Amateur Gumshoes in San Francisco

by Christopher Hall, New York Times (Jan. 12, 2003)

The spirit of Sam Spade is alive and well in San Francisco.

An expected 1,800 amateur sleuths will pound shoe leather around the city's nighttime streets on Feb. 15 during the San Francisco Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt. The city's colorful Chinese New Year Parade, with its 200-foot dragon and cacophony of drums and firecrackers, will serve as a spectacular backdrop.

The parade and the hunt, though not affiliated, take place at about the same time and in the same general area.

The hunt is a self-described "game of urban exploration and discovery" in which teams of four to nine players receive a map and 16 or more clues that lead to hidden tokens or arcane bits of information around a square-mile area of Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill. The hunt lasts about four hours, and the first teams to return having solved all clues receive prizes. Familiarity with San Francisco geography is not required, since many clues relate to general knowledge, current events and popular culture.

The hunt was created in the 1980's by a San Francisco private investigator, Jayson Wechter, as an amusement for his friends. In 1993, it became an annual event open to the paying public, with most of the proceeds donated to programs for the homeless.

The hunt begins at 4:30 p.m. at Justin Herman Plaza, at the foot of Market Street. Preregistration is advised; the cost is $30; $35 after Feb. 6, and $40 for tickets remaining the evening of the hunt.

Information: (415) 564-9400 or at www.sftreasurehunt.com.
CHRISTOPHER HALL