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Interactive Sleuthing Game Serves As Fun, Hopeful Reentry To Pre-COVID Life

As more people get their COVID-19 vaccines, we’re starting to see more of them dip their proverbial toes back into the social waters – while also maintaining the necessary masking and social distancing protocols. Such was the case recently for me and five of my friends who, as it turned out like dozens of others, teamed up to ramble through the streets of downtown Lexington looking for clues to solve an online LexRipper murder mystery game. So we donned some Steampunk-themed costumes, dubbed ourselves the “Fiend Finders” opened up our phone apps and had at it.  Here’s a little audio diary of the day.

Fiend Finder member Kelsi Logsdon wrote her own account of the LexRipper experience: 


Murder Mystery in the Bluegrass

   Last year, I completely missed spring. I do not remember the daffodils emerging from the cold, hard ground. I do not remember the earthy scent of budding trees or the vibrant treat of blooming tulips. My usual mementos of beauty and resilience—gone. What I do remember is the uneasy feeling of not know which business would shut down next, just waiting for my world to come to a screeching halt. Then it did. But here we are, a year into the pandemic, and I am seeing spring transpire as if for the first time. It seems as though we have a metaphorical spring coinciding with the real thing. As my numbed emotions begin to thaw, I find myself realizing the toll of this past year. I miss my friends and impromptu plans. As vaccines are becoming more widely distributed, how do we step back into the world we knew?

   Travel is one of the most missed normalcies of the before-times. Personally, I am not ready to spring break in Florida, a state that seems blissfully unaware of the pepperoni, no. Patagonia? Nope, try again. Pandemic—yes! That’s it. As someone who likes to play it safe, a staycation is in order. When you live in one place for a long time, you sometimes forget what the city has to offer, especially when the city’s main attractions have needed to adhere to strict guidelines. Lexington, Kentucky was no different. According to Kentucky’s “Healthy at Work” webpage, bars and restaurants must “Limit the number of customers present inside any given establishment to 60% of the maximum permitted occupancy,” which is huge compared to the previous threshold of 30% in months past. Educational, cultural, and entertainment facilities were under similar scrutiny, making it difficult to plan little staycation-worthy adventures. Over the last year, my husband and I have only eaten out at an actual restaurant a grand total of three times. The “Kentucky COVID-19 Vaccine Progress” site reports that 32% of Kentucky’s population has received one dose of the vaccine, while 18% has been fully vaccinated. Compared to other states, we seem to be on track. It was time to reintroduce myself to my city. Luckily, we had a plan and a few willing friends to join the team.

   Saturday, March 27, 2021. My husband, Jeshua, and I pull into the library parking garage in downtown Lexington. We take a moment to check our outfits—Jeshua, in full steampunk getup, from top hat and spiked goggles, down to faux-leather, fingerless gloves; and me, adjusting the ruffled collar of my shirt and tweaking my best attempt at Victorian curls. We stride down to Phoenix Park, a mini urban park with just a light speckling of greenery, and see our friends waiting for us, also in costume. The Fiend Finders unite! Jeshua, our fearless leader, pulls out his phone and we check into the game.

   A few weeks earlier, my friend, now teammate, Starr, assembled a group of six of us to participate in CluedUpp’s outdoor, geo-mapping, murder mystery game. According to their website, CluedUpp’s detective game “is the world's first virtual murder-mystery game that takes place entirely outdoor across an entire city.” This sounded like the perfect antidote to alleviate our pent-up, pandemic addled minds, compounded by our regular winter blues. This year’s game was a modern take on the Jack the Ripper story. The game is timed, but teams can start at any point within a window. Prizes are awarded for best time, best team name, and best costume—hence, “The Fiend Finders” and the steampunk gear. Guided by at least one smartphone with the CluedUpp app, each team makes their way around the city, on the hunt for clues to help them crack the case.

   Our team united at nine o’clock, huddling up in misty morning air—it was cold, much colder than the forecast predicted. If you are not familiar to Kentucky weather, the common expression is “just blink and it’ll change.” We all blinked rapidly, to no avail. Standing in the public library’s concrete oasis that is Phoenix park, we watch as other teams assemble. One team, all dressed in camouflage, complimented our costumes to which we replied, “Thanks! If only we could see who complimented us!” Our clever quip was doubled down when they retorted, “Good, then you won’t see us win!” They piled into their car and they were off. We hadn’t thought to drive from spot to spot, but a walking tour of the city we’ve loved for years was a part of the draw.

   Once we opened the app, we had an immersive audio recording, giving us our brief. The audio drama component was exactly what we needed to get in the spirit. The game’s afoot! The app displayed a map of downtown Lexington with geo-markers for each virtual witness statement, holding clues about the suspects, their alibis, and potential murder weapons. We marched onward, stepping with purpose to the nearest marker. It was a little sad to walk by a few of the well-loved bars that didn’t survive the pandemic. Memories flood back of blurry nights with friends, hopping from one bar to another. Each of us have our own recollections of dark walls, dim lights, sticky floors, and cheap liquor. We pause for a moment of silence before marching on. Yes, we are dramatic.

   There was a bit of a learning curve, as we all waited for our phones to ping once inside the geo-tagged perimeters. As mentioned before, one member of the team is deemed the leader, and it is their phone that calls the shots. Encountering a witness does not mean they are willing to give up their information easily—most confrontations begin with a puzzle, some of which are timed, some of which have limited guesses. If answered incorrectly, your team is penalized by adding time to your final clock. These are tricky questions that need to be considered carefully, for example, one question asked which building in town had the most stories. We immediately guessed the building that was by far the tallest in the city, only to find out we were wrong. The answer was the library, the library that was directly in front of us. Stories…get it? And that’s a five-minute penalty. As a future librarian, I have never been more disappointed in myself. Dejected yet determined, we hurry down the street past the courthouse, pausing to admire the stately grandeur of the new renovations, and on to our next clue.

   Along the way, we pass a myriad of Lexington staples, about all of which I have completely forgotten. We mask up and walk through the farmer’s market at Fifth Thirds Pavilion, and even though it is still early and brisk, I think of the summer days that I usually associate with the farmer’s market. The fresh cut flowers are still beautiful, but a little less vibrant than the full, lush bouquets of the summer’s pick. All the vendors, masked per Kentucky mandate, seem overly expressive with their eyebrows, think the opening number of Beauty and the Beast, but with face coverings. Their liveliness is infectious, bringing back memories of Thursday Night Live, another suspended Lexington tradition. I can almost smell the savory barbeque of food trucks and the sparkling citrus notes of West Sixth’s IPA. Wishing live music could wash over me in this very moment. These moments are bittersweet.

   As the clues pile up, The Fiend Finders pick up the pace. We wander down streets familiar and streets unknown, admiring the white blossoms on the treetops, making their canopies look like cloud-lined walkways. While pausing at our favorite murals, I can only wonder if anyone has ever combined a mural walking tour with murder mysteries. Next year, I tell myself. As the day goes on, three and a half miles later, more and more teams are on the scene. There are groups wearing the classic houndstooth deerstalker hats, some donning the iconic Mystery Inc. apparel, and others sporting their own iterations of Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Mr. Green, Mrs. White, Mrs. Peacock, and Miss Scarlet. We gather our final piece of evidence, review our intel, and submit our final accusation. With the proper assailant behind bars, it’s time to celebrate!

   The Fiend Finders, champions in our own minds, won back our city. We apprehended our own fears about reentering society as social beings. We found evidence of a vibrant city, even in the midst of a pandemic. With my second vaccine on the near horizon, I could not ask for a better spring opener. If you are looking for a fun and safe open-air activity, see if CluedUpp will be visiting a city near you. Case closed!

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