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A sf fan came up to the author: Mr. Sturgeon, ninety percent of science fiction is crap.

The author replied, "Ninety percent of everything is crap"

Sturgeon's Revelation

In a scout camp, far, far away...

I shivered in the pre-dawn light. It was about -8. A few inches of snow lay on the ground on a fine November morning. Not enough to slow us down. I'm always shivering at the start of a race. Nerves.

"Stick close Bob. It's easy to lose track of your team."

"Five minutes. Gate officially opens in five minutes," came over the P.A.

"Pete, what's first up?" I knew the answer. But this would get Pete into the groove, re-enforce the habit of always thinking one control ahead of us."

"First control is by the river, near camp Dirty Arm. I recommend taking the regular trail. It's a bit longer, but it avoids the swamp, and I'm not sure it's frozen yet."

"Pete, follow the drill. Recite the clue, then your interpretation."

"Right. 'A21 Riddle 20 points Coords 751 241. Dead pine lines up with pole that is colourful in summer. "It's never quiet here"' I think it's north of the camp, close to the river."

"One minute. Teams to the starting circle."

Yeah, right. Everyone was in the circle. "Mike, you're pacer. remember, medium walk to start, pick it up over the first ten minutes. It's cold. We're not loose yet."

The P.A. blared again. "And three. And two. And one. And Go!"

The teams surged out of the circle, and went in seven different directions. Most of the teams were walking.

"What?" Bob exclaimed. "I thought it was a race! But only a few are running, and we aren't." Bob was the new guy on my team. I was supposed to meet with him last night to get him up to speed, but we got our wires crossed.

"It's only sort of a race. Firstly it's all day. We'll cover a marathon more or less today, and probably only half of it will be on trails. Gotta be a tortoise, not a hare. Slow and steady. Besides, it's more like a scavenger hunt."

"Go on..."

"It's a map race. In snow, a map race has to have different routes for each team. Otherwise it's just follow the beaten path, and ignore the map. There's 30 controls today. Every control has a two part clue. The first part tells you sort of where it is. The second part tells you what to look for when you get there. So in this case we got a set of map coordinates that were good to a hundred meters -- a square the size of two football fields. That's our rough location. We think the 'colourful pole in summer' is the flag pole at the centre of camp. And the 'never quiet' means it's near the river.

"Ok, but you still haven't explained why teams are going off in all directions."

"There's only time to do about 15-20 controls."

"Yeah, so you do the ones closest to the start point."

"It's not that easy. Not all the controls are worth the same points. The close ones tend to be easy. Second, getting there first or second is worth extra. Third, there are different types of clues. We get the clue sheet by email Sunday night. Our team meets Monday after school to try to figure it out. We can usually figure out an answer to about 80% of them now. My first year I don't think we got more than half of them."

"What do you mean, different kinds of clues?"

"Hold that thought. We're coming up on Dirty Arm."

We stopped at the flagpole. Sunlight was on the hilltops around us.

"We've got six dead pines on the river side, John." said Mike.

Bob spoke up. "No you don't. Four are tamarack."

Pete looked at the trees, and looked back at Bob.

"Look at the twigs. Pine twigs are thicker, further apart, and aren't sprinkled with peppercorns."

Look of respect from Pete this time.

"Let's try it guys. Pete, Mike the east one. Bob and I will take the west."

Bob was sharp. Most guys think that any conifer without needles is a dead pine. He was looking like an asset to the team already. Bob and I hurried toward the western dead pine, walked past it then turned around to line it up with the flag pole.

"Ok, we've got a line, now keep this line, as we go toward the river.

Bob asked, "Just what are we looking for?"

"It's a square chunk of plastic, about four inches across. Most likely bright yellow. It will have A21 in the upper left corner. Often nailed to a tree, sometimes a fence post."

We reached the river. If I went any further I'd have wet feet. No control.

"Is that it?" Bob was pointing at the bank.

I turned. There it was, nailed to a root that had been undercut by a previous flood.

"Yeah, that's it. What else does it say"

"Ambitious aardvark. What does that mean?"

"Hold on a sec."

I shouted. "We got it. Back to the flag pole."

"Roger that!" came faintly from Mike.

"Each control has an ID. That was the A21. That tells us that you found the right one. Then there is a codeword or code phrase on the control. That's ambitious aardvark We write that down to show that we were there." I hauled out my notebook and wrote down the ID, the codephrase, and the time.


"Q11 74x 24y; x+y=4. On a double birch on the top of the ridge."

"That sounded more like a math problem than a clue."

"That's what I thought first time. This is probably the only place I've used algebra in real life. Pick pairs of numbers that make it true. It's not multiplication. The x and y are just digits in the coordinates. So it could be 740 244, or 741 243 or 742 242 or 743 241 or 744 240." But it's quicker to use coordinate geometry, and just draw the line.

"So we have five locations to check, each one the size of two football fields?" Bob looked a bit doubtful.

"No, we have a line a half a kilometer long. Nothing says x and y have to be whole numbers. Usually the control is pretty close to the line. Thirty meters or so on either side. And a double birch on a ridge narrows it down a lot."

"Can I see the map?"

"Oops. Right, you weren't at the meeting. Everyone usually carries a copy of the map and a clue sheet. Some team captains try to do it all. His guys are just there to search. " I took off my pack without breaking pace, and got out Bob's paperwork. We stopped for a few seconds, I pointed out where we were, and the line we had drawn."

"That line crosses two ridges, right"

"Yeah, and the hollow between them is full of deadfall. It will take us ten minutes just to cross."

"But there's no birch on that first ridge. I was up there last summer for my ornitology badge. We were looking for flickers. They peck holes in birch to drink the sap. That first ridge is all pine. Too dry for birch."

"This could help," I said. "Pete, is there a decent way to check the second ridge first?"


"Bob is pretty sure that there aren't any birch on that first ridge. "

"Sure. We can take the Sleepy Hollow trail. Avoids the deadfall. We stay on the road. It's about a hundred meters further than the route the crows would take, but it's fast trail the whole way."

"Do it."

"You were saying about clues?"

"The guy who thinks these up has a mind like a pretzel. Seriously twisted. That first one was an easy riddle. We had to figure out what the 'coloured pole' and the 'never quiet' meant. Riddles are vague. Tricky. Often metaphores.

"You mean, like English Lit class?"

"Yeah. Another class I never expected to use."

Anyway, this one is a puzzle. They depend on doing things with the map before we come out. Some of them can be real buggers. Distances from two road intersections. Two equations two unknowns. A distance and a bearing. Then there are navigators. Those require you to find something first, then the control is offset by a bearing and distance. "On the north side of a pussy willow, 70 meters northwest of a jog in a fence near 711 235" We do that one later. We have to find the jog, then go northwest, likely through a willow bog, trying to keep our direction straight, and keeping track of our distance.

"Yikes! How do you manage that?"

"We're not very good yet. So far our best technique is to use half paces, and have one guy standing still calling out right or left as we drift off the line."

"Why do you bother with them then? You said you can't do them all?"

"Points, man. That first one we did was only worth about 20 points. A medium grade navigator control will be a hundred. If we're first, 120"

"What other kinds?"

"Well there are travelers. They are way out of the way. Real easy to find, but you have to travel a kilometer or two to get to them."

"Who goes after them?"

"The rabbits. There are two ways for a team to do well in this game. You can be smart, or you can be fast. A team that isn't very good at the harder navigation can still do ok by running everywhere, and collecting the travelers, the stunts and all the easy ones."

"Stunts?" asked Bob.

"Usually you have to climb a tree, or a steep bank, or build a fire. Sometimes you aren't allowed to climb the tree, and you have to make a pyramid.

In my attention to answering Bob's questions, I hadn't been paying attention to the map. Pete and Mike were, however. We were coming out of Sleepy Hollow, and onto the ridge. Sure enough, it had lots of birches.

"If there are 30 controls, how do you decide which ones to do?"

"There's a lot of strategy to that. We'll talk about it at the next meeting. If you still want to come after today. "

"Count me in! So far this has been a hoot.

"You may not think so by the end of the day. We've got another seven hours. But thanks to you, we're about 15 minutes ahead of schedule."

"Say, is that a double birch?"

This was just the beginning. Bob came home with a few blisters on his feet, a few scratches an amazing collection of seeds in his socks, absolutely exhausted. And couldn't wait until the next time.