Oh, we love our Easter Egg hunts.
Oh, we love our Easter Egg hunts. As the girls (now age 14) have grown from little kids, to tweens, to actual teenagers, what started as a simple find-the-hidden-eggs game has grown right along side them; it’s now a full-on multi-stage puzzle hunt. 2014’s hunt involved complex interlocking rules. 2016’s hunt involved cryptography and QR codes. Now, here’s how 2017’s puzzle unfolded…
The rules were simple: each girl would be assigned a couple of colors, and each girl could pick up any egg she found once she was certain that the egg matched one of her colors. Easy, right? Further ‘simplifying’ things, I announced that I had placed one giant colored egg on a pedestal with each girl’s name (and one for the parents), so all they had to do was look at the pedestal with their name, and they’d see their first egg color. I showed them all a picture (below) of how nicely I had set it up, and how easy it was going to be.
But when we got outside to start collecting eggs… quelle surprise! The wind seemed to have blown the eggs off their pedestals! How ever would the girls know which color was theirs??
Luckily, each pedestal contained a set of instructions for figuring things out in case of just such an emergency:
The girls retreated to the kitchen to pencil-and-paper this problem. After a few minutes, they’d worked it out with Rebecca offering supportive coaching (but not giving away the answers even though she’s great at these puzzles). The girls hastened outside to each crack open their correct-color giant eggs.
Inside each giant egg was a message… and another, smaller egg.
Inside the smaller eggs was some chocolate, which was immediate consumed as much-needed brain fuel. And there were also some scraps of cut up paper with writing across them — clearly they needed to be reassembled. The girls hurried back inside, and taped the paper back together, revealing four trivia questions about opening magical doors. (Full credit here: Three of these riddles were written by Ryan O’Boyle for Veracode Hackathon 10 & 5/7ths. His riddles were great, and inspired me to add one additional one of my own.)
It just so happened that the team included a Tolkien expert (Norm), and several Harry Potter fans (everyone but me) so the answers were quickly found. Bonus points to Abby for remember the spell “Alohomora”, and to Eleanor for remembering that the Ministry of Magic’s phone booth code was “M A G I C” on the telephone dial — and then using the Phone app on her iPhone to look up what numbers that was.
But now what? The girls still needed to know what colors of eggs they each were looking for, and all they had were these trivia answers — definitely not colors. Well luckily the third giant egg, the one for the parents, contained a “Helpful, Quick, and Easy Egg Color Key!” with some hand-wavey formula clues on it about how to transform the trivia question answers into numbers.
By considering a=1, b=2, etc., and adding up the letters in each trivial answer (and after I fixed a typo..oops), the girls arrived at numeric values… but still no colors. It was more or less at this point that Eleanor started invoking the word “patricide” in her running commentary.
Working through the formulas provided on the key, the girls had figured out that the variables k=112, j=250, x=147, and y=248, so, again, they had some numbers, but no colors. The key said that one color was y,y,x and the other color was k,j,k.
“But how are those colors?”, Rebecca asked, and there was a moment of silence.
“HEX CODES!” Eleanor exclaimed, and the chase was back on! Using an Internet color code converter, the girls converted 248,248,147 into yellow, and 112,250,112 into green. Colors at last!
Now with each of the girls knowing exactly which egg colors were theirs, they scooted out to the yard. Within just a few minutes, they’d found all of the (poorly) hidden eggs, collected them, and returned to the kitchen inside to savor the chocolate goodies within.
Then came the screams.
Then came the screams. For inside each egg not only was there a tasty bit of chocolate, but also… more sliced up message fragments. There was clearly another part of the puzzle. Madly, the girls sorted out all the pieces and assembled them:
The team stared at this for a while, and then started discussing the fonts: Papyrus, then a font that no one knew the name of, then Times, Comic Sans, and Helvetica (with a quick argument about Arial… ending with “Well, young lady, in this house, we use Helvetica!”). Could the five-letter word that the clue was asking for be made from the initials of the fonts? P_TCH? PATCH was considered for a minute, but when the girls hit on PITCH, the hints about “pining”, “note”, and “curveball” all clicked!
Using PITCH, they completed the partial URL and typed in http://tinyurl.com/2017EGGPITCH What came up at that URL was a photograph of the front of the house, with a big green arrow.
The girls practically flew out the front door, flipped over the flowerpot in the picture, and were rewarded with a glass jar filled with glittery treasure eggs, yet more chocolate, and a note saying VICTORY! CONGRATULATIONS on SOLVING the 2017 Easter Egg Hunt!
Happy congratulations were shared all around, and everyone enjoyed some of their hard-won chocolate.
With the puzzles finally solved, and chocolate fully secured, Eleanor finally stopped repeating the word “patricide” over and over, which she’d started saying nearly an hour before.
For the record, the total elapsed time was 56 minutes, 42 seconds — including the time it took for me to fix the typo in the math key (oops), and the time that Eleanor spent repeating the word “patricide”.
Maybe next year I’ll start making the puzzles hard.
We’ve always loved Easter egg hunts, but with the girls getting smarter, faster, and more wily every year, we’ve had to make the hunt more… challenging. Our previous Easter egg hunt had infuriatingly complex rules as to which girl got which color of egg. But with the girls in middle school now — actual teenagers — I knew that I was going to have to step up my game if I wanted the hunt to last more than just a few minutes. Inspired by some of my puzzle-crafting Veracode coworkers, I put together our 2016 Easter Egg Hunt. Here’s how it went.
Step 1. Read the rules.
Once again, Eleanor and Abby were each given a sheet of paper indicating which colors of eggs they should each pick up. Here are the ‘rules’ they were given for this year’s egg hunt:
After a few false starts, the girls cracked the emoji substitution cypher. Since some symbols like🌀 and 👻 appeared only once on the page, it took some thinking to decode the whole set of color rules, but working together they did it.
Step 2. Find the eggs.
List of colors in hand, they ran outside to start finding the eggs hidden around the back yard. Each girl found all of their eggs within about ten minutes; finding the eggs themselves isn’t too terribly difficult — which is why we got into all these rules and colors and puzzles in the first place.
Step 3. Open the eggs… and wait, what’s this?
Once back inside, the girls opened the plastic Easter eggs… but wait! Where’s the loot?!? Instead of treats or trinkets, each egg held one small, oddly-shaped piece of paper with black and white squares on it: a QR code, cut into puzzle pieces.
Working quickly, the girls each assembled the pieces of their respective QR code puzzles. One went together easily, the other took some collaboration and a couple of different attempts before it all came together.
Step 4. Follow the clues.
Each girl’s QR code was different, and scanning the re-assembled QR codes led to two different URLs: two different tweets, by two different people (neither was me). Each tweet had a picture and a big clue about a different location around our house.
Step 5. Victory!
Eleanor dug down into our pile of birdhouses (why we have a pile of birdhouses is a long story for another day), and Abby popped open the lid of the grill. Each girl found a set of colored ‘crystal’ eggs — filled with sweet, sweet victory loot!
In just under 45 minutes, the girls had cracked a cypher, found the hidden Easter eggs, reassembled the QR code puzzles, and followed the twitter URL picture clues to find their well-deserved treasure. The chocolate was sweet, but from the looks on their faces, I think the taste of victory was even sweeter.
Now about next year…
We love doing Easter egg hunts. But as the girls get faster, smarter, and more wily, merely finding the eggs is no longer challenge enough. I’ve gotta slow ’em down somehow, and this is how I do it: each girl gets an empty basket (I use traditional Jack-O-Lantern baskets), and sheet of instructions helping her know which eggs are for her, and which are for her step-sister. Each year, the instructions require more careful reading and invoke increasingly complicated rules.
New this year: the contents of two of the eggs altered the interpretation of rules, retroactively. This fact itself was part of the published rules… this time.
The best part was watching the girls excitedly pounce as they found the first eggs, and then stall completely as they had to stop and puzzle out exactly who’s egg it actually was that they’d just found.
P.S. Here are the previous year’s Egg Hunt Rules (2013):