Romping in the city

14 Oct

We did the Melbourne City Romp today. A fundraiser for the Burnet Institute, this was billed as The Da-Vinci Code meets The Amazing Race. I can’t say I saw the Da-Vinci code connection, but The Amazing Race wasn’t a bad analogy. And don’t we all spend our time watching it saying, “nooooo how could they get that one wrong?” – this was our chance to try it for ourselves.

The more specific information we had billed the event as a puzzle hunt around the City of Melbourne, which was the most accurate description yet. Fraser registered us on Friday afternoon and was issued with an entry kit: six signs with our team number (3019), several maps of the city, six pairs of 3D glasses, “passports” that the girls could get stamped at various locations, information about the various sponsors and our “test question”. In return, he supplied our names and my mobile phone number, as well as the $45 entry fee.

We packed a good lunch, as well as some little bags of treats for the girls. Working on the assumption that we need to show them what life will be like when (if) we go travelling, we encouraged them each to take their own backpack, in which they carried their warm tops, rain gear (fortunately not needed), pen and paper and their snacks for the day. They each had a water bottle in a little harness, so they had access to their drinks all day (I think I need one of these for myself too!). Fraser’s backpack held the lunch.

On the (packed) tram into town for our 10am start, we attached our giant signs (must be worn on the front of your clothing) with safety pins graciously supplied by another team on our tram – then flicked through the entry pack. I sent off our answer to the text question (you had to SMS the question code & the multi-choice question answer to a particular number, which I programmed into my phone). The reply message advised us to proceed to the game start at Federation Square and join the registration queue – and gave me the first giggle of the day:

9:47am: Team: 3019 Agricola, please proceed to the REGISTRATION queue at Federation Square so that you can start the City Romp for your team.

(Fraser said he knew that team name would give me a giggle)

The registration queue was long but well-managed. There were boxes of free fruit that we could take while we waited, and everyone seemed the be upbeat and happy. There were lots of organisers/volunteers around, too – as well as squillions of teams that were far more organised than us, with matching tops and costumes. My favourites were the Top Gun team and the team who all wore feather boas.

Near the head of the registration line - sign gives instructions on what to do

As we got to the head of the queue, we were advised to get ready to start – which we did by texting “go” to the romp number. We were then given a clue sheet, which listed 51 grid references on the map, along with a hint as to where to go at that location – and received our first SMS of the race:

10:14am: Team: 3019 Agricola, welcome to the Romp. The time is 10:14 and your 4 hours starts now. Your compulsory FIRST Checkpoint is Roaming Question (RL). Your Fab4 Checkpoints are 45, 49, 44 and 40. Happy Romping!

We sat down to plan what to do first. Our compulsory question location was a bit confusing – “Roaming Location, code RL” – but there wasn’t a code RL listed on the sheet. There was a Roaming Question: “The City Romp City Circle tram is carrying the flag of which country? Burnet Institute has a major presence there.” – but its code was YA2, not RL.

We saw a City Circle tram but it wasn’t carrying any flag. Concerned that we could be waiting up to an hour to see the City Circle tram, we jumped on a tram heading out of the main city area to the Burnet Institute. I evilly figured we might find the answer there – assuming that that was the question we needed to answer. Also, starting at the outside of the city and working our way in seemed like a good plan.

Burnet Institute

The lovely Romp staff at the Burnet Institute called the Romp hotline for confirmation that that was the question we were meant to answer first (I hadn’t realised – through not reading the literature properly – that we had to answer the first question – the order after that was up to us). Meanwhile, we’d found the answer on some literature in the foyer and texted off our first answer (Papua New Guinea) for our first points of the day.

10:51am: Spot on! You have scored 20 point for Question YA2 at Checkpoint RL. You have 3 hrs 23 mins remaining and your Total Points Score is: 20.

The Burnet Institute’s question – what date did it open – was easily answered with a look at the plaque in the foyer.

10:54am: Spot on! You have scored 36 points for Question BE2 at Checkpoint 1. You have 3 hrs 20 mins remaining and your Total Points score is: 56

Now we were off over the road to Fawkner Park for our second stop (and third question) of the day. Along the way, I gave Claudia some tips – it looked like the teams in Fawkner Park were hunting for something. Don’t stop when you find the answer, I said – keep going so that you don’t give away the answer to the other teams.


If only it were so easy.

Our question – “The South Eastern play area is being upgraded. In how many stages is the work being done?”

Playing field in the South Eastern corner

We looked around Fawkner Park. Fraser went along the road, figuring that a sign would be on the outside of the park. The South Eastern corner was occupied by a cricket oval, with a game in progress – but no signs to show that it was being upgraded. A central area, with buildings, looked promising as it had digging machines inside temporary fencing – but no luck. A couple of other teams came past – one said, “The answer’s on that little hut, on the plaque.” We, and another team, hurried over – and discovered that there wasn’t just one question but a variety for each location. The other team had to count the number of steps up to a slide in a play area – this was our clue that we were might be looking for a playground rather than a playing field. A bit of a walk later, we found it and our answer, then headed back to St Kilda Road to catch the tram to our next location.

11:14am: Spot on! You have scored 42 points for Question FA8 at Checkpoint 24. You have 3hrs 0 min remaining and your Total Points Score is: 98

Now, Fraser had done something cunning on the 5 minute tram ride up to the Burnet Institute. He’d plotted the locations of the various named locations on our summary map, so we knew that there were several places we could go on our way back into town.

First stop was the Myer Music Bowl. We’d passed what looked like a desk at the other end of the King’s Domain (small patch of park) but went straight over to the bowl, which was buzzing with people. Fraser took a look in and came back with the bad news – “That was the right desk, there’s no desk in here.” Given that the girls were flagging, we decided to stop and eat lunch while Fraser went over to get our clue, then solve the Bowl question together when he got back. Fast forward several minutes to a phone call: “This was a different location, there must be a desk inside the Bowl after all.”

Myer Music Bowl

Once Fraser was back within eyesight, I abandoned the girls and the picnic and hurried down into the Bowl – right to the stage – to get our clue sheet. “How many cables hold up the Myer Music Bowl?” There were a couple of plaques on the walls which described the Bowl – including one with a hint for me – the lateral cables hold the Bowl down, and the longitudinal cables hold it up.

I had a quick look around for signs that might tell me the answer and then went round the back of the Music Bowl and counted them myself: 35. SMS’d off my answer and headed for Fraser & the girls – only to get the weirdest SMS of the day.

12:03pm: Team: 3019 Agricola, please proceed to the REGISTRATION queue at Federation Square so that you can start the City Romp for your team.


I SMS’d the answer again, and got the same response. Asked a guy who was walking past, and he confirmed that the whole system was apparently down and we had to do our entries manually. Joy. Back down into the Bowl and handed in the card, while ringing Fraser and suggesting that he & the girls head off to find the statue of Sir John Monash in the King’s Domain to attack that next clue.

I eventually tracked them down, just as they had come up with the answer, so we handed that one in and moved across the road (with the traffic signals – crossing on red was a disqualifiable offence, as was running).

Beside King's Domain

Next stop was the College of the Arts, where we were asked possibly the best question of the entire day. The statue Vault, commonly known as the Yellow Peril, is infamous around Melbourne, and has been moved more times than a statue has any right to. We had to count how many 3- and 4-sided pieces of material were used to make it – a trickier task than it sounds. We divided it up – Fraser and Otto were to count triangles, while the Bigster and I counted the various 4-sided shapes. Then we checked back with one another to make sure our numbers tallied.

Vault, or the Yellow Peril

Next stop, the National Gallery. By now, Otto was flagging in a big way. Not whining, just having trouble keeping up – for a while, she rode on Fraser’s shoulders. The Water Wall at the Gallery helped to revive her – and Biggie, who was complaining of the heat while still wearing her fleecy top.

Otto and Fraser



This was a great question, too. We had to find the exhibition of Asian tomb and burial art, which included a display of a horse, a civil servant, a warrior, a spirit and a camel. One was missing something. Was it:

  • The horse is missing its saddle
  • The civil servant is missing its head
  • The warrior is missing its weapon
  • The spirit is missing its ears
  • The camel is missing its hump

We checked our bags and headed up to Asian art. There was an area with comfy couches and a slide show playing, so Fraser and the girls took a chance to sit down and rest while I went through and found the answer (the warrior was missing his weapon). This was a quick task, appropriate to the venue, and interesting. Biggie nearly left our camera behind on the seats where they had been resting, but fortunately we noticed it before leaving. We handed in our clue card and collected our bags, then headed down to the rest of the Arts Centre, where there were two questions. Along the way, the girls spotted an ice-cream van and we all indulged as we walked (so much for the forecast rain!).

Next stop, the Spiegeltent. A nice easy question – we just had to count the carriages on the ferris wheel painted on its front.

We all got eight, so we handed in our clue card and sent an SMS for good measure, as the SMS system was supposedly working by now. Next stop, Hamer Hall.

Hamer Hall - actually taken as we walked away from it

Another good question. Biggie and I left Fraser and Otto outside, while we grabbed our clue and went to the shoe display to find what size shoe Kylie Minogue wore in 2000. It was easy enough to find her shoes, but we had to get down below the height of the display to squint up and find the answer on the bottom of the shoe (34 1/2, if you are interested). You can see how tricky this was:

Kylie's shoe

We SMS’d this answer in and got a response, with a surprising piece of info:

1:23pm: Spot on! You have scored 18 points for Question HA5 at Checkpoint 7. You have 2 hrs 40 mins remaining and your Total Points Score is: 50.

Hmm. Something was clearly not quite right yet.

Figuring that we really only had just under an hour till our original stopping time, we headed east to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). This was one of our Fab 4 locations – the other 2 were in the city centre area – so we figured we’d do the MCG then head for those two, to be eligible for one of the major prizes. The kids were still holding up well – Otto had recovered somewhat by essentially sitting out the last 2 questions.

Walking up to the MCG

Will you think me completely pathetic if I confess that the long ramp up to the MCG was really not something I felt like dealing with …

Now I’d have to say that the MCG question was the disappointment of the day. It seemed good – we were to go up to the Members’ area and look at the tapestry commemorating the 150th anniversary of the MCG, which showed the first game played there under lights. The answer was to be the date this occurred – only problem was, the answer given there wasn’t an answer on our clue sheet. We wasted nearly an hour with checks with the location’s Romp desk, ringing the romp helpline and checking with the security guard – eventually we left a manual answer at the desk, arriving back in town after our initial 4 hours had expired. In retrospect, we should have moved on straight away, or asked for a new question. (For what it’s worth, Google also gives 1879 – the answer we came up with – as the correct one). Half way back to Fed Square, we noticed that Biggie had left her drink bottle and strap at the MCG. There were tears when we refused to go back for it.
Back at Fed Square, things were livened up with a free concert and some spot prize giveaways – Biggie got a voucher to the Melbourne Aquarium. We stuck around for a drink and chatted with one of the Romp co-ordinators, who was worried that people would be unhappy about the big SMS snafu (apparently not only did it crash, it deleted the database as well so they had to rely on backups). We assured him that we’d be back if they did it again – and that we hope they will!

So what would we do the same/differently next time?

The big one has to be a decision on whether to take the kids. We’d probably be more competitive without them, but the day was about having a good time – which we all did. So I’d vote to take them again, if they want to come.

Packing lunch, snacks and especially water – absolutely mandatory. Packing no sunscreen – not such a good idea (I am a bit pink, although the girls seem to have mostly missed out).

Going to the furthest location first – this, I think, turned out to be a big cock-up for us. I suspect if we’d stayed in the CBD we would have got a LOT more questions answered – although possibly they would have been lower-scoring quesetions. At the least, we should have gone for our Fab 4 questions first.

Comfy shoes – definitely a must. We could all barely walk when we got home! I am wondering whether a night’s sleep will cure our aches and pains.

Sitting out challenges for a rest – this worked for Otto. Next time, maybe I should try it! 🙂

As for the organisation – I really think it was excellent. We  estimated that there would have been somewhere near 10,000 people doing the romp today – at least 2000 teams, 4-6 people on each. Lots were children – young ones in prams and backpack carriers, older ones on foot. I saw some wheelchairs, and teams made up of a whole spectrum of ages from school groups to seniors. The free fruit and sunscreen were great ideas, and the SMS system mostly worked well. I’d be interested to map out all the locations and travel times – I honestly doubt that it would have been possible to complete them all, although I’m sure that plenty of people got more than our ten or so.

Big thumbs up for a great day out – the aches were worth it 🙂

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Posted by on October 14, 2007 in family, games


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