Friday, October 2, 2009

Dangers of 'The Game'

Gold mine, Uploaded to flickr by ˙Cаvin 〄 on 29 Dec 08

From The Seattle Times comes this cautionary tale of amateur delving gone wrong. Thanks to Steve Lawson for pointing this one out.

The brain trust perched on the dry lake bed seemed able: about 60 bright, adventurous minds from Seattle's high-tech community. Microsoft VPs. Inventors. Start-up founders. Multimillionaires. Serious geeks.

Over the next 28 hours, the race to save Shelby Logan propelled these would-be rescuers across 275 miles, from the arid moonscape of the desert to the neon glare of the Las Vegas strip. They would scuba dive, rock climb, sing karaoke with a drag queen and fire automatic weapons. They would decode the Declaration of Independence inside a prison and befriend a white rat named Templeton, whose shivering little body carried a message.

If this sounds ripped from a Hollywood movie, it essentially was. The race to save Shelby Logan was conceived as a weekend fantasy to be played on the proportions of the big screen, by invitation only.

It was the latest in an annual run of what was simply called The Game. An adventure scavenger hunt. The ultimate test for the Renaissance man or woman. Or just a really good excuse to turn off your Blackberry, forget work, ignore spouses and have a hell-raising good time.

Among them was Bob Lord, a then-37-year-old software engineer who'd worked for Microsoft before launching, then selling, his start-up Internet search company, XYZFind. This was his first Game, and when he kissed his wife and three kids goodbye in Palo Alto, Calif., he brought a wet suit, walkie-talkies, laptop, GPS device, extension cords, reference books on compact disc and clothes for any kind of weather.

Note the conspicuous lack of Torch, Rope, or Pole

The Leadup:
The adrenaline kept pumping: a 3-mile race through the pitch-black desert on ATVs; a gun club where a lucky geek on each team fired a 50-round clip from a machine gun; then a gay nightclub where an unlucky geek had to dress in drag and sing "It's Raining Men" on stage. Teams rode the Big Shot, a breathtaking 160-foot plunge from the top of the Stratosphere Hotel, and sprinted down the Fremont Street Experience in old Vegas as clues flashed on a four-block-long screen overhead. At a tattoo parlor, a player on each team was supposed to volunteer for a piercing (extra bonus for a non-ear piercing!) or tattoo (The Game), but the tattoo artist took $50 bribes to hand over the clue.

The Delve:
THE MORNING sun was parching a desolate landscape of sagebrush and broken beer bottles when Bob Lord climbed out of the Team Plaid van on a dusty parking lot in the desert foothills southeast of Las Vegas. This was the 17th clue site, and Lord and other players had slept little in 28 hours, which may partly explain what happened next.

Lord and other players didn't know it, but this was the Argentena Mine complex, a warren of abandoned openings left over from a 1927 silver-mining operation. All Lord had were a set of GPS coordinates found at the previous site — a cemetery in the ghost town of Goodsprings — and instructions: Walk exactly 1,133 feet on a precise compass heading and find something called 1306. It was Lord's job to follow the directions. But, wanting to scout the route first, he veered off course to climb up a small hill, then used recalculated bearings he'd figured out using trigonometry on his handheld computer.

The clue also had an unusual message: "1306 is clearly marked. Enter ONLY 1306. Do NOT enter others." To Lord, this was just another clue, perhaps a head-fake from Game Control. Enter 1306? What could there be 1306 of in the desert, he wondered. Parking stalls? Telephone poles?

Lord led the way until his recalculated bearings pointed directly into an opening. He flashed back to the video dropped from the helicopter: This must be the right place, he thought.

The "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" spray-painted in fluorescent orange was no deterrent. Again, Lord flashed back to an earlier point in The Game: "NO!" had been part of a previous clue. Absorbed in his own musings, Lord missed one other salient clue: the number 1296 spray-painted in blue next to the opening.

Followed closely by other team members, Lord walked into the opening nearly 100 feet, until the only light was the LED screen on his GPS.

His team members heard him slip. Bob? they called. Bob?


Bob Lord didn't die, but his fall down a 30' mine shaft crippled him for life, led to lawsuits for The Game's organizers, and has had tragic effect on the rest of his family.

For delvers, the lessons are obvious. Don't go anywhere without the proper gear. Lighting is fundemental. Belaying with rope is also a good idea in unknown delves. Test the ground in front of you before moving onto it.

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