Thousands of eager puzzle-solvers gathered around a stage at high noon Sunday, ready for the clues to the 2011 Herald Hunt from the maniacal puzzle-creating minds of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dave Barry and his partner in crime, Tom Shroder.
In what proved to be one of the most grueling puzzle challenges in the Hunt’s 27-year history, the victors were a team with members from Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Alone among the thousands of participants, the trio alone figured out that a lefty young baseball pitcher was the key to solving the puzzle — which stumped everyone, including the winners, for an hour past the Hunt’s three-hour time limit.
The fun played out at the new Miami Marlins’ new stadium in Little Havana, where Barry and Shroder delivered the opening hints.
Barry told the crowd that since the stadium was basically a construction site, there were only so many places they could go.
“Don’t drive the heavy machines,” he warned.
Families and teams traveled from all over to compete in the Hunt — a South Florida tradition dating back to 1984.
The rules are simple, but the puzzles are complicated. It involves five which must be solved to get a number. Each number corresponds to a clue. After the hunting for the five is over, Barry gives a final clue, and the endgame begins.
This year, it took an hour after endgame and multiple additional hints from Barry for the winners, Jeffrey and Cheryl Kobal of Wellington and Adam Horowitz of Pembroke Pines, to solve the brain-twisting, live-action puzzle.
As Barry talked, the Streit family — seven Hunt veterans from Port St. Lucie to California — pored over Herald Hunt section that came in Sunday’s Miami Herald and prepared for the challenges ahead.
The three Streit brothers, Dan, the teacher; Andy, the retired doctor; and Tom, the lawyer, came with daughters and wives. The Streits were no strangers to Hunt glory — they won the game in 2002 and 2009.
The family has a ton of strategies culled from years of hunting.
“We’ve learned how to think like Dave [Barry],” Dan said.
The Streits didn’t sweat the first puzzle featuring signs and symbols — it was easy for them. They moved on, down the windy airway between the unfinished stadium and the parking garage.
Next, a huge bra hung between two colored flags. It corresponded to a page in the Hunt section that was missing the letters BRA in “library.” This also gave a number. The Streits solved it in seconds.
A different puzzle, a man speaking into a video screen, took a little longer. The man kept referring to “tennis,” and said people had to find him.
The Streit twins, Lisa and Becky, 27, both grad students, came to the rescue. They figured out that tennis meant “10 S” — and translated to coordinates on the map in the section.
Then things got really hard.
Sheets of music for Take Me Out to the Ball Game were passed out in a big white tent, and a singer asked the players to follow the music. Tom Streit realized there was a phone number hidden in the sheets.
The final puzzle was a poetry reading of the classic baseball prose piece, Casey at the Bat. The family eventually figured out that the order of the batters, along with baseball cards handed out, gave the answer.
Then they strategized to spread around the stadium, hoping to get a head start on the final clue.
It was a boy pitching on the stage. No one got it.
At 3:30 p.m. Barry gave them a hint. He told the crowd to notice that the pitcher was using his left hand.
By 4 p.m., the Streits were sweaty and stumped, and no one had the puzzle solved. In the next five minutes, they got frustratingly close.
“This is the tough part,” Dan said, “everybody’s kind of standing around going, ‘U hhh?’ ”
They got a phone number from the final clues that corresponded to a coordinate on the map, but they cracked it too late.
The puzzle had been solved by the Kobals and Horowitz.
“It feels great. We’ve been trying this for many, many years,” Jeffrey Kobal said. “The big ah-ha! was sitting there with the final clue, and we were stuck thinking ‘pitcher . . . picture.’ It finally dawned on me that each of the clues had a significant thing to do with left. And that opened up the whole endgame for me.”
For their effort, the winners will recieve a seven-day Caribbean Cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line and a Miami Marlins VIP Experience Package.