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Thrill of the Hunt Ready for a full day of adventure? You never know what you'll find on a scavenger hunt

So you're searching for your Halloween decorations in the basement and run across an old Atari video game. Common sense would have you toss it, but on this day the scavenger in you rules. So you store the Atari in the box next to the Viagra bottle (with label), the size 15 shoe and the bowling pin from Recckio's.

Scavenger hunts can be so demanding, yet their popularity -- from local hunts to national urban dares and city challenges -- have fueled an adventure industry that resembles television's "Amazing Race."

"We kind of like horde things we think we might need for the years to come," said hunt veteran Amanda Chmura. "The bigger stuff we keep in my mom's basement -- like the bowling pin, metal ice cube tray. Last year for the scavenger hunt, I threw things in my car -- like little toy soldiers or baseball cards -- just because you never know what's going to be on the list."

Too bad you can't stash a Buffalo Sabre. Last February's Buffalo Scavenger Hunt -- the first for organizer Charlie Riley -- gave participants 100 points if they brought a hockey player back with them.

"We gave them four hours, from 5 to 9, to get 250 items on this list," Riley said. "With two minutes left, this taxi pulls up with [Paul] Gaustad. He hung around for two hours and wanted to participate in the next scavenger hunt."

Whether you're looking for something to do today -- there is a trivia-based charity hunt (www.hunt4thecure) that starts at 11:30 a.m. at Main and Carlton streets -- or next week or next year, chances are you will a hunt that suits you.

>Anatomy of a hunt

A handful of elements are critical to any hunt, whether it's national -- Urban Dare hits Atlanta today -- or runs along Elmwood Avenue. Participants compete in teams of either two or four members. Registration fees average $25 to $50 per person. A starting point is designated, most likely a parking lot, where T-shirts and clue packages are distributed.

Most hunts last six hours and are capped by a party, allowing time for judges to tabulate points, prizes to be awarded and contestants to unwind.

Most hunts permit foot power and public transportation only. The use of roller blades, bikes or boards is not allowed. Cabs may or may not be used based on organizer preference.

Organizers purchase an insurance policy in the event a nonparticipant is injured during the course of a hunt. Riley, for example, took out a six-hour policy allowing $1 million of coverage for $300.

"It would cover someone in the hunt injuring someone else running down the street," he explained. "That's another reason we don't want anyone in cars."

A list of items -- with points awarded based on the difficulty locating the item or completing the dare -- is essential.

For example, Buffalo Scavenger Hunt (www.buffaloscavengerhunt.com) awarded one point for Billy Fucillo's signature, two points for a toupee, three points for a coonskin hat and four points for underwear from a stranger.

Photo challenges have become a mainstay of hunts, where photographs are taken of the team to prove they completed a challenge. Digital cameras are allowed, but many participants use their cell phones.

In past years, participants in the Southtowns Hunt (www.southtownshunt.com) earned 10 points for photos of their entire team jumping on a trampoline, 20 points for their entire team on go-carts and 30 points for one team member helping a hotel maid make a bed.

Top prizes on the national level hit $300, while locally prizes include gift certificates, back packs and trophies. Local hunts are not money-makers, with organizers instead funneling the money into the post-hunt party.

>On the homefront

Patrick Eustace of Hamburg thought about not doing his Southtowns Hunt this year, but peer pressure took hold, and the fifth installment will take place next Saturday.

"Six years ago, I participated in a friend's scavenger hunt and I had such a great time I thought I'd have one of my own," Eustace said. "Just racing around Elmwood hugging a stranger, pumping a stranger's gas, asking Harley guys if you could sit on their motorcycle."

Mounting a winning game plan is an exercise in creativity, according to Chmura, whose team has twice won the Southtowns Hunt. Her all-woman team has been described as "willing to do anything." As a team, they get nearly everything on the list.

"You get creative with some of the stuff you do," admitted Chmura, a special-education teacher. The first year she did it, for example, the 33-year-old had to get a picture of twins or triplets, so she ended up taking a picture of her chest.

Chmura won that year. Her team also won last year (when they dressed in full Spandex) and are returning this year to retain their title. The one challenge that eluded them last year? Getting a photo with a MINI Cooper.

Rebecca and Allison Lacher thought up today's Hunt for the Cure in honor of their parents, Heidi and Stephen Lacher, each of whom are in cancer remission.

A sample photo challenge: People who love dessert are said to have one of these, which is why the dentist gives out toothbrushes instead of lollipops. Get your picture at the dessert shop of the same name (Sweet Tooth on Elmwood Avenue)

"We wanted to choose businesses that originated in Buffalo, or one of Buffalo's historical sites," Allison Lacher, 25, explained. "Not only must you figure out the locations, but map out the best way to get there."

>City race

Urban Dare (www.urbandare.com) -- one of the city challenges to cross the country -- is part photo hunt, part trivia and part dare. Teams of two must solve clues to find checkpoints throughout a city. To move on, they must take photos or perform dares to earn passport stamps. Each team must determine their own route to the checkpoints. Most teams will cover about five miles and finish in about three hours.

City Chase (www.citychaseusa.com) raises the adventure bar, guaranteeing competitors will get wet and dirty, and push their fear of heights. At last year's world championship in Rome, for example, teams crawled through caves and jumped off buildings.

Urban Dare began in Washington in 2005, growing to 10 cities in 2006 and 20 in 2007. President Kevin Keefe, a former political campaign manager, is looking to bring the dare to Buffalo in 2009.

"I usually have an eating challenge, but it's something good, unlike 'Fear Factor.' In Buffalo, we'd probably do some wings or ice cream or something," Keefe said during a phone interview. "A guy I met in Orlando told me I needed to come to Buffalo. A few people have e-mailed me, too."

The 49-year-old hatched the idea after traveling to London and Canada to compete in adventure races.

"I decided to create one in this country," he said. "I basically never ask people to do anything that I have not done myself. I found that simple things can make the best dares."

Keefe's Spellbound Dare is rather simple: "I take letters of the alphabet with a number beside each, and I hide the letters in a park or store. Then I give people a word. They find the letters that spell the word and give me the total. It's simple, yet it takes time and has people searching around. It works well."

As the field gets larger -- many Urban Dares draw 200 teams -- Keefe makes certain to start off with dares that more people can do at the same time.

"If I have 50 teams, I can't have a kayak dare at the beginning, because I'll have 50 teams waiting on 10 kayaks," he said.

The frozen sock dare (where each team member dons a sock that was soaked and frozen) leaves people complaining, according to Keefe, "but on Monday when they go back to the office, that's the one they talk about."

e-mail: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

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