls into place.
Silver Spring, MD: I'm curious about the logistics of planning this thing: That alone could fill up an hour, I'm sure.
Gene, you've mentioned before that you're almost innumerate when it comes to money. I imagine this event was expensive to fund and budget. How did you do it? Did you work with a business staff? Were there any possible events rejected as just too expensive to pull off? I noticed there were no zeppelins or giant inflatable pool balls this year, but commissioning five giant concrete statues must have been a pretty significant investment.
Gene Weingarten: It was.
The main reason The Hunt succeeds is that Tom, I and Dave have nothing to do with the finances. Or, in fact, the day to day organization. Those are handled by the magnificently competent Julie Pearlstein and Nicole Marshall. They're why it works.
Tom Shroder: Here's how it's done: We call Julie and Nicole and we say, "Ok. We want something like the Washington monument, only a ghost, with a blank word ballon coming out of it's mouth, and it has to be huge. And a cannon. And a giant vacuum cleaner, and a pile of eyeballs. And we want them all set up on federal land a stones throw from the White House."
And they get it done.
Statues: The fake monuments on 15th Street -- what on earth were they made of? They looked like real concrete. Very cool.
Gene Weingarten: They were produced by MCS Design, an amazing company. They also made the giant crossed swords last year.
Yes, concrete. Each part weighed 300 pounds. Dave Barry was almost crushed by a ghost while putting them up.
washingtonpost.com: Video: Failed Monuments Puzzle
Old McDonald: So were any of you aware that, at 3:01, right after you gave the final clue, a large McDonald's truck drove by right behind the stage? Even though my group definitely should've figured out the "turn that over in your mind" part of that clue, the truck threw us off a bit. MacDonald/McDonald, you know. Just another one of those Hunt coincidences, I guess...
Tom Shroder: As we were setting up the monuments on the elipse, and I was on the phone with Gene speaking in code about positioning Lucy the boxer and her owner for the endgame in a way that nobody would connect them to the Hunt or see them too early, A woman walked by in the direction of the Main Stage walking a . . . boxer.
Gene Weingarten: No one else has mentioned the McDonald's truck. Is this true? That's very odd.
Washington, DC: How long does this whole thing take to put together? (Are you guys already working on this year's Herald Hunt?)
Tom Shroder: A week before the Hunt, someone asked Dave how long we had been working on it. His response: "We have a meeting scheduled for Friday." A great line, I thought, but the truth is that we got together on a very cold day in January to walk the Hunt area and sketch out 5 puzzles -- we didn't even discuss the end game at that point. When I say sketch out, that can be anything from an almost complete puzzle to something like, "We should have a financial bailout puzzle!" with no partuiculars. Then we pretty much e-mail back and forth, occasionally have three-way conference calls, until the details begin to get filled in. For me, there's a lot of waking up at 3:26 a.m. with sudden brainstorms that I rush to scribble down so i won't forget in the morning.That's where R2D2 and C3PO signifying map coordinats came from.
Clock Puzz, LE: A bunch of us actually got the correct answer SIX by the wrong means in the watchmaker puzzle. Did you notice that the watch he was wearing was technically missing a 6? And the man's hand always pointed to 6 as he handed out the card, plus the 6 was missing in the magazine picture of the clock, and we got caught up with the "Not on my watch," even though it said no pun. Just goes to show you can sometimes bumble your way to the correct answer....
Gene Weingarten: Several people have said this! Totally unintentional.
Tom Shroder: The "not on my watch" part of that would have been an excellent Hunt puzzle. We would have been very proud of ourselves.
washingtonpost.com: Video: Solution to the Airport Security Puzzle
Gene Weingarten: By the way, the reason this was called the Airport Security Puzzle is that the day before the Hunt we had blank shell video links online for the puzzle solutions, and each had a name. The other names wouldn't have helped anyone, but the logical name for this one was "The First Person Singular Puzzle," and that wouldn't have been good.
Washington, DC: I was disappointed that any odd "sheeple" who happened to follow the folks running up 14th Street to the toilet could have easily solved the puzzle. I could have skipped the entire day and just stood on Freedom Plaza waiting to follow someone who knew like the had the right idea, entered the R2D2/C3P0 coordinates and won. How come you don't somehow make something fromt eh previous 5 puzzles part of the final answer, or at least make it a requirement that the winners show proof of having correctly solved the 5 puzzles? We solved all 5 correctly, turned EIEIO over in our minds, called the #, went to the toilet, entered the coordinates, and got to the Boxer about 5 mins too late. Well after many teams who only followed only the runners. Yes, I guess I'm bitter, but also trying to think outside the box about how you might reward the successful teams without also rewarding the sheeple.
A very fun day....thanks as always for your creativity.
Gene Weingarten: Nope, you would not have won had you just followed a stampede. Each person who reaches the final site is elaborately debriefed, by phone, usually by me. You need to be able to explain how you got there, step by step.
Last year the person who got to the final site in alleged third place could not explain why he was there. He was bumped.
Tom Shroder: Also, you are forgetting the fact, that just for that exact reason, we had THREE posters up in that window. Only the people who had solved the Hunt puzzles would have known that ONLY THE CINEMATIC POSTER had any relevance. Anybody who just happened on the crowd would have been trying to factor in the Eiffel Tower and some guy kicking a soccer ball. That would be doomed effort. Also: most Hunters get that the point is to have fun and challenge themselves to solve the puzzles, not find some shortcut way to win.
AdvertiseRS: There was no fake ad this year! We were suspicious of the White House Nannies ad, but a friend said she had hired them and they were real. Has there ever been a Hunt issue without a fake ad?
Gene Weingarten: Sure. Fake ads happen only infrequently: We try to keep things fresh.
Actually, one ad in the mag took us all by surprise: The Papa John's pizza ad that was made to look EXACTLY like the Second Glance feature beside it. We noted it on Hunt day and assumed people would see it as a red herring. Or a red anchovy.
So Close: I think we missed losing becasue I wrote EIEIO as lowercase letters. That led us to dial 530-01212. It cost us 10 minutes and I think the game.
Damn my capitalization!
Gene Weingarten: I would have done the same thing! I write lowercase.
Washington, DC: I'd love to know more about the puzzle-generating process. Who comes up with the initial ideas? How does the team then chip in? How do the sculptures get made, the actors hired-- and then how much do the actors know about the clues they're giving out?
Gene Weingarten: The actors know everything about what they were doing. Hank Stuever and Rachel Manteuffel -- the Congresspersons -- decided on their own what they would say, to surround the clue. The fact that they managed to remain engaged and interesting for three hours astounds me. Also, I believe they took only one bathroom break. Which also astounds me.
Gene Weingarten: The ideas occur among Tom, Dave and me, over long sessions in which we insult each other. Beer is often an idea-lubricant.
Tom Shroder: Once Dave tried to get us to engage in the kind of idea sessions where you never say anything negative about anyone elses idea, only build on it. That worked for about three nano-seconds.
Gene Weingarten: The technical term is a "synectic session." I can't believe it ever works for anything.
Frederick, MD: Tom, what was the snafu that you guys caught just before sending the magazine to print? What would have happened had you not caught it?
Gene Weingarten: I can answer that. We had written the final three clues to insert the words "four" and "fore" and "for" in such ways that the words immediately after them spelled out: "Cinematic poster close to toilet."
What we hadn't noticed was that there was another "four" in there -- the last digit of the answer to the Monuments puzzle, 153134. That would have added another extraneous word to the answer, and made it unsolvable.
Gene Weingarten: Hey, Tom, tell 'em about the sandwich. I wasn't around for that one, but it was probably the closest ever to total disaster, right?
Tom Shroder: In Miami a couple of years ago, solving the final clues led people to think they needed to find a "sandwich." What they needed to figure out was that they needed to go to the beach, to a place on the map where Otis Sweat had drawn a WITCH on the SAND. This was a "sand witch." Neither Dave or I had noticed, until I was explaining this to the volunteer who was going to play the witch 20 minutes before we were to deliver the final clue, that Otis had ALSO drawn a big fat salami sandwich on the map. After a moment of cardiac arrest, we quickly set up a sign at that location that said: "Good thinking, but you need to think again." Hunt saved.
Alexandria, VA: We loved the puzzle with the clockmaker. Except for one thing: When we solved it, we included the name and title of the author (Donny Sobel,...), and so the only letters that we did not find were I and X, from which we made XI=11 (ignoring in our solved-puzzle high the equally valid IX=9). 11 was one of the possible Clues. It even fits with the clock theme, where numbers are often Roman numerals. Was this intentional?
Gene Weingarten: It was not intentional. The card that Donny handed out specified that you needed to find the missing number in "what I said." We did that specifically so you wouldn't include his name.
But we hadn't deliberately set up the IX confusion. I think that had we thought of it, we might have not made IX a possible answer.
Here's a little bit of clock lore: Have you ever noticed that on most old clocks with Roman numerals, the number four is written IIII instead of the standard IV? No? Well, it's true. The reason is esthetics: "IIII' better balances out the face against the opposite "VIII." An "IV" would looks small there.
Arlington, VA: We are considering the best type of teammate for 2010. We added poetry-knowing, geography-knowing, jogger with a hollow leg. Good add. We had to balance him out with female-drive attention to detail and multi-tasking. We avoided too many alpha-dogs. We did not win...Any suggestions for building a team next year? Are shirts a factor? Folllow up: Best place to drown sorrows/punish weak brain cells afterwards?
Gene Weingarten: It would help if Dave, Tom or I were on your team.
Rockville: Is lady statue single?
Gene Weingarten: Yes, but she is frigid.
I mean rigid.
Helmetta, NJ: Thanks for another great Post Hunt!
What were some common mistakes on the endgame? My team raced to grid B-4 after receiving the EIEIO phone message and combining it with the Let it (bee) clue. For what its worth, we were the third team there. We realized we were wrong when we saw a horde of people rushing up 14th St. We'll get it next year!
Gene Weingarten: One hint for the future: Stampedes of people often lead in the wrong direction. Blindly following one is never a recipe for winning the Hunt.
Where is...: Dave?
Gene Weingarten: Ah, we forgot we said Dave would participate! Dave would, but it's hard from 30,000 feet. He's enroute. Sorry.
Tom and I will happily channel him and answer for him. We're all practically one person, anyway.
Washington, DC: I want to give mad props to the actors who have to stand out there for three hours being as repetitive as possible. Especially the debaters, who kept coming up with new and funny ways to comment on what was happening ("I look around, and I see people who look lost, confused... if only we could get accountability in House Bill 98999, think how relieved people would be!" "We wouldn't even have to be up here!" "We could take a break!")
washingtonpost.com: Hank Stuever and Rachel Manteuffel in the Congressional Debate Puzzle
Gene Weingarten: They had people laughing for three hours.
In Kobe Beef We Trust: So who cleaned up all of the fake $100 bills? Was the Post concerned about the fact that the Uncle Sams spent 3 hours littering?
Gene Weingarten: You know who cleaned them up? Kids! Little kids were collecting them, vying to become the one with the biggest stacks. It was a spontaneous clean-up crew! Little bottom-feeders!
Tom Shroder: They will do will in the future American economy.
Tom Shroder: WELL, I mean
Bizarro Statue: Our team had a lively discussion over whether the "Bearing Witness" statue in front of the Woodrow Wilson center looked more like a polyp or a uvula. Someone in the group with medical training held out for "polyp," but it was close.
Gene Weingarten: Definitely, poly. Amanda, can you link to a picture of a polyp?
washingtonpost.com: And here's a real sea polyp.
Rosslyn, VA: Wow, I could hardly recognize Rachel Manteuffel. Kudos to your makeup people.
Gene Weingarten: Our makeup people was Ms. Manteuffel herself. She is an actor. She knows how to do this. Those of you who are familiar with her work know she does not ordinarily resemble a dowdy congresswoman.
Arlington, VA: How can we find out if there are any Hunts in other cities in the near future? (preferably driving distance)
Gene Weingarten: You think these things just spontaneously ... occur?
Our advice, in general, is: Trust no other Hunts.
Mine, Mine, Mine: For someone who just had double knee replacement surgery, Gene was moving lighting fast. My compliments to the surgeon.
At one point, we were coming up to the stage to do the Post Hunt Stimulus Package puzzle, and we saw Gene sitting on one of the ledges talking into his phone. After picking up one of the $100 bills, it took about 30 seconds to figure it out, so we headed off to the next puzzle. We get maybe 100 yards in the opposite direction from where we came, and walk past Gene sitting on a ledge talking into his cell phone. All three of us did a double take, wondering how he not only passed us, but managed to get settled back down on a ledge talking on the phone without any of us seeing him walking.
Tom Shroder: I think you were seeing Gene's Bizarro world double.
Gene Weingarten: Have you ever seen the movie "The Prestige"? That's how I did it. Tesla.
Arlington, VA: This was my first hunt and it was awesome. You guys have me hooked and I'm already counting down the days until next year. But, after reading the clues from last year this year seemed a little easy, especially the end game. How do you determine how hard to make the clues? Do you have anyone test them out before the hunt or is it a surprise to you too to see how it turns out?
Tom Shroder: It is EXTREMELY hard to test, because you cannot reproduce the context of encountering these things out in the real world. You have to TELL people: Ok, imagine that you come upon these people painted white posing as statues, and then someone hands you a slip of paper. You can't determine: Will they think to look in the Magazine and notice that there are similar "statues" in nine locations on the map? Just so many variables. But -- just because of a quarter century of experience doing this -- we are probably more qualified than any other humans to TRY to guess how hard or easy these things will be. It might be my only unique skill.
embarra, SD: Who's the guy with the soothing voice who narrates those explanation videos? Can he read me a story?
washingtonpost.com: Video Series: Solving the 2009 Post Hunt
Tom Shroder: Ha! That's me. Maybe I should go into radio.
What?: Dave Barry plays guitar??
Gene Weingarten: Clearly, then, you are unfamiliar with the Rock Bottom Remainders, the greatest rock band in the world composed entirely of highly skilled and professional authors.
Amanda, can we link to the Remainders?
washingtonpost.com: Rock Bottom Remainders Perform (YouTube)
ACCOUNTABILITY: Gene, is it condescending of me to want to hug the people who acted like they'd unraveled the DaVinci Code when they figured out that they had to text "accountability" to that number?
I mean, it was just a little obvious. There was this group of college girls and when I saw them figure it out I said to them, "Whatever you do, don't text that number. That's not the answer. Seriously, it's not it. Don't do it."
They actually debated it. I'm an ass. I own that.
Gene Weingarten: Caitlin Gibson, who was the site cap'n there, reports that there was a bit of an age divide on who got this clue and who didn't. The younger the person, the more likely he or she was to go right to text messaging, and enter a keyword.
Fogies were haplessly examining names inscribed on a nearby wall.
Tom Shroder: We knew that for most, that puzzle would be fairly easy. But we hoped that it would also have good entertainment value.
Bethesda: I will admit this because it is an anonymous forum: our team took a good long time at the clock guy pondering the letters "isx." What could this mean? What are the roman numerals? There HAS to be an s in there somewhere. Sigh.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.
Pennsylvania: For those of us who couldn't come to DC yesterday, the real Post hunt is trying to find a WRITTEN version of the various clues online (videos would take too long to download). Could you please post written versions of the clues and solutions online? Thanks from the boondocks.
washingtonpost.com: Our ubertalented video team of Akira Hakuta and Whitney Shefte worked till the wee hours editing those videos together. For their sakes, just watch the videos.
Gene Weingarten: Exactly.
Silver Spring, MD: First off - great job, we had a really fun time again this year. However.. Have you considered letting the game go on a little longer after you already have winners to the endgame? I mean... at 3:20, we were still having fun, had figured out the phone number, gotten the message.. and where working on the immediately after 4 part. The key point being... we were still having fun trying to solve the game, even though were WELL past having any chance at winning. And I think there were a lot of other groups around us still making progress. I realize it can't go on forever.. but I think we all would have enjoyed the endgame a little more if you hadn't announced there were winners until like 3:30 or 3:40... so we all had a little more time to play the game too. Anywho.. just a suggestion - it was still a great time. Thanx for organizing it again - can't wait for 2010!
Tom Shroder: It's a balancing act between giving people time to work the puzzles, and trying people's patience who are waiting for the explanations. But that's good feedback and we'll keep it in mind.
Springfield, VA: Can Dave play his guitar again at next year's Hunt? 'Cause that was really cool.
Tom Shroder: What you don't know was that guitar, a Goya Rangemaster, had been previously owned by the lead guitarist for ABBA.
Gene Weingarten: This is actually true.
Potomac, MD: Gentlemen, Five thousand last year in pretty lousy weather. Ten thousand this year with weather that was only marginally better. If the sun ever decides to shine, you'll draw crowds that will make the National's front office envious. Great job. I am already looking forward to next year.
Tom Shroder: Of course, there is some theoretical number of participants that -- some time around 11:45 on Hunt day -- would cause us to quietly hail a cab to the airport and leave town.
Gene Weingarten: literally Yesterday, from the stage, people seemed to literally stretch to the horizon. It was then that Tom spontaneously announced: One handout per team.
We were a little scared.
Endgame Chaos: My favorite part of the day was during the endgame when a large group of people figured that the EIEIO clue meant to look for an address of 1313 (evidently the O was just an "extra"). There were about 75 people clustered around the call box for a building at 1313 F St dialing random codes, until a man came down and got what I am sure was a shock: a sudden, huge group of people asking him things like "are we supposed to meet you"? and "do you have anything for us"? Even after he assured us that he had nothing to do with the contest, many people hung around, trying to figure out what to ask him that would get them a better answer.
Gene Weingarten: One of our favorite parts of the day after The Hunt is hearing stories of funny bonehead mistakes. Thank you.
Tom Shroder: My Hunt-geek response is to note that when you are solving a Hunt puzzle, if there is a solution that ever strikes you as having something irrelevant thrown is as "an extra", then you are going down a deadend. In designing these things, we immediately reject stuff that has to be shoehorned into place and doesn't fit perfectly. So just ignoring the "O" in EIEIO would be a non-starter. Or as Liz Lemmon would say, That's a deal-breaker, ladies!
Gene Weingarten: But Liz would spell her last name right. Probably.
Arlington, VA: Congratulations to the teams who won this year (grumble). Do you know if frequent winners solve puzzles together year-round -- that is, do they practice -- or do they not practice solving but just naturally work well together?
Tom Shroder: There are always members from something called the National Puzzlers League at the Hunt. I don't think they've ever won, but they always come close.
Arlington, VA: I both enjoyed and was frustrated by The Hunt. This is the first year that I have entered - and I was not organized enough to get a team together.
I was completely stumped at the "monuments" puzzle on the White House lawn. I first tried calling my wife in California on my cell phone. She was stumped too. I finally got the idea to stroll around and find others that were standing by themselves with puzzled looks and strike up conversations. That way, we could pool our knowledge. Finally, that worked! The fellow that I collaborated with strolled by with his group just after I had been to the clock man and was puzzled, sitting on a park bench. The Aha! moment came later...
I see this puzzle as an object lesson in the value of having a group of minds to work on a time-constrained problem with no obvious solution.
Next year, assuming that I am successful in obtaining a new job in this region, I'll be back with a team!
Dr. Gene Nelson
P.S. Please have illustrator Otis Sweat include the Metro stops on the map next year. That will help us to get oriented after we get off the Metro, who is after all, one of the sponsors!
Gene Weingarten: I think there are two kinds of people in the world: People willing to trade answers and people unwilling to trade answers.
Competitive vs. collaborative.
Men vs. women.
Baltimore, Md.: Hey guys,
So we (me and my dad) did the Post Hunt for the first time this year, and first we must commend you on a truly diabolical day of fun. But not, apparently, diabolical enough for us not to overthink it, and we thought that our even more complex answer to the clock puzzle might interest you.
You were supposed to "look for the missing letters in what I said." The missing letters in the corresponding article were, in alphabetical order, "isx." Most people recognized this as an anagram and got "six." This never occurred to us. We instead took "X" as a roman numeral (ten), and wrote down "isten." Given the silence-related clue, we figured this meant "listen," which would mean the missing letter was L, roman numeral for 50--which happened to also correspond with a clue.
The moral of this story? Next year, make it harder.
On second thought, please don't.
Thanks again for a terrific day--we'll see you again next year!
Gene Weingarten: Wow!
Tom Shroder: That is impressive overthink. But I like it.
Booooo!!: Wanna know how GD smart I am??? Well, I shall TELL you!
My team and I were pondering the statue with the four soldiers "posted" at each corner. Trying to figure out, along with quite a few other people, how it fit with the "four poster" clue.
Suddenly it dawned on me, that unlike every other clue where there was something to "get", not ONCE had we seen a team high-five each other or cry out in glee. That's when we knew there was nothing to see there.
Tom Shroder: That's the "aha!" factor we talk about. When you solve a Hunt puzzle, you should fell certain that you have solved it. If it still seems murky, then you are barking up the wrong statue, so to speak.
rockville, md: What time did the posters get hung in the window of Filene's? Did you have someone hang them at 3:00, or were they there all day?
Gene Weingarten: The indomitable Jule and Nicole put them up at 2:59.59.
Falls Church, VA: Another funny coincidence - at one of the statues (at the opposite end of freedom plaza) was the Hunt staffer wearing a sign that said "501". Parked next to the statue for about a half hour was a Vespa with the odometer ending halfway between 499 and 500. Our team (and I bet a few others) were convinced the Vespa was part of the clue until a woman nonchalantly sat on the Vespa and drove away.
Tom Shroder: That's always the giveaway -- when part of the clue putters away in the middle of the Hunt.
Germantown, MD: Not saying your clock article was -easy- to write, but let it be noted that the French writer Georges Perec wrote an entire -novel- without using the letter "e".
Gene Weingarten: I will argue that not using three letters, two of which are I and S, is harder than not using an e. Of course, I did not write a novel.
It was excruciating to write 300 words.
Columbia, MD: My excuse for not getting the statue puzzle is because I kept cracking up reading the clues.
Tom Shroder: Dave wrote those. Duh.
Gene Weingarten: Dave also wrote the 5 opening questions, which I thought were great. Except for the one about the Yankees sucking. He got that factually wrong.
Registered teams?: My team and I decided that we would happily pay $10 to $20 to register as a team.
I know the Hunt isn't about making money, but if this event is ever in danger of being chopped to cut costs, please persuade the Accountants to do a survey to confirm what I already know is true.
Don't ever let the Hunt go away!
Gene Weingarten: I hear Tom takes private registry fees.
Heartbroken at 13th and G: I hope Lucy the Boxer got a premium bone for her participation. She was scared to death -- especially when I tried to feed her my cell phone.
Tom Shroder: Awwww. I didn't know that. Poor baby.
Gene Weingarten: Lucy had been out on what what probably the longest urban walk of her life: More than two hours. She was a tired little person.
Rachel's mom: I didn't recognize her either. I knew she was one of the two congresspeople.
Tom Shroder: You might of missed this, but when Gene credited Rachel at the end of the Hunt, she stood there near the stage and gave the most perfect politician wave i have ever seen, including from actual politicians. She is a method actor.
Gene Weingarten: It was Dave onstage; I missed this: IT WAS BETTER THAN A HILLARY WAVE?
Alexandria: Re: decoys.... As we completed all the puzzles by 1:15, we killed the time and amused ourselves by walking around to the other statues, and squealing like school girls when we discovered that there was a person with a number standing underneath it. We'd jump up and down, high-five each other, and glance over our shoulders to make sure others weren't copying our "answers". The best response was when we did this at the big horse statue over by Treasury, and several groups then "got it" and said "we have to go collect #s from all the other statues". Priceless.
It was also fun to listen to audience members at the debate say "they keep saying the same things over and over. I wish they'd stop saying those things over and over and actually gie us the clue." hahahahahah!
Tom Shroder: Some people who happened by thought they were actually debating a real bill for Congress.
Gene Weingarten: ...And were disappointed that they were so short on facts.
Post Freebies: Thanks very much for the stuff in the Hunt goodie bags: the Washington Post ice scraper, the mini-beachball and the presidential pencil. But mainly, thanks for the plastic bag. I have a dog.
Gene Weingarten: Our newspaper operates on the same value-added theory.
Tom Shroder: But seriously folks, that entire gift bag thing existed solely to disguise the fact that we were handing you a clue to the monuments puzzle. And now, if you ever want to know what number prez James Garfield was, you cna thank us.
Gene Weingarten: He was number 21.
True fact: I didn't want to give people a hint. I wanted you to have to know or deduce the presidential numbers. Dave and Tom shouted me down.
$$$: Not to tip your hat too much, but do you make some decent money off of the sponsorship for this event? Can we semi-rationalize that we are supporting the Washington Post as out of towners by cultivating a good sponsorship/income generating opportunity for you? Of course the sponsorship isn't going to save the paper, but is it a fun diversion that also makes you some cabbage?
Gene Weingarten: It makes a LITTLE cabbage. Enough for one of those shot-glass size paper containers of cole slaw.
Tom Shroder: The fact that the Hunt was able to at least pay for itself in this graveyard economy is impressive, I think. Maybe some day the news operation will be a subdivision of Hunt Inc.
Washington dc: What clue or puzzle has generated the most grief for you? having the last 4 in the number corresponding to the "let it be" clue was diabolical--it was my team's undoing. but we had great fun and can't wait again for next year. or perhaps we'll carpetbag down to miami for the next tropic hunt...
Gene Weingarten: On the night before the 1985 Hunt in Miami, a tropical storm swept through. Unfortunately, this was right when we had a team of professionals assembling an enormous styrofoam maze -- like a mouse maze -- that people were supposed to run through. Gigantic walls of Styrofoam were swept into the air and into Biscayne Bay. The entire Puzzle was destroyed; we had to gin a lame one up -- with the same answer -- the next morning.
Fairfax, VA: Let's be real here: this game is not child friendly. First, going to 5 clue locations is reasonable, despite hills and streets and stairs. I can certainly make it with my strollered baby. But adding an additional 9 locations on top of that? And only after going to one of the further locations to figure out that you had to then go to 9 different statues? This is not kid-friendly. And the end game...I'm sure this has to stay as is, but it makes it virtually impossible to compete if the end game is all about who runs the fastest to the location. Just saying. So let's be real when you tell people that this is kid-friendly.
Tom Shroder: It might help to have a team with designated runners who can scout ahead and report by sell. -- so the small kids can hang back a bit. Just a thought.
Gene Weingarten: And by "report by sell," Tom means "report by cell." Also, there is not always running involved. Sometimes, not always. We consider it a plus when there is not.
20007: EIEIO 'turned over' is EIEIO... the mirror image of EIEIO is 01313...
Tom Shroder: Wrong.
Gene Weingarten: Wrong.
Washington, DC: The letter E constitues 15 out of the 121 characters in your response :)
Gene Weingarten: I will argue that not using three letters, two of which are I and S, is harder than not using an e. Of course, I did not write a novel.
Gene Weingarten: And i and s combined are 15.
Kensington, MD: Our team fell victim to the statutes. We had labelled the story of Sam Horn in the Making It feature of the magazine as very suspicious. When we tried to determine the meaning of the statutes, we noticed that they were placed in front of the Post Office Pavilion. Sam Horn was holding a booking titled POP in her picture. The story described several of her successful methods including alliteration (Bed Bath & Beyond). We noted that the Ben Franklin statue contained four words around its base--Patriot, Philanthropist, Philosopher, and Printer. We placed importance on the letter P, and did the arithmetic equation by adding and subtracting the number of times the letter P appeared. The result was 3, a number clue contained on the list.
Did you intend to take us down that long, winding wild goose chase, or were we the victims of our own groupthink?
washingtonpost.com: The Making It article
Tom Shroder: We would never be wildly creative enough to even IMAGINE that path, much less intentionally lead you down it.
Reston, VA: Last year the Post Hunt was my first excursion into the 'real world' after having our 1st child - and she came with us. It was clear from the puzzles that I would have no hope of ever figuring out the end game without detailed instructions involving interpretive dance. So, on to plan B. This year, we were back and I brought her (14 months old) too. I figure if I start training her now, we'll have a shot at winning in 2027 so keep the Hunt coming! Plus, it's WAY more fun than violin recitals. Thanks for a great day guys!
Tom Shroder: We've actually had a completely grown woman come up to us and inform us that she did her first Hunt in utero.
Pants Scand, AL: Gene,
I was shocked! You, who had previously denounced them as a bizarre youthful affectation, showed up to the Hunt in cargo pants. Explain yourself, sir.
Gene Weingarten: Cargo pants allow one to secrete on one's person a cell phone a pad of paper, pens, as well as to stash panties given to one during the course of the Hunt.
20007: The bailout one at $893 was -too- easy. I was expecting a second part to it like all the other ones (there were two steps - text to #, majority, or monuments -> presidents, then order). The clock one I got almost immediately, but was completely befuddled by the 9 statues. Didn't make any progress on it at all
washingtonpost.com: Video: Solution to the Bailout Puzzle
Tom Shroder: I talked to a group of very experienced Hunters after the endgame who got every puzzle, except the bailout. They just didn't study the $100 bill closely enough.
DC: My team made it to the toilet on the map...unfortunately, we were there before the endgame.
See, when we received the clock clue, we read the First Person Singular and realized there were two contractions and a "gonna" - words not normally used by journalists. Using the clue provided, we decided the missing letters were "wi," "wi" (from "they'll") and "going to." Then we pondered this and thought "going to wi wi"? "Going to wee wee?" There's a toilet on the map! Going off our knowledge of Gene and Dave's senses of humor, we figured this HAD to be right!
So we went to Filene's Basement. There, we took 20% off the street address of Filene's (based on the coupon provided in our gift bag) to get a number that corresponded with a number in the magazine. Sigh.
Alternatively, "going to wi wi" is 11 letters - 11 was also a number in the magazine.
Yeah, we overthought it.
Gene Weingarten: WOW. Well, I am laughing.
Baltimore, MD: Great Hunt, guys, thanks for all the work you put into it. Hunt Day is rapidly becoming my favorite day of the year. I'd like to second what Silver Spring said earlier about not announcing the answer to the final puzzle so soon. And I'd further suggest maybe making it a little bit harder, so it doesn't get solved in under 15 minutes. That way, teams that get stuck on one part of the puzzle for a few minutes would still have a chance to make up for it with quick work on another part.
Tom Shroder: But that would mean we'd have to prolong the horrible agony of not knowing if anyone was solving the Hunt at all. In Hunt Time, every minute of waiting to discover if we actually succeeded in making the endgame work is equal to about 10 years. One time, it took close to an hour, and I needed sedation.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, these are the longest 15 minutes anyone has to endure, short of waterboarding.
Arlington, VA: Will you three ever write a book about the Tropic, Herald and Post Hunts, with a history of the contests, anecdotes, a complete list of puzzles, and many poop and booger jokes?
Tom Shroder: I kind of doubt it, but you may have noticed a red-headed comic book character on the map along with me, Dave and Gene. That's Andy, who has created a website called tropichunt.com. It has an extensive archive of descriptions, photos and video of past Hunts, going all the way back to 1984. Andy competed this year and got close, but no ceegar.
Not the National Park Service: The Style story today said about 10,000 people attended the Hunt. You didn't hand out fortune cookies this year, so how did you get that number?
washingtonpost.com: 10,000 Brains Teased in Post Hunt (Post, May 18, 2009)
Tom Shroder: We actually handed out 5,000 of some items last year. This year we had three-times as many people requesting text and e-mail updates, and standing up on that stage looking out over the crowd, it was just obvious that the tightly packed mass of people was even more tightly packed and covered at least twice the area that it had last year. So my best guess is at least twice as many as last year. Obviously, that could be wrong, but it could as easily be MORE than 10,000 as less.
Gene Weingarten: I consider the 10,000 number definitive, because it has been published. It is Established Fact. In fact, I believe there were EXACTLY 10,000 people there.
Washington, DC: Gene/Dave/Tom - Kudos! This was my team's first year participating and we loved it all. After being frustrated by the first "live statues" clue and then getting the next two answers (the failed monuments and the debaters) almost immediately...we were totally hooked. We were about halfway to solving the end game when the winners were announced. We'll be back next year.
Tom Shroder: Basically, we are crack dealers.
First Person Singular: That one stood out like a sore winky. It was too short and there was NO BYLINE!
I feel like there should have been a special prize for me for figuring that out.
Tom Shroder: Did you also find the missing letters?
Gene Weingarten: I'll bet not.
Fairfax, Virginia: I am hearing, naturally, people talking about how fun this was, but weren't there some angry and frustrated people as well? Were there ever moments when you felt a little scared?
Tom Shroder: If there were angry and frustrated people, they were kind enough not to show it to us. People seemed astonishingly good-spirited and inclined to cut us all kinds of slack on whatever went less than perfectly. Look at us up there. I would think the term "well-oiled machine" would not be the first thing to pop into your mind.
Arlington: Oh, Gene, I have to apologize. I was part of a group that asked Dave Barry to pose for a photo with us, but I was too star-struck by you to ask you to pose. I felt awful about it since you didn't get to have a celebrity moment like Dave did. I totally heart you and I was way more star-struck by you than by Dave. Just wanted to let you know!
Tom Shroder: Gag!
Clue Explanations: Maybe one thing you guys could do would be to announce the CLUE explanations at, say, 3:30, so that those who didn't get all 5 clues wouldn't have to wait around cluelessly, but have the actual Hunt go till 4 o'clock? That way those who are working on the Endgame don't have to come back till then, but those who want explanations still get something earlier.
Tom Shroder: But . . . wouldn't that give it away to people who were still trying to solve it?
Alexandria, VA: I thought the Sandy Spring bank was the fake ad. And we missed the sign with the exchange rates on them. I spent about 10 mins on the phone trying to open up an account with $100 in gold there. It never gave me a clue.
Tom Shroder: But gold is a good investment, so you are ahead of the game.
20004: I'm sure the video team did a great job editing, but I second having written versions of the clues for those without the luxury of high-speed internet access, sound on our work computers, the patience to watch the videos, or a 3 hour car ride with Amanda on Friday.
washingtonpost.com: Moira, watch them and like them. Everyone else: there were a couple of chatters seconding the request for written versions. I'll consider putting up the script that we worked from, but I promise you, a written version isn't as much fun. You miss gems like the lady wondering if there is a ghost named Herbert.
Gene Weingarten: We need to write a book about a ghost named Herbert.
Washington, DC: Gene, you are such a liar. You're a skinny guy! And this is coming from a woman who was called a toothpick her whole life. Throwing virtual panties at you, Dave and Tom! Great job at the Hunt!
Tom Shroder: I've been waiting for Gene's virtual panty surplus!
Washington, DC: Just curious, do you have any idea of how many teams solved the endgame?
Gene Weingarten: Not really. The first three or four were spread apart well enough so the winners were clear. Then a whole bunch of you were on to it.
Albany, NY: You realize, don't you, that you can never use Grover Cleveland in a puzzle, because Hunters will wonder whether the answer is 22 or 24.
P.S. It occurs to me that Garfield couldn't have been 21st because Arthur followed him and not Cleveland. 20th, I think.
Tom Shroder: What you should know is that Gene very seriously argued that we did not need to include the Presidential Pencil in the Hunt because, like him, MOST PEOPLE would have memorized the order of the presidents, including the fact that Cleveland popped up twice. He was better after his injection though.
Gene Weingarten: Tom and I fought about this for about an hour on the phone, because we had already ordered the pencils, and the pencils didn't NUMBER the presidents, and so who would know that Cleveland was twice.
Then we finally LOOKED at the pencils, and saw his name was, in fact. on there twice.
Tra, DE: Well, I traded "missing letters" for the monuments answer.
I got no satisfaction from it, and won't be doing so again.
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Gene Weingarten: Trading answers is ultimately disappointing, like peeking at your Christmas presents in advance, to use a really weak analogy.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, we're done here! Thank you all for playing, and for participating here. We can't tell you for sure we'll see you next year, but we're hopin.'
Clue Explanations (again): I meant, just give the 5 clue explanations at 3:30 (even if it "gave it away," those people would be too late for the endgame) and announce the endgame clue explanation at 4 o'clock, so that endgame lovers would have an hour, but those who couldn't even attempt the endgame would get explanations at 3:30. Sorry for the confusion :)
Tom Shroder: Remember that if we don't have a winner at 3:30, we don't know how close people are to solving it. So if we give the puzzle answers, someone in the crowd could conceivably beat those who solved the answers to the solution to the endgame and get there first.
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