Friday, October 31, 2008 by Dave Blum

In common parlance, the terms “treasure hunt” and “scavenger hunt” are used pretty interchangeably.  Both involve going out and searching for something, then getting scored in some fashion for your work output.  However, for people in the “hunt community” — and yes, there IS a community — treasure hunts and scavenger hunts are quite different animals indeed.

The quick and easy breakdown is like this:  a treasure hunt tends to present a series of clues, each of which leads to a specific mystery location; a scavenger hunt tends to offer a laundry list of items that you need to go out and pick up.  So for example, in a treasure hunt, you might receive a cryptic clue, written as a puzzle, rhyme, or code.  Let’s say your treasure hunt clue is in Morse Code.  Using your Morse Code decoder sheet, you’d solve the clue and learn the secret message, something like:  “Proceed to the base of the Statue of Liberty.”   In a scavenger hunt by contrast, you’d get a scavenger hunt list of items to discover, starting with let’s say, “Find a bar coaster marked with an animal on it.” Your task would be to go out into the world and locate this item, wherever you think might be the easiest place to find it. A nearby bar (with an animal name) might be the logical place to start looking.

Now of course, there are many variations on the definitions above.  Advanced treasure hunt ideas might include 1) discovering a hidden prize at each location 2) gathering specific information or 3) taking a photo at each mystery location.  Advanced scavenger hunt ideas might include 1) performing a series of tasks or challenges 2) taking a photo as you collect each object 3) taking a photo at defined locations (ie. take a picture at the top of the Empire State Building).   As you can see, scavenger hunts and treasure hunts can overlap a bit.  The main distinguisher is probably:  Are there clues, or is it all straightforward?  If you see clues, it’s probably a treasure hunt; if not, it’s likely a scavenger hunt.