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.