Misha Collins via Twitter
Misha Collins via Twitter

8 Tips for Creating a Great Scavenger Hunt

Misha Collins via Twitter
Misha Collins via Twitter

Founded by actor Misha Collins (of the CW’s Supernatural) in 2011, the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (or GISHWHES) recruits thousands of participants from all over the world for a competition to corral, create, or capture hundreds of objectives while contributing to charitable causes along the way. Can you get your hands on a gallon of crude oil? That’s worth 28 points. Design an app for the Amish? 102 points. Draw Robert Downey Jr. using only salt and pepper? 51 points.

As GISHWHES prepares to launch its annual competition on July 30—registration closes Friday, July 22—we asked Collins, its chief author of absurdity, for tips on how to create your own scavenger hunt that's fun, philanthropic, and unlikely to get you or anyone else arrested. (But no promises.)

1. BE ENTHUSIASTIC AND FRIENDLY.

GISHWHES’s items can often require the cooperation of third parties to complete: their 2015 hunt invoked police officers, newscasters, and permission to act like a maniac on private property. While Collins believes “bribery and coercion work best,” those of you short on cash can probably get by just being effusive. “Generally speaking, I'd recommend just being friendly and enthusiastic," he says. "It's incredible to see how often people from all walks of life are willing to help you if you're excited and having fun.”

2. EMBRACE THE WEIRD.

A good scavenger hunt item is usually a study in contrasts: wearing a suit to a sewage factory tour while accompanied by a violinist, for example. When devising challenges, it’s a good idea to look for that kind of juxtaposition. “If I were being highbrow, I'd say something pithy about using gestalt to shake us free from the stupor of normalcy,” Collins says. "But the simple answer is I just really like to see nuns going down water slides and Christmas trees floating in the sky. So think about what you'd like to see in the world, and then make it happen.”

3. DON’T LET DIGNITY STOP YOU.

While it can be hard for competitors to abandon their self-respect by slathering themselves in butter or crafting tiny statues made of boogers, Collins believes a little embarrassment makes for some fine scavenging. “Feeling silly should always be a requirement. Not just in GISHWHES, but in daily life! But the difficulty of an item doesn't always have to correlate to how much it strips you of your dignity. Some challenges, like riddles and solving unproven math theorems, don't negatively affect your dignity at all.

“That being said, I encourage participants to abandon their dignity anyway. It's useless and gets in the way of a good time.”

4. SOME MATERIALS KEEP ON GIVING.

Prop comedians have known this for decades, but material objects can often bolster an otherwise ho-hum day. Collins doesn’t like to rely on them—it avoids being predictable—but there are still a few accessories that make regular appearances in his hunts. “I will say that there are some materials that seem to make cameos in every year's item list, such as a Stormtrooper, feminine hygiene product sculptures, and, until this year, kale. So those objects are something you can reliably expect to see. Except when you don't, because I like to keep things consistently inconsistent.”

5. GET WILLIAM SHATNER, OR A REASONABLE SUBSTITUTION.

Collins frequently enlists celebrities like Chris Pratt and William Shatner to help publicize the event and advises you to do the same. “The first thing I'd recommend is that every municipality invest in a William Shatner,” he says. “Communities need to provide the basic services for their citizens!” With Shatners in tragically short supply, you can try to recruit local names to help spread the word instead.

6. ANIMALS CAN LIVEN THINGS UP.

“Vultures, burying beetles, and jackals are all pretty big into scavenging, but as both an expert in scavenger hunts and an unaccredited animal behaviorist, I will say it's difficult to get most vultures to participate in GISHWHES unless the item involves carrion or sequins.” Unfortunately, not everyone is as experienced an animal handler as Collins. Instead, try conceiving of a challenge that involves a domesticated pet. Be mindful of involving a cat, however, who is one ridiculous costume away from never wanting anything more to do with you.

7. DON’T GET YOURSELF SUED.

Try to use common sense when it comes to challenges. If they involve fire, heights, or any kind of illegal activity, it’s better to dismiss them for something involving cheese instead. “There have been items that proved to be impractical or too dangerous,” Collins says. “For example, one year my son wanted to see a full-sized boat on top of an actual airplane in flight. I loved the idea and we included it initially. But we had to remove the item due to the likelihood of the boat falling off the plane and crashing to the ground, potentially causing injuries or fatalities to the boaters on board. Water safety is important.”

8. DO SOME GOOD.

The main engine behind GISHWHES is finding opportunities to assist humanity in some way, whether it’s raising money for a good cause or just brightening someone’s day. “A big part of GISHWHES involves trying to make a positive impact on your community, both by shaking things up creatively and by doing something that has a charitable component or helps solve a problem,” Collins says. “While there's no set formula, any good item list will have a broad range of items that are ridiculous and fun, and lots of opportunities to make a difference, ideally with a lot of crossover between the two.”

All images courtesy of GISHWHES.

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Ben Leuner, AMC
You Can Cook (Food) With Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in the Original Breaking Bad RV
Ben Leuner, AMC
Ben Leuner, AMC

A new contest is giving Breaking Bad fans the chance to cook a meal with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. A new charity fundraising campaign is sending one lucky fan and a friend out to Los Angeles to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Breaking Bad’s premiere with the stars themselves—Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and that beat-up RV.

“That’s right, the real Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will join you in The Krystal Ship to whip up some delicious food, take tons of pictures, and bond over the most addicting show ever made,” the contest’s page on the charity fundraising site Omaze trumpets.

All you have to do to throw your (porkpie) hat in the ring is break out your wallet and donate to a good cause. Every dollar you donate to the contest through Omaze is basically a raffle ticket. And the more you donate, the better your odds are of winning. Each dollar donated equals 10 entries, so if you donate $10, you have 100 chances, if you donate $25, 250 chances, etc. At higher donation levels, you’ll also get guaranteed swag, including T-shirts, signed set photos by Cranston and Paul, props and scripts from the show, and more.

Technically, you can enter without donating, but don’t be a jerk—it’s for the kids. The proceeds from the contest will go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Kind Campaign, an anti-bullying charity.

The contest winner will be announced around September 12, and the big event will take place on September 15.

Donate to win here. The contest ends at 11:59 p.m. PT on August 30.

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Kars4Kids, YouTube
The Cruel (But Effective) Agony of the Kars4Kids Jingle
Kars4Kids, YouTube
Kars4Kids, YouTube

It can happen suddenly and without warning. Driving in your vehicle, a commercial break comes on. In addition to the standard pleas to use a specific laundry detergent or contemplate debt consolidation, the voice of a preadolescent, out-of-tune child materializes. Your grip on the steering wheel gets tighter. The child begins to warble:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids, 1-EIGHT-SEVEN-SEVEN-Kars-4-Kids, Donate Your Car Today …

An adult breaks in to repeat the lyrics. The two begin to sing in unison:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kaaaaars for Kiiiids…Donate Your Car Today!

In roughly a minute, it’s over. You go on with your day. But the song’s repetitive melody sticks to your brain like sap. You hear it when preparing dinner. While brushing your teeth. As you put your head on the pillow. When it's finally worked its way out of your brain and you've started to forget, it reappears.

The song is engineered to be obnoxious. And its producers wouldn't have it any other way.

 
 

Since 1999, an untold number of Americans have found themselves reduced to mewling heaps of distress following exposure to the Kars4Kids jingle. The 501(c) nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, spends up to $17 million annually making sure this earwig of a commercial is played across the country. While the purpose is not expressly to annoy you, the fact that the song is irritating is what makes it memorable. And successful. And more than a little controversial.

Kars4Kids began in 1995 as a way to capitalize on the trend of automotive owners donating their unwanted cars in exchange for a tax deduction. Owners who donate their vehicles are able to get an IRS write-off—though typically for only a percentage of the current value—if they declare it a charitable donation. Kars4Kids arranges for the vehicle to be towed away and sold at auction, with proceeds going to afterschool and summer programs for students.

According to the organization, business was slow until one of their volunteers had an idea to craft a commercial song. The melody was purchased from a singer and songwriter named Country Yossi, and Kars4Kids enlisted a child to perform it at an in-house recording session. It debuted in the New York market in 1999, and spread like the plague to the West Coast by 2005 and nationally by 2007.

Aside from Yossi, however, the company has repeatedly declined to identify anyone else involved with creating the song. The reason? Death threats. The tune has apparently enraged people to the point of contemplating murder. Speaking to SanFranciscoGate.com in 2016, music cognition expert Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said that the combination of repetitive structure and the overly simplistic message was engineered to grate the listener's nerves.

“This simple melodic line is also probably responsible for some of the annoyance,” she said. “These kinds of three and four note lines are often the ones specially crafted for kids learning how to play instruments ... It probably conjures up associations of painful practice sessions.”

 
 

The line between irritating and memorable is often blurry. Kars4Kids has repeatedly pointed to the song as being effective in driving telephone traffic to their number. When they debuted a television commercial in 2014—complete with lip-syncing kids who subsequently got bullied for their participation in the spot—donations went up by 50 percent. To date, the company has received 450,000 cars. In 2017, contributions totaled $39 million.

Surprisingly, people have reserved animosity for something other than the commercial. In 2017, Minnesota's attorney general chastised Kars4Kids for not making it clear to donors that many of the children who benefit from the fundraising are located in the northeast: Kids in Minnesota received just $12,000 of the $3 million raised in that state. Other times, the organization has been criticized for leaving information out of their solicitations. In 2009, both Pennsylvania and Oregon fined the charity for failing to disclose a religious affiliation. (Most of the funds raised go toward Orthodox Jewish groups.) Oregon’s Department of Justice said that Kars4Kids needed to disclose such information in its ads.

Those speed bumps aside, the jingle shows no signs of leaving the airwaves any time soon. Rather than run from the negative response, Kars4Kids marinates in it, sharing hateful diatribes from others on social media.

“Newer people join the [media] team and when they are first exposed to the level of hatred on Twitter they'll be like, 'Are you sure you think this is a good idea that we should keep on playing this?,'" Wendy Kirwan, Kars4Kids’s director of public relations, told Billboard in 2016. “And we've looked at that time and again, and we've come to the conclusion that it's definitely worth sticking with.”

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