By Belen Edwards
Started in 1987, the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt (Scav) is one of the largest scavenger hunts in the world. For four days, participants find, build, and create items on a list created each year by a team of Scav Judges. It’s a madcap University tradition, with staples including Scav Olympics, a blood drive with UChicago Medicine, and a road trip.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the University to transition to remote learning, there was no way this decades-old tradition could proceed as planned. Still, the judges were determined to carry on the tradition, said Head Judge Sam Dulys, a third-year in the College.
Enter Scav 404, an all-virtual Scav adapted for this quarter’s unusual circumstances. Dulys and his team of judges assembled the new list over the course of a few weeks, making sure that participants could complete every item from their own homes.
“One thing I really enjoyed this year was how we took advantage of multiple online mediums that people use to communicate,” said Dulys. Teams created custom Zoom backgrounds and participated in spirit days, where participants wore themed outfits to Zoom meetings.
Other virtually focused items included a fashion show created entirely in Animal Crossing, a social simulation game, and meeting up with judges in Neopets, a virtual pet website. “The Neopets items were really nostalgic and fun,” said Dulys. “We got to stretch ourselves a bit through figuring out how to use these different virtual means of communicating and interacting for Scav.”
As the judges worked to create a new list and organize virtual activities, Scav teams and their captains thought creatively about how to generate excitement and team spirit online.
“We really wanted to make it clear that people did not have to Scav alone,” said third-year Nicola Lustig, one of the captains for International House’s Scav team. The International House captains set up a virtual headquarters over Zoom where team members could drop in and collaborate with other participants.
“We’ve also been doing nightly Zoom check-ins,” said Lustig. “They’ve been really helpful: people share what they’ve been working on, and we also get to talk about how people are doing and how their Scav experiences have been.”
While the traditional Scav is based in Hyde Park, this year’s event meant more people could participate. The virtual Scav drew alumni who haven’t been able to participate in the past, incoming UChicago students, and even a team made up of students from Washington University in St. Louis.
With so many students being at home, participants in this year’s Scav could also enlist the help of their family and friends. Lustig worked with her family on an item that required downloading and running a computer program called Folding@home.
Folding@home simulates protein dynamics, including protein folding, which help scientists better understand these processes as they search for cures to diseases and viruses. For this year’s Scav, teams were asked to use Folding@home to fold proteins for coronavirus.
“Folding proteins was the idea that replaced the blood drive we usually do with UChicago Medicine,” said Dulys. “It’s the item that’s meant to help with an ongoing issue and help the community.”
“I’ve been really captured by the protein folding,” said Lustig. “It’s probably my favorite item on the list this year. It’s a great answer to the blood drive, and you’re helping make a difference from your home.”
Even with the UChicago community is scattered across the world, this modified version of a UChicago tradition helped people connect.
“Scav has always been good at bringing people together, and it’s been super important this year,” said Lustig. “I’ve been able to keep in touch with so many friends and even people I wouldn’t have kept in touch with otherwise. Scav always creates excitement, and this year I was surprised that I was able to be excited, even during these times.”
Dulys admitted that he didn’t necessarily want Scav to happen this quarter. “I came home and was exhausted and sad about the quarter, and I lacked a lot of motivation,” he said. “But over time, and especially during Scav, I came to understand that Scav anchors people back to their friends and to the University they love and miss. Even though it’s not the same, I think we managed to capture a normal Scav experience with this list, and it’s been so great to see everyone participating and working together.”