Scav. It’s in our core.

UChicago students and alumni share their one-of-a-kind Scav memories

Creative chaos. Whimsical. Lively. Scav-solutely exhilarating.

These are words and phrases used by UChicago students and alumni to describe Scav, an epic scavenger hunt that has taken place on campus every spring since 1987, and concluded this past Sunday, May 5.

Over the course of four days in early May, participants (students and alumni) track down, compete to capture, and/or create items on an expansive, annually ephemeral list, crafted by a team of Scav Judges.

“It’s so incredible to see people put effort into turning items on the list into reality and there really is no other word other than ‘awesome’ to get that feeling across,” said second-year student David Hall, this year’s Head Judge. “The vibe of these four days is so far removed from anything else I feel being on campus, it’s magical.”

Attempting to describe the essence of Scav is challenging—each year, it morphs into something entirely new, leaving participants scrambling to adapt and innovate. To learn more about it, it’s best to go straight to the source.

Below, hear from one of the co-founders of Scav, as well as past and present participants and Judges, each offering a glimpse into this enigmatic competition.

What are your memories from your first Scav experience?

Diane Kelly, AB’90, co-founder of Scav (DK): 


My friend Cassie Scharff came down to my room one evening and announced that she’d joined a group that was going to organize a scavenger hunt for the spring, and she thought I should join up too.

A week later I was sitting at a booth in Morry’s with all the other “first-gen” judges, trying to come up with items and trivia that would make everyone laugh.

Sabrina Sternberg, AB’21, 2024 Judge (SS): 


My first Scav in 2019 I only did one item, which involved choreography and performing a dance routine on a set of stairs. I love dance, and loved choreographing the routine with a friend, finding costumes around the dorm and performing it.

It is such a good example of how many people Scav can affect—I never interacted with the Judges or went to big events that year, but I found the one item that was exciting for me. There is something for everyone at Scav.

David Hall, second-year student, 2024 Head Judge (DH): 


I actually spent my first year as a Judge. I spent most of the days event-hopping from one weird happening to the next, which—combined with the various completions I saw prior to and at Judgment—made me equally as delirious as I was happy.

My favorite part of the Hunt was going around and seeing all the teams’ Headquarters, since it gave us Judges a chance to interact with Scavvies on a more personal and less regimented way. I remember sitting down in all the teams’ double-decker blanket forts and hearing the joy in their voices as they told me about how they made them work!

TianTian Xu, second-year student, 2024 participant (TX): 


I think I started preparing for Scav two days after I got accepted to UChicago so it’s something I’ve always known I wanted to do. I remember waiting for the list release in my first year and listening to all the creative chants and watching the anticipation grow, and just being surrounded by this beautiful sense of community. Scav brings out this incredibly supportive, creative, and inclusive side of people, regardless of team loyalties, and I can’t wait to Scav again!

Britt Dorton, AB’20, past participant (BD): 


My first Scav experience was as a first-year for Team Burton-Judson. I think our team name that year was Gordon Ramsey and the Nine Circles of Hell’s Kitchen. I’d heard so much about Scav and felt like it was the quintessential UChicago experience and just had to do it! We all marched over to Ida Noyes Hall together, chanting and shouting and reveling in the collective effervescence of it all.

I just remember the electric atmosphere of doing something fun and creative and challenging for the sheer sake of doing it, and doing it with your friends. That year I learned all the bus routes in Hyde Park and how to create emojis in order to complete items on the list and loved that Scav was an excuse to learn something new or get out of my comfort zone.

Camden Pao, second-year student, 2024 co-captain (CP): 


Last year was my first and only experience with Scav, as a captain for a team I made with a few friends, Snap Crackle Pop. It may not have been the wisest idea to lead a small team as my first Scav experience, but being thrown into the deep end my first year really showed me what Scav is about. Memories of running about between different events, coordinating task distribution among my small group, and just doing as much as possible in a limited time was the kind of thing I hoped to get out of Scav. I really enjoyed both the small moments of doing things with my team, like milking a glove full of milk or making an ugly stick, and interacting with other teams in fun ways.

What is the most unique item/action you found/created/completed as a Scav participant, or assigned as a Judge?

DK: One year we asked teams to write out the preamble to the US Constitution in Alpha-Bits glued to construction paper. This turned out to be more challenging than anyone expected—any one box of the cereal didn’t include all the letters in the alphabet, and the company certainly didn’t include letters in the same proportions that they’re used in English. Teams tended to run out of Es and As, and resorted to creative surgery on individual cereal pieces to make letters they needed.

SS: As a Judge, I want to say one item I am proud of was an item I wrote about the niche Godzilla character Jet Jaguar. Each team had someone deeply passionate about the character and completed the item in such different, unique, and exciting ways. The biggest joy I get out of being a Judge is seeing how much joy Scavvies get completing my items.

DH: I’d say that the most unique item I created last year was (what is now known as) the “Mom Brunch”—an event that saw teams bring their own mothers to Chicago to enjoy a home-cooked meal in Jackson Park! A major reason why I came up with this is because Summer Breeze was scheduled Mother’s Day Weekend, which has historically belonged to Scav, and I wanted to keep the tradition of “calling your mom” at Judgment alive.

TX: My working zoetrope hat definitely takes the cake! I must’ve spent ten hours rigging up this double-layered cardboard hat fringe that could be spun in opposite directions to reveal an inverted zoetrope (inspired by Billy Porter’s red carpet moving hat fringe, of course). The moment when I finally lined up the cardboard slits and hand-drawn animation frames and my coin flip animation appeared before my eyes… it was simply magical.

BD: My magnum opus of Scavving will always be “the Alinea tire” aka Item 232 from 2018: A Michelin tire signed by a chef at a Michelin restaurant [4n points where n is the number of Michelin stars, +3 bonus points if it’s the head chef].

I sent what I think is probably the most professional email ever written about Scav to Alinea, the only 3 Michelin starred restaurant in Chicago at the time, and for some reason they agreed to let my friends and I come by their gorgeous restaurant where Grant Achatz ordered the entire kitchen to sign the Michelin bike tire we’d brought.

CP: I think the most unique item I completed was last year Item 49: SCAVAPALOOZA, where I wrote and performed a “Skacore” original based on an I-Spy page. Scavapalooza as a whole was a lot of fun, especially getting to see others perform as well as sharing handmade stickers with the judges and other teams. And of course the icing on top was, as member of Item 277: the Distinguished Scavvensociety, I ended off Scavapalooza with a duel against a fellow distinguished Scavvensociety member.

Why do you think Scav has continued to be beloved by so many generations of UChicago students? What makes Scav so distinctly UChicago?

DK: I’m not sure that we expected the event to last more than a couple of years past our graduation. We certainly never expected that it would keep going for more than 35 years. But in many ways Scav now isn’t the event that we dreamed up in 1986—it’s been able to evolve and change, to adapt to the times and available technologies, and I think that helps the event seem surprising and new.

SS: Scav is ultimately all about community. This is a time where people from all different parts of campus and UChicago, students and alums, graduate students and even faculty, come together to participate in something. Your friends you make from your Scav team, or the Judgeship, are lifelong communities.

Scav challenges people to do exciting and novel things without any actual real life consequences. Do you want to learn mechanics? Try to paint? Attempt an insane physical challenge? Scav will push you beyond your boundaries in a safe space that won’t affect your grade or your career.

Finally, I think part of what makes Scav so UChicago is that it’s entirely a space to explore and be weird. As a UChicago alum, I would proudly like to say that people at UChicago are weird. We are not your normal college, and I don’t think we should be. Scav is the ultimate totally unique college tradition, just as UChicago is the ultimate totally unique college.

DH: I think that Scav continues to be beloved by UChicago students because it provides a major break from the workload and intensity of schoolwork here. People are able to let loose and be silly for a few days, which is great! Especially because, even while taking breaks, UChicago students still tend to be largely competitive and grind-oriented, and the immensity of Scav means that there’s always more to do.

TX: Where else can you find a group of linguistics and music majors building a baked potato gun next to a bunch of astrophysics and molecular engineering majors filming a death metal cover of “Cotton Eye Joe” at 3 a.m.? These people are actual mad scientists and approach every Scav item in such an unrivaled UChicago enthusiasm. Nothing is done halfheartedly and it’s just this incredible display of the creativity and skill that UChicago students have when they decide to come together and make something goofy.

BD: I think Scav embodies what draws people to UChicago—it’s an intellectual and creative endeavor done not for prestige or any sort of real recognition, but for the love of the pursuit and the joy in the attempt. It’s a license to have fun at a place where fun can get overlooked in the name of rigorous study, and it represents the idea that anything can happen when enough UChicago students put their minds to it. Where else would people build a functioning nuclear reactor or find a live tiger in just four days, just to show they could?

CP: What makes Scav so beloved is just how silly it all is at the end of the day. It is an event that anyone can get involved in, with no limit to the team size or age. It is an event that brings people together, whether it be from dorms, friend groups, or graduated students. What makes it so special to UChicago is that I think in general you will find many people at UChicago with an adventurous spirit that Scav is perfect for. Between busy schedules, finals around the corner and everyday life, Scav is an opportunity to be a little more wild and free.

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