Solidsoft team UK Challenge

A dull, June Thursday morning saw 6 apprehensive Solidsoft employees making our way to Exeter for the start of our first UK Challenge event. The team was made up of Alan Jones, Anna Smith-James, Ed Loveridge, Elliot Pickup, Nigel Sheldon and Vincent Rouet and the sense of trepidation in the minibus was palpable since we were all unsure as to exactly what lay ahead, and just how far it would push us as both individuals and a team.


On arriving at Exeter University which was to be our base for the next few days, it was time for registration and posing for team photos in our clean, bright red new outfits.


Solidsoft team UK Challenge start

(L-R: Nigel Sheldon, Anna Smith-James, Alan Jones, Vincent Rouet, Ed Loveridge, Elliot Pickup)


Dinner was followed by a team briefing. As expected, the first stage of the Challenge was to take place that evening, but with a slight curveball; each team had to nominate a member to leave their team for this one stage, and form up new teams with others. Nigel volunteered for this role, and we were soon back in the minibus following the directions to Killerton House for the first stage.



Stage 1 - Going to Pieces


This stage required four team members so with Nigel off with his new temporary team, Elliot sat this one out. For this stage, the teams had to piece together image fragments that were available at way marked locations on a map. After selecting the images we wanted to piece together then pairing off to hunt down the image fragments, we had to sketch a brief outline of the image fragment and note down its reference number. The two pairs then met up again at the answer point with all the required fragments and pieced together their sketches before completing the answer sheet. We needed at least two completed images to complete the stage. This was followed by a hasty dash to the finish line. It was then back to base for some rest before a 6:00am start the next morning.


Stage Result: 18/50

Aggregate Result: 18/50



Stage 2 - Minimal Intelligen5e


An early start and a good breakfast before heading off to Roadford Lake, about an
hour west of Exeter, which was the location for a spy-hunting stage. Our team of 4 had to split into 2 pairs, one pair to hunt for clues in a kayak, and the other pair to run to various land-based clues. Elliot and Vincent took the kayak, while Anna and Alan were our runners, leaving Ed and Nigel as the substitutes, with their own challenge to complete (more on this later).


Our intrepid foursome were soon paddling away in their kayak to drop the runners off at "Thames House", before splitting up to hunt for their relevant clues. Having obtained these, they then met up to compare their information. The clues gave a grid reference for the location of spies to be captured. Once 3 spies had been captured, it was time for a swift paddle to cross the finish line.


Meanwhile, back on land, Nigel and Ed were tasked with hunting the Spy Chief by trying to decode some witness statements that were left at four drop-points, one of which was at the end of a high-wire course. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts they failed to get the correct answer, losing out on a potential 10 minutes of bonus time.


We then headed back to Exeter for the next stage.


Stage Result: 21/50
Aggregate Result: 16/50



Stage 3 - Successful Formula


This biking stage was based at Exeter Racecourse. The starting team of four was Anna, Ed, Elliot and Nigel, with the other two team members able to be used as substitutes at any time.


The mission was to build a Formula 1 team. Each team had a budget of $50 million to buy a driver, engineer, R&D package and test track. Each of these was priced differently and located at a different point on the map. Obviously, the best options were furthest away and most expensive. However, before visiting these component waypoints we had to register for races. The race times were made available to us as the clock started, so with the 3 hours quickly ticking down we made our selections.


A late update immediately before the stage started informed us that the race registrations had to be completed on foot. With Nigel already in his biking shoes, a quick decision was made to swap in Vincent for the initial running who visited the two registration points for our three selected races and headed back to the bikes, where Nigel was waiting to go.


After arranging a meeting point, Nigel and Ed went to buy our driver and engineer, while Anna and Elliot went for the R&D package and test track. We had underestimated the time needed for this part of the stage which resulted in us missing our first race. We headed for our second, making it with just minutes to spare. Our third and final race was scheduled in 25 minutes time, but before the race we had to visit more waypoints to refuel and buy new tyres. We looked at the distances involved and decided to miss the 3rd race and instead return straight to the finish line so as to avoid any penalties.


We made it back to the finish line with half an hour to spare, and with hindsight realise that we could probably have made that final race after all - we should at least have tried.


Back to the University, but the day was not done yet, at a briefing we were told we would be heading out for another stage that night involving a three-hour run starting at 10.00pm. It was going to be another late one...


Stage Result: 35/50
Aggregate Result: 16/50



Stage 4 - Rum Running


By 9.30pm we were stood in the drizzle in a wood getting ready for a 3 hour stage. This stage was for 5 team members and the premise was that we were gangsters smuggling alcohol. One team member was to play the Don, in our case Alan, and his role was to liaise with Dons from other teams to buy stakes in breweries. Having bought a brewery the team of 4 gangsters could then run the alcohol along a route by visiting certain checkpoints in a specified order. The final waypoint of a route was known as a Speakeasy point which could only be visited at certain times so as to avoid being captured and losing all the profit from the route you had just completed.


Anna started as our sub whilst Ed, Elliot, Nigel and Vincent played the gangsters. Before starting the route runs and while Alan was getting friendly with the other Dons and buying stakes in the breweries, the gangsters set off to acquire a vehicle to transport the booze and some manpower to protect it by visiting waypoints. Vehicle, muscle and brewery stakes acquired it was time to run the routes. After an hour and 50 minutes we had completed two successful runs and it was time for some fresh legs and so Anna took over from Vincent before we set off on a third route. Once this was completed we had 50 minutes remaining and only one possible route left to run. Since this route was fairly long and took us into unexplored territory and we were uncertain that we would make it back for Stage Close time we made the decision to call it a day and stop.


We got back to the accommodation shortly before 2am, but at least the following morning we had a lie-in - until 7:20am...


Stage Result: 27/50
Aggregate Result: 17/50



Stage 5 - To the Walls


A different venue again, Castle Drogo was to be the location for both of today’s stages.


The first stage was a construction task. Each team was given a build area which contained some tools and wood and set the objective of building a working drawbridge within the two hour time limit. The drawbridge had to be freestanding, raise and lower, and enable all members of the team of 5 to cross a 1 metre wide strip of water.


Further pieces of equipment such as rope, pulley, screws and hinges were available at Equipment Points which were located a 5 minute run away up a hill. These had to be visited in pairs and so Alan was left to make a start on the construction while Ed, Elliot, Nigel and Vincent went to fetch the other pieces of equipment. Anna was our sub on this stage and watched on from the side lines. At each Equipment Points we had to solve a puzzle in order to buy the equipment. These took us some time and after 30 minutes we returned with just two of the four items we had set off for - the pulley and the hinges. By now Alan had built the bridge and partially constructed the support frame. The team set to work on the remaining parts, and after some redesign and reconstruction we completed our working drawbridge. We then used this drawbridge to cross the water in a particular order as defined by a puzzle which had been set in the course notes. After we all crossed the drawbridge and with just a few minutes remaining, it was a quick dash up the hill to the finish point. We made it by the skin of our teeth.


Lunch was accompanied by nervous anticipation about what they were going to throw at us this afternoon for the final stage.


Stage Result: 42/50
Aggregate Result: 23/50



Stage 6 - All Abroad


So this was it. The last stage of the challenge. This was a run-bike-run challenge for four team members which were to be Alan, Anna, Ed and Nigel. The team would complete a circuit stopping at 5 checkpoints or borders. At these borders we had to solve a puzzle to be able to continue or wait 10 minutes before carrying on.


The clock started but before getting the course details we had to solve a puzzle - we completed this in two minutes and then we were off. After a run, at the first border the puzzle was an anagram of a well-known 6 word phrase. Another couple of kilometres running and we arrived at the next border. This one was a signpost where using just the information on the signposts you had to work out the distance to Melbourne.


Then it was on to the bikes for a long uphill climb to the next stop. Our legs were tiring by now and this was hard work. Another border and another puzzle successfully solved.


The final section of the course was on foot and uphill, all the way back to Castle Drogo. A few 100 meters from the Finish line we met Elliot and Vincent and all ran for the line together. We were done! Bring on the champagne and medals.


Stage Result: 33/50
Aggregate Result: 25/50



The Epilogue


It was over. The UK Challenge 2013 was almost complete. All that remained was to return to base for that evening’s awards ceremony.


Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, there were no prizes for Solidsoft this year. However, as a team of novices we can be proud of our achievements. Personally, some 5 days later I am still feeling the high of being involved in the event, and the reflection continues. The "what ifs", "how abouts" and "if onlys" are still there, and we have been able to take some good lessons and insights from this experience. Team work, personalities, leadership, and the strengths and weaknesses of both individuals and the team as a whole have all become clearer, and it has been good to get to know some people that I did not know so well before due to geographical differences.


Next year: Snowdonia and position 25 to beat - I for one cannot wait.


Solidsoft team UK Challenge finish


Written by Ed Loveridge at 00:00

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