It was a little early for New Years Eve fireworks when Greg Barnes set out on Dec. 31, but by early afternoon he already had something to celebrate. Barnes, a software engineer in Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, found the grand prize in Canlis restaurants 60th anniversary celebration.
It isnt the first time hes performed such a feat. In 2007 he was the one to find the medallion in the annual Emerald City Search, a citywide community building event in which a medallion is hidden somewhere in the city and clues are provided to help players find the prize.
This year the Canlis brothers who own the restaurant, which is known as one of the classiest — and most expensive — in Seattle, decided to do a similar thing. They first hid 50 of their 1950 menus all over the city, with clues provided on Facebook and Twitter. The finders of those menus were then eligible to compete for the grand prize.
“A friend heard about the Canlis competition and sent me a message on Facebook,” Barnes said. “She said, ‘If anyone could solve these clues, it would be you.”
He took up the challenge, at first somewhat lazily, tuning into the clues on Facebook. But he soon realized that the real go-getters were picking up the clues via Twitter. And while he first decided not to follow a clue because it led too far away from home, “by the end I was trying to drive to Issaquah in rush hour traffic, which was impossible.”
The menu he found was at the Museum of Flight. The clue read: “Have no fear, Church is here. But how did she get from here to there?”
The Wikipedia list contained only a few women, and one was listed as the first stewardess, a registered nurse named Ellen Church who had told Boeing officials that they should have trained personnel on board their planes to serve the passengers.
“She only served on one model of plane, and I knew that plane was at the Museum of Flight,” Barnes said.
How did he know? He had attended a party at the museum years before and remembered seeing an informational card about the stewardess and the plane. It was a distinctive looking plane, he said, so it stuck in his mind. The clue went out on the first Thursday evening of the month, the only evening the museum is open. Barnes headed straight there and found the menu on a support holding the plane between levels of the museum.
Finding the menu won Barnes a dinner for two at Canlis at 1950 prices. He still has the menu, which shows lobster as the most expensive entrée at $4. Food for himself and his wife ran $10 to $12, Barnes said, but of course drinks, tips and valet parking were all at present day prices.
“It was a substantial discount but it wasnt really 1950 prices,” he said of his first meal at Canlis.
But then, the prize was never really the point for Barnes. The grand prize was advertised as a card allowing a person to have a free dinner at Canlis once a year for life, but the winner of the prize had to give it away. That didnt stop Barnes from going for it with zeal. Helpers were allowed — two with him in the car and as many as he wanted by phone or Internet. Barnes had two searchers with him and eight people with their laptops gathered at the house of a friend “who has very good internet connectivity.”
Most of his team has UW ties, including one staffer, Elizabeth Walkup (his wife), a research consultant in Genome Sciences. The others are mostly UW graduates: Franz Amador, Eric Bone, Lauren Bricker, Terry Farrah, Dorothy Neville, Mike Schuh, Erik Selberg, Brice Semmens and Christy Semmens.
The search began at 10:39 a.m. on New Years Eve at Canlis. The 47 teams gathered (some people had found more than one menu) were each given five clues taking them to five locations. At each location they were to get a sticker, and when theyd accumulated all five they got a sixth clue that led them to Gas Works Park.
Some clues were easy — at least, to Barnes team. One, for example, read “Two many rooms, and Elizabeth sent the youngest students home.” This was in downtown Seattle, at the site of the first public school house.
“I pulled up to a stoplight by the site, let out my passengers and they were back in the car before the light changed,” Barnes said.
What he called the hardest one read: “In the shadow of sisters with full hearts displayed, King County’s first refuge for the body betrayed. Two options before you, but history will show, downtown is too north, now hurry and go!”
Barnes knew this had to be the site of the first county hospital, started by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, which was in Georgetown, but he didnt know exactly where. His team finally found the answer in an old news story about a ghost tour in Georgetown, which included the site of a cemetery next to the hospital. The story mentioned that the site was the current Georgetown Playfield.
Once at Gas Works Park, a greater challenge awaited to find the card. There, people were walking around with t-shirts with letters on them. Some were decoys, but some gave a clue that consisted of a number and sometimes punctuation. Together, the letters spelled out “Light up Seattle,” (a phrased that was part of the clue leading to the park) which put the clues in the correct order for longitude-latitude coordinates.
Barnes and his team got that far, but they could only approximate the coordinates using Google Maps. In the end, since no one else was even close to solving the riddle, the Canlis brothers nudged Barnes in the right direction and he found the card buried near a bench.
It was all over by just after 1 p.m., and Barnes had found not one but two cards, one of which he gets to keep.
But that doesnt mean him personally, since he had a lot of help. “My wife and I have already had a dinner at Canlis, so someone else on the team will get first dibs on this years dinner,” he said.
As for the card to be given away, he says the recipient hasnt been chosen yet. “My team and I have decided well get together and hopefully choose someone by consensus.”
Why do all this, just to get a card to give away?
Said Barnes, who is also active in orienteering, “Its an intellectual challenge.”