Clue Town Books: historical scavenger hunts in greater Atlanta

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Clue Town Piedmont Park scavenger hunt. Image credit: Jay Carlson

Clue Town Piedmont Park scavenger hunt. Photo credit: Jay Carlson

I can’t even tell you how many crackpot business ideas I’ve had over the years, from producing greeting cards to owning an art supply store to selling candy in vending machines. They never came to fruition, but then I had an idea to create ready-to-solve scavenger hunts. The hunts would be self-guided tours of walkable areas, but a person or team has to solve puzzles using landmarks in order to know where to go next. When my wife, the realist, thought it was a good idea, then I knew I wasn’t just looking through rose-colored glasses. I started selling Clue Town Books in September 2012 with only two hunts: Piedmont Park and Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.

It’s easy to articulate what Clue Town is now, but at the time of its creation I had no idea how it would work. I spent weeks surveying the 190 acres of Piedmont Park in its entirety. I spent months designing paths, beta testing with adults and kids, redesigning paths, and beta testing some more. When I experimented with a path that used permanent landmarks (for example statues and historical markers) instead of self-planted signs, that’s when things fell into place. Folding in history allowed me to transform Clue Town from a series of puzzles to interactive storytelling.
I have a theory that a person doesn’t have an interest in local history until he or she has been affected by change first-hand. Perhaps a favorite restaurant closes or a new skyscraper alters the skyline. This makes each witness a historian for the short term. These bits of change compound over time to make one realize that nothing is constant. The city is different now than when you first arrived, and the city was drastically different generations ago. People and events are changing cities all the time, even while traces of the past often remain.

When designing a Clue Town scavenger hunt, it is inevitable that a path that I design intersects with local history. I often hear feedback from Clue Town users that they were aware of a landmark or two prior to solving a hunt but never took the time to read its plaques until they had a reason to do so. Clue Town is a means to have fun with the past, and I am happy to oblige.

Clue Town Downtown Decatur scavenger hunt. Image credit: Jay Carlson

Clue Town Downtown Decatur scavenger hunt. Photo credit: Jay Carlson

When I told my wife that I was asked to write this blog post, I chuckled. She asked what was so funny about historical engagement in everyday life. I told her that nothing is funny about it; I just can’t believe someone considers me an authority on the matter. The response to Clue Town has definitely been large and positive, but I owe a debt to those in the past who changed the city’s landscape and culture and the historians who recognized and solidified their importance through the creation of memorials and other historical markers.They laid the groundwork. I just shone a spotlight on it.

~ Jay Carlson is creator of Clue Town Books by night and a stay-at-home dad with two kids by day. You can learn much more about him at

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