How to Make a Scavenger Hunt

(Scavenger hunt being: urban food & pub crawl with historical and local notes)

Team Berkeley caught near the end of San Francisco, Upper Polk Hunt 2011

1. Pick a neighborhood.
It’s pedestrian, it’s got lots of businesses close by, and it’s got “character,” that is, some identifying historical or local traditions.

2. Walk the neighborhood.
Don’t worry about route or clues, just ask yourself questions. “Why is this street named this?” Talk to locals. Ask them about “weird or interesting facts” about their neighborhood. This may get you some blank looks. I also follow with, “Why did you move/live here,” “Favorite places to go,” weird history, odd history, etc.
– get closing times and opening hours
– find weird detailed clues inside places (to prove that they’ve been there- a painting, a menu item, an odd decoration, a typo, etc.)

3. Read up on the neighborhood.
Local history books on the place, architectural books, talking to old guys- seriously- at bookstores or at local bars. I walked into The Saloon one day and asked a few regulars about how it used to be a shanghai spot (drafting poor unsuspecting drunks into serving on ships), and brothel. They corrected a few things and led me to ask questions about a brick building nearby that was an old Civil War-era jail, and hanging platform. Take time to go to lunch or walking tours with people who live there. They will be more helpful if they’re out walking- instead of sitting in a chair. This last hunt I did, about 5 clues were from a friend who had a lot of interesting questions about things. She may not have known the answer, but it led me to read up and do research. The best clues won’t be in books.

4. Do research- on the internet
I use a combination of Google maps and real printed books, but internet research is invaluable. While not authoritative, it will correct things and will help you envision the route.

5. Write a long list of clues
Don’t worry about route still, just write down every clue you think you have. Don’t worry much about the writing, just a shorthand idea of what it would be. Pick good appetizers at restaurants, specialty drinks, quirky seasonal foods, etc.

6. Work on the route.
Put hints in buckets of “requires daytime” or when the stores/shops are open. I’ve started doing mildly athletic hikes/walks in the beginning, because people are excited, and that’s the time to make them walk up hills. I also like to put my best drink place in the beginning, because folks are sober and they can really taste how good it is. For mixed kids/family crowds – I put the drink off until the middle. I love to lead people to areas they may otherwise be hesitant or shy to go- down alleys, basically. Behind things, inside shops, asking weird questions. Shake up their comfort zone. I don’t recommend doing an “8” shaped route, as folks tend to flake, but looping back is a good idea. My most recent one was a “9” shaped route, and at the cross-over a mini party started. It’s a good idea if it’s a large, somewhat spacious, loud place (outside grill, German restaurant, etc.) The end-up place should be somewhere that people can linger at for a long time. If they’ve completed early but want to meetup with others, for example. I’ve done an outside grill, as well as karaoke, and a Chinese restaurant.

7. Write the “nice” version of the clue: I usually do it in “3”s:
– get them to the corner
– get them inside
– figure out a detail to quiz them on

“Find the 3 arches” “Go up the alley” “turn right (north) at the 8th post” “Who wrote ___ at #29” for example.
I have started to use compass directions along with relative ones- so “turn right” along with what N/S/E/W direction that would be. It helps in that some people like relative directions, some like compass. It’s resulted in less people being lost- because if you take one bad turn, nothing else will make sense.

I like to use a combination of empirical knowledge, research (internet use is OK on these hunts), estimation skills, pictures, word play, and cultural references. The style is based on the Chinatown Scavenger Hunt that occurs each February in San Francisco- though that one is much larger and much harder. So I’ll reference an album cover, a B Actor, Civil War knowledge, a rhebus, etc. to get a clue across. The more diversity the more fun, in a way, because it uses different knowledge in a team.

If you can use a trope all the way through a hunt, it helps. One photo of a filbert, for example, and you can refer to that in other clues.

8. Do a dress rehearsal.
Set aside 2-3 hours to do the route yourself, or with a friend who isn’t doing the real hunt. If you do have a friend like this, don’t ever offer an answer, and take your hunt with a pen to make notes. Note anything that is confusing or weird. Time the route as you go. If there are logistical issues, yep, you need to re-jigger it, and re-test. My mom helped me with the wedding hunt I did, and it really helped. We actually broke it into 2 stages, one with her, and one with myself. These dress rehearsals are invaluable. Last hunt, I found a crucial problem- my first drink spot was closed, so I moved the beginning loop up a block. It ended up fine, but it was nail-biting for a while. Good time to tlak to business owners about the specific date and time you will have it. Depending on size, they will have different reactions- I usually emphasize that not all hunters will be there at the same time, but trickling in groups of 3-5. Dress rehearsal is best done 1 week before the actual hunt, to get the same wait staff that will be on during the actual hunt. This is probably the most important tidbit in this write-up. ha.

9. Go somewhere to print the clues. I work really hard on using color photos- it’s more fun- and getting it onto one two-sided page. Then, print out enough for how many teams you expect (20? 30?) and make a lot of black and white copies for other team members. Then, there’s an official clue sheet, and cheaper ones for others to read. I get a colorful envelope and put it inside. The envelope helps teams identify other teams en route, as well as the shops, bars, and restaurants identify the scavenger hunters. This is a good thing- the more the businesses are prepared, the more welcoming they will be.

10. The actual hunt.
Make sure your cell phone is charged. Meet people at the first spot (I usually choose a cafe) and wait an hour for stragglers. I pass out clues as teams leave (so there’s no guessing around new people). I also form teams for those who don’t have one, from 3-5 people is ideal. After 45 minutes or so, I move to the next stop and get a drink, then try to move quickly through it to get to the first team. If it’s a “9” or “8” shaped route, I don’t do the first loop I just meetup at the midpoint with the head team. Ask folks if there are issues, and quiz them on the answers. I’ve done outside/daytime hunts on a bike (as organizer) and that is great, but walking it works too.
Don’t let them open the envelope until all team members are there and they are “starting.” It’s a rolling start (which helps people show up on time). To win- first back with all clues completed. I also check that they’ve been there, by talking to the team. Some may try to write in answers to complete it, but it’s usually quite obvious if they’ve actually been there or not.