How NOLA's Naked Pizza Factored In to an Online Manhunt

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a nice summation of the complicated story behind Wired writer Evan Ratliff's "disappearance" and capture. The innovative NOLA pizzeria Naked Pizza played a large role in rooting out Ratliff.

Ratliff's disappearance was engineered by Wired magazine as a stunt to show just how much of our mundane daily activity is trackable online, including ATM and credit card transactions, travel itineraries, and, the data that tipped off searchers, Ratliff's online menu-browsing.

Given a small set of biographical data at the beginning of the game (August 15), Wired readers were challenged to find Ratliff within 30 days as he traveled normally from city to city while trying to lie low. The winner would get $5,000; if Ratliff avoided detection, he'd keep the $5,000.

Among the initial clues was the fact that Ratliff had Celiac disease. So when NewsCloud, a Seattle-based software company, built a suite of apps to track him, it detected that the web browser it suspected Ratliff of using seemed to be hitting the Naked Pizza nutritional info page a lot, looking at gluten-free pizza offerings.

From there, they guessed he was in New Orleans, where Naked Pizza is based. The NewsCloud "Vanish Team" then contacted Naked Pizza owner Jeff Leach and asked him to watch the restaurant for Ratliff's appearance. If Ratliff showed, Leach was to snap a photo of him and tell Ratliff the search-ending code word: "Fluke."

But Ratliff didn't show up at the pizzeria. Leach instead snapped the photo above at a book reading—to make things interesting and ensure that Ratliff couldn't just hole up indoors the whole time, Wired editors started giving him assignments that he had to complete. The one that led to his capture was that he had to attend a book reading--any book reading. So when Leach saw Ratliff's order posted on wired.com on September 9, he checked book reading schedules for that night and showed up at the most likely one, capturing Ratliff.

More About Naked Pizza

New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker profiled Naked Pizza a couple weeks ago. Naked Pizza is making a splash by offering what it calls a more healthy version of pizza:

Hiring biologists and food technologists, [Jeff Leach and business partner Randy Crochet] devised a crust made of 12 whole grains, used low-fat skim mozzarella and a tomato sauce with "no additives, preservatives, colorants or weird chemicals or molecules of any kind." Their approach also includes probiotics ("health-giving bacteria that live in our guts") and prebiotics ("special grit-free fibers"). Not surprisingly, Leach suggests the results also happen to taste better than processed alternatives. (The handful of reviews on Yelp.com seem to agree.)

Through aggressive use of social media (Facebook and Twitter), Naked Pizza has succeeded in getting the attention of (and investment from) Dallas-based entrepreneur Mark Cuban and, earlier this month, The Kraft Group (unrelated to Kraft Foods). Leach and Crochet plan to start nationwide franchising in the fourth quarter of this year, which should be about anytime now.

For now, you can find Naked Pizza only in New Orleans ...

Naked Pizza

6307 S Miro Street, New Orleans LA 70125 (map)
504-865-0244; nakedpizza.biz

Add a comment

Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: