BU Today

Campus Life

The Searchers

GPS-guided scavenger hunts teach new students about the city

You may see them dashing through Kenmore Square, huddled excitedly on Boston Common, or searching the storefronts at Faneuil Hall. Every Wednesday during this summer’s new student orientation, teams of 8 to 10 incoming freshman will be fanning out across Boston, using a handheld GPS unit to guide them through a citywide scavenger hunt.
“The hunt is a great way to get folks out into the city,” says organizer Paul “Hutch” Hutchinson, the assistant conference coordinator of Sargent Center’s Conference Programs. “It also gives them confidence about getting around the city. They won’t end the day feeling they need to rely on a tour guide to explore Boston, because they’re doing the finding and exploring themselves.”

The GPS unit uses satellite links to guide the students to between four and six ‘waypoints’ — a longitude and latitude within 50 to 100 feet of particular landmark. Once they’ve arrived at the waypoint, the next step is to solve a riddle that will lead them to the nearby landmark, which might be the Bunker Hill Monument or the Boston Public Library (“This shell doesn’t crack, it Pops,” for example, leads to the Hatch Shell).

Each Wednesday’s hunt is different, covering territory from Fenway Park to the Museum of Fine Arts, from Copley Square to the North End. Rather than create a comprehensive tour, Hutchinson hopes the hunt will whet students’ appetite for exploration. “They’ll get the tip of the iceberg of what Boston has to offer,” he says, “and they’ll see so much around the specific goals of the hunt, whether it’s a hot dog vendor on the Common or a musician at Faneuil Hall. The hunt will ignite their curiosity about the city.”