Noe Valley Voice December-January 2011

Night of the Nerds

Neighborhood Gears Up for Tech Search Party 3.0

By Heather World


“I think we need better track shoes.” 

—Steve Fox, PCWorld


Rivals by trade, neighbors by night, tech-publishing leaders Rafe Needleman and Steve Fox would seem a formidable team in Noe Valley’s annual Tech Search Party, the high-tech scavenger hunt that benefits local schools.

However, knowing the neighborhood and the world of high-tech gadgets ­­­hasn’t guaranteed them a win, Fox said.

“We’ve done poorly both times, but we had a good time,” said the editorial director of PCWorld. “I think we need better track shoes.” 

Undaunted, the pair will try again on Feb. 4, said Needleman, Fox’s friend and an editor-at-large for CNET.

“It’s fun,” said Needleman, who lives on 23rd Street. “I’m happy to raise money for public schools.”

Now in its third year, the Tech Search Party has raised $25,000 for participating schools and has proved to be a popular event. Organizer Tim Smith, chair of technology at Alvarado Elementary School, said 180 people participated last year, up from 100 the first year. Contestants came from Noe Valley and beyond, with many registering just minutes before the contest began, he said.

Each year, teams with names like Noe or Nice, Tech-less Teachers, and Goob fan out across the neighborhood, flashlight or flashlight app in hand. Their goal is to find the geographical answers to 10 enigmatic clues, conjured up by Smith.

The boundaries of the hunt cover the one square mile of the valley floor and the hillsides to the north and west. Participants must stick together and travel on foot, which can mean miles of walking, said Evan Hansen, editor of His 2010 team included his two young children, who contributed a growing chorus of complaints as the evening wore on. Winning was not his goal, but having fun was, so the children will not be on the team this year, Hansen said.

“It’s fun to have a puzzle and kick it around, but after an hour, you want to kick back,” he said. “The trick with this thing is to get to the bar.” 

Teams can use smart phones and any other electronic technology they desire. Hansen and his family used his iPhone and Google. Fox and Needleman’s team had Android phones and tablets, Fox said.

“We all have various tools, and you can look these things up,” said Fox, who has lived with his wife and kids on 24th Street for 17 years. While technology is not faulty, memory is, he said.

“Sometimes knowing the neighborhood can work against you.”

Owning the latest technology is not necessarily an advantage either, Smith said. In the last competition, a team using the then-new iPad scored high, but so did a team using an old flip-phone, he said.

This year, Marshall Elementary School in the Mission and James Lick Middle School have partnered with Alvarado to spread the word and the wealth. All three schools will share in the profits from registration fees and sponsorships from companies like Google, Verizon, and Wyse Technology, three sponsors already on board for 2012. The goal is to raise $20,000—$5,000 more than last year, Smith said.

This year like last, the evening will start at 5:30 p.m. in the James Lick Auditorium at the corner of 25th and Noe streets. At 6 p.m. sharp, each team will get a list of clues that lead to answers in various Noe Valley locations. Participants take a photo of each answer found, and email it back to Smith, who tracks the evening’s progress from a bar.

The evening ends at Valley Tavern at 8 p.m., where contestants can share pitchers of beer, see the answers, and swap stories of the night’s adventures. Final answers are also posted on the Tech Search Party’s blog site at the conclusion of the event, Smith said.

A team of four costs $50, and a team of six costs $75. Voice readers get a 25 percent discount by entering the word “Voice” when registering. To register, visit