Monday, February 18, 2008

A Long Strange Trip With the Old Maltese

When I try to describe the St Valentine's Day Massacre to friends and colleagues, and I usually get confused looks back.

It's an annual contest run out of La Cañada, California. When you pay your $49 entry fee, you receive a copy of the current Rand McNally Road Atlas and a book of instructions. There are very specific route-following rules a series of directions (e.g. "turn north on interstate highway after going through Minneapolis"). The contest is scored by how well you answer a series of questions about your route (e.g. "How many highway shields have you gone through since Dallas"). You follow the route... and this is where people get confused, because you don't actually drive anywhere. You follow the routes on the maps, "seeing" the sights (in the terms of the contest, seeing is passing with in 1/4" on the map). It isn't really about travel, except that it is. It's about following rules through a complicated piece of cartography, and avoiding getting tripped up by all the false turns and tricky easy-to-miss landmarks [er, mapmarks].

One of the things I enjoy is "driving by" places I know and love: my dad's summer place in Montana, our home in Minneapolis, my wife's family's homes in Colorado. I did part of this year's contest on vacation in Cedar Key, Florida and sure enough there I "drove" past it while I was there.

The contest is fully of corny, geeky humor. The Old Maltese and assorted oddballs (all with the initials "O.M.") show up to give you instructions. You are shifted from obscure vintage vehicle to obscure vintage vehicle. And you get weird place names pointed out to you.

I've talked elsewhere here about gaming as a way to look at maps as fiction. This is a peculiar subspecies of gaming map: using "real" maps as the stage on which real players play and work within a fictional framework. Like Risk adapted to a real world map. Or like (sort of) people who play out war games on maps of real places.

Mostly, though, its an excuse to spend a loving 20-30 hours with a Rand Road Atlas, and that can be just fine.


Dug said...

Thanks for alerting me to this! Now when people ask me what I'm doing staring blankly at maps again I'll be able to say I'm DOING something. said...

Remember Ned, it has to be post marked by March 3, 2009.

natcase said...

It's Nat, and sorry, I'm skipping this year. I do it every few years, maybe 5 times in 30 years.

Justin said...

I was just googing info on this. My room mate is just as addicted as you are. He got chuckle out of reading this post.

Anonymous said...

I just found this page. I have run the SVDM for several years as well as the Independence Day Fireworks since its inception 14 years ago. MY number od SVDM entirs is over 20 times but probably less thas 30. I also participate in actual on the road car rallies from which the SVDM got its origins. JIM Wakemen