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, IBM PC compatible, 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
Release date(s) 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 IBM PC compatible and 3DO Interactive Multiplayer 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 developer Imagineering and the publisher Absolute Entertainment went out of business before they had the chance to release the game. 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, since the game cannot be paused.[2]

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. 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.[2]

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."[2] Some have played the game using a tool-assisted emulator, managing to obtain 99 points, the maximum the game allows.[3] A run of this length would have taken over 33 days to complete in real time.

In November 2011 a port of Desert Bus was released for iOS and Android, with the proceeds going to the Child's Play charity.[4]

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 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 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."[5] ShortList called Desert Bus "truly astonishing" and "without doubt, an absolute triumph of boredom".[citation needed]


Desert Bus for Hope[edit]

On November 22, 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.[6] The total play time for the effort reached four days and twelve hours. James Turner of played over 30 hours during the marathon session and holds the record for the longest session with breaks.[7] LoadingReadyRun had earned 7 points until they crashed.[1][8][9]

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.[10]

The third marathon run started on November 20, 2009. Over $9,500 was donated within the first hour.[11] Just shy of 24 hours of starting the third run, the total for the first year was passed. Driver James Turner bussed for twelve hours as part of a challenge he placed a few months before the start of the event. If $10,000 was raised before the end of his first shift he would drive for twelve hours straight.[12] The drivers reached a record-breaking fourteen points until they crashed.[13] The marathon finished after five days and sixteen hours, having raised a total of $140,449.68. They had at that point raised a total of $233,678.47 over the past three years.

A fourth year began on November 19, 2010.[14] The event raised $50,000 after two days and $100,000 after four. The marathon managed to raise $207,540.06 alone.

The fifth year began on November 18, 2011[15] and the crew started bussing with over $10,000 raised before the game was turned on. By the 24-hour mark the event already raised $43,000, and over $100,000 after two days.[16] The marathon raised $376,253.01 alone, with a lifetime total of $819,330.01.

Desert Bus for Hope 6 began on November 16, 2012. On November 19 at 6:46pm the fundraiser crossed the 1 million lifetime donation total. After 6 days and 8 hours of driving the run concluded at 5:00AM PST on Friday, November 23 raising a total of $443,127.52 bringing their lifetime total raised to $1,269,279.62 over 6 years.[17][18][19]

Desert Bus for Hope 7 started on November 16, 2013.[20] It concluded at 10:00pm PST, Friday November 22 with a total runtime of 6 days and 11 hours - plus an additional hour to compensate for downtime due to technical difficulties - having raised $521,450.00, bringing the lifetime total raised to $1,790,133.57.[21] Humble Mobile Bundle 3 added Desert Bus on November 26, with proceeds for that game going toward Desert Bus for Hope.

Desert Bus for Hope 8 started on November 14, 2014 and after 6 days and 14 hours of play raised $635,415.04 for Child's Play.

Desert Bus for Hope 9 started on November 14, 2015 and after 6 days and 15 hours of play raised $680,119.00 for Child's Play, bringing the lifetime total to $3,115,565.15.


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.[22][23]

In 2013 Amateur Pixels released a version of Desert Bus for Android and iOS.[24][25]

In October 2016 Desert Bus was released for the Mattel Intellivision as a charity fundraiser for Child's Play.[26]

Roundabout contains a desert limo mode similar to Desert Bus, requiring a similar amount of time to complete.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Parkin, Simon (July 9, 2013). "Desert Bus: The Very Worst Video Game Ever Created". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 27, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Penn Jillette Discusses Unreleased Sega CD Game". March 3, 2006. Retrieved August 26, 2014. 
  3. ^ Alden S. (2009-04-01). "Desert Bus High Score Attack". TASVideos. 
  4. ^ "Desert Bus drives onto iOS and Android, proceeds go to Child's Play". Joystiq. November 21, 2011. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  5. ^ "ProReview: Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors". GamePro. IDG (83): 58. August 1995. 
  6. ^ "End-of-event post on official website". November 28, 2007. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Desert Bus for Hope :: Welcome to Desert Bus for Hope". Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  8. ^ Victoria Times Colonist Magicians conjure up cash for deadly fundraiser
  9. ^ "Desert Bus for Hope website - announcement of reaching twenty thousand dollars". November 28, 2007. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  10. ^ "2008 Desert Bus announcement". December 8, 2008. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  11. ^ "2009 Desert Bus announcement". August 25, 2009. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Gosh that's a lot of love for the Children! $23,000". November 21, 2009. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Don't Bus Me Now - AND CRASH PHAIL". YouTube. November 25, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  14. ^ "2010 Desert Bus announcement". November 17, 2010. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  15. ^ "2011 Desert Bus announcement". November 18, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Previous years donation comparison". Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  17. ^ DesertBusForHope (May 16, 2012). "Daddy Ashton: Beware The Moon". YouTube. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  18. ^ Heilke, Tally (May 16, 2012). "Desert Bus 6 Announcements!". Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  19. ^ Desert Bus for Hope (May 17, 2012). "Announcement time!". Facebook. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  20. ^ "2013 Desert Bus announcement". Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Desert Bus for Hope :: Graphs". Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  22. ^ Retro Video Game Magazine (1). January–February 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ "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. 
  24. ^ "Desert Bus on the App Store". App Store. Retrieved 2016-11-15. 
  25. ^ "Desert Bus - Android Apps on Google Play". Retrieved 2016-11-15. 
  26. ^ "Desert Bus announced for the Mattel Intellivision". October 14, 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2016. 

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