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August 3, 2013

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Scavenger hunt makes ‘awesome’ art

AN international scavenger hunt involving outrageous and creative tasks kicks off next Sunday. Two Chinese teams are registered. Lu Feiran follows the quest.

Launching a Christmas tree with hundreds of helium balloons, reenacting the seduction of Eve with a live snake at a bus stop, and taking a live bull to watch a boxing match in Mexico — these are not tasks for the uninspired or faint of heart.

But these visually stunning stunts and many more were accomplished with panache last year in the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (GISHWHES).

This year’s weeklong global hunt will be filled with more than 200 humorous and creative quests, tasks and performance art — some daunting and some simple. All are recorded, and the video and stills are uploaded to websites for judging.

The third annual great game kicks off next Sunday and runs through August 17. Registration ends next Monday ( Each person pays a registration fee of at least US$10. More than 10,000 people have registered in teams of no larger than 15. Two Chinese teams of 15 players each have joined.

Each mission has a set number of points for exact completion down to the last detail. Extra points are awarded for creativity and artistry of execution and excellence of photography. The team with the highest number of points wins. Players are urged to create “awesome” works to be shared worldwide.

The highest scoring team wins an all expense paid adventure to Vancouver, Canada, and a chartered seaplane flight to a majestic island for fish stew, a séance and a “Viking surprise.”

Rules state that all national laws and regulation must be observed. And the first rule is safety.

Past tasks have included making a two-foot-tall (60cm-tall) sculpture of a dinosaur with tampons and sanitary pads and creating a huge portrait using Skittles candies.

The founder of the scavenger hunt, 38-year-old American actor Misha Collins (plays angel Castiel on TV series “Supernatural”), says on the hunt website, “If you join GISHWHES you will amaze yourself. You will make incredible art, work on a killer team with awesome people, help change the world, and probably have a hand in breaking a Guinness World Record. Also, it’s Fun with a capital ‘F’!”

First experience

For the past two years, GISHWHES has attracted nearly 20,000 people from around the world, each time breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest media-recorded scavenger hunt.

Many participants say it has helped them make friends, gain self-confidence, courage and a more open mind. And, of course, it’s fun.

Collins says he got the idea from the annual scavenger hunt at the University of Chicago. “The school was very depressing at the time, the annual scavenger hunt is a bright dot on the calendar,” he says.

He recalls that he and his girlfriend were assigned to different teams. She stole his car, drove across three states and stole three sheep to fulfill a mission. The sheep spent the night in his car and the smell lingered.

“Gishwhes believes that ‘normalcy’ is overrated and that true ‘living’ can be found hidden under the rocks of community artistic creation and in acts of artistic sublime public performances,” says Collins. “More importantly, we are all artists and have gifts for society, no matter what our capabilities or talents.”

Teams form Facebook groups, or Tencent QQ groups in China, to discuss the items. They are encouraged be as creative as possible and tap every possible connection to accomplish the tasks.

Wang Yifan from Shanghai, a 29-year-old operation supervisor at a commercial services company, took part in the past two years and registered for the hunt this year.

At first she thought of herself as someone “without any special ability.” She says the hunt made her realize that she was more resourceful, creative, determined and capable than she had realized.

In an especially difficult task last year, she put on a cheerleader’s costume and waved pompoms to welcome her office colleagues.

“It was really embarrassing, since this kind of action isn’t really accepted in China and people would think I was crazy,” she tells Shanghai Daily. “But I did it, which was beyond what I thought were my limits.”

Wang and her teammates also spent several hours building a temporary teahouse under a bridge, and people thought they were vagabonds.

“The experience was really exciting and fun,” she says. “We were very happy every time we submitted an item after making a great effort. It was not about winning, but was about creativity, cooperation and the satisfaction of achieving something seemingly impossible.”

Another player, Shanghai kindergarten teacher Leona Sang, says she tested her courage during the hunt last year when she placed five live snakes on her body.

“I looked quite calm, but actually I was scared to death,” she says. “But the feeling afterward was amazing. I felt I had done something awesome.”

Although GISHWHES rules stipulate that no local laws should be violated, the hunt sometimes causes trouble because of the nature of the missions.

In 2011, one item stated, “Fill hundreds of balloons with helium, tie them to a decorated Christmas tree and film the tree floating for at least 40 seconds. The tree must be a real pine tree and must be at least five-feet tall.”

Several days after the hunt began, police in Kelowna, Canada, received a report that a Christmas tree was likely to float into the airport’s air space. The airport was notified but the tree never did show up, it must have landed elsewhere.

Collins says the floating Christmas tree is one of his personal favorites because of its “visually arresting image.”

“I have realized that some of the things people did during GISHWHES may have crossed a line, but it didn’t seem to bother me,” he says, laughing.

Registration fees cover prizes and other costs. All other proceeds are donated to Random Acts, a nonprofit Collins founded in 2010.

To date, around US$65,000 has been donated to the Random Acts from GISHWHES to help fund random acts of kindness around the world, including helping to finance the Jacmel Children’s Center, an orphanage and school in Haiti, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010.

Collins, who has more than 900,000 fans on Twitter, says the power of an online fan base is enormous, and it’s good to use that power for good causes. He founded Random Acts after the Haiti earthquake and launched the project called “Hope to Haiti.” The organization also helps in very small ways, such as buying a moped for a rural teacher in the Middle East.

Last year’s winning team, Team Badwolf, flew to Scotland and spent a weekend with Collins at the Borthwick Castle south of Edinburgh. “We toured Scotland, attended a traditional Scottish ceremony and conducted a live stream ghost hunt of the castle,” says Collins. “And we found a ghost.”

To register and learn more about GISHWHES, visit



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