It was a casual question to end a brief interview with SF Treasure Hunts  clue master Jayson Wechter. “What’s something about San Francisco’s history that most people who live in the city don’t know about?” “Hmm, let’s see,” Wechter begins, whose Chinese New Year hunt this weekend (Sat/27) is his mostly highly attended event of the year. Before I can apologize for putting him on the spot, he starts reeling off the following:
1. The CIA used a house on Telegraph Hill in the 1950s to perform unauthorized LSD trials on men they hired prostitutes to bring home from bars.
2. The bay used to come all the way up to Montgomery Street on the east side of the city before it was filled in. Land being in such short supply back then, dud ships were converted to hotels, saloons and warehouse space.
3. William Tecumseh Sherman was a banker in SF before the Civil War.
4. In 1845, newspaper man and devote Mormon, Sam Brannan chartered a boat to take him and his Latter Day Saint brethren from the east coast to San Francisco (still part of Mexico when their journey began). They eventually migrated away from the city, but not before good old Sam had a street downtown named after him. “Had they stayed,” concluded Wechter solemnly “the SF sound would not have been Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead but the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
Clearly, this man trivias.
Gleening post-collegiate inspiration from Keroauc’s On the Road, Wechter moved to San Francisco to work as a freelance journalist, taxi driver and eventually, private investigator. But a quick mind and a knack for knowing “a little bit about everything” had led Wechter to creating treasure hunts for his friends from the time he was 11 years old. He began in earnest with the SF hunts 20 years ago, to the delight of history/culture knick-knackery aficionados. Nowadays, the games attract clue hunters from all over the country, none more so than for the annual Chinese New Year hunt.
“There’s a great sense of joy in discovering something new... It’s a team activity for people that don’t have any athletic prowess,” he says of the events’ popularity today. Just make sure you’re ready to take the ‘me’ out of ‘team.’ Many of the groups at the fast paced, high pressure event are made of friends and couples- at least, before the competition starts. “Let’s just say the treasure hunts accentuate the ‘dynamics’ of a relationship,” chuckles Wechter.
Saturday’s Chinese New Year hunt will involve participants in a sort of noir mystery of their own making, racing in and out of parade routes, answering questions on the city’s landmarks, cultural history and general knowledge to win the competition’s big pay-off. “People have the ability to see things they normally wouldn’t [during Chinese New Year celebrations], says Wechter. “It’s a pedestrian focused event and has a festival, carnival like atmosphere- like Mardi Gras without the alcohol!”
The competition is broken into four levels of play; beginner, regular, master’s and “thinks faster than runs” for the competition’s less mobile participants. Already, 1,500 players are signed up for this weekend's event.
So pop quiz: do you have what it takes to match wits with Jayson Wechter?
Sat/27 4:30 p.m., $35 pre order, $40 at event
Justin Herman Plaza
1 Market, SF