Larry Hosken: New: Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Sharing Space

After the playtest on Saturday, we walked and talked with Debbie. We talked about the Jejune Institute, which Debbie and Sunshine had played; the rest of us had not. I'd seen mention of Jejune on Cardhouse, but it didn't sound like a game; just some absurdist cacophany thing. But Debbie explained it in terms I could understand: it's a game. But it's not puzzle-y like a Bay Area Night Game. You wander around San Francisco, you spot things. It's not exactly a brain-twisting challenge, it's more like you're following directions. But it's fun. The game creators have hidden their clues in creative ways. Debbie's not sure if she wants to keep playing—the game has a story; the story gets creepy.

Sunday, after Bay to Breakers, Girts and Heather and I went in to Jejune for Induction. I knew Girts and Heather from their excellent 2-Tone Game playtesting. And soon we were wandering... we revisted some of the haunts of the Kung Fu Fright. B-b-but now we knew to look for certain features. The Kung Fu Fright was not the only weird thing going on in that neighborhood; and that neighborhood is still haunted. Girts and Heather and I finished off that "episode" of Jejune, but it was clear that there was more to do. That evening, I pored over the internets. This game had been going on for over a year. A few episodes had been released. It seemed like we were supposed to figure some things out from the internets, but... this game's been running for more than a year. A lot of this stuff has been out there for a while. I found plenty of material, but couldn't be sure which of it applied to the second episode. I found something that was obviously the start of another episode. Telegraph Hill, right next to North Beach.

Tuesday, I helped run the corporate puzzle hunt. This was the thing we'd playtested on Saturday. I packed up the remains of a puzzle, saw a bus pull up. I needed to catch that bus to make it to my next puzzle site. I ran across the street to catch the bus, ran past a utility box, saw the sticker about the mind-control rays. I recognized that sticker—I'd need a phone number off of that sticker, it was part of Jejune. But information in the city decays. That sticker was worn down. I wasn't sure about the phone number. I had to catch the bus.

Tuesday evening, I ducked out of the corporate puzzlehunt's afterparty. I tromped around Telegraph Hill. I was playing Jejune out of sequence, but: this was a good episode. Sure, I come off like a Puzzle aficionado, but I swear it's not about the puzzles for me. Okay, I like watching the way that ideas move around a van. But... I'm not into the conference room games. I like it when the Hunt brings me someplace I haven't seen. And this Telegraph Hill tromp: it brought me to some places I hadn't visited. Like, I'd traveled the general area before. I've been up and down that hill. Heck, that's where we chased Lucky for the excellent BANG XX game, right? But... but... There were places that BANG XX didn't send us. Like, these little side nook places. These places wouldn't work for a BANG: if 200 people showed up at once, it would be a trample-y mob scene. But Jejune's like the 2-Tone game: not everyone's playing at once; everyone's on their own pace. So Jejune pointed out some public art I'd overlooked; some of it planted by GC, but some of it already there. And yeah, I can see how the game's plot gets creepy, and I can see why Debbie might pull away, but... that was great, better than the Induction episode. Like my neighbors' planter box zebra non-sequitur, I love these little flourishes upon my town.

So... the Jejune Game Control folks conceal art and media around the city. And it decays. On my way to that game on Tuesday, I stopped off at a certain corner to look at a children's game mentioned in a Jejune clue. It had been there; was now effaced. As I followed the instructions around Telegraph Hill, the game carefully had me record some numbers, implying I'd need them to open a box. When I reached the box, it opened though I didn't use the numbers. I guess there was a combination lock on the box before, broken off now. And yet... and yet... It was still satisfying to find the numbers, still satisfying to find the box. The game decays, but the essence of the hunt survives. That utility sticker had worn away such that I wasn't sure I could read the phone number. But on Telegraph hill, I found something else that also has that phone number, so... It'll be OK. The game goes on.

Tags: puzzle hunts absurd
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