On the hunt for ambitious silliness…

From the Great Urban Race to Leslie’s Valentine’s Day puzzle challenge on Parks & Rec, we’ve covered scavenger hunts and puzzle-game quests on the blog several times in the past.

Scavenger hunts have a special place in my heart as a puzzler, because they’re the pinnacle of puzzly thinking on the fly. Deductive reasoning, creativity, ingenuity, a penchant for plotting and executing step-by-step moves to conquer a challenge… scavenger hunts combine all of these features (and throw in some exercise, for better or for worse).

Now, for the uninitiated, scavenger hunts at their simplest are games where individuals (or, more often, teams) are assigned a list of items to obtain or actions to perform, and the first person or team who completes the list is the winner.

Scavenger hunts by definition incorporate a spirit of silliness, lightheartedness, and frivolity. Whether you’re hunting down the gaudiest things you can find at a tag sale or photographing yourself getting a piggyback ride from a police officer, the goal of most scavenger hunts is to have fun.

And it seems like scavenger hunts are becoming more creative and more diabolical with every passing day. Let’s take a look at two of the most ambitious scavenger hunts challenging players these days.

The first is GISHWHES, a.k.a. The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.

GISHWHES combines the playfulness of scavenger hunts with a humanitarian ideal, challenging players to make the world a better and more interesting place through their challenges.

Designed to be played around the world through the Internet, GISHWHES has previously tasked its players to perform such varied feats as performing puppet shows for sick kids and documenting a session of ski yoga. Creating art, doing good, and being gloriously silly is what GISHWHES is all about.

The second scavenger hunt is called Midnight Madness, and was recently profiled on Quartz.com.

A high-concept game that became a brilliantly-clever fundraiser when Goldman Sachs got involved, Midnight Madness is a fiendishly challenging series of puzzles and activities scattered throughout New York City.

Goldman Sachs employees — every division of the company is represented — race around the city, unraveling electrical puzzles, playing laser mini golf, and deciphering complex clues, all in the hopes of determining the location of the next challenge.

The most recent edition of the game lasted fifteen hours and raised over a million dollars for charity. While it’s much more exclusive than GISHWHES, Midnight Madness has the same humanitarian spirit and the same sense of ambitious lunacy at its heart.

For puzzly fun on the run, scavenger hunts can’t be beat.

Puzzle Tech Support, how may I help you?

All of the best operatives have tech support. Bond has Moneypenny and Q. Batman has Oracle. Punisher has Microchip.

My older sister has me, your friendly neighborhood puzzlin’ fool.

Allow me to explain.

For a few years now, my older sister has competed in various rounds of the Great Urban Race, a city-centric version of The Amazing Race that combines trivia, puzzle-solving, and physical challenges. And an outrageous amount of running around.

(I understand there is a similar event in Canada known as the City Chase. And, of course, there’s the supremely puzzle-focused BAPHL, which Eric covered earlier this year.)

Since it’s damn near impossible to do research on the run, competitors are allowed to have someone as remote tech support to do the electronic legwork while the team is on the move. As a puzzle fiend and a world-class Googler, I was her first and only choice.

So last weekend, for the third time, I found myself hunkered down in front of my laptop with several Google windows prepped, waiting for text messages or emails to roll in.

The first time, she was in Philadelphia.

Where is the only digital printing studio in Philly with IRIS 3047 printer? Where is the Class of ’49 Bridge? What is the river that the St. James Brewery in Dublin is situated on?

And then the kicker. Where is this statue?

I hit Google Image Search immediately, but the dimensions on the picture simply didn’t match up with anything I could find in the Philadelphia area.

Which meant either the photo was compressed or otherwise distorted, or it was taken from a weird angle.

So I went with that, looking for any gargoyles with potential, or at least a similar shape. That’s when I stumbled upon an image from Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary.

They have two gargoyles that are put up on the main gateway in early September, since they do a special Halloween tour every year. They’d gone up on the ninth.

It turns out the picture was of the second gargoyle — the first, with an outstretched claw, was the one that kept turning up on Google Image Search — as shot from below.

Crafty, crafty.

The second GUR was New York City.

Find a certain restaurant. (No sweat.) Track down the business or organization behind a certain slogan. (Took a lot longer, because she gave me the wrong slogan.) Track down a business on a given street. (Nailed it quickly.) Find a theater under former names. (Again, no sweat.) Locate the largest rare goods shop. (Got it.) Unscramble a phrase to find a business’s name. (Anagrammed it in my head.)

But again, an image-search question was the most time-consuming. I had a cellphone-quality picture of a photocopy of a picture of a cigar store Indian statue, and I had to find the exact statue in Manhattan AND its location.

THAT was tedious. But I was eventually successful in tracking him down.

This time around, she was in Las Vegas (which I believe she and her partner qualified for after performing well in the New York City round).

There weren’t any tough Image Searches this time around — or if there were, she didn’t need my assistance with it — but my trivia and puzzle skills did come in handy again.

In one instance, a phone number was translated into another language, and I had to identify and decode the number. (It was Tagalog.)

My anagramming skills again came into play, but this time in a list of comic book titles and characters that had been scrambled. I was stumped by the last one, GECRSOSN MPRIRE, for a while, because while CONGRESS PRIMER immediately jumped to mind, that was total nonsense to me as a comic book fan. Googling that phrase did me no good, either.

It was a while before I started playing around with GECRSOSN again and remembered a defunct comic brand, CROSSGEN. CrossGen Primer. I excitedly texted her back with that.

The first puzzle she sent me, though, was easily the most puzzly of their challenges.

In this zero-ten numbered puzzle, complete this chain:
8 5 4 _ _ 7 _ 10 3 2 0

Did you get it? I’m sure you have by now. From there, it was a quick Google search for the address of a certain wedding chapel where their next challenge awaited them.

I’m sure she’ll participate again at some point, and when she does, I will be there, puzzle skills at the ready.

But in the meantime, let’s all keep calm, puzzle on, and I’ll catch you next time.