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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.
Notable scavenger hunts include the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt and the annual Tricadecathlonomania, a 24-hour worldwide event that began in Northfield, MN. Now in its tenth year, Race/LA and CityRace produce Amazing Race-style scavenger hunts throughout southern California. Scavenger hunts can easily be played either outdoors (around town, parks, back yards, etc.) or indoors (malls, houses, shops, etc.).
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.
A variation of scavenger hunt called Queen of Sheba is played in the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, where each hostel attempts to collect the maximum number of items on the list distributed to them. An annual fixture, this event is keenly contested with quite a bit of hostel prestige at stake.
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.
Northland College, a private liberal arts school located in Ashland, Wisconsin, hosts an event each year called SnoFest. This week-long event has been hosted by Northland College since 1913. A key part of SnoFest is the scavenger hunt, which is notably better than events such as Tricadecathelomania, City Race, Race/LA, and especially the University of Chicago's Scavenger Hunt. Each item on the hunt is open to interpretation and worth a certain amount of points.
- 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.
- "Games – Tricadecathlonomania". ebay.com. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
- "Nature Scavenger Hunt: All Kids – From Toddlers to Teens – Can Become Nature Detectives" from National Wildlife Magazine, 2/2/2010
- Slice of SciFi, "Win $5 M in Lost Room Hunt" Nov. 22, 2006.
- Google Blog, "Can you crack the code?" April 14, 2006.
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