On a list riddled with indecipherable riddles (“138. 648 5530.”?) and self-referential clues (“59. Camp Scavahunta…”), item 49 of this year’s Scavenger Hunt offered a refreshingly honest and revealing take on the 22-year-old U of C tradition:
“The Judges have no idea what that is, but we like it. No Judge must be able to identify what it is. No Judge must dislike it. [20 points].”
And that, in a nutshell, is how the event exists to many students: an eccentric, insular, and often incoherent curiosity.
More than any other major campus event, Scav polarizes, rather than unites, the student body. For residents of Snell–Hitchcock, for example, it’s a week to circle on the calendar long in advance and an excuse to stockpile duct tape, caffeine pills, and jars of sodium. For others, it’s an annoyance that clogs the house common room and unleashes bands of bandanna-wearing loonies onto the Quads. It’s a cause for school pride (only at the U of C!), and for second-guessing: Wait, someone actually ate his umbilical cord? What’s wrong with this school?
The problem lies in the character of the event itself. While undeniably successful, the event has become less about Scavenger Hunt and more about “Scav,” an identity and subculture that transcend the five-day affair. Much like the Uncommon brand that spawned T-shirts and protest marches, it increasingly has less to do with the actual process and more to do with the idea of Scav. It’s a self-perpetuating mentality that guarantees popularity among a core group of students while limiting the contest’s appeal to the rest of the student body.
Instead of an event with universal attraction, we have items like 150 from this year’s list: “Knit a tampon, and then menstruate all over it. [5 points],” and 156, “Take a running s—. [20 points].” Fascinating, to be sure, but not all that enticing to the uninitiated.
Luckily, there’s a solution: Open up the list to submissions. Rather than tasking a small group of former Scavvies with coming up with a new list each year, they should begin to solicit input from all students and administrators. In lieu of wasting their boundless ingenuity and competitive drive on one-time-use-only creations, the creators of Scav could provide valuable services with long-lasting benefits. For instance:
The University of Chicago does not have a competitive Division-I men’s ice hockey team. Yet. [Frozen Four points per academically eligible Canadian recruit; x points for every academically ineligible Canadian recruit whose grades mysteriously improve enough to regain eligibility (x = net jump in GPA); one point per seat in sparkling-new, world-class hockey arena]
It’s 4 a.m. and your judges need a snack. Your judges like bacon. They also like hash browns. You know what would be great? If they could have both of those things RIGHT NOW. Build us an economically viable all-night diner within walking distance of campus. [24-hour points per hour of operation; 1 point per calorie in signature breakfast; –10,000 points per Aramark contract]
“WELCOME TO EINSTEIN BROTHERS WOULD YOU LIKE A MUFFIN, BAGEL, OR COOKIE WITH YOUR COFFEE AND BAGEL TODAY!!??!??” Uh, no, no thank you. Wait, you already rang me up? But I didn’t even want a pig-in-a-blanket—I don’t even think those are edible, are they? Sigh. There has to be a better way to run a coffee shop. [500 points].
An open submission process wouldn’t solve all of Scav’s problems, but regardless of what happens going forward, the event could stand to benefit by casting a wider net. Scav can thrive even if it’s confined to a core group of students, but it’s capable of so much more. And if there’s one sure-fire way to bring about a solution, it’s this: Make it a Scav item.
Tim Murphy is a fourth-year in the College majoring in history. He is a member of the Editorial Board.