May 15, 2007

Snell-Hitchcock takes Scav

After three whirlwind days of scavenging, a 2,300-mile road trip through eight states, and a nine-hour “Judgment” held in Ida Noyes Hall on Sunday, the 2007 University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt has drawn to a close. Snell-Hitchcock narrowly edged out Max Palevsky to become this year’s Scav Hunt champion, taking home a trophy and an undisclosed amount of money.

Judges and teams alike expressed delight with this year’s Scav list.

The list featured three “showcase items,” items requiring greater effort and awarding more points. Item 116 called for the world’s largest Newton’s Cradle for 100 points (and 25 bonus points for “sending a letter telling the former record holders to suck your significantly larger balls”); item 256 entailed building a “Four Trampoline Based Game” worth 200 points; and item 234 asked for a “walking, working, people-powered but preferably wind-powered Strandbeest” for 300 points.

“We were so worried no one was going to achieve a real Strandbeest,” Scav judge and fourth-year Claire Gilbert said about the likelihood a team would build a large structure resembling the skeleton of an animal. But Gilbert was not disappointed: “Both F.I.S.T [The Federation of Independent Scav Teams] and MacPierce [comprising Maclean and Pierce] built huge Strandbeests that could actually walk,” she said.

Gilbert described this year’s Scav Hunt as “surpassing all expectations.... The teams really loved the list, so the items they delivered were phenomenal.”

Third-year and head judge Jim Ryan agreed. “As much as it has ever been, it was a pure expression of the ingenuity, creativity, and exhibitionism of the University of Chicago community,” he said in an e-mail interview.

At the start of the hunt on Wednesday at midnight, Scav captains had to use clues to track down a judge hiding within the lockers of the abandoned women’s restroom in the basement of Ida Noyes. He issued packets, presumably containing the list, with the express command not to open the packet until reaching team headquarters. However, when teams opened their packets, they found a stack of blank sheets.

Second-year Luke Carman, one of the Burton-Judson (B-J) team captains, said his team tried everything from testing the sheets for invisible ink to holding them under a blacklight. Nothing worked. However, as he and his co-captains walked back to B-J, they noticed a crowd of students and judges gathered in front of the law school fountain. The list was in waterproofed plastic bags, floating in the fountain. Gilbert said that, in fact, the judges had used invisible ink pens to write a riddle on the sheets of paper and that judges had tested the paper to make sure each set could be revealed using a blacklight. She suggested that B-J may have unwittingly erased the message by attempting to reveal the message using heat.

Competitive snags and challenges aside, Scav Hunt participants voiced mixed reviews of the annual Scav party, which was revamped this year with a stricter alcohol policy. Last year, due to the threat of rain, the Scav party was moved inside Cobb Hall and then quickly shut down after a few instances of students urinating and vomiting in the stairwells and classrooms. In response, ORCSA moved the party to the Social Sciences Quad and required that ORCSA personnel distribute all alcohol.

Ryan was unimpressed by ORCSA’s planning. “I, and many others, were immensely disappointed with the way ORCSA treated this event and believe that their overall management was completely unsatisfactory,” Ryan said. ORCSA reportedly did not meet with the Scav committee until two weeks prior to the Hunt, giving Ryan one day to develop a budget and apply for Student Government funding. This made planning ineffective, he said.

Most Scav captains agreed with Ryan’s appraisal of ORCSA’s planning. Third-year Kat Scanlon, a Shoreland captain, called ORCSA’s rule that prevented teams from bringing liquids “completely, obscenely ridiculous.” That decision was later amended to allow teams to bring factory-sealed beverages.

However, Snell-Hitchcock captain Mark Conkle offered another view. “I think ORCSA running it was a blessing in disguise because the party felt like it was more about Scavvies having fun and less about random U of C students just coming to get plastered,” he said in an e-mail.

Justin Lepp, another B-J captain and second-year, noted a divide between the party attendees. “There were over-21-year-olds there, looking for free beer, and then there were Scavvies there,” he said. However, he added that for the most part, the party was much smaller than it had been in previous years, perhaps due to the new alcohol restrictions.

Gilbert considered this an improvement. “In the past, when it’s gotten out of control, it has been because of people coming in who aren’t really involved in Scav and are just looking for a party,” she said.

Close to midnight, an altercation broke out between a student and a private security officer. According to Rudy Nimocks, the executive director of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD), the Chicago Police Department (CPD) was first called to the scene, with UCPD arriving after the arrest. “The student was taken into custody by the city police,” said Nimocks, who said he could not comment on why the student was arrested or whether the student will be charged with a crime. The CPD declined to comment on the arrest.

Nonetheless, team captains enjoyed decorating their individual sections of the quad according to their theme movie. Snell-Hitchcock, whose theme was the Prancing Pony from the Lord of the Rings, held the largest team party.

Overall, organizers considered this year’s Scav Hunt a success.

“The teams this year were exceptionally enthusiastic, and each one surprised us one way or another,” Ryan said. “We, as Judges, often don’t know what to expect from the smaller teams year-to-year and are consistently surprised by what they are able to come up with and really care dearly about them, for without little engines that could like Broadview or Broover, the competition would certainly lose its spirit.”