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University of Chicago Scav Hunt

Participants in the U. of C.’s 25th annual Scav Hunt try to set a Guinness world record.

Chris Salata

Andrew Kyser’s five-year-long affair with the University of Chicago’s annual scavenger hunt began when a girl he met in the Loop asked him to shave his head. He did it to help her team check off one of 330-plus items on the 2007 “Scav Hunt” list.

Since then, Kyser, 27, now a student at Loyola University, has raised a barn at a Hyde Park bus stop and allowed teammates to waterboard him with chocolate milk, among other “items.”

“That item was to drink a glass of milk as dramatically as possible,” he says. “We knew enough to make it look real without actually doing it.”

Close to 1,000 University of Chicago students, alumni and other curious Chicagoans will flock to the 57th Street campus this Mother’s Day Weekend for the annual Scav Hunt, which is marking its 25th year. The event, which runs from midnight on May 4 to the afternoon of Sunday 7, is often hailed as the largest organized scavenger hunt in the world.

But you won’t see Scav Hunt in Guinness World Records. The record for the “largest game of scavenger hunt” was set by an elementary school in Canada last June with 212 participants.

“The Guinness book people have a remarkably narrow definition of how one measures a scavenger hunt,” says Christian Kammerer, one of the Scav Hunt judges. “It’s how many teams of four can compete in the span of [at least] one hour in a set area.”

To try to break the record, the judges are inviting participating teams and any other individuals the evening of Friday 6 to a “hunt within the hunt” on the university’s main quadrangle.

“Our event has evolved well beyond what could be put into such a small space,” Kammerer, 29, explains. “We want to show that even one small fraction of the University of Chicago Scav Hunt is itself bigger than any recognized scavenger hunt in the world.”

According to Kammerer, a U. of C. alum who works as a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City but will return to Chicago to help judge this year’s hunt, the list has evolved dramatically since 1987 to include more items that need to be built from scratch or involve flash-mob-type performances. The 2008 item list featured this doozy: “Fix the CTA®! Duct tape together two different stations of the El. [9 points].” (At least two teams successfully completed the item, one team by connecting the underground pedway that runs between the Red Line and Blue Line at Jackson.) In ’07: “Where’s Waldo? On Friday between 15:00 and 17:00, he’ll be somewhere in the Loop. Find him. [25 points].” (Kammerer said almost every team located Waldo, a judge dressed in the character’s iconic striped shirt and knit hat.)

“The first Scav Hunt list was…a fairly standard scavenger hunt—looking for unusual leaves, bags of sandpaper, cockroach corpses,” Kammerer says. Today, “we also have major construction items, more tech and information science–based items, and performance items with music and theater.” One item on the ’99 list was to build a working nuclear reactor—a feat successfully completed by a team of U. of C. students.

The Hunt’s zany reputation first drew Sam Perkins-Harbin, 31, to Hyde Park from Flint, Michigan, in 2000. “Everybody is pretty much working to have nonstop fun for four days straight,” he says. Like many participants, Perkins-Harbin, now a Web designer and tall-ship sailor who lives in Ukrainian Village, has trouble rattling off his favorite items in just one breath: “Doing stupid stunts, going on a road trip, using power tools, building, sewing, finding items, eating their own umbilical cord.”

Until Scav Hunt begins, the 2011 list “is terra incognita,” Kammerer says. “The release of even one of the items prior to the final list release is unprecedented.”

Help Scav Hunt set a Guinness world record Friday 6 in the University of Chicago’s Hutchinson Courtyard behind Hutchinson Commons (1135 E 57th St). Registration starts at 5:30pm; the hunt runs from 6:30–7:30pm.

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