Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors

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Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors
Penn and tellers - smoke and mirrors.jpg
Sega CD cover
Developer(s) Imagineering
Publisher(s) Absolute Entertainment
Platform(s) Sega CD, PC, 3DO
Release Unreleased
Genre(s) Platform game/Simulation
Mode(s) Single-player

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 stars the comedy-magician duo Penn & Teller. 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, designating the games "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 has the same purpose, and uses properties of the video medium itself for the tricks.


The game's costar Teller states, "by the time the game was finished, the [Sega CD] format was dead. We were unable to find anybody interested in acquiring the game".[1] The publisher Absolute Entertainment went out of business before they had the chance to release the game.[2] Nevertheless, the game had already been 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 regained minor notoriety starting when a former 1990s video game reviewer mailed his review copy of Smoke and Mirrors to the editor of the website Lost Levels, which is dedicated to arcane and unreleased video game creations.[1]


Desert Bus[edit]

Considered by Penn to be the "best part" of the collection, Desert Bus is a trick minigame and 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 45 MPH. The feat requires eight hours of continuous play to complete.[3][4]

The bus contains no passengers, there is little scenery aside from an occasional rock or bus stop sign, and there is no traffic. The road between Tucson and Las Vegas is completely straight. The bus veers to the right slightly, and thus requires the player's constant attention.[4] 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, one point is scored. The player then has the option to make the return trip to Tucson for another point, a decision which must be made in a few seconds or the game ends. Players may continue to make trips and score points as long as their endurance lasts. Although the landscape never changes, an insect splats on the windshield about five hours through the first trip, and on the return trip the light fades, with differences at dusk, and later a pitch black road where the player is guided only with headlights.[3] The game cannot be paused.

The game was designed to be as inoffensive as possible to prove the point that not all video games were corrupting influences. Penn Jillette commented in his radio show that the overly realistic nature of the game was in response to Janet Reno's comments in support of the moral panic about violent video games at the time (see Video game controversies). 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."[3] Some have played the game using a tool-assisted emulator, managing to obtain 99 points, the maximum the game allows.[5] A run of this length would have taken 33 days to complete in real time.

Mofo the Psychic Gorilla[edit]

Originally from Penn and Teller's stage show, Mofo is a gorilla who claims that scientific experiments have given him psychic powers, though in the introductory film Penn and Teller say this is not 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 he has given 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 and then uses 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 bummer, I guess he isn't psychic after all."

Buzz Bombers[edit]

Buzz Bombers is a two-player arcade shooter, where each player controls a Buzz Bomber 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 have more points and win the level. 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 that gives 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[edit]

Using the patented Personometer (devised by the Cosmic Research Organization for Clairvoyant Kinetics, or CROCK), Penn and Teller claim not only to be able to guess the player's sign, but also his birthday based on a series of responses he gives to questions. These questions ask the player to give a 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 that it is 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[edit]

Sun Scorcher is a game resembling Space Invaders 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 the player cannot skip past, even though the game is still playable) 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 his 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[edit]

Smoke and Mirrors is a mixture of platform, RPG, and puzzle-solving games. The premise is that magic sensations Stinkbomb and Rot (a 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 (such as the first boss, The Great Escapo, who throws straitjackets at the player) 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, the player can call in stunt doubles to perform action scenes. The drawback is that all they can do is punch and kick, so the player eventually has 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 the player encounters 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, "This is the impossible level, boys. Impossible doesn't mean very difficult. Very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the Sun."


GamePro described Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors as an acquired taste with a unique interface that makes it very difficult to categorize. They praised the high variety of games included while at the same time noting their uneven quality: "These two TV and stage stars offer something for almost everyone ... Some of it's incredibly boring; some of it has one-time appeal; some of it's hilarious. It's a lot like life."[6] ShortList called Desert Bus "truly astonishing" and "without doubt, an absolute triumph of boredom".[citation needed]


Desert Bus for Hope[edit]

Loading Ready Run is perhaps best known for its Annual "Desert Bus For Hope" event. On November 23, 2007, the group started a marathon game session of Desert Bus (a minigame from 'Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors') 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. The event was broadcast live via webcam, and garnered attention both from the media, and Penn & Teller, who called in, sent pizza, and made donations. By the end of the event, $22,805 had been raised, including donations from Penn and Teller themselves.[7][8][9]

On 18 November 2008, LoadingReadyRun officially announced that it planned a second marathon run of Desert Bus which began on 28 November.[10] The second Desert Bus lasted slightly more than five days and raised over $70,000.[11] The crew later produced a music video entitled Desert Bus Killed the Internet Star (a parody of Video Killed the Radio Star) describing the events of the marathon.[12]

On 25 August 2009, the third marathon run was announced, set to start on 20 November 2009.[13] At 18:42 GMT-0 on 26 November 2009 the marathon completed, raising over $140,000 (after all e-cheques had cleared) for Child's Play.[14] One notable donor, going by the alias "Octopimp", donated nearly $10,000 alone, becoming a mascot of sorts in the event's live chatroom and in turn inspiring many other high-number donations and auction bids.[citation needed]

The fourth marathon run was announced on 4 May 2010, and began on 19 November 2010 at 6:00 p.m. PST.[15] Penn & Teller auctioned off an "Ultimate Desert Bus Experience Pack" which included a bus ticket and sand from the Las Vegas desert, signed by Penn & Teller themselves. The fourth run concluded after 5 days and 21 hours, with $208,249.82 raised. A fifth marathon run began on 18 November 2011 and went for six days and six hours, raising a total of $383,075.10.[14]

Desert Bus 6 began Friday, 16 November 2012, and breached One Million dollars in lifetime donations on November 19 at 6:46pm[16][17][18]

Annual totals[edit]

Year Name Raised
2007 Desert Bus for Hope $22,805.00[19]
2008 Desert Bus for Hope 2: Bus Harder $70,423.79[20][21]
2009 Desert Bus for Hope 3: It's Desert Bus 6 in Japan $140,449.68
2010 Desert Bus for Hope 4: A New Hope $208,250.00
2011 Desert Bus for Hope 5: De5ert Bus $383,125.10[22][23]
2012 Desert Bus for Hope 6: Desert Bus 3 in America $443,165.29
2013 Desert Bus for Hope 007 $521,450.00[24]
2014 Desert Bus for Hope 8 $643,242.58
2015 Desert Bus for Hope 9: The Joy of Bussing $680,119.00
2016 Desert Bus X $695,152.57
2017 Desert Bus 2017 $650,250.00[25]
Running Total: $4,458,388.01


In November 2011, Amateur Pixels released a version of Desert Bus for Android and iOS, with the proceeds going to Child's Play. However, the game was removed from the iOS App Store on November 7, 2017.[26]

A 2013 video game called Desert Bus 2600 for the Atari 2600 video game console was reviewed by Retro Video Game Magazine at 3 out of 5 stars.[27][28]

The 2014 driving game Roundabout contains a minigame called "Desert Limo" that pays homage to Desert Bus[29] and likewise requires eight hours to complete.[30]

In October 2016 Desert Bus was released for the Mattel Intellivision as a charity fundraiser for Child's Play.[31]

On November 27, 2017, a free VR version was released on Steam, developed by Dinosaur Entertainment and published by Gearbox Software. The game can be played on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR platforms, as well as Windows[32]


  1. ^ a b Parkin, Simon (July 9, 2013). "Desert Bus: The Very Worst Video Game Ever Created". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 27, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Absolutely Grim". GamePro. No. 89. IDG. February 1996. p. 17. ... Absolute's last batch of games for 1995, including Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors (Sega CD, 3DO) and Battletech: Gray Death Legion (Saturn), are indefinitely on hold as the company determines its future course. 
  3. ^ a b c "Penn Jillette Discusses Unreleased Sega CD Game". GameSetWatch. Gamasutra. March 3, 2006. Retrieved May 10, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 73. Sendai Publishing. August 1995. p. 128. 
  5. ^ Alden S. (April 1, 2009). "Desert Bus High Score Attack". TASVideos. 
  6. ^ "ProReview: Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors". GamePro. IDG (83): 58. August 1995. 
  7. ^ Graham Stark (November 28, 2007). "The Finale". Retrieved April 23, 2009. 
  8. ^ Rob Shaw (25 November 2007). "Magicians conjure up cash for deadly fundraiser". Victoria Times Colonist. 
  9. ^ Graham Stark (28 November 2007). "Twenty Thousand Dollars". Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  10. ^ Matt Wiggins (18 November 2008). "Desert Bus for Hope 2: Bus Harder". Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  11. ^ Graham Stark (8 December 2008). "We did it! $70,000!". Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  12. ^ LoadingReadyRun (7 December 2008). "Desert Bus Killed the Internet Star". LoadingReadyRun. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  13. ^ [1] 2009 Desert Bus announcement
  14. ^ a b [2]
  15. ^ Paul Saunders (4 May 2010). "Mark your calendars!". Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  16. ^ DesertBusForHope (16 May 2012). "Daddy Ashton: Beware The Moon". YouTube. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  17. ^ Heilke, Tally (16 May 2012). "Desert Bus 6 Announcements!". Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  18. ^ Desert Bus for Hope (17 May 2012). "Announcement time!". Facebook. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  19. ^ Stark, Graham (28 November 2007). "The Finale". LoadingReadyRun. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  20. ^ "Literal Charity Drive Involves Penn & Teller Title Desert Bus". 25 November 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  21. ^ Good, Owen (28 November 2008). "Desert Bus Rides Again, Already Raking in the Dough". Kotaku. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  22. ^ "Desert Bus 5 Poster". LoadingReadyRun. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  23. ^ "Desert Bus". Desert Bus. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Mitchell, Richard (November 21, 2011). "Desert Bus drives onto iOS and Android, proceeds go to Child's Play". Engadget. Retrieved May 10, 2017. 
  27. ^ Retro Video Game Magazine (1). January–February 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^ "Sega Mega CD's Infamous Penn & Teller's Smoke And Mirrors: Desert Bus Ported To The Atari 2600". August 20, 2013. Retrieved August 27, 2014. 
  29. ^ Makedonski, Brett (February 20, 2015). "Roundabout has one of the most tedious Achievements imaginable". Destructoid. Retrieved May 10, 2017. 
  30. ^ Teasdale, Dan (7 October 2014). "Desert Limo". Steam Community. Comment 1. Retrieved 10 May 2017. The classic distance is eight hours. 
  31. ^ "Desert Bus announced for the Mattel Intellivision". October 14, 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2016. 
  32. ^ Machkovech, Sam (28 November 2017). "The world's slowest, most boring bus simulator finally has a VR version". Ars Technica. Retrieved 5 January 2018. 

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