Noe Valley Voice May 2009

Play the Quest--for Fun and Prizes!

By Heather World

Think you know your valley? A trio of local merchants is betting there are still some hidden nooks you'll find in a neighborhood scavenger hunt they're holding called the Noe Valley Quest.

The game is the brainchild of Gwen Sanderson, Erik Mantsch, and Malcolm Haar, owners of Video Wave, Just Awesome! (the board game store), and Cooks Boulevard, respectively.

During the month of May, players can pick up the Quest "game piece"--a list of 24 questions--at participating neighborhood businesses, or they can tear it out of the print edition of the Noe Valley Voice (see page 4). Answers turned in by May 31 will be put in a drawing for a barrel of prizes, to be awarded at a party in mid-June.

The Quest sends hunters from one side of Noe Valley to the other and along paths they might not normally travel. That's the point, says Haar--to uncover the secrets of the neighborhood.

"A lot of people live here or work here but don't know all that Noe Valley has to offer," Haar said.

Meeting weekly for coffee to discuss the project, the three merchants (with early help from Fima Gelman) hashed out ideas for questions--should the quiz be about obscure history? Facts about neighborhood stores?--but they settled on exploring the urban landscape.

Mantsch, an expert on fun and games, came up with most of the questions.

"They're about community places," Mantsch said. "Also, you're out in the neighborhood, so you'll see other things," like gardens, stairways, street art, and sweeping vistas.

At the June drawing, neighbors can swap stories about finding "the trapezoid inside the octagon" at a Noe Valley park, as one answer requires.

The three planners have rounded up more than a dozen businesses to play--on 24th, Church, Diamond, and Castro streets.

"It felt like making a movie," Erik said. "Malcolm produced it, I created it, and Gwen directed it."

The Noe Valley Quest was partly inspired by a last-minute distraction organized by Cover to Cover Booksellers two years ago when the final Harry Potter book came out, Sanderson said. Fearing a long, weary line of Potter fans outside its door at midnight, the store asked neighboring businesses to help with a scavenger hunt and outdoor costume party.

Instead of jostling in line all night, fans paid for their books and received a voucher and scavenger-hunt questions that could be answered by going into neighboring stores, like Video Wave. The stores also held stacks of the Potter books for Cover to Cover. Come midnight, when the book could finally be released, fans turned in their vouchers in whichever store they happened to be.

"By which point they were totally bleary-eyed," said Sanderson, who served popcorn and good cheer the whole night.

"It didn't have to do with people being my customer--it was just fun," she said.

Similarly, the Quest creators wanted to make the Noe Valley scavenger hunt less about business and more about communal experience. That's why the questions put participants out in the neighborhood--all except the last question, which requires a visit to a participating store.

"We get far more benefit from putting it on than from forcing people to come in and look at stuff as part of the game," Sanderson said. "We want it to be fun."

The businesses involved will have window displays highlighting the adventure, and owners will be happy to give hints to answers to the quiz, she said. The prizes, valued at $50 to $250, will include such things as free movie rentals from Video Wave and a basket of kitchen products from Cooks Boulevard.

If all goes well, the three masterminds plan to host a winter version that involves more stores and indoor spaces, Sanderson said. Certainly the planning was great fun for Sanderson, Haar, and Mantsch.

"I totally neglected my business doing this," Sanderson said with a laugh.

To compete in this month's Noe Valley Quest scavenger hunt, pick up a game piece at any of the following businesses:

Cooks Boulevard

Cover to Cover Booksellers


Just Awesome! The Board Game Store

Ladybug Ladybug


Neon Monster

Omnivore Books on Food

Purple Iris Healing Center

Small Frys

So Tell Me More Family Histories

Video Wave of Noe Valley

Wink SF