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September 2, 2014

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A Weekly writer scores $20,000 in a scavenger hunt

And you can too! (Probably)

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Sarah Jane Woodall, Amy Sedaris, Rick Lax and one really big check.

I don’t enjoy a good competition; I enjoy winning. Type A personality? Yeah, you could say that.

Two weeks ago, my editor asked me if I wanted to participate in a $20,000 scavenger hunt sponsored by Downy to promote its new Unstopables laundry product. My only question: Can I win it? After reading through the rules and eligibilities, I had my answer: I’m going to win.

For a partner, I chose my friend Sarah Jane, who writes for CityLife. Like me, she’s fiercely competitive—she’s been on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Jeopardy! And like me, she spends a lot of time on the Strip. That was important because we’d be running up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

Two days before the hunt, we met for a strategic planning session. We spent hours studying the Bellagio—where the event would start and end—researching its layout, the flowers in the botanical garden and the lives of the painters whose work was displayed there. We memorized facts from the Downy Wikipedia page and watched Unstopables commercials.

The day of the event, we arrived 90 minutes early. We lined up, got ID’d—entry was free for all teams—and filled out liability waivers. I identified myself as a Las Vegas Weekly reporter, but made clear that I wanted absolutely no special treatment. SCVNGR, the company running the event, assured me I wouldn’t get any.

I sized up the other 434 competitors. The guy with the water bottle fanny pack worried me, as did the couple in running tights. But serious runners don’t hang out on the Strip. They don’t know how to transverse the Boulevard efficiently. They don’t know which casinos to cut through, which escalators to avoid and which bridges to cross. We do.

The SCVNGR team explained the rules: The team that answered the most questions correctly in two hours would win. In the event of a tie, the faster team would win.

The hunt began at noon. We started at Paris Las Vegas (Count the number of gifts in the Sugar Factory window display and subtract the number of elves), dashed to the MGM Grand (Take a picture of yourself holding the lion like it’s a trophy), headed to the Venetian (Which cosmic sign is currently displayed on the clock tower?), and returned to Rockhouse (One of the boxes has beer in it. What does the other one contain?). Along the way, we answered and uploaded 39 questions. The SCVNGR workers time-stamped our guesses and the locations where we made them. The SCVNGR app told us our right and wrong answers. We only missed two.

“I think we might have taken this,” I told Sarah Jane, but she’d heard that one team scored 92 points. We’d scored 90. She gave me the whole “at least we had fun” speech.

Inside the Bank, Unstopables pitchwoman Amy Sedaris read the names of the third place winners. Not us. Then the second place winners. Not us.

“The first place winners of the Downy Unstopables digital scavenger hunt are ... Sarah Jane Woodall and Rick Lax!” Giant check, promotional video, tax forms. We walked away with 20 grand, 10 bottles of Unstopables, two T-shirts and two questions: How do we spend the money, and what do we do with all our unused Downy knowledge?

How to win a scavenger hunt:

Pick your battles. My partner and I won because we hang out on the Strip all the time. We knew how to transverse it efficiently. The tourists didn’t stand a chance.

Keep an open mind. You’re not going to understand every clue immediately or answer every question correctly on your first guess. Sometimes you have to take a step back, question your assumptions and change your course of thought.

Don’t wear jeans. I learned that one the hard way. Days after the hunt, I’m still chafed.

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