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Top 10 Scavenger Hunts With Unexpected Consequences

by Blake Lynch
fact checked by Jamie Frater

A lot of people get excited over the mere mention of a scavenger hunt, which is a game in which the contestants are given a list of specific items to retrieve and then rush about in an effort to be the first party to obtain each item. As of this writing, the largest scavenger hunt ever, per Guinness World Records, took place in Canada on September 10, 2017, and involved 2,732 participants. Actor Misha Collins holds the world record for the largest media scavenger hunt for organizing the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (GISHWHES). In the 2012 GISHWHES, 972 teams of 15 people, which comes out to a total of 14,580 participants, took part.[1]

Over the years, the scavenger hunt has had some particularly strange items. For example, one of the items in the 2012 GISHWHES was a picture of a person and a loved one kissing with at least 11 food items between their lips. While the scavenger hunts on this list were smaller than GISHWHES, each of them is similar in the sense that they all concluded with unexpected results.

10 A Nuclear Reactor Constructed In A Dorm Room

The University of Chicago, along with many other higher education institutions, holds annual scavenger hunts. Among the hundreds of participants, the winner of Chicago’s scavenger hunt is rewarded $500.

In 1999, there were 339 items on Chicago’s scavenger hunt, including a computer experiencing a year 2000 problem, five Mensa membership cards, a 4.6-meter-tall (15 ft) monument to Grimace, the “street value” of Mount Everest, and a tenured professor willing to recite profane gangster rap lyrics.

That year listed also included a nuclear reactor that was built by scratch, which was actually assembled by one team in a dorm room from spare parts taken from their physics lab.[2]

This isn’t the only time that a nuclear reactor has been built in a residence, either. In 2008, 14-year-old Taylor Wilson achieved nuclear fusion in his home.

9 An Umbilical Cord Was Eaten

In 2004, at the University of Chicago’s scavenger hunt, a freshman made a particularly strange version of a Twinkie. The items on the list that year included recognition by the state of Illinois of a gay marriage, a bicycle built for 12, and proof that University of Chicago students put up school posters at Princeton.

During the event, a freshman received one of the items on the list, his umbilical cord, from his mother. The freshman proceeded to stuff the umbilical cord into a Twinkie and eat it.[3] (This was actually on the hunt’s list.) Another person on the freshman’s team reported that efforts weren’t even needed to provoke him to eat his umbilical cord.

As a result of this stunt, the freshman’s scavenger hunt team gained 96 points. Disappointingly, despite this heroic feat, they didn’t win the school’s scavenger hunt that year.

8 A Sorority Was Banned

In 2018, the Alpha Chi Omega sorority’s Theta Chi chapter at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was banned from the campus until 2020 after it held a “road rally scavenger hunt.”[4] This event was found to violate school policy.

The scavenger hunt’s participants could receive points for some rather risque feats, including a number of sex acts and well as the use of drugs and alcohol. By the time the sorority is able to resume operations, all of its current members will have graduated.

7 A Scavenger Hunt Participant Was Killed

There have been several scavenger hunts over the years that have resulted in people getting killed. In 2003, a pizza delivery man in Erie, Pennsylvania, was killed by a bomb that was fastened around his neck.[5] After the bomb exploded and the man was killed, several pages of handwritten instructions were discovered in his car, which contained directions for an elaborate scavenger hunt to retrieve the keys and codes for the collar. Before the bomb exploded, the man had been made to rob a bank by the people who put the collar on him.

Another scavenger hunt fatality occurred in 1992, when a store owner shot and killed a high school senior in Anchorage, Alaska, who was fleeing after trying to steal an advertising balloon as part of a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt had been created by a group of high school students as a prank. The store owner was not immediately charged in the case because after he shot into the air, he was not aware he hit anyone.

6 A Rock With A Razor Blade

Photo credit: WBAY-TV

Over the last few years, hand-painting small rocks has become a trend in the United States. A large number of rock-painting groups have been created on social media.

In addition to surprising people, another reason why individuals engage in this activity is to discover where the rocks end up. To track where the rocks are taken, many people leave small tags on the backs of the rocks, indicating which Facebook group painted the treasure.

In 2018, one of these rocks surprised and outraged a parent. The rock was found in a downtown portion of Green Bay, Wisconsin, during a game of rock hide-and-seek.[6] The reason why the rock was so shocking was that it contained a razor as well as a bipolar symbol and a message that read “you decide.” The creator of the Green Bay Rocks Facebook group later reported that the rock went against the group’s principles.

5 A Secret To Be Revealed In 2113

Photo credit: Kotaku

The Trials video game series involves the player guiding a motorcycle to a finish line in a world with exaggerated physics. Each game in the series features particularly complicated riddles. For 2012’s Trials Evolution game, the company used its most complicated series of riddles so far.

In a scavenger hunt created by the company, a coded message in the video game provided instructions about a certain maneuver that unlocked a song. Placed in a “spectral analysis” program, this code revealed a message in Morse code. When translated, this Morse code began a trail of clues which eventually led to three boxes containing metal keys and a fourth box containing a 300-year-old document concerning the sale of French property and map which led to a box located in a cemetery.[7]

When opened, this box revealed an antique pocket watch from 1916. One of the keys located in one of the boxes will later be used in the year 2113 to unlock a box located underneath the Eiffel Tower.

4 Two Stranded Hikers Get Rescued

Some people refer to geocaching as the electronic age’s version of scavenger hunts. Using a smartphone and a phone’s GPS application, geocaching allow individuals to discover small, hidden containers called geocaches, which can be located in the woods, urban areas, or underwater.

Many containers discovered through this method are filled with log books, which a person signs, as well as trinkets. If a person takes a trinket, they are required to place another item in its place. Currently, more than six million people in the world are engaged in geocaching.

In 2008, a search was conducted to find stranded climbers on Mount Hood in Oregon. After spending a night in a snow cave they’d built, the hikers were disoriented and confused about how to get home. Fortunately, they were able to make contact with authorities after finding a geocache.[8]

3 Multiple Arrests

There have been a number of scavenger hunts over the years that have resulted in people being arrested.

In 2015, three men who hoped to find valuables in New York City’s sewer system ended up facing criminal charges for climbing through a manhole and spending several hours in the sewer. Police and firefighters went in after the men but couldn’t find them. When the scavenger hunt participants emerged from the sewers and were arrested, they hadn’t found anything.

The scavenger hunt that probably led to the most arrests, however, occurred in Miami in 1986.[9] This event involved 28 high school students who were in the process of obtaining an “unrelated human baby,” which was an item on the list. The teenagers who engaged in the offense were fortunately not successful in stealing a small child, but law enforcement did report that approximately $10,000 worth of items were stolen.

2 Scavenger Hunt By Unknown Creators

Cicada 3301 is a mysterious online organization which posts cryptic images on Internet forums.[10] When decoded using various means, hidden messages are contained in these images. To solve Cicada 3301’s scavenger hunts, individuals must know a variety of complicated subjects, including number theory, philosophy, classical music, and literature.

These digital scavenger hunts have resulted in thousands of competitors across the Internet attempting to decode the challenging puzzles, which eventually led to several physical locations around the world. No one, however, understands who or what is behind Cicada 3301.

While some people speculate that Cicada 3301 is a secret society, others have theorized that the group is a political think tank or a military recruitment tool. Another group of people think that Cicada 3301 is just an augmented reality game, like when Microsoft implemented its “I Love Bees” ARG campaign, which utilized random payphones around the world to broadcast a radio drama that players solved.

1 A Hunt That Was Secretly Designed By An Architect

Photo credit: Gizmodo

In 2003, a couple in New York City bought an apartment for $8.5 million. The couple then paid an architect to renovate the home but did not provide a great deal of oversight.

As a result, while redesigning the home, the architect designed an elaborate scavenger hunt that included ciphers, riddles, poems, and numerous hidden doors and compartments.[11] To accomplish this, the architect relied on the talents of 40 friends and artists, who became enamored with the idea of creating a hidden scavenger hunt.

It took the family some time to discover that the scavenger hunt even existed. They were tipped off when one of their children’s friends, who was staying at the apartment, realized that the letters displayed on the wall were actually part of a cipher. This riddle relied on use of the Caesar Cipher, a type of encryption technique which utilizes letter substitution. When the riddles were solved, they opened 24 panels, which, in turn, gave way to a poem.


Scavenger hunts aren’t the only way to make some interesting finds. For more, check out 10 Cheap Thrift Store Finds That Were Worth Thousands and 10 Incredible Attic Finds That Will Really Surprise You.

fact checked by Jamie Frater