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Monday, February 9, 2009

Saturday Night: Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt

Posted By on Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 6:39 AM

click to enlarge The Yokes on Us team converges on a clue - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • The Yokes on Us team converges on a clue

Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt
Chinatown and beyond
Better Than:
The Streets of San Francisco on DVD

How well do you know the City? Even if you were born and raised here, it's unlikely you're familiar with every back alley, side street, commemorative plaque, historical landmark, or reference point. You might be surprised to find there's much more to San Francisco than meets the eye.

Created by private detective Jayson Wechter, the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt is part tour, part mystery, part social experiment. Held annually on the day of the Chinese New Year's Day Parade, it's billed as a treasure hunt, but it's really a great way to enrich your knowledge of San Francisco. The setup is simple: You traipse through Chinatown, North Beach, and Union Square with a map and a series of cryptic clues directing you to, as the event's PR puts it, "obscure landmarks, architectural delights, and vestiges of San Francisco's colorful past."

The devil, as is often the case, is in the details.

click to enlarge Some of the clues were easy to find - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • Some of the clues were easy to find

Players form teams (prizes are given for the best names, corresponding to the particular Chinese animal of the year-- this year's was the Ox) and must choose a route beginning at Justin Herman Plaza and covering roughly a one-square-mile radius. The clue sheet offers hints to the general location where the answer to the puzzle can be found, but actually solving these brain-teasers is harder than it sounds; there are plenty of red herrings, and the answers aren't always obvious, even after you've decoded the clue and found the location.

Compounding the gameplay is the logistics, which not only require planning a circuitous route which involved huffing up and down hills and seeking out back alleys, but clue locations which are bisected by the Chinese New Year's Day route. And there's a time limit.

click to enlarge This clue was easy to miss - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • This clue was easy to miss

After hooking up with a team of strangers--all SF residents except one--we chose the name Yokes on Us (get it?) and walked to the Hyatt to go over the clue sheet. Here's a sample: "If you retain the first letter of this street's name and remove its consonants, it spells out a woman's name that is also familiar to lawyers" (answer: Sutter). After mapping out what seemed like the most sensible course--start at the farthest point and work your way back--we began our hunt.

click to enlarge Our route took us through North Beach, where hundreds of people were watching the parade - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • Our route took us through North Beach, where hundreds of people were watching the parade
We quickly came across our first clue, on Drumm Street, which was impossible to miss due to the other teams crowding around it. Heading west on Washington, we cut up Columbus, where we solved one clue at Jack Kerouac Alley and another at the Stella bakery. 

click to enlarge Can you see the clue in this picture? - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • Can you see the clue in this picture?

Our route took us even deeper into North Beach and then through Chinatown. We eagerly solved the riddles we found at Turk Murphy, Joice, and Trenton streets, but were stumped by the mystery near Willie "Woo Woo" Wong Place, which really threw our time-management off.

From there we went to Portsmouth Square in the heart of Chinatown, where another clue awaited, as well as a dilemma: The parade route ran right through the remaining clue locations; it was impossible to go through it, and going around it would have taken us way off course. After watching some fairly impressive floats go by, we made a tactical decision to hit one more clue near Union Square, then abandon the clue near the Financial District so we could get back to Justin Herman Plaza on time. 

click to enlarge The parade made logistics a lot harder - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • The parade made logistics a lot harder

Several clues lay along the way, and though our initial sleuthy enthusiasm had turned to tiredness, hunger, and fatigue by then, we doggedly continued to search for answers (or at least for other teams, whose presence pointed us in the right direction).

click to enlarge No alley was left unturned - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • No alley was left unturned

We solved one last clue in the Embarcadero Center, then hastened back to the plaza, where we turned in our answer sheet and dreamed of hot toddies and/or cold beers. Even though we didn't solve every riddle--I think we tallied 15 of 17--we learned a lot about San Francisco. Some folks were even thinking of doing it again next year, and how they'd prepare differently (bigger flashlights, more comfortable shoes, tastier snacks). Big shout out to the rest of the Yokes on Us crew, and to Jayson Wechter for reminding us that some of the most interesting sights to see in The City are right under our noses. In retrospect, that was the real treasure we found.

click to enlarge The Animal of the (Lunar) Year figured prominently - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • The Animal of the (Lunar) Year figured prominently

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Eric Arnold


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