Why treasure hunts can be fun for grown-ups too

“Quick, climb on top of me! Savage me like a tiger!” If this isn’t the type of patter you’d usually expect to hear at one of London’s premier museums, then you’ve obviously not visited during a treasure hunt designed for grown-ups. 

As I watched a man comply to the above request, looming over the woman on all fours before feigning a tiger attack a little too enthusiastically, I realised I hadn’t had this much fun at a museum in ages. The treasure hunt in question was taking place at the V&A as part of its Friday Late series – a free event every last Friday of the month where the museum remains open after dark, offering activities, DJ sets and, most importantly, booze.

Organised by founder of THATMuse (Treasure Hunt at the Museum) Daisy de Plume, the hunt was designed to take participants all around the gargantuan space’s many galleries and collections, in a competitive race against the clock and each other that challenged us to tick off as many items as we could find. Proof came in the form of a selfie with each one, but the real points were scored via extracurricular tasks – like the aforementioned tiger savaging scene, in which teams were asked to recreate the V&A’s famous Tippoo Tiger, a mechanical organ comprised of a life-sized wooden tiger mauling a prostrate figure in European clothes. 

Other bonus points could be scored for matching the poses of people in statues or pictures, counting the number of birds on a bust’s tunic, and writing down other bits of information about each piece. And while the atmosphere was jovial, there was an undeniable undercurrent of competitiveness as teams whizzed around the galleries, collecting information and pictures, ticking off each item with ruthless efficiency. 

My other half and I decided to take things easy – well, it was Friday night after all – but soon realised that the only way to get all the items was to be strategical, marking down on the museum map which piece was where. We tried splitting the list in two but became woefully confused within minutes.

Racing from collection to collection, room to room, item to item, my only sadness was that the relentless “next, next, next” of the hunt meant I didn’t have time to stop and appreciate what was on offer; but this, too, is all part of the idea.

“I want to plant a seed for people to want to return,” Daisy tells me. “I want to plant the excitement that the works deserve. And going to a museum on your own can be very difficult, because you don’t know where to start.”

She explains that some hunts are more challenging than others, depending on the audience – but “the most important thing is that [participants] enjoy themselves while they’re in the museum.”

Well, we certainly do that – but our end tally of found treasure leaves us a long way from the top of the leader board. The hunt has had the desired effect though, despite our lacklustre final score. I can’t wait to head back to the V&A, and discover all the pieces I missed first time around…

More information

Friday Late (vam.ac.uk/info/friday-late) returns to the V&A on Friday 29 September from 6.30-10pm. Events are free but are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

THATMuse (thatmuse.com) runs hunts at the British Museum every second Friday of the month from 5.30-7.30pm, with the next one on Friday 8 September; entry £15 per adult, £10 per child (five to 13 years).

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