Sports cars rumbled through downtown Schenectady Wednesday afternoon on a quest for the first radio station, a Nobel Prize and a fist-sized artificial diamond.
The game was part of the Fireball Run, in which 40 teams pass out thousands of missing-child fliers as they compete to solve puzzles in eight cities that stretch out over 2,500 miles. City Councilman Carl Erikson is one of the racers.
While he was trying to stay ahead of
the other contestants in his hometown, others were wowed by Schenectady’s history.
Marie Rockrohr was delighted by the artificial diamond — found at miSci, the former Schenectady Museum. She held it above her ring finger for a photo, laughing as she imagined trying to wear the huge rock.
When a docent told her scientists can now make diamonds out of peanut butter, she was floored.
“I nearly fell over,” she told her partner as she described the diamond.
Another team asked the docents for help finding the first radio station. Docents reluctantly admitted it “might” be found at Proctors Theater.
Asking for help is part of the game. City Historian Don Rittner said he was deluged with calls from the contestants.
“They’re trying to cheat,” he said with a laugh. “They all want help with their clues.”
But the main helper was the Internet. That’s how Rockrohr found the diamond.
“We Googled it,” she said, hurrying into the museum. “I hope we’re in the right place. Synthetic diamonds, all we could come up with was here and GE.”
It’s a good thing she didn’t try GE first — security doesn’t let anyone, even celebrities, simply stroll in to search for rare materials.
The contestants included astronauts, race car drivers and even a real doctor driving an ambulance.
Then there’s the Frontenac Crystal Springs Water truck.
Michael Colello and David Stapleton are driving that truck — and they’re starting to regret it.
“Bumpy, noisy, doesn’t handle well,” Stapleton said.
When asked why they were driving it, Colello said, “That’s a question we’re starting to ask ourselves right now.”
Colello is the vice president of Frontenac.
He joked that they had to drive the truck because they’d loaned out their lamborghinis and every other expensive vehicle they owned.
But another contestant said they had little to complain about with their truck.
When they recently raced on a track, the truck beat more than half of the other vehicles.
The teams will leave the city at 10 a.m. this morning, possibly after assembling at City Hall. However, a planned kickoff at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon was canceled, and it was not clear whether today’s event would go off as planned.
At every stop, contestants are handing out missing-child posters — the real purpose of the event. Erikson and his racing partner, Richard Ruzzo, are focusing on local boy Craig Frear.
Frear disappeared in the woods behind Cambridge Manor, a short walk from his Schenectady house, on June 27, 2004. He was 17 at the time.
State Police Investigator Gloria Coppola said she believes something happened to Frear within hours of his disappearance. She’s hoping people report suspicious sites on their property where he might have been buried, or remember seeing Frear with someone before his death.
She’s also looking into the possibility that he stopped going to work to avoid someone who could have led to his death. Frear stopped showing up for his Price Chopper job, but pretended that he was going to work. His parents had just found out that he had been fired and were about to confront him when he slipped into the woods to avoid them.
Coppola speculated that Frear stopped going to work to avoid someone he met at the store — maybe a customer or a trucker. He had been friendly with the truckers, she said.
Erikson and Ruzzo are hoping the missing-child posters will bring in leads or spark someone’s memory.