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Scavenger Hunts: Read for the First Clue…

You’ve probably partaken in a scavenger hunt at some point in your life, and if you’re a parent, maybe you’ve even organized one for your kids. But have you ever stopped and wondered where they came from? Whose genius idea was this, and how did it get so popular across the globe?

I did a little digging and found that scavenger hunts, of all things, have quite a glamourous past! Definitely not what you’d expect from a name that conjures up images of pirates and, well, scavengers.

Although the true origin of the scavenger hunt, or what sort of game it evolved from, is unknown, one thing everyone can agree on is that a woman named Elsa Maxwell popularized scavenger hunts in the 1930s. She was born in Iowa and started her career in her teens, working with a theatre group doing odd jobs. She worked her way up to performing in vaudeville and South African music halls, and eventually started mingling with socialites all over the globe. When she started hosting parties for these people in places like Monaco, she came up with clever ways to make them more exciting, like adding a “Come-As-Your-Opposite” theme, and of course, turning the party into a scavenger hunt. You’d never guess what the first prize she ever awarded for one of her scavenger hunt parties was: a gallon of perfume! How ridiculous!

Picture of Elsa Maxwell with Cole Porter

(Elsa Maxwell with Cole Porter. Picture from

When Elsa returned from France to America, she brought her extravagant high society parties, and her scavenger hunts, with her. And while they may no longer be associated with celebrities, Americans and Canadians have enjoyed this simple game ever since.

Today, scavenger hunts come in all forms and sizes. The world record for the largest scavenger hunt was claimed in 2011 by GISHWHES (the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen), which had over 6,000 participants in the hunt. The GISHWHES scavenger list had silly things like “a woman wearing a dress (and only the dress) made entirely from bacon” and some ridiculously impossible sounding ones, like making a Christmas tree float by tying on helium balloons (this actually was successfully done).

Dress Made of Bacon

(Dress made entirely from bacon. Picture from

From children to socialites, France to America, 1930 to 2013, scavenger hunts have had an exciting history and a vast appeal. Are you interested in participating in a scavenger hunt? If you’re in the Ottawa area, is putting on a scavenger hunt this Saturday and the grand prize is an iPad mini! For more details, check out the Facebook event page. Not in the Ottawa area? Participate in the next GISHWHES, or do like Elsa Maxwell and plan one for you and your friends!

(Click here for more info on the Scavenger Hunt!)

Community Angel and Marketing Assistant at

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