Last weekend, our group went on a short excursion to Normandy, home of cider and World War II history. We stayed in a town called Caen, which was much quieter than Paris and splendidly picturesque. With two or three Gothic churches and a huge medieval castle on a hill, we had plenty to explore.

Saturday afternoon, we all met at the tourism center, where a smiling woman broke us into teams before handing us several info brochures and a brown envelope. Inside each envelope was a paper that outlined what was about to become our personal hell for the next few hours: a lengthy and incredibly complex city-wide scavenger hunt.

At first, we accepted this challenge with relish, feeling like characters in a Dan Brown novel as we enthusiastically decoded each clue. The town was beautiful, and it was sunny, though cold, as we raced from point to point of quest.

By the time we hit the 2-hour mark, however, our perspective was rather bleaker. The excitement had worn off and our motivation to finish the hunt was dwindling by the minute. As each new clue sent us back and forth across town, it was only stubbornness that kept us going — well, stubbornness and the competitive streak that my team shared (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your outlook). At one point, we recruited a woman on the street for help; she led us to a random alley, and we feared she had just set us up to be murdered or robbed. We left quickly and spent a good part of the next hour solving crosswords, calculating numbers, and decoding symbols, growing colder and wearier as time passed.

The evening drew closer, and one of the other teams called us to report that everyone else had given up. Though we considered this a forfeit, we were not deterred from completing our quest, and with renewed energy we practically raced to complete the last clue, which would lead us to a final location and our prize. Realizing that it would help to sit down for a moment before embarking on the last leg of our journey, we returned to our hotel and crowded around the small table in the lobby. And, at long last, with a joyous shout, we solved the last puzzle. All we had to do was find the location on our map and hurry there before dinner.

And therein lay the problem. None of us could find the last place on our map. Exasperated, I asked the concierge for help.

“Excuse me,” I said, in my best, politest French. “Do you know where the Memorial of Caen is?”

“Of course,” she responded, and promptly circled it on the map I had brought her.

To my dismay, our final destination was clear on the other side of town, practically at the very border of the map.

“Oh,” I said, despair coloring my voice. “How do we get there?”

Tonight?” the concierge asked. “There’s a bus, but it only runs during the day. Otherwise it takes about an hour to walk there.”

In that one moment, all of our hope was lost. We were not to be the victors after all, and it hurt all the more since we had come so close. Glumly I rejoined my team and shared the dismal news.

We never did quite finish the hunt, but that’s not to say that we didn’t exercise bragging rights over the rest of our group. And if our friends still believe that we did win, well… who needs to know the truth, anyway?


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