Driving by, you might wonder if you’ve stumbled on a gathering of somewhat indiscreet spies.
It’s night, the parking lot of an otherwise deserted municipal park is filled with cars, each with at least two people inside carefully examining documents by flashlight, making notes and discussing strategy in subdued voices.
One by one, they start their cars and drive away, all heading in the same direction.
Scavenger Hunt on Wheels
The future of nations is hardly at stake, but rather the outcome of a complex and challenging game: a skill/gimmick rally? No, it’s not your usual high-speed auto race. In the words of rally master Craig Conjoyan, “in reality it’s a sort of automotive scavenger hunt in which the driver and navigator match wits with the person who wrote the rally.”
Tonight, a “Cold Turkey” rally devised by Conjoyan will start at Balboa Sports Center parking lot in Encino. Registration takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. A $10 fee per car will be donated to the Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles. Information: (818) 706-1097.
Participating in the rally is simple, Conjoyan says. You drive up, sign up and get your instructions. For first-timers, there’s a special class to explain the rules and answer any questions. You drive your own car, at posted legal speeds, over public roads and highways. Along the way, you must interpret instructions, look for landmarks and answer written questions. The team making the fewest mistakes is the winner.
“All the evening’s action takes place in a single residential neighborhood,” Conjoyan adds. “Afterward, everybody winds up at a pizza parlor where we find out how we did and pass out the trophies. It seems a simple thing to do, but after you’ve spent the evening matching wits with an unseen but highly intelligent adversary, it’s a rare person who doesn’t feel a sense of accomplishment.”
More than 15 skill/gimmick rallies are held annually in Los Angeles, most taking off from the Balboa Sports Center parking lot, a quarter-mile north of U.S. 101 (Ventura Freeway) on Balboa Boulevard, in the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area. The typical event may draw as many as 150 vehicles and teams, take about three hours and involve driving about 30 miles. The equipment required is no more sophisticated than a flashlight, a clipboard, a couple of pencils and a map. The driver can proceed entirely at his/her own pace. No timing is involved. A minimum of two people is needed: one to drive, the other to navigate.
Beginner to Advanced Levels
“All rallies have a beginner and advanced version, so everyone participates at a level of difficulty appropriate to his/her skill and experience,” Conjoyan explains. “A beginner course has simple instructions and traps that require a little thought, but even someone who’s never done it before can get through it and have a good time. After you achieve a certain level of proficiency, it becomes like playing mental chess against the rally master on a board 10 miles square.”
An example of the sort of trickery rally masters indulge in may be illustrated in the clue that reads: “Observe all speed limits. There will be no race or chase tonight.” At some point, an instruction may advise making a left turn at the next opportunity. The next street is Chase Street and recalling the “no race and chase” instruction, you decide to ignore it and turn left on the next one. You’re correct.
Next in the beginner-level instructions would be the question: “What is the name of the street on which you are traveling?” If you answer “Chase,” you are credited with an error in the final scoring. If you had actually turned on Chase Street, eventually it would have deposited you back onto the proper route. Things get considerably more complex at the upper levels of play.
“It’s not impossible to get lost on a rally,” Conjoyan says, “but we take great pains when writing the instructions to make sure that even if you make a mistake, you wind up back on course. That’s why it may take as much as six months to write and de-bug a set of rally instructions. Anybody who can write a rally could teach Sherlock Holmes something about deductive reasoning.”