Scavenger Hunt Map

The World’s Largest Scavenger Hunts

Published on May 23, 2024

Next weekend, May 31st – June 2nd, eATLAS hosts its flagship event, the third annual ScavHunt. Create ScavSquads of up to five people and answer clues related to Chicago history—#CHIstory—for a chance to win up to $5,000 in cash! The winning ScavSquad will also receive a 13” x 13” 3D trophy that depicts nearly two square miles of downtown Chicago’s landscape—including its architecture, roadways, and waterways—in astonishingly accurate and up-to-date detail. You can read the official rules and regulations here and register by clicking this link from your phone.

By Dave Lifton (@daveeatschicago)

The scavenger hunt, as we know it today, started during the Roaring Twenties, where gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell had her party guests roam the streets of Paris for random items. Its success led to similar nights when she returned to New York, and it spread throughout high society, eventually filtering down to the mainstream. Over the years, they’ve remained popular as icebreakers and team-building exercises, a way for people to spend a few hours getting to know each other and work together.

But there are some that are so big that they’ve become major events. The University of Chicago’s annual scavenger hunt began in May 1987 by a group of friends as a stress-reliever during end-of-the-year studies, and has grown into a four-day event played by about 10 percent of the student body (roughly 1,800 people). The 2023 list was 20 pages long and contained 291 items, with mind-bogglingly cryptic clues, bizarre challenges, and a 1,000-mile road trip.

However, Guinness World Records has specific parameters for scavenger hunts, and the University of Chicago’s didn’t qualify. So, in 2011, in honor of its 25th anniversary, the organizers created a hunt-within-the-hunt, in which 924 participants needed to find only 23 items in about an hour. The smaller hunt satisfied Guinness and was awarded the record for the world’s largest scavenger hunt. 

It lasted until 2014, when Google teamed up with the city of Provo, Utah, to help promote the rollout of Google Fiber in the city. Teams of up to eight people had to explore a section of downtown Provo and complete 15 tasks in five categories—Quirky and Fun, Community Service, Outdoor Adventure, Local Business, and Downtown Culture—which included kissing a llama, taking a free throw, and karaoke. The event more than doubled the University of Chicago’s 2011 sub-hunt, with 2,079 participants, and those who finished fastest received gift baskets from local businesses.

That number was topped three years later, when, as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, 683 teams of four (2,732 people)—many of whom dressed in patriotic Canadian costumes—filled Ottawa’s streets. The players were sent throughout the capital city, where they drew upon their knowledge of Canadian history to complete 150 tasks, such as taking a selfie with a caribou and finding plaques for famous Canadians. According to the #find150 hashtag, more than 31,000 pictures were posted to Instagram from the event.

The current record for the world’s largest scavenger hunt was set on Nov. 12, 2023, when 3,040 players had to find 200 items spread throughout Suwon, South Korea. The day was put on by the Uniquegood Company and the Gyeonggi provincial government.

Two variations on the scavenger hunt deserve special recognition. In 2011, actor Misha Collins, who attended the University of Chicago and played its scavenger hunt, launched the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. Collins and what he called “a couple of other deranged miscreants” created a list of tasks to perform or build, such as a dinosaur made out of sanitary napkins, jog down a busy street with shoes made out of pumpkins, and get a 25-piece symphony orchestra to play Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son.”

But GISHWHES was about more than silliness. Within the list were items like donating coats to a homeless shelter and hugging a uniformed veteran. The point of the hunt was to tie it in to his non-profit organization, Random Acts, which inspires people to do good in the world.

The second installation, in 2012, was played by 14,580 people in 972 teams from 90 countries, and was awarded the Guinness World Record for the largest media scavenger hunt. The winning team, Badwolf, won a trip to a haunted castle in Scotland. Collins held GISHWHES annually until 2022.

Lastly, the website for the Willis Tower’s Skydeck describes what may be the world’s highest scavenger hunt. Those visiting the observation deck are asked to spot 13 local landmarks in all four directions, including the Buckingham Fountain, Navy Pier, and Soldier Field from 1,353 feet above the city.

Unlike GISHWHES, eATLAS’ CHIstory scavenger hunt won’t ask you to clean a swimming pool dressed up like a stormtrooper, but it promises to be a fun and exciting time that could get you to see Chicago in a whole new way. Read more about it here.

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