The SF Hunt: Boston

A few weeks ago I participated in the SF Hunt Boston. It's an all day group scavenger hunt that takes place on foot and bike across an entire city. You solve clues to identify locations to trek to and take a group selfie in front of. Something like 100 riddles easily consume the day and it's a lot of fun both in riddle solving and getting to see a city from a new angle.

My team consisted of Payal, Sylvain, Alan, and a Sylvain's friend, an au pair visiting from France. We've all known each other for some time and lived together as housemates in the past. The hunt began early in the morning at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville. We didn't really know what to expect nor that we'd hardly leave the immediate area until after lunch.

The SF Hunt guys, handstandwith.us, know how to put on a party. The opening "ceremonies" were succinct, irreverent, amusing and full of swag. It's a good way to start off with as much energy as one can at 8 am. Sylvain immediately got into the swing of things.

That said, the first 30 minutes or so were confusing. Many groups set off immediately for the first clues they could answer seeking the double point bonus given to the first team to arrive at an answer. This could be a really bad strategy, however, since there isn't any ordering to the clues! The answer to the first clue could be miles away and, as it turned out, 3 or 4 clues right in the middle of the list had answers not more than a minute's walk from Brooklyn Boulders.

Us and another team thus battened down while many moved out. Our strategy was to solve as many clues as we could and act with coordination. Since we were going to go on foot, we felt acutely a need for efficiency.

Our secret weapon was our Notebook where we slowly collated our most confident answers and what riddles continued to stump us. Sylvain's backpack had an easy to access outer pocket, so he became Notebook holder as we wandered through Somerville and Cambridge riddle-solving.

The magic of the Hunt is that while accumulating points is one way to win—and a way pretty much destined only for people on bikes—there were also categories for "Average Joes" who perform with maximal mediocrity as well as "Most Efficient": the team who answers the most riddles with the least distance traveled. Seeing that we'd moved into an elaborate planning mode and we destined to walk we realized we had a shot at Most Efficient. This drove our planning and execution relentlessly.

We took frequent stops to realign ourselves to the answers we'd identified and the riddles not yet known. Many answers we were sure about either entailed a risky detour or simply too little ROI. For instance, we were confident there were perhaps 5 or 6 clues in Harvard Square, but to venture that far west would put us in bad shape for taking advantage of the even richer set of answers available in Downtown Boston. After a brief debate, we know we had to skip it.

Not everything was calculations, of course. Handstandwith.us set up some sponsors and we happily paraded into locations like the Taza Chocolate Factory (the "Source"). I'd personally driven by here many times but never decided to step in until the Hunt gave me reason.

At each riddle's answer we used our phones to commemorate the moment with a pose or just a tired smile.

Our route took us down through Somerville into East-Central Cambridge past Donnolley Field and in to Central Square. We all live in this area so it was easy to route an efficient path.

Frequently we'd see groups of people on bikes discussing locations and debating fiercely. We assumed that these people must be playing the Hunt as well though they'd zoom off before we could confirm. That said, we met a bunch of other teams. It seemed like half the people we met were in on the Game.

We, and our phones, rested in Kendall before heading in to Boston. At this point we were ahead by a lot in terms of efficiency, but we knew we'd take a hit when we crossed the Longfellow Bridge.

In Boston we grabbed a few more answers in the Public Gardens before meeting up with the Handstandwith.us bears (you'll see) in the Commons. They were there with refreshments, enthusiasm, stories from other teams, and, vitally, hints.

Interestingly, the efficiency method was not one that people often optimized for. We appreciated the bears' help, but also already knew our path forward. It was time to head to Faneuil Hall, grab a beer, and pick up 6 more answers on the way. It'd be our last stop.

On the way we passed by the Omni Parker House and took another short break to rest our feet, our phones, and finalize our plan.

Our scavengeering ended in a pub near the historic Green Dragon (which was sadly booked and too loud for our tired bodies).

Finally, with the contest ended we discovered we'd come in second for Most Efficient. It was a blow to our egos with all the effort we'd put into planning out the best route. That said, but this point we'd had a wonderful day walking around town and were really too tired to care. It was time for the afterparty.

The afterparty took place at the always lively, always wonderful Harpoon Brewery in Seaport. While it was full of people who hadn't participated in the Hunt, it was also very easy to spot those who had. They were cheery and tired, dressed up in bright costumes or, at least, bearing the blue 'X' of the SF Hunt T-shirt.

While we didn't, by the numbers, win Most Efficient (though we felt a bit cheated since we think the app double-counted some steps we took) we did end up winning the near equally prestigious Most Efficient Team That Actually Showed Up to the Afterparty. So, despite a narrow loss we still got swagged out.

Ultimately our calm, methodical, note-filled process won out and we felt we'd accomplished what we came to do.

Many thanks to the Handstandwith.us team for putting the event together. All of us had a blast in the SF Hunt in Boston and would love to do it again next year.