The Computer History Museum in Mountain View has never been mentioned in a list of California’s Most Haunted Locations. Its exhibits may celebrate ghosts of computers past and the remnants of now-defunct websites, but the museum has remained resolutely apparition-free…but thanks to The Tessera, that’s about to change. Because starting January 17th, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California is launching an educational alternate reality game designed to teach computational thinking through a host of spectral guides.
Last December, I received a cryptic introduction to The Tessera from computational pioneer Ada Lovelace. In addition to a letter warning of the return of “S” and a punch card, the envelope contained dossiers detailing two other deceased computing pioneers, Steve Jobs and Charles Babbage. The reverse side of Ada’s note featured one of her more famous quotes:
They say that coming events cast their shadows before. May they not sometimes cast their lights before?
Pairing Ada’s quote with the punch card lead to the final destination, featuring a preview of the full Tessera experience.
Fourteen years ago, Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey worked on a show for ABC together. Secret phrases were hidden in each episode of the show, with a million dollar prize set aside for the first to solve. Push, Nevada was an ambitious project. But this article isn’t about Push, Nevada. It’s about the other project they were pitching all those years ago, that’s finally seeing the light of day. It’s about The Runner…and another million dollars in prize money.
The Runner – Rules for the Road
The central conceit of The Runner is simple: one unidentified “Runner” is sent on the run, and five pairs of two “Chasers” are sent after them, facing arbitrary challenges to catch him. Every day the Runner remains uncaught, the bounty for capturing them goes up by $15K. Once a Runner is caught, the Chasers collect the bounty and a new Runner goes on the lam. If a Runner makes it to the end, they keep the bounty, plus a $50K bonus. Vice News reporter Kaj Larsen and YouTube game theorist MatPat (Matthew Patrick) serve as the show’s hosts.
Over the next thirty days, Larsen and Patrick will provide updates on the hunt’s progress three times a day. Every day kicks off with an episode introducing the puzzle to the Runner’s destination for the day, followed by a second puzzle as Chasers near the daily destination. Afternoon and evening episodes at 3PM EST and 10PM EST provide updates on the teams’ progress.
How to Win Money and Influence Friends The show’s contestants have a chance at winning half a million dollars over the next thirty days…which leaves another half a million dollars available for the viewers at home to claim. Rather than giving it out in one lump sum, fans have quite a few ways to take home a few bucks for playing along.
The main way to win is to solve the puzzles alongside the Chasers. Every day, two America’s Ca$h Task (“ACT”) challenges will be posted on go90.com/therunner. Viewers have one hour to solve the clues. For each ACT challenge, ten viewers to submit the correct answer will be selected at random to receive $500, for a total of $20,000 in prizes every day. Players can also win big by helping the Chase teams, as the five Chasers are also tasked with giving away one $1,000 “Chaser Cash” prize to one of their followers who helped them out every day. There are also “Social MVP” prizes for the most active viewers.
Ten years ago, Bree Avery started vlogging on a relatively new social platform called YouTube. To celebrate that milestone, a new video was uploaded to her channel yesterday. So, let’s try something a little different. Watch Bree’s first video blog. Got it? Great. Now watch the most recent upload to the channel.
Confused about how a girl making funny faces at the camera could evolve into some sort of cult indoctrination video? That’s perfectly understandable…this anniversary video wasn’t really designed for people with limited exposure to the lonelygirl15 universe. So here’s a brief initiation into one of YouTube’s earliest phenomenons.
More than anything else, lonelygirl15 is remembered for this blurring between the lines of fiction and reality. As the channel rose to be the most-subscribed channel on YouTube at the time. During this heady time of uncertainty, the author John Green wrote a blog entry about the situation, positing that
[Bree] gives viewers a sense that the story might be really real, and that we can uncover its really realness by paying close attention. It gives us a compelling reason to focus intently on the work…books, with few exceptions, cannot mimic this kind of realishness.
Green goes on to note that he hopes the realishness of these projects do not replace the written word since “I’m not good in front of the camera. Text is my only solid medium, and I need it to hang around.” Four months later, John and his brother Hank created the vlogbrothers YouTube account.
Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives – he didn’t belong to the library so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
-Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, JK Rowling
Remember that moment when Harry Potter got his acceptance letter, only to have it roughly snatched away by Mr Dursley? A magical destiny, unknowingly stolen away just like that. Who knows what would have happened if the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry didn’t have the most obstinate dead letter department ever devised. Which is why I owe Ms. Christinia Forshee one heck of an apology.
Let me explain. Earlier this week, I received this package in the mail. Perfectly normal box, except for a message “spelled” out on the side using Elder Futhark runes, stating “SPIRIT OF CONFUSION / MAY THIS PARCEL / NEVER REACH CHRISTINIA”.
Not even considering the possibility that this was a magical incantation designed to divert the parcel from its intended recipient, I opened the box up to find a small trunk containing an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her magical studies and providing her with the tools to get started with her education.
After brushing aside purple cloth swaddling the trunk’s contents, I uncovered a large red candle, four small vials of fragrant herbs, a bag of small black stones marked with the 24 characters of the runic alphabet, a deck of tarot cards, and four small vials of fragrant herbs – chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and peppermint. Shards of a smaller fifth vial were also present, and references in the full acceptance letter lead me to believe it was meant to contain gemstones imbued with Leda’s power.
One final secret was hidden within the tarot cards. While skimming through the deck, I noticed letters written in the lower right corner on many of the trump cards, as well as certain cards in the Cups and Wands suits. Sorting those cards spelled out an additional message, “BEWARE THE BLUE LADY SHE IS POISON SHE ONLY CRAVES STRIFE”.
One of the most impressive aspects of the launch of this alternate reality game is its economy of storytelling. Currently, the only overt narrative is an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her new magical life. We don’t even know for sure if Leda is a person or a school. But we have learned that runes are important enough to the magical system to warrant arming new students with runic stones, and that a phrase hastily scrawled on the side of a box is powerful enough to divert it from its rightful owner. Herbs possess power in their own right, gems can be imbued with it, and tarot cards can serve as a window into the unknown.
There are also hints of conflict in the near future. Someone doesn’t want Christinia to begin her magical education, and has the access and ability to divert official school missives. Someone also found a way to sneak a warning about a “Blue Lady” into her deck of tarot cards, assuming the cards would reach her. And Christinia’s plans of documenting her magical studies on a blog? Not exactly the most popular decision.
To learn more about Christinia’s magical studies, check out her blog at ChristiniaTheWitch.org, or other places she might be using to establish an online presence. And on the off chance she doesn’t know she’s been accepted? Pass along the good news – I’d hate to Vernon Dursley someone’s magical destiny from them.
Cards Against Humanity gave their fans nothing for Black Friday this year. More specifically, they sold their fans nothing for $5 a person. It was quite the profitable venture for them, too…they earned $71K with their blow-out sale, giving the company’s non-founding members a well-deserved holiday bonus. And they’ll have earned it, after the logistic nightmare they’ve endured preparing for another year of Cards Against Humanity’s holiday bullshit.
At this point, Cards Against Humanity asking their nearest and dearest fans to give them money in exchange for a series of random gifts (and puzzles) over the holiday season has become a tradition. In 2013, the company embraced their Christmas cheer with 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit, sending 100K fans everything from lumps of coal to personalized Cards Against Humanity Cards. In 2014 the holiday of choice shifted to the Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa, bringing an expanded list of 150K fans good tidings, miracle berries, and rights to a 1×1 square plot on an island in Maine. This year, it’s all about Eight Sensible Gifts, embracing their practicality and Hanukkah cheer.
I have a problem. Years of playing alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling experiences have trained me to love room escape games. Getting locked in a room and relying on a group of friends to figure out what we’re supposed to do to get out? Pretty much my dream come true. But there are a limited number of rooms in Philadelphia, and I’ve done them all. And for the most part, it’s not as fun playing a room escape game for a second time. It’s like going to the same murder mystery dinner party twice. Once you know everyone’s secrets and whodunnit, you’re either stuck watching on the sidelines, or end up spoiling the mystery for everyone else.
Okay, so I’ve done all three rooms currently running in Philadelphia. But there are hundreds of rooms running globally, so I can still scratch my room escape game itch when I’m on vacation…but I have to do it alone, unless the friends I’m visiting haven’t similarly run through all of their local games. Otherwise, I’m stuck waiting for more rooms to open up in my area, or for escape room designers to find a way to make their games more replayable. Luckily, Boda Borg has come up with a solution to both problems.
Boda Borg started in Sweden, and has been running “reality games” since the mid-90s, long before the current wave of room escape games swept their way through Asia and North America. Boda Borg currently has eight locations in Sweden and Ireland, but only recently opened their first North American location in Boston. The core concept is the same: a small team of participants enter the room, and have to figure out how to use the surrounding objects to get out of the room. But because Boda Borg evolved independently from traditional room escape games, the experience is considerably different, in practice. The main difference? The rooms are designed for teams to fail fast, and fail frequently.
Boda Borg’s business model enables this “fail fast” mentality. Rather than reserving a room for a particular time slot, Boda Borg Boston offers a 2-hour pass for $18, or an all-day pass for $28. This buys unlimited access to the building’s 20 “Quests”. Each Quest’s difficulty is rated primarily on the physical demands of the rooms, with “Green” rooms focusing on cognitive challenges, “Red” quests requiring moderate physical activity, and “Black” quests requiring…well, let’s just say “Black” quests lie somewhere between Survivor challenges and American Ninja Warrior, on the difficulty scale. Players who realize a Quest is too cognitively or physically demanding for them can easily move on and try a different room, finding the perfect fit for their personal appetite for challenge.