Monday, July 20, 2009

"Summer Times - 'The Magnificent Blunder'"

After dinner, there was “Free Play”, during which campers could participate in any activity they wanted, (including my favorite activity – doing nothing). After “Free Play”, there was “Evening Activity.” There were three units in our camp – Junior, Intermediate and Senior – and every night, a separate unit-wide activity was arranged for each of them.

“Evening Activity” could be anything, from “Bingo” to watching a medical student mutilate a frog. “Evening Activity” could also mean outdoor games – quasi-military endeavors like “Capture The Flag”, as well as familiar “running-around-looking-for-things” games, such as Scavenger Hunts and Treasure Hunts.

“The Magnificent Blunder” involved a Treasure Hunt. I call it “The Magnificent Blunder”, because when it comes to Treasure Hunts, it would be impossible to mess one up more magnificently.

This was truly a disaster.

I imagine you know how Treasure Hunts work. Two teams, two sets of hidden clues, each clue directing you to the place where the next clue is hidden, until the last clue directs you to the “treasure”, and whoever gets there first, wins the Treasure Hunt.

It’s all pretty simple.

Among their other responsibilities, counselors, on a rotating basis, were responsible for arranging the evening activities. Arranging a Treasure Hunt is one of the easier assignments. You devise two sets of clues, and you hide them. And that’s it.

Every clue contains a “secret message” which, when “deciphered”, will direct the “Treasure Hunters” to the next hiding place. A typical clue would go something like this:

“Forget your racket, drop your saddle

Go to the place where they keep the paddles.”

That would be the Canoe Dock.

“A place for breakfast, this place ain’t

Your next clue’s hidden where there’s paste and paint.”

The Arts and Crafts Cabin. Are you getting the idea?

We’re not talking about a “Sherlock Holmes” level of deduction here. The clues were instantly decipherable. In truth, the real goal of the Treasure Hunt had nothing to do with finding the treasure. The actual objective was to run the kids ragged, exhausting them, so they’d fall asleep more easily when they got back to the cabin. That was pretty much the point of all camp activities:

To wear out the campers.

Okay, so, the counselor in charge of the Treasure Hunt devises two sets of clues, and he hides them. He’s done for the night.

Or so he thinks.

Minutes before the activity is to begin, the counselor in charge of the Treasure Hunt realizes he’s committed a horrible blunder. There is really only one mistake you can make in setting up a Treasure Hunt. And he has made it.

The mistake is this.

Instead of taking the clue directing the “Treasure Hunters” to go to, say, the Mess Hall, and hiding it at, say, the riding stables, the counselor in charge of the Treasure Hunt has taken the clue directing the “Treasure Hunters” to go to the Mess Hall and hidden it

at the Mess Hall.

That’s a problem. At the time the campers are reading the clue directing them to proceed to some designated location on the campgrounds

They are already there.

Hence, “The Magnificent Blunder.”

To wit: The counselor in charge of the Treasure Hunt has hidden each clue not at the location before the location the campers are meant to be directed to. He has hidden the clue at the location itself.

Advice to future Treasure Hunt planners:

Don’t do that. The counselor in charge of the Treasure Hunt did that. That was a mistake.

The problem is: You’ve made the mistake. What do you do now?

In a stroke of good fortune, the counselor in charge of the Treasure Hunt has prepared a “Master List” indicating the “hiding places” of all the clues. To salvage the evening – and to prevent the campers from returning to their cabins considerably less than worn out – he distributes a copy of the “Master List” to the counselors in charge of supervising each of the teams through the treasure hunting process. This is helpful, because now, those counselors have a list of the correct sequence of the hiding places.

The only trouble is, the clues don’t fit. Each clue is clearly telling the Treasure Hunters to go someplace specific. Unfortunately, that “someplace” is clearly the place where they’re already standing. The supervising counselor’s job is now to “reinterpret” the clue, so that it reasonably indicates the next hiding place. Even though it doesn’t.

It’s absurd, but at that point, it was the only thing they could do.

The campers find a clue:

“If you’re feeling sick or ill

Go to this place and they’ll give you a pill.”

“To the baseball diamond!” yells the supervising counselor.

And the campers race to the baseball diamond. Except for the confused ones.

“Why are we going to the baseball diamond?” they reasonably inquire.

“Because…a slang word for a baseball is “the pill.”

The supervising counselors are making this up on the fly, insisting that campers proceed to certain places, even though the clues are giving no such indication whatsoever.

“On hot days this place is really handy

The water’s wet and the sand is sandy.”

“To the archery court!”

“Isn’t that the beach?”

“It can’t be the beach. We’re at the beach.”

Somehow, the kids never caught on. Except for the smart ones, but who listens to them? One team reached the “treasure” first, they were pronounced the winners, everyone had snack, and they went back to their cabins.

Worn out.

Still, it was a Magnificent Blunder.

And the most glorious thing of all?

The “Magnificent Blunderer” wasn’t me.

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