At first glance it may not seem like a natural pairing, a Mason Lodge and a sci-fi convention. Sure, there are works of Heinlein that reference the Freemasons. and the Masons played a role on shows such as Sleepy Hollow, and one might even manage to imagine a certain natural fit for Masons in the Steampunk movement. Still, when the flag of Braden Lodge unfurled over the balcony of Cabana 223, some people must have scratched their heads.
Yet, there we were. Ostensibly our reason for being there was to promote our upcoming fundraisers. A Bump in the Night is a Halloween-themed puzzle room happening in October while our Victorian Christmas Dinner will be taking place at the James J Hill mansion in December. We figured people who like sci-fi also tend to like puzzles and people who are into steampunk might appreciate a Victorian-themed event, so with an attendance over 6,000, it seemed like a good target audience to hit.
To help promote A Bump in the Night, we actually set up our cabana as a puzzle room. We created three new, unique puzzles just for this event. Each puzzle yielded a one word answer, and the three words that served as answers to the puzzles were themselves clues to a 4th word. That word in turn was the password to the balcony and the winner's cricle where we had prizes waiting out there for them.
The convention runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and we opened our door from 7pm to 1am each night. We weren't sure what kind of reception we would get, and indeed for the first hour on the first night, only a few people came in, and only one seemed determined to actually solve our puzzles. We started to worry about what we were going to do with all of our prizes. But then it started to pick up and it actually never let up. Our room was pretty much filled to capacity for the remainder of the weekend. I had made up 100 badge ribbons for the winners. We ran out of those halfway through the second night and had to switch to ribbons we had been giving out more freely. Even those were almost gone by the end.
Now to truly appreciate this, you have to understand that there are over 35 cabanas in the hotel, each with a similar party going on. Most are designed to have people come in, get a drink or some food, maybe do some quick activity, and be out again in a few minutes. But people were sticking around in our room 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or even longer to solve our puzzles Some worked on them for a while and then came back later to finish. Many of those who did finish said it was their favorite party room.
But the key thing here isn't the quality of the party. It's that we were Masons, out in the world doing something pretty visible and making a positive impression on those we interacted with. Those who made it out to the balcony got a chance to talk Masonry with the brothers out there. But even those who didn't knew we were there and heard people saying good things about us. We don't know yet if we will get any new members out of this, but I do feel we planted that first seed in many. When they next encounter Masonry, they should have a good impression of it already, and a second or third impression may be what it takes for them to truly check it out.
Another interesting aspect of the weekend was how the whole thing paralleled Masonry itself. People had to work their way through the puzzles to get the password which was sort of like going through the initiations. Once they did all three and got the password, they were admitted into the inner sanctum of the balcony where there were people that had shared the same experience. And once they had the password, they were free to go directly to the balcony any time they returned, as they were now a member of the Winner's Circle. I had suspected we would go through a lot of prizes on Saturday night as people would leak the password around the convention, but that didn't happen. People respected the secrecy of it and that impressed me.
Sunday morning we packed up and moved out of the cabana. It had been a genuinely successful weekend as far as running our room went. We will see if the advertising aspect of it pays off or not. But it was good to have a chance to be "loud and proud" as a Mason. We actually met several other Masons out there as well as Eastern Star members, widows, and children of Masons. We have another lodge that wants to join with us next year to make our party even bigger. We had some long discussions with Masons who had come from other states. All in all, I would say it is something that we will look forward to doing again next year.