Keep the Whole Family Guessing

An 18th-century oil painting of Daphne evading Apollo is just one of the artworks featured in a scavenger hunt at the National Gallery of Art.
An 18th-century oil painting of Daphne evading Apollo is just one of the artworks featured in a scavenger hunt at the National Gallery of Art. (Samuel H. Kress Collection)
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By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

Most days, the National Gallery of Art's 18th-century oil painting of Daphne evading Apollo doesn't draw crowds of curious kids. But on Saturday, the painting will be featured in a scavenger hunt designed by New York-based Watson Adventures, and teams of youngsters and their parents will race to answer the question: Whose hand gesture seems to say, "Leaf me alone!"?

(Hint: Check out the branches sprouting from Daphne's palms.)

By offering fast-paced romps through museums and national monuments, Watson Adventures has tapped into parents' desires to expose their children to cultural and historic riches and kids' desires for outings that mix suspense, humor and competition.

So at the National Gallery, teams will scurry from wing to wing, answering questions but also studying and analyzing treasures they might have never noticed on previous traditional visits. At the National Zoo next month, scavengers will explore the mysteries of termites, the great ape house, the giant pandas and more. In and around the White House in June, they will learn about the ghosts of Washington, from the spirits of Abraham Lincoln and Abigail Adams to the grand hotel where Charles Dickens (get it? the three ghosts of Christmas?) once stayed.

"It's a great way to sort of see the whole museum. . . . I would never have taken the time to go to every floor," says Mary Davis of McLean, who went on a Watson Adventures hunt at the National Museum of American History last year as part of a workplace gathering. Davis, 49, enjoyed it so much that she commissioned a kids' hunt for her daughter Katherine's 11th birthday in February at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.

The hunt leader divided Katherine and a dozen friends into three teams and gave them a few minutes to come up with team names. Then they were off, with each team starting at a different point on the list of questions, directions and hints that would take them through the vast collection of famous aircraft and spacecraft.

Katherine, a fifth-grader, had been to Udvar-Hazy before, but "it was more fun to go as part of a scavenger hunt," she says. "I just like looking for things and finding things. . . . I really got to look around."

The fun isn't cheap, especially for Washingtonians accustomed to wandering the nation's flagship museums for free. Kid-oriented hunts such as the one at the National Gallery cost $17.50 a person.

Hunts last about 90 minutes, plus a short pre-hunt orientation and a post-hunt debriefing. Watson also offers two-hour hunts geared toward adults, with more sophisticated and occasionally risque questions and a price tag of $22.50 a person.

Upcoming family hunts: "Wild Wildlife Family Scavenger Hunt" at the National Zoo on May 10 from 10:30 to 12:30 and "The Fright at the White House" on June 21 from 4:30 to 6:30.

National Gallery of Art Scavenger Hunt Saturday from 10:30 to 12:30 at Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW (Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial, Smithsonian, Judiciary Square) Tickets:$17.50 a person; registration required. Info:877-946-4868. http://www.watsonadventures.com. National Gallery of Art Scavenger Hunt Saturday from 10:30 to 12:30 at Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW (Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial, Smithsonian, Judiciary Square) Tickets:$17.50 a person; registration required. Info:877-946-4868. http://www.watsonadventures.com.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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