Hunting and gathering records

Terence Lee

Delirious “whoops” only world record-breakers could produce emanated from the main quad of the University of Chicago campus at 5:40pm last Friday. Admittedly, the celebration was premature–the old record was still standing–but if the endless mass of individuals filling the quad stuck with the challenge, breaking the record was certainly imminent.

The record they aimed to break was established in June 18, 2010, when 212 elementary school children participated in the largest scavenger hunt in human history, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, organized by St. Anthony’s School in Ontario, Canada.  On May 6 2011, it was the University of Chicago’s turn. Judges frantically registered groups of four in the hour before the event started, handing each team a Ziploc bag containing four purple wristbands to be collected and tallied at the end of the hunt, detailed instructions and rules, a pencil, and a sealed envelope with the list of items to be hunted. The rules were simple: the scavenging was to last exactly one hour and participants were forbidden from leaving the main quad until the event was over.

“…And go!” shouted Daniel Citron, head honcho of the event. The masses ripped open their envelopes, eager to begin the quest. “Get on my back, get on my back!” demanded one shrill gentleman, insisting that the girl next to him climb on his shoulders so she could low-five a judge in exchange for four points. “Pythagorean,” one girl said to her team, answering one of the challenges on the list: identify the theorem written on the side of Eckhart Hall. Running awkwardly through the main quad, participants flailed limbs in hot pursuit of the judge whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” or raced to reach the top of fire escape stairs to determine what brand of fire escapes the university prefers.

Most participants were UofC students, but some came from as far away as Wisconsin and Ohio, and at least one team had a stroller-bound member. Exactly one hour after the event started, 924 wristbands were collected, officially making the evening a wild success.

The reward for each participant’s hard work? A free scoop of catered ice cream complete with whipped cream and cherries, knowledge of the UofC class of 1991 gift (a set of lights on the Classics Quad), and the rights to tell their children that they set a world record.