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Reporter's Notebook: The hidden mysteries

September 15, 2010|By Britney Barnes, britney.barnes@latimes.com

When I was growing up, scavenger hunts usually entailed frantically rushing from neighbor to neighbor asking for obscure items like colored Q-tips and, as a pre-teen, embarrassing feminine products, but apparently that is a thing of the past.

Scavenger hunts no longer involve a handwritten list of oddball items to collect and a bag. Instead, all you need is a smart phone, like an iPhone or Android. And it isn't just for tween girls at slumber parties.

The Huntington Beach Marketing & Visitors Bureau launched its own scavenger hunt through SCVNGR, which is a chance to explore the downtown area through challenges, trivia and pictures that you upload to the game.

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No physical items are collected, but you take photos of locations, share your ideas about places and answer questions, all while GPS tracks your moves. You also get points for every challenge you complete, so while you aren't competing against a team, there is still a sense of victory with every task ticked down.

With about two hours to play last week, I drove to the heart of Huntington with my web editor to see what it was all about. We chose the Best of Huntington Beach Trek over the Surfin' Surf City USA Trek and I racked my brains for all the places we would be going, secretly challenging it to name a place I didn't know.

Now, I don't live in Huntington Beach, but covering the city lands me within its boundaries five days a week, sometimes three times a day. I was feeling rather cocky that I would know every location and wouldn't need the GPS to get there, despite my considerable navigational issues.

As we drove into the city boundaries, we scrolled through our target locations — the pier, the beach, the Strand, the dog beach, the Longboard Pub and Restaurant and the Beach Front 301 restaurant — and I couldn't help feeling a little bit cheated. I had expected to spend my two hours "working" at my favorite places around town — the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Central Library and Huntington Central Park, and, of course, the pier.

The locations were chosen by the Marketing & Visitors Bureau team based on their favorite places and where they thought visitors would like best, said Donna Mulgrew, the bureau's vice president of sales and marketing. She also said they are going to change it up a bit with time, adding new places and including new challenges.

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