March 17: Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?
This date in 1989 was a day of anticipation for school teacher Lola Gellner from Perkett Elementary School in Minot. The next day was Saturday, when she would demonstrate a new educational video game at Dakota Square Mall called, “Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?”
This was the culmination of an epic quest by the North Dakota Database Committee of the Minot Public Schools. Technology director Craig Nansen and his merry band of thirteen school teachers had researched North Dakota's history and geography, and Brøderbund Software had written the code.
The teachers spent long hours after classes from 1987 to 1989 working on the project. According to Phyllis Landseidel, they typically worked from 4:30 in the afternoon to 9 o'clock in the evening. Mary Littler remembered that they were even “up at Craig's office until 11, 12 o'clock” when they had deadlines to meet.
According to the Video Game History Foundation, the work didn't stop when students left for the summer. “No classes to oversee meant more time to devote to the game.” And work sessions often lasted until well past midnight, with Saturday meetings becoming the norm.
Their work evoked pride. Phyllis Landseidel said, “Every one of us enjoyed it... It was fun. It was a lot of work.”
Bonny Berryman said, “You know, I've never included it in my resume. I should have.”
The game underwent some editorial changes for the North Dakota version. Carmen Sandiego and her fellow villains transformed from hardened criminals to a band of merry pranksters.
Rather than treat the game as a commercial venture, Brøderbund Software approached it as a special project for which it received $80,000, and the special North Dakota edition did not get listed in Brøderbund's product catalog. But it did have the distinction of being the only video game in the Carmen Sandiego series dedicated to a single state.
Though it was never a commercial product, “Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?” was a roaring educational success. It became very popular in North Dakota, and students liked the game. According to a Grand Forks Herald article, one student said the Carmen Sandiego television show wasn't as good as the computer version, saying: “The questions are too easy.”
You can still play the North Dakota version – if you have an old Apple II computer!
Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel
- “Special Software”, Minot Daily News, 19 March 1989, page A7.
- David Craddock, “WHY IN NORTH DAKOTA IS CARMEN SANDIEGO?”, Video Game History Foundation, 8 March 2020. https://gamehistory.org/where-in-north-dakota-is-carmen-sandiego/
- “Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_in_North_Dakota_Is_Carmen_Sandiego
- Greg Booth, “Carmen Sandiego Really Gets Around: N.D. Version Developed in Minot”, Grand Forks Herald, 30 January 1992, page D1.
- Personal communication with Phyllis Landseidel, 15 February 2022.
- Kris Kerzman, “Why in the world was Carmen Sandiego in North Dakota?”, Fargo Forum, 28 July 2016, pages B1 & B3. https://www.inforum.com/lifestyle/arts-and-entertainment/why-in-the-world-was-carmen-sandiego-in-north-dakota
- Jason Faulkner, “Rare North Dakota-themed Carmen Sandiego game has surfaced”, Destructoid. https://www.destructoid.com/rare-north-dakota-themed-carmen-sandiego-game-has-surfaced/