Thrill of the Scavenger Hunt
When we crashed Sela Ward's annual scavenger hunt in Meridian, Mississippi, we had no idea what to expect. We found a gorgeous setting, a delicious down-home menu, and a few intense (we're talkin' cutthroat) competitors.
Sela Ward's Southern roots run deep—six generations deep. Born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi, she attended the University of Alabama, where she cheered on "Bear" and the boys. Every July, she brings that same level of spirit-fingers enthusiasm to a 40-person scavenger hunt on Honeysuckle Farms, the 500-acre property in Meridian where she and her family spend summers. "Meridian offers a slice of life and culture that I want my children to have in their bones. And they do," says Sela.
Despite Sela's case-solving cred (she currently stars as investigator Jo Danville on CSI: NY), it's her husband, Howard Sherman, who masterminds the event that draws friends and family from as far as New York and California. "The hunt began as a simple way for our guests to explore and enjoy every corner of the property," he says. But, counters Sela, "After five years running, the bar has now been raised so high that Howard starts prepping in Los Angeles, and when we arrive at the farm, he sequesters himself in the library for days on end, piecing together extraordinarily complicated clues." Such clues might cover family history, be written in Italian or braille, or reference The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette.
Friends bunk all over the property, but many stake out one of the 15 beds in the It's All Good Barn, a working horse stable with guest quarters created by decorator Ann Runyon Carter, architect Tim Taylor, and contractor Markey Joiner. The eclectic space, initially renovated for Sela's surprise 50th birthday party, is filled with clever touches such as horse stirrups in lieu of bunk bed ladders and a working kitchen inside the barn's original grain storage silo. It's also where the hunt begins, and, thanks to a 20-seat farm table and working jukebox, the after-party takes place. "If guests don't know one another before the hunt, they certainly will afterward," says Sela, who, in addition to being a gracious hostess, sent thank-you notes to SL staffers after the photo shoot—which clued us in to this: Sela Ward will always be a Mississippi girl at heart.
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Howard puts down his megaphone to share his tips for pulling off a (smaller scale) hunt.
- Establish a location. It can take place in your backyard or span an entire city. "Ideally, at least one person on each team should be familiar with the setting," he says.
- Select teams. Nothing brings people together like a common enemy, so "feel free to form teams of semi-strangers and assorted ages," he says. Order T-shirts at customink.com.
- Pinpoint destinations. Choose 10 or so places (fewer if you're gallivanting around a city) that will be relatively easy to identify via clues. If you're looking beyond the back-yard, assign each team a vehicle (bike, car, golf cart, you name it).
- Create clues. Pose simple questions or get creative. "Take a photo of a location, print it out, and cut it into small pieces," says Howard. "Place the pieces in an envelope so that each team has to complete the puzzle to know where to go." Or create a playlist of songs and ask participants to identify the common thread, which will lead them to the next location.