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Discussion: Mystery Controls

in: Raccoongaine Rogaining Festival (Mar 30–31, 2019 - Georgetown, PA, US)

Apr 2, 2019 3:19 AM # 
I am curious what other people's thoughts are on these. I have always disliked the emphasis they place on luck. Rogaining is all about strategy and skill (and fitness). It seems out of place to add luck and not something I appreciate when competing in an event.

I do at least appreciate that the controls are typically within a reasonable distance of the mother control not usually throwing off travel plans too much and making the 20 points well worth getting. While there is still an element of luck it is minimal.

I don't like that you don't know which controls will be the mother controls. It would add strategy to provide the identity of mother controls. You are potentially increasing the value of those controls which adds to the decision making.

Unfortunately by not providing this information you leave people to guess (i.e., play the lottery, something I never do). I know in my case this year I was faced with a decision to get a control or not near the end. I decided to drop it. It ended up being a mother control. Had I known I definitely would have gone to get it and finished with a higher point total even if it meant dropping some other lower value controls before the finish.

In a previous year I had to choose between two seemingly equal controls. It turned out the one I didn't choose was a mother control.

Please share your thoughts. Maybe I am the only one who thinks this but either way it is useful feedback for the RDs.
Apr 2, 2019 5:14 AM # 
I didn't do the Raccoongaine this year, but I did it the two previous years. The way the mother controls work is an added unique fun element for the event. This isn't a world championship. There might even be a bit of strategy in trying to anticipate how the mother controls might be spread out around the course. There are other elements of luck as well such as some dark green on that map having brambles that are very difficult to penetrate, making it much worse than other dark green.

I don't agree at all with the lottery analogy. There's a price to pay for playing the lottery in that, with very rare exceptions, the odds are stacked against each participant.

If you looked at some of the discussion from last year, I had worse luck than you in going to a mother control without realizing it was a mother control because of the angle from which I saw it (and it seems I wasn't alone in doing so on that control). Your suggestion is a legitimate alternative that would have the additional advantage of eliminating that possibility, but it's still just another alternative. Knowing the location of a mother control with 20 extra points for a nearby control probably gives the mother controls too much value unless the other controls are placed further away, which creates a different element of luck because it would favor those who might happen to be going more in the direction of the other control.
Apr 2, 2019 9:43 AM # 
It seems out of place to add luck...

I laughed at this comment until I read the part about your rogaine maps having colour on them (ours are purely white, which could indicate bush, open farmland or anything really). In Aus it's pot luck whether a route you take is going to he fast and open or thick and rubbish so it's mostly about luck. Case in point, the last WA event I did we left a team resting at the previous control, bashed our way to the next one only to find the team we'd left behind had caught us by using a (unmapped) parallel track to our route, not 20m from where I was bashing my way along. I was quite unhappy about that.

Conversely we twice overshot controls by travelling along unmapped tracks and going faster than expected. That was partly our fault although in the first instance if I'd known which side of the track it was on, I would have looked out for it. In the second a mapped track would have (presumably) had bends in it that we could have attacked from instead of the gamble I took.
Apr 2, 2019 12:44 PM # 
@mayer22: I totally agree. I've done a couple rogaines that had trick mystery controls and find them unsatisfactory. It's like an adventure race with misplaced controls that the RD covers by saying "it's part of the adventure". Knowing the Racoon race has mystery controls, I've skipped it to avoid the frustration you describe. I prefer a straightforward challenge based on skill and endurance.
Apr 2, 2019 12:45 PM # 
If the map is that bad, why not make your own in advance to supplement? Pull together an aerial photo, some Strava heat map, maybe even old government-issue contours. You know, the obvious things the organizer could have done to make a half-way usable race map.

I have to agree with Bryan's comments above. Knowing relative point values is all the more important when choosing which controls to visit on the way back to the finish as the clock is running down. If the course-setter doesn't tell you where the points are distributed then it's no longer a race of strategy but one of sheer luck. Unless you're fast enough to clear the course.
Apr 2, 2019 12:51 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
Mystery controls for the world champs? Of course not.

Mystery controls at a rogaine that sells out in less than two weeks year after year? The customers seem fine with it.

I don't recall when the overall 2nd place lost the overall win because of mystery controls. (I'm not going to do a lot of research here, feel free to prove me wrong.) In other words, it's of nearly no consequence to the super stars (the luck element is no bigger than the rest of the luck factors in such a race), and the rest of the pack either enjoys them enough to pay the bills and fill the field, or doesn't mind them. It's hardly a secret at this point that they'll have them.

Apr 2, 2019 12:58 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
Also, if curious what else people have thought about them, a minority of participants seem to grumble about them annually (Not trying to single out Jerkface, that's just where the mystery discussion heats up.)
Apr 2, 2019 12:58 PM # 
We did a survey a few years ago and asked the prior participants of Raccongaine a bunch of questions. From the responses, came something that surprised us. People really wanted those mystery controls. Some folks said that was the only reason they came back. So we kept them and now are pretty much "institutionalized" into the grain of the Raccoongaine event. I never saw that coming, but looks like some people really want them.

btw, the idea came from Lepregaine, a 6-hr foot-only rogaining adventure race, organized by COAR (Central Ohio Adventure Racing), held annually in mid-March in Salt Fork state park. The mystery control also had a "pot of gold coins", as in Irish folk tales.

Apr 2, 2019 1:06 PM # 
the rest of the pack either enjoys them enough to pay the bills and fill the field, or doesn't mind them

Obviously untrue just from the comments in this thread so far.

If it were just Raccoon then yes, let them do their thing since they fill the field anyway. But apparently others are copying the idea. Which makes it worse. I encountered a score-O (too short to call it rogaine) meet last year that had one of these thrown in. I took it in stride but I did see others who were quite unhappy about it.
Apr 2, 2019 1:10 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
Untrue? I think we round very differently.
Apr 2, 2019 1:39 PM # 
I guess it depends on whether you include "don't care for it but attend anyway" in "enjoys them enough". I think that's where your and my rounding went separate paths.
Apr 2, 2019 1:58 PM # 
Yeah, I hate them.
Apr 2, 2019 3:24 PM # 
The important thing is not whether you have unique twists in an event (like the mystery controls), it is whether participants are informed in advance (which they were) if there will be any unusual twists.

A few years ago, I did a GOAT style race, and the course setter had placed one control in the white space some 100-200 meters off the edge of the map. The control was described (either a hill or reentrant, I forget which), and the features were large - by reading the description and looking ahead, it was pretty easy to see where you needed to go. Personally, I thought it was a unique and fun challenging twist to the event. BUT, participants had not been informed in advance, and I know at least 2 who were furious about it, one of whom has never gone back to events hosted by that club or course setter.

I think that if they'd told people in advance what to expect, it wouldn't have been a big deal. You don't want to drive people away from your events. Sherpes has done a great job letting participants know what to expect - whether you like mystery controls or not is another matter, but at least he tells us up front so that you can plan accordingly.
Apr 2, 2019 6:51 PM # 
I hate them. Adds in random luck. You can´t plan for them. You are gambling on whether controls might be mothers. If there weren´t mothers I would have dropped certain controls.

They definitely have altered the results, but most people don´t complain.

Yet I still come to the Raccoongaine every year.
Apr 2, 2019 7:22 PM # 
My wife and I have done several Raccoongaines and enjoyed them all. This enjoyment seems to be the consensus because the event sells out every year.
The mystery controls do add an element of luck but I suspect that for most people this element of luck is far less important than the element resulting from variations in vegetation. We gambled to cross a short bit of green and lucked out to find a tiny animal track through most of the way. Another time we found ourselves in thick brambles in part of open forest. The fact that some of the paths were muddy from horse traffic but others were not, meant very different speeds on what looked like similar trails. All rogaining events have some luck involved- that is part of the sport. You have to adjust your plans as you go along.
If the organizers want to have "mystery controls", I am happy to go along with them.
Apr 2, 2019 9:13 PM # 
Having traveled ~20 miles the last four years, twice we hit 2 Mother/daughter pairs, and twice we hit 3 mother/daughter pairs. One of the times we hit 2, we actually mistook a daughter for the mother, and never punched the mother!

In a race like Raccoongaine that will probably never be cleared, I think it adds in a little more luck because the best strategy for the top teams is definitely to skip low pointers to avoid climb/distance. But now some random smattering of low pointers are worth 20 bonus points, making them high pointers.

I don't love them, but I do think they are "done well" in this particular race in that they don't send you far out of the way, and they are typically distributed in such a way that no matter what direction you go you will hit ~half of them, and they are usually close-ish to the start so they can be found by all abilities. Recognizing this loose pattern has shaped my strategy. (although it looks like this year the pattern was very loose indeed).

I would hazard a guess that the amount of like/dislike you have for them is inversely proportional to your race prowess - The more serious a racer you are the less you like an element of luck/chance thrown at you. But the less serious racers pay the majority of the bills.
Apr 3, 2019 2:01 AM # 
I've been to most of the Raccoongaines. I go in spite of the mystery controls. I don't even take the route planning too seriously because I'd either be disappointed or feel like I had a hollow victory. I've missed noticing a couple of mother controls when preoccupied with turning my attention to my next control. Last time I went west, so this year I decided to go east of the main road. There weren't any mother controls east of the main road on my 3 hour version. If I had chosen another route (with a little less distance and climb) on the west side, we would have earned 330 points instead of 240. This route would have found all four mystery controls.

I attend this event because I enjoy a good scramble in the hills and forest. The event is staged by fun loving folks that have improved their map a little each year.
Apr 3, 2019 5:29 AM # 
Glad to hear others have similar and differing feelings.

@many: I agree that there are other forms of luck that can present itself but it seems odd to introduce luck ON PURPOSE. Usually, an RD would do everything they can to remove luck by providing the best information (like trail conditions) and maps possible (even if they aren't great because of availability, time, resources, etc.).

@rlindzon: The RD states that there is no strategy about how they are chosen so either he is unaware of his tendencies or you are fooling yourself trying to strategize for them. It may not be the lottery but it still is a game of chance which just doesn't seem to mix with an event requiring fitness and skill (to me). Also, that isn't really bad luck. If you know there are mystery controls and you don't check each of them thoroughly that is poor execution in my opinion. I will agree that it is unfortunate and feel your pain but not bad luck. It seems you were of this mindset as well based on last year's post. There is nothing wrong with giving a control a lot of value. It is the racer's responsibility to assess the value of each control and determine the most efficient route. There is no requirement that each control is given a value based on its difficulty, or any reason for that matter. It is at the discretion of the RD. That being said RD's typically try and balance it out to make it more difficult for racers to identify an optimal route and promote many different route choices. I don't condone moving the mystery controls farther from mother's as I agree that adds more luck. Keeping them close would be an understandable amount of luck for me.

@Mr W: the point that people still come does not mean that they think everything about the event is perfect. As others have stated it may just mean positives outweigh the negatives. For Kadley they didn't. To think you can't improve your event is an oversight. I thought making the event 2-days was a great idea for this year and kudos to the RDs. I imagine there are improvements to make on that front as well (next post). I would argue that this luck is bigger than other luck and again that it is unnecessary. I don't have any examples where it has made a difference in the front of the pack but others seem to think it can in the middle. I know the top 3 of the EW category was only separated by 20 points this year. I have to think a 20 point mystery control could have made a difference. I actually know Julia accidentally skipped a mother/daughter pair that would have moved her from third to first. I do agree that this is not the World Champs which is why I still come and usually just shrug this off. There is nothing major at stake for me so I try to come in with that attitude. I just wondered if others felt the same as me. It's can be discouraging though when you try your hardest and something like luck limits you, no matter what the stage.

@sherpes: Are you not open to adjustments to the mystery controls, like I suggested? You could also have some other mystery surprise not linked to points. Another common occurrence in Rogaines is a cash prize at unknown controls. It is not tied to the success (or failure) of your race but is certainly a welcome reward. Maybe food or candy. You are creative, I am sure you could come up with something crazy, fun, and better than points.

@mikeinium: even if I am informed (which I agree is still very important) there is nothing I can do about it, "planning wise". That is the point I was making. I just have to wait and see if I find any/all mystery controls.

@Bob: Agreed on spending time in the hills and forest!!!
Apr 3, 2019 11:32 AM # 
Based on the comments here, I would thinking that participants fall into two camps: those who loathe mystery controls and those who tolerate them. Which would make me wonder what benefit they are to the organizers. But sherpes says they polled the participants, who said they love them. Huh.

Of course, one approach would be for the participants to just get together and agree to boycott the daughter controls.
Apr 3, 2019 12:08 PM # 
I don't like all the talk of hitting mothers and their daughters. It sounds like a cruel sport.

I would like to hear more about this foot only rogaining adventure race. How does that even work?
Apr 3, 2019 12:11 PM # 
I don't think that there is ever an event format that satisfies everyone.
Sherpes has evidence that there are lots of people who like the format. He also has evidence that some APers don't.
I suspect that a large part of the success of the Raccoongaines resulted from the fact that there are some differences from standard rogaining tradition.
The event has been held in the same place every year allowing the organizers time to continue to improve the map. Beginners are comfortable returning to an area they have been before (others not so much), This brings people into the sport.
"Teams" may consist of only one person. Rogaining is more typically a team sport (as is AR). This is something that some more experienced navigators like but many beginners don't. (You only need one navigator per team).
There are mystery controls which apparently are enjoyed mostly by people who don't comment on AP. (beginners?)
There are organizers who are eager to put on a rogaine year after year after year and have fun doing it. I wish there were more of them.
Apr 3, 2019 1:03 PM # 
jjcote: there is a third category: those that really like them. Those folks you will not find here on AP, as they are not regular orienteers, but rather mom & pop family types that enjoy a fun outdoor outing

brian: the central ohio folks that did the Lepregaine had fake gold coins at the mystery control (just like in Irish folk tales). Opting to go find a mystery control meant the racer didn't get any additional points, but instead got a dollar cash reward, effectively acting as a discount or reduction to the race fee. With a map with 22 circled control locations, and the announcement that there were 4 unmapped mystery controls, each with a gold coin worth a cash reward, enticed some to use a strategy similar to FTF in geocaching (First To Find), which meant trying to be the first to get to a control, hoping it would be a "mother" control, revealing where the mystery control is located. The participant using that strategy, if he/she knows he/she is not the fastest in the pack, would target the far away controls first, the seldom seen ones, and also go where others are not going. So, if at the start, everyone else is going to the well-established directions to seek controls close by to the start, that FTF mindset participant would instead go solo on a trek to a control that he/she hopes to be the first to find. Returnees to the Lepregaine event fine-tuned this strategy pretty well, with a rare few finding even a second gold coin.

As a side note, there was a non-profit outdoor organization operating in the urban inner city here in Pittsburgh, and they asked me to help out in creating games that are similar to orienteering, maybe a treasure hunt, maybe a map-based scavenger hunt, and we discussed what aspect would the game have that would really stoke interest in the urban youth population to go find stuff in a city park, holding a map. I said to "tape a dollar bill at each control flag". The term "ghetto orienteering" came up.

In the tradition of the Hash House Harriers, a variant of this game is to have a sequence of mother-mystery legs, you find a control with a map attached, go to the next control, this later one also has a map, which leads to the next control, and so on, for about 10 legs. The final one has a reward of a case of cold beer stashed in the woods. Terms used are "map hash" and "orienteering hash".

In Raccoongaine, to minimize the effect of chance and the random find has on the overall results, the point value of the mystery control is relatively low: 20 pts. Had it been higher, i can see the displeasure on that didn't find them. We are open to the idea to reduce the point value to just 10 pts. This way the competitive participant can make a decision and determine it is not worth re-directing his/her route to pickup the additional mystery control. Those that do go it, on the other hand, do so because they LIKE to go find it, even knowing the overall point gain might not be so advantageous.
Apr 3, 2019 2:55 PM # 
mentioned above is the case of the EW category top three finishers all within 20 points. Now that the splits are published and online, looked 'em up. Interesting. The red rectangles are the mystery controls.

Apr 4, 2019 12:03 AM # 
Mother/daughter also made the difference for Joseph Barret and me. 30 points different with almost exactly the same routes. A few interesting choices show up comparing our Route Gadget.

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