This past weekend, two of my colleagues at ASMSA and I competed in the 2017 Spa Con Puzzle Hunt (Spa Con is the local sci-fi/fantasy/comic convention in Hot Springs, AR, which is the “Spa City”). I am proud to announce that we won, but, more importantly than that, I wanted to talk about what a cool experience actually getting to compete in it was. The organizers based their idea for the evening off of the 1980 movie Midnight Madness (which happened to be Michael J. Fox’s movie debut).
To give you an idea of what it was like, I wanted to tell you about each puzzle and clue so that you could get a sense of how intricate it all was. The event was extremely and impressively well planned, and that is part of what made it so great. As an FYI, I received permission from one of the organizers to talk about the puzzles, so I am not spoiling anything.
The game started in the large Hot Springs Convention Center auditorium, where every team was handed a map (which had clues on it, little did we know). There we saw, in an homage to Twin Peaks, a supposed federal agent driving around in Hot Springs trying to solve the mystery of the Tardis. That was our first clue.
Outside the auditorium was a replica Tardis (it said so on the plaque… because duh it is a replica). That Tardis had a flashing blue light above it that spelled out, in Morse Code, “Maxwell has a mighty blade.” (The map had a Morse Code key on it, which helped to clue you in.)
That led you to the magician Maxwell Blade’s theater. There, the billboard flashed up a bunch of famous people and said, “Let’s make something disappear.” This helped you realize that each famous person had a letter missing from their name. The missing letters spelled out “Tune in to KUHS,” which is the local radio station.
The radio station was playing a homemade rap that was about chemistry, molecular construction, and the periodic table of elements. It would be a bit too much to go into all the clues, but each verse was essentially a series of clues that led you to a different letter (or pair of letters), which, when all combined, spelled out “Dugan” for the Dugan-Steward Building.
At the Dugan-Steward Building, you found a Stranger Things-inspired Christmas lights clue. The letters it spelled out, when corresponded with locations on your map (each labeled with a letter), drew an arrow that pointed to your next location, the parking garage.
At the parking garage, there was a difficult to see screen with a bunch of glasses on the table. I found out later you were supposed to ask one of the attendants for their glasses (whoops), but for some reason my group found a pair of polarized lenses that let us see the message. That said to go to location Z, make a relief of something (they had crayons), and “look under the missing O.”
Once we arrived at location Z, the Post Office, we were basically stuck. Much later we realized that our map had some words on it that were taken from a plaque about baseball. We realized that the words on our map were missing the word “who,” and the next location was centered right under where the “o” in “who” should have been.
Thus the next location, one of the town’s escape rooms, held our final clue. Seven photographs of fish (and one idol) that corresponded with a nearby fish tank. When you counted up the numbers of the different kinds of fish in the fish tank and matched those up with the appropriate letter of the alphabet, you had the word “cadence,” which activated the “federal agent” from the video who led us to the end.
We had won!
Of course… we hit some snags along the way. We got lost and ended up going to the parking garage first, only later backtracking through the other clues. In fact, though we were the first group to get to the ending, we decided to be honest and declare immediately that we had not gotten all the clues. The judges conferred, appreciating our honesty, and decided that if we could figure out the missing clues and make it back before anyone else that we would still be the winners. We were lucky enough to do so. (And, as far as I know, almost everyone did things out of order and we were the only team that eventually solved all the clues.)
Additionally, we probably spent 45 minutes at the post office looking for the missing “o,” only to find a random missing 0 (zero) on a street sign and look under it for a few minutes! Quite an unlucky coincidence that cost us a lot of time. Also, when we were in the escape room, one of the fish had “swam” inside the fish tank idol, so at first our word looked like “caddncd.” We thought we had misunderstood the puzzle. And we did get some hints/clues along the way from various people.
Anyway, it was a tremendous amount of fun and I wanted to share some of the joy I had with everyone else.
ALSO, as winners, we were tasked with either completely designing or designing with help next year’s “Midnight Madness” puzzle hunt. So, if you are in Hot Springs next year for Spa Con, please come compete! We will see if we can stump you.