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Urban Challenge Dallas 2007

December 1, 2007
By Kipley Fiebig - Team Vignette KJ

Our very first race that involved solving clues and running around a city to find the answers was the Urban Challenge in Dallas in 2002. So when the Urban Challenge was resurrected by some ambitious Dallas fans (with creator Kevin McCarthy's permission) in 2007, for us it was like returning to our roots.

Before the pre race trivia, they asked everyone who'd done one of the previous Urban Challenges to raise their hands. Our teams were the only ones in the room who put our hands up! Well, now we'd have no excuses if we didn't do well. Too bad, because Jason and I proceeded to bomb the trivia test completely. Not that that's unusual for us... on the contrary, it's pretty much par for the course.

Fortunately, Marcy and John did much better at the trivia (also par for the course), well enough to earn a spot in the first wave of teams. We wound up being in the third wave (out of four), and they released the waves about nine minutes apart, so by the time we got out Marcy and John were long gone, and heading to their first checkpoint (which for them was CP #3). I took a camera-phone picture of the clue sheet and emailed it to our support crew, while Jason called Dave to find out which clues still needed to be called in. It turned out that they'd already solved our first clue for us so we were off and running towards our first checkpoint:

Checkpoint 2:

Time for the Patented Urban Challenge Wacky Equation - Find this "proverbial" checkpoint somewhere inside the Arts District.

New York Opera House
Caviar, e.g.
Iditarod Destination
Sounds Like
What Checkpoint 2 Resembles

Marcy solved this clue just by looking at it: "Metronome" (thanks, Marcy!). We were off and running to find a huge red metronome sculpture. Our phone contact Dave relayed us the street directions as we ran. It was pretty big, so it was easy to spot.

A brief aside: We found out after the race that our photo of the clue sheet was pretty much unreadable. But John managed to read in all the clues to our crew while running. And our support crew was pretty much able to solve all the clues before we needed them. So basically, the recurring theme for this race will be how none of our team's success can be credited to me and Jason... we were just figureheads to take credit for the glory! Now, back to our regularly scheduled race, where we were currently headed for:

Checkpoint 3:

Word Games! - Find the venue in Uptown that matches the diagram below:


Dave guided us to the intersection for this business, Theatre Three. At the intersection, we flailed around for a bit before we finally spotted it, tucked a ways away in a long strip of businesses. We exited the area by running through the outside dining area of another business, and jumping a fence, because we're rebels like that. Hey, it was early in the morning, so it was practically empty anyways. Onwards, towards:

Checkpoint 4:

Alfa Bravo - Take your picture with the big, blue circle containing a letter signified by a ballroom dance in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. You'll find it in the building named for a Dutch cubist near the West Village.

We got to the correct intersection, and then again were frustrated for a while as we searched about for the blue circle with the letter "F" in it. Sometimes Google Maps won't point you to the precise business location, which can be a bit problematic if you're on foot, and in a terrible hurry, and are prone to yelling. How much yelling? Let's just say if there had been a camera crew following us around, by the end we'd have had a great audition tape for The Amazing Race. (These guys yell at each other all the time! Perfect for Reality TV!) Anyway, eventually we calmed down and found the circle, and next was:

Checkpoint 5:

Trivia Math! - Checkpoint 5 is a restaurant that is Spanish for the answer to this problem:

Find the square root of
(Degrees Centigrade at which water boils +
Number of nautical miles in a degree +
The atomic number of Fluorine)

The answer was Trece Restaurant. For once, we only wasted a few seconds locating the business once we hit the intersection. We managed to get our picture by it and got out of there without running over any of the nice folks on the sidewalk (barely).

Checkpoint 6:

If you go down to the woods today... - Crash the Teddy Bears' Lakeside picnic at this Highland Park locale where Colonel Henry used to farm. Find the largest one.

We had to travel a ways to a park to get to this checkpoint, which was a giant teddy bear statue. Along the way our street dead-ended, but Dave was confident from the aerial map that we could find a way to cross country our way through. He was right, and we always feel clever when we can go cross country, so that was cool.

As we approached the park we saw Marcy and John heading off to the right. We figured that they already found the teddy bear and were heading to the next checkpoint, because Dave told us to turn left into the park. We decided to ask a lady in the park about the teddy bear, and she told us we needed to head the way Marcy and John went. Obviously, Marcy and John had asked her that same question.

We ran along the park, which was big and meandered a bit along the creek and several streets. Rather than hope that our crew could pinpoint the exact location of the statue in the middle of this confusing park area, we just kept asking every Dallas native we saw where the teddy bears were, and they kept pointing us along. We finally came to a bridge over the creek, and Marcy and John were just crossing back over it, and they yelled to us that the bears were on the other side. Thanks again, MJ! By the time we got our picture and returned over the bridge, Marcy and John had sprinted out of view, so we followed the way we saw them head last, and called Dave to ask about our next destination.

Checkpoint 7:

What time is it? - Take your picture with the large sundial overlooking Turtle Creek near the only public building in Texas designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

We learned that the sundial should be near Kalita Humphreys Theater. We arrived at the theater and started searching for it. We found a couple of odd sculptures, but they didn't look like sundials. We asked the few folks that were in the theater if they knew of any sundial, including the manager, but had no luck. Since Marcy and John had already visited this clue, we called them to get more guidance, but they didn't answer the phone. So we had our phone contact Dave talk to their phone contact Art about the whole situation, and kept looking.

After many frustrating minutes of looking, we decided that there wasn't any sundial near the theater. So, we just took pictures of the only sculptures there that we saw, figuring one of them must be the right answer. Maybe we'd find the Skip Person later on, and if so we could just delete this checkpoint and still be good. Whatever, we'd wasted enough time, and we were itching to get moving again, towards:

Checkpoint 8:

S marks the spot - Checkpoint 8 shares its name with the amalgam of iron and carbon. It can be found in a building that could contain lots of minerals... and vitamins.

Jason was happy that he was able to figure this one out just by reading the clue... the Steel restaurant, in the Centrum building. No problem, onwards towards:

Checkpoint 9:

"She Caught the Katy" - The song covered in the movie The Blues Brothers refers to the M-K-T rail line that ran through Dallas. On the soundtrack, who is credited with lead vocals on the song?

If it's Jake Blues, take your picture at the sign for "Thomsen Overlook" on the Katy Trail at Reverchon Park.

It it's Elwood Blues, take your picture at the "Briggs-Freeman Plaza" near the Katy Trail in Reverchon Park.

It it's Zee Blues, take your picture with the "Works Progress Administration" marker in Reverchon Park.

This checkpoint was going to be in Revechon Park. We were merrily making our way south towards the park, when we got a call from Marcy and John's phone contact, Art. Uh oh, this couldn't be good. Art gave us the news: Marcy and John hadn't read the clue for #7 completely right, and had just taken a picture of the theater, not of a sundial. They had backtracked there now, and had apparently found what might just be the correct sundial.

So now it was critical decision time: Do we turn around, and waste time, to take a picture of what may or may not be the right sundial? Or do we keep going forward, hoping to find the Skip Person later, to make up for the missed CP #7? Neither option sounded all that great. We asked Dave if any of our teams had found the Skip Person... negative. We called John, and his description of the sundial sounded... odd... but it certainly sounded much more sundial-ish than what we'd taken pictures of. So, reluctantly, and with a lot more "Amazing Race Arguing Footage", we turned around and headed all the way back to #7.

The sundial team MJ had found was a couple of blocks away from the theater, and across the creek. Kind of stretching the definition of the word "near", but still, it looked like it might be the checkpoint. We bushwhacked through a shrubbery to get to it, because it's not a real Texas race if you don't have scratched legs before you're through.

That done, we had to get Steel again (CP #8) to get our answers back in the right order (you can delete bad photos from the camera, but not rearrange them). THEN it was time to get back on track and get #9. It took us a while to find the Katy trail within Revechon Park, because we were looking in the middle of the park instead of along the edge, but eventually the aerial maps came to the rescue again and we found the trail. Then we found the Thomsen Overlook (CP #9), but couldn't find the sign for it! Much running back and forth and interrogation of random members of the Dallas biking community ensued. Eventually, we found the elusive sign (on our original approach its back was turned towards us, fiendish!).

At least we could just continue along the trail to the next CP:

Checkpoint 10:

It's a Cat, Cat, Cat, Cat World - Checkpoint 10 is what appears to be a 3-foot tall cat toy that can be found within 100 yards of where Sid Caesar and company might have found treasure in a 1963 film.

Running along the Katy trail turned out to be more idiot proof than running along city streets. The trail pretty much took us directly to the correct intersection, where we spied the big ball of yarn. Onwards:

Checkpoint 11:

Who? - Take your picture between two giant Bubo virginianus near an appropriately named establishment for checkpoint 11.

This checkpoint was a couple of owl statues, located outside of a Hooter's restaurant. And here we were, thinking that we would have to take pictures of ourselves with the waitresses. Moving on:

Checkpoint 12:

Goo Goo G'joob - Checkpoint 12 is located in the West End. Unscramble the letters below to find the two-word name of the establishment, located within a half-mile of HQ. Get your photo at the establishment.


The answer for this one was The Walrus. Side note: John had called in all the clues, except for the scrambled letters of this business name. Fortunately, our computer support crew got tired of waiting for that part, and decided to pull up the photo of the clue sheet again. They were JUST able to read the letters, and so when Marcy and John called them back to read in the rest of #12, they announced that they'd already solved it. Go, super support crew!

After getting to this checkpoint, we still had to "loop around" and get CP #1, since we started at #2. So, off to our final CP:

Checkpoint 1:

Starting Bloch - Pay a visit to a particular inspirational sculpture that has been installed in several parks around the country by the Bloch family to get you in the right frame of mind. Take a photo with the sculpture, but please be respectful.

Things had been going so smoothly for us for a while, it was inevitable that we'd thrash a bit on the last one. We got to the right intersection, but couldn't find the sculpture right away. It was located a bit down the street. But then, we got it, and sprinted back to Campisi's restaurant for the finish!

Marcy and John had beaten us to the finish line. We asked them if they'd determined that the sundial picture was correct, and they said that they'd been talking to the race director, and it was indeed good. So, we quickly deleted the bad sequence of photos from CP #7-8, so all that remained was 12 good photos in the right order. We turned in our camera, and since no other teams had arrived Jason and I assumed we were in second place. That's when the race director sprung the news on us... Marcy and John had been disqualified! Oh, dear! It turns out that for CP #4, they had just taken a picture of the business, but NOT of the blue circle as required by the clue. Drat!

So, through no great skill of our own, and instead due to oodles of assistance from Marcy and John and our amazing clue-solving crew, Jason and I stumbled our way into first place at the Urban Challenge in Dallas. And we still had two other teams out there! Our friends Spencer and Richard finished shortly after us in second place. And Robyn and her young son Garrett finished in sixth place, quite happy that they didn't have to backtrack back and forth to the sundial like the rest of our three teams did.

It was a very well run event, especially considering it was the first race these guys had put on. The clues and the spirit stayed very true to the original Urban Challenge vision. We're quite glad we had the chance to do this one, and we'll love to do it again!

More photos from this race

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