Where in North Dakota Is Carmen Sandiego?

Where in North Dakota Is
Carmen Sandiego?

Cover art of the box provided in retail copies
Developer(s) North Dakota Database Committee
Publisher(s) Broderbund
Director(s) Craig Nansen
Designer(s) Gene Portwood
Lauren Elliott
Programmer(s) Ken Bull
Writer(s) North Dakota Database Committee
Composer(s) Louis Ewens
Series Carmen Sandiego
Engine DOS 3.3[1]
Platform(s) Apple II
Release date(s)
  • NA: February 23, 1989
Genre(s) Educational

Where in North Dakota Is Carmen Sandiego? is a 1989 edutainment video game in the Carmen Sandiego series developed by Broderbund and the North Dakota Database Committee for the Apple II. It is the only game in the series based on a U.S. state, and was patterned after the previous games in the then-four year old series.[2] The game was released in celebration of North Dakota's centennial celebration, and was aimed at schools to help teach children about the state's history and geography. Although 5,000 copies were sold to schools in the region, the game has become extremely rare and only three retail copies are known to exist.

Where in North Dakota Is Carmen Sandiego? became the fourth title in the Carmen Sandiego video game series, after World, U.S.A., and Europe.[3] In contrast to these previous titles which were developed internally, North was instead largely developed by a team of fourteen educators led by computer coordinator Craig Nansen, concept designer Bonny Berryman, and co-chairwoman Mary Littler[4] collectively known as the North Dakota Database Committee of the Minot Public Schools, who made the game idea a reality[4][5][6]Having observed the popularity of the Carmen Sandiego franchise in the education of school children, the teachers were inspired to develop a North Dakota version to teach North Dakotans about their state's history and geography.[5][7]


Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? is a first-person history and geography-based edutainment game for the Apple II platform.[8] It is also the only game in the Carmen Sandiego series based upon a U.S. state.[9] The interface of Where in North Dakota... is similar to the other games in the series, and it is "instantly recognizable as a Carmen Sandiego game".[7] Players begin in the office of the NoDak Detective Agency, and type their name into the crime computer using up to 14 characters.[10] Players are sent to the scene of the crime and tasked with capturing Carmen Sandiego and her cronies by questioning witnesses and using their clues to decipher their appearance, and follow their geographic trail.[3] In doing so, they learn factual information about the geography, environment, economy, and history of the state, as well as skills in research, using databases, and deductive reasoning.[4] Players always have 6 days-worth of allotted time to track down the crook and create a correct warrant.[11] The Main Playing Screen contains the location name, day/time, location description, and four other options that help the player progress.[10] Notes are written in the Notebook, while warrants are issued in the Crime Lab.[10] Choosing "Investigate" allows the player to discover Character Clues and Location Clues, while "Go To Gas Station" allows the player to travel to the next location.[10] In addition, the teacher's guide wrote that the game can be used to teach students skills in: maps, thinking, studying, comprehension, vocabulary, writing, and computer literacy.[11] The game begins by asking for the player's name, and proceeds to inform them of the case. Two design changes were made for this specific game, "criminals" are instead called "imposters" (while "crimes" are called "pranks")[11] and travel between locations was done in a four wheel drive vehicles instead of an airplane. The player catches impostors and follows clues to 38 locations such as International Peace Garden, Cando, and Standing Rock Indian Reservation.[12] Players also learn about North Dakota products and history.[13] Solving clues requires research in sources other than the game, which at the time meant almanacs, maps, and biographical dictionaries focused on North Dakota.[6] Every time the player captures three "imposters", they get promoted to a higher rank and the game increases in difficulty. More difficult clues are added to the pool that witnesses will provide, and players must travel to more locations within the case; the lowest rank sees the player travel to 4 different locations while the hardest level sees them travel to 14.[11] They must advance 10 ranks before having a chance at catching Carmen herself. When they do catch Carmen, they are placed into the North Dakota Roughrider Detective Hall of Fame, which contains 16 slots.[7] Where in North Dakota includes 38 locations in the state, 50 famous people connected to North Dakota, 16 pun-named gang members, and over 1,000 factual clues.[3][12] The teacher's guide notes that while skill is an important factor, luck is also a large factor; the elements of each case are randomly generated which means repeats of the same case can have vastly different results. It is also possible, albeit highly unlikely, for a game to not provide enough character clues for the suspect to be identified, which means that even the most conscientious players may occasionally be unsuccessful.[11]


The North Dakota Database Committee
An opening screen of the game, indicating its release as part of North Dakota's centennial celebrations

In early 1987, the Minot Public Schools system was looking for "an interesting way to teach students and educators the basics of using a database".[4] Eighth grade Erik Ramstad Junior High[2] social studies teacher Bonny Berryman came up with the idea of a special Carmen Sandiego program that would coincide with the state's centennial year,[4] after observing Where in the U.S.A.'s ability to hold her child's attention for hours.[3] She thought that the game could teach children how to "retrieve information from computers, rather than memorize it", an important skill due to the abundance of available information in the computer age[3] In addition, she knew that the franchise had already achieved "great acceptance throughout [the] district and state",[4] and believed that the game had the capacity to appeal to adults who would find it fascinating and informative.[3] She deemed the Carmen Sandiego games a "novelty", allowing students to have fun while learning; she also liked the opportunity for randomness, graphics, color, movement, and sound that other mediums such as board games didn't provide.[2] She noted that the target market played video games every weekend, and that this was a franchise they were already familiar with.[2] She pitched the idea to Minot Public School System computer coordinator Nansen, who was initially skeptical, describing it as a "pipe dream or pie-in-the-sky idea".[2] However, he saw promise in the idea's ability to stimulate research by encouraging students to use an encyclopedia or dictionary to decipher clues about their state,[3] thereby adding a state-based component to the database project.[4] He subsequently contacted series developer Brøderbund about the possibility of creating the game, a prospect that they liked.[3][7]

Nansen later recalled that "things fell into place and Broderbund was willing to do it", overcoming his previous skepticism;[2] he argued that while the series "wasn't meant to be an educational tool" it greatly appealed to educators and was used for this purpose in Where in North Dakota...[3] Subsequently, he contacted North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction and was able to secure a $100,000 grant from the state legislature in March 1987, who "liked the idea, too"[2] and therefore appropriate the money to help fund the project.[7] The game interested North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction due to its narrow scope in comparison to the previous Carmen Sandiego titles, and its ability to teach computer skills.[14] By March 1988, Broderbund had not spoken openly about the project, but Classroom Computer Learning had been informed that there was to be an "imminent" contract between Broderbund and North Dakota Database Committee,[15] and that the project would be available to North Dakotas educators within six to nine months.[15] The inter-business deal would give Broderbund rights to sell the retail version while North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction sold the school version.[16] The Brøderbund team agreed to publish the game, but required local expertise to create the clues and write the text. As a result, Nansen created the North Dakota Database Committee with teachers who had taught North Dakotan topics in the past.[3][7] The next two years were spent compiling facts with the help of school districts across the state.[7] The educators came up with the pranks, selected locations, researched clues, wrote informational text such as the teacher's manual, created Carmen's imposters, and sourced graphic material.[3][4] Afterwards, Broderbund designers took the team's work, and programmed and tested the game using the interface and structure of its previous Apple II titles.[7] They also developed graphics, a user manual, and packaging for the retail version.[4] While there were restrictions on how much the North Dakotan team could deviate from the Carmen Sandiego template, local nuances was added via the inclusion of four wheel drive vehicles for traveling, and the change of criminals to "imposters" (and "crimes" to "pranks") due to the addition of "a touch of North Dakota nice."[2][7] Rather than including an almanac or reference work, the devleopers opted to use an online database to provide the clues.[15]

The project was completed in 1989 on behalf of the state's Department of Education to help mark North Dakota's 100th year of statehood. [12] Ultimately, the entire grant was used for the project: $65,000 of the $100,000 was set aside by North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction to purchase an initial order of 2500 copies of the game from Broderbund; meanwhile the rest of money was used to pay the North Dakota Database Committee, as well as advertising and distribution costs.[2] North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction aimed to recoup by selling copies to North Dakotan schools, while Broderbund planned to make a commercial version available.[3]


The school version of the game packaged in its binder

A January 1988 edition of It's Elementary wrote that Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? was to be distributed statewide in Summer of that year, in preparation of North Dakota's centennial celebration in 1989.[17] However, the game was delayed until February 23, 1989, when an official news release was issued by Broderbund, explaining that the game was being made available to both schools and the public.[4] Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?'s first day of retail distribution took place on March 18, 1989 in Dakota Square, where members of the North Dakota Database Committee gave demonstrations of the software.[18] At the time of the game's release, Brøderbund was the third largest developer of commercial computer software in the United States, and its Carmen Sandiego software was especially popular both in schools and throughout the general public.[3] World was used throughout Minot's 6th grade classes while U.S.A. was used in their 5th grade classes; the games were both popular in Fargo schools. Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? was targeted at 4th graders as the team believed that this was the year when students began learning about their state.[3] However, the game's teacher's guide wrote that the game was suitable for use within grades 4 to 12; for use in an individual, small group, or entire class context.[11] Schools were encouraged to allow students to play the game before and after school, as well as after completing their school work early.[3] The game was not intended to be a replacement for the current North Dakotan curriculum; instead it was seen by Nansen as an "enrichment activity"[2] and "motivating instructional tool",[11] merely one of the many ways to get students interested in North Dakota[2] In order to promote the game, Nansen conducted seminars in schools across the state, encouraging teachers to incorporate the game into their curricula, as well as other North Dakotan database games.[4][7] North Dakotan public school districts who were interested in the program were encouraged to called Social Studies Director of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction Curt Eriksmoen, and had to send at least one educator to one of the aforementioned workshops.[4] North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction would ship copies to qualifying schools across the state.[4] Meanwhile, the general public could order the game from Broderbund Software-Direct at a recommended retail price of $34.95, while educators could order teacher's guides for $10.[4]

Other states approached Brøderbund after the North Dakota title was released and were quoted millions instead of the $100,000 their game was funded by, but none of these other projects came to fruition.[19] According to Nansen, the biggest issue with these state-based projects was not the actual cost of producing them, but that Broderbund was forced to take their production team away from working on much more lucrative projects.[16]

In the school version, the game's packaging consisted of a full lesson plan: a binder with a manual, a North Dakota state almanac, and the game on a double-side floppy disk. Inside the binder were sheets of paper with other information such as headshots of Carmen's henchmen, a map of North Dakota, and a page that asks the player to describe the final scene of the game and mail it to receive a prize. Further pages have a paper version of the almanac, and information about the cities in the game. A teacher's guide is also included. A second binder contains activities that correlate to 18 database disks that were included in the package. A North Dakota centennial blue book, and a booklet entitled Governors and First Ladies of North Dakota were also included in this binder.[20] Instead, the game was cased inside a game box stylised like the previous games for the retail version.[16]


"Why is Broderbund interested in tying up its talented development staff In a project with an audience relatively small in number? It could be that the company is planning to market a consumer version in stores throughout North Dakota (which would open up a much larger home market for the product). But at least one educator involved In the project claims that Broderbund is not closed to the idea of doing versions for other interested states."

Holly Brady, Classroom Computer Learning (March 1998)[15]

Nansen expected the game to be in every North Dakotan school that had a computer system, for it to be as popular throughout the state's education system as the World and U.S.A versions.[2] Berrryman also saw the game's potential popularity outside of North Dakotan schools, commenting on its ability to appeal to adults due to its agricultural, immigration, historical, and geographical content.[2] There was also an anticipation that this would be the first of a series of state-based versions of Carmen Sandiego games.[2] Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? ended up selling approximately 5,000 copies; mostly to North Dakotan schools and was very popular within the state.[8][7][19] With a total of 517 schools within the state (as of 2013), this would equate to around 10 copies sold to each school.[21] The game was used in the Grand Forks GATE program as well as in other classrooms, generally for fifth and sixth graders.[6] However, very few copies were outside of North Dakota; in these cases they were generally people with connections to North Dakota such as grandkids of North Dakotan residents.[16] InCider was puzzled by the specificity of the game upon its release. When listing the locations of various Carmen Sandiego games, it added that the crook was also "in North Dakota, of all places."[22] Minot Daily News described the game as "special software".[18] Cifaldi described it as "probably the hardest" Carmen Sandiego game due to having clues based on obscure North Dakotan historical trivia, which are sometimes impossible to solve via an internet search engine.[23] Kris Kerzman of Inforum deemed it "a fascinating piece of [North Dakota]'s history and video game history", and noted its existence could be puzzling even to fans of the Carmen Sandiego franchise.[24] Cool987FM warned its readers of the difficulty in locating original floppy disks of this game.[25] The Gamecola podcast described Where in North Dakota... as a "weird old PC game" that could be dug up for family game night.[26] The game's teacher's guide described the game as "absorbing", "entertaining", "humerous", "non-sex-specific", "non-competitive", "comfortable", and "involving".[11]


Though the game was heavily circulated in North Dakota school classrooms in the 1990s, the game has become difficult to find in modern times.[27] As North Dakotan schools updated their computers over time, floppy disks became obsolete. This, coupled with the small production run, led to the title becoming rare.[20] Cifaldi referred to it as "one of the rarest video games ever made", and openly encouraged NoDaks to unearth their copies of the game.[7] A few school versions have survived; two are located at the North Dakota State Library (one available and one out of library)[28] while a copy was acquired by TanRu Nomad for his YouTube review.[29]

Nansen received copies from Brøderbund after sales died off, and by 2015 he, and a group of students, had digitized the game for play on Javascript emulators[30][16][31][32] In January 2015, California-based historian Frank Cifaldi began conversing with Nansen,[7][33] after discovering that Where in North Dakota... was the only Carmen Sandiego game to not be represented in the National Museum of Play's Broderbund Software Collection.[34] As Nansen was recently retired, he offered to round up all of the information on the obscure game and make it available; meanwhile Cifaldi offered to write articles using the material.[35] Cifaldi later visited him in Minot with a film crew[7] from June 13–15, 2016, to interview those who worked on the project and record various locations used in the game, for a segment about Frank Cifaldi's Lost-Levels initiative, involving the archiving and recovering of unreleased/lost games. This will form part of a 10 episode docu-series on interesting people and stories within the interactive media space for Red Bull TV, as was produced by Atlanta-based TV production company School of Humans.[16] During this visit, Nansen gave Cifaldi one of only three known surviving versions of the game boxed for retail sale. This version differed from the version that was sold to schools and was only sold through the Brøderbund mail-order catalog.[7] The game was imaged and made available online, providing Cifaldi with a raw rip of the unused version.[36][37] Players need to use an Apple II emulator, or write onto old floppy disks and play on an Apple II.[38] Cifaldi's copy was later sent to the National Museum of Play to supplement other Carmen Sandiego materials donated to the museum by Brøderbund founder Doug Carlston in 2014.[7][39] Jon-Paul Dyson, the Director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the National Museum of Play, personally thanked Cifaldi for his endevours.[40] On July 23, 2016, the Apple II-focused KansasFest featured a contest of WiNDiCS.[41]


  1. "Craig Nansen on Twitter".
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Mattson, Jim (1988). "Student posse tracks outlaws with a computer". Daily News.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Crawford, Ellen (March 20, 1989). "Cryptic computer games capture youths' minds". Fargo Forum.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "North Dakota Celebrates Centennial With Special "Carmen Sandiego" Educational Computer Game". Broderbund Software News Release. February 23, 1989.
  5. 1 2 North Dakota Education News , Volume 29 , No. 8. 1995. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 Booth, Greg (January 30, 1992). "Carmen Sandiego Really Gets Around N.D. Version Developed in Minot". Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Kerzman, Kris (July 28, 2016). "Why in the world was Carmen Sandiego in North Dakota?". Inforum. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  8. 1 2 "Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?". MobyGames. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  9. Education Computer News. Capitol Publications, Incorporated. January 1, 1992.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? - User manual. Broderbund. 1989.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Caley, Mike; Miller, Sam; Westley, Joan (1989). Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? - Teacher's Guide. Broderbund Software for Education.
  12. 1 2 3 "Way Up North". Nibble. Micro-Sparc. 10: 12. 1989. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  13. Brodie, Carolyn S. (May 16, 1994). Exploring the plains states through literature. Oryx Press. p. 73. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  14. Knutson, Jon. "Software Takes Bite Out Of Learning". Tribune Business.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Brady, Holly (March 1988). "Carmen Sandiego in North Dakota?! Where Next?". Classroom Computer Learning. 8 (6): 13.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Craig Nansen
  17. Minot Public Schools (January 1988). "Where In North Dakota Is Carmen Sandiego". It's Elementary. 2 (2).
  18. 1 2 "Special software". Minot Daily News. March 19, 1989.
  19. 1 2 Waddell, Matt. "Case History: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" (PDF). pp. 7, 9. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  20. 1 2 "Rare North Dakota-themed Carmen Sandiego game has surfaced". destructoid.com.
  21. "Public education in North Dakota - Ballotpedia". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  22. InCider. 1001001 Incorporated. January 1, 1989.
  23. "Frank Cifaldi on Twitter". Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  24. "Kris Kerzman - As promised a couple weeks ago, here's my... - Facebook".
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  26. "[NSFW] GC Podcast #82: GameCola Sports League". GameCola.
  27. "The 1 Weirdest Thing You Never Knew About Your Home State". The Huffington Post.
  28. North Dakota Database Committee (January 1, 1989). "Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?". Broderbund Software via odin-primo.com.
  29. TanRu Nomad (2015-02-06), Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? Game Review, retrieved 2016-08-31
  30. "Where is Dor Sageth?". ASCII by Jason Scott.
  31. "Frank Cifaldi". Twitter.
  32. "Minot Public Schools - Apple II Revival". September 27, 2006. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  33. "Craig Nansen on Twitter". Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  34. "Finding Aid to the Brøderbund Software, Inc. Collection, 1979-2002" (PDF). Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play.
  35. "Frank Cifaldi on Twitter". Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  36. "Rare North Dakota-themed Carmen Sandiego game has surfaced". Destructoid.
  37. "Frank Cifaldi on Twitter". Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  38. "Let's Play – Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?". sabriel.me.
  39. "Brøderbund Software, Inc. Founder Donates Games and Business Archives".
  40. "Jon-Paul Dyson on Twitter". Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  41. "KansasFest on Twitter". Retrieved August 2, 2016.
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