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Misha Collins via Twitter

8 Tips for Creating a Great Scavenger Hunt

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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.)


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.


“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.


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.”


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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These Mobile Libraries Roaming Zimbabwe Are Pulled By Donkeys
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The people behind the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program (RLRDP) believe you shouldn’t have to travel far to access good reading material. That’s why they have donkeys do a lot of the traveling for the people they help. According to inhabitat, RLRDP manages 15 donkey-powered library carts that deliver books to communities without libraries of their own.

The organization was founded in 1990 with the mission of bringing libraries to rural parts of Zimbabwe. Five years later, they started hitching up donkeys to carts packed with books. Each mobile library can hold about 1200 titles, and 12 of the 15 carts are filled exclusively with books for kids. The donkeys can transport more than just paperbacks: Each two-wheeled cart has space for a few riders, and three of them are outfitted with solar panels that power onboard computers. While browsing the internet or printing documents, visitors to the library can use the solar energy to charge their phones.

Donkeys pulling a cart

Carts usually spend a day in the villages they serve, and that short amount of time is enough to make a lasting impact. RLRDP founder Dr. Obadiah Moyo wrote in a blog post, “The children explore the books, sharing what they’ve read, and local storytellers from the community come to bring stories to life. It really is a day to spread the concept of reading and to develop the reading culture we are all working towards.”

Kids getting books from a cart.

About 1600 individuals benefit from each cart, and Moyo says schools in the areas they visit see improvement in students. The donkey-pulled libraries are only part of what RLRDP does: The organization also trains rural librarians, installs computers in places without them, and delivers books around Zimbabwe via bicycle—but the pack animals are hard to top. Moyo writes, “When the cart is approaching a school, the excitement from the children is wonderful to see as they rush out to greet it.”

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program

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Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
This Just In
Lin-Manuel Miranda is Penning a 'Love Letter to Puerto Rico' to Help the Relief Effort
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Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Like so many other Americans, Lin-Manuel Miranda is pained to see the devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. More than a week after the storm hit, millions of the island’s residents are still without power—a situation that some officials estimate could take six months to rectify. So Miranda, whose parents moved from Puerto Rico to New York, is using his voice to make a difference. On October 6 he’ll release a charity single to help raise money so that the U.S. territory can begin the process of rebuilding. 

"It's a love letter to Puerto Rico," Miranda told CNN of the unnamed song. "I had the idea at 3 in the morning … The initial demo was me singing in a bathroom." We can only assume that the final version will be a bit more polished, particularly as it will feature a number of other celebrity artists (and we’re not exactly sure how many people Miranda can fit in his bathroom).

"[I] called every Puerto Rican I know," Miranda said about enlisting additional artists to assist him in the effort. "To every artist, I've said, 'Can you help out on this song?' And they said yes. Without even hearing the song, everyone's joined in.”

Though he hopes the single will help the island’s recovery efforts, Miranda says that it will take more than the generosity of individual citizens to make Puerto Rico whole again. "Only the federal government has the resources, as we have seen in every hurricane or natural disaster [that] has hit us here in the mainland," he said. “Only the federal government has the resources to really begin the rebuilding process.” 

Still, Miranda knows how the news cycle works. He wants to be sure that we keep talking about the situation in Puerto Rico and doing what we can to help. "I know there's a tendency for fatigue because we've just been through two hurricanes,” he said. “And we can't be fatigued when it comes to our fellow Americans.” 

"We are doing what Hamilton did, we're jumping up and down and screaming for support," he added. "Please don't stop telling our story."

[h/t: CNN]


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