From the 11/01/02 Elgin Courier News

Scavenger hunt on wheels

Road rallye buffs turn any holiday into a navigational puzzle


By George Rawlinson


  "Don't get lost."

   Christopher Columbus listened to Queen Isabella and discovered a new world. But most beginning road rallye drivers aren't as fortunate.

   For a nominal fee and at almost no risk to car, life or limb, normally sane people gather together to navigate a course along city, suburban and country streets.

   No, Virginia, these aren't the traditional type rallies, the ones based on time, speed and distance.

   "Ours are gimmick rallies," said longtime rallye wizard Jeff Lurie. From Monday through Friday, the Bartlett man manages a successful auto dealership in Highland Park. But on a number of weekends through the year, he tries to befuddle and bamboozle otherwise willing drivers.

   On what was a darkening Sunday afternoon, in a parking lot outside Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Lurie and members of the Brand X Rallye Team were at it again this past weekend.

   Drivers might not know what the future holds. But in the club's annual Whoosh Witch Road Rallye, they know who holds the future. It's Lurie — dressed as a modern-day Merlin — who spent about a month deciding on and writing the 39-question instruction sheet that becomes a rolling game of solving riddles and puzzles.

  There are out-of-car stunts, too, staged at local forest preserves and used as potential tiebreakers, if necessary.

  "We like to think of our gimmick rallies as sophisticated scavenger hunts," Lurie said. "If you're good at computer logic games, odds are you'll do pretty well on the open road.

  "There's a right way and there's a wrong way. Some 'doors' lead absolutely nowhere. Others will help you stay on track."

Sneaky questions

  Right in time for Halloween, more than 50 people turned out for Lurie's latest rallye Sunday, the 35th annual running of the Whoosh Witch.

  "In this gimmick rallye, ours is a modern witch who uses a vacuum cleaner rather than a broom," Lurie says, tongue-in-cheek. "That's where the name comes from. When you turn on a vacuum cleaner, you get that whoooosh sound."

   Some Sunday participants wore costumes, others didn't. Four women were dressed as pregnant nuns. One young man drove a gray hearse.

  The 4 1/2-hour Whoosh Witch rallye, which began in 1968, is a question-and-answer gimmick game. At the outset, participants are given a set of route instructions meant to challenge their thinking. To figure out where to go, each driver must guess the answers to questions worded in an obscure manner. Longtime rallye runners say Lurie has raised the question writing to an art form.

   Many participants are age 25 and under, though there also are event veterans, people in their 40s and 50s who participate in at least one rallye every month, taking in events sponsored by other clubs.

   Lurie remembers his own first rallye. "It was in June of 1967," he says. "It was a foggy night and I was on a blind date. What I remember most about the course was you were supposed to 'turn on a palindrome.' It turned out to be Route 22. That one took a little time."

Want anchovies with your cemetery?

Sunday, after leaving Woodfield Mall, rallye drivers first proceed east to Busse Woods Forest Preserve.

  Question No. 1 on the route instruction sheet asks, "Did you see a cemetery?"

  While the route has been planned in advance, props haven't been set up until earlier in the day.

   "With this particular rallye, there are about 14 or 15 club members helping out," Lurie says. These are stationed at various checkpoints along the route, making sure that the Whoosh Witch score sheet is being properly executed, no pun intended.

   At least two participants per car is a road rallye requirement. "A lot of the cars have three and four people," Lurie says. "At a minimum, though, you need a driver and a navigator."

   After all, Lurie adds, someone has to be on the lookout for all those trick-or-treat traps.

  The first one, involving the cemetery question, is perhaps his favorite. As explained in three pages of general instructions given to each team before the event, a cemetery is defined as anything with more than two tombstones.

  At the forest preserve, two tombstone placards have been stuck into the ground. Not too difficult. On the other hand, by themselves they don't constitute a cemetery.

  But "I had a pizza last night," Lurie says, laughing. "It was a Tombstone pizza, and today we put the box on a picnic table at the forest preserve ... Three tombstones make a cemetery. Rallye teams should have answered 'yes' to that first question."

Across the countryside

  Besides the tombstone trap, Busse Woods also will be the site of several stunts, including a pumpkin slalom and a dartboard game.

  Although not tied to road rallye scoring, Sunday's stunts will be used in case of a tie in the costume contest that was part of the event.

  "Skelvis" — part skeleton, part Elvis — was eventually named the costume contest winner.

  After leaving the Woodfield area and the forest preserve, participants follow their maps, trying to answer questions that will lead them through South Barrington, the Dundees, Sleepy Hollow, Elgin, Plato Center and Burlington before ending at the Cadillac Ranch restaurant in Bartlett.

  Pencils and scorecards in hand, team members fill in their answer sheets along the way. Lowest score wins, Lurie explained.

  "You receive 10 points for each error you make," he said. "You also receive one point for each minute or fraction thereof past your due-in time at the Witches Coven, which is the event's endpoint — in this case, the Cadillac Ranch."

   There are additional gimmicks along the route. At one point, road rallye drivers are required to stop and howl, for example. Lurie is quick to emphasize that the Brand X Rallye Team event is not a race. Correct answers, not speed, are what really count, he says. Sunday's winner missed only three gimmicks out of 39 total.

   "Our club holds eight to 10 theme events each year," Lurie said. "We have one based on Star Wars that's called, not surprisingly, Car Wars. We also do a Car Trek, based on the Star Trek movies."

  Elections rallye Saturday

   Though the Brand X Rallye Team held its Halloween rallye just last Sunday, it's following up with another rallye this Saturday. "It's called Decisions, Decisions 3," Lurie said. "With the election Tuesday, it's an event with a political theme."

   Registration begins at 6 p.m. Saturday. "Same place," Lurie said. "Parking Lot B2 at Woodfield Mall, which is on the north end of the mall between Hooter's and the Firestone dealer."

Entry fee for the event is $15, with part of the proceeds going to a local not-for-profit organization. Winning teams receive a trophy.

   For more information, the Brand X Rallye Team has a 24-hour hot line at (847) 526-2559.

From the 11/01/02 Elgin Courier New

Steering your broom

Here are the first 12 riddle-like navigation instructions (from a total of 38) that had to be followed by drivers in last weekend's Whoosh Witch XXXV road rallye.

  Questions preceded by a question mark have to be answered on a score sheet, with accuracy helping determine who would win.

  And/or instructions must be executed as possible based on what the driver finds when he reaches the place being referred to.

  A "broom" is a car containing one team participating in the rallye. The "broom factory" is the starting point, the Woodfield Mall parking lot. When instructed to "howl" at something, participants were supposed to roll down their windows and yell "Boo!"

  And LBS stands for "Long Boring Stretch."

  1. Right on Golf out of broom factory parking lot. (At traffic signal for Golf)

  2. Right into Forest Preserve.

  ?1. Did you see a cemetery?

  3. West at traffic control and/or left to exit Forest Preserve (after you report to all stunt locations).

  4. Right on Roselle, then left on Central and Hunt the Wumpus.

  ?2. Did you pass "SBC?"

  5. Right on Huntington, then left on Lakewood and/or right on Barrington.

  6. Left on Mundhank and/or left at stop sign.

  7. Howl at the Great Pumpkin and/or howl at "Higgins."

  **All brooms westbound on 72 from Mundhank**

  8. At "Bartlett" begin LBS than right on Illinois 31. (Gas stations available at Illinois 31).

  ?3. How many "Pumpkin Patch" did you pass?

  9. At "Petco" end LBS.

  10. West on Miller. (left)

  11. Right after "Red Oak" then left at Tee and/or left onto Sleepy Hollow

  12. Left at Tee and/or south on sideroad after Huntley.

  ?4. Did you pass a "Headless Horseman?"

  ?5. How many Deer Crossings did you pass?

GO!  Twists and turns Road Rallyes test smarts over speed

By Phil Vettel
Tribune staff reporter
Published August 18, 2005

We hung a right-hand turn and looked at the question on the instruction sheet, which read: "How many `stone' do you see?"

Stretching across the two blocks ahead of us were more than a dozen boulder-sized landscaping rocks. So we inched ahead and started counting.

Ah, but the question said "stone," not stones, and more to the point, the word was in quotes. Meaning the trick was to find not actual stones, but the word stone written on a sign somewhere.

Voila. There was a free-standing Bridgestone Tire sign, plus a Firestone dealer in plain view. Forget the rocks; the correct answer was: two.

Such was our introduction to the world of Gimmick Road Rallying, a year-round enterprise that is more about out-guessing the nefarious Rallye Master (who designs the rallye and its "gotcha" challenges) than it is about driving skills.

In fact, as I learned the hard way at a rallye in July, the driver of a Road Rallye (enthusiasts prefer the old-fashioned spelling) has arguably the most boring job of the team.

Can you drive fast? Negotiate hairpin turns? Stop on a dime?

Nobody cares. Gimmick rallies aren't about speed; arriving first earns you zilch. The goal is to execute all the instructions faithfully and answer all the questions correctly.

Which isn't easy. Rallye Masters, who apparently are part genius, part sadist, try their best to trick you, and often succeed.

For instance, in the July "Field of Dweebs" rallye, we were asked if we saw "Illinois 53 North." And indeed there were several signs to that effect. But wait. Those signs read "North Illinois 53," and in the insanely precise code of the rallyist, you either see the sign exactly as described in the question or you don't see it at all. We answered yes. We were wrong.

There are all sorts of rallye groups around the Chicago area, many geared around a specific automobile (a Corvette-owners club, for instance), but one of the most active is the Chicago Rallye Center, an umbrella organization for four rallye clubs. "The CRC gets us all together for scheduling rallies and setting up rules so we're all working on the same page," says Jeff Lurie of Round Lake, a Rallye Master for Brand X Rallye Team, who has been rallying for 28 years.

The CRC members host 18 to 23 rallies per year. Summer is generally the slow time for these events--family duties and vacations greatly reduce the number of participants--but the busy season is just getting underway. There's one rallye this weekend, two in September, four in October and three in November prior to the highly popular Christmas Light Tour by the Wheels Rallye Team, in which Rallye Master Dennis Dorner of Winnetka routes participants through neighborhoods with elaborate Christmas decorations in mid-December.

Joining a rallye is simple and cheap. Just show up to register (typically 6 p.m. on a Saturday) with your fee, which usually is $17 per car (an upcoming event is charging $30, but it's a charity benefit). Stuff as many people as you like into your vehicle; Lurie says one time a large group competed in a bus (which broke down).

It doesn't matter if you've never done this before; there's a 15-minute Beginners' School that teaches you the basics, and the people running the rallye are happy to answer questions at any time.

And while the goal is to mislead you, you're unlikely to get lost; the instructions include periodic reminders of where you should be ("All cars southbound on York from Thorndale") so even if you've veered way off-course, you can re-orient yourself quickly. And, of course, everyone knows the finish point (ours was at the local Barnaby's restaurant), so you can always give up and order a pizza.

Teams are given three hours to complete the rallye; there are point penalties if you exceed the time limit (so speed isn't entirely a non-factor), but frankly, anybody who needs the entire three hours isn't going to contend for a trophy anyway. (We wrapped up in about two hours.)

And there are trophies for the top finishers. To keep things on an even keel, players are grouped into one of four classes, based on experience--which is one reason that my team, composed of CRC rookies, managed to snag a trophy last month in the Beginner class.

I've only done the one CRC rallye, but based on that I can offer some handy tips:

- Bring a strong flashlight. A highlighter, for marking up the instructions, is very useful.

- Thorough understanding of the rules (and especially which rules supercede other rules, which was the key consideration of the "Field of Dweebs" rallye) is more important than a fast start. Take your time; you've got plenty.

- Don't assume typos in the directions are, in fact, typos. More likely they're deliberate traps.

- If you're missing some information, ask the Rallye Master. We did that, and were handed an extra clue that only teams that asked ever saw.

- When in doubt, the correct answer to a "Did you see?" question is more likely No than Yes.

- The Wheels Team's excellent Web site,, gives you a great overview of rallying, contains carloads of good information, and even includes five online road-rallye games to play.

The next rallye, which takes place Saturday in Schaumburg, is designed loosely around a Harry Potter theme. (Thorough knowledge of Harry Potter lore is neither necessary nor particularly advantageous.)

I'll be the one in the Dumbledore hat.


Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune