One of the best ways to explore a city is by treasure hunt. I don’t say this idly or speculatively. For over 28 years, I’ve earned a large part of my living as a “treasure hunt master.” Even after all these years, it’s still amazing to me that organizations and corporations actually pay me (and my company, Dr. Clue Treasure Hunts) to create teambuilding scavenger hunts as a tool for building rapport and bringing their employees together. My hunt creation process is pretty simple. First I walk the area, usually 5 square blocks or so, looking for interesting statues, plaques, murals, monuments and historical signs. Although I may only use 10-12 of these locations during the actual hunt, my standard goal is to find 25-50 total sites. I then whittle down the locations so that the 10-12 clue spots are evenly distributed throughout the hunt area. My final task is to transform my scouting notes into tricky puzzles and codes. For example, let’s say I’ve stumbled upon a statue of a giant radish (as I did one time in downtown Denver). My task for his location would be to work backwards and convert the directions – ie. “Go the corner of First and Main and look up for a giant radish’ – into a puzzle that, when solved, will deliver that secret message. My clue could thus be rendered in a code like Morse or Braille. It could be as hidden-message word search. It could be a logic puzzle, a picture puzzle, or whatever puzzle I can think of. Ideally, the puzzle or code hints at the location in some way, so a giant radish statue might be “clued” by a fruit or vegetable puzzle. Get it?

Well anyway, I’m doing my hunt scouting in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina when I stumble across a sculpture of a giant acorn. What in the world is something like that doing here? Did sentient squirrels build it to honor their Great Acorn God? (I’ve been reading too much sci-fi and fantasy, apparently!) According to the attached plaque, the sculpture was created both to honor the city’s bicentennial, and to celebrate the memory of someone named John Watkins. I *love* this kind of place! It’s the type of bizarre, improbable, blue-chipper clue location that gives me the greatest of joys. I just know that when my game participants are out on their hunt, they’re going to delight at discovering this crazy giant acorn as much as I have, and hopefully they’ll have a similar reaction, ie. “What in the world were the city planners thinking?” On the plaque, the artist writes that the acorn “[signals] the dawning of each new year.” Myself, I can think of myriad other things that do a better job of signaling the turning of the calendar year (like the ball at Times Square, or you know, snow), but hey, you be you, Raleigh city planners! After all, along with humans, cats and dogs, squirrels are part of their constituency too; you gotta keep everyone happy.

(Here’s a challenge for you: take a stroll in your neighborhood this week and try to identify 5 spots that would make great treasure hunt locations. When you treat your home area as a hunt, you start to notice details you never noticed before: a painted mail box, a carved bear statue, a fountain in the shape of a dragon. Write down all these locations and create a treasure hunt – or not. But at least notice what happens in your mind and your heart when you start seeing your surroundings as a place of creativity, mystery and wonder – a place others have treasured. A place you can treasure.)