This year, Google's April Fool's Day prank is neither for April Fool's Day, nor is it a prank.
On the first day of April, the ubiquitous tech giant, which you might remember from other April Fool's "pranks" such as mind reading, has given users the very real chance to play Where's Waldo in Google Maps for the rest of the week. Just open the app—Android, iOS, or desktop—and Wally pops up on the left side of your screen, greeting you with a cheerful wave in his trademark red-and-white stripes and toque. Click him and let the global madcap hijinx commence!
The app then transports you to the first of several locations where it displays a scene lifted directly from one of the original Where's Waldo books. The first location, set way up in the Andes Mountains of Chile, features a ski scene where several people appear either dying or dead after slamming face-first into pine trees. When you find Waldo, tap on him and the app will give you the option to move onto the next level or linger in the carnage to find the rest of his gang. (Who among us could ever forget Wenda, Woof, Wizard Whitebeard, and Waldo's nemesis Odlaw, the Wario of Waldo world?) Google doesn't make you search the globe for the next location, though—the app opens it for you.
After the Andes, the game takes you to other well-known places such as Australia's Gold Coast and the Olympic Stadium from this year's games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It's a pretty clever game, even if it's really easy. Google also kindly made sure it wasn't invasive: You can just ignore Waldo and get on with your normal Maps searches. Depending on the type of person you are you'll find the game either highly addictive or monotonous. For the former, Google incentives you with badges for each level completed, and suggests the hashtag #WaldoMaps on Twitter and Instagram to help you connect to Waldo freaks around the world for the week.
But that hashtag might not be so universal. Where's Waldo was originally developed in the U.K., where Waldo is known as Wally. In fact, he's known by a different name in most of the 30 countries where the books have been published—a combined 70 million copies of the seven-book series. In France, Waldo is Charlie; in Serbia he's Gile; in Denmark he's Holger; in Mandarin Chinese he's 威利. Remarkably, the Google developers managed to tailor the game to each language.
Those developers are two Google Maps project managers, Shreena Thakore and Max Greenwald, who apparently spent a long time brainstorming ideas for this year's April Fool's prank. They're both 23 years old, which means they were born in 1995, eight years after the first Waldo book was published and a galling thirteen years after this writer entered his own confounding world. The pair developed the game in their free time over the course of the last six weeks, which unlike most Silicon Valley products had an absolutely inflexible deadline. According to Greenwald, "free time" at Google apparently means working until 3:00 am and sleeping at the office in one of its pods. (Google employees work so much that the company has apparently had to develop a whimsical product to meet an internal demand for sleep.)
This isn't the first time Google has integrated a millennial favorite into the Map app. In honor of Mario day this year—March 10—they gave users the gift of playing Mario Kart on the streets for a week. Before that there was Ms. Pac-Man and a plug-in that eventually gave way to the deadly Pokemon GO. Comparatively, playing Where's Waldo is cake. Google has also struck a partnership with an open-source game developer called Unity, intended to give developers the chance to create their own games in Google apps. One of them will apparently be an AR Ghostbusters experience on Maps.
Can't wait for Call of Duty.
Bonus Link: Seventeen years later, mind-reading is no longer a prank. Facebook is working on it. No foolin'.