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Watson Adventures, a New York company that has been creating scavenger hunts for private parties and corporate retreats since 1999, has released an iPhone app that allows participants increased interaction during the hunt. Bloomberg Businessweek spoke with Julie Jacobs, Watson’s chief development officer, about the app, Watson’s tours, and how the company keeps people from Googling answers to its clues.
Can people use the app to do scavenger hunts anywhere?
We have satellite offices in eight cities and just started operating in Texas, too. We design hunts in historic neighborhoods and museums with very clever riddle-like questions. It’s an upscale, intellectual kind of game; for example, one of the games is called Murder at the Met! Corporations like them because it gets people to work together. And everyone brings something different to the table—some people are good at reading a map, others at wordplay. And you don’t have to be athletic to do well, which is always nice.
Watson Adventures has been organizing scavenger hunts for a while. How is the app going to change the way the game is played?
The way scavenger hunts normally work is that when you solve one of the puzzles, you write your answer down and then go onto the next clue. But you don’t know if you’re right until the end. With the app, if you put in an answer it’ll tell you if you got it right. If it’s wrong, it’ll give you a hint. So you know how you’re doing throughout the game, but not how the other teams are doing.
Do enough people have iPhones for this to be worthwhile?
So far we’ve found that in a corporate environment, about 1 in 6 people have iPhones, so it’s popular enough that at least one person will have one in a group. We don’t want one person buried in their iPhone, of course, so as long as more people have a phone, they can download it too. And we hand out printed copies just in case of a technical glitch.
Everyone has access to Google and Wikipedia now. How do you guard against cheaters?
We are actually designing a hunt for a launch of a TV show—I don’t think I am allowed to say what the TV show is, but I’m sure you can figure it out—and it offers a big prize, so we needed to make sure you couldn’t win it by Googling something. One of the tricks of the trade is to come up with something you can see only if you’re physically there. Historical architecture, stuff on the street. I just took a tour of New York City’s High Line, and one of the questions we ask on the tour is to name the NBC building that you can see. It’s actually NBC, for National Biscuit Company, not the TV station. We really want to get people out of the office and exploring the neighborhoods and museums.