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The Essay
Show #518
David Gunn

A scavenger hunt is a game in which teams seek to find all of the miscellaneous items on a predetermined list. Often the goal is to race against competitors to retrieve the items first. In the early days, scavengers hunted prosaic items--dirt, air, water chestnuts, fire ants. But in the latest iterations of the quest, the quarries have become more challenging: a hoity-toity goiter, the first round of an Africanized spelling bee, an examination table for semicolonoscopies, Carl Jungfrau.

At five o'clock this afternoon, The World's Most Elaborate Scavenger Hunt will conclude in a field not three anchors away from this very radiophonic studio. The Hunt has been in progress since August in the late 1700s. Over the centuries, the number of participants has attritted somewhat. Because advances in genetic engineering failed to keep pace with the seemingly immutable limitations of human mortality, the original nine hundred and eleven teams have been reduced to six.

Sorry, this just in--make that four: the Scavengeraniums, the Scavengerbils, the Fingal's Cavengers, and the Scavengerrymanders. Scavengeronimo, the lone soloist in the hunt, abruptly disappeared when his "Algonquin Hotel reservation," the 309th item on the list, was co-opted by the US Government in order to forcibly resettle a band of Apache Indians onto it. And the Scavengerontocrats, long the oldest team entered in the contest, were just disqualified due to gross misinterpretation of item number 401, "copse and rubbers." The players secured the second part, a pair of latex overshoes and an ex-condom, without any controversy. But instead of settling for an ordinary thicket of small trees for part one, an overachieving squadroneer clear-cut ninety-two percent of Redwood National Park. Sure, their expulsion from the Hunt was disheartening, however the profit they realized from timber sales allowed them to buy Guam.

Word from Jerome, the farthest of the far flung Fingal's Cavengers, was that he was in a remote wadi in southwesternmost Lincolnshire, having successfully stalked and captured item number 660, a binary--that is, half a canary. The word itself was also one of the items on the list (number 609), although after processing, it regrettably turned cheesy and self-invalidated. Jerome had earlier discovered number 102, the treatise on the sensual pleasures of Hindu punctuation known as the Comma Sutra. And he thought he was closing in on number 85, 4,840 square yards of intelligent land that was known around southwesternmost Lincolnshire as the wiseacre.

The search for Item 505 took an unnamed member of the Fingal's Cavengers to Hispaniola, where she followed the spoor of Ponce de Leon Trotsky as he sought la fuente de la juventud, the Fountain of Youth. She rummaged around the island for years, decades, but never located it. However, neither did she appear to age. She initially attributed this condition to an island diet rich in ginkgo biloba, melatonin, coenzyme Q10 and other anti-aging nostrums. What changed her mind was the name of the lodgings she frequented, a chain of unassuming lean-tos she'd discovered scattered throughout the island known as la fuente de la juventud paradores, or the fountain of youth hostels. A stipulation in the Hunt's rules allowed her to claim it as Item 505a.

The Scavengeraniums scored extra points by producing a Calvin Klein bottle, Item number 99, which even the Hunt's organizers had deemed an impossibility. The bottle--a topological figure comprised of two Möbius loops joined together--requires four dimensions to exist, whereas until recently, Calvin Klein existed in only three. But so great is the allure of the World's Most Elaborate Scavenger Hunt that Mr. Klein agreed to a geometrical reconfiguration.

Wampum Joe, late of the Scavengerbils, was hot in pursuit of an elandlord, Item 292, an antelope that owned and rented nearly half of Tanzania's savanna, when his place on the team was abruptly outsourced to a member of the rival Scavengerrymanders. No reason was given, however he'd been on the outs with his teammates ever since he appropriated February and March of the year 1903, which he mistook for Item 1903. Worse, the missing months caused tunesmith Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov to lose valuable compositional time, a period later chroniclers referred to as the Interimsky-Korsakov.

With just over two hours to go, Item number 8 reportedly remains at large. To be sure, "five large, inflatable fingers strumming a tarantella on the strings of a grand piano as a water buffalo, to whose back the piano is lashed, climbs up Niagara Falls, aided only by a pair of lighter-than-air water wings" sounds pretty challenging. But such an item was described only last week on this very show! Sometimes it pays to confront that deep-rooted fear and not turn us off.

The penultimate article à rassembler was described in doggerel: "Piano playing wizard, long fingers and two abdomens; the Swedish singing nightingale less five hundred Romans." By this time in the competition, the most successful hunter-gatherers had learned how to decipher the narrative riddles quickly. A Scavengerbil and a Scavengerrymander figured it out simultaneously. The singing Swedish Nightingale was Jenny Lind. Five hundred in Roman numerals is "D." Subtract that letter from Jenny Lind to get Jenny Lin, a piano playing wizard by all accounts! And, how's this for serendipity? She's the surprise featured on-the-road interview on today's 518th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar!

And the final scavengable? Plenty obscure nearly anywhere else, but here on the Bazaar, it's a piece of cake. No, not the baked product itself, but rather its catalytic counterpart, Kalvos.