Friday, February 9, 2024

Game 398: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?


Carmen Sandiego was the first million-selling edutainment franchise, and launched numerous sequels, remakes, and at least two game shows throughout the 90's. I expect that every single person reading this has at least heard of it.

I had a copy of Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? for my first computer, a black & white Macintosh, which came with a paperback encyclopedia; useful for finding out what century the Sung Dynasty ruled, or where and when El Misti erupted. But I never finished it; the cases got repetitive and dull, and though I reached the highest rank, Ms. Sandiego eluded me, even pulling a heist herself in one case that I failed to complete in time.

So, here I am decades trying out the original Apple II game for the first time, with "D," and it didn't take us two hours to get promoted to the final rank and catch Carmen. Each case can be finished in about five minutes, it takes ten cases to reach the Ace Detective rank, and another four to finish the game proper.

Each case follows the same formula - one of Carmen's gang of thieves has stolen a national treasure and fled to his or her hideout, making several stops around the world. You fly to the scene of the crime, look for clues indicating their location and identity, and follow their path until you catch them or run out of time. The higher your rank, the more stops you have to follow, giving you that much less tolerance for error.

What follows is a walkthrough of my final case. Spoiler - the culprit was Carmen Sandiego.

She stole an entrée?

It's Monday, and I have until 5pm on Sunday to identify and serve this nefarious diner dasher a hot plate of justice.

First, I check the connections. This is a free action that shows you the possibilities of where you'll need to go next.

Next, I investigate. Every city has exactly three places to search for clues, and contrary to common sense, none are the actual scene of the crime.

"Excuse me, have you seen a woman with a stolen duck?"

Mount Fuji, about 70 miles from Tokyo, is probably the volcano in question, but we're not done here - always get your location's entire set of clues until you can identify the suspect.

  • Foreign Ministry, undersecretary: "I heard she said she was taking a message to the Emperor."
  • Library, reference librarian: "I saw the person you're looking for and she checked out all the books about Shinto shrines."

Nothing useful, and my Monday is mostly spent. I hop on a plane to Tokyo.


Connections are Bangkok, Montreal, New York, and back to Peking.

I investigate.

The clues:

  • Hotel, manager: "A reliable source told me she said she had always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty."
  • Stock exchange, messenger: "I heard she wanted to know the price of a seat on the stock exchange."
  • Library, archivist: "All I know is that she checked out all the books about subways."

Still not getting anywhere with regards to identifying the suspect, but New York is obviously the next stop.

Connections are Mexico City, London, Montreal, and Tokyo.


  • Sports club, waiter: "A reliable source told me she wanted to punt up the Thames."
  • Hotel, manager: "My sources tell me she wanted a Welsh dictionary."
  • Airport, flight attendant: "I heard she said she wanted to visit Orkney Island."


Thames = London, so I go there.

Connections: New York, Oslo, Paris, Reykjavík


  • Marketplace, hawker: "My sources tell me she said she was a wine buyer. She arrived in a convertible."
  • Library, circulation clerk: "A suspicious person was here and said she checked out all the books about the Franks.
  • Museum, docent: "I heard she said she planned to study wine."


Finally, something to identify our person. It's not much, but it's something. I fax Interpol with the clue, who cross-references the dossiers on V.I.L.E. for potential suspects.

More V.I.L.E. members play croquet than ride motorcycles and none have scars. What kind of a criminal gang is this?

Next stop, the land of wine and Frankish history.

Fun fact: Everywhere you go in Paris, you can see the Eiffel Tower.

Connections: Budapest, London, Moscow, San Marino


  • Hotel, house detective: "A suspicious person was here and said she had always wanted to see a postage stamp printing plant. She ordered Mexican food."
  • Marketplace, hawker: "A reliable source told me she was looking for stamps. She had brown hair."
  • Sport club, waiter: "I heard she said she wanted to visit all of Italy's neighbors. She wore fancy jewelry."

Finally, enough clues for a warrant. But time is running out.

Budapest, London, and Moscow are not in countries bordering Italy, but San Marino sounds Italian enough, so I go there.

Turn's out it's a micronation inside Italy.

Paris and Rome are the only connections here.

I investigate one place, a hotel, where I'm told the suspect talked about seeing the Po.

No need for more clues, and no time for them either. I fly to Rome, and receive a very Roman welcome.

I catch Carmen selling duck futures at the stock exchange without an hour to spare.

Narrator: She did not stay in jail for good.

After this, you're off the ACME roster permanently. You'll need a new identity if you want to play again, which means starting over again with a rank of rookie.


GAB rating: Above average. The original version of Carmen Sandiego feels pretty limited nowadays, with its simplistic, formulaic cases, and finite set of clues and locations that repeat themselves well before capturing the infamous crook. Nevertheless, it's a classic for a reason - the cases were fun to solve for at least a little while, the noir'ish detective theme is appealing, sincere, and well realized, and I always appreciate educational efforts that don't feed pablum or otherwise condescend to the audience. Perhaps the real educational value, at the time anyway, was in the included almanac, which players were encouraged to reference while playing. And, perhaps, long after they were done.


  1. I remember buying and playing this on my Apple II clone. I didn’t enjoy it much but I was older than the target audience. It did remind me of why I found many high school classes to be boring - an emphasis on memorizing mostly useless facts.

  2. Hearing you describe this one as much shorter than later entries makes me wonder if later entries didn't end up accidentally making the series a bit too bloated. The games I played as a kid from the '90s, 2 hours was basically just starting the game. Helpful for the educational element, but I suspect not many ever actually finished the game for the game part.

  3. One thing to keep in mind with the Apple II games is many were used in schools, where kids might only get 10-15 minutes or time once a week or so. In those cases, the brevity of the individual cases is beneficial. Two hours to completion could have taken a couple of months in that situation.

    1. That's also true of later games in the series, as long as there were computer labs, chances are you could play a Carmen Candiego game on it. Which makes the games getting longer and longer curious.


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