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The Game (treasure hunt)

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Title: The Game (treasure hunt)  
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Subject: Stanford University, Black Letter Game, Microsoft Puzzle Hunt, Joe Belfiore, Puzzlehunts
Collection: Puzzlehunts, Road Rallying, Stanford University
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The Game (treasure hunt)

The Game is a non-stop 24–48 hour treasure hunt, puzzlehunt or road rally that has run in the San Francisco Bay and Seattle areas since 1973. Its teams use vans rigged with power and Internet access and drive hundreds of miles from puzzle site to puzzle site, overcoming often outrageous physical and mental challenges along the way, usually with no sleep. Teams in recent games have been required to walk around the roof of the Space Needle, find a puzzle hidden in a live rat, and circulate a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide from local ecosystems while dressed in superhero outfits.

Game founder Joe Belfiore has described the Game as "the ultimate test for Renaissance men and women."


  • History 1
  • Structure 2
  • Game communities 3
  • Notable events 4
  • Specific instances and similar games 5
  • External links 6
  • References 7


The earliest roots of The Game can be found in games created in Los Angeles in 1973 by a graphic designer named Donald Luskin and longtime friend, Patrick Carlyle. Teams competed all night long solving puzzles across L.A. for a $100 first prize. The game was a mostly underground affair, but eventually drew the attention of the Los Angeles Times.[1] and later the Walt Disney Company, who produced a movie, Midnight Madness, based on Luskin's game.[2]

In 1985 Joe Belfiore (at that time a student at Clearwater Central Catholic High School) and his friends, inspired by Midnight Madness, created a race like the one in the film. They played four more games before Joe moved to Stanford University to go to school. With Stanford classmates Eli Ben-Shoshan and Andrew Reisner, he created the Bay Area Race Fantastique (BARF) which occurred six times before changing its name to 'The Game'. There are some interesting notes about the initial BARFs and number of teams that actually completed them due to the hyper-competitive aspect of the BARF format.[3] The term "Gentleman's Game" was used to describe the Stanford Game shortly after Joe Belfiore graduated, meaning there was no prize for winning, only bragging rights.

Two more events were held in the Bay Area before Joe Belfiore moved to Seattle to work for Microsoft, taking the official "The Game" with him (although the San Francisco Bay Area people still consider their games to also be "The Game"). Structurally, the two Games are identical, but the Seattle Games tend to be more competitive and require more technological gear. The post-Stanford Games were organized in Seattle, Napa/Sonoma, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas throughout 1995-2002.

Currently, versions of The Game (both full-blown and abbreviated foot-transportation-only) are organized regularly by Stanford dorm staff members as a bonding activity for their residents. Similarly, Microsoft continues running the "Intern Game" for summer interns, organized by Stanford Alums employed at Microsoft.


The general structure of The Game is a series of puzzle challenges, often called "Clues". Each challenge solves to the location where the next challenge can be found. During the course of The Game, a team will often travel all around a metropolitan area.

Usually there is an overall theme to the clues, or even a story that ties all the clues together.

Game communities

The next Game each year would typically be run by whatever team felt the ability, chutzpah and desire to do so. In the early days of BARF and in the subsequent Seattle Games, the first-right-of-refusal fell to the team who won the previous Game. Future Game Controls (GCs) in the Bay Area tended to rely on the expertise of previous GCs and the so-called legitimacy of owning the "Captain's List". In the Bay Area there is no "Central System" or "Central Ownership" per se, but rather an autonomous collective of Gamers (a group of teams that communicate with one another) and a group-moderated site.

As the Game grew, it became increasingly more high-tech and more psychological in nature, a result of each Game trying to "outdo" the previous Games. For instance, a team member might find themselves stripped of all clothes and spectacles, be dressed in nothing but a hospital gown, have the next puzzle be written on the back of their neck in reverse lettering, and then be deposited at a strip club. Teams became increasingly competitive and would even break the rules and mislead other teams in order to gain an advantage, much to the fellow participants' and organizers' displeasure. Such teams can become blacklisted by the community at large and no longer find themselves invited to future Games. This nature of self-policing (decentralized control and word-of-mouth) prevents out-of-control teams from destroying the elaborate events.

The Game culture has spawned several spinoffs in the Bay Area, including the Bay Area Treasure Hunt (BATH), Bay Area Night Game (BANG), Park Challenge, and The Iron Puzzler. There have been several spinoffs in other parts of North America as well. There are three yearly games in New York City that are very similar to The Game: Midnight Madness, The Haystack, and The Great All Nighter. There is also a yearly game in Hot Springs, Arkansas also called Midnight Madness. Midnight Madness Brevard also puts on events many times a year in Brevard County, Florida. Midnight Madness Vermont hosts MMVT events several times a year as well.

In 2009, the first multicity Game was created, coordinated by Deborah Goldstein. Different Area Same Hunt, or DASH, the Game featured puzzles created by teams in Boston, MA, Washington, DC, Houston, TX, Los Angeles, CA, Palo Alto and San Francisco, CA, Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA. DASH was played in all 8 cities simultaneously.[4] Since 2009, DASH has occurred several times, and continues to create and unite game communities in collaborative, multicity, realtime games.

Several new Games have appeared with modified formats, including the Black Letter Game (2012, 2015) in which the emphasis is on puzzles embedded in physical artifacts that are mailed to players on a monthly basis. No travel is required.

Notable events

During the 1999 Game, a bottle of bright green liquid was found at a game location in the New York City World Trade Center by a Marriott Hotel employee, prompting a partial evacuation of the hotel.[5]

In the 2002 Game, "Shelby Logan's Run", player Bob Lord was severely injured after misunderstanding a clue and falling thirty feet down a disused mineshaft. The players were sent into the desert outside Las Vegas with a clue containing the cryptic warning "1306 is clearly marked. Enter ONLY 1306. Do NOT enter others." - arriving at the site from an unexpected direction, Lord mistakenly entered mineshaft 1296, not realising that the mines were numbered, and ignored anonymous, spraypainted warnings assuming that they were part of the game. The fall crushed several vertebrae and left Lord a

  1. ^ 'Los Angeles Times'' clippings from the first Games"'". 2008-06-19. Retrieved 2013-10-21. 
  2. ^ Home Page / Director's Chair"Midnight Madness"Fagabeefe: The Unofficial - notes from the Midnight Madness directors
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ JULIAN E. BARNESPublished: June 21, 1999 (1999-06-21). "Programmers, Start Your Laptops; Software Wizards Test Their Wits Chasing Puzzles From Brooklyn to Putnam - New York Times". Retrieved 2013-10-21. 
  6. ^ Martin, Jonathan. Game Over: For Seattle's brainy elite, the ultimate test of wits turns tragic, Seattle Times, 14 September 2008.


  • Joe Belfiore's 2004 TED talk on The Game, including discussion of the 2002 "Shelby Logan's Run" game
  • Puzzle Hunt Calendar - schedule of various upcoming and ongoing events
  • Team Snout - links to Bay Area games, past and future, and "Game Control HOWTO" information
  • Game Control - Official website of The Seattle Game (currently defunct)
  • Seattle GC - information source for The Game, focused around Seattle events and people (currently defunct)
  • Seattle Puzzling - De facto home of SNAP, basically the Seattle equivalent of BANG
  • THE GAME - A site of the Stanford Game
  • Midnight Madness AR - Midnight Madness in Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Midnight Madness Brevard - Midnight Madness in Brevard County, Florida
  • - Midnight Madness 2006 in Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Midnight Madness NYC - Midnight Madness in New York City
  • Microsoft Intern Game - The site for the incarnation of The Game run for Microsoft's Summer Interns
  • The Game Princeton - A short Game run every September by graduate students at Princeton University
  • Encounter - International network of Game-typed urban games
  • Black Letter Labs - A site for the Black Letter game.

External links

Specific instances and similar games

There was no Seattle-based Game for three years after the 2002 Game, although the Bay Area Game continued apace. The August 2005 "Mooncurser's Handbook" Game in Seattle, run by a group of twelve veteran Seattle Gamers, renewed the Seattle Game tradition, with a special emphasis on safety. [6]

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