Monday, November 1, 2010

NOLA CitySolve race

We (me, John, Kip, and Dave) drove to New Orleans last weekend for the championship CitySolve race. These are my favorite races of the whole year, I was so thankful to be there and really just wanted to have fun with it. I always enjoy running around a city with my husband, working with my friends, and solving problems along the way.

The race started at the Astor Crowne hotel, where we had to find an ad in the Gambit newspaper that was related to CitySolve. John and Dave quickly located the ad, and we were out the door. The clue mentioned a deck of cards - two men who could only wink, not blink. Apparently "Tujagues" (pronounced Two Jacks) is a famous local business, so we headed there. But there were no clue sheets at that location. We felt slightly better when we saw another team trying the same thing. JAX Brewery across the street wasn't the answer either. Finally our crew corrected our mistake, and One Eyed Jack was thankfully not far away! We ran there to get our clue sheets and get reorganized.

It didn't take long to figure out that a couple checkpoints were in the Garden District, so we headed for the St Charles streetcar. John sprinted ahead to stop a trolley that was about to leave, thanks John! We got on along with Kip/Dave and two other teams.

We tried working on the clues as we rode along, although it was hard to hear above the noise. John worked on the word problem for CP9, finally coming up with "Bull Pig" as the two-animal answer. Hmm, that seemed odd, but we called it in to the crew. I was working on the "Fleur" checkpoint, but nothing was working there.

The crew came back with "Bull Dog" as the correct answer for CP9 (although I like to imagine what a bullpig might actually look like), right as the other two teams were jumping off the streetcar. The Bulldog Pub turned out to be a couple blocks away, so we ran there for this photo:

Stuck for the "fleur" answer, we started east on Magazine Street following another team. I thought I saw something "fleur"-related on the other side of the street, my bad for not checking it out. It wasn't until the team ahead of us turned around that I realized the answer was right over there - "Fleurty Girl" - nice!

We ran in to locate three shirts with different "Who Dat?" designs:

From there Kip and Dave aimed back toward the St Charles trolley. We moved a bit more slowly, trying to verify that the three remaining non-French Quarter CP's weren't somewhere in this area. We worked through them enough to verify that, then realized we had missed the trolley Kip and Dave had run for.

So we started running, checking street addresses and deciding it was worth moving on foot instead of waiting for the next trolley. Eventually we found this checkpoint related to a famous guy from New Orleans:

From there we ran over to the Howlin' Wolf (where a Michael J Fox character might listen to the Blues):

We took this photo before the race volunteer told us we needed to complete a challenge. Each of us had to pick up M&M's using a straw (and not our hands in any way) and carry them one at a time about 10 feet to drop them into a bowl. John struggled a bit and kept dropping his, while I just kept sucking wind - but this time in a good way. Soon I was done with my 5, and John completed his 5 not long after.

We ran over to Canal St and turned a corner to locate Cajun Mike's for one of our less-than-stellar selfies:

Then across to the French Quarter for a photo with this guy... John snapped it before I was ready (but at least we were being efficient):

Next over to CP5:

Then we ran to Cafe du Monde to locate two specific people - we had been given their photo and needed to take our picture with them. Apparently quite a few other teams had already been through here, because LOTS of people pointed us in this direction:

We caught Kip and Dave running toward us, telling us about the answer to the mask store, so we followed them to Maskarade. Inside the store, we had to locate two masks from a photo on the cluesheet. Of the 6 racers in the store at the time, I actually spotted them, which is probably a first for me.

I really like this photo, and no, John isn't really wearing feathers on his head :)

We ran with Kip and Dave over to the finish line at Pat O'Briens, to learn that we were the first two teams there. Yay! Kip and Dave had 6 minutes of bonus time by stopping in a couple places for photos with people eating various types of food. This is what had allowed us to catch up to them, and we had no bonus time. Another team came in behind us and may have moved up to 2nd in the standings based on bonus minutes, but it didn't matter because we just needed to place top-10 to make the finals. Sweet!

The finals race in the afternoon started at Pat O'Briens. We were given a name on a piece of paper and were told to find the tombstone of that person in a particular cemetary just north of the French Quarter. We all took off running, making our way into the St Louis cemetary. There were a bunch of tourists near the entrance taking a tour, so we got around them to the left and started searching.

I was on the line with Sheila who was trying to figure out the cemetary map, but the map was apparently not straightforward. John and I wandered around as Sheila slowly zeroed in on the right area. I believe several teams got out of there while we were looking, then I finally located this stone - just to the RIGHT of the entrance. So close!

We ran back to Pat O'Briens to get our clue sheets. Again, there were a couple of clues in the Garden District, so we started that way.

Along the way, we looked for people in costume so we could get a photo with them. CP3 required 5 photos with people dressed as a witch or a clown or a cat, etc. We saw this lady and she let us take her picture for a tip. It turned out she was actually dressed as a zebra, but she told us she could be a cat if we wanted:

We went to the St Charles streetcar stop, but there was a long line to get on. John suggested we might try for a bus instead, and the bus on Magazine Street was supposed to come soon. The other option was to find a better streetcar stop, but we decided to go for the bus. Even though we had tried this exact strategy in the finals race last year with no luck.

Well, again we had no luck with the Magazine bus. We waited for many minutes, watching for the alternate buses on parallel streets too. Nothing to be had. While we were there, I worked with Sheila and John to translate the clue that was written in French (nice!), figured out the crossword puzzle clue for Atchafalaya Restaurant (fun one), sounded out "Deer Teak Host Per Ess" to come up with "Dirty Coast Press", and solved the anagram checkpoint. If we couldn't be moving, at least we could be productive! We hoped that Kip and Dave were trying the streetcar option, and these answers would perhaps help them out.

Finally we bailed on the bus and started running. Darn it. It was quite a ways, and no buses ever came up behind us. We turned up a side street to find the anagram answer, Commander's Palace:

More running on Magazine St, no bus. We went down another side street to take our photo at Atchafalaya. The couple sitting at an outdoor table told us we were the first team there, so that was something!

Yes, more running. Back to Magazine, waving to Kip and Dave who were running the other way (go guys!) and up to Le Bon Temps Roule - a shout-out to Urban Challenge?

Just for fun, here's what we looked like in 2003!

Finally, we saw a bus in the distance, so we waited at the stop. We watched Team Nads run by on the other side of the street, stop, and come back to take there photo of Le Bon Temps Roule. They seemed to be doing well.

Here we started discussing a potential cut-off time issue. Silly us for not noticing this earlier - like, at the starting line! We just usually assume that if we're moving well and not making big mistakes (although waiting for the Magazine bus was a problem), we don't generally run up against cut-off times. But it was suddenly obvious that we weren't going to hit the 4 mandatory CP's that had 3:30 pm or 4:00 pm cutoff times. We were almost to CP9, our 1st of those 4, no problem. But the other 3 were all back in the French Quarter, and we were fairly certain it was going to take some time (45 minutes, as it turned out) to get back there, with the public transportation being as slow as it was.

Well, there wasn't anything we could do about it at this point. We decided to continue up to CP9 since we were almost there and that bus ride would at least be quick.

At Dirty Coast we had to locate 3 T-shirts with specific designs, which we did, and we got our photo with the lady working there since there didn't seem to be any requirements to prove we were there:

We looked quickly for a bus going back on Magazine St, didn't see one, and instead ran over to St Charles for a streetcar. We knew the trolleys would be crowded, but at least they would be there, and I was pretty sure we could get on one since we were so far out of town.

And that all worked out, we didn't have to wait long, there was standing room available, and the streetcar seemed to be moving OK. However, as we made our way along the many blocks toward the French Quarter, tons of people wanted to get on. It took lots of time and lots of patience, although it still seemed like we were making the same or better time just staying on vs. trying to beat the trolley by running all that distance back.

On the bright side, we had an entertaining trolley driver! He joked around, tried to get as many people on as he could, told the Steelers fans to go to the back of the bus, and ended up skipping several stops because we were totally full. He would holler out the window to the line of people waiting, "Sorry, can't stop, got a flat tire!" and everyone would look down at the tires as we rolled by.

Finally we got off close to Canal St and ran toward Decatur St to see if the challenges would still be open since it was past 4 pm by this time. The guy at the Meltdown popsicle shop was still there, cool. We were given 10 tickets and told to sell 10 popsicles for $3 each, and that the customers had to come in to get their popsicles for the ticket to count.

Well, we briefly tried (offering to pay for popsicles for people), but we had the feeling that it wasn't going to matter because we were getting back so late, and it was a half-hearted effort. I rechecked the instruction sheet, and it didn't say we couldn't buy them ourselves, so we went back in with $30, and got ourselves checked off by the volunteer. We didn't remember to get our photo there, so that was a bit frightening later. But at least we were recorded on the volunteer's clipboard so it counted that we had completed the task.

Next we ran a couple blocks to the Farmer's Market to find the pumpkin patch where we had to empty the seeds out of and carve "CS" into a pumpkin. Obviously John took that task that involved a knife, while I did the cleaning. I thought this came out rather nicely:

A couple blocks more, and we found two improv guys at Molly's at the Market. They had a game for us where we started with the letter J and had to take turns saying a sentence that started with each letter of the alphabet, in order, around back to J again. One improv guy helped while the other filmed us. I was happy to get the letters L - LOL! and O - OMG! and U - uh oh! which made me laugh. I also managed to get one letter wrong so we had to start over. At least it was faster the 2nd time through. Fun!

Finally done with the challenges - better late than never?

We ran a couple streets north to locate this really neat witch on the side of someone's house (?)

And a bit further north for the answer to the clue that was in French:

We ran to the finish line at Pat O'Briens (skipping the checkpoint that required the Halloween costume photos) and were handed a puzzle with several parts to it. Kip and Dave and a couple other teams were already there working on it. The puzzle started with bits of trivia, which led to a cryptogram key, which gave us 7-8 questions to answer, which led to words to stick into rebus phrases.

OK, at least we had a starting point, and the cryptogram part was easy enough, just time-consuming. The only trivia that mattered was related to "Homer's beer" which I eventually remembered as "Duff", but mostly the questions were fair - "Mustang, for example", which could be a car or a horse, "Picnic intruder" for ant, etc.

The real challenge (for us) lay in the rebus answers. We were getting pieces that didn't fit together. Like "SUTH-(a place for remains)" - suth-crypt? suth-grave? So we moved on to the next one. The 2nd rebus only made things worse, as we didn't have good answers for half the questions, and the answers we had didn't make any sense.

While this was going on, loud bar music was playing, but for some reason it didn't bother me. We stayed focused, and actually could talk to each other without having to whisper in case another team could hear us. So it was fine - until "Single Ladies" came on and I had a strong urge to start singing and dancing a la Glee. But I (mostly) restrained myself.

Moving on to #3, again no help. Finally at #4 we sounded out "(to cut a tree)-itoolus" and came up with Tchoupitoulas (hopefully spelling didn't count), a street in the Garden District. OK! So we have to sound these things out. Now we're getting somewhere.

"Etouffee" came easily then, and we forced "crawfish" into the first word of that answer. That gave me "Duff" for the beer, which I finally remembered. We also noticed that we had to draw the intermediate answers into the rebus puzzle, so we started putting crude drawings and stick figures into the blank spaces.

We had the word "southern" (SUTHURN) for the first part of the next rebus, but we were having problems with "DECAD-(something)". The last item was "short alternative" - tiny? midget? an electrical short? Finally I noticed that we were missing a letter in our cryptogram answer - it was actually "SHORTS alternative" = pants! Pants minus P = ants, for "southern decadence"

The final rebus really stumped us for a while. We had "DEE-A-D-AY" for the top line, then something with perhaps a "LO" to start, "MOO" in the middle, and "SPA" at the end (with other pieces in between). Wow, we really couldn't make any headway. John noticed "day" in the first line and we brainstormed around Halloween, days of the week... then all of a sudden John blurted out, "Dia de los Muertos", the Day of the Dead. OMG! You got it!

We scrambled to fill in the last clue answers, especially to figure out "location for a pedicure"? Not a spa? But toes! OK, that's a stretch, but it fit the rebus answer. We were done! We enjoyed it better than last year's crossword puzzle, maybe because we actually we able to finish this one, and also because we didn't have to rely so much on trivia knowledge.

Well, there wasn't much more we could do at that point, so we headed out for some snacks and to wait for the results. When we returned later, it was quite suspenseful because we had no idea whether our 3 "late" checkpoints would count or be 30-minute penalties (or even disqualify us), no idea what everyone else had done, no idea how the race director would deal with all the questions and unknowns.

In third place, for $1000 - Team Nads, the green-shirt guys we had seen on Magazine St.

In 2nd place, for $2500 - us! We got 2nd place! Wow! Apparently the final puzzle actually helped us this year instead of hurting us like last year.

And in 1st place, for $5000 - Kip and Dave! Awesome! Congratulations, guys!

So in the end, we're happy with the results, even though we can't completely explain them :)

Huge props to our crew for all the awesome help - you're the best!


Jus10 said...

Congrats to Team Vignette! You guys keep on knocking it out of the park, year after year!

Jus10 said...

Do you know if anyone has posted a race summary for GUR in Las Vegas?