I'm an organizer with Silicon Valley Offbeat Fun, a group dedicated to bringing interesting things to the Mid-peninsula and South Bay.
The events, in chronological order, are:
- Literally archery
- Mission Offbeat: Uprising (co-organizer)
- Learn to Lockpick
- Journey to the End of the Night 2016
- Cyanotype (private event - I'll make a page eventually)
- Make anamorphic / trompe l'oeil / 3D chalk art
- Castro Street Pokemon Go Crawl
- Palo Alto Airport Day
- Build a gigantic sand castle + watch fireworks!
- Journey to the End of the Night (the real one in SF)
- Offbeat Olympics (co-organizer)
- Make giant bubbles!
- Check out the Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival
- Explore the San Francisco Renegade Craft Fair
- Four hours of laser tag!
- Boating at Shoreline Lake
- Trip to Great America!
- Journey to the End of the Night: Silicon Valley (a street chase)
- Winter ice skating at Winter Lodge
- Marvelous mini golf
- Goodwill fashion show
- Eye gazing party (co-organizer)
And I hosted these events for Santa Cruz Offbeat Fun:
What does an organizer do?
A typical event follows these six steps.
- Supplies & budget
- Publicity / write about it
- Monitor during and after
Here's more info about each step.
1. Come up with an idea
All events begin with an idea of something to do. These ideas usually fall into one of these three categories: going to an existing event, doing an activity, or making our own event from the ground up.
Go to an existing event
Our organizers don't need to do much in this case, usually just work out transportation and a meeting place.
Do an activity
The organizer is responsible for providing the best experience for the guests. Considerations can include finding the best price, date and time, etc. For example:
- I hosted our ice skating event at Winter Lodge on a Wednesday night during the Adult Session, where there wouldn't be any children skating.
- I hosted our mini golf event at Golfland USA on a Monday evening during the half-price Family Night Golf.
- For our Great America event, I aggregated and compared ten admission prices from their online tickets and employee discounts our organizers could access. Admission after 4pm [dead link?] is the best discount, and the park closes at 10pm so time wasn't an issue.
- Similarly, for our laser tag event at Laser Quest, I compared the price per minute of four different game types. The Funday Monday series combined good value and reasonable amount of time.
These considerations ensure guests have the best experience and get the best value.
Sometimes just listing the prices in one place is a great convenience. Basically, you want a potential guest to need to do the minimum amount of work to learn about the event.
- I listed the prices in the event description for our boating event at Shoreline Lake. The website for Shoreline Lake is poorly organized. Prices for rentals of canoes, kayaks, pedalboats, and rowboats are not in the Boathouse page. Instead, you have to click Booking on the top right, then choose Book Rentals, then expand sections by hand, one by one, to view each price. In the event description, I have done this for you to make learning about the event as easy as possible.
Make our own event
Creating our own events is the highlight of Offbeat Fun.
The most events that are the most work (and also usually the best events) are concepts we develop ourselves. Read more about this in later sections(?).
For all of these events, you need to want to make it happen. You are the only one giving it life.
2. If needed, research how to do it
Sometimes, I have an idea of something to do but I don’t know how to do it. In that case,
- I knew it was possible to make giant bubbles but had no idea how. The Soap Bubble Wiki was a great resource and the event was very successful.
- I knew the very basics of lock picking, but not enough to teach it. I educated myself using M. Gibson’s Lock Picking: Detail Overkill, the classic MIT Guide to Lock Picking, other resources from the /r/lockpicking wiki. The event went well.
- I wanted to make large-scale 3D anamorphic chalk art like this but had no idea how. It was hard to find a good tutorial, but this video was sufficient (mute the audio). Before hosting the event, I did multiple practice runs.
3. Adapt to our event format
a lot of problem solving.
Here is where you get help from other organizers.
Here are examples of three events that called for a lot of thinking:
Journey to the End of the Night
Journey to the End of the Night is an urban street game of team tag. Runners race to checkpoints and avoid being tagged by chasers. My fascination with Journey began when I attended their July 2011 event in Mountain View. Then, in May 2012, I invited Journey co-creator Ian Kizu-Blair to speak at TEDxGunnHighSchool, and in November 2012 I attended their event in San Francisco. Most recently, I attended their 2016 San Francisco event.
explain getting a manifest, which is a physical sheet of paper
Journey provides a guide on how to organize your own event . With experience and confidence from organizing with Offbeat Fun, I set out to create Journey to the End of the Night: Silicon Valley.
In the real version of the game, checkpoints are staffed with volunteers. Some checkpoints also provide water and snacks or interactive art. When I played, runners who reach a checkpoint needed to complete a small game or puzzle or game before receiving a signature on their player manifest to show they reached the checkpoint.
We didn't have resources to do checkpoints like that. We don't have the prestige to find volunteers, and if some of our members were staffing checkpoints they wouldn't get to play the game.
Journey is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0, so I could modify the game. The most important aspect of gameplay was proof that you had reached a checkpoint. I identified three requirements for this mechanism:
- identical for every player who reaches a given checkpoint
- clearly recognizable and distinguishable
- only available at the checkpoint
I considered some different mechanisms to do this.
My first idea was to have markers with different exotic inks at each checkpoint. For example, different colors of metallic or glitter markers. Players would mark their manifest however they want with the ink. This isn't a very good solution because players could draw whatever they want with the ink on their manifest, so a mark wouldn't be recognizable.
Paper hole punchers in different shapes, like these, could've worked. The shapes that get cut out would be instantly recognizable but very difficult to reproduce. But there were three small issues that added up:
- I didn't want players to have to deal with little pieces of paper that get cut out
- The page was double-sided and I didn't have a lot of room to leave a blank area on the back
- Punches can't reach very far from the edge of the sheet, adding another design restriction
I got a promising idea from this picture of 2011's game's manifest, from SFZero user tslö mlö's writeup. After a lot of searching for what they are called, I got a set of stampers from Amazon. The pack has six styles, each with a unique animal and color, and four stampers of each style. The stampers are an excellent solution:
- distinct colors and animals make the resulting stamps instantly recognizable
- multiple stampers of the same style allow high throughput at a checkpoint
- multiple stampers of the same style are fault-tolerant if one dries out (which did happen)
- they're cheap
The creator of Offbeat Fun, Michelle, had wanted to adapt a game from the Korean variety show Running Man. The game seems to be called Bells Hide-and-Seek or Name-Tag Elimination and combines elements of scavenger hunting and hide-and-seek.
Refer to this video of episode 10 to help understand the game. Two teams, red and blue, compete in an art museum. The blue team has to find three art pieces inside the museum while avoiding the red team. The red team has to tear off name tags from the back of each member of blue team. The red team wears bells on their shoes to alert people of their presence. You can see the bells in action at 29:38 and a name tag coming off at 40:15.
Running Man has producers to make everything about the event happen magically behind the scenes. We had to do all of that ourselves.
Eye gazing party
For a Valentine's day event, Michelle wanted to host an eye-gazing party. I'll let creator Michael Ellsberg explain: (emphasis from original)
What are Eye Gazing Parties? The eyes are the windows to the soul, so it’s a lot easier to have a mesmerizing conversation with someone after you’ve spent two minutes looking into his or her eyes. That is the simple idea behind Eye Gazing Parties. Banal chit-chat about employment status, the location of your apartment, or where you’re from is not a great way to spark a captivating connection with an alluring new person. Eye contact is.
Ellsberg conveniently published a 24-page guide called How to Host an Eye Gazing Party. He outlines the decisions needed to host: only for your friends vs open to the public; free vs money-making; for dating or friendship; type of venue (eg. bar/club, yoga/dance studio, church, etc); layout (two rows, "the snake," or free-for-all); and choosing the date and time.
4. If needed, find supplies and balance budget
Once we have figured out how we’ll run the event, we frequently need to find supplies. This can take multiple forms.
When we charge for an event, guests trust us with their money, so we are obliged to get the best deal. When we know exactly what supplies are needed, we compare prices:
- The key ingredient to my 3D chalk art event was sidewalk chalk. I found chalk at only two stores, and each store only had two sizes of boxes. The minimum and maximum price for price for one stick of chalk ranged from $0.07 to $0.12, both from Michaels; the spreadsheet with the rest of the options isn’t interesting enough to publish.
- For my still-being-planned painting event, I needed to source brushes, acrylic paint, stretched canvas. I compared prices for these supplies from Michaels and Aaron Brothers then found the best value from 53 paint options, 104 canvas options, and 97 brush options. See the sheet called x.
For my lockpicking event, I needed locks to pick and tools to pick them.
- Sixteen people attended and we charged $5 per person. The cheapest locks cost $5-$10 new, so it wouldn’t have been cost effective to buy new locks for each guest. Instead, I posted to several Freecycle groups looking for locks with no keys required. I brought sixteen locks to the event at zero cost.
- I got eight picks from SouthOrd ($1.65 each) at the recommendation of the /r/lockpicking wiki. Then, I made 30 lockpicks from steel street sweeper bristles using grinding bits on a Dremel tool. I also bent a bunch of tension wrenches from the street sweeper bristles.
For other events (chess, puzzles), we look at garage sales and thrift stores for supplies.
Sometimes, finding what something is called is the challenge. In the Journey events I attended, players are identified with a ribbon tied around their upper arm (picture). The ribbon is 1+3/16 inches wide, solid color, slightly stretchy, ties tightly, and has an interesting texture (see below). I emailed the Contact Us link at the bottom of the website but never heard back.
I had a hard time figuring out what this stuff is. Decorative ribbon may have worked, although I was worried it wouldn’t be easy to tie and might not be strong enough.
Turns out the search term I needed was tape (non-adhesive), not ribbon. The product is flagging tape. I ordered this red one and this blue one and he material is identical to what the real Journey events use.
Trivia: flagging tape has a pattern of tiny raised hexagons on one side. I believe this is for better grip. The gallery below shows the front and back of this texture on red and blue tape, thanks to the godlike macro of the Canon G9.
5. Describe in writing
6. During and after event
I like to bring nametags to events I host, for two reasons: first, people like to be addressed by their name, and second, people will remember each other better if they associate a face with a name. I was dissatisfied using self-adhesive disposable paper nametags, because it created a lot of waste and would gradually cost a lot. Innovation was called for.
I made reusable nametags by putting dry-erase tape on the writing area, then mounting the tag on recycled cardboard and adding a safety pin.
Since around August 2015, a single set of reusable nametags have been in service. The dry-erase tape sometimes needs to be wet-erase tape, but overall they are very effective.