Spring of 2013 brought with it so many reasons to celebrate. April 8th marked 6 years that Anne and I have been together, our last anniversary as a dating couple before we get married next March. On April 26th, Anne completed her last final exam as a law student, concluding what has been a wild 3 years for us both in the pursuit of her professional dreams. 2 days after her last final she’d be celebrating her 25th birthday, the official benchmark of the “mid-twenties.” Spring of 2013 brought many reasons to celebrate and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass by without doing something very special for the most important person in my life. This is the story of that celebration.

The Morning

When Anne woke up, the first thing I’m sure she noticed was that I wasn’t there. It’s not unheard of that I would have fallen asleep on the couch, so naturally she stumbled sleepy-eyed out of the bedroom looking for me. Instead, she was met with this:

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A dozen roses. The Washington Post crossword (her favorite). All the birthday cards that had arrived over the past several weeks. Wild blueberry scone from Panera and a fresh pot of coffee. And of course, a sign pointing to her laptop with one very simple instruction:

Press Play.

Anyone that knows me knows that video production is a big hobby of mine.  I love the creative potential of the medium, the ability to capture life as it is happening and immortalize it however you see fit. Anne has always supported this hobby, both for better (like when I used Braveheart’s story to challenge misconceptions about rescue dogs) or worse (like when I produced and starred in my own “In the Navy” music video, complete with authentic 1970s-inspired mustache). Video gives your thoughts a familiar voice and helps tell your story exactly how you feel it should be told. When Anne pressed “Play” on the video clip that had been loaded to her laptop, our story had truly begun.

The Introduction

The video provided some context around for the events to come. The day was to be dedicated to Anne, everything she has earned and accomplished and everything she means to me. The day was to celebrate our 6-year anniversary, Anne’s graduation with honors from Emory Law School and her birthday. We were to celebrate to closing of one chapter in our lives and the transition into the next.

But as of right now, there was no “we”. I was still nowhere to be found, only present by virtue of this video captured in the wee hours of the previous morning. According to the video, Anne would have to wait until 10am to receive an email from me with further instructions.

The Hunt

So she poured a cup of coffee, settled into the Post crossword, and waited. At 10am her inbox refreshed and the following message appeared:

The Hunt

The Gradubirthdaversary, a hybrid graduation/birthday/anniversary celebration, had officially commenced! Anne has always been a passionate fan of riddles and puzzles so I decided the best way to celebrate her Gradubirthdaversary was to send her along a scavenger hunt with various activities hidden throughout. Although the Hunt was ultimately designed to lead her back to me, there were a number of pit stops along the way to help her relax and appreciate everything this day means.

At the bottom of the email, she found her very first clue:

The first clue is going to be super easy but it serves a purpose. This clue is designed so that you can get a sense of the epic planning, preparation and organization that went into the Great Gradubirthdaversary Scavenger Hunt of 2013. You didn’t realize when you went to bed last night that you were actually sleeping soundly on your first clue. Go lift up the mattress in our bedroom and let the hunt begin!

The next 90 minutes or so had her scurrying around our apartment & complex looking for clues, each one leading her to the next as part of the overall quest. There were clues in the washing machine, my guitar, and tucked into one of Braveheart’s toys. There were clues that required some intimate knowledge about me, like the one folded into my favorite T-Shirt or the one tucked into the DVD case for my favorite movie. Sometimes the clues were a little more challenging, like knowing my favorite casino in Las Vegas to play craps and locating it in my chip collection:

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Even though there was obviously only one correct answer, I could resist poking some fun at Anne on a clue where I knew she’d have to do a lot of guessing…

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Some of the clues required a little trial and error, like the one that told her the next clue was somewhere in one of the Dan Brown books in our living room (I’ve read 4 of his books… 3 more than any other single author since J.K. Rowling). For anyone who’s curious, of course she guessed correctly and picked the right book on the first try.

Other clues required some investigative work. Taped to the back of my favorite bottle of scotch (“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!” led her there) was the following phrase:

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Having never taken what I felt was the appropriate level of interest in my video games, Anne had to ask “the Google” for help on this one. Once she realized it was one of the guiding principles of the Assassin’s brotherhood, it was only a matter of time before she found her next clue wedged inside the case for my favorite Assassin’s Creed game.

And then there were the puzzle clues, the ones that actually forced her to figure out the puzzle before she could get her next clue. When she opened our grandfather clock and removed the deck of playing cards I had stashed there, she had to identify and arrange the best 5 card poker hand if she wanted the location of the next clue:

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The trick here was that suit was very important, as the Royal flush in hearts, clubs, or diamonds just wasn’t going to cut it…

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The Hunt then took her out of the apartment and around our neighborhood, eventually leading her to Braveheart’s dog park to check for some “tree-mail” at his favorite tree. From there she was sent back to the apartment to shower, enjoy the Reuben I had stowed away in the fridge, and get ready to venture out for more Gradubirthdaversary fun!

The Excursion

Showered, fed, and with a renewed sense of adventure Anne set out for my office in West Midtown. The latest clue had led her here but the only instruction she was given was to call her mother when she found a parking space. Once she parked her mom told her to check her trunk, which I had emptied (no small feat let me tell you) and replaced with nothing but a manila envelope and a pair of her flip flops. Inside the manila envelope was a hand drawn map directing her to Nouvelle: A Westside Nail Salon to relax and enjoy one of their signature mani-pedis.

Nouvelle

While she lounged in the salon, I did my best James Bond impression as I stealthily parked 2 blocks down around the corner, grabbed the spare keys I brought to her car, and made my way to her parking space. It is amazing to think how the same sidewalk I walk down every day for work seems so different when you’re planning to break into someone’s car. I did my best to disguise the roll of duct tape without looking like a serial killer as I hopped into the front seat and taped the next clue to her steering wheel.  I stepped out and (for all the Usual Suspects fans out there) poof…I was gone.

The W

I knew I only had about an hour before the mani-pedi would be over, so I booked it back over to the W Hotel and finished setting up. Her next clue would lead her here and I needed to make sure everything was in order. The suitcase with all her overnight items had been place out in the open. The concierge had been briefed. And my laptop had been prepared with her next challenge.

Just like with the introductory video, this next challenge stems from another passion of mine. This passion revolves around something that everybody uses on almost a daily basis but still gets people to shake their fists and curse the universe at the thought of it. When I tell people how much I legitimately like this something, most of them stare at me expecting some sort of a punchline at the end. I enjoy this something so much that I’ll be flying to Seattle in June to speak at a conference about how awesome it is. This something…is Excel.

Yep, you read that right: Excel. Microsoft Excel. I’ve always thought Excel is an amazing problem-solving tool if you know how to use it correctly. I’ve built tools that write product content for eCommerce websites, automate scheduling (any brides-to-be out there who have used The Knot as a timeline for wedding planning…I’ve built that same functionality in Excel!), and alter data based on pre-defined criteria. Yes, I’m a nerd. No, this next challenge is not your Grandpa’s application of Excel.

Simply put, I built a quiz. This quiz was broken down into sections testing Anne’s knowledge of me, my family, our friends, and our relationship. The questions ranged from information about my family, Villanova and our time there, my fraternity pledge class, my fantasy football league and even questions about our last 6 years together as a couple. Each question triggered a dropdown from which Anne could select the correct answer:

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At the end of the quiz, there was a scorecard that was set up to identify how many questions were answered correctly in each section so she knew which to go back to. You’ll also notice that I programmed in some jabs if she couldn’t figure out one of the sections…

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The final prize would not show itself unless she got all 60 questions correct. Once all 60 questions were answered correctly, however, the great and powerful Excel would reveal the hidden location to her brand new Kindle Paperwhite!

The Knock

As she was lounging in the hotel room playing around with her new toy, a knock came at the door. The concierge handed over the latest clue and she placed the Kindle on the bed. She had about an hour before she had to make her way down to floor “S”, home of the Bliss Spa in the W Midtown Atlanta. She would first experience the brownie buffet (which I had never heard of but sounded awesome) before heading in for her 75-minute massage to work out all the stress from the past 3 years of law school.  By the time it would over I’m sure she was ready for nothing more than a solid nap/coma… but there was still one clue left to go.

The Final Clue

10 hours after she had first woken up to Panera breakfast, a dozen roses, and the Washington Post crossword (what I’m sure Anne would call a pretty fair tradeoff to waking up to me!), it was finally time for me to see her and celebrate in person. The last clue would send her to ONE Midtown Kitchen, one of Atlanta’s best restaurants for both food and ambience, which I can say without any reservation it delivered on both. The host led Anne to a nice little table by the window where I was sitting with our friends Trevor and Jennifer ready to celebrate the remainder of the evening together. Our night was filled with good wine, great food and even better company as we raised our glasses time and again in appreciation of what truly matters in life: celebrating our accomplishments with the people we love.

 

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