Who brought the tiger? Photos/videos inside the UofC 'Scav Hunt'

May 9, 2011

(Kate Dries)

On Friday, I attended and participated in the world's largest scavenger hunt, right here in Chicago, at the UofC. You can hit the link to check out photos of the momentus occasion, but I thought I'd shoot some video as well, and explain the inner workings of it all.

Scav Hunt at large has been around for 25 years, and lasts from midnight Wednesday night to Sunday ("Judgement Day") of Mother's Day weekend.  Teams are commonly formed around dorm affiliation, and they're mostly made of UofC students and alums, who raise money and materials to make and buy things for their items.

Every year follows the same structure:

1) The list is revealed at midnight on Wednesday, but it isn't just handed out; there's usually some sort of clue given to teams, and then they go on a hunt to find it, which is wrapped up within a few hours.

2) All activities occur on campus or in Chicago, except for the road trip. A team of volunteers are sent out of the state (one year the road trip traveled to Las Vegas) to complete their own items.

3) "Scav Olympics" is on Saturday. It's a spin on picnic-style festivities, such as the three-footed race.

4) The celebrations wrap up on Saturday night with a party. Teams are required to wear costumes and design their own areas, all surrounding a different yearly theme.

Finally, all points are judged and accounted for on Sunday. It's a very long four days.

The scavenger hunt on Friday night was unique in that it was event that had never been done before. In the video below, I talked to Margot Spellman, Priyanko "Pranks" Paul and Aaron Horton. All are alums of the college, and were part of Snell-Hitchcock's team, this year dubbed "The Dark Side of the Quad." Scav still means a great deal to them, so they returned for this years festivities. They told me a little bit about how UofC's scavenger hunt is a little different than what you'd imagine it to be, and gave out some predictions for how the record-breaking event would change Scav overall.

For Friday's event, each team of four (if you didn't have friends, you were paired up with some) was given a sealed envelope, and a list of rules and regulations (no cell phone use, no leaving the quads). When the hunt began, the envelope was opened to reveal a page-and-a-half long list, with trivia to be answered, all of which could be found on the Quads. The questions ranged from which building on campus had Greek, Hebrew and Latin on it (Haskell), to listing specific class gifts and their corresponding dates. No stone was left unturned; names of trees, locations of flags, the permanent time listed the clock on top of Cobb. There were also more interactive options; hand-penned signs held by judges required term matching (Rob Reiner -- When Harry Met Sally, Kanye West -- Homecoming) that were all Chicago themed.

My team was a motley crew of myself, Brianne Holland, Jessie Reuteler and Bryn Adams. Jessie and I have graduated from the college, but Holland and Adams have not. We were a bit tired, but ultimately, the tour guides hiding within both Bryn and Jessie prevailed, and we managed to answer almost all of the questions. 

On Judgement Day, it was announced that this year's overall Scav Hunt was won by Burton-Judson house, by a small margin of 63 points. Surprisingly, Max Palevsky's team came in fourth, after their road trip team's car was unfortunately totaled. In my opinion, however, the best item was number 265:  A lion, tiger, or bear. With trainer. On campus. [125 points, 25 bonus points if it does a trick the assembled Judges deem "righteous"]. Here's Snell-Hitchcock's offer:

Or, in other animal-related items: 2. Re-cut Disney's The Lion King into a sub-fi ve minute video that summarizes all five seasons of The Wire. [15 points]

Scav Hunt is ultimately unique in how it turns a traditional concept upside-down. You're not just scavenging for hidden things, like during an easter egg -- you're scavenging creativity and knowledge. It's about limits too, as someone might come up with a great idea, but ultimately not have the time or resources to execute it. The question is, how can you be the most inventive, while under severe pressures? It has been born out of a particularly nerdy and strange environment, and probably would not have been able to have become as popular at another school. It's both a break from a traditional school environment, and born out of that intense hunger for knowledge. And it's this uniqueness that is Scav's ultimate value; when you do Scav, you're not just looking for something, you're making it.