A Modern Day Lobby Lud: Wired’s Manhunt for Evan Ratliff
On August 13, 2009, Evan Ratliff wrote a feature article for Wired entitled Gone Forever: What Does It Take to Really Disappear? In the article, Ratliff profiles the disappearance and subsequent hunt for family man Matthew Alan Sheppard as well as the stories of other infamous missing people including Marcus Schrenker, the money manager who attempted to fake his death by crashing his plane in Florida. The article goes on to note that every year, thousands of adults decide to abandon their lives: according to a British study, two-thirds of missing adults make a conscious decision to leave.
The article inspired Evan Ratliff and Wired editor Nicholas Thompson to stage a manhunt of their own. Starting on August 15th, Evan Ratliff disappeared and challenged Wired’s readers to find him. The first person to find Ratliff, pass on the codeword “Fluke”, the name of Matthew Alan Sheppard’s black labrador, and email Ratliff’s response to [email protected] will receive $5,000. The contest will either come to a close when someone successfully locates Ratliff, or when he emerges from hiding victorious on September 15th. As Grant Hamilton at AbsurdIntellectual.com notes, this is reminiscent of newspaper contests dating as far back as 1927, when the Westminster Gazette challenged its readers to locate the fictional “Lobby Lud” based on his description printed in the daily newspaper.
Wired senior editor Chris Baker elicited the assistance of Lone Shark Games to provide valuable intelligence on Evan’s location. Their creative director, Teeuwynn Woodruff, is playing the role of private investigator, and posting her findings on her Twitter feed at @EvansVanished, in addition to managing the Facebook group The Search for Evan Ratliff. Lone Shark Games was the team behind the alternate reality game Citizens of Virtue last fall, and helped create Wired’s May 2009 Mystery Issue, featuring an elaborate puzzle trail to coincide with JJ Abrams’ stint as guest editor.
Mike Selinker, President of Lone Shark Games, explains that “people disappear a lot in ARGs, and I figured we could learn quite a bit about what would feel real by actually doing it…not being a Californian, I didn’t know how to check someone’s FastTrak, a Bay Area toll-monitoring system. Now I do. This is what makes it fun.” Selinker notes that while Evan is aware of many of the accounts Lone Shark Games is tracking, there may be a few that would surprise him. But then, Evan also might have a trick or two up his elusive sleeves.
While I encourage all of you to join the search for Evan Ratliff, I’m personally rooting for him to remain hidden for the next few weeks. So Evan, if you’re reading this, good luck. And throw in the occassional outrageous purchase to keep everyone searching for you on their toes.
You can follow the hunt for Evan Ratliff at Wired.com, through Teeuwynn Woodruff’s twitter account, and on Facebook. In addition to winning $5,000 the winner’s picture will be featured on Wired, along with an article describing how the winner found Evan. The full contest rules are listed here.
Photos by Joe Pugliese