Update: They did it! They won! Congrats, Vatican Cameos! More on the win here…
If you had walked by Rachael Vaughn’s office at Microsoft on any of three days in August, you might have been confused by the away message on her whiteboard:
“OOF for GISHWHES!”
“OOF” is “out of office.” GISHWHES, pronounced “gish-wes,” is the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. Yes, it’s a real thing and, yes, Vaughn, an attorney specializing in intellectual-property law, took most of a week off work to do it.
Oh, where to begin.
There was the seated Japanese tea ceremony in the elevator of the apartment building on 12th and Jefferson. The nun who swung from a rope into a river outside Vancouver, B.C.
There was the robot barista who served customers at a San Diego Starbucks, the storm trooper who folded clothes at Ballard’s Lunar Laundry, the woman who collected signatures to “pave all of California’s beaches so we don’t have to get all sandy to go swimming” and that time the guard waved Vaughn into the University of Washington’s Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics, because she wasn’t the first person that day to show up in a Flash costume and ask to pose with the particle accelerator.
That’s just a sampling of the shenanigans Vaughn’s 15-member team, the “Vatican Cameos,” had just one week to do and take dozens of pictures and videos to prove they had done them.
A total of 972 teams with 14,580 people took part in GISHWHES 2012, the event’s second year, which you’ll find in the latest Guinness World Records under “World’s Largest Media Scavenger Hunt.”
Judges ranked the Vatican Cameos in the top 10 last year, and participants just heard official word that this year’s winner will be announced Dec. 2. No one’s sure how many teams participated, but they bet it was way more than last year.
Having missed just nine of 155 crazy items, including getting the astronauts on the international-space station to take a picture of themselves with a name from your team, the Cameos think they have a shot.
GISHWHES was created by an actor named Misha Collins, who calls his fans “minions,” gets them to use made-up words like “abnosome” (abnormally awesome) and I swear I’m not making this up. Collins stars on The CW show “Supernatural,” has a whopping 1,169,000 Twitter followers and started a charity, Random Acts, that GISHWHES registration fees support.
Meeting with three of the five Seattle members of the Vatican Cameos last week left me with that bubbly feeling that the world can still surprise you. We were at Roy Street Coffee & Tea, where they had gathered with out-of-town teammates over Skype on Aug. 11 to dole out tasks when the list came out. I had to ask them to repeat everything. “Wait. You did what?”
They covered the side of an eighteen-wheeler with a huge team decal. They got Galen Ward, CEO of Seattle startup Estately, to dance to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” They took a picture with an Oscar winner and his Oscar. They even got their ducks in a row — four live ducks they posed on a row of movie-theater seats.
The Cameos asked, and no one said no. Well, almost no one. The UW’s CENPA lab wouldn’t let Vaughn climb on top of the particle accelerator — shucks — and a staffer at iFly, the indoor-skydiving spot in Tukwila, wouldn’t let them eat a sloppy joe midflight, because another team had gotten “exclusivity.” Hmm.
That was a rare exception to a rule of collaboration. Teams helped each other out when an item required them to make Twitter accounts for their alarm clocks that got 200 followers. And the Cameos got a lot of help from their friends. One knit a sweater for the Jimi Hendrix statue on Capitol Hill. Another brought a pink ninja to Australia’s remote Ayers Rock. And a third — wait for it — played a violin with a bow she strung with her own hair.
Teammates saw what they were capable of. H.B. Siegel, an Amazon.com executive who joined the team this year, built a blender powered by an exercise bike and programmed a 1983 TRS-80 Model 100 computer to turn on a coffee maker when you typed the words “rise and shine.”
Dianne Moreland, a property manager and second-year Cameo who also took days off work, got her garbage man to dress like a caterpillar and created a movie set of tall cardboard buildings only to stomp on them like a modern-day Godzilla.
Vaughn was afraid residents of the building at 12th and Jefferson would be annoyed to see a Japanese tea ceremony in their elevator. They weren’t. They sat down and joined in.
The world felt different to the Cameos after GISHWHES week. Less serious. More … possible.
“At work, someone will say, ‘Oh, I can’t do this, this is going to be really hard,’ ” Vaughn told us at Roy Street. “But I put a tank top on a rooster.”
Siegel, Moreland and I burst out laughing.
“I didn’t think you could put a tank top on a rooster,” she said. “It looked really good.”
Below is the video for item #42, a roundup of the team’s experience doing the hunt. More pics in our photo gallery.
Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.