Student Stories

84 hours and counting

In addition to dumpster diving, fundraising, and oil-changes, the well-prepped scavvie might consider sending cookies to Mrs. Chapin, mother of Grace Chapin, Head Judge of the University of Chicago scavenger hunt and fourth-year psychology major at the College.

“Some of my best friends are hardcore scavvies,” said Chapin, “I often have a hard time not spilling the beans about things I am looking forward to, but you have to do it—can't ruin the mystery! I tell a lot of scav stuff to my mom just to get it out of my brain—if anyone kidnapped her and forced her to spill the beans they could find scav hunt out pretty quickly.”

Still, any truly hardcore scavvie knows that success in UChicago’s massive four-day scavenger hunt requires more than mere knowledge of hundreds of items. The multi-page list must be interpreted, and often in costume. Moreover, whether building a nuclear reactor or crashing prom, scav has always been a time to supplant the theoretical with the practical, a truly hands-on experience that runs best on greasy food, little sleep, and lots of spontaneity.

“It's crazy fun that you won't be able to see or do anywhere else,” said Chapin. “The number of times I've seen a scav item in action, or worked with someone for something during scav, or even just thought things up for scav as a judge that I know would never otherwise exist in the real world is beyond countable, and I love that aspect of it.”

After two years on the Snell-Hitchcock team, Chapin decided that four days was not enough time to spend on scav. She applied to be a judge for her third year, a year-round and, ultimately, lifelong position. Students who wish to be judges fill out an application and compose their own 30-item list. Current judges consider these before determining who will continue on to the final interview stage.

“Before scav there is a lot, a lot, of prep—we spend almost all year thinking up items, voting on things, testing them when we need to, planning events, etc.,” said Chapin. “There's a lot of behind the scenes preparation that goes into a complete scav hunt, and for every item we pass there are usually two or three that we don't pass. During scav we run around witnessing events, seeing items, and at the end, assigning points to everything."

Although most decisions require a vote and two-thirds majority, as Head Judge Chapin runs meetings. She also takes care of most of scav’s organizational and administrative details, ranging from reserving rooms to ensuring items aren’t too dangerous or downright life threatening. Other positions include Keeper of the Scrolls, Clark Griswold, the Minister of Propaganda, Sir Ector, and Vampire. Keeper of the Scrolls organizes the list and maintains scav's official website. Clark Griswold plans the road trip, while the Minister of Propaganda takes care of posters and other advertising. As the oldest judge, Sir Ector is tasked with preservation of the institutional memory of the hunt. The Vampire runs the scav blood drive, an annual philanthropic item held in the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The main task before scav is the compilation of the list. No magic number limits the amount of items a Judge can dream up, but usually each page contains 15 to 20 items. Potential items tend not to make the cut if they are too dangerous, too repetitive, or too topical. Judges also try to avoid items that have already been done on the Internet or that can be easily completed via Google.

For Chapin, inspiration varies from a business card to her grandmother’s house. Her favorite item, however, fulfilled a personal dream. Last year, Chapin asked teams to bring a Stradivarius instrument—which can cost upwards of $3 to $4 million—to campus. A cellist, Chapin had seen Stradivarius instruments before in concert but never played them.

“Two teams found the same violin, which at the time was for sale at a rare instrument dealer downtown, two other teams found the same cello at another rare instrument dealer, and one team (which was absolutely the coolest) got me backstage at the Chicago Symphony after a concert to see another cello,” recalled Chapin. “I got to play two different cellos—absolutely one of the coolest experiences of my life, and made cooler by the fact that the students who found the instruments were usually also musicians, and really enjoyed finding them and seeing them as well.”

Of course, being a Judge has its downsides. In addition to the various bureaucratic responsibilities, judges have no time to scav themselves. Still, Chapin considers this a fair trade, and views her judge-ship not as the end of her scavving but rather a way to extend the hunt. “I enjoyed being a scavvie, but there's a lot of build up and excitement for something that only takes four days. Being a judge and working on the list all year round means you have a lot of secrets from friends and fellow scavvies, but also means you get to keep the crazy in your life all year round.”