The Last Defender: A Live Action, Team-Based Puzzle Hunt to Try to Save the World from Nuclear Annihilation

First off: no spoilers here. So no worries. Good? Good.

About two weeks ago, I got to attend/experience The Last Defender – an incredibly fun, live action puzzle/game that let sixteen random people try to save the world from total nuclear annihilation.

I first heard about the event in early February, and show times quickly booked up. Four of us (Chris, Leslie, Liz, and I) ended up getting tickets – but our actual date wasn’t until late March.

After a lot of waiting (seriously, it was hard)… we arrived on a Saturday, a little before our 7PM start time.

Downstairs, in the waiting area, we were checking out the space. Based on the high score board that we saw… it looked like there were three possible outcomes to the game: nuclear peace, costly compromise, or nuclear war.

With almost 100 games played, it seemed that most settled for the compromise and only about 20% actually got to nuclear peace.

On arriving, we were each given an ID card. These would come into play once the game began.

In the basement of the Chopin Theater, waiting for others to arrive. There was a bar here to boot, which was nice – we got to have a drink as we waited for our start time.

Some of the many “black rabbits” that would be participating in the game with us. They were not allowed to speak, but would be helping to provide hints or guidance, as they saw fit.

When the game started off, we were taken to a hallway filled with lockers. Each person’s ID had a nickname on it, and we had to find our corresponding locker. My nickname was, unfortunately, Skidmark.

Let’s assume I got my nickname due to my speed, and not my hygiene. Moving on.

Looking down the hallway at everyone getting dressed. Each locker had a variety of items, the biggest of which was an orange jumpsuit – our uniform for the game.

All other items had to be stored in the locker, including our cellphones. I had brought my camera with me, but I had to store that too.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any photos of the interior. Which makes some sense, as I don’t want to spoil anything for any future players. But it was so cool!

I really wish I could share with you the interior space, and many of the puzzles. But you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a really well made space, and was just a lot of fun to be in.

The following few images come from the Press Kit:

There were large, computer consoles for each team to work from.

In addition to electronic interfaces, there were a lot of physical ones as well.

And puzzles! Many, if not all, required more than one person – and sometimes more than one team.

At the start of the evening, we were told that “Tight lips sink ships.” And that a key component was for everyone to communicate with one another. If you can imagine the fun and chaos that ensues when 16 people are trying to figure things out collectively… you can imagine what went on.

And here’s the promo video, which shows a little more of what goes on during the game:

Our team! Though we didn’t end up saving the world, we did choose the “Costly Compromise.” And I have to tell you… we cut things a little close!

Again, there’s so much I want to share about the event. How fun it was, how well it was made. So many little details that made for an interesting puzzle, or instances where collaboration went well (and awry).

But I’d be spoiling things. So I have to hold off.

I signed up for alerts from the Chopin Theater, and over the course of the last two weeks… I’ve seen more and more dates being added. The shows keep selling out, and they keep adding more. Which I think is great for all involved.

The tickets are pricey ($40 per person, $45 if it’s the weekend)… but I have to tell you: it’s very much worth it. Grab some friends, and grab one of the remaining events… because it’s a total blast!

It’s really not something that you can experience more than once. But believe me, if I could… I totally would. Instead, I’ll do the next best thing and encourage you to go!

Afterwards, the four of us headed over to Antique Taco for a late dinner. I was so pepped up from the event, I really could have used a stiff drink right when we got out.

But after a short wait, we found ourselves in the relatively quiet upstairs area… far removed from the tight tables and noise of downstairs. There was only one other group upstairs besides us, and I couldn’t believe we had the space all to ourselves.

I’m not a huge taco person, but what I had was absolutely delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever really craved tacos before, but since our visit… I do find myself thinking of this place, from time to time.

We had a slow and relaxing meal, after our attempts to save the world. Though we didn’t succeed, we still got some great tacos and margaritas as a consolation prize. Not too shabby for a Saturday evening.

Worth noting: Sandor Weisz was the guy behind the puzzles at The Last Defender. I first heard him speak about puzzles at 20×2 Chicago, in 2010, where he talked about the Beale ciphers.

Since that time, I’ve learned just how much he’s into puzzles (he also started a new business called The Mystery League).

As further proof, here he is speaking at Cusp 2014 about how he’s been working on puzzle hunts for many years, and what led up to him creating them as a full time job:

Seriously. The Last Defender. Go get yourself some tickets.

Mystery League: Team-Based Puzzle Hunts
Valentine’s Day Treasure Hunt
The Ballerina and the Nuclear Bomb
In Nuclear Silos, Death Wears a Snuggie
Protein Puzzle That Baffled Scientists for 15 Years, Solved by Gamers in 10 Days

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