Nicodemus (nicodemusrat) wrote,

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Weekend Stuff

So, basically, enjoyable happenings transpired!

Saturday, kit_ping, 3catsjackson, my friend Jimmy, and I went on a Road Rallye. This isn't a race-type rally, but a oddball scavenger-puzzle-type rallye. Evidently this is denoted by the extra vowel... I dunno, I didn't make it up.

So what is a rallye, then? It's some weird combination of driving directions and a logic puzzle. Here's how it works...

Someone (part of a group, such as The Rallye Club of Silicon Valley) creates the rallye instructions. Just as logic puzzles or mazes are designed by experts, these are experienced rallyers. (Really, they use that term. Just bear with the jargon.)

The directions consist of some definition and general rules plus a set of specific "route instructions". The route instructions (RIs) describe a particular course to follow; the catch is that they do it in a very obtuse fashion. So you assemble a gaggle of willing fools (such as yours truly) with cars at a chosen start point, give out the directions, and meet them at the end point (a pizza parlor, traditionally) to review and score the course. It isn't a race, although there are broad time limits (about three hours). You must follow all driving laws; the course is on public roads.

So how is this difficult, you wonder? Well, there are different sorts of rallyes, but this one happened to be what's known as an "A-B rallye", so I'll describe how that variant plays. There are a set of numbered RIs to be followed in order. But each RI has an "A" and "B" part. You must follow whichever direction you can do first and record that letter on your score sheet. Should you be able to do both simultaneously, mark "C" and then follow instruction "A". (You might be able to do two conflicting instructions, so you need to know which to actually follow.)

The General Instructions (GIs) provide definitions for different terms in use. The GIs are actually rallye-specific and usually hide lots of different interpretations. It may seem obvious but the trick is to follow the letter of the instructions, not the apparent intent.

An example:

GI: L indicates a left turn should be made at the next legal opportunity.
GI: Word(s) in quotes refer to signs. The word(s) must appear on a government sign. Other words may be on the sign.
GI: AT means the a turn should be made as near as possible to the indicated location
GI: ONTO means a turn should be made resulting in you travelling upon the named roadway

So, given those excerpts of the General Instructions, a Route Instruction might be:

1-A. L AT "Larch"
1-B. L ONTO "Larch"

Now, clearly, these are the same instruction. So the answer should be "C" and you turn left onto Larch Street. But wait... That's too easy!

Note that the definition of quoted words says they refer to signs, not roads. ONTO specifically says you must end up driving on the named roadway. So instruction B is actually impossible. The correct answer is "A".

Confused? Now things really get complicated when the instructions take you in different directions depending on whether you think A or B is correct... Then there's bonus rules, checkpoints, and, well, lots of confusing things. The Rallye Club has more details.

(End example)

This was only our team's second rallye event, but we managed to place fourth in the Novice category out of seven. We're bumped up from the Beginner category by Jimmy's previous rallye experience with another (defunct) team. Not bad!

This rallye was a bit unusual as it was being covered for the show KRON's Bay Area Backroads! It's a fun local show that highlights unusual events... so a rallye is perfect for them. They wanted to film a piece on rallyes and TRC picked some teams of different experience to show up early for interviews.

Apparently, we're considered a "lively" group, because we got the invite to show up early! So we did, in my wife's freshly washed and cleaned (and "pine" scented) car. We figured we'd maybe get interviewed, possibly catch a moment with the folksy host of the show, Doug McConnell, and then get on with the rallye. Normal sort of "vox pops" snippets to be edited into the show.

Wow, were we wrong! The show's whole mobile team was there... Three cameramen, an audio engineer, and Mr. McConnell. (Who, I might note, seems to be much like he appears on the show. A bit less perky when not on camera, but still friendly. He didn't mind standing about chatting with people... Maybe he just suffers fools well and doesn't show it, but he did seem like a genuinely likeable guy for all I saw.)

They interviewed three teams at length, including ours. Well, okay, ten minutes. But that's a decent amount of material considering they're aiming for a six-to-seven minute segment in the show! The rallye staff even posted photos they snapped! That's us being interviewed by Doug! (That last sentence was superfluous, I realize, but I'm still disbelieving... I know it's just a local show but, hey, it's television!)

So, after that, I figure we're basically done. We got our moment and it was cool. Jimmy got his Backroads book signed. We went back to eating our takeout burritos and psyching ourselves up for the rallye...

But then there's some word about cameramen riding along. We look at each other, all four of us, and look at our car, a nice small Saturn sedan. There's a moment of huddled discussion and we resolve to make room for a cameraman if they want to send one.

And they do! We get Mike, a softspoken and very likeable fellow with a penchant for Tom Lehrer songs. Kit is driving and the rest of us cram into the backseat with our rallye instructions and map. Mike perches in the front seat and deftly removes the headrest from the seatback. He then alternates between sitting in the front and filming the backseat arguments over rule linguistics, filming across the front seat where Kit is trying to follow our instructions while not hitting other cars, and filming out the front windshield.

Partway through the rallye we stop for a bit of a break. (It's not a timed sort of race, as I mentioned... we had time to leave the course -- a Sunnyvale neighborhood this time -- and go to a nearby Jack in the Box.) People got drinks and used facilities while I chatted with Mike. Turns out he's been filming for the Backroads show for a bit over nine years; he likes the unusual opportunities and activities that it offers. He was equipped with a cool miniDV camera with attached mic. I noticed that I became much more appreciative of these sorts of nifty cameras based on my work with the MFT3000 project. Nice to learn about new areas of geekery.

Anyway, back to the rallye! We got back in the car, found where we were on the course, and continued driving. We argued about A and B instructions while Mike got footage from his uncomfortable perch on the passenger seat.

Several times he asked if he could get some external shots of the car. We didn't mind... We weren't short of time and we usually had some rules interpretation to debate. So Mike would get out of the car, jog ahead half a block, then wave us on. Kit would drive past him slowly and stop at the other end of the block. Mike would catch up and hop back in.

We don't drive fast in the rallye. In fact, we're usually trolling along at about 15-20 mph. The rallyes take place in residential neighborhoods, generally, with lots of little streets. The instructions name signs and streets so you drive slowly to be sure not to miss turns or other clues.

At one point, we realized we had drifted around the neighborhood and were actually right by crocodile's and yippee's house! As we got closer and closer I was more and more amused by the coincidence; out of all the south bay neighborhoods we happened to wind up here. A few more turns and we were trundling down their street, past their house! (They weren't home.) Then, following instructions, we had to make some more turns, loop around a couple blocks, and we were... passing their house again!

Weird coincidence. So, after several hours of circular driving and reasoning, we got to the finish. We turned in our score card (the "A" and "B" choices we made) and got the results. Pretty good... We got most of them right but missed a few of the more devious tricks. Still, we're largely inexperienced, so that's not bad.

There were some followup interviews with Doug McConnell at the pizza parlor. ("Did you guys go insane trapped in a car together?" seemed to be the question of the evening. Not a bad one, really.) All in all, an exceedingly fun way to spend a Saturday!


A bunch of cool people (yippee, crocodile, jonasbagel, twigmouse, higginsdragon, and someone whose LJ name I don't know) descended upon our house for an evening of chatting and Trivial Pursuit. I think it's been adequately described elsewhere.

I thought it was quite fun. I hope everyone else did, as well... I have that nervous host mentality where I'm never quite sure if people are really enjoying themselves or just smiling a lot to appease me and get me to stop asking them if they want another drink or would rather do something else or...

Anyways, enough about my personal hangups. Fun was had. And if you read this, either you were there and wanted to see if I mentioned you and the regrettable accident with the mandolin, or you're really bored, or you have a deep and abiding interest in my weekend activitites... which scares me.

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