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A scavenger hunt is a game in which the organizers prepare a list defining specific items, which the participants – individuals or teams – seek to gather all items on the list – usually without purchasing them – or perform tasks or take photographs of the items, as specified. The goal is usually to be the first to complete the list, although in a variation on the game players can also be challenged to complete the tasks on the list in the most creative manner.
According to game scholar Markus Montola, scavenger hunts evolved from ancient folk games. Gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell popularized scavenger hunts in the United States with a series of exclusive New York parties starting in the early 1930s. The scavenger-hunt craze among New York's elite was satirized in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey, where one of the items socialite players are trying to collect is a homeless man.
Internet scavenger hunts invite participants to visit different websites to find clues and solve puzzles, sometimes for a prize. The first internet hunt was developed in 1992 by Rick Gates to encourage people to explore the resources available online. Several feature films and television series have used online scavenger hunts as viral marketing, including The Da Vinci Code and the Sci-Fi Channel's series The Lost Room. Actor Misha Collins currently holds the Guinness World Record for organizing GISHWHES, the world's largest media scavenger hunt which included 14,580 participants in 972 teams from 90 countries as participants.
Scavenger hunts are regularly held at American universities, a notable modern example being the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt, founded in 1987.
- Debra Wise, Sandra Forrest (2003). Great big book of children's games: over 450 indoor and outdoor games for kids. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 158. ISBN 0071422463.
- The New Yorker Magazine, "The Hunter Games". July 2, 2012.
- Time Magazine, The Press: Elsa at War. Nov. 7, 1944.
- LIFE Magazine (Time, Inc.) 9 (25): 53. Dec 16, 1940. ISSN 0024-3019.
- "Elsa Maxwell, The Hostess with the Mostest". Clan Maxwell Society of the USA. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
- Murray Pomerance (2007). City that Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination. Rutgers University Press. p. 153.
- Slice of SciFi, "Win $5 M in Lost Room Hunt" Nov. 22, 2006.
- Google Blog, "Can you crack the code?" April 14, 2006.