Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Quest Called Quest

Before I reminisce about the clusterfuck that was the sixteenth season of The Amazing Race and the subsequent celebration of TARCon XVI, there was another bit of a debacle. Well, a debacle for me, anyway.

Actually, that's not really fair. There was a lot of work done with the Gotham Quest, which was set up by Custom Quest Events. The connection to The Amazing Race is that it was formed by a quartet of former Racers: TAR15 champs Meghan Rickey & Cheyne Whitney and third-placers Brian Kleinschmidt & Ericka Dunlap. It was a good setup; for $55 a head, individuals, pairs and teams run around New York, completing TAR-inspired tasks. After some deliberation, I decided that unlike Jordan Pious, this was about as close to getting on The Amazing Race as I was going to get.

We met at a Sbarro's on a dreary day in Times Square. Some of the wannabe Racers dressed alike, representing their own groups. I decided to go it alone; according to Brian, some tasks were best to go alone, while others would benefit from being on a team. I was handed a passport and $1.50 by Meghan. Then I immediately and unknowingly broke the spirit of the rules and bought a new umbrella. The one I bought was busted up pretty badly, and I would need protection, especially since I had on a short-sleeved shirt with no jacket. Oh, and my left sneaker had scratches on the sole, making it easy for water to seep in and soak the sock. Needless to say, it was going to be a long day.


Your team has been recruited to join the Army. Find Lieutenant Francis P. Duffy in Times Square to get his enlistment number, located on his backside. Memorize the number sequence and verbally deliver it to the Quest Rep standing at the Armed Forces Recruiting Office in Times Square. You must memorize the number. No writing it down!

(All team members may work to memorize and deliver the number. If you need help finding the Recruiting Office, take a look with Duffy.)

At first, I lucked out. I started looking for actual people before stumbling onto a statue of Lt. Duffy near the ticket line for Broadway shows. But then, I screwed myself up, big-time. The idea was that I had to get a number from a Rep behind the statue. He even showed me the number that I was suppose to memorize. But I got it in my head that the "enlistment number" was his birth and death dates, as seen on the back (or "backside") of the statue. Like a dummy, I went to the other Rep, delivered the dates, and got shot down. I went back to the statue, going so far as to take a picture of the back. I tried delivering the numbers, but I was wrong. The Rep at the Recruiting Office told me I had to "transpose" the numbers, and I must have looked like I was expected to talk in Chinese. I wound up giving up entirely. After I misinterpreted another clue (more on that in a bit), I came across . . .


Navigate your team to the National Broadcasting Company headquarters and look for the flags surrounding the statue of Prometheus. Find the Quest Rep under the Netherlands flag to get a note card. You must count every flag and give your answer to the Quest Rep standing underneath the Estonian flag. ONLY COUNT THE US FLAG ONCE. If your answer is correct, your passport will be stamped.

Finding the Rep was the easy part . . . I just had to look for somebody with a nametag. Counting the flags was also easy, at least at first. Turns out there are flags surrounding the area of the statue, flags near benches, flags elsewhere, flags, flags, flags. I finally came up with what I thought was the correct answer, and I looked for the other Rep to hand in my total. And I looked. And I looked. I called my mother to find out what the Estonian flag looked like. I have a copy of Our Dumb World at home, which came in handy . . . until you realize that picking out one flag in slightly less than two hundred was like finding a needle in a haystack. Needless to say, I gave up. And I would have been wrong anyway; my total of 171 (give or take five) was off by about twenty flags.

So You Think You Can Dance

Find the world's largest indoor theater nicknamed the "Showplace of the Nation." Gather your team and find five strangers to perform the dance that made this building famous. If it meets the standards of the Quest Rep, your passport will be stamped.

I am not a people person. I realize this, but I trucked over to Radio City Music Hall to try and get people to dance like Rockettes. It could be done; on my way to Rockefeller Plaza, I saw a group dancing. Sadly, I was pretty unconvincing in trying to round up people. I think the key is to get tourists to do stuff like that. It didn't help that I was 0-for-2 and in a bad mood because of my soaked foot. Ever have people cross a street to get away from you? That's some demoralizing shit right there. Now I was 0-for-3 and thoroughly ticked off at myself. And after realizing that I'd be too late to complete another task, I was 0-for-4. I needed salvation, and fast.

Common Sense

This delightfully tacky yet refined establishment, which is famous for its chicks, breasts and thighs, is a Quest destination. Once you locate it, find the Quest Rep standing by the parking meter in front of the main entrance to get your next clue and a chick...if you're lucky.

Here's how dense I was . . . I thought the clue pertained to a KFC near Times Square. In my defense, there was a parking meter nearby. After failing at Radio City Music Hall, I went uptown to Hooters on 56th Street. What? I pass by there sometimes when I'm looking for the express bus back home. Anyway, I wind up seeing Mark Yturralde from TAR13. This is a good omen: he and Bill Kahler were the "nerds" of that season, and Mark is the treasurer at Comic Con International, the humongous convention that's Mecca to geeks the world over. After greeting him enthusiastically, he gave me this clue:

The Quest Rep is 41 cents short to pay the meter. Using only the money provided to you at the start of the race, you must give the Quest Rep exact change to pay the remainder of the meter fee. Give the Rep 41 cents, one coin at a time, in the order of the Presidents' years in office from earliest to most recent. You may not use a coin more than once. Make sure you keep the change.

I think I sat down on the ground to figure this out before I realized that the answer was easy: penny, nickel, dime, quarter. Problem was, I didn't know how to get change. Luckily, there were three or four banks nearby. However, I was self-conscious about making change at a bank where I wasn't a customer. So I had this approximate conversation:

Me: Hi. Can you make change?

Teller: Sure. What do you need?

Me: [handing in a dollar] Nine dimes, a nickel and five pennies, please.

Teller: Are you with The Amazing Race?

Me: Wait, so I'm not the only one?

I got my change, and presented it to Mark in the given order (quarter/Washington, nickel/Jefferson, penny/Lincoln, dime/Roosevelt). At long last, I got my passport stamped, and I got a "chick" of sorts: an egg. All I had to do was present it at Sbarro's for an extra point. I took it and place it in one of the pockets of my backpack, sure that it wouldn't break.

Oh Say Can You Sing

Make your way to the most famous concert hall in NYC. The only way to get there is to Practice, Practice, Practice. Find the Quest Rep and ask for your clue and a piece of paper.

The answer was Carnegie Hall, which was a stone's throw away from Hooters. There, I saw Dana & Adrian Davis, the first team eliminated in TAR16. My mission: it wasn't to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," but to write out the lyrics and then sing it. I got most of the lyrics from memory, got a few words from others singing it to Dana & Adrian (there should have been a separate, faraway area for those brainstorming), and got the rest from a text-answering service. Once they went over my lyrics, Dana & Adrian asked me to sing the anthem, which I did . . . poorly. However, I got a point for my efforts and a bonus point for identifying Francis Scott Key as the writer of the anthem. Emboldened, I headed north to Central Park.

The Heat Is On

Find "The Bard Of Avon" in Central Park. Once you locate him, find the Quest Rep and solve the puzzle. In order to accomplish this Quest you must be able to hand the heat and concentrate.

After a few pieces of advice on direction and a near-collision with a bike rider, I found a statue of William Shakespeare. Waiting for me were Meredith Tufaro (from two legs of TAR6) and Murtz Jaffer (host of Reality Obsessed, a Canadian show). The deal: I had to flip over up to ten tiles to reveal a puzzle. Answer the puzzle, get the stamp. The catch? Before I turned over a tile, I had to take a lick of a teaspoon of wasabi paste. What wasabi has to do with Shakespeare is beyond me. I figured that I ate wasabi with sushi all the time, so how hard could it be?

By the second tile, my mouth was on fire. Nearby, a few people who ambled onto the scene were laughing. I drink my bottle of water, and I think I wound up dropping it. I wouldn't say I was in agony, but I wasn't exactly comfy. After flipping a third tile, I had a part of a knot, an oar, and what looked like the letter "D." My brain must have clicked on to self preservation mode, because I got the answer: "2 B Oar Knot 2 B." And I scored a bonus point for identifying Hamlet as the play where the quote came from. Sadly, I had to go back to Sbarro's, since time was running out. Here's what I wound up missing:

One Blind Mouse: This was more of a team-based challenge, and I don't know if I could have been able to pull it off. At Driprock Arch in Central Park, one team member would be have his/her shoes removed. Another person would be blindfolded, and the first person had to direct the teammate to the shoes, have him/her retrieve them, and put them on the person's feet. Sounds like a riot, to be honest. The judge for the task: circus clown Al Rios from TAR4.

Show Some Love: This was another "gather complete strangers for fun" task. This time, you had to go to the "LOVE" Statue and recruit ten strangers for a group hug. A judge would take a Poloroid picture, and that had to be presented at the finish line.

Stuff And Guff: The clue directed people to Herald Square. The goal was to stand next to a Quest Rep when "Stuff" and "Guff" (or "Gog" and "Magog") rang in the new hour. I would've went, but I didn't think it would be that far south . . . and by the time I realized it, it was too late.

You Don't Know Jack: You had to go to a Jack's 99cent store and use the money provided at the start to buy shower caps for the whole team, which had to be worn at the finish line. My mother would have loved this, since she goes to Jack's all the time.

T-Rex Tower: This was at the same location as "One Blind Mouse." You had to use a certain amount of Jenga blocks to form a tower 33 inches high, then set a small Tyrannosaurus Rex figure on top.

I wasn't really in the best of moods when I made it to Sbarro's about two minutes late, with Brian exuding me to "run it out." It took forever to get my passport out of my backpack . . . and when I opened the pocket, I had broken egg all over it. I lost count of how many paper towels it took to dry the inside of the pocket. And when picking out dessert for my free lunch, nothing really looked good to me, since I had allergy concerns over the stuff I did like. Anytime I was asked if I had fun, all I could do was smile and shrug. My passport didn't get scored, but I think I got 4-6 points total.

I should have had more fun. I let myself get down in the dumps for failing the tasks and for not having footwear that would be puddle-proof. In retrospect, I should've had a partner to make things easier. Still, I feel that the next time there's a chance to do the Custom Quest, I won't be quick to dismiss it entirely.

No comments: