Misdirected / 8 December 2001

We’re still celebrating monthly anniversaries, and although every month that passes without an implosive breakup (four-hour telephone conversations that go—

J: …
K: …
J: …
K: So. )

—is indeed worth celebrating, the verve and innovation is flagging. But this is the new me, the strong young man who has carefully logged the missteps of the past, giving each one an alphanumeric code and a three-word summary (not paying attention, swollen stinking egocentricity, poor table manners), organizing them in the margins of his ethnomusicology notes according to severity (recently re-sorted under a new criteria [severity according to her rather than me] which yielded drastically different results). This new me has done the legwork and is ready to put the research and analysis to good use.

So I assemble a massive, campus-wide treasure hunt. I’ve done several in the past, and the idea originally came from my father who put together many for my enjoyment when I was wee. It goes: The player is given a starting clue, and the solution of said clue tells them where to find the next clue, and so on until they reach the final prize.

The scale is unprecedented. I spend days wandering through the buildings, looking for hiding spots that can a) be easily described and b) remain secure for a good 24-hour stretch. I jot down notes. I think of locations in terms of metaphor and code. I search for specificity amongst the miles of identical classrooms and lecture halls. A differently colored drinking fountain. A numbered sign. A massive mural with a prominent title.

I stay up late devising clues, neglecting homework. The primary goal is to make the clue as brief as possible, and yet complete enough so that K can decipher it and have it lead her to a single slip of paper somewhere within the eleven million square feet of the university (the best was probably the one that consisted of just a string of numbers). The secondary goal is to make each clue unique. There are basic alphabet substitutions, anagrams, cryptograms, mathematical codes, trivia of both a general and personal nature, double-encoded rebuses, array arrangements, magic word squares, metacrostics. The tertiary goal is to place each clue in interesting and brazen locations. Some are hidden in fake business letters (“In re: your inquiry, we will be holding a small conference in Los Angeles on June 11 in the Math Sciences building, near room #6627”), posted on bulletin boards (“If you have warts, moles, corns, or calluses please come to the UCLA Laser Treatment Laboratory”), stashed on top of phone booths (only viewable from the roof of a neighboring building) or under a stadium seat or (too often) between the pages of a book.

I work backward when placing the clues, trying not to draw too much attention to myself — if another student spotted a clue and removed it, I’d be ruined. Ruined. I feel like I’m burying my own children out in the world, leaving them to their fates.

In the morning I hand K the first clue and send her on her way. The hunt ends at the botanical garden and that’s where I wait with a small collection of prizes, little anniversary gifts, a hastily assembled picnic. One of the presents is a book and I read it while I wait. It’s so-so. The sun starts to go down. I check my watch. A security guard asks me to leave since the garden is closing. I walk back to the dorms and unplug the phone.

Joshua Green Allen

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