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Davis, California

Thursday, October 28, 2021

National puzzle hunt brought to Davis this Saturday

Solving puzzles, running around Davis and Twittering don’t sound like activities that can, or should, be done at the same time. But for participants of the second annual Different Area, Same Hunt last Saturday, they were all part of the fun.

DASH is a puzzle hunt completed in 10 cities around the country on the same day. Teams of 4 to 6 people race around their town to solve a series of complex word, number and trivia puzzles. Each team pays a $30 fee.

If Davis residents saw four men running around town wearing yellow t-shirts and baby carriers with stuffed animals in them, then they may have seen the “My Four Dads” team. John Owens, UC Davis assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, played DASH last year in San Francisco and on Saturday in Davis with his team. He said he enjoys the physical and mental challenges of the hunt that he doesn’t always get in day-to-day life.

“We’re all students at heart, and I think it’s always a little bit of a thrill whenever you learn something new and solve something,” Owens said. “It’s great to be able to do that just for fun, in a really creative environment that’s not just sitting down at a desk and writing stuff down.”

DASH was invented by Debbie Goldstein, a puzzle enthusiast who wanted to create an event that would connect members of the puzzle community.

“In the Bay Area there is something called the Bay Area Night Game,” Goldstein said. “I started playing that game, and there was this one game they were doing that they were simul-casting with Seattle. I thought, wow, this is really great and would be great to take nationwide.”

The first DASH was held in 2009 in 8 cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. This year, cities include New York, Portland, Boston, Austin and Santa Rosa.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see it was a great success, and I actually heard from representatives in the other cities that people were demanding another hunt,” Goldstein said. “I wasn’t expecting that this would be a continual thing, but now that’s what it’s turning out to be.”

Participants receive their first puzzle at a designated meeting spot in each city. The answer to the puzzle is the clue for the location of the next puzzle. Each participating city must contribute one puzzle to the hunt, though answers may be altered slightly to specify locations in each city.

After completing every puzzle, teams must use all of their answers to solve the “meta puzzle” – the clue to the final destination.

The final destination is usually a restaurant or bar, where participants can socialize and discuss the hunt. It is up to each city to determine if prizes will be given to the winners, Goldstein said.

Goldsein created a new, optional puzzle utilizing Twitter for this year’s hunt. Participants followed DASH and other teams on Twitter in order to gather clues to solve the puzzle.

This was the first year that Davis was one of the host cities. Participants met at the Memorial Union and traveled to the Silo, Davis Commons, the Arboretum and ended at Woodstock’s.

“I get to play with ideas and concepts that might be sitting around in my head that might not get much use, such as trivia, and I get to play with these ideas and let them come up to the surface,” said Francis Hsu, a UC Davis graduate student in computer science and coordinator of the Davis hunt.

Hsu and Yuan Niu, also a graduate student in computer science, decided to bring DASH to Davis after participating in the first 2009 event in Palo Alto, Calif.

“After getting to play in the first DASH I thought it was really fun, and I thought it was really cool that the exact same puzzle hunt was going on at the same time elsewhere in the country, too,” said Hsu. “Also, in the puzzle community it is a commonly accepted practice that if you participate, you should contribute back to the community.”

Hsu and Niu helped organize the 15 teams participating in Davis, and wrote Davis’ puzzle contribution. Keeping with this year’s television theme, their puzzle was based on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” It involved a series of bad pick-up lines and rejections, and featured a message encoded in beer bottles lying around the scene, said Hsu.

For Goldstein, her reward is seeing new people develop a love for puzzle-solving through DASH.

“We started with eight cities last time and now we have 10 cities. We just got a huge demand. I think we’re on to something good,” Goldstein said.

ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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