The Game (treasure hunt)

The Game (treasure hunt)

The Game is a non-stop 24-48 hour treasure hunt / puzzlehunt / road rally that is currently active in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Seattle Area. It is one of the most noteworthy of the modern puzzlehunts, in that its teams pile into vans rigged with power and Internet access and drive hundreds of miles from puzzle site to puzzle site. Along the way, teams have to overcome often outrageous physical and mental challenges, 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 famously described the Game as "the ultimate test for Renaissance men and women."


The Game was created in Los Angeles in 1973 by a graphic designer named Donald Luskin. 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 and later the Walt Disney company, who produced a movie, Midnight Madness, based on Luskin's game.

In 1985 Joe Belfiore (then a high-school 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 (B.A.R.F.) 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. 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 were held in the Bay Area before Joe Belfiore moved to Seattle to take a job at Microsoft, and took the official "The Game" with him, although the San Francisco Bay Area people still consider their games to be "The Game." Structurally, the two Games are identical, but the Seattle Games tend to be more competitive and require more technological gear, while the Bay Area Games tend to be more laid-back.

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.

What is The Game?

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.

According to IMDB , this was the inspiration for the movie The Game, though many Gamers find this claim dubious.

Game communities

In Seattle, the organization typically fell on the previous winner. However, as time progressed, the Seattle System became unfeasible, and a central organization was created to ensure that Games were not spaced too closely together.

In the Bay Area, the next Game would be run by whatever team felt the ability, chutzpah and desire to do so. 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.

In subsequent years, The Game 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 (inappropriately) mislead other teams in order to gain an advantage--much to the fellow participants' and organizers' displeasure. Note that 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.

In the 2002 Game, "Shelby Logan's Run", a participant was injured severely in a mine shaft.

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.

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 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. Race In The City (Toronto) and The Amazing Hunt (Vancouver) model themselves after The Amazing Race, each scheduling different events on a regular basis all year long.

Seattle games

San Francisco Bay Area games

Shorter Bay Area games (less than 24 hours)

Recurring Bay Area events (less than 24 hours)

International Games

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