Friday, December 26, 2008

The DEF's of Treasure Hunting - "F"

"F" is for "Finishing"

The end game, to me, is where the battle is often won or lost. How the team "behaves collectively" in the "last hour" of the game can change or fortify the outcome the team first set out for. Obviously, panic seldom helps. Whether one is competing or just trying to do one's best, this "twilight zone" holds the moments of truth. It is also the time for the team's "hero" to feature!

At the finishing line, different kinds of trophies awaits teams. For many, just crossing it in time means "a decent win". For the more competitive - carrying the right number of "catch" as well means the world. For those who came "just for fun", would feel they have "won" if they could still smile together at the finish, whatever the time they arrived.

For the COCs and the organisers, just seeing everyone checked in without any untoward incidents, brings the greatest relief and that means more than success. It also signals the end of the most trying stage of the game and the start of a relatively more relaxed phase - allowing them to concentrate on the marking and enjoying the presentation of the answers and the results. For the rookie COC, however, butterflies will still flutter but all that compares to nothing to see every team in safely!

Here, I will share my experiences with the finer points of finishing well in a game of Treasure Hunting. Of course, the audience I have in mind would be mainly those who care to compete to some extent. For the jolly hunters - it matters not, nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading and maybe I could urge you into thinking more about being competitive the next time? I won't pretend that I will be comprehensive about this but I will, like every team aims to do at each hunt - "try my best".

Throughout the game, it is very important to keep track of your progress relative to the remaining time and distance to the finishing point. If you had done this meticulously, you should not need to panic in the last hour. Like I learned from rocket science (literally), the journey of a space rocket towards the moon is 1% aiming and 99% adjusting. Evaluate and adjust at every remaining sector without losing aim of your goal - to finish in time.

If however you find yourself in a situation where you are behind with too much distance and remaining questions and/or tasks still uncompleted, then you must get the team's collective attention to discuss and quickly make a decision on the best strategy to turn around the situation more favourably.

If your team is too far away from the finishing point, then there is no other choice - you have to "run". Depending on the route and how familiar your team is with traffic conditions along the "home stretch", you have to catch up with distance first and then if you are lucky enough to "recover" some time - then tackle the questions in the last few sectors.

Dropping questions like "swatted flies" is a practical option if you do not wish to be DQ'ed (disqualified). If you feel that most teams are in a similar situation (for e.g. due to errors in tulips, dropped signs, serious road conditions that affected almost all teams, etc) then your team's decision to "run first" could actually help you "win" a better position later. We have benefited from making such decisions before.

There is also the option to go into the "penalty zone". It is never encouraged. But if you are already in the zone, then you can consider maximising the "slot" - usually in 5-minute blocks.

It is not just urgent - but highly important that you maximise how you use the time left. Remember this well too - in a time-pressed situation, you may not have the luxury to check all answers before arriving at the finish line. This will call for maximum discipline to "get it right the first time".

Assuming, you still have time to work on the Qs, Ts and Miscellaneous, how do you decide what to tackle first? As in a game of chess, by knowing the values of each remaining piece - be it the Q, T or M . Usually, a T (reasure) scores 2 to 2.5 times the value of a Q (uestion). A Bonus Q usually scores only 1 or 2 points each, but it is not uncommon that there are 5 to 10 of them in a set. Not to forget the "sitting duck" JKJR questions - nobody is to lose points here, so these should be completed perfectly and according to the requirements. The value of a P(uzzle) ranges - from from 1 point to 5x the value of Q. So, prioritise carefully.

If time is pressing, then someone - the elected hero of the day - must be sacrificed to concentrate on those outstanding tasks, especially those that score 5 or more points. The rest of the team will then concentrate on the route questions.

The team should aim to finish the balance of route questions in the shortest time possible - if lucky enough, with time to spare, can help "hero" with the other tasks.

If treasures are still unsolved at this "Final Hour" of the game, they then become the highest priority because you cannot score by just solving them - you have to also get them - an often under estimated daunting task. You must try not to have more than 1 treasure unsolved or not "in the bag", if you want the podium finish.

From my experience, dropping a treasure is almost always disastrous - unless, and you pray - everyone else drops the same one too! Sometimes, again with experience, you can tell that a treasure is "impossible" - and your team can deliberately drop it to better use the time on the other remaining tasks.

If necessary, sacrifice "hero" to work on the tasks FULL time. "Hero" can make use of the rest of the team to help "brainstorm" or "validate" your guesses. Guess generously and unashamedly. You never know - one of them may just ring a bell in one of your team mate's mind.

If all fails, just "drop in your best guess" - avoid submitting nothing for any treasure. Your best guess can sometimes be "compromised" as acceptable by the COC. So Why Not? Do not write off yourself. That's not your job - it's the COC's.

Remind the driver, what treasures are still not obtained so s/he can drop the "hero" off at appropriate petrol stations/shops/stores/markets/stalls along the route. If members are dropped at sectors to walk-hunt, the "hero" can scout the areas for treasures. Or the driver can drive the "hero" to a neighbouring sector - within 5 to 10 minutes away - then go back to join the "stalkers" and return for "hero" at a predetermined time. Make sure everyone have their phones with them!

In a situation like this, it also helps for everyone to be extra observant of other hunters (learn to spot them especially when there are no common t-shirts for that day) - see if you know which shop they emerged from. There will always be someone who will be careless enough to "expose" what they bought - especially at the counters of supermarts.

Of course, like I have warned before in other posts, some of these are "decoys" and there is no guarantee that the other hunters have bought the right items. But at least, you have given yourself more "options to consider" and it could just be your lucky day! Likewise, conceal what you got!

Road Safety Questions come in many formats nowadays. A popular one is "all must be answered but not necessarily correctly" or 3 points will be deducted. So don't leave such simple tasks to the end, using up valuable time from the most crucial stage of the hunt.

Most COCs prefer the traditional 1 point per Q. They set very easy Qs here and nobody should lose points here. However, we have a couple of COCs who enjoy dwelling in this segment. They will surf the internet and look for the most challenging facts of driving safety and feature them as their own brand of Road Safety Questions.

YeS, the pioneer of this elaborate format is a very well known COC. It is a wonder how he can find enough variations for the same "answer". How do you tackle this then? Try to google for it, since that was how he got the fact in the first place! But beware of "ambiguity" - often difficult to tell if it was intentional or accidental. He has a follower or two recently.

If you are still caught with difficult JKJRs in the finishing hour, then "hero" can try to contact a driving instructor, a mechanic or a rally racer! Usually, the points here are very low - 1 point each. So if desperate - just drop them but always make a guess for each one. Better to concentrate on the other higher scoring items.

Bonus Qs often carry high points and involve the use of materials given out by the organisers. Recently, some required mandatory googling because the answers could only be found on certain web-sites specified by the COC. Again, these should never be left to the end. But in case, there are difficulties, do get them out of the way early. "Hero" can do this by disengaging from the routine route questions and focus on them. Be aware of all the materials needed. Do not overlook any. And get cracking at that googling machine!

Because of the time pressure, it is important that "hero" double check each answer themselves. If possible, mark the answers clearly on the materials so another member can quickly verify. If it was a googled answer - save the "page". One method I often deploy, is to find the earliest "gap" to read out the questions and the answers for an immediate "sense-check" by the rest of the team.

Puzzles can be high scores too - as high as 10 points. But in the Kiwanis, the two "Crack-a-pots" usually carry a very low 1 point each. If you solved both - then you get an extra point - max, 3 points. That is equivalent to only 1 Kiwanis routine Question. Why the disparity? In my opinion, the COCs were attempting to see "variety" in the finishing - instead of the "same old faces". As long as puzzles test the mental capacity, I really have no qualms about them - but if they are just "eye to fingers" motor skills - I would shake both eyes and fingers in disagreement.

I am sure by now, you have realised that the "hero" could be any one and everyone of you in the team, a different "hero" for a different task! Hopefully, each "Hero" finishes the day better than expected for the team.

As for Route Questions, your team's strategy to "maximise" will depend on how many more there are left and also, the general performance so far. If you have been struggling, then, usually the trend continues - though it is not always the case.

Knowing the styles of COCs help here. The better COCs usually adopt one of two styles - "top heavy" or "bottom heavy". Rookie COCs usually do not know how to balance this well, and they tend to be "all heavy" or "all light". If you have studied the COCs' past questions (recent 1 year is better, since they do learn very quickly), you will know their preference.

So, if you know it is going to be "heavy bottom", then don't waste your time - adopt the "If we see it, we see it" tactic. Get to the sector quickly, move along the hunting route with both sides covered by everybody and then move out without turning back. For those who have quick fingers, you could try copying some "KIVs" heads up (not looking at your paper!). However, if you know it is likely to be "light bottom", then don't give up too easily - slow down a little more, maybe even back-track just once - be thorough in the scanning.

If there are only 2 or 3 more sectors left to hunt, and if a sector has 2 or more questions that are still unanswered, it may be worthwhile to drop one of the team members to try to find the answers. It could be worth 4 or more points. Best to prepare the "stalker" with a few possible "angles". Even better if the "stalker" also has googling apparatus with him/her.

Consider also the tie-breakers. If the tie-breaker says, count back from the last question, then you would want to try scoring better in the last few sectors. If it was countdown from the top - then it is too late, better to lean towards dropping them instead of risking DQ.

[Update 30.12.08]:Needless to say, staying calm will help the team avoid wasting more precious time. Panic can lead to rash decisions and more often than not, causes the "eyes" to "blur out" - skipping the smaller signs that were in the "blind spots" of nearby larger words. Faded signs will appear like insignificant background. Navigators will lead the team into the wrong sectors. It will help if at least one of the members remembers to remind everyone to "calm down" in the final "dash to the finish".

The general idea is to "parallel task" to "expand" the limited time and to try to end with "a surplus". Any strategy that does that effectively will work.

Some points about finishing touches will be in order for the day! Many of these were from personal bitter lessons!

Make sure the correct answer has been written in the correct box! Even the best amongst us have made such transposition mistakes at least once in our hunting lifetime and regret it big time!

Make sure only the correct treasures and all treasures are in the bag. During a rush, the wrong quantity or the wrong "option" could have been mistakenly left inside the bag. Not every COC will have marshals to check treasures on the spot - they sometimes just tie the bag up and label your team number on it and leave it for later to check - make sure they have labeled it correctly.

Check that the answers written for each treasure is complete. Some COCs will not award points if the answer was vague and not precise enough - they want to be convinced that you have solved each "clue" given. This is probably their way of countering "visual copying" from other teams at the finishing point or somewhere else.

Check that every page/sheet is firmly stapled as a set to be handed in. Each page clearly written with your team's number and/or name. Don't write your team's number in a manner that it can be mistaken as the total score for that page - unless you are team number is 100 or so!

Remember this - COCs often hire helping hands - and the "poorly trained/supervised" ones can make any kind of mistake including the one I just speculated and which I personally worry about whenever I write the team's number on each page e.g. using red ink or circling your team number is a no-no - try writing with this symbol "#" on both sides of your team number instead - it's a lot safer.

Spell-check thoroughly - especially those that are supposed to be spelled incorrectly are not corrected by mistake. It is often good to have someone write the answers in a separate set and the two sets compared. Learn how to take note of key features of each signboard for checking later. Some COCs (luckily this number is dwindling) are very fussy about "periods, commas, colons and hyphens". It is extremely rare to still have COCs who insist on case-sensitivity. But don't be complacent - if the question requires that you be case-sensitive - don't ignore it!

Common mistakes include: saloon for salon, vice-versa. Kedai Makanan & Minuman when it was Kedai Minuman Dan Makanan, Kedai Keriting when it was Kerinting. Cafe when it was Kafe. Restaurant when it was Restoran. Writing the "fact" as the answer instead of the "sign" itself - commonly made with anagrams. Usually, these happen because the "scribe" did not see the signs themselves but relied on other team members to read them out loud. And these often happen in the "twilight zone"!

This is not common, but has happened before to some teams - partly blanco-ing an answer and forgetting to fill it back because they were waiting for the liquid to dry! Another "twilight zone" phenomenon!

Never leave any question unanswered - a wild guess is better than leaving it completely blank. For this reason, always have a "KIV" or "tembak" answer before leaving any sector. In the "twilight zone", one must train the mind to consciously pick one on the fly. If you had the fortune to have copied or photographed KIVs, then always share them with the rest of the team. What you don't see, someone else may.

There are a few other "tricks" you could do, but it would not be ethical for me to highlight them here. This much, I would say instead - read the rest of my postings (past and future) and you may just spot them!

COCs also need to polish up on their finishing in a few areas. Accuracy of marking will be the topmost priority. Nobody seems to be immune from this - even the most "veteran" of them all, continues to make mistakes in awarding points, tabulating and working out tie-breaks and thus affecting final standings. The variety of mistakes here is subject for a posting by itself!

Logic defying it appears to be, but I think it stems mostly from pure careLESSness. Something that every COC could avoid if only they really took enough care - which some COCs always do. Time-pressed situations compounds the challenge. Unfortunately, it is the nature of such events - everyone is expecting not to have to wait too long for the proceedings, thus COCs will be pressurised to come out (literally) with the final results. Hopefully, COCs will learn how to mitigate these with experience.

Unfortunately also, rookie COCs tend to make even graver mistakes like defending a mistake with another bad decision - kind of like driving the final nail into the coffin of the disputed matter! Cooler heads are called for here - make the right decision over a mistake and things will work out a lot better for everyone.

Another area COCs could help hunters enjoy more is ensuring the usually penultimate event - the presentation of answers - are educationally clear to the newbies. COCs have an obligation to do their part for the "hunting fraternity" - to promote the game for the sake of keeping interest in the game growing. While it may be boring to the regulars, newbies should not be left "still puzzled".

Balance is also called for here - the other extreme is also not encouraged. Too much elaboration with too many examples of the same could be "draggy" for everyone - one should not make the hunters feel like they are attending, with respect to all our wonderful teachers in the country, school classes. With experience and concerted effort to find out "did you get it" from the crowd instantly or later, will help create a better finish eventually.

I must commend those COCs who do fantastic jobs with their presentations in terms of ethos. The effort put into the animation, the sound and visual effects must have been painstaking. They make the words dance around the screen accompanied by appropriate sound and movie clips, in awesome choreography to illustrate anagrams, insertions, deletions, substitutions, etc - it becomes something everyone look forward to at each of their events. These are the COCs who have moved with the advancement of computer technology. I really hope more COCs will venture further into this area - to bring even greater edutainment value to the game.

I hope that much of what I share here will give your team some new "reasons" to work better together and thus find it more rewarding in more ways in future outings.

It is the end of 2008 and we hope it has been a rewarding and entertaining year for most, if not all! We, HRU, look forward to even more excitement, variety and of course, rewards in 2009 too! May the COCs have even more success in all the important areas too!

A Merry Happy New Year to all our blog supporters and visitors and may we all work together towards encouraging the positive development of this unique game of Malaysia!

That's "F" ... 2009 will definitely see the completion of the rest in this series, starting with "GHI" soon.

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