Deep beneath the city a group of strangers huddles uncovering a clue, unraveling a mystery, traversing the innards of a metropolis without stepping outside. It may be the plot of a blockbuster or post-apocalyptic novel, but this particular Saturday it’s an adventure tourism treasure hunt with Waxwing Puzzle Co.
Waxwing offers Chicago a different take on tourism. “There are a lot of tour companies that allow you to see sights and learn information,” says Waxwing founder, Andy Patton. “The idea behind adventure tourism is that it’s playful. By adding a bit of story the experience becomes immersive and ends up being like a self-guided tour.”
Patton first began organizing treasure hunts while attending the University of Missouri, and brought the concept to Chicago last year. “Chicago is great place for these activities because you’re able to draw on the city’s amazing history and cultural richness, allowing people to experience it in a new way.”
Waxwing offers several games, but the one that’s taken me on a subterranean tour of Chicago is Labyrinth. Oh you didn’t know about Chicago’s five-mile network of underground tunnels? Welcome to the Pedway. Continually under development since the 1950’s, the Pedway shelters those who live and work in and around the Loop¹. Until the last few years the Pedway has been, and continues to be, a secretive and puzzling subject for Chicagoans. This mystique makes it a perfect destination for Labyrinth.
Dashing around underground, hours pass while my team competes against three others in Waxwing’s Labyrinth game, but the passage of time is unintelligible. The multi-faceted affair keeps us busy with puzzles of all kinds while navigating the ever-altering Pedway. In some areas it’s an underground village containing every shop you’d need to survive below. Other places it’s a dim passageway that would have me looking over my shoulder were I not wrapped up in the mystery afoot. There’s a captivating air of the unexpected owing to Labyrinth’s setting – some corridors are locked, entrances unmarked, and at least one bystander is alarmed as we dive under his public bench for a clue. In my team’s case, the game isn’t quite over when we cross the finish line first and some quick thinking secures us the win.
The ways one can traverse Chicago’s downtown without seeing daylight are incredible, and Waxwing has a way of taking the landmarks you walk by every day and making them part of your own story. They have several new game concepts in development, including a Prohibition-era role play, a spy-themed tracking pursuit, and an urban cat-and-mouse game of Fugitive (Harrison not included). Until my next adventure with Waxwing, I don’t think I’ll be able to pass the unassuming Pedway logo again without thinking about all of the unseen links which connect Chicago.
Photos courtesy of Waxwing Puzzle Co.
1. “Best Of Home.” Chicago Pedway Guide. CBS Chicago.