How it works
Teams started by solving the word ladder puzzle. The fully solved version is here.
Reading the first letter of each of the word ladder words reveals the message "ENTER SECRET CODE VERITAS INTO YOUR LAPTOP". Doing so provided team with the Harvard Sentences (which, by the way, are an actual data set used for testing cell phones - see below for more details). The rest of the puzzle should be solvable with this information.
Design notes (from Ben)
The original concept for this puzzle dates back to the very first discussions of a mafia theme, which prompted Ben to order a stuffed horse head.
Due to a lack of a puzzle idea, the horse head served as an office prank and a sofa throw pillow, but didn't have an associated puzzle until a brainstorm in February.
Ben, as part of shipping Kin, travelled to join some partner engineers during field integration pretesting for the Kin One and Two on the east coast - a process that involves lots of riding around in a van down by the river. Turns out, the Test Guy commercials are pretty accurate to how phone certification actually works; this article on Verizon's site, "These Days, a Chicken Leg Is A Rare Dish", details more about how Verizon uses Harvard Sentences for long call testing in conjunction with one of these test head-and-hand setups:
At one point, after riding around in the van listening to the Harvard Sentences for hours on end - Ben observed that the process was very similar to The Game (inverters, laptops, snacks and all), except there was no puzzle to solve in the Harvard Sentences. One of the other test engineers remarked that the Harvard Sentences would make a great puzzle seed, and suddenly a lightbulb came on.
Since Brett was properly educated at Harvard, I contacted him with an idea codenamed "Mr. Ed": a horse head riding around in the team vans speaking Harvard Sentences. He was kind enough to take that seed and run with it, and deserves sole credit for the awesome puzzle that he developed based on my vaguely suggested data set and delivery mechanism.
Design notes (from Brett)
There's not much to tell here - Ben handed the seed off to me and after a few weeks of thinking I came up with the idea of matching ten sentence lists to ten letter words, and the puzzle was born. Very little changed from the early versions of the puzzle to the final version. Unfortunately we weren't able to procure enough of the horse head pillows for the actual game, so we ended up with the smaller horse heads that instead.
Also, for those wondering, the horses voice was me doing my best pretentious Harvard accent. This was the fourth different voice I used in my various roles during Game weekend. :-)
As it turns out, when you bulk order $5 iPod Shuffle knock-offs so that you can provide each team with an MP3 player, you get what you pay for. Many teams' MP3 players ran out of battery between the time the puzzle was planted and the time the team returned to their van. As a result, these teams just got a stuffed horse head that didn't talk, and had to listen to the Harvard Sentences through their laptops.