Thursday, January 8, 2009 by Dave Blum

About once a week, I get a call from someone saying, “My son/wife/husband [fill in the blank] is having a birthday and I need some advice on how to create a scavenger hunt.”  In general, I’m happy to offer free tips for creating social hunts. After all, there are only so many scavenger hunt ideas and treasure hunt ideas out there:  sequential vs non-sequential clues; photographs vs. no photographs, etc.  Choosing the type of treasure hunt you’re going to run isn’t the hard part; what’s really challenging is writing the clues.  It’s one of the reasons I hire professional puzzle writers for my corporate team building activities – because clue creation isn’t easy.  There’s a form to it, an aesthetic.  Without great clues, the hunt winds up either too easy (leading to boredom) or too hard (leading to frustration).

So what are the two key components of an elegant clue

1)    Match the difficulty to the audience.  When coming up with your scavenger hunt list, you need to tailor the clues to the participants’ experience and demographic.  A group of 13-year-old girls will not succeed at solving clues about 1970’s TV sitcoms; instead, consider clues about recent pop music or the book Twilight.  Nor will a collection of 50-something executives enjoy clues about the Jonas Brothers!  Bear in mind, as well, that newbies will require beginner clues, whereas hunt “veterans” will want more difficulty.  We have a client in Dubai who does a hunt annually and always asks us to “make the clues really difficult this year!”
2) Match the clue type to the final location.  This is purely an aesthetic thing, but think about it.  If you’re writing a clue leading to the Western Union office, shouldn’t the clue be written in Morse Code?  If the clue is going to a war memorial, wouldn’t it make sense to have a clue using the military alphabet?   This kind of internal referencing isn’t always noticed until the final reading of the answers, but it *is* noticed, usually with the lament, “Oh my, the clue type was a big hint.  Why wasn’t I paying attention to that!”  The true hunt afficionado will appreciate this kind of “elegant” clue, believe me.

There are lots more elements that go into professional clue writing.  Give me a call at my office and I’ll share a few more tips.  415-861-1314.