Treasure Hunts

Treasure Hunts
By Dan Widdle

Aye matey, here ye shall find the most seaworthy treasure hunts ever to sail the oceans of youth. Landlubbers who don’t enjoy decipherin’ devilish clues to find a hidden treasure should be keelhauled! Ye shall find more treasure-hunt in’ ideas in these pages than ye can shake a bottle of rum at. Aarrrgh!

Memorization Treasure Hunt

A city park works best for this hunt. Before the group arrives, hide verses of Scripture around the park in various places by taping them to objects— under a park bench, on the bottom of a swing seat, on the back of a sign, etc.

Then prepare riddle-type clues giving as little information about the locations as possible. “Something mothers spend much time on,” could be a clue for under a park bench. The group is divided into small groups of three or four and each small group is given their first clue.

They are then instructed to find the Scripture, memorize it, and come back and recite it, without removing it from the object. Upon successfully doing this they receive their next clue. Everyone should receive the same clues but in a different order. The first group to recite the last verse wins the hunt.

House To House Puzzle Hunt

This treasure hunt requires a lot of preparation, but the results are well worth the effort. Here’s how it works.

First, you will need to line up a number of homes of church members where the people are willing to stay home the night of this event and help out. The number of homes that you need will vary, but you will probably need at least five or six. Eight or nine is ideal.

On the night of the event, you divide the group into car loads (each team traveling together), or you can do this event on bicycles (or on foot) if all the houses are within close walking distance. When the groups leave the starting point, they are each given one piece to a children’s puzzle that has eight or nine pieces to it. On the back of the puzzle is the name of a family in the church. They must go to that family’s house where they will be given an instruction. They must then do whatever the instruction tells them to do, and then they will be given another puzzle piece. This puzzle piece will tell them where they are to go next. At the next house they do the same thing. The group that arrives back at the starting place with all their puzzle pieces and successfully puts their puzzle together first is the winner.

Obviously, the number of homes must be the same as the number of puzzle pieces you have. Each team should have a different route so that everyone isn’t going to the same house at the same time. You can also give each group a different puzzle so long as the number of pieces is the same. This will involve some advance preparation in which you assign each group a number. When they arrive at each house they receive the puzzle piece with the appropriate number on it. You can set it up so that each group is taking the houses in a different order.

At each house there is a different instruction which the group must do before they are given their puzzle piece. The instructions can be things like:

• Tell three jokes to the family who lives at this house.
• Form a pyramid and sing a Christmas carol while in that position.
• Run three laps around the house.
• Everyone chew a wad of bubble gum and blow a bubble together at the same time.
• Together, recite John 3:16.
• Eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (provided there) and have a glass of punch.

The last piece of the puzzle for each group should instruct them to head back to the starting location. Award prizes to the winners, serve refreshments, share experiences, and have a good time of fellowship. It’s a lot of fun.

Money Hunt and Auction

Invite kids to an old-fashioned auction where the bidding is done with play money. Ask them to bring the items to be auctioned—old appliances that still work, fishing poles, not-quite-antique dishes or jewelry boxes. The items should have some appeal to potential bidders.

Before the activity begins hide envelopes containing play money and write out clues to help the kids find the money. The search can cover territory as broad as the neighborhood (using cars the teams search telephone booths, grocery stores, various landmarks, etc.), or as confined as your church grounds.

Start the event by forming teams and handing out the clues to each team. Give a time limit for the treasure hunt. When they return, teams divide the money found among the team members. Then start the bidding.

Concentration Clues

At your next treasure hunt, try your hand at making up clues using letters and symbols similar to those used on the old television show “Concentration.”
Almost any clue or location can be written this way. Kids really enjoy trying to solve them.

Indoor Treasure Hunt

This is a good indoor game for junior highers. Place 25 objects in plain sight in various places around the room or rooms available. If in a home, use several rooms. Attached to each object is a number. Each person is given a list like the one below. The idea is to find the objects on the list, write in the numbers attached, and be the first one to do so. No one can move or touch an object when it is found. Simply record the number attached to it. A sample list:

Match Ring
Stocking Bobby pin
Needle and thread Postage stump
Thimble Paper reinforcement
Straight pin Paper fastener (brad)
Glass button Ribbon
Paper clip Toothpick
White string Safety pin
Penny Door key
Dime Rubber band
Dollar bill Stick of gum—don’t chew it!
Bracelet Earring

Movie Treasure Hunts

Use movie themes to give a wacky facelift to good ol’ treasure hunts. For each game create 10 or so clues and give copies to each team—but mix up the order so the teams aren’t running into each other. At each location leave packets of clues, color-coded for each team. Award each team a predetermined number of points for each clue uncovered. Inside each clue envelope include an emergency-clue envelope which a team may open if necessary—but they’ll forfeit 10 points if they open it.

Here are some ideas to get you going:

• Back to the Future. All the clues in this hunt relate to the era or year of graduation of the clue holders—individuals in your church who will play along with your group’s hunt.

Tell teams this:

Marty McFly is stuck in 1955. Your team must go back in time, find Mart and return with him to the present and to this location.
The first team back with Marty wins.

• The Hunt for Fred October. Divide your group into Americans and Soviets. Both teams are pursuing poor Fred.

Tell the Americans this:

CIA operatives have found out that the Soviet Union has a new secret weapon, a submarine sandwich. Reports indicate it is incredibly delectable. The KGB hopes to unleash the sub in America, the goal being that Americans will be so taken by this sandwich that they’ll abandon McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s, thus causing the collapse of the American economy as we know it.

It is believed that Fred October, a Soviet mole planted deep in the U.S. fast-food industry will bring over the prototype sub sandwich and introduce it into a Cleveland deli, from where news of it will spread like wildfire.

Your mission is to find Fred October, seize the submarine sandwich, and bring it safely back to headquarters.

Tell the Soviets this:

Comrades, our culinary experts are ready to unveil our ultimate secret weapon, a submarine sandwich. We ore convinced that unsuspecting Western capitalists will so love this sandwich that they will eat nothing else. As the decadent pigs become enslaved to this submarine sandwich, they will abandon McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s, thus precipitating the fall of Western capitalism and democracy itself

Our plans to infiltrate the American fast-food industry with this sandwich have been temporarily halted because one of our own, Fred October, has defected to the U.S. with the prototype sub, the only one. Your mission, comrades, is to capture Fred October and return the sandwich to us.

The teams follow typical treasure-hunt clues that lead them to the last house, where they find a submarine sandwich—a really horrible one, in fact, that you made just for the occasion: pickles, peanut butter, mayonnaise, a little dog food, raisins, etc. When the winners bring it back to headquarters, offer extra points to whichever team eats it.

• The Silence of the Yams. Police are trying to stop a huge jewel-smuggling operation. Their only clue is that the gem traffickers are smuggling diamonds in sweet potatoes. The police have recruited a supposedly reformed criminal to help in the search— Hannibal Lecter, who, unfortunately, has taken literally the slogan Help Take a Bite Out of Crime. The teams’ mission is to catch the jewel smugglers—and before Hannibal Lecter has them for lunch. The first team to return with the sweet potato containing the missing diamond wins.

Teams follow clues from location to location. Clues are taped to the dismembered body parts of a mannequin. The final location has a sweet potato with a dime-store ring inside.

• Raiders of the Lost Bark. Send out teams to find a lost dog. Clues lead to a house, wherein is the dog— if you can arrange it, a large, smelly, friendly canine that they must transport back to home base. The smaller the cars and the more kids in them, the more fun the return trip is.

• Monastic Park. A millionaire obsessed with Francis of Assisi creates a sanctuary for gentle animals. He creates the gentle animals, too, by importing experts in hypertech cloning who soon fill the park with gentle lions, gentle scorpions, gentle Tasmanian devils, gentle pit vipers, gentle pit bulls, However, when the brains behind the venture disappears (a kidnapping is suspected), the system begins reverting. Moles become man-eaters; deer turn carnivorous and stalk humans. (And you thought the killer rabbit in Search for the Holy Grail was vicious.)

Teams must find the chief techie, led on by clues dealing with the myriad of animal-named products that surround us: cars (Cougar, Pinto, Rabbit, etc.), food and candy (Gummy bears, animal crackers, Turtle Wax, Eagle snacks), people (Mother Goose, River Phoenix). Clues lead teams to homes of people who own the appropriate cars, who have in their cupboards the appropriate food or candy, who own books or videos of the appropriate people. The clues are hidden, of course, in or near the objects, and lead ultimately to the techie, who is bidding his time in captivity playing video games.

• The Stinkstones. A Neolithic skunk family that lives in Fred and Wilma’s attic tire of his bombast and decide to get even. They steal his bowling ball. Teams must get it back with the help of powerfully odorific clues. The clues can be about strong- smelling substances, or they can reek themselves of cheap perfume, ammonia, fertilizer, cod liver oil, etc.

Vehicular Sardines

This game is an adaptation of the game Sardines, in which two people hide, and everyone who finds them must hide with them until eventually every one has found them. Vehicular Sardines adds the fun of a hunt on wheels to the original game.

Divide your students into groups of four or five, depending on the size and type of vehicles available. Assign one adult to each group to ensure safety. Select one group and send them to a destination you have chosen, such as a park, tennis court, mall, etc. Give the hiding car a 10 or 15 minute lead, and give them these reminders:

• They must get out of their vehicle when they reach the destination.
• They must leave the vehicle in plain view at the destination. The car is a legitimate clue for seeking teams.
• They must hide together, not as individuals, and may not change hiding places after they have hidden.

When the hiding group has left, hand out to all the seeking groups a map with cryptic clues to the destination, Set a time—4 minutes or an hour—by which they should return to the church whether or not they’ve found the hiding group.

For even more fun, send a camcorder along with the hiding group to videotape the other groups finding them—and themselves squishing together trying to make room for each other. Finish the evening back at church with food and a premier showing of the video.

Safecracking Safari

The object of the hunt is to find a prize that’s locked up in a safe which can be opened only with the correct combination of three numbers. The correct combination is discovered through the process of elimination.

The group is divided into teams and given instruction sheets to help them eliminate numbers on the combination lock. If there are 36 numbers on the lock, the instruction sheet helps them eliminate all but the three numbers in the correct combination. The order of the numbers, however, needs to be discovered by trial and error on the lock itself.

The first team to arrive at the safe with the three numbers gets first crack at the safe. If they fail, the second team gets a try, and so on until the safe is opened.

Instruction sheets send teams to a variety of locations around town within a limited area and include a variety of ways to eliminate numbers. On page 77 are some sample instructions.

Scripture Clues

In this treasure hunt use verses in the Bible that pertain to specific places or events that the youth can relate to their own church property or community. Follow the format of giving out the first clue, which is a Bible verse. The group has a person who looks up the verse and reads it to the entire group. They then relate it to some area and go there to find the next clue. Divide the group into two or more groups and compete to find the treasure. It can be almost anything. Place the treasure in a familiar area but hide it somewhere unusual, like in a tree. It is best to use about five or six clues for each group and to position a clue giver at each location. Try to space the clues the same distance for each group so that traveling times will be equal. Here are some verses that could be used:

• Proverbs 26:14 (a door)
• John 4:6 (a well)
• Isaiah 2:5 (light)
• Exodus 12:38 (death…cemetery)
• Psalms 23:2 (water)
• Psalms 23:5 (table)
• Matthew 13:44 (reward or treasure)

Find places for clues in your church and start digging for verses in the Bible. Your Bible Concordance will be of great help.

Submarine Races

This idea is a fun treasure hunt with an intriguing name and an unusual ending. Like other treasure hunts, you divide up into teams and follow clues from one location to the next.

At the last location each team receives a toy model submarine, unassembled, which they must bring back to the church or meeting place and put together. The hunt is not over until the submarine is completed with decals in their proper places. The entire team must participate in the assembly.

The submarines can be found at any toy or hobby store for a few dollars. It’s best to buy the same one for everyone. You will also need to provide model cement. After the race serve, what else? Submarine sandwiches.

Elephant Hunt Auction

This idea combines a treasure hunt, a white elephant sale, and an auction. The treasure consists of poker chips which are placed in caches, perhaps 100 locations, in an area around the church property. If the group is large and there is enough time and transportation, the area can be much larger. Each cache may consist of from one to 10 chips.

A map is made showing the location of the treasures with an X. The map may be posted in a prominent location where all can see it before the hunt begins. If there are many people involved or if the area is large, make copies of the map for each team.

The treasure hunters should work in teams of three to six persons. At night flashlights are required.

At the start the hunters rush out to the nearest locations, with some crafty ones going to the farther locations to avoid the crowd. A return time should be set, within one to three hours, depending on distances. A penalty of five white chips per minute late can be assessed.

Upon return the teams can look over the white elephant gifts and other items, which each person brought beforehand. The team members can decide what they wish to bid on, knowing only what the total values of all the chips are. The whites are one, the reds are five and the blues are ten.

Then the auction begins! By offering small items first and interspersing them with the more valuable gifts, the excitement can really grow. Having more than one auctioneer is a good idea, too. The auction should last between fifteen and thirty minutes. This can be done by offering more than one gift at a time, if necessary.


This variation works just like the normal treasure hunt. The players all leave at the same time and go from clue to clue in search of the treasure. The group that gets to the treasure first wins.

Foto-Map is played similarly except that the clues are photographs. At the starting place each group or team receives a photograph. The photo is a picture of the first clue location and the group must identify that location by looking at the picture. Obviously, you can make these photos either easy to recognize or almost impossible to recognize.

Groups should be traveling by car (or bikes, etc.) and they might have to just drive around until they spot something that looks like their picture. When they figure it out, they go to the location pictured, and there they are given the next photo. A good game can consist of anywhere from five to 10 clue locations, depending on their difficulty. The group that arrives at the final destination first is the winner. You might give each group a sealed envelope revealing the final destination in case they haven’t reached it before a specified time. Before that time each group must turn in that sealed envelope in order to win.

Treasure Hunt Basics…

Inject new life into the old treasure hunt theme with these creative ideas:
Name the hunt after the object to be hunted, such as Wild Goose Chase. Or, if you’ve built a snowman and hidden it somewhere in the vicinity, call the game Search for the Abominable Snowman. One group obtained a live hippopotamus and had a Hippo Hunt. All the kids wore safari hats and followed the clues to the hippo, which was tied up in the middle of the city’s largest shopping center. This is where your own creativity becomes important. The possibilities are endless. Just don’t rely on the same old thing over and over again. Place clues in different locations to help the searchers in their hunt. Clues should lead to one another and finally to the treasure itself. The first clue should be handed to the leader of each team to get the game going. Make sure each team receives clues in a different order, or receives a different set of clues, so that teams can’t simply follow each other. No clue can be skipped or you are penalized. All clues that have been found must be brought back to the original site at the end of the game. Make sure a leader is at clue site handing out the clues to arriving teams.

Here are sample clues from an actual treasure hunt in San Diego, California:

• An envelope contained an egg yoke and a piece of ham. (Yoke plus ham equals yokahama—a landmark in San Diego called the Yokohama Bell.)
• A piece of paper with scrambled letters which, when unscrambled, spelled out the name of a park in San Diego.
• A list of numbers. When added up, the sum was a seven digit number which was a phone number. Kids used money in the packet to make a phone call to locate the next location.
• A group of sounds were written down: ILL DUH SEE WHR. Teams unscrambled the sounds to discover that the next location was Sea World.

Each team should receive a clue packet that contains items like these:

1. The hunt map (an ordinary road map). The map is marked with numbers and arrows pointing to certain locations. ONLY the locations marked are possible clue locations.

2. List of rules.

3. A general clue sheet containing clue phrases that may or may not be important to the clues. If a group is a having difficult time with a certain clue, players should check the general clue sheet to see if it will help. Example phrases: a) The first two letters are all you need; b) Shamus lives there; c) Blue is a pretty color.

4. General clue items. These are odds and ends that may or may not be of help in solving some or all of the clues. Items could be coins, a bandage, etc.

5. Emergency clues, if a group is unable to figure out a clue. However, each team is penalized 15 minutes for each emergency clue used. The emergency clues are numbered and sealed in envelopes just like the regular clues and must be turned in at the treasure location. If any clues are opened, players must wait out their penalty time before claiming the treasure. If another group arrives during that penalty time with no emergency clues opened, they win.

You should also keep these ideas in mind:

If the treasure is not found, the winner is determined by who got the farthest using the least amount of emergency clues. Plan enough time so that everyone can get to the treasure.

If the treasure itself is not something that the kids can keep, then have some appropriate prizes to give to the winning group. Have a presentation of the hunt trophy to the team captain and make a big deal out of it.

Use a variety of creative clues and make clue locations unusual, such as the top of a church tower, a boat in the middle of a lake, up in a tree, buried in a cemetery, at a tourist attraction, etc.

Make sure speed and traffic lows are obeyed. Team drivers should be carefully screened to avoid problems in this area. Make sure drivers have necessary permissions from parents if they are kids, insurance, and a driver’s license. One group put a sponsor in each vehicle that held a spoon with an egg raw in it out the window. If the vehicle went too fast, bounced, swerved, etc., the egg would drop and break. Each vehicle starts with a dozen eggs and is penalized for each egg broken during the hunt.

It is usually a good idea to have the last location somewhere suitable for a meeting. After all the kids are back from the hunt, they can share experiences, you can award prizes, perhaps have some singing, crowd breakers, or a speaker, and some refreshments.

Excerpted From:
‘Special Events For Youth Groups’ ‘The Ideas Library’
By Dan Widdle
Printed by Youth Specialties

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”