It’s time to talk about my past again.
Many of you alert readers have likely already surmised this, but my younger years weren’t exactly a crazy hedonistic romp on the back of a naked cheerleader through a field of flaming marijuana. On the contrary, from the time I could muster enough strength in my chubby little digits to type on a computer keyboard I have largely spent my personal, educational and professional time gently, if sometimes inappropriately, caressing a digital device of some kind. But there have been times when some simple analog activity was interesting enough to coax my portly ass out of the lightless cavern of my bedroom and into the harsh and unforgiving sunlight.
I’d like to talk about one such activity.
As I have pointed out on a few other occasions, my friends and I were a pretty imaginative bunch of folks who had a lot of free time on our hands. Now, I am not suggesting that we were the only teenagers to have abundant free time, or even imagination. But the key difference, in my humble opinion, is that unlike your typical high school fare, instead of using our free time to conduct bracketed competitions for who could sustain a flame the longest using their own gas, we typically engaged in activities that were a bit more cerebral or at least a bit less… gastrointestinal.
The activity that I am making my glacial way towards introducing is one that we called a “Clue Hunt”. The name pretty-much gives away the purpose here; the teams race each other, following a trail of hidden clues, until they decipher the final clue that leads them to the goal. Games typically started in the late evening and went on into the following morning (or afternoon).
The clues lead these poor souls all over Long Island, and took the form of anything our twisted minds could think up. Some clues were simple riddles or cryptograms, while others were much more complex. One clue lead the teams to a fairly precise location and asked them to tune their car radio to a specific station. The next clue was transmitted in a loop from a short-range FM transmitter. I always liked that one.
Although we never actually used it, one of my absolute favorite clues was a variation of the Indiana Jones map-room puzzle. At the entrance to Jones Beach there is a large map of Long Island inlayed into the walkway with streetlights nearby. If I remember it correctly, there are no landmarks on the map except for all of the parks and beaches. We planned to have the players make a staff of a certain length, and place it in a specific crevice in the sidewalk. The shadow of the staff on the map would point them to the park that had the next clue.
Most of them were less creative than that, but it any case, these clues didn’t exactly write themselves; they took large blocks of dedicated time to come up with, and in many cases required hours of driving for “site recon” to ensure that our chosen locations had places that were public and accessible, and yet somehow… secluded enough to hide the clues so that they would not be removed before the players got to them. And, as you might have guessed, the placement of the clues was no easy task either. Don’t get me wrong, it was not as hard as it would be today, that is for sure. Back then, security was much more relaxed…
*A security guard walks up just as I am taping the clues behind a sign at a state park*
Security: Hey! What do you think you are doing?
Me: I’m… um…
Security: Out with it!
Me: Ok, ok… I am trying to place these envelopes of clues here so that, later tonight, carloads of teenage kids can trespass on government property and find them.
Security: Are you out of your mind son? That’s a terrible location. Over here is much better. Here, give me those envelopes, I will tape them up. You run along.
Today, it is highly unlikely that the security guard would finish blurting out the word “Hey” before neatly punctuating it with a taser to the testicles.
My friends and I planned and executed several of these during our teenage years. The planning took months, and the execution was brutal, but we always had a great time. Eventually, other groups of people began to copy our fine work and planned their own clue hunts. We were always curious to see how we’d do if we were ever able to compete in one and so we cheerfully handed in our registration fee and anxiously awaited the day of the hunt.
We made all the necessary preparations: police radio, drinks, snacks… matching uniforms. We were a vision to behold. We all wore black sweatpants and black t-shirts with our “codenames” on them (Mine was “Sarcastus”). I chose to enhance my outfit even further with the addition of a dark grey full-length hooded cloak. In my minds eye, I envisioned the cloak billowing out behind me, in slow motion, when I exited the vehicle; a dark miasma surrounding me as I calmly searched for clues. It turns out that in this one particular case, my imagination wasn’t all that far from the truth.
One of the clues lead us to an elementary school in some town that I forget the name of, but we had a bit of trouble finding the envelope that was hidden somewhere on the school grounds. So… here I am, dressed all in black and sporting a very I-am-a-cult-member looking cloak, running around the normally peaceful grounds of a picturesque school of a small Long Island town in the wee-hours of the morning.
Starting to get the picture here? I am sure the fact that I made several very darkwing-duck-like cloak motions didn’t exactly help the situation either.
A short while after we drove away, we heard a call on the police radio. Apparently a “cloaked figure” was “terrorizing” the town that we had just left. I would describe my emotions at the time as equal parts “unparalleled elation” and “please drive faster, I don’t want to get raped in jail”.
As luck would have it, however, we made a clean getaway and ultimately went on to win the competition. We had our victory brunch at the International House of Pancakes, and gloated appropriately to the people that we knew on the other teams. And, after all was said and done, I think we had some experiences that are worthy of remembering and, as we get older, blathering about at parties and in blog entries.
So, no… I will be the first to admit that I may not have lead the most exciting childhood possible. But can you say that you terrorized a small town?
I didn’t think so.