IT IS THE YEAR 2314. The city of Minneapolis is abandoned and covered in dust. Teams of explorers brave the harsh conditions to dig the ruins, searching for answers.

WHICH DEADLY PROBLEM RUINED THE CITY? This is the mystery you must solve.

This is the challenge that faced myself and six friends last weekend, near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis.  City of Dust was a bike adventure/puzzle/game put on by Northern Lights, a local arts agency.  They are best known for an all-night arts festival held along the river every summer, but this was the first other event of theirs I'd been to.

Adam, Kristen, and Elizabeth from my recent orienteering adventure reenlisted for City of Dust, and we were joined by Molly, Brenda, and Kelly, some other local climbers.  We would be tasked with discovering which of six serious environmental problems had caused the downfall of Minneapolis.  We'd figure it out by visiting five dig sites around the area, each excavating a different portion of the cities past.  When I signed us up, I didn't even know all that.  All I knew was that it was supposed to be a beautiful day, it involved bikes, and that I like games and puzzles.
At the start we were given our map, depicting a sort of post-apocalyptic version of the Minnehaha Creek/Lake Nokomis area.  It showed the five dig sites, and had a handy scrawled overlay to relate some important real-world locations to the game world.

Our first stop wasn't far from the orientation.  At each location we'd watch a short video found by the excavators, each one depicting a resident of the time period in question.  The video would give us hints, helping us assemble a timeline of the various cataclysms that befell the area.  After we watched the video, there was a challenge to complete, which would net us some vials of pure water, and a vial unique to each era, full of water polluted with various materials.  After that we'd get an "echo trace", which was a small map with directions to a hidden artifact (depicted above).  The artifact would give us a code, which we could enter in to the echo trace hotline on a phone to get more clues.
The challenges at each dig site had great variety, although weren't ever very difficult.  My favorites were cleaning up a chemical spill (chasing bouncy balls around a tennis court with tongs and oven mitts), and navigating a power plant taken over by giant mutant dung beetles (using pool noodles to fend off giant balls representing dung balls of doom, with a time limit!).  Another awesome challenge had us all hopping in a "dust rover" (huge canoe courtesy of Wilderness Inquiry), paddling out into the "Nokomis dust basin" (Lake Nokomis) to try and count a floating mass of plastic bottles and bags.
After we'd visited our fifth site, we were rewarded with a new location added to our map (the blue dot in the 2nd picture of the post).  This would lead us to the undercity, if we were able to figure out which of the six deadlies had been unfixed, and was still affecting the city.  We entered a blue tent and met with two VERY stoic researcher-types, who asked us if we'd determined the cause.  We didn't have a CLUE!  We'd taken notes and debated a bunch on the timeline (although it didn't help that we got two of the videos at the wrong stops in time, which did confuse things a little), and we had 5 water samples, one from each point in time.  What we HADN'T done was pay attention to the colors of the pollutant beads in each sample...  
The scientists helped us out, graphing out the colors of each sample along the timeline.  When we figured out what environmental issue each color represented, that clued us in that the problem that hadn't been cured was the Rainsheet Drains (water runoff).  With that discovered, they gave us the secret knock we'd need to enter the haven deep underground.
Underground we were greeted by a sight like something out of the game Fallout, or the Walking Dead.  A small city had been constructed, around a well of pure clean water.  Here we could spend the vials we'd been awarded for various challenges to get advice, paint postcards, and sample honey or various spices.  We all shared a toast of water in celebration of our achievement.
All told the adventure took us about 4 hours, and we covered about 8 miles getting between the various dig sites (route and stats here).  At just $15 for our entire team, it was an inexpensive and fun way to spend a day enjoying the fall Minnesota weather with a bunch of friends.  I think that the people at Northern Lights did a great job putting on the event, and it managed to be a good time and also draw awareness to some of the biggest environmental concerns we're facing here in the Twin Cities.  The rest of the photos are below, I hope you enjoyed my little review/account, and will consider checking out Northern Lights to see what else they've got coming up!

Couldn't ask for a better day!

The chemical spill