The Southbank is grey and drizzly when we arrive at the BFI. Hoods up and phones on, we leaf through a trusty pocket A-Z and furtively send ‘start’ to our anonymous text contact. A reply beeps immediately, and we’re assigned our first clue. The hunt, as they say, is on.
For those not already in the know, Hidden City is a text-message-based game that allows players to explore the quirkier parts of their local surroundings. Each hunt has a number of clues, which send you on a trail through various locations as you text in the right answers. You can take part with friends or group off into multiple teams, depending on how competitive you all are. There’s also the added joy of being timed throughout, which somehow immediately propels you into a sense of urgency.
At first, the texts fly back and forth between our mysterious phone friend and ourselves. Soon, the gap between texts is more extensive, as we huff and puff our way over Waterloo Bridge, make a few incorrect detours up some stairs and through some gardens, before ending up near Nelson’s Column. A sidestep into St Martins-in-the-Fields results in an unexpected string quartet concert, which provides a lovely musical accompaniment to the rising stress levels of not being able to solve the next damn clue…
If you get stuck you can ask for help, but be warned: each ‘hint’ adds 20 minutes to your overall time. However, after traipsing through three floors of an art gallery and still not finding our requisite answer, we were happy to begin ruining our score.
Our result? Officially, we scored 2 hours 26 minutes, but due to excessive use of the ‘hint’ service, this became a demoralising 4 hours 26 minutes. Ouch.
Hunts range from cryptic clues in Covent Garden to spotting street art in Shoreditch, and there’s even a West End warm-up to a group night out. The ‘hunt’ can last anywhere from 2-4 hours and costs £16 per team. Local London knowledge isn’t necessary, but taking an A-Z is a good idea. See www.inthehiddencity.com for more info. (Words: Flora Baker)