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Bay Area gumshoes getting ready for Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt

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Participants in the San Francisco Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt Saturday will have to make their way around the big Chinatown parade. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Participants in the San Francisco Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt Saturday will have to make their way around the big Chinatown parade.

With some 250,000 spectators expected, San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade doesn’t seem like a particularly appropriate setting for a clue-packed sleuthing event.

Yet hundreds of amateur gumshoes are getting set to take on absurd challenges in the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt on Saturday.

Designed by Jayson Wechter for San Francisco Treasure Hunts, the hunt takes participants, by foot, through Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill on a quest to find answers to clues about The City’s history and culture.

The location and timing are intentional. With the parade being a boisterous celebration in the most mazelike part of town, the hunt, which takes place rain or shine, is a true adventure.

It’s also a cerebral experience in which people use creativity and insight to solve a problem, says Wechter, who is a licensed private investigator and local historian.

“When they go to the location and find the reference, it’s an ‘Aha!’ moment. The hunt also shows them things that may have been in plain sight that they have walked by many times and never noticed,” he says.

Wechter, who has designed hunts for more than two decades and also markets them as corporate team-building activities, has seen a few things over the years at the Chinese New Year hunt.

One team stuffed padding under a woman’s shirt to feign pregnancy, allowing her to cut through the parade. Another team made a book-related, fact-checking phone call to a library in Honolulu, since the San Francisco library branch was closed.

Smartphones are not banned, but Wechter admits he has adjusted clues through the years so answers are not too readily obtained by a quick Internet search.

“There was one team that used to take a room at the Hyatt Regency and made a command center,” Wechter recalls. “They put butcher paper on the wall to diagram things. The prevalence of smartphones has miniaturized the process. Instead of bringing a crate of reference books, people can bring tablets and smartphones.”

Last year, 1,600 players participated, registering in teams or as individuals (who are organized into teams at the hunt’s outset).

This year, check-in begins at 3:30 p.m., and the hunt begins when Wechter distributes the first clue at 4:30 p.m.
Wechter advises players to wear comfortable shoes and warm, layered clothes as well as bring a flashlight and ruler.

Winning teams receive awards, as do teams with the most inventive names. Special themes for 2013 are “Year of the Snake” and “Film Noir.”

lgallagher@sfexaminer.com