As dyed-in-the-wool adventurer, I LOVE scavenger hunts. The camaraderie, the competition, the crazy photos and videos — it's one of the best ways to bring people together and have a ton of fun, especially strangers or almost-strangers. I've always wondered why people don't do them more often, but then I realized after putting my own hunt together for my birthday that they can be intimidating to plan. So to encourage more people to get out there and design mind-blowing scavenger hunts for adults (there seems to be plenty out there about kids' scavenger hunts) I've put together this handy quick-reference guide.
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Choose a theme
For my birthday hunt, I chose myself as a theme. (Yeah, I know — but I figure if I don't plan a scavenger hunt, my favorite thing ever, no one else will.) Other theme ideas include a nature-themed scavenger hunt (you'd look for items out on the trail — though be sure to be considerate), a food-based scavenger hunt, or a bachelorette/girls night out party. Having a theme will not only tie everything together in one appealing package, it will help you come up with better clues and items to include in the hunt. Also, with themes you can have participants to dress up in crazy costumes (and if Halloween has taught us anything, it's that dressing up = instant party enhancer).
Send the invite
It's best to schedule the event AT LEAST two weeks beforehand, though a month or more is better. Pick a location that works best for your group size and theme; personally, I think it's more fun (and safer) if you can do everything on foot and not have to drive anywhere (unlike the University of Chicago's scavenger hunt , which is perhaps the world's craziest, most difficult scavenger hunt ever invented — it spans several states and even goes into Canada). Then decide how long you want the hunt to last — pick an end time and place, and deduct points for every minute a team is late.
Weather can be a factor in scheduling your scavenger hunt, so make sure people know to dress appropriately, especially when it comes to comfortable shoes. This may seem obvious, but at my birthday scavenger hunt, one of my friends wore flats, which made racing around the city difficult (and she ultimately ended up just quitting).
People should also know to bring their cell phone with a camera. Seems pretty obvious, but again, it's nice to give folks a heads up, in case their phone doesn't have much memory or some other unforeseen issue.
Create the clue list
This is the most fun, if the most intimidating. Create a list that's long enough so that not everyone can get every item and they have to prioritize which items to get first. Assign points to each clue, awarding more points for more difficult items (I assigned a crazy amount of points to items that I knew no one would get, but still wanted to see if anyone had the cajones to do it — like getting a tattoo. You'd be surprised at the lengths people will go to in order to win cheesy prizes & bragging rights! Plus the pictures are hilarious). Keep the list secret until the day of the hunt — you don't want folks cheating ahead of time.
Some clue ideas:
Tips for adding complexity to the hunt
To make things interesting, here are some ways to add complexities to your clues:
The pre-hunt meetup
Have everyone meet at a pre-determined location. For me, I had everyone meet at our big library downtown, since 1) I love books, and I was the theme of the hunt and 2) it was a public location that had lots of parking. It's a good idea to tell everyone to be on time, since one late person can hold up the entire hunt - so deduct points for people who are late to the kickoff!.
Once everyone arrives, give the rules of the hunt: time limits, rendezvous points, and remind people not to break any laws or otherwise be obnoxious to business owners or civilians (i.e. people who aren't part of the hunt). We were surprised at how helpful people will be when you're nice and explain what you're doing, but there are others who will not want to participate. That's fine; don't hassle them because they don't want to play. Also, you may want to stipulate that team members cannot pay for any of the items (though that's up to you; in my hunt, the teams didn't have to buy anything to win, but a couple of teams did end up spending nominal amounts to buy a drink or get a receipt for exactly $1).
Once you've gone over the basic rules, hand out the clue list, bags to carry items and pens/pencils for each team. NOTE: At this point, everyone may stop listening to you and start pouring over the list and strategizing with their team members, so make sure you get the most important points across BEFORE you hand out the list. Or not, and make it that much harder for them.
To wrap up the pre-hunt instructions, encourage everyone to think outside the box! For example, one of my clues was to find & take a picture of a Bill. I allowed a couple of teams to take a picture with a dollar bill for half points.
Warnings & other ideas
Here are some other ideas that will help your hunt go more smoothly:
After you send out everyone after their clues, it's time for you to relax — or at least head to the final rendezvous point to start setting up. I went to a local bar, ordered a beer and watched all the crazy pictures starting to come in on my phone. One thing I wish I would have done was set up a projector & a laptop to display all the pictures for the after party, which would have gotten everyone in the mood. Make sure to watch the clock as the end time draws near; remember, you'll need to dock points for every minute a team/participant is late.
It helps if you can have someone as an assistant —someone to run interference with you and the teams, and they can help tally the points (the most time-consuming portion of the hunt — it really is much easier to have the teams tally as they go, and you simply confirm at the end). Then comes the announcement of the winners, the bestowing of the awards, and finally, where everyone comes up to you and gives you a hug because they had such a great time and want to know when the next one is.
So that's it — how to have an adult scavenger hunt. If you have any tips, ideas or thoughts I'd love to hear them in the comments below. Maybe you'll get invited to my next epic scavenger hunt (or me to yours)!
Special thanks to Carrie and her North Carolina book club "Friends Food Fiction" for inspiring this blog post.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe,
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