It’s 8:30 p.m. on a summer Saturday night, and my friends and I are sprinting through Times Square, looking for a turtle to give us a clue. Well, sprinting might be a bit generous — given the staggering density of the weekend crowd, it would be truer to say that we’re speed-weaving thwartedly through an endless crush of tourists. When we finally spot the turtle, we swarm him, babbling about puzzles and newspapers and skyscrapers, until he delivers his message and, elated, we speed-weave away into the night.
This was about the midway point of the Great Gotham Challenge: After Dark, an incredibly intricate interactive scavenger hunt, which called on participants to utilize a vast array of skills, from linguistics to code-breaking to street smarts, to solve puzzles, decode instructions, and spend all night scampering hither and yon through Midtown Manhattan.
“We love bringing people closer to New York City,” says Cluemaster Ryan Patch. “We want participants to feel like they’re the protagonists in a movie, peeling back the layers of history that makes this city so unique, being drawn deeper into the narrative that’s been unfolding here for centuries.”
Patch and his Great Gotham Challenge co-founder, Cluemaster Jonathan Seale, created their first hunt in 2009 out of “underemployed summer boredom.” It was not exactly a rousing success: “Many of the mechanics didn’t work well, and almost every clue had huge problems,” Patch says. “Our friends who participated gave up less than halfway through.” But Patch and Seale didn’t abandon the idea. After some years, they reconceived the tech and the philosophy of the event, shifting from a traditional scavenger hunt to “a more all-encompassing immersive experience.” Now they host two public challenges each year that always sell out, with the most recent one bringing in 240 people.