With New ‘Oz’ in Place, ‘Operation Spy’ Opens Today

Posted September 5, 2007 at 6:02pm

The slated June 1 opening for the International Spy Museum “Operation Spy” experience was pushed back to today — and Anna Slafer, director of exhibitions and programs at the museum, says Oz is to blame.

Slafer explained that the computer program controlling Operation Spy was nicknamed “Oz” and the technicians who managed the program were called the “wizards.” The old Oz was unable to handle the volume of tours the museum had planned on running. So a new Oz had to be installed, which the wizards then had to re-program from scratch.

“We believe the motto that ‘technology lets you down,’” Slafer said. “It did.”

A walk through the new feature makes it clear how essential a well-coordinated computer system is to the success of the experience. The “choose your own adventure” format is actually an intricately designed computer system that calculates the success of a given tour group based on their interaction with each other and with the program. The program then awards the group one or more of five stars and reports back on what happened to the fictitious individuals the group interacted with after the group’s “mission” is completed.

With the new Oz in place, the system is nearly flawless. When one group member steps on a pothole in one of the rooms the tour group “sneaks” into, the reaction is immediate; a booming voice from the a loudspeaker says, “Do you hear something?” But when the group is involved in interrogating a suspected double agent via a television conference, the responses are a second or two off what a real-time response should be, and the responses do not always fit the questions asked.

Overwhelmingly, though, the experience is impeccably timed, which Slafer says is the result of both the new computer system and well-trained “station operations officers,” the guides involved in leading tour groups through the new exhibit.

“[The delay] gave the guides time to practice,” Slafer said. “They’ve had a lot of time to improvise and get all their lines down.”

Tickets to “Operation Spy” are $14 and are separate from general admission. For more information, see spymuseum.org/operationspy.