Before I begin to tell you about what I did this past Sunday, let me tell you a tale. Back in the 1980s, Dave Barry was the reigning king of humor columns. He had been hired by Gene Weingarten to write for the Miami Herald’s Sunday magazine. Also working at the Herald was Tom Schroder. The three men became the co-creators of the Tropic Hunt – a devious scavenger hunt in and around the Miami area consisting of 5 puzzles to solve in various locations, which all combine along with a final clue, to form the craziest and most mind-bending final puzzle you’ll ever attempt. After Gene left Miami in the early 90s to go to Washington, he would still help with the Tropic Hunt. When it became the Herald Hunt in 2001, it was just Tom and Dave doing it. And then in 2008, Dave, Gene and Tom decided to bring the madness to DC, and every spring since then, we’ve been … blessed? … with the infuriating frustration that is attempting to complete the Hunt.
I hope I’ve emphasized correctly how difficult this game-puzzle-scavenger-hunt-thing is. Because it’s devious. Dave, Gene and Tom would all gleefully tell anyone that their goal is to stump a large number of people who are doing the main puzzles, and to make it nearly impossible for nearly everyone in the final puzzle. And when they announce the answers, people boo, and they boo with love, but they boo heartily.
Anyways – I’ve been doing this since 2009. I missed the first year because I was out of town, but have yet to miss a Hunt since then. I have my standard team – my friends H and M. Up until this year, we usually had their young sons in tow (H was even massively pregnant with her second our first year doing the Hunt), but last summer they moved away. I was very sad, but less so when they told me that they intended to make it back to DC every spring for the Post Hunt. So yay! I introduced the Boy to the Hunt as early in our relationship as possible and he seemed to enjoy it too, and that was a good sign. 🙂
But with H and M traveling sans children, and the Boy and I being without the girls, it meant that for the first time in our 8 years of Hunting together, there would be no babies in tow. Amazing!
As a warmup, on Saturday night we did another Escape Room – this time at Escape Artist DC. Basically, we rocked it. We came out with more than 15 minutes to spare, and secured second place on the leader board. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty confident. Cocky even.
The Hunt works like this. You get a copy of the Magazine, or you read the opening clues online. You peruse the possible solutions where the answer is always a number. You get the first digit of coordinates to puzzle locations by answering those opening clues, and then showing up at the main stage at noon. One of the puzzles is always at the main stage. You go to each of the locations.
Sometimes they hand you stuff. This is useful…if you can figure out what it means. Sometimes the answer can be figured out by staying at that puzzle location. Often, you are sent to a second location.
Sometimes things are obvious, and sometimes things that look like they are clues, or could be part of the puzzle are definitely not. See: people who took close-up photos of the weights that held the supports for this large piece. No – the fandango event company people have nothing to do with the answer.
You go to the second location and say to yourself, “But what does this mean?” Until someone in your group whose brain is broken in a different way gathers you to the side and you go, “Oh my god we are all idiots” or “Oh my god, Gene, Tom and Dave are crazy people.” Either exclamation is just as likely.
If you are us, and find all the answers to the puzzles early, you get lunch, and pat yourselves on the back, until you realize 20 minutes later that there was a prize for figuring out the answers the earliest, and you should have emailed the people at the Hunt, and OMG MAGGIE IS THE WORST because she knew about it, and forgot/didn’t say anything. Later you discover that you were 20 minutes slower than the people who did win that prize, so it makes Maggie less of “The Worst” and just not good at remembering things.
You put all the solution clues together and start to think about what it might mean. The endgame puzzle is presented at 3pm sharp. You watch as something happens onstage. You have ideas. You’re not sure. You dash away from the stage to a location you think is right. It’s definitely wrong. You move to a second location. You text your teammates. You call – did you try this? No? Have we checked twitter? Dammit – someone already finished it! What kind of crazies are these people? You head back to the main stage, where Tom, Dave and Gene explain all the answers, including the final puzzle. People boo when things are too devious. Others cheer wave their arms excitedly to show “We were smart enough to finish that puzzle” when asked who figured it out. But most of us who got correct answers to all 5 puzzles were still not brain-broken enough to figure out the final puzzle. Our brains were not broken in the correct way.
But you know what? We’ll get it next year.
Want to do it yourself next year? Watch this space (the date is usually set in late February/early March)