Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Great America Race Treasure Hunt: Day 6

Once again we started at a coffee house. We can really start to get used to this! (hint hint, Chris & Lisa) After our morning buzz, we moved across the street to the steps of a large church for the daily sermon. Josh gave us the choice of one of two sets of clues. A single difficult clue with 5 answers and a usual set of 7 or so clues in normal fashion. After each team huddled around each other to debate and vote, one representative of each stepped forth and made their choice. Josh also said that for today only, we have the choice of splitting our teams in 2. We decided to go for the normal set of clues over the harder sin gle clue, as did most other teams. We also agreed that our team is strongest as a single unit, rather than splitting up our skill sets. Our biggest mistake of the race, so far. We easily flew threw our clues in our normal fashion, despite the humidity and evil predatory gnats that apparently thrive here in a climate that’s roughly equivalent to Dante’s hottest level of Hell (only much more scenic). Our only stumbling block was a graveyard of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution, where we had much trouble finding a particular name on one of the headstones. Much to our chagrin, upon calling in the final answer at the pirate cove down by the river, we were informed that we were the LAST TEAM TO LEAVE SAVANNAH. Apparently, our choice not to split up, wasn’t so ‘brilliant’ after all. At the beginning of the day we were 34 minutes ahead of Team Bloodshot, the second place team. By the end of Savannah, we had switched positions and were now 78 minutes behind them.

Stay tuned for our triumphant comeback on the seventh and final day of The Great America Race.

END DAY 6 (It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity… and the carnivorous gnats)

PS: The day’s good fortune continued as we learned while driving 7 hours to Panama City that back home in Virginia, Jason and Corina’s house as well as Mat’s car had been impaled the day before by rapidly decelerating local flora (large tree limbs crashing down)

The Great America Race Treasure Hunt: Day 5

We started out waking up at 6am in order to take the MARTA (subway) into downtown Atlanta. Once arriving at the Peachtree Center Mall we obtained coffee and a quick bite to eat to fuel our adventure.

Fifteen minutes before starting time, Josh text messages everyone with the message “I am at the Peachtree MARTA entrance…oh, but which one?” Did we mention, that this was a HUGE mall (encompassing several city blocks) with numerous entrances to the MARTA. As we started to scout around the mall, we picked up other teams, forming temporary alliances in our quest for the ever-elusive Josh.

Finally, 2 blocks away and across the street, we managed to spot Josh in his oddly bright shirt. After Josh’s briefing we received our next set of clues and our map. Since we started right next to a public library, us and a few other teams, ran into the air conditioning to analyze the clues and devise a game plan.

While Mary and Corina sorted clues, Mike realized that the bonus clue was a unique one not usually seen, an Ogham cipher. Jason and Mat quick cracked the code that would later be the downfall of many teams (according to our code book, this cipher has never been solved, and our team believes that it’s inclusion in the race was absolutely… BRILLIANT).

While we were running around trying to find Josh at the start, Mike noticed the upper entrance to the mall was surrounded by country flags. Our first clue eluded to where many flags were raised , before you enter the mall… a quick run to where we started revealed the answer to our first clue of the day. We proceeded down a hill into the Centennial Olympic Park, a large green area with statues, walkways, etc, etc. We immediately found a large statue depicting runners and the clue told us to Vigenere the sculpture’s name. We did so, and quickly move along. We proceeded up the path to the statue of Baron Coubertin who revived the Olympic Games.

After locating a small plaque on the side, and a quick line-word-letter, we were on our way. The next clue instructed us to use the provided Roman Numerals to locate a large area of bricks with many words, phrases, and dedications from sponsors to the park. The numerals and the process of elimination, allowed to pinpoint our objective. Our journey continued under the blazing Atlanta sun… the next clue led us to what could have been refreshment but the waterways were dry. At the Coca-Cola bulding, the dry waterways and a bearded statue yielded an answer that filled in our blanks, but did not quench our thirst for victory.

Clue 8 led us up Bakers Street from the Olympic Park to Peachtree, where we began. At this intersection we saw the ‘arch of knowledge’ alluded to in clue 9, the last clue in our set, as well as several other teams working diligently. Knowing that we were close to our end, we searched the area for the statue of clue 8. Swiftly we found him, just past the arch of knowledge… waving at the other teams as we passed. At the statue, Corina located the tiny turtles that made up the base of the lamps surrounding the statue, which was the answer to this clue.

Now knowing this we joined the others to solve the final clue in our packet. “Sigillium first at twelve o’clock and one o’clock as well the hour of noon at emory then med school soon at twelve” was what we had to work with to solve this very tough clue. Once we oriented our paper upon the nine seals on the ground, our riddle finally started to make sense. The solution read “Examine nearby radioactive vessel” which was a yellow magazine box with a radioactive symbol on it. In this box, was a second packet of clues, I guess we weren’t s o close to the end after all.

We ducked inside an alcove and quickly began solving the second packet which led us to the Sun Dial, a revolving restaurant on top of a 72 story hotel. From this high vantage point, we needed to locate a navy blue ‘G’ and find out where it resides… which was Georgia Aquarium at Pemberton Park, our answer for the next clue. Once realizing that we didn’t actually have to circle the aquarium and that we were done in Atlanta, we hopped back on the MARTA and headed back to the car, not yet knowing where in Savannah we were headed.

On our way to Savannah, we realized that we had 3 pieces of a 4 piece puzzle. Not knowing what to do with them, we pieced them together and noticed that the map we had been using all day was the fourth and final piece only faded and enlarge several times larger than the 3.

After wrestling with these 4 images and a slew of random letters and number we decided to take a “tactical hit” and threw in the towel. On the phone we Josh, he informs us that the crazy jumble of letters and numbers that we had been working on so frantically was nothing but garbage, the classic “red herring”. The actual solution was hidden withing the 3 images we had taped together, in addition to the map.

Josh told us about the winding path through the stars on the images and how they related to numbers that were seen previously in the Sun Dial restuaraunt. Using the numbers that the path winded through, revealed a telephone number the the Molly McPherson Irish Pub (coincidently a clan with actual blood ties to Jason and Mat)

The Great America Race Treasure Hunt: Day 4

Thank you Josh Wolak!

We began our fourth day at a coffee shop!! So everyone got their coffee fix before the day’s adventure. Josh informed us during the briefing that sometimes he does things a little different; in particular, his maps. He passed out the clues and map and we quickly realized what he was talking about. A short drive back across the bridge took us downtown. The first clue we attempted took us to a statue with a trumpet and lyre which alluded to the painted name of the adjacent Irish pub. Just a block away we found our second statue of a golden angel which we had noted the night before after leaving the Flying Saucer Beer Emporium. There was a phrase nearb y that held our answer. Thirdly we traveled down Broadway to the Fort of Nashville by the river where we found our next statue and our next answer. The fourth location on the map quickly pointed us to the Ryman Auditorium where we snagged our answer, ran inside into the air conditioning and start to decipher our first answer sheet. A pretty interesting code, using a Caesar Shift and winding snake letter pathway led us to a street musician where we had to sing the correct song to receive an audio CD and 3 more clues. Note: we had just solved clue 5, yet were handed clues 8-10 next.

After spinning our wheels listening to 20 phonetic sounds on the CD, we decide to go back to the artist to ask if he forgot to give us something. It turns out that there was another actor in play that we had to sing some other song to for the clues 6, 7, and another phonetic audio CD. After this little mix up, things starting making sense again. Next we had to find some graffiti in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Oh yeah, did we mention the ENTIRE bar is covered in graffiti. Using clues for the riddle, we located the proper phrase and moved on. Onward, we hustled to the Charlie Daniels’ Museum, where after quite of bit of time of perusing old photos and what not, we found our next phrase. Our next location appeared to be the Bicentennial Mall State Park behind the Capitol several blocks north of where we were.

We jumped in the car to get there as fast as we could and still be able to make a speedy exit out of town. Up to this point we had not seen Team Blood Shot since the Coffee house early this morning, and feared that they were way ahead. Much to our delight, there they were. After doing some simple math related to population counts in both 1860 and 1980, we were able to crack the next code. Around the mall we finished several clues, and as we pulled to the curb so that Mike and Mat could run across the park to double check one of their answers, Mary and Corina realized that the final answer involved Doric Ruins… the ones we just happened to pull up next to by chance. Mary swiftly jumped out of the van and quickly located the final clue underneath one of the Doric columns and we were off to Atlanta.

The final clue turned out to be the disc number and track order of the phonetic audio CDs, which when played in the correct order, sounded like a drunk monkey telling us which pub to go to in Atlanta.

Just so you can feel our pain, here is how we spelled out each sound:


Which basically told us the directions to O’Terrill’s Irish Pub in Atlanta where beer, relaxation and tales of the day’s events awaited.

END DAY 4 (Note: Still in first place, but only by a very small margin)

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Great America Race Treasure Hunt: Day 3

Carpe Fluvium!

Hey, whatcha wear under that whitewater boys?

We met at a Holiday Inn parking lot, a little outside the city to avoid Monday rush hour traffic. We were advised that there would be only one puzzle to show us where to meet our new contact in Nashville. We were informed that, before Nashville, we could be rewarded with an hour off of our time by completing a physical challenge. We proceeded to caravan deep into ‘Deliverance’ territory, well close enough to hear banjo music. After a 2 or 3 hour drive, we reached the Endless River Adventures, an outfitters store in which the owner is a friend of Lisa's.

It was explained that to get an hour bonus, each team would have the opportunity to send 2 members down a series of class 2 and 3 rapids. Should the 2 volunteers make it through without falling out of the boat, they would receive a deduction of 1 hour from there final time. After a mile of Mike and Jason practicing their “river moves” they approached the challenge area. All the other teams took the easy route, right through the middle of the rapid… But not Jason and Mike! They decided to spice things up take the Hero Route and go off the left side of the falls.

After dropping off the edge, Mike’s body and the front of the raft nearly completely disappeared under the whitewater with nearly straight in the air. After Mike and the raft popped back up out of the water, Jason realized that Mike was about to fall out. Jason quickly grabbed Mike’s pfd and yelled at him, “You are NOT falling out!!”.

Once Mike was safely back in place, they realized that they were no longer moving down stream and were actually being sucked back towards the falls, just like the hand of god pulling them back in for a little spin. They kicked it up a notch and paddled like their lives depended on it, and managed to pull themselves out of the hydraulic and back down the river.

The hour reward had been obtained. We were given a puzzle with musical notes on it and told that it would lead us to Josh Wolak (the organizer of the second half of the race) in Nashville. The drive to our next destination gave us plenty of time to solve it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Great America Race Treasure Hunt: Day 2

Start location: Monroe Park.

Today we started with 3 clues in Richmond.

At Belle’s Islands we had to locate the “acids and lubricant factory’ (NOT the asses and lubricants factory). On the backside of the ruins was a small treasure chest that held a scrap of paper with the Free Masons Code.

We were then off to Forest Hill Park after debating whether to walk all the way across the island to the footbridge, or drive… our feet voted and we decided to drive. We ignored the first part of the clue, thinking we were jumping to the meat& potatos.. mistake 1 for day 2.

The 2nd half of the clue seamed to be working until we couldn’t find the scroll. After stomping around the river for about an hour, we called Chris and found out that we were in the wrong place. Oh well, on to the next clue.

Down in the Fan, near the RC office, after finding some sidewalk graffiti, we used the code word in the provided Vigenere (which fell apart halfway due to a lovely error in the code). Knowing the office was only 1 block away, and the clue mentioned “1 block north” and “raven”, we trotted up to the office and found another free mason cipher in the window.

The 3 answers instructed us to find the “goddess in main street station”, where we found our goddess Becky. She clocked us out and provided us with a clue to solve en route to Charlotte that would reveal our start location.

After a grueling 2 hours of trying WAY too complex keys. Jason opened his laptop, and Mary said, “Hey, what about a qwerty keyboard?” That, combined with Mat’s idea of shifting rows, quickly revealed a phrase that led us to a statue behind the Federal Court Building in downtown Charlotte. Just before we arrived, the sky opened up.

Once at the location, we found Lisa and Team Blood Shot who had arrived only minutes earlier. Lisa informed us of a terrible wreck on I85 and that all other teams were still stuck in Virginia. Therefore, it was decided that the Charlotte leg of the race would be run just for fun. With a map and 3 clues we decided to go play in the rain.

Our first clue led us to the Seventh Street Station parking deck. A very interesting building with several red panels running up each side of the building like large red fins. These fins made different sounds and lit up brightly when touched. We were sent to the south side of the building… after several times circling the building, we finally figured out which side the clue ‘thought’ was south. There we found a small plaque that described how to touch the building in a way that would make is light up and sing. Using a phrase, roman numerals, and binary numbers from the plaque we were instructed to create a grid used to decode the cipher at the bottom of the clue.

Once cracked, we were off to The Green. A very neat park with an abstract flavor, including talking walls, plaques, mileposts, and chess boards surrounded by lounge chairs. The clue hinted to something “underneath the battlefield” so, we looked under the chess boards and found 3 numbers. These numbers coincided with one of the mileposts what pointed the way to 3 different cities Edgar, Allen, and Poe.

Searching around this post quickly yielded a scroll, which led us a few blocks away where our answer was hidden in a statue’s coat pocket. The final clue, led us to a fountain dedicated to President Polk, where the “golden seed” referred to a plaque talking about the cottonseed and cotton industry. A specific keyword on the plaque was the answer.

Using the 3 answers and a codex code wheel the day’s answer was revealed. “Wiberty or Death”…. I guess that was the famous speech given by Elmer Fudd Henry at St. John’s Church.

At dinner, the other teams who were stuck in traffic dribbled in as we ate pizza and had a great time socializing and smack-talking.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Great America Race Treasure Hunt: Day 1

3 hour drive to DC, We met the other 7 teams at the navy memorial.. Started the day with no map and 4 clues.. In normal 'Brilliant' fashion, we opted to go to the farthest clue first...BIG MISTAKE... in route, deterred to the Jefferson milepost.. which was originally Jefferson pier.. the clue wanted us to go to Jefferson pier, but we went to the milepost... the milepost is directly in front of the white house.. due to security concerns, we couldn't get close to it for at least an hour... again, in 'Brilliant' fashion, Mat's Day-Shift cracker saved the day and allowed us to completely bypass both... :)

Next was Lincoln Memorial... long hot walk, not enough water, too many tourists. After solving the line-word-letter cipher we were routed to the DC War Memorial, thinking that we now had 2 pieces of the 4 piece answer. We thought that we could go to the DC War Memorial, take pictures of EVERYTHING and then solve the other 2 pieces and not have to come back.. once again, BIG MISTAKE, having 2 of 4 clues, we were looking for the wrong thing.. thus, back across the mall to complete the first 2 clues. Having completed those 2 no-brainers.. we now realized that we had to walk BACK across the mall again. After a leap of faith, we went to the WW2 War Memorial and used the plaque to crack the Vigenere code on the answer sheet. Guess what... we had to walk BACK ACROSS THE STINKING MALL AGAIN to Freedom Plaze where we picked up our final clue to solve en route to Richmond to find our contact there.

Mary, in her infinite BRILLIANCE, hermitted herself in the back of the van with only a pen, a notepad, and the clue and cracked the anagrammed keyword cypher which revealed the first Richmond location, St. John's Church.

On our home turf, we met Becky and Andy at St. John's, where they gave us 4 clues and told us we needed to pick up 4 scrolls. We swung by the Statue of Liberty at Chimborazo and swiftly found the scroll in a relatively obvious hiding place. Then we were off to Brown's Island and found another scroll underneath a big rock by the statue of a man steering the boat. Next we arrived at the park containing the monument to the 1st Regiment, at the corner of Park & Stuart. For the first time, we rolled up on Team Blood Shot, Josh had warned us about these guys. Apparently they are hot shots from Cali who run similarly complicated races. After an hour of searching by both teams on hands and knees for the third scroll, we decided to tackle the fourth scroll and come back to try again. We quickly retrieved the 4th clue from near the AP Hill statue. Upon our return to the park, we saw Team Blood Shot leaving, to apparently do the same thing we just did. After another half hour crawling in the bushes, we took the hit and called in for the location of the scroll. After finding the last scroll, and taping the four pieces together, we sat in the van and watched teams one by one (including Blood Shot) continue to scour for the scroll in the park- to no avail. Meanwhile, the 5 of us where bleeding out of ears and eyes, trying to a solve the final clue that include 4 drunken chess knights. After an hour and seeing several other teams pick up the scroll, we decided to call it quits, call in the for the final answer, and drink a beer. Our tactical call-ins paid of, as we drank for a couple of hours before we saw another team enter the bar.

(NOTE: if you call in for an answer, you suffer an hour penalty)