Scavenger hunts stoke the embers of my competitive nature. I get fired up at the chance to decipher clues, navigating a playing field and be the savviest contestant in the game.
That’s why I was thrilled to get a recent call from Marc and Darlynne Menkin. This effervescent husband-and-wife team co-owns Out of the Ordinary Group Adventures.
The company name teases excitement. Unfortunately, pandemic had put the brakes on the Menkins’ San Diego-based team-building and corporate events company. For nearly two years, their “adventures” were largely banished to Zoom.
Having the state-mandated ability to gather publicly for a downtown San Diego scavenger hunt on February 25, 2022, was double dose of mask-less joy.
Marc and Darlynne had signed up business from a repeat client, a group of doctors/residents with Kaiser Permanente. I wasn’t summoned to the starting line at the Westin San Diego on Broadway to compete. As a veteran player of this game, my job was to help as staff.
As a team leader, I will accompany one of the scavenger-hunt teams while it completes required tasks, seeks out bonus points and navigates toward the game’s final destination. All while helping coworkers bond, see the city sights and not get hit by a car.
It’s an allegedly neutral post. However, for the duration of a two-hour-plus hunt I will be singularly obsessed with the desire to hang first-place medals around the necks of my team.
Marc and Darlynne entered my sphere of existence in 2006. I was an editor at San Diego Magazine. The magazine hired the Menkins’ company, then called Where You Want to Be Tours, for a team-building scavenger hunt.
Divided into teams, our magazine staff was herded onto a boat docked in the bay behind the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. Darlynne, a former local TV anchor and reporter, did most of the introductory explanation of the game. She’s petite, has a big smile and exudes a personality that’s equal parts friendly and authoritative.
Marc stands about a foot and a half taller than his wife. He appears more reticent, but is a font of local knowledge regarding local geography and off-the-beaten-path attractions around town.
When the scavenger hunt started, my team bolted off the boat. Everyone had taken their shoes off and left them on the dock. We laced up our footwear. Teammates tied some of our competitors’ shoelaces together for competitive edge.
We ran off the dock like a wolfpack—howling to complete our first required task. (Historical note: For reasons relating to physical advantage, running during hunts was disallowed soon after this. It is referred to as the San Diego Magazine No-Running Rule.)
Yes, my team won that day. And I was hooked on scavenger hunts. A couple years later, I entered a select team in a citywide public hunt. The winner got a full freezer of Dreyer’s ice cream bars.
Won that, too. And, a couple other local scavenger hunts.
The Menkins had also entered that Dreyer’s hunt, coming in second place. Perhaps succumbing to the reality of the old adage “if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em,” Marc and Darlynne asked me to be a part-time team group leader for their company.
The Menkins founded Where You Want to Be in 2003. They acquired Out of the Ordinary in 2015.
Both companies do more than 40 different types of corporate group adventures all over town. They get hired by local companies and by incoming convention groups.
I’ve participated in scavenger hunts in Balboa Park, Pacific Beach and La Jolla. My preference is downtown. My ’hood.
Being a team leader can be akin to taking a kindergarten class on a field trip. You encounter every personality type. Some are bold and want to bolt off in search of bonus points.
Others can be shy. I’ll tell you this: It’s often the quiet types who espy the hardest to find bonus-point clues that are semi-hidden somewhere across the street and half a block away.
It would be unfair to specifically mention some of the clues used on the hunt, or to name the places groups go. Suffice it to say, we go to Gaslamp Quarter bars, restaurants and attractions. And onto the rooftops of hotels.
The Menkins make sure most of the establishments know scavenger hunters will be invading their places of business.
Most groups—even teams of dour-faced doubters who my have been dragged into playing a children’s game—are usually beaming by the time we cross the finish line.
Teams are assigned randomly to a leader. My Kaiser Permanente team was on the ball. They quickly organized, divvied up tasks and brainstormed a plan of attack.
I listened to them strategize, bursting with the pride of a young dad at his kid’s first Pop Warner football game.
My group was strategic. Improvisational. Adaptive. They quickly figured out when to push forward and when to slow down and investigate a possible clue situation.
Amid the chaos of an active scavenger hunt playing field there are rules that have to be followed. Obey the traffic signals. No jaywalking. No public transportation, ride-shares or scooters allowed.
You can’t use your cell phone to find items. Nor can you ask a passerby to look something up on their cell phone.
However, you can get spoken advice or directions from anybody you encounter (except your team leader). Smart teams synthesize the fact that a hotel concierge usually has a better grasp of the city’s layout than a sunburnt tourist wearing an "I❤️SD" t-shirt.
Truth be told, I have almost as much fun on a scavenger hunt as the teams. By and large, I’m proud of downtown San Diego and eager to showcase the city—especially to people with an innate fear of urban settings.
On the February Kaiser tour, our group was surprised on a rooftop bar by a woman in sunglasses who saw us coming and yelled, “Hey, scavenger hunters! Come here! I’ll tell ya what you need to know!”
Obviously, a competing team had already been here, and she’d interacted with them.
The woman was celebrating. My group immediately befriended her and took half a dozen photos with this birthday girl. The photos were actually a required task on the hunt. She didn’t know that.
We wished her a happy birthday—her 40th, we discovered—waved goodbye and headed toward the finish line.
In an Out of the Ordinary scavenger hunt, the winner doesn’t necessarily get to the finish line first. All teams need to arrive before a pre-set deadline. The winning team is the one that completes all the required tasks and gets the most bonus points from the route.
It’s not giving anything away to say that all teams are required to write a song and perform it at the end-of-game award ceremony.
Song lyrics are almost always company-specific. People tend to write songs about their jobs. Believe me, work jargon that rhymes please co-workers to no end.
"Marc and I enjoy our jobs," Darlynne Menkin says. "It's awesome to be able to play with people for a living."
I concur. If I get jaded by watching comradery spark to life, I’ll bow out. It’s been nearly two decades, though, and there's still a warm satisfaction to be gained watching the child-like joy of a scavenger hunt unfold.
COVID temporarily denied our ability to do team-building. Pandemic caused my heart to grow fonder.
And, yes. My team won. SDSun
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