February 16, 2018

A Townwide Scavenger Hunt | Programs That Pop

Erin SheaTHE One Book, One Community pick for 2013 at the Darien Library, CT, was David ­Benioff’s City of Thieves, in which the two main characters are charged to collect a dozen eggs in the starving city of Leningrad during the Nazi invasion. The penalty should they not complete this outrageous task is to forfeit their lives.

As soon as I knew City of Thieves was the choice, I knew that we had to do a townwide scavenger hunt. It also seemed like a great opportunity to partner with and support local businesses.

Teaming up

The first step was to gather a finite number of teams. I held an open registration period and asked team captains to register over the course of a week. When the time was up, I chose ten team captains at random. They were notified and asked to meet in our community room and were presented with the following guidelines:

  1. Length of the scavenger hunt will depend on the team, but it is expected to take approximately two hours from start to finish and should be completed on the same day.
  2. Participants will need access to a vehicle. The hunt will lead teams all over the town of Darien.
  3. While there is no limit to the number of participants per team, it is best if they can all fit in one car.
  4. This is a family-friendly, all-ages event.
  5. The team to retrieve all 12 eggs while logging the least mileage on its vehicle will be declared the winner.

Next, I planned 12 stops on the hunt and 12 different clues that would lead to each stop: local businesses such as the toy store, coffee shop, diner, and bookstore. Every shop owner was enthusiastic about being included. I also asked the police if I could make the police station one of the stops and used this as an opportunity to inform them of what would be going on that day. (In this age of “If you see something, say something,” I didn’t want anyone thinking the “clues” were nefarious.)

Cluing them in

Then, I composed a dozen rhyming clues. Growing up, I often planned scavenger hunts for my cousins, so I have to admit I have a special predilection for this; maybe someone on your staff will feel the same way. Otherwise, you can use online rhyming dictionaries to write fun clues or create tips that don’t rhyme. I made the hints pretty simple since I wanted kids to be able to find some of the eggs, too. Here’s an example:

Family owned and operated for more than 90 years,

Many people in town buy their flowers and groceries here.

Produce, wedding cakes, giftware, and cheese,

Ask customer service for the next clue if you please. (Answer: Palmer’s ­Supermarket)

Winning team: the Daly family

Winning team: the Daly family


I planned a specific route for each team, to avoid a traffic jam as they all rushed to the same stop. I set up 12 bags in my living room, each one indicating a different hunt location. One by one, I stuffed eggs with clues for each team and placed them in the bags, so each stop on the hunt would get its own bag. Each team had a different color egg to take from each bag. Since we weren’t in the Easter season, it was incredibly inexpensive to buy plastic eggs in bulk.

On the morning of the scavenger hunt, I went around town and left a bag of eggs at each stop. (Confirm with the businesses involved that they’ll be open when you want to drop off the clues.)

Each team picked up its first egg at the library, along with a sheet of paper on which to record its mileage. This would be used in the event of a tie and also encouraged teams not to speed through town. The sheet of paper also included our reference desk phone number so they could “phone a friend” for help with the clues (bonus marketing!).

The hunt ended, of course, at the library, with the final clue placed on our hold shelf. The first- and second-place teams received gift certificates from local businesses, some of which had been donated. I also had cookies and lemonade for all the scavengers set up in our community room.

My favorite part was seeing that two of the teams were comprised of three different generations of players. It’s a challenge to find a program that can appeal to kids, parents, and grand­parents alike, but this one did the trick. I was also pleased to hear that the teams that didn’t win had such fun that they were not disappointed, and, unlike the egg hunt in City of Thieves, no lives were at stake!

Erin Shea is Head of Adult Programming, Darien Library, CT. She manages over 300 programs annually, including author events, film screenings, computer classes, music concerts, hands-on workshops, and more. You can follow her on twitter (@erintheshea) or tumblr (darienlibrary.tumblr.com)

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library Journal, Stronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.