Eyes on the prize ... of 'indeterminate value'
Becoming a scavenger hunt coordinator wasn't exactly a childhood dream of Alec Wilson's, but he admits the leisure-time passions he gravitated toward seemed to steer him in that direction.
"I've been a gamer my whole life," says Wilson, creator of the West Coast Scavenger Hunt, a multi-city, enigmatic clue-based hunt for a mysterious but alluring grand prize. "I love puzzles and games and really love creative marketing strategies. Watching what people have had fun doing in the last 10 years or so drew me in this direction. I also love being outside. I'm just putting those things together."
Wilson, a Corbett resident, said the current IRL, or "in real life" hunt, which started via social media and a button-pin campaign last fall, attracted approximately 500 participants to follow clues to five caches in Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Berkeley, Calif., and San Francisco.
Joiners are emailed instructions for how to view clues, and a link to another page describing a Grand Prize, or "The Official Semi-Golden Ticket of Indeterminate Value."
With help from illustrator Taylor Wilson and video/graphics specialist Max Wayt, the 40-something Alec Wilson issued six clues for each city that point toward that city's Basic Cache. With the clues — shared on Instagram and Facebook pages — becoming progressively more difficult over time, caches have been found in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, but as of Wednesday, Jan. 15, not Berkeley and Eugene.
The Seattle cache was found hidden in one of the brown smokestacks in Gas Works Park on the Puget Sound.
"It had a little hole in the base. It couldn't have been more public," Wilson says, noting the Basic Cache contents were held in place with magnets. "They stayed there seven weeks before anyone found it."
What was ultimately discovered was a prototype series of "Zombie Circus Goats" game cards. They feature drawings of odd-looking and named characters and objects, including an exploding jar of sand and a crude depiction of a penny encircled by red and white rings and labeled "Filthy Lucre — Gold."
A memo addressed "Hello Interesting Person," congratulates the finder and shares instructions on how to claim their prize — in this case, "the most handsomest and most intelligent zombie party card game of 2020!"
The San Francisco cache was found, after only four clues were issued, near a park bench at Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park.
The Portland cache was found under a bench near the Harvey W. Scott statue in Mount Tabor Park.
"There's a picture of a woman who found it, who had a huge smile on her face," Wilson says. "(Scavengers) post their pictures online."
Further clues are provided on four cards in each cache.
"You see numbers and words on the cards. Those are clues, but you don't do anything until you have clues from all five caches," Wilson explains. "You won't know how to look for the grand prize without cracking clues in the various caches, and you have to break those in order to look for the final cache — the grand prize.
"That person," Wilson adds, "has some physical and emotional work cut out for them."
With the clue for the Eugene Basic Cache already issued, Wilson planned to share the sixth and final clue for Berkeley on Jan. 14.
Wilson admits it's "fun to put these clues out into the world based on my interests and watch other people crack them. It's something that starts in your brain as fun things to do. You put it out there," he says, "and lo and behold, there are people out there solving it."
As you may have guessed by now, finding the ultimate Grand Prize, or determining exactly what its "real objects" might be ahead of time, is a true riddle wrapped in an enigma.
Among other things, they are described as: "collectively worth less, or possibly equal to, round trip airfare for one adult human to anywhere in the world large airplanes fly; collectively weigh more than all the panuchos they can eat with 19 friends in one sitting" and are "collectively bigger than a breadbox."
"We're keeping it deliberately vague," says Wilson, who credits his shipping manager Ringo Johnson with the baffling descriptions. "Whoever finds it is not gonna be disappointed. I'll put it that way."
Wilson, an outdoorsman who has served as an outdoors school instructor at Camp Howard near Corbett, emphasizes this scavenger hunt could be solved any day or minute now, so stay tuned for more.
"It's very intriguing. That's the point," he says. "That, and just to have fun."
On the hunt
What: The West Coast Scavenger Hunt, a multi-city, enigmatic clue-based hunt for unidentified but alluring treasure
Who: founders/coordinators Alec Wilson, Taylor Wilson and Max Wayt
Participants: 400 to 600
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