Sunday, February 22, 2009

The MNO's of Treasure Hunting - "N"

"N" is for "Navigating"

Tulip reading - it was one of the most daunting things to learn when I attended my first briefing on treasure hunt. I remember gluing all my attention to the COC, not wanting to miss a single word he was saying. He lost me several times and it was frustrating when I did not know who to turn to explain again. I looked around me and felt embarrassed to approach the COC to explain all over again! And tomorrow, I had to be the navigator!

When the hunt day came, I knew I will be struggling - I did. We were lost a few times during the hunt. I think we even skipped some sectors because I could not read the tulips correctly. I just went to the next "recognisable" sector. No wonder out of the 21 teams that took part, we were 1st from the bottom!

Today, everyone has it a lot easier. COCs have mastered the art of explaining tulips to every new comer. Some have even developed special presentations to illustrate each symbol used in tulips. Regulars help out too - more willing to guide "lost" new comers.

Since navigating is a vital skill of treasure hunting - I will discuss it here to help everyone who needs it, so you do not have to go through what I did some 17 years ago!

Tulips are meant to help hunters get from point A to point B, perform the tasks required and continue to the next Point without confusion until the end. Good tulips will have all the correct features, landmarks and distances laid out properly in unconfused ways. Extra comments or remarks are added sometimes. They are not meant to be challenges by themselves.

While almost every COC uses the graphic tulip method, there is still one COC who insist on using the narrative guide instead. For him, if you can read well, then you just need to be able to "imagine" just as well the "directions" he is describing. With narrative tulips, you cannot take a quick glance to see where you were or "recall" what the directions were - you had to read the directions again to "re-draw" them in your mind. Usually distances are omitted in this version of tulips, so you can lose your sense of "direction or distance". Thus, you also need a good memory! Unless of course, you have decided to draw out the tulip next to the narratives! We hope this COC will someday drop the "talking tulips" and adopt the graphical ones - the sooner the better for everyone!

Okay, so we are onto the more popular graphic tulips. The tulip uses symbols representing a bird's eye-view of your car, the direction you will heading and the road or traffic features you will be encountering as you move along the route. Distances to travel are always provided. Landmarks are added to provide more clarity (although this may be the case for every tulip). Components will include:

1. Road/Traffic Feature
2. Direction
3. Distance (for inter-sector and accumulated distance)
4. Landmarks

The area between two tulips is called a sector. Sectors may be loaded with questions or tasks or they could just be breaks to keep the tulips easy to follow and to reduce the margins of difference in distances.

The way to read a pair of tulips (i.e for each sector) is typically as follows:

"Starting from this traffic feature, until the next tulip (traffic feature), for a distance of X km, do this (or do nothing)". That means, you have covered one sector. The "next tulip" then becomes the "Start Tulip" and so on. The "next tulip" is usually the "tulip" below the "previous tulip". So, you will have a stack of tulips vertically down. But do look out for some COCs who have a different style - where they draw the "next tulip" on the same plane as the "previous tulip" i.e. a pair of tulips on a horizontal plane for each sector.

Accumulated distances are mostly used to keep track of timing. The distance left to travel and the time left to hunt - determine the pace that the team must maintain or adjust to. For this reason some COCs provide a "countdown of distance left" rather than the accumulated distance traveled.

If distance is used as a tie-breaker, then navigators must remind the driver to keep going in the forward direction and try to avoid back-tracking. The car should be parked at the end or near the end of the sector. Team members then walk back towards the start of the sector. If the distance to be covered by walking is too far (say, more than 1km long), then it may be more practical to park the car at the half-way mark and have the team split into two teams - one team hunts forward, while the other pair hunts backwards.

Navigators should develop a crisp way to communicate to the driver the directions required. Keeping the communication consistent is vital - so nobody will get confused with different meanings or interpretations. For e.g.

"From T-junction, go straight until next T-junction, for a distance of 2.2 km, then turn right. We have two questions : 2 and 3."


"From T-junction, go straight for a distance of 2.2 km, answer questions 2 and 3, then turn right at next T-junction."

Drivers always want to know "what am I to do when I reach the end of the sector" - because they have to decide if they should keep to the right, centre or left lanes. Navigators who are also drivers will understand this better.

Stick to one format - whichever your team agrees on. Do not vary them throughout the hunt. Keep instructions very, very short and crisp. No unnecessary words. If it is easy to confuse between right and left, then use "my side, your side, or my side and driver's side".

Others in the car must help to confirm the sequence of questions. This way, the navigator and driver know that they are in the right places and have not skipped any. Navigators/drivers must make sure the rest of the team know how the questions are clustered for each sector. Be very clear if there are more than one question in a sector. Some teams will actually spend 5 minutes to "group" all the questions on their question sheets before they begin hunting.

Drivers, who are assisted by navigators, tend to forget parts of the tulips and will ask the navigators for the tulip to be read again. "What do I see again? What is the distance again?" This could irritate the navigator, who could be doing something else already and now had to flip back the tulip pages to read them again - so patience and understanding are very key virtues required for this game. (Imagine how more difficult this is with "narrative tulips").

The others in the car also sometimes add to the irritation - by asking "any questions?" too often and not paying full attention when first answered. The team has to learn how to "pace" reminders. Not asking is also dangerous - what if the navigator and driver were really "sleeping" on the job!

Ideally, the driver can navigate too - that will free up the navigator completely. But it is always good for the navigator to "once in a while" just check with the driver if he is okay to go on alone or just to make sure the driver is still on the correct track. The driver should not feel insulted when "checks" are made from time to time by others.

It is also a good practice to consider "Are we in the right sector?" whenever the team seems to be unable to find the answer. You may just be in the wrong sector. Of course, this situation can be made more confusing by "dropped signs" - nevertheless consider it always and nobody in the team should feel offended about it. It is a prudent question to ask.

Unfortunately, COCs will make mistakes in their tulips - missing one out, or having the distances wrong, etc. It is quite challenging if you are unfamiliar with tulip reading. If in doubt, just call the COC to confirm. They always oblige.

Navigators should also keep track of remaining time and distance. Others in the team should from time to time, ask the question "How are we doing so far? Time wise, distance wise and questions wise". Adjust your pace once you realise you are falling behind.

I personally think that every team member should know how to read tulips and the agreed communication protocol. The back-up can come in very useful especially if the team has to be re-organised to drop off at some sectors.

To me, all tulips should have landmarks - at least one per tulip. Some COCs will just rely on the traffic feature and the distances to guide the hunters and keep landmarks to the minimum. Better COCs will include landmarks for all question sectors (like shop names, building names, road side signs or road names).

This difference in approach seems to be coming from the attitude of some COCs who think that it is not good to reveal the general route or journey of the whole hunt. They fear that the teams will be able to read ahead and then collaborate and have teams go ahead and start from another part of the route while one team continues as usual. I think this is a trivial fear. Hunters should never be made to fear the tulips - they are meant to be help us find our ways not to lose us.

The distances given for any sector are usually not exact. That is because of many reasons:

1. The tyre size used on the car used to do the course
2. The driving style (outer lanes or inner lanes used when cornering or when cruising).
3. When the "trip" was actually done.
4. Back tracking or detouring to a petrol station or a shop.

Generally, the difference should only be within a 10% margin for long distances and about 5% for very short distances. After going through the route for about 3 sectors, you will be able to gauge what that difference is and make appropriate provisions for the rest of the route. Landmarks, if given, usually negate the need for accuracy in distances.

Tripping by normal practice should be at the start of the feature of the traffic or the road. Examples:

At the traffic lights or any junction - trip as you align your driver's window with the traffic lights or the junction.

At roundabouts - trip as your car enters the roundabout.

At bridges - trip as your car enters the bridge.

At Y-junctions - trip as you car enters one of the splits.

These road/traffic features generally also mark the start or end of sector. So, be very familiar with these to ensure you do not "hunt" beyond a sector. Drivers must learn to trip at every sector or learn to correctly keep track of accumulated distances. Quite often, failure to do so, lead to errors in reading the tulips and thus waste of time.

If your trip meter is calibrated not in kM i.e. miles, then good luck to you. The conversion will take up a good portion of your time. You should try to avoid using such an old car (unless, I guess, you are in a vintage car hunt!). Better to do the conversion before the hunt starts. Some calculators come with instant conversion programs - get those. There are of course gadgets in the market that you can install to give you kM readings - but that would mean visiting the workshop a couple of days before the hunt and some investment.

Beginners or those still not familiar with tulips should prepare early for hunts, by getting a set of old tulips from the COC and start practicing them over the few days before the hunt. Or just draw up your own tulips and do a practice run to see if your navigator and driver understand them thoroughly. By doing so, you will have one less challenge to deal with on hunt day.

At briefings, if you are still unclear about reading the tulips - do not be shy - just ask the COC to explain again and again until you are very clear. This part of the hunt should never spoil the rest of your hunt.

And what do you do if you are really lost during the hunt? Don't panic. Call the emergency numbers provided and the COCs will guide you back on track, somehow. Just cooperate by giving them landmarks of your whereabouts. If they are nearby (they do the rounds too) they may even go out to where you are to guide you back on track.

Back-tracking is inevitable in most hunts - navigators and drivers must work well together to make sure they know how to get back to the starting point again.

One can say you are master of the tulips when you are able to get to any tulip from wherever you are. Sometimes, we have to go back to a sector, some 10 to 15 sectors past - and drop someone there to try to solve a question or two. A master navigator will be able to get the team to any sector without any difficulty.

The other situation that tells you, you have a master navigator in your team is when you encounter sectors that have many one-way streets. Master navigators are able to take mental notes of landmarks and find their way back to intended sectors despite the one-way streets.

It is therefore very useful to make notes of landmarks of your own, especially for those sectors with questions. This way, you can make it easier to return to any sector if needed.

Today, we can also deploy GPS - it is actually not a very practical solution due to the slow set-up and start up of such programs on handphones. Those with dedicated GPS equipment may be better off - but again, if you are in an area where GPS signals are not strong - then it is not of much help. Nevertheless, it can be very useful when one is really, really lost!

Finally, do not overlook any subtly hidden instructions to perform certain tasks along the route. Sometimes, COCs use the tulips to embed special instructions and can be overlooked as ordinary remarks. Read everything that is printed on the tulip sheets - do not make any assumptions!

That's "N" ... I hope to get back on course to do my regular hunting again. In the meantime, I will just enjoy sharing my experiences with you.

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