My Weekend With WarTron

It all started a few months ago with a contest/competition from a fic­tional soft­ware com­pany.  Skip back to my post on the appli­ca­tion if you need back­ground on that piece of the story.  There is a great amount of world­build­ing and fore­shad­ow­ing in the appli­ca­tion that wove into the week­end quite well.  This is how Team Snout’s lat­est instance of The Game began.

Note that if you are a time-traveller, read­ing this blog post from the future, doing research, as you do, on past Snout games in prepa­ra­tion for their upcom­ing neovic­to­rian steam­punk mur­der mys­tery Game (well, I can only assume and/or hope that is the theme), then this blog post may or may not be for you.  While it may not give exact answers to puz­zles, it may spoil you on the meth­ods and thought processes used to arrive at the answers.  You have been warned.  

Also: if some­one wants to link me to detailed puz­zle analy­sis else­where, I’ll link out from the rel­e­vant sec­tions.  

Spelling and gram­mar errors are entirely mine and absolutely expected — this is a hur­ried post-event 5000 word blog-post/brain-dump before I munge too many details.  Little, if any, proof­read­ing was per­formed.


The Game itself started Friday night at the North Star Ballroom.  We checked in, received some infor­ma­tion pack­ets, and sat down to pizza and bev­er­ages.  We received a login to the “BUGME” sys­tem and a mys­te­ri­ous card­board box sport­ing elec­tron­ics sealed in tape and epoxy called “BYTE.”  Naming them both computer-like B-words was a cause for a tiny bit of con­fu­sion through­out the week­end, but they did serve two dis­tinct pur­poses.  BUGME was a “repur­posed bug track­ing sys­tem” sit­ting on the inter­net and accessed via ssh through a smart­phone or other con­nected device.  You use it to look up key­words (i.e. puz­zle answers) in a data­base and dis­play the cor­re­spond­ing record (i.e. the new loca­tion plus some related fla­vor text).  I thought that this was a great way to check answers, plus my under­stand­ing is that behind the scenes, it allowed the gamemas­ters to trans­par­ently skip teams past loca­tions if they’re run­ning a bit behind, thereby free­ing up some gamerun­ner resources.  The BYTE (or as we called it Byte Me) was a lit­tle gad­get with a USB port and blinken­lights.  Connected at 9600 baud over a lap­top, you could issue com­mands and inter­act with it.  It turned out to also do some other cool stuff over the week­end, but at the moment every­thing except some code ref­er­ence sheets (morse code, let­ters, num­bers, ASCII val­ues, etc.) was locked.  I was extremely tempted to whip out a JTAG pro­gram­mer to see if I could pull any­thing from the device, but I refrained, fear­ing I’d break some­thing in the process and cause us to miss out on some­thing cool.  We also received plas­tic ID badges that were not RFID enabled.  (We checked.)

Once sit­u­ated with our gear at the North Star, we had a brief meta-introduction to the game and then every­thing else from then on was “in char­ac­ter.”  The GotoVision chief of secu­rity came on stage and explained the for­mat of “The Weekend With Wartron.”  It would start with a sight­see­ing tour of the Portland area to view loca­tions that inspired Professor Goto’s videogames.  It would then con­clude with us being able to playtest in with their upcom­ing WarTron video game.  Next, Professor Goto came up on stage, angry at hav­ing to take time from her research to babysit a bunch of con­test win­ners.  Finally, we were given a Doubleclicks per­for­mance while min­gling and solv­ing.

At one point in the evening, the BYTE box flashed and beeped, dis­play­ing the indi­vid­ual let­ters of “Alert” on its one-character dis­play.  Plugging it in and access­ing the alert menu (which was now unlocked), we found a mes­sage from the rogue AI.  Our box had one key, with oth­ers dis­trib­uted to the other teams.  We had to start using our BYTE box to “war­dial” other teams.  Each box has a lit­tle speaker and micro­phone and could be placed next to each other like a lit­tle acoustic cou­pler.  It was a great social way to go from team to team, um, bump­ing boxes, as it were.  (We will gloss over a minor tech­ni­cal glitch that prompted Game Control to tweet out a num­ber of keys that could not be oth­er­wise received on the boxes).

We basi­cally had two puz­zles: one we received in our infor­ma­tion pack­ets involv­ing coast­ers and one that was the result of war­dial­ing to col­lect keys.  And also, the Doubleclicks just “hap­pened” to print out way too many copies of their setlist.  I won’t go to deep into the coaster puz­zle, mainly because I was only half pay­ing atten­tion while try­ing to explore and hack the BYTE device.  It was Morse code, wrapped around squares, with some­thing (let­ters? sym­bols?) removed.  The key puz­zle was find­ing sound-alikes in the setlist, then index­ing let­ters into the song title.  Both puz­zles were fairly easy in ret­ro­spect, but we were one of the last teams there.  I am not sure if we were just being slow that evening (though we stuck to soda, no beer), felt over­whelmed by hav­ing so many vet­eran teams around, or just hadn’t yet found our groove.  Playing Jeopardy from your couch is a lot eas­ier and less stress­ful than being on stage with Alex Trebek; I assume sim­i­lar fac­tors were at play here.

We con­cluded the evening and left for home.  As we pulled in to drop off our first team mem­bers at home for the night, the BYTE beeped an alert that star­tled us all.  Pull out lap­top, attach USB cable, check for mes­sages.  It was the AI, of course, thank­ing us for help­ing it crack secret mil­i­tary codes.


Saturday morn­ing started at the Portland Women’s Forum, offer­ing a great view of the Gorge, moun­tains, and Crown Point Vista House.  Curtis, the GotoVision secu­rity chief met talked with us for a bit and then some mil­i­tary offi­cers hauled him away for ques­tion­ing — some­thing about hack­ing mil­i­tary sys­tems.  As he got led away, he threw to us busi­ness cards with a code on them.  Punching those into the BYTE revealed a world map and eight 6-letter words.  We quickly noticed those words were com­posed of two-letter coun­try codes (partly because the BYTE ref­er­ence sheet listed some), though it took a lit­tle longer than hoped to dis­till things down fur­ther than that.  We finally got a key­word that BugMe accepted, lead­ing us to Multnomah Falls.

In the van, head to Multnomah Falls!  Oddly, this was my first time there in all the nine years I’ve been in Portland.  I never really did many of the touristy things myself and when friends and fam­ily come to visit, it is typ­i­cally more about Powells and muse­ums and restau­rants than the gorge.  Up on the bridge, we met with Anna.  She was a dis­grun­tled mem­ber of the US Army Corps of Software Engineers and had an encrypted doc­u­ment she wanted to get to wik­ileaks.  Sure, we’ll take that doc­u­ment off your hands.

The puz­zle itself started with some cryp­tic cross­word style clues.  Most of our team had never even heard of this style of clue before about 4 weeks ago when we saw one in the Puzzles & Answers Magazine sam­pler, so had a bit of dif­fi­culty on this end, even know­ing they map to game names.  We threw the answers into the grid and noticed “bone evil dam.”  Bonneville Dam!  Back in the van!

While also a tourist des­ti­na­tion, Bonneville Dam is also a secure gov­ern­ment facil­ity with a vehi­cle inspec­tion and a ban on back­packs and purses inside the build­ings.  We decided our BYTE, which looks like an exper­i­men­tal impro­vised elec­tron­ics device of unknown func­tion and typ­i­cally lives on a tray between the dri­ver and pas­sen­ger should wait it out inside an opaque tup­per­ware bin.  The puz­zle here, mas­querad­ing as a USAC of Software Engineers exam­i­na­tion, was rel­a­tively easy to solve, hav­ing seen a few like it in pre­vi­ous DASHes and/or Puzzled Pints.  It was kind of cool, solv­ing it on a bench in front of one of the fish lad­der win­dows, see­ing the fish and eels go by.  We brought our answer sheet to the offi­cer in charge, who also hap­pened to be hold­ing the GotoVision secu­rity chief in cus­tody.  When he turned his back to grade our test (a few lines were not straight enough, some were too straight, F-) we were slipped some info about the sit­u­a­tion as well as an email address for Professor Goto.  An autore­sponse sent us to Rooster Rock.

At Rooster Rock, we received a CD of Madonna music (Professor Goto’s favorite) and some beaded neck­laces.  We rec­og­nized fairly quickly a pat­tern in the beads not unlike the Beadwork Perplex City puz­zle.  These mapped to music notes, which (even­tu­ally, after a lot of trial and error — we seem to have dif­fi­culty decod­ing notes with­out dura­tions or rests) mapped to songs and lyrics.  This sent us to Rocky Butte.

The road wind­ing to the top of Rocky Butte (or more specif­i­cally its speed­bumps) was not designed for heavy 12-passenger vans.  At the top we found “art instal­la­tions” fea­tur­ing video games.  It was pretty easy to pull let­ters from the data we had, but we didn’t quite have the right order.  We kept get­ting a weird phrase about some­thing in an ark and some­thing about feds.  Several failed Indiana Jones ref­er­ences and one par­tial hint later, we found the answer.  Plugging it into BugMe brought us to Union/Pine.

Here we had a QR puz­zle that just about killed us.  Around the space were a bunch of QR codes, some obvi­ous, some very hid­den.  We were also given a QR code “blank grid” sheet.  Each of the scanned codes spit out a line of X’es and dots, rep­re­sent­ing a line in the grid, only there were about 10 extra lines.  We did not imme­di­ately rec­og­nize that there were extras, nor did we know how many extra.  I hap­pen to know a few things about QR codes — in fact, I have the QR Code stan­dard [ISO/IEC 18004:2006(E)] sit­ting on my lap­top.  Error-correction can han­dle a few miss­ing or wrong pix­els, but we were still miss­ing enough lines that error-correction didn’t help and trial-and-error didn’t quite seem right.  This is when we learned that a sec­ond sheet of paper, with arrows and boxes, and which we assumed the QR would tell us what to do with, was actu­ally the key to know­ing which lines to throw away.  I sus­pect we lost a lot of time on this one.  The answer here took us to the Canby Ferry.

The Canby Ferry, which I had never even heard of before, was not quite the “hold the boat” scene from WarGames, but it was a good lit­tle trip and added some fla­vor to the trip.  No ptero­dactyls at the other end, though.  Part of the puz­zle here (unlocked by some text on a nearby sign) brought about a phone num­ber (busy) and a URL to an MP3.  The MP3 (and pre­sum­ably phone) played back a series of DTMF tones.  In the­ory, the BYTE box decodes them, but we had a bit of a cas­cade fail­ure here between lap­top bat­tery, car power inverter, phone, and BYTE device.  I think we phoned in for some heavy hin­tage on this one (I’m a lit­tle uncer­tain, as I was exam­in­ing volt­age lev­els and fuse boxes).  Whatever the solve process was here, we ended up at the Canby Country Inn.

The Canby Country Inn was very much a CSI-style room search.  They put two teams together and stuck them in a room to look for clues.  From a game per­spec­tive, I thought this was a great idea.  In our instance, it brought about some awe­some team­work (though I expect that, from team to team, mileage may vary) with the Silly Hat Brigade.  The puz­zle itself was a sequence of 6 col­ored dots around the room, each with a num­ber, a lock­box, a hid­den key, and a clue mes­sage with reverse/counterclockwise type phras­ing.  Opening the lock­box revealed... another lock­box with a com­bi­na­tion lock and a vague color sequence and equa­tion.  Opening that one with the number-colors pro­vided revealed... another lock­box with com­bi­na­tion lock.  Using the cor­re­spond­ing col­ored num­bers on this sec­ond lock did not work.  After some trial and error, we dis­cov­ered the num­bers worked if you worked the lock coun­ter­clock­wise!  I had no idea that they even made coun­ter­clock­wise com­bi­na­tion locks.  It turns out they don’t.  But they’ll work either way if you pick the right num­bers.  The counter-clockwise num­bers are off by a bit from the clock­wise ones due to the width of the pins and how those trans­late out to the angu­lar rota­tion of the dials.  (The third photo down on this wooden com­bi­na­tion lock page helps show how the pins work).  This (sort of round­aboutly) led us to a dif­fer­ent room in the inn where Professor Goto was hid­ing out.  She explained that things were wrong in the com­puter sys­tem, that AI was get­ting worse, and that we had to shut the sys­tem down.  We could do that at a par­tic­u­lar address on High Street by pro­vid­ing a com­pany name to the valet, and tak­ing the ele­va­tor down to the server room.

Into The Grid.

The address, of course, was the Oregon City Elevator.  (Can I just say that more pieces of archi­tec­ture need flying-saucer style obser­va­tion decks?)  They took our van and we con­tin­ued on foot for a bit.  My under­stand­ing is that the ele­va­tor rep­re­sented a descent into the game grid com­puter, we arrived just a tad bit too late and it was closed.  Our trav­els into the world of Tron were on foot, down the stairs.  At the bot­tom of the ele­va­tor, we met some­one who looked sur­pris­ingly like the Goto secu­rity chief, only he was decked out in EL wire and iden­ti­fied him­self as a wel­com­ing pro­gram.  He handed out iden­tity discs to each team.

Our van was deliv­ered, trans­formed into a data tran­sit vehi­cle.  This is a sur­pris­ingly easy trans­form that can be made by just adding some yel­low EL wire.  (I also took this oppor­tu­nity to put on my Tron-style yoga bag to get into the theme.)

Our BYTE device had really gone south for a bit.  It looked like it got stuck in a pro­gram­ming mode, blink­ing a red light and dump­ing inter­rupt addresses, stack val­ues, and EEPROM check­sums.  Fortunately, Acorn was really help­ful over the phone in get­ting it out of this stuck state.  I think maybe it power-cycled into a boot­loader?

My ini­tial impres­sion with the iden­tity disc was that this looked like a dif­fi­cult puz­zle with way too many vari­ables, but unrav­el­ling it was not as for­mi­da­ble as orig­i­nally thought.  It was just fol­low­ing lines to make sound-alike com­puter terms, then look­ing at spe­cific let­ters.  This brought us to... The Statue of Liberty...?

All Portlanders know of the Statue-of-Liberty-inspired Portlandia statue down­town.  None of us had been to, heard of, nor seen in any “off­beat Portland” style tour books men­tion­ing the Milwaukie Statue of Liberty — a 60 ft. replica at a... car deal­er­ship?  What?  Arriving, we dis­cov­ered Light Cycles (lit­er­ally).  This was another fun two-team solve, though I think we both sort of pitched through it and stum­bled on the right answers.  Team mem­bers had to pilot bicy­cles around in a cir­cle in a par­tic­u­lar order in a way that I think was a bit rem­i­nis­cent of Mastermind, except there was a bit of con­fu­sion over the pat­terns.  The over­all scene gets lots of style and story points, but I’m still a lit­tle fuzzy on how we arrived at the right answer and whether it was just dumb luck.  This unlocked an enve­lope with a board and pieces that we plowed through very quickly, bring­ing us to Mill Ends Park.

At Mill Ends Park, a few team mem­bers hopped out and received some “base­ball card” style super­hero cards.  Between oper­at­ing the french press, prep­ping some snacks, and just gen­er­ally need­ing a dose of caf­feine to kick in, I didn’t quite catch the solve here.  Something about ternary, altered let­ters, and con­vert­ing them to binary based on vow­els.

This led us to the Portland Collective Agency, and a 3D paper puz­zle.  We typ­i­cally kick some major butt on these sorts of things.  While this one was a lit­tle larger and more intri­cate than most, we got it assem­bled quickly, pulled out group­ings of words, then found com­mon­al­i­ties among them (senses, NY Boroughs, oceans, etc.)  We prod­ded Corby for a small hint to tip us over the edge: the pre­vi­ously unused bolded let­ters.  I think we were all feel­ing pretty fatigued at that point; we had noticed those at the begin­ning, but they had faded into the back­ground by the time we had the thing assem­bled and we were pulling phrases from it.  Next stop: Voodoo!

Voodoo Doughnuts was on our short­list of places we’d likely end up.  The team received their name­sake dough­nut, except the pret­zel “pin” had been replaced by a straw and that straw held a rolled-up note.  The note led to a URL which led to a YouTube video fea­tur­ing a color-changing cir­cle.  We thought we had an extremely clever solu­tion to this.  The col­ors were all red/green/blue with either zero/half/full inten­sity.  With three three-state “bits,” we thought we’d trans­late to ternary, but this ended up pro­duc­ing a lot of garbage.  It later turned out that if you map the x/y posi­tion of the color as if it were a color wheel, it draws out let­ters.  This then led us to the the first place on our short­list: Ground Kontrol.

Ground Kontrol.  It has Tron.  Two of them.  It even has Tron-themed bath­rooms.  What it doesn’t have, unfor­tu­nately, is enough space for a whole bunch of teams.  We retrieved a Mario ques­tion box con­tain­ing coins, but had to return to the van to solve.  What hap­pened next might be what sep­a­rates us from the more hard­core teams.  (Though I’m not sure if it shows we’re more green than them or more resource­ful.  I’m going to stick to the lat­ter.)  I think it also caused us to drop off of Game Control’s map for a bit.  We have a team mem­ber whose house was only about a mile away from our van and whose din­ing room table was a place where we solved many a Black Letter Game, and (most impor­tantly) has a bath­room and shower.  We fig­ured we’d gather around the table and fig­ure out what the coins with PacMans (PacMen?) and arrows meant and one per­son at a time could rotate out to get cleaned up.  The trans­for­ma­tion into a clean, fresh per­son with a new set of clothes was also a pos­i­tive men­tal boost.  Our puz­zle solv­ing vs. ask for hints sched­ule told us we’d maybe been there about an hour, but Game Control thought we’d been miss­ing for at least a cou­ple of hours.  (Poor Kara got skeeved out by some dude with a cam­era at Starbucks while wait­ing for us.)  I believe this is where we got skipped ahead by a puz­zle or two (there was a chess puz­zle of some sort we never saw).

The next stop was one of the SmartPark struc­tures down­town.  We were instructed to take the van, er, data trans­fer vehi­cle, to the top.  We went a lit­tle off-script here, too.  Our dri­ver wasn’t com­fort­able with tak­ing the long, tall van up the crazy corkscrew of the struc­ture.  It’s a bit rough even with a com­pact car.  We took the ele­va­tor, but the ele­va­tor was also used for another story route, so some con­fu­sion resulted.

At any rate, we found our­selves at the Keller Fountain, where CLU, a very green ver­sion of Professor Goto told us to get past a secu­rity dae­mon by throw­ing hit­ting a tar­get.  Of course, we threw our iden­tity disc a shoe at that tar­get.  Several teams in line before us threw shoes, even though the­mat­i­cally it felt like you should be using the disc.  One team did, in fact, break from the pack and use the disc instead of a shoe — only to have their disc ric­o­chet off into the energy foun­tain.  Shoes it is.

CLU handed us a piece of the over­ride code (an equa­tion printed on a card) and explained that she would hook us up with a prim­i­tive pro­gram that could grant us access to the out­put port and back into the real world.  “The prim­i­tive pro­gram” was a girl that could speak no more than ready, hand­shake, end of line, mes­sage, and then end of line.  The hand­shake and mes­sage were lit­er­ally a “hand-jive” sort of sequence, the first being a primer for the sec­ond.  This led us back to the ele­va­tor, this time the ascent rep­re­sent­ing emerg­ing from the game world into the real one.  Had our van been there instead of parked safely a block away, it would have been stripped of the EL wire effects.

The next stop was the Rose Test Garden for a das­tardly puz­zle.  The BYTE device out­putted a list of 20 words.  One of the infor­ma­tion sign boards at the gar­den had a map and list of about 100 types of roses.  We tried map­ping the one to the other using sound-alikes and ana­grams, but to no luck.  We asked for a minor hint, point­ing us to the fla­vor text, which specif­i­cally said “Please enjoy sight­see­ing right here in Washington Park.”  A sign board next to the list of roses mapped out nearby points of inter­est within Washington Park.  I believe we got one or two to fit, with an extra let­ter left over.  They were near-anagrams.  Fun.  We couldn’t find any more than about four, nor could we find any other pop­u­lar place names that fit (Voodoo, Powells, etc.)  At this point, an hour of strug­gling had gone by and it might have even been a bit closer to two and we had to, for the first time at any puz­zle event, invoke the “we’re not hav­ing fun any­more” clause and get an out­right answer.  I feel really bad about this, but I think the fatigue ampli­fied what oth­er­wise would have been minor frus­tra­tion.  Also, I think we were count­ing on puz­zles get­ting eas­ier the sec­ond morn­ing to com­pen­sate for such fatigue.  At any rate, the spelled-out answer led us to Cathedral Park.

Once at Cathedral Park, Anna handed us a packet.  I seem to recall her hand­ing us a sim­i­lar packet at a sim­i­lar time of day at the same place a few months pre­vi­ous, also under preventing-the-end-of-the-world, only that time it was Aztecs and not global ther­monu­clear war.  Our enve­lope con­tained some hex grids with let­ters.  We quickly rec­og­nized color names and then thought about turn­ing it into paper­craft.  I vaguely remem­ber stat­ing that it won’t work; hexes can’t be make into a sphere — they need pen­ta­grams in there, like a soc­cer ball.  Laura sol­diered on with the cut­ting and fold­ing.  Soon I had egg on my face when it turned out to be a not only a ball, but a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a soc­cer ball, with the pen­tagons formed from the neg­a­tive space between the hexes.  The solu­tion here led us to the Fort Vancouver Artillery Barracks.

The Barracks was the loca­tion of the final show­down.  There were a few puz­zles to do there.  First and fore­most, CLU’s over­ride code.  Each team had infor­ma­tion for one digit of the code, in the form of an equa­tion.  Each team also had a letter=number value when you com­bined a let­ter from their name badge to a num­ber on their iden­tity disc.  I believe the plan was to get teams to inter­act, trad­ing let­ters, num­bers, and equa­tions, pool­ing together the answers.  Because we’re all big nerds, one team posted the URL to a Google spread­sheet to share data, skip­ping past the face-to-face inter­ac­tions.  The BYTE had a binary puz­zle that we didn’t quite get to solv­ing, pos­si­bly due to tech­ni­cal dif­fi­culty (ours actu­ally needed to be swapped out for a dif­fer­ent one and I believe I saw some blue-wire fixes on the new one that were not present on the old).  There was also a page with some hex trans­lated to braille, I believe, then back out to hex (Kristin ran off with the page and solved it while col­lect­ing data from other teams).

The grand finale used our BYTE boxes to enter an over­ride code.  Each team pro­grammed their box with one digit from the code.  Each team then plugged its box into the cor­rect spot in a chain of USB hubs.  Those let­ters spelled out a bad pun that I can’t quite remem­ber now.  It didn’t shut down the AI, but did get us into the sys­tem.  The only way to defeat it was to over­load the sys­tem... by play­ing a large num­ber of games of Simon.  The skill level of play (or some rea­son­able fac­sim­ile thereof) caused bar graphs to go from red to green and one that was sus­tained for a while, the com­puter went explodey!  We saved the world!  Game over!  Have some food and refresh­ments!


The pre­vi­ous 4000+ words were strictly recap with lit­tle analy­sis.  I sus­pect it will take at least a few days for the full effects fo the week­end to set in.  For now, I will make some brief con­clu­sions.  I had a lot of fun.  I had a lot of tired.  I could see that we were a rookie team com­pared to the oth­ers.  I do not think that is because we did not have the abil­i­ties.  I think it comes down to that Jeopardy on the couch vs. stu­dio sim­ile I used above.  We didn’t quite have the expe­ri­ence.  We did some deep plan­ning in some realms but almost totally over­looked oth­ers.  We also could have used a bit more dis­ci­pline in stick­ing to plans.  And more cat naps.  We sort of waited until dark before naps, which might not have been the best plan (though we didn’t want to miss any in-van dis­cus­sion!).  I think all of this can be improved with prac­tice.

That was us.  As for the event itself, I think it was run with the utmost pro­fes­sion­al­ism and was exe­cuted with­out any major hitches.  The BugMe sys­tem for enter­ing answers was smooth.  On the player side, it pro­vided a con­sis­tent inter­face for answers.  It also pro­vided detailed dri­ving direc­tions when required.  The meta­data about the food and bath­room sit­u­a­tion was unex­pected but so very use­ful.  I imag­ine on the Game Control side it pro­vided good posi­tional feed­back on teams and allowed the GCs to trans­par­ently skip peo­ple over puz­zles when required.  I think the biggest source of glitches was also the biggest source of cool.  In the movie world, James Bond is cool because he has the gad­gets (and the chicks and the atti­tude).  In the real world, spies avoid gad­gets like the plague because they’re the biggest source of uncorrectable-in-the-field fail­ure.  I believe the same applies to the BYTE(me) gad­gets.  Having an almost-literal “black box” was great.  What was it going to do?  How could we use it?  Why are these com­mands locked?  When will they unlock?  There was a cer­tain level of explor­ing there that was entirely vir­tual.  Having it beep with mes­sages through­out the event was great (that 11pm Friday sur­prise, espe­cially).  While the circuit-board-potted-in-epoxy is an old tried and true method of hard­en­ing (and pre­vent­ing tam­per­ing), I fear the loose bat­tery pack in a card­board box was a bit frag­ile.  I can see why it was done that way.  A card­board box is cheaper than a generic plas­tic enclo­sure by sev­eral dol­lars, is cheaper to ship, and can be assem­bled using a hobby knife and lots of epoxy dur­ing a build party.  The plas­tic needs more exact­ing holes drilled and more care­ful man­u­fac­tur­ing.  [Aside: Curtis, if you ever find your­self man­u­fac­tur­ing mys­tery boxes in the future, drop me a line and I’ll see what sort of easily-assembled laser-cut acrylic design I can throw together.]  [Another aside: will the schemat­ics and code ever be Open Sourced?]  But despite some glitches and hic­cups, we were able to log (Minicom: Ctrl-A, L) a good deal of infor­ma­tion (read: every­thing we did with it) from the BYTE(me) — enough so that it was rarely in the crit­i­cal path and more gen­er­ally served a role as a plot device to add fla­vor and immer­sion to the story.

This was my first Game.  I doubt it will be my last.  Go Team Goat Masonry!


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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

2 thoughts on “My Weekend With WarTron”

  1. Thanks for the great write-up! As a GC mem­ber who was mostly absorbed by one aspect of the game (the B.I.T.E./BYTE device) I really appre­ci­ate hear­ing about the game from the play­ers point of view!

    Some notes about BYTE (which we actu­ally spelled B.I.T.E. — Basic Interactive Terminal Eavesdropper)...

    First, I’m (almost) dis­ap­pointed that you didn’t hook up your jtag pro­gram­mer! (Although that would not have worked — it is based on a Microchip PIC 18f4620 which has no jtag). :)

    Second, yes, I plan to open source it all (HW and SW). It may take me a while, but even­tu­ally it will all be here: http://www.rawbw.com/~acorn/B.I.T.E. (or bite)

    I really wish we had had time to make a bet­ter case. I have done vac­uum form­ing (DRUID, http://www.rawbw.com/~acorn/ju/druid.html ) and plas­tic cast­ing (wand, http://www.rawbw.com/~acorn/wand ) but for WarTron we just ran out of time. Also, the idea behid the WarTron B.I.T.E. is that it is a pro­to­type so we thought it would be OK to just have it be a box with the board exposed. I agree with you that the bat­tery box should have been bet­ter secured — that was a source of some trou­ble dur­ing the game.

    There are 2 rea­sons your B.I.T.E. got “reposessed” and replaced at the end of the game. First of all I had to repro­gram them all because I acci­den­tally left them in a debug mode where simon just alter­nated between 2 but­tons (pretty bor­ing pat­tern). Second was that some of the B.I.T.E.s in the field had bad but­tons (the epoxy got every­where) and had to be swapped out for ones with work­ing but­tons (but pos­si­bly with other prob­lems that no longer mat­tered at the end of the game).

    Thanks again for the great writeup!
    –Acorn, B.I.T.E. tech­ni­cal sup­port

    1. Hi, Acorn — Thank you for all the work that went into the BITE and the game in gen­eral. It was the first uppercase-G Game of every­one on our team and although our team was prob­a­bly a lit­tle slow com­pared to many, we all had a ton of fun and have you and the rest of the GC team to directly thank.

      Re: b*I*te — Ha! I think my fin­gers were on autopi­lot. I don’t remem­ber see­ing it in print any­where, except do I see my logs are all in a folder called “BITE_Device” so I must have noticed at some point.

      I’ve only ever designed things that sit on table­tops or server racks, but I can appre­ci­ate the stress a portable gad­get needs to be built to with­stand. I have no real expe­ri­ence with PIC chips, only 8600, 68000, ARM, and AVR, so when I saw you pro­gram­ming them at the setup table Friday, I assumed it was JTAG. (I still haven’t had the time to sit down and iden­tify each chip.) My main con­cern with hack­ing the board was over screw­ing some­thing up. I wasn’t sure what was in RAM vs. ROM and how tol­er­ant things were to acci­den­tal shorts. Based on some talk on Friday about the bat­ter­ies, I assumed the worst. I also fig­ured you would have blown the inter­nal fuse that most chips have to pre­vent extract­ing code. (Most chips? At least the ARM and AVR chips I’ve worked with.) Were the parts hand-soldered? There’s some pretty tight pitch on a cou­ple of those sur­face mount parts.

      I wasn’t sure of your gad­get bud­get, but when brain­storm­ing what we might expect after hear­ing the USB/serial require­ment, I dreamed up a reverse-geocache sort of GPS device. It would accept answers, but only near cer­tain loca­tions. (Having no idea what the loca­tion and food bud­get might have been, I wasn’t sure whether a ~$40 GPS mod­ule was rea­son­able expec­ta­tion.) As cool as reverse-geocaches are, I’m glad you went with answers via SSH. It feels like a more ele­gant solu­tion that keeps GC and play­ers in closer touch.

      The DTMF was a nice touch. I had a great “holy shit” moment when I first real­ized they’re spaced to be acus­ti­cally cou­pled to one another. Was the “war­dial” com­mand intended to both dial and lis­ten simul­ta­ne­ously? We started with the assump­tion that one team would war­dial and the other would run “lis­ten,” then swap roles, but every­one quickly fig­ured out you could both be in war­dial mode. It was hard to tell if that was a(n inten­tional) fea­ture. In a team dis­cus­sion late Friday evening, we assumed we’d run into locks along the way (e.g. strong­boxes, doors) that would require a DTMF sequence to open — sort of rem­i­nes­cent of using the tape recorder to open the door in War Games.

      Once again, great work and many thanks to you and all the other GC folks.

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