Clue Caper contenders prepare for April 15 event

Participants of the annual Great Clue Caper, set for April 15 to raise money for the Village of Hope, are promised the “diabolical clue team will test your powers of observation and lead you through a crazy day of puzzle solving and skill challenges.”

Despite that description of the scavenger hunt, now in its ninth year and planned to raise money for the transitional home for women and children in Salisbury, scores of participants register each year.

When the Caper starts, at 11 a.m., teams will receive a Clue Book with about a dozen puzzles inside, explained Jackie Jenkins, who conceived of the idea and is event chairwoman.

Teams must solve the puzzles to find the right locations. At those locations, teams must complete a task, such as building something, running a gentle obstacle course or, she said, “shaving their heads.”

“Just kidding on shaving their heads,” she said.

Teams will complete as many puzzles and tasks as possible in three hours. The team that finishes the most will win $1,000 and another $1,000 to donate to a non-profit charity the team members choose.

Teams of two to five people must be pre-registered, at a cost of $25 per person, by April. 1.

About 200 people, or 50 teams, are expected to participate. Anyone 18 or older can play, although Capers won’t be open to the public next year, but for past champions only, Jennings said.

The cost includes the race and party afterward, featuring prizes and foods.

“When I was growing up, my very large family held an annual scavenger hunt in Pennsylvania. It was enormously popular and grew larger and larger as friends and neighbors and in-laws wanted to participate. This was way before cell phones and laptops and Google, so the clues were a little different. They used maps and pay phones and phone books,” Jennings said.

“Fast forward to 2009. I was on the Village of Hope board, and we were looking for a new fundraiser to replace the traditional gala. I thought it would be interesting to try a scavenger hunt. We named it the Great Clue Caper and launched it in April of 2010 with no expectation that it would raise a whole lot of money the first year, just that it would be fun.

“I had a couple of guidelines in mind. I wanted it to be accessible to everyone. So, unlike a $100 gala ticket, the entry fee for the Clue Caper is $25 and includes the party afterward. Also, because we tend to see the same generous people at fundraisers all over town, I wanted to make sure teams had a chance to give back to their own special charity even while raising money for the Village.

“So, in addition to the $1,000 prize for the winning team, we give $1,000 to the winning team’s nonprofit of choice,” she said.

“The first year we raised about $40,000 and knew we had a winning combination of fun and fundraising,” she said.

The game has changed dramatically in nine years, Jennings said.

Google and cell phones make it harder to come up with clues “and teams find creative new ways to cheat every year,” she said.

She called her clue creators “very talented.”

“We laugh ourselves silly at my kitchen table trying to come up with diabolical puzzles and tasks. I am pleased to say this year’s set of clues is incredibly diabolical. Someday, when this is all over, I’m going to write a book on the clues we rejected. We debated for a couple of hours last year whether we could get at least one team member to shave their head in order to win. The jury is still out on that one,” she said.

Next year, on the 10th year, Capers will be a tournament of champions that Jennings plans to call 20 teams, 20 clues, 20 hours.

“We designed the Clue Caper to be a fun, crazy, somewhat cerebral activity that anyone could enjoy. Some teams are competitive, some teams just come for the camaraderie of it all. The fact that it raises money for such a worthy cause — ending homelessness among women and children — is icing on the cake,” Jennings said.

“I’m always asked for hints ahead of the race, so here we go: bring a towel.”


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