It’s the little things that fascinate Jayson Wechter.
From colorful schoolyard murals in Chinatown to cryptic messages hidden in thesidewalks of North Beach, the private investigator has an eye for the unseen details of San Francisco.
Year after year, Wechter trolls the streets and alleyways of Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill in search of undiscovered city secrets to share with the masses in time for The City’s Chinese New Year festivities.
"I wander around with a notebook and find things that are visually interesting to me. It might be public artwork, a fire hydrant or some quirky architectural feature. I find it all very fascinating and I hope others will too," he says.
The catch, however, is that Wechter isn’t about to cough up the whereabouts of his newfound city treasures that easily. This modern-day Sherlock would rather you do a little investigative work of your own, and so, he created the annual Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt.
"This is a way for people to get out in The City and experience it in a very different way. The backdrop of the parade creates a unique atmosphere for a treasure hunt. And who doesn’t like a good mystery? There’s something so enjoyable and gratifying about solving one," he says.
On Saturday, as the Chinese New Year parade gets under way and lion dancers take to the streets to celebrate the Year of the Pig, amateur sleuths will embark upon Wechter’s annual clue-filled adventure.
Now in its 17th year, the hunt is divided into three levels of difficulty: beginner, regular and master. Urban detectives have four hours to unravel 16 clues and search for obscure landmarks and long-forgotten historical relics throughout the northeastern edge of The City in hopes of winning a key-shaped cake. And bragging rights, of course.
The clues, which usually read as a pun or a riddle, are designed to test everything from map reading skills to pop culture and current-events knowledge. Participants are encouraged to dress in costumes and are allowed to bring whatever they can carry, from wireless Web devices to flashlights and phone books. They must visit each clue’s site and find an item to solve the puzzle. The team of gumshoes with the most questions solved in the least amount of time wins.
Wechter, who also puts together treasure hunts for corporate team-building functions, says the citywide hunt is a just another way to discover the rich history of San Francisco, albeit through dark alleyways and hidden streets that most people might be too afraid to explore on their own.
"I like doing it at night. The treasure hunt takes on a very different character. Things look very different when you wander an alleyway in the shadow of night," Wechter says. "There is sort of a noirish quality about it."
Where: Justin Herman Plaza
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday (check in at 3:30 p.m.)
Contact: (415) 564-9400 or www.sftreasurehunts.com
Get the latest news, features, and event calendars for the Year of the Boar (or the pig, if you prefer) at Examiner's exclusive San Francisco Chinese New Year page.