NEW YORK - The city that never sleeps played unconscious host over the
weekend to a game that never rests, producing several security
incidents after the event's high-tech sophistication became a bit too
The annual event, simply called "The Game," sent 11 teams and 55
players combing the streets of Manhattan and environs in search of
interconnected clues designed to simulate a paramilitary anti-terrorist
A team of Microsoft managers called "Mission Control" coordinated the
27-hour race from a $575-a-night suite atop the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Most clues, posted at places such as the Extravertical Climbing Wall on
Broadway, Lucky Cheng's nightclub in the East Village and the Pop
International Galleries in trendy SoHo, were intended to show game
players local color while testing their wits for solving anagrams,
ciphers, acrostics and logic puzzles.
"Inevitably, however, some clues merged fantasy with reality, with less
whimsical results. At the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel, vials
containing dishwashing fluid labeled "radioactive waste" were discovered
yesterday by custodial workers cleaning up a suite designed to simulate
terrorist headquarters. Fearing they may have been contaminated, the
workers notified police and port authorities, who briefly evacuated the
14th floor and an area of the basement while they worked to identify the
Authorities decided against filing charges.
"No laws were broken and there was no an intent to create havoc," said
Allen Morrison, spokesman for the bistate New York and New Jersey Port
Authority. "But clearly it was not a great idea to leave sealed bottles
marked hazardous waste where they could be found during clearing of a room
or disposing of trash."
On Thursday night, a test team was questioned in New Jersey while
searching for a clue in a park. And a clue site at Columbia University had
to be dropped Saturday night when a team unintentionally set off a campus
building's alarm system.
But security episodes failed to dampen enthusiasm for the event.
"We wanted this to be the biggest, best and most memorable game
ever," said J Allard, a Microsoft Internet server manager heading the
event. Allard, who was briefly questioned by police and port authorities
over the evacuation incident, said, "I guess we succeeded."
Asked if New York authorities had ever encountered a similar episode,
Morrison said, "This one is unique in my memory." The Marriott's response
was a testament to New York's security procedures, he said. "We were
erring on the side of caution, but we do take any potential episode like
This year's event was coordinated by Allard's "Team Pink," winners of
last year's version in the Los Angeles area. Teams began at a New York
high school at 10 a.m. Saturday with the mission of tracking down a
fictional terrorist operative named Alice Price.
From the school, the hunt took them to Central Park, where clues sent
teams to consecutive sites involving Japanese haiku, IBM's Big Blue chess
match against Garry Kasparov two years ago, a series of Roman numerals
formed by attack motions against various body parts, and a charade-playing
Twenty more clues and a long night of mind-numbing puzzles took teams
to parks and woods in New Jersey and the site of the New York World's
Fair. Team Silver crossed the finish line at 1:10 p.m. yesterday, five
minutes ahead of Team White in the closest finish of the 15-year-old
A Silver victory
Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft Windows program manager, and his
fiancee, Kristina Ota, a senior recruiting manager at the Redmond software
company, led the five-member Team Silver to victory.
They sifted through the clues in a rented black van crammed with
elaborate communications gear, including cellular phones, walkie-talkies,
global-positioning-system devices, five laptop computers, two external
antennas, a wireless Web connection and a printer.
For Belfiore, the victory culminated an effort he began planning
a year ago after finishing third in last year's event by outrunning
longtime friend John Tippett, another Microsoft manager, in a wild
"Our team was absolutely hard-core about winning this year," said
Belfiore, who, with Ota, spent recent evenings studying potential
clues while mailing out interactive wedding invitations stored on CD-ROMs.
Belfiore, who co-founded the game as a Florida
high-school student in the mid-1980s, took it to Stanford University as
the Bay Area Race Fantastique and then to Microsoft as "The Game"
after he was hired nine years ago. He said that by winning this year's
event, he wanted to make sure he still had the edge.
An early favorite among game-watchers, the Team Silver
nonetheless trailed Team White, another mostly Microsoft team headed by
Raman Sarin, through much of the event. But it pulled ahead in oppressive
afternoon traffic before reaching the finish line at Drovers Restaurant in
Waldorf as `Mission Control'
Teams cheered and high-fived one another as Black, Orange, Purple,
Yellow, Green, Gray, Brown, Plaid and Blue arrived at Drovers during a
four-hour time period. The majority of teams were predominantly Microsoft
managers, but teams from New York, Silicon Valley and the Midwest also
Allard's crew coordinated the event at "Mission Control" in the
Waldorf-Astoria suite. By Friday, even before the event actually started,
Allard's hotel bill alone had reached nearly $6,000. No official estimate
of expenses was available, but sources said they were expected to top
For Microsoft millionaires, expenses were secondary to the pursuit of a
verisimilitude that occasionally merged role-playing with reality. An
opening video to the event featured actual terrorist footage, and one clue
excerpted text from the Unabomber's manifesto.
"Everyone seemed to agree we ruled on (high) production value," said
David Treadwell, a Microsoft networking wizard, who linked several laptop
computers and multiple phone lines in Mission Control headquarters.
Winners, after paying entry fees and spending thousands on travel,
accommodations and equipment, traditionally receive nothing but bragging
This year, however, coordinators offered an obelisk trophy to Team
Silver. The trophy will be passed to winning teams each year.
Most teams said they expected to compete in next year's event. By late
afternoon, Allard was already sketching plans. "Maybe we'll do Italy," he
"The important thing was for everyone to have fun," said Ben Jones, a
Mission Control coordinator. "Every indication was that we succeeded on
New York officials were scratching their heads at the players'
"Microsoft must be working these guys way too hard if this is the way
they blow off steam," a local security official said.