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Friday, August 26th, 2016

Time Event
8:03a
Cataract charity...
Terror, like charity, begins at home.
- The Whitlams - You Sound Like Louis Burdett

Several years ago, I was happy with my life. It was simple, but I quite liked it. I was glad to celebrate my birthday at bars on King Street with colleagues I considered friends. Now those colleagues are gone - as are their desks - and the bar has become a strip joint. Perhaps in an effort to regain the simpler times of call centre work, I agreed to participate in a charitable endeavour - taking calls collecting money as a part of a radiothon.

I'd been looking forward to a simple day of talking on the phone, but at the last moment, I noticed my name removed from the list of participants, and I was advised that rather than taking phone calls, I would be required to train staff for the role - exactly what I had hoped to avoid. So yesterday I attended a session with representatives from the charity in question.

The charity is discretely Christian on paper, and devotes most of the money they collect to financing surgeries to remove cataracts from the eyes of the poor the world over. The initial meeting with their representatives was overpopulated - they seemed to have sent not less than seven people to discuss the project for only an hour. The system to be used was a simple one to train, and the information provided on the organisation answered sufficiently to be deemed thorough without overlong. The scripting provided raised other concerns, making several references to God, most prominently concluding a donation transaction with the phrase, 'God bless you for your generosity.'

The team went through their intended session with the first group of volunteers, and, unsurprisingly, a question was asked of the 'Title' field. As well as the usual 'Mr.,' 'Mrs.,' 'Ms.,' and the like, there was also an option for 'Mr. & Mrs.' As if on cue, a participant asked, 'What if the couple aren't a Mr. and Mrs.?'

The facilitator agreed enthusiastically, noting that 'Some couples actually are something other than just "Mr. and Mrs." Sometimes you'll see couples who are known as "Doctor and Mrs.," "The Reverend and Mrs.," or "Seargent and Mrs.," and so on...'

She demonstrated how one could replace the stock 'Mr. and Mrs.' option with alternative couples, such as those listed. A further question arose, beyond the one I was thinking of about women with positions earning titles other than Mrs., of how one would proceed with a couple made up of a configuration other than man and woman. The facilitator didn't seem to understand. I vowed to address to inevitable question during my own session in a different fashion.

The question had not been fully addressed, but moved on from, when the 'God bless you...' scripting was raised. A couple of people raised that they weren't completely comfortable with this, which the facilitator acknowledged that she could understand this view. 'But just give it a try,' she stated. 'As you can see here,' she indicated the screen showing her presentation. 'It is listed as scripting, so you should read it as is, regardless of your view.'

I didn't think that forcing the quoting of that exact phrase was neccesary or grateful for the organisation, though did not vocally disagree, noting once again, that my training session would not focus on this slide (and, when it happened, I showed the slide in the presentation for mere seconds, without actually making mention of it.)

When it came to actually taking the calls, the day had been broken up into two batches. There was expected to be a morning rush, from 6am to 10am, when the company would be helping the charity, and another from 2pm to 8pm. Hilarity had ensued when the company requested volunteers for the two periods, and less people than anticipated (i.e., promised to the charity by the company) agreed to participate. I enjoyed watching the frantic scramble to employ temporary staff to take these calls for the evening session.

In the morning, it was, in fact, very busy. The calls came without break, and those taking calls - I managed to sneak onto the phones for a while as people needed breaks from the incessant demand - were surprised at the generosity of radio listeners. The same demand had been suggested for the evening shift, so, as well as the temporary staff who I would train in the hour before they started at 2pm, a further call was put to this company's staff to volunteer, and a few did, even returning from the 6am start to put in an extra-long shift that surely breaches workplace health and safety conventions.

After all of the needless panic in the lead up to the afternoon calls, I was delighted to witness a stark contrast to the peak of the morning's calls. It was several hours before any calls came to the temporary staff at all. When they did, there was a brief rush (evidently stemming from an announcement on air on the radio station) where they took donations and then... back to nothing. With people become restless, I prepared some of the activities used as state-change exercises in training to keep them occupied. Before long, though, a colleague who had also agreed to be involved, and who was liasing with the charity client, decided that enough was enough. He contacted a representative from the charity to propose ending the day due to lack of interest.

All the while, the organiser of the endeavour from this company was conspicuously absent, though was seen by me to be touting the exercise as an enormous success amongst various company executives.
7:49p
Casino Heist...
The charity fiasco finally over, I made tracks into the heart of the city. I'd proposed an unprecendented team activity, and it was surprisingly wildly anticipated. This was back when my only schedule for the day had been taking charity phone calls from 6am until 10am, so making a 7.45pm booking did not seem a problem. At it happened, I made it to the booking, but only after briskly walking, and with my pockets still filled with training room supplies.

I headed into the basement bar and promptly ordered a whiskey and announced my arrival to the staff. I fell into a chair near where a bartender was assembling a game of massive Jenga. I tasted my drink - they'd served me rum by mistake - and sent an SMS to the team, Rendezvous at the downstairs bar..

The team arrived individually from their day's work and collected drinks. At our table in the bar, Angela idly placed Connect 4 pieces into the rack as Bryce recommended a strategy.

'Once we get in,' he started. 'Be aware that everything could mean something. Pay attention to everything. Everything could be a clue.' He flipped over a spare coaster from the table. It was an advertisment for the escape room experience I'd booked for us. '"The cards are stacked against you..."' he read. 'That could be a clue already. Once we go in, be on the lookout for cards.'

'And stacks,' someone else offered. When I'd made the suggestion to try an escape room, we'd browsed the scenarios online, and without much argument had decided upon a casino heist scenario. The host (an animated member of the bar staff) introduced himself to us at our table, and invited us to finish our drinks and meet him behind the bowling alleys (the venue's cheif business.) There, the host challenged 'So, you think you're the next Ocean's Eleven, huh?'

'I'll be Julia Roberts, then,' Kate said.

'I wanna be Brad Pitt,' Angela raised her hand, then looked to Bryce. 'And you can be Clooney.'

'Ah,' Paulo groaned. 'Does this mean I have to be Matt Damon?'

The team and bartender looked at me. 'Can I go old-school and be Sammy Davis Jr.?'

The host didn't disagree, but gave us a large iPad. He told us that he would soon take us to a route that could lead us to the casino's vault, but once there, the iPad would start a countdown. 'After 50 minutes, if you haven't managed to crack the safe and get out of there, the cops will arrive, and then it's all over.'

He explained that we might find barcodes which could be scanned into the iPad for clues, at the cost of a time penalty. The host lead us to a wall plastered with Polaroids, with three positioned prominently as the top-three times: a photo labelled as 'The Filo Queens' showed us a group of smiling young women who had apparently pulled off a successful heist in 19 minutes. Finally, he handed us an early 2000s era mobile phone, breaking character to tell us that we could hit the call button to contact him to forfeit the challenge and be released from the room in case of emergency. I was handed this responsibility due to my alleged penchant for antiquated tech.

We were blindfolded - it would be inappropriate to be allowed to know the route to the vault - and marched conga-style through an unknown route as the host wound us tales of the exotic casino target's splendour. The sounds of the bowling alley were eventually replaced with those of slot machines and falling coins.

'Now it's up to you,' said the host, and we heard a heavy door close. We removed the blindfolds as we'd been instructed, and found ourselves in a very small, blank room, kind of like a service elevator's loading zone, with two doors: one that we'd entered through. Under my arm, the clock on the iPad had started counting down. We burst through the other door into a private gaming lounge. A slot machine was spinning in one corner, with a Blackjack table on one side of the room, and a couple of other table games. Kate quickly identified the only other door in the room, locked with a combination lock.

We split apart naturally, each taking a different game or menu in the room to analyse. I took to the slot machine, and quickly noticed a consistant pattern to the winning spins, but had also noticed a suspicious looking score card above the Blackjack table that seemed significant. We called different numbers we'd deduced over to Kate, who tried them on the code, and the heavy door fell open. I felt proud of our performance in that first room.

We stumbled into an intimate lounge area. At the bar, six cocktail shakers were lined up, each emblazoned with the name of a top-shelf spirit, along with other tools of the bartending trade. There was a cocktail menu, and behind them all, a small safe, locked with a combination lock. A close look at the lock revealed it to have letters rather than numbers for the combination. On the opposite side of the lounge was a roulette table, also with a safe atop it, this one with a more traditional, numbered combination lock. Next to this was a table set for two, with a cryptic advertising poster above it, showing a list of precious stones. There was another door, this one locked with a key.

Kate, Angela and I tried to find some direction at the bar, while Bryce warned Paulo not to remove any of the chips from the roulette table lest they have been strategically positioned. Kate discovered numbered gaming chips inside each of the cocktail shakers, which we guessed could provide a clue to the roulette table's safe, but we couldn't figure out the order. I suggested that perhaps the chart with the stones was significant - 'Sapphire' could refer to the gin cocktail, for example - and we started trying to compare ingredients used in the cocktails listed on the menu, but couldn't come up with anything. Angela headed to the roulette table, where the others seemed to be just as stumped, though Paulo had found one of the barcodes - providing access to clues via the iPad - on the coaster underneath one of the drinks at the table. As time ticked down, Bryce's voice took on a tone of seriousness as he suggested that perhaps we should consider taking a time penalty in exchange for a clue. None of us wanted to, but we were stumped. Before we scanned the clue, Paulo flipped the other coaster on the table to find a note beneath it. 'Have you found the Roulette score cards?'

Bryce seemed changed, as he frantically scanned the room for score cards. With no sign of anything like that, he became more creative than any of us had dared to be so far, knocking on walls. He eventually found a false panel in a wall, and broke it down to find hidden score cards. Suddenly, the tide seemed to have turned, and activity flourished at the roulette table. Angela announced that she thought she had a letter for the first combination. I grabbed my notebook from my bag, and started noting down the letters as the rest of the team called them. I needed to figure out the order, and quickly realised the letters could be rearranged to spell a word. I tried the word, and opened the lock, and found a key inside the safe, along with a drinks order. I tossed the key to Kate, and she used it in the lock on the door. Rather than opening the door, a compartment built into the door fell open, revealing another keypad. I don't remember how we did it, but the drink order ruled out some of the cocktails, and gave us numbers to try on the other table's safe. Inside, we found the code for the door.

Spilling into the other room, we were immediately overwhelmed by flashing red light and the sound of an alarm. Looking down, we'd carelessly stumbled across a line on the floor reading 'Alarm will activate past this line.' Luckily, a kind of cypher appeared on the wall, and Angela and Kate took to cracking it. The walls of this room were lined with safe deposit boxes, and the door was a vault door. When we'd deactivated the alarm, we could cross to the vault door, and figured out the code to open it. Inside was a glass safe, filled with cash and jewels, and the final exit door. I found an envelope carelessly hidden behind the safe. On it was a handwritten note. Something about clubs. Bryce and Paulo discussed which card games focused on the suit of clubs, and I felt useless, since the only card game I can play well is Uno. Since the inside of the vault was otherwise bare, we backtracked. Paulo called out that he'd found something.

Back in the first room, the gaming lounge, he'd noticed that the cards on one of the tables had been left with hands heavy with clubs. I noted the numbers in my notebook and ran them back to Angela. She spun the numbers into the safe's combination lock, and we cheered when it swung open. We sorted through the gems and wads of cash for a clue to opening the door, and quickly realised there were numbers on the stones inside. In unison, we remembered the chart in the roulette room with the precious stones, and darted back to take note of the order. We relayed the numbers from there to a team member in the final room, who pressed the numbers from the appropriate stones into the door, and it unlocked. We were back in the bowling alley.



We checked our time against the Polaroids on the wall. We hadn't beaten the Filo Queens, but did come in at second place. And held the sign the wrong way around for our own photo.

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