The weekend

It's already Tuesday and only now I'm going to talk about the weekend, huh? Oh well, at least I convinced myself to post (to try to forget today and force myself to remember more interesting things).

So, last weekend I participated on Microsoft's Puzzle Hunt 12. It was an all-weekend event (which means that it starts at 10 AM on Saturday - I had to be there at 9 AM to set up my computer into the Microsoft network - and ends at 5 PM on Sunday) in which teams are given puzzles to solve and the team that wins is the first one that solves the final one, or the team that solves the most number of puzzles (technically, there were values for puzzles, so some puzzles were worth more than others). There were about 85 teams and my team was ranked 21st, which is not bad at all!

It was my first Puzzle Hunt, so I can't say that I did very well. Most of the puzzles don't really have instructions on what you have to do, just the knowledge that the answer is a word or short noun phrase. So, in order for you to do well, you have to get used to finding the patterns that suggest what kind of puzzle it is and how to solve it. For example, you look scrambled letters and if you see too many odd letters the first thing that should come to your mind is that it's gone through some sort of encryption.

Another important thing to learn is that they love to use pop culture (which I don't know much at all), so you have to look at a clue and quickly tie it to some pop culture reference to figure things out. Let me give an example:

All you have in your puzzle page is two columns of "equations" that one look like this:

26 = Z in W or MW

And the other looks like:

? = FKFFP

First you realize that it has some odd characters, so it must be going through some sort of encryption. Then, you have to realize that "W or MW" is in italics and could mean a name. Then you look at 26 and realize that it's the number of cases in the TV game show "Deal or No Deal". Finally you are able to tell that actually each capital letter is a word that starts with the decrypted letter. So:

Z => C
W => D
M => N

Then you'd have to apply that mapping that you learn on the first column onto the second column and figure out what phrase can be on the second column to fill out the ?s. Finally you reapply the decryption to what you find in the "?" (which were single letters) and find a question. The answer to the question is the answer to the puzzle (or something like that, I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to answer this puzzle and let more abled people on my team deal with it).

It was certainly interesting. The people that organized it put a lot of work into it, including building a custom Halo level that was a puzzle by itself. Again, tiring (I didn't get any sleep all weekend long), but very interesting. I'll need to be more prepared if I decide to do it again in the future (if my team invites me again, as I was probably the person that answered the least number of puzzles on the whole team).

Another interesting perk that I got out of this experience was being in the Microsoft campus. It's very different in many ways to the Amazon buildings. First, it's a campus and not a spread of buildings around Seattle. Second, it has a lot of "empty space", while things are all quite "cozy" at Amazon. Third, their kitchen is way more well-equipped: with free soda and auto coffee maker (the one that you press a button and it makes coffee for you, instead of the one at work that somebody has to change the filter, put new grounds and brew new coffee). Chairs in the conference room were much more comfortable too (although we were on a VP conference room, so it's probably unfair to compare).

I don't really care about those things. I don't drink soda, I have times that I do drink coffee about once a day or so, but lately I've been buying and taking my own tea, so I don't even drink coffee any more. I like the fact that money that I'm helping Amazon make is not being spent on things that I don't really care to use. It's sort of the same way as living in your house and going to a hotel. The bed in the hotel can be more comfortable than yours, the TV might be bigger, the heater/air conditioning might work better, you have somebody to clean your room and make your bed every day, but it's not really a place you'd want to live. It just was build for a general guest and not for you.

Anyway, I guess that's the sum of my weekend. I've been a little introspective this evening, kind of bummed out because I didn't get much done today at work and ended the day with a 2-hour meeting to talk about plans of things to do that just made me realize that I'm completely confused about priorities and goals of the team. Maybe it's all a puzzle that I haven't figured out how to interpret yet. Next time I'll pay attention to all the words that people say while they are rubbing their nose and see if everything makes more sense this way.