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Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors

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Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors is an unreleased video game that was planned for release initially on the Sega CD in April 1995 and to be followed by PC and 3DO versions later that year. The game starred the comedy-magician duo Penn & Teller. The publisher Absolute Entertainment went out of business before they could release the game, yet the game was featured and previewed in various gaming publications such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and reviewed by VideoGames magazine. Skyworks Interactive, Inc. owns the rights to all unreleased Absolute games, except for certain handheld console versions of Super Battletank, A Boy and His Blob and Turn & Burn, which are owned by Majesco Entertainment. However, since Penn & Teller were owed money when Absolute Entertainment went out of business, any rights pertaining to their intellectual property, likenesses and performance within the title were revoked.

The game re-surfaced years later when Frank Cifaldi, editor of Lost Levels, a website dedicated to unreleased video games, received a copy of the game from a reviewer who had covered it years ago. The game is composed of several minigames and an adventure/platform game starring Penn & Teller. All the minigames, with one exception, were made for the sole purpose of enabling the owner of the game to fool their friends by many different means, making them "scam minigames" and virtual tricks. Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors is unofficially the video game equivalent of Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends video, which had the same purpose, and used properties of the video medium itself for the tricks.


Desert Bus

Desert Bus is the best known trick minigame in the package, and was a featured part of Electronic Gaming Monthly's preview. The objective of the game is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45mph. The feat requires 8 hours of continuous play to complete, since the game cannot be paused.

The bus contains no passengers, contains little scenery (an occasional rock or stop sign will appear at the side of the road), and there is no traffic. The road between Tucson and Las Vegas is without exception completely straight. The bus veers to the right slightly; as a result, it is impossible to tape down a button to go do something else and have the game end properly. If the bus veers off the road it will stall and be towed back to Tucson, also in real time. If the player makes it to Las Vegas, they will score exactly one point. The player then gets the option to make the return trip to Tucson—for another point (a decision they must make in a few seconds or the game ends). Players may continue to make trips and score points as long as their endurance holds out. Some players who have completed the trip have also noted that, although the scenery never changes, a bug splats on the windscreen about five hours through the first trip, and on the return trip the light does fade, with differences at dusk, and later a pitch black road where the player is guided only with headlights.

Penn says, "The best part of that I think was an idea that was not mine, not Teller’s, and not Barry Marx, who designed the game with us. It was an idea by Eddie Gorodetsky, one of the producers on Two and a Half Men, really funny guy. I think that Eddie G. is one of the funniest guys in the world."

Penn Jillette commented in his radio show that the overly realistic nature of the game was in response to Janet Reno and the controversy surrounding violent video games at the time. He also stated that there would have been a prize for the person or group to get the highest score in the game, also substantiated by the various "Desert Bus" contest materials prepared for the release of the game. Penn said that the prize "was going to be, you got to go on Desert Bus from Tucson to Vegas with showgirls and a live band and just the most partying bus ever. You got to Vegas, we're going to put you up at the Rio, big thing, and then, you know, big shows."[1], although this contest did not happen. Some have played the game using a tool-assisted emulator, managing to obtain 99 points, the maximum the game allows. A run of this length would have taken over 41 days to complete in real time.[2].

Desert Bus For Hope

On November 23, 2007, comedy group LoadingReadyRun started a marathon game session of Desert Bus called Desert Bus for Hope to raise money for the charity Child's Play. The four-man team took turns playing the game continuously, with more hours added as more donations were made. As of the end of the event on November 28, 2007, $22,805 had been raised, including donations from Penn and Teller themselves.[3] The total play time for the effort reached four days and 12 hours. James Turner of has played over 30 hours during the marathon session and holds the record for the longest session with breaks.[4] LoadingReadyRun had earned 6 points until they crashed. [5][6]

LoadingReadyRun officially started their second marathon run of Desert Bus (dubbed Desert Bus 2: Bus Harder) on November 28, 2008. The total play time reached five days, five hours, and five minutes, and raised a total of $70,423.79.[7]

The third marathon run started on November 20th, 2009. Over $9500 was donated within the first hour. [8] Just shy of 24 hours of starting the third run, the total for the first year was passed. Driver James Turner bussed for 12 hours as part of a challenge he placed a few months before the start of the event. If 10,000 dollars was raised before the end of his first shift he would drive for 12 hours straight. [9] The drivers reached a record-breaking 14 points until they crashed.[10] The marathon finished after 5 days and 16 hours, having raised a total of $140,449.68. They have now raised a total of $233,678.47 over the past three years. A 4th year is due to begin on November 19th 2010. [11]

Mofo the Psychic Gorilla

Mofo is a gorilla (originally from Penn and Teller's stage show) that claims that scientific experiments have given him psychic powers (although in the introductory film Penn and Teller say this isn't true). In order to demonstrate his ability; Mofo claims that he can predict whatever card the user has pulled out of a pack of cards based on answers they give to some questions (e.g. "Do you have any relatives on Venus?"). This trick involves the user either seeing the card the victim has picked, or hearing the victim say the card. When Mofo explains how to "make contact" using the controls, the user secretly enters a code, then using two green bits of mist that appear in Mofo's crystal ball to select both the suit of cards and the value of that card. This trick requires more practice than the others, but there is a practice menu available. Nevertheless, Penn and Teller advise the player if they mess up just to say, "Well, I guess he isn't psychic after all."

Buzz Bombers

Buzz Bombers is the most elaborate of the minigames. It is a 2-player arcade shooter, where each player controls a "Buzz Bomber" and has to kill enemies to earn points. The game includes an introductory story: insectoid aliens have destroyed Earth; but some Earth creatures have managed to get on board their ship and threaten the larva of the next generation. The queen declares that the Buzz Bombers must eliminate the threat and protect their young.

Like the other "scam" minigames, Player 1 will always win the level (he will always have more points). Player 1 controls various cheating features with simple button combinations. One additional feature is a button combination to change the controller that is "in charge" of the "scam", which is useful if the "mark" gets suspicious and wants to switch controllers.

To finally reveal the prank; the player has to press all three buttons on the controller; which reveals a movie scene giving the secret away. Penn & Teller claimed this is perfect payback to friends "who come over to your house, eat your food, drink your soda, play your games and always beat you."

What's Your Sign

Using the patented Personometer (devised by the Cosmic Research Organisation for Clairvoyant Kinetics, or CROCK); Penn and Teller claim not only to be able to guess the player's sign, but their birthday based on a series of responses they give to questions. These questions ask you to give your response within a range (e.g. "Sunglasses, on one side of the bar—hate them, never wear them. Other side: I'm Lou Reed, I never take them off.") In reality; the owner of the game enters the person's date of birth earlier via a secret menu. The secret menu also features an introductory film in which Penn & Teller let their feelings on astrology be known, stating it's only good for giving astrologists work and allowing people to not take responsibility for their actions. Penn, who is juggling, goes on to work out using the laws of physics and mathematics that Mars has as much gravitational pull on his body as the balls he is juggling.

Sun Scorcher

Sun Scorcher is a Space Invaders like game in which a player controls a spaceship that has to destroy alien invaders and the mothership. The prank in this game makes fun of video disclaimers as well as advertising buzzwords such as "Blast Processing" used during the 16-bit era. The game claims to have "thermographics" which are released by the mothership. A disclaimer (that you can't skip past) appears beforehand; and a dramatic voice states that these thermographics make the screen dangerous to touch, and even in their introduction Penn and Teller claim it is dangerous. The prank involves entering a code before playing, which causes the TV to cut to static after the third time the thermographics appear - suggesting the game has broken the TV. The owner is also meant to act as though their hand has been burned. Like the other pranks, there is a practice mode, and Penn & Teller give some hints on how to milk this trick for maximum effect.

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors is a mixture of platform, RPG, and puzzle-solving games. The premise: magic sensations Stinkbomb and Rot (an obvious Siegfried and Roy parody) claim that magic is real; the player controls both Penn and Teller to expose them as frauds, although there are magicians all over the city working for them. Penn and Teller have a number of double-team moves; for example, Penn provides a distraction while Teller sneaks up behind the victim on hands and knees so that Penn can push them over. A pack of cards is their most common weapon.

At several moments, you can call in stunt doubles to perform action scenes for you. The drawback is that all they can do is punch and kick, so you eventually have to replace them to pick up any items they pass. Debbie Harry (Penn's girlfriend at the time) and Lou Reed (one of Penn's idols) both appear in the game; in fact, every shop you encounter is either called "Debbie's" or "Harry's". Lou Reed appears in impossible mode, killing the duo with a blast of lightning from his eyes. A video of Reed then appears commenting, "Impossible doesn't mean very difficult. Very difficult is getting a Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the sun."


  1. Interview with Penn Jillette about the game, especially Desert Bus
  2. Alden's Genesis Desert Bus in 41:17:15:06
  3. [1] End-of-event post on official website
  5. Victoria Times Colonist Magicians conjure up cash for deadly fundraiser
  6. Desert Bus for Hope website - announcement of reaching twenty thousand dollars
  7. [2] 2008 Desert Bus announcement
  8. [3] 2009 Desert Bus announcement
  9. [4] Gosh that’s a lot of love for the Children! $23,000
  10. [5]
  11. [6] 2010 Desert Bus announcement

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