Life-size scavenger hunt

By Meryl Fulinara

Black Friday causes shopping mayhem everywhere, and Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is no exception. With the hustle and bustle of crowds hurrying to buy holiday gifts, it would seem like the perfect set-up to recreate a real world “Where’s Waldo?”

Finders Keepers is a group that specializes in custom-tailored scavenger hunts. The group’s first event is a real-life version of “Where’s Waldo?” that will be held downtown on the Magnificent Mile Nov. 28 between noon and 1 p.m.

“I loved the books growing up, and I always thought it would be a really neat idea to reenact that on a larger scale,” said Courtney Prokopas, one of the founders of Finders Keepers. “So I thought, ‘What better day than the day after Thanksgiving when the Magnificent Mile would be packed?'”

Prokopas said the “Where’s Waldo?” event is a very simple and elegant idea because the book’s characters are widely known figures.

“A whole lot of people have grown up with the Waldo books,” Williams said. “It’s something very easily understood. Whereas a scavenger hunt on the Magnificent Mile wouldn’t be easily grasped.”

Participants will have to search for Waldo and friends-Wanda, Woof and the Wizard Whitebeard-among the crowd of on the Magnificent Mile. The characters can be found walking along the street or within five feet of a storefront window.

Once spotted, each character will sign the participant’s card provided at the start of the search. The first one to complete their card receives the Grand Prize which will be named before the competition.

Finders Keepers is a scavenger hunt company that was conceived last May by Prokopas; Sebastian Ellefson, a Law School graduate; Jon Williams, a research analyst; and Steven Lucy.

Through Finders Keepers, the group wanted to achieve custom-made events for people and groups around the Chicagoland area, as well as tourists.

“I really like getting to know the space I’m in through an alternate lens,” Prokopas said. “If I go to a city, rather than seeing the major monuments and museums that are tourist spots, I would rather go off-the-beaten track and talk to people about what’s unique about the space.”

The four have been taking preliminary steps toward general organization of the company going online with Finders Keepers during the week of Nov. 3.

Finders Keepers hopes to explore the different possibilities that come with the sense of exploration, Ellefson said.

The four founding members met at the University of Chicago’s annual scavenger hunt held annually in May which is said to be the biggest in the world.

“I was involved with that for several years. Both when I was an undergraduate and not,” Ellefson said. “Last year we were all doing that and still loved doing [the scavenger hunts], but we were having less and less of a connection with the university itself.”

Ellefson said the University of Chicago was the largest influence on the group’s decision to form the company.

Every year, the University of Chicago sends teams on frenzied scavenger hunts that last four days-which have included a 1,000-mile road trip, athletic competitions and ingenuity.

“Scavenger hunts enable people to go places and explore the little-known aspects of a city, or say, small-town America,” Ellefson said.

One aspect of scavenger hunts that the group is trying to develop is custom road trips. They hope to design alternate routes to destinations.

“We want there to be excitement rather than just hopping on I-55 and driving all the way to St. Louis,” Prokopas said. “We want them to see the forest and the trees, not just the final destination.”