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The alternatives

Adults hit the streets for clues and cash

May 22, 2003|Anne Valdespino | Times Staff Writer

They'll be racing through busy streets, boarding subway trains and buses, running like wild animals and all the while deciphering clues like Sherlock Holmes.

It's Urban Challenge L.A., a crazy scavenger hunt for grown-ups that also offers a shot at a $50,000 payoff.

"The money is such a long shot, it's not a motivating factor," says Jeff Atkinson, a participant from Redondo Beach and a former Olympic qualifier in the 1,500 meters, now a high school track coach.

"There's no course," he says. "You get to run all over the place, through malls, up and down stairs -- it's like playing 'ditch 'em' in the schoolyard."

Entrants have five hours to solve clues to the locations of a dozen hidden checkpoints throughout L.A. They must find and be photographed at the designated spots, in order, before finishing.

Armed with digital cameras, two-person teams walk, run or take public transportation to the checkpoints. They use cell phones to call friends, reference librarians -- anyone.

The fastest 10 teams in each of 23 cities now hosting Urban Challenge races win entry to the finals in New Orleans in November and a chance to compete for the $50,000 grand prize at the Urban Challenge National Championships.

The Urban Challenge was started in Phoenix by Kevin McCarthy, who elaborated on a game he created for the kids at his daughter's 12th birthday party a little less than two years ago.

Atkinson and a teammate placed first in the L.A. race last year and came very close to winning the race in San Diego, but got tripped up on the final clue when they reached the finish line with the wrong photo.

This year, he says, "There's no interpreting or talking about the clue until you've read it twice through and thought about it for a minute."


Urban Challenge L.A. begins at the Knitting Factory, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Saturday, 8:30 a.m. Registration begins at 7 a.m.; $75 per person. (323) 463-0204.

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