Dilettante 39: SF Chinese New Year’s Treasure Hunt

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The Chinese New Year’s Treasure Hunt is yet another official-unofficial Cacophony Society production. It could also be classified as a prototypical UrbEx project — a movement Cacophony helped pioneer with events like these.

From the site:

“The Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt is a unique urban adventure game played on the colorful streets of Chinatown, North Beach, Telegraph Hill and the Financial District, set against the backdrop of the annual Chinese New Year Parade. It’s a scavenger hunt for information, in which teams collaboratively solve clues leading to off-the-beaten-track locations connected with local history, art and culture.

Each clue (or puzzle) leads to a location within walking distance in a one-square mile area, where players must find and use a piece of information to answer a question. The information could be wording on an historical plaque, a detail in a mural or public artwork, a unique architectural feature or a distinctive business sign, something you might never notice if you weren’t looking for it. The treasure hunt is a great exercise in visual awareness that hones your observation skills and makes you more aware of your environment. Participants often discover memorable sights they’d passed by hundreds of times and overlooked.”

SF Chinese New Year’s Treasure Hunt originator and organizer Jayson Wechter. SF Chronicle photo by Christina Koci Hernandez

Before Jayson Wechter initiated the Chinese New Year’s Treasure Hunt around 1984, he was the man wearing a frog costume in 1977 during an original Suicide Club prank where they took an out-of-town trip to Calaveras County to enter its famous frog-jumping contest.

The event is detailed on John Law’s website, in a post called the Fatty Arbuckle Caper which outlines some of the other original, San Francisco-centric, pre-LARPing LARP and “whimsical criminality” the Suicide Club used to get into before they transformed into the Cacophony Society.

As it says in that post, a different Suicide Club charter member, Don Herron, took a similar path Jayson Wechter did as a result of their Cacophony Society education — Herron founded the San Francisco Dashiell Hammett walking tour, the longest-running literary walking tour in the nation, which still continues to this day.

Internet Archive’s downloadable collection of Rough Drafts and other Cacophony Society press and newspaper clippings from 1977-1990 include a “July 1-7, 1977 Berkeley Barb review of the Suicide Club written by Jayson Wechter, who went on to later fame as the originator of the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt and the San Francisco Treasure Hunts. With bonus: reverse side contains coverage of a 1977 gay pride parade.”

Tangentially, the Berkeley Barb was apparently a great zine / newspaper in the hippie era to 1980. And Rough Draft was the primary publication organ (i.e., ‘zine) of the Cacophony Society in the Bay Area through the ’80s and some of the ’90s.

Here’s Rough Draft founder and publisher Louise Jarmilowicz on her pioneering pre-online event-coordination-communication system that she, Wechter, Herron, Law et al employed to spread Cacophony in the days just before the Internet. (Yes this includes the first Burning Man event – another Cacophony production facilitated entirely through telephone and Xerox.) Worth watching even for the short explainer on the process GenX used to send ‘zines and mail art.

Click through to read “Chinese checkers,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on March 2, 1999.

This is the 39th entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).

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chinatown. that’s a movie too, right?

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