Last night I ate dinner with a college friend and went to see my old college improv group, Off-Off campus. Then it was back to Scavving!
I stopped by Scav Prom for about twenty minutes. Everyone looked gorgeous and we danced to Top 40 songs. The DJ was some random dude who did not seem to know the importance of Scav Hunt theme songs of yore. I did not hear “If the Robots Win, We’ll Have to Listen to Techno.” But that’s okay; that’s not his fault. I danced anyway.
After Scav Prom, seven of us judges piled into Judge Nick and Judge Kat’s min-van and drove all the way to the north side for private room karaoke. Private room karaoke is not a Scav Hunt item. It is just fun.
After a close-to-full night’s sleep, I woke up this morning for Scav Olympics.
It’s Scav Olympics, and everyone we’ve invited is here! Also Zoidberg! Zoidberg scuttling competition.
Zoidbergs will scuttle sideways, with their knees in constant contact with their elbows, from Hull Gate
to Harper. Also, you’re not Zoidberg unless you have a rubber glove somehow attached to your face.
This was a race where Scavvies had to pretend to be a crab-like character from Futurama. It was basically like a gym class exercise for building thigh muscle, except wearing a crab costume.
WWII homecoming kiss marathon. Last couple standing with lips locked and both bodies at 45 degrees wins!
This was WAY MORE INTENSE than I had anticipated. The winning couple kissed for 12 minutes. By the end of it, every man’s arms were shaking from holding their partners upright, and the girls who were angled back are probably going to have spinal problems for the rest of their lives. Most of them collapsed to the ground once they gave up kissing. I feel like competing in this contest could single-handedly cure you of your desire to ever kiss anyone ever again.
A reverse dog sled race. Dog must remain on sled solely though its own free will. Sleds that lose their
dogs will be disqualified.
There was only one dog that stayed in her sled the whole way across the lawn, so she won automatically. But all the dogs were still winners, in that they’re all adorable.
Fixed gear bike race. (BYO fixie and helmet.)
This was a backward bike race. It was basically impossible.
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” – Sir Winston
Churchill. Though ye be both horse and man, let us mark your skill in the highest echelon of the
equestrian arts: dressage. Please bring one two-man horse ready to demonstrate equine excellence
with a 2-minute choreographed entry for the Scav Olympics Grand Prix Freestyle to Music. No rider
is necessary, but please ensure that your horse comes dressed in the proper turnout: draped in a brown
sheet with a mangy yarn mane and big horse-sized googly eyes.
I love dressage! And horses! And people dressed up as horses and performing choreographed dances! One of them danced to “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” and I was like, “Well, that sounds about right.”
Around this time Judge Jess and Judge Conor showed up with their two-year-old daughter, a.ka. the Judge Baby. I had never met her before (though I did band together all the judges to buy her roughly fifty picture books when she was born). She was so great.
After Scav Olympics, Judge Will and I set up the indoor string maze.
So you’re going to be Vincent Cassel, and we’re going to be doing that scene in Ocean’s 12, only instead of getting through a laser field, you’re going to need to get through a maze of string. At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday in the McCormick Tribune Lounge, show us what you’ve got. [12 points, plus up to 3 extra
points for style]
It took close to half an hour to construct the string maze, but it wound up looking SO GOOD. My mom used to make smaller string mazes for me on our screened-in porch when I was a kid, so that’s how I got the idea.
This, however, was the most challenging and extensive string maze I have ever seen or made. The fastest Scavvy made it through in 21 seconds, and the slowest one took more than a minute, but we stressed to them that it was about style and creativity more than speed– not least because too much speed would have resulted in a mistake that would have pulled the entire string maze down.
I LOVE how this item went. Every Scavvy found a different route through the maze; no two were exactly alike. Some just walked and crawled, some jumped and flipped. At least three of the competitors showed off their dance or gymnastics training. I loved watching this item. All the more rewarding, many of the competitors thanked me afterward. And that’s really what I want: for them to feel that Scav has given them the opportunity to do something cool. Afterward us judges played around in the maze ourselves, just like I used to do when I was a little kid playing in the mazes made by my mother.
Now I’m vaguely watching some Scavvies play reverse Scrabble.
Scrabble can be frustrating because, well, those can’t possibly be real words. Phonies is much easier,because nothing is a word. Players will compete in a best-of-three phonies tournament. All of the
rules of Scrabble apply, except only words unacceptable in the Official Word List are acceptable for
play, and there will no longer be a 50-point bingo bonus. Also, you are now required to pronounce and
define each word after it is played. The tournament will commence at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday in the
McCormick Tribune Lounge. BYO Scrabble board. [15 points for first place, 10 points for second
place, 5 points for third place, 2 points for participation]
Words include things like “Iobycie.” It’s very high stakes, clearly.
Yesterday afternoon I did all non-Scav things: walking around on Michigan Ave., meeting up with my old supervisor from YALSA, getting a fancy cocktail at the Violet Hour in Wicker Park with an old friend, sleeping for a full night, etc. So today I was up and at ’em early, ready to hit Scav for all it was worth.
The first thing I saw was a J.F.K. assassination competition, using Super Soakers.
Marksmen, fall in! Over the next four days, your Scav Marksman will have an opportunity to demon-
strate his or her skill and versatility with some of the most iconic foamarms and waterarms of the past twenty-ﬁve years. For in the end, there can be only one HasPro. The challenge begins on Eckhart
Quad, Thursday at 10:30 am, where you will be introduced to your ﬁrst round and provided with your
Judge Cat played J.F.K., and four other judges were her bodyguards. She walked on a pre-set path while Scavvies raced to climb a flight of stairs (or “grassy knoll,” if you will), fill a water gun, and shoot her directly.
Say what you will about Scav: we are nothing if not tasteless.
Then it was on to the Pseudoscience Fair.
Bring your most colorful tri-fold posters, dramatic demonstrations, and convincing data to the BSLC at 11:00 a.m. on Friday. It’s time for the ﬁrst annual University of Chicago Pseudoscience Fair! Primary research only, please. [Up to 20 points]
Presentations included topics such as, “Why Cats Are Better Than Dogs,” “Phrenology Phacts,” “The Only Real Physics Is Metaphysics,” and “Who Is Stealing Our Water?” Scavvies stood by their posterboards and answered questions with extreme seriousness.
After the science fair, we walked over to the main quads for zombies.
112. Release a pack of zombies at Cobb during the break between classes on Friday at 11:50 a.m. [Up to 4 points per convincing zombie, maximum 5 zombies.]
113. Zombies are as easily famished as they are willing to share their spoils of war. Serve a brain cake that oozes blood upon being cut. Make sure to share a bit of the cake with your Cobb victims. [5 pooooints]
The cakes looked disgusting but I ate some anyway, because I am a sucker for sugar. The zombies had blood dripping out of their mouths, which, I know from dressing up as Andrew W.K., tastes THE WORST. They all moaned “Brainnsssss” in unison and swarmed the doors of the building, pressing their bloody hands and faces up to the glass. A policeman came by on a Segway, and there was a brief pause as the zombie Scavvies tried to decide whether they were in trouble or whether they should be polite to law enforcement or what. Then they all moaned “Brainnssss” again and surrounded the policeman. Luckily he escaped alive.
After the zombies, I wandered around the quads a little, listening to some rocks.
Everyone wants UChicago to be more like Six Flags, right? Right! With that in mind, please create
a faux rock with a speaker inside, broadcasting your favorite tunes from the nineties alternating with
advertisements for the sweet and refreshing taste of Coca-Cola R. These rocks should be on the Quads
starting at noon on Friday. [13 points]
The rocks were playing tunes including “I Want It That Way,” “How Bizarre,” and “The Venga Bus.” Plus, they were rocks. I hadn’t even known that I wanted life to be more like Six Flags, but it turns out that I totally do.
Then it was over to Rockefeller Chapel for Name That Tune.
Gather at the center of the Quads at noon on Friday for a simple game of Name That Tune. No tricks,
no lies, we’ll play a tune, and you have to name it. We’re not going to secretly make it trivia about
Sir James Tune, or actually make it Name That [Obscure 1970s car]Toon or anything like that. We’ll
play the melody from a piece of music, and you name it. It’s that simple. [10 points]
Rockefeller Chapel is home to a carillon which is– this is true– “the single largest musical instrument ever built.” So we had a carillonneur play the tunes on the carillon. Tunes included “The Final Countdown” and “We Are the Champions.” Naming them was not as easy as you might expect.
Then I took a little bit of a break from organized events. I stopped by my old team’s headquarters to see how they were doing. I ate a sandwich. I stopped by 57th Street Books and signed copies of Mostly Good Girls and Past Perfect. They had the Past Perfect paperback, which is exciting for me because it just came out a week and a half ago, so I haven’t signed it in many bookstores yet.
Around 3pm we went to the Point, which is the park right by Lake Michigan, for a worm charming contest.
Worm Charming! Standard WWCC rules will be enforced, but feel free to substitute your fork and
ﬁddle for a stob and rooping iron. Meet at the Point at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. [20 points for ﬁrst place, 16 points for second 12 points for third, 8 points for fourth, 2 points for participation]
Over half an hour, one team got five worms! The various vibrating techniques were very impressive. One team’s Gnome King was in also their Worm Charmer.
We seek the Gnome King. Must have a beard, a pointy hat, a pouch of magic stones, and must
demonstrate direct responsibility for two natural phenomena. Gnomes should appear in proper attire
throughout the hunt, but should demonstrate their traits at Judgment. A gnarled stick, signifying
leadership, will be presented to the winner at closing ceremonies. [10 points for sending your gnome,
and 3 extra points for the winner]
The Gnome King had brought a vibrator for charming worms. He dressed up the vibrator in a gnome hat. This was not terribly effective. At one point his vibrator ran out of batteries, so he had to place a desperate call to a teammate, who quickly biked over with an extra set of double-A’s, then just as quickly biked back to headquarters again.
Once all the worms were charmed, we walked out to the tip of the point for Viking funerals.
More like RagnaROCK. Assemble your best shipbuilders and rockstars: it’s time for a Viking funeral.
Since the world is ending in 2012, please send your mourners to the point at 4:45 p.m. on Friday to send off your tiny heroes in style. They will require a ﬂoating Snekkja at no more than 1:28 scale, and a rock song with lyrics telling the tales of these worthy men. And, of course, they will need a mechanism by which to burn and send their occupants to the gods without also burning their mourners. [19 points]
Teams sang dirges, doused their boats in gasoline, then put them in Lake Michigan and set them aflame. I accidentally got some gasoline sprayed on my tights and hoped desperately that I would not catch fire. The whole Point reeked of lighter fluid.
Then I went to Starbucks because all that time in the sun made me want a cold chocolate drink. (You know, unlike all those times in my life when I… don’t want a cold chocolate drink?) And now I’m about to head to dinner! Stay tuned for more Scav wonders soon.
As you may be aware, I have been involved with the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt since the year 2003. I competed for my first three years– once on the Shoreland team (R.I.P.), and twice for Snell-Hitchcock. In 2006, I joined the panel of roughly fifteen judges who write the list, and I have come back to Chicago since then– not every year, but some years, and this is one of them.
If all this is news to you, here’s some brief background: Scav Hunt is the world’s largest scavenger hunt. (Truly; it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.) It has been going on for 25 years, and every year it consists of a list of roughly 300 items, all of which can be found, made, invented, created, or accomplished within a 1,000-mile radius of Chicago. The Hunt lasts for four days and hundreds of people participate. This year’s list is on view here: http://scavhunt.uchicago.edu/scavlist2012.pdf.
Some of my proudest moments have come from Scav Hunt. Like the time I organized roughly 100 people to play Tetris in the windows of a building. Also some of my most joyful moments, too. Like the time as a judge that I came up with the item “a walk-in kaleidoscope,” and also the item, “use a trampoline in conjunction with any other item on this list to make that item more awesome,” and one team put a trampoline inside of a kaleidoscope. Jumping up and down in there, watching the colors change all around me, was some of the most joy I have ever experienced.
I’ll be recapping this year’s Hunt, as I have done nearly every year since 2003. I’m not doing it as intensely this year as in the past– I mean, I am an adult— but I’m doing it enough that I’ll have cool things to share.
Last night Will and I got into O’Hare around 9:30pm and we got straight into a taxi. The taxi ride cost $66– right, because everything in Chicago is spaced ONE MILLION MILES apart. We went to Ida Noyes and donned our Judge shirts.
Even though I have skipped the past two Scav Hunts and don’t know half these judges or the majority of these Scavvies, Scav Hunt is an event steeped in tradition, so it’s easy to pick up right where you left off. The order of events pre-list release is always the same. We set up list release while dancing around and shrieking. We go to the Pub, where I never drink anything, because they only serve beer and I hate beer. We hold aloft our beers (or, for me, water bottles) and we toast one another, Scav Hunt, creativity, the world, etc. Then we go into our Secret Judges’ Lair and play Secret Judges’ Games, such as Spin Sit and Hug, and Goat Wrestling. Oh, and Portage Pyramid Packers, where I still have to be the one ported, and I still have to be the one to climb over the top of the human pyramid.
At midnight, we released the list. It was intense. Hundreds of students had crowded into Ida Noyes, screaming and chanting, wearing team T-shirts and waving flags. There were so many Scavvies that they didn’t all fit into the lobby– they filled the stairs, and then the second floor, too, looking down at us. We jogged around and high-fived, and then we began list release.
The year had a genius list release. It went perfectly. We made the teams stand behind a strip of tape. Fifteen feet in front of them, the lists hung from hooks on the wall. “The floor is lava,” we told them. “You can use any sort of contraption to get the lists off the wall. You can get any sort of supplies, and you can call for any sort of backup. But NOTHING can touch the ground in front of you.”
It was so cool watching how all the teams addressed this engineering problem. It was like being in an elementary school problem-solving competition, only with physics majors and a lot more PVC piping. Most of the teams used duct tape in some way. One used a long fly-fishing rod. A few tried affixing umbrellas to the ends of long rods and then attempting to knock the lists into the umbrellas. The first team got their list within half an hour and raced off to headquarters to read it and get their head start, and the final team finished half an hour later. I felt like this list release had just the right amount of length, difficulty, head-to-head competition, and ingenuity.
Then I went to another judge’s house and went to sleep. By the time I got to bed, it was 2am Chicago time (i.e. I thought it was 3am), and then I slept for just over five hours before waking up for… road trip send-off!
The road trip this year is going through Iowa, so the four drivers that each team sent had to be dressed up as an Iowa-related character: namely, John Deer, the Surgeon Mary, Buddy Holly, and Corn. As in, the food product.
At 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, the Raucous Caucus rumbles down University Avenue in their Barnmobile.
Headlining is Buddy Holly, ﬁngers snapping, black rim glasses over his sparkling youthful eyes. Some-
where along the line, he lost his guitar, but he’s carrying a new, compact instrument, and is ready
to rock ’n’ roll. Second in command is John Deer, clad in overalls and his eponymous hat, antlers
gleaming in the early morning sunlight. Following serenely behind them, The Sturgeon Mary is quite
the catch, with her blue robe draped daintily over her scales, a halo encircling her ﬁshy visage. But
she’s not just a Sturgeon, she’s also a person. And the last member of the Caucus is Corn. They’ll
need to keep their Hawkeyes sharp for their upcoming journey through cornﬁelds, exciting sites, and
I took photos of lots of Buddy Hollys and was extremely happy. I also reminded myself that I couldn’t fall in love with them. Even though they are dressed up as Buddy Holly, Leila, they are still close to A DECADE YOUNGER THAN YOU.
After road trip send-off, we had the Captain’s Operatory. All the team captains had to be dressed as specific doctors, so there was a Dr. Who, a Dr. House, a Dr. Dre, a Dr. Pepper, et al.
Captains’ Operatory. Paging Dr. Hunt. Dr. Scavvy Hunt, please report to the Operatory for a Code
Four. I repeat, Dr. Scavvy Hunt to the Operatory for a Code Four. Check in your Caucus for its
07:45 pre-travel checkup with Dr. Risk Management before the Barnmobile sets forth on its search
for healthy wellness. Resident Doctors should then report to the Hutchinson Operating Theater at
approximately 08:45 for a discussion of this week’s continuing education text, The Fourdays Journal of
Items and Pointerology. Any remaining topics for Continuing Scav Education pro jects will be assigned,
and senior faculty will take you newbie Doctors on rounds to explain any of the complicated cases that
arose last night. We know you’re tired after working a double shift back at County General HQ, but
come prepared with questions– we’ll push the ca↵eine and issue all residents a bolus of doughnut.
Better not arrive anytime later than STAT–we’ve got no time to waste, Doctor! Human points are at
We ate donuts and discussed list clarifications. Then the captains dispersed, and we went outside to see some Charlotte’s Webs.
It’s no secret we think the University of Chicago is terriﬁc, but apparently some people just aren’t convinced. Using string and the architectural nooks and crannies of the Quads, weave an inspirational slogan into a web that would make a Shelob-sized Charlotte proud. Your gossamer propaganda should be spun by 10:00 a.m. on Thursday morning if you want a shot at that blue ribbon. Please make sure not to block walkways or deface buildings with your creations. [30 points, 10 extra points if you wow us with a new design by noon on Friday]
If there is one thing I love as much as Buddy Holly, it may be Charlotte’s Web. It’s funny how, even though I only have like three items on this list, it still feels like it was designed with me in mind. I guess a really good list feels that way to everyone.
The spiders webs were really lovely, and I felt somewhat the sense of awe Mr. Arable may have himself experienced. And then I came back here to take a nap. And for most of the rest of the day, I’m just hanging out with non-Scav friends, doing adult things. I know I’ll be missing cool things, but that is just the way of it. There will be more cool things to see. There always are.
Leila on Twitter
RT @JenESmith: Field Notes comes out two weeks from today! It’s about two people who end up on a cross-country train ride from NYC to Chica… - Thursday Feb 21 - 5:04am
RT @annetdonahue: important questions to ask any animal:
- are you a baby
- are you small
- are you tiny
- are you a baby or a grown man/wo… - Thursday Feb 21 - 5:01am