The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
I was one of the last people to become a Supernatural fan. I wanted to like it for a long time, but I couldn’t seem to get past the first couple of episodes. But I kept seeing friends post memes on Facebook, and it seemed like that fandom was having an amazing time. In fact, the Supernatural fandom is sort of legendary for having a meme for everything. I had low-key fandom envy.
About three years ago, right after the (arguably traumatic) move into our current house, I sat myself down on the sofa with a bowl of Lucky Charms and decided I was going to watch the heck out of that show. I ended up watching the entire thing start to finish, and next thing you know, we’re the family that joyfully cosplayed Supernatural for Halloween (Arthur was Sam, Noah was Dean, Justin was Bobby, I was Crowley, and Lucy was Castiel).
I’m not even sure how I first heard about GISHWHES, but it didn’t take long in the Supernatural fandom to realize that Misha Collins (who plays the angel Castiel) has developed his own little amazing cult of big-hearted nerds.
How Did GISHWHES Begin?
From what I understand, Misha and his wife have been together as long as Justin and I have, which is basically forever, and before either of them were ever famous, they were active in their community doing all kinds of amazing volunteer work. They were always the kind of people who would use their success to help others, and the first time that chance came, they did.
In 2010, Misha initially started a scavenger hunt as part of a way to engage with Supernatural fans. The event was completely silly and inspired by the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt (his alma mater). The same scavenger hunt inspired me to throw a scooter-based scavenger hunt at my old workplace, Tulsa Scooters (raise your hand if you are in any way surprised I am a scooter rider).
Misha used the promotion’s momentum to formalize the event the following year, calling it the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (GISHWHES, pronounced “gish-wez”). Put as simply as possible, GISHWHES is a week of hilarious, surrealist, and weird art and random acts of kindness. It is also a world-record breaking scavenger hunt. Misha also started a charity called Random Acts, which is all about doing all kinds of good things for others all over the globe. In the past, the money raised by GISHWHES built a home for a disabled woman in Aleppo who was shot by a sniper’s bullet while gardening, saved 40,000 acres of rainforest, and saved a community ballet school. This year, the program is raising money for Lucky Dog Animal Rescue.
After last year’s GISHWHES, (Misha-originated) rumors abounded that GISHWHES was ending. But a few weeks ago, the news dropped that Misha was rolling out an app called the GISH app, and it’s actually an opportunity to GISH year-round. The app includes a chance to connect with local GISHers in your community, and each week a new GISH item pops up to do individually. I haven’t had a chance to participate yet, but individual GISHers collect points (from participating last year, I started off at the [redacted] level.)
The list drops early in the morning on the first day of the hunt, and the hunt lasts a week. Most teams will never come close to finishing all of the items, but the fun is in the experience. Through GISHWHES, we have cosplayed Supernatural while caroling “Carry on My Wayward Son” door to door. I have created a Castiel-shaped Chinese dragon and danced around the mall. We’ve recreated a childhood picture, taken cookies to firefighters, dropped off care packages at the hospital, decorated the front of my house in toys and flowers, and made a spaceship out of food (that was a huge fail). It’s a way to challenge yourself and create something magical in the world.
The items are given various points (the point judging takes about a month after the hunt ends, but points are awarded for how well you adhered to the requirement and how creative you are). The list starts off with more than 200 items, a list that grows throughout the week. Here are the first ten of last year’s items:
Do you live near (or within a fun road trip’s length of) some sand dunes or a beach? If so, the time has come to fulfill your destiny. Make a massive portrait (must be larger than 20 square meters – the larger the better) of either someone who inspires you, or a message of hope beautifully written in sand. Use a drone to capture footage, if helpful. Make sure you are not working on protected or ecologically sensitive dunes.
There was a hobby or talent that you used to do when you were younger that you stopped doing for whatever reason. Do it again. Now.
Pancake art has come a long way, and the art form doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Let’s see pancake art of Guernica, Judith Slaying Holofernes, The Weeping Woman, anything by Hieronymous Bosch, or another famous work. (You may not do the Mona Lisa or anything abstract.)
As anyone who reads “Cosmopolitan” magazine knows, bohemian eco-chic weddings are all the rage. Let’s see a wedding dress made from recycled office paper.
Nobody likes elevator music in an elevator – unless it’s flute or pan flute music played by a wood nymph. (We must see unsuspecting passengers in the elevator with the wood nymph.)
Re-enact the experience of your birth, using (only) shadow puppets.
(Up to 2 minutes.) You love your grandparents, or your great-grandparents, but you’ve never heard their stories. Get one of them to tell you about the two most transformative experiences of their early life, before they turned 30. These must be experiences that shaped them into the people they are today. They may be difficult situations or lucky ones, but they must be transformative. Subject(s) must be more than 80 years old.
The year is 2021. Of all the unique and amazing human specimens on Earth, it was hard for the aliens to choose which ones to collect, but your team stood out as being excessively weird & worth “analysis”. Your entire team was abducted and put into an alien specimen box. In grid form, show each member of your team along with a card explaining where they got you (city, country) and a word stating what special characteristic makes you unique.
I can assure you, THAT has never been frozen in jello before! How did you manage to do that?!
Pizza was invented in Italy in 997 AD to honor the Queen Consort, Queen Margherita. The next significant event in Italian history was the start of the Renaissance Period in the 14th century, which spawned a revival in art, architecture, science and learning. Let’s celebrate these two seminal moments in Italian history. Bake a Pizza decorated as a Renaissance painting that would make the Old Masters proud.
What It’s Like to Participate
The first time we participated, I was ecstatic. Kids can’t actually sign up, but the standard practice is kind of they are informal team members, and my kids were very interested in participating. I turned to Facebook and connected with some people I knew casually who were signed up.
You can either sign up as competitive or just for fun. Competitive teams are actually playing to win a weeklong vacay with Misha somewhere amazing around the world, but most teams are playing for the experience. For many players (like me), the best prize is making it into the annual coffee table book, which is basically the high school yearbook of the GISHverse (our team made it last year with a fish bowl hat).
Since I don’t clock into a job in the summer, I had nothing but time on my hands, but because I don’t actually collect a paycheck in the summer, I had to be super creative to get my items. That’s the great thing about GISHWHES–you don’t have to have any money to participate, and because it’s self-paced, you can participate to the degree that you are comfortable. If you only have a little time to devote, you will still have an amazing experience. It was one of the most intense weeks of my life, and it was the most exhausted I’ve been since my last trip to Bonnaroo Music Festival, but it was also some of the most incredible fun I have ever had.
The first day of the hunt, I woke up very early and chatted with the team online while we waited for the list to drop. When the list came down, the chat went dark for about 10 minutes. I looked over the list, which was pretty daunting. There were some items that seemed darned near impossible, while others seemed pretty simple. I picked out ten items to start with and then put my initials on the team file. Through the week, my house basically turned into a glitter-coated catastrophe.
Some items did not work out as well as I planned. At one point, I was sitting on the sofa watching Mr. Smith Goes To Washington surrounded by literally hundreds of balloons. I worked with Heather until well into the night to craft them into an enormous balloon sculpture hanging from the trees in my front yard. In the middle of it, the sculpture dropped and hit the grass; we watched helplessly as probably 100 balloons popped like popcorn. In the end, it’s more about the fun, creative spirit, and friendship that goes into a project than the outcome.
It’s important to have a team from all over the globe because some of the tasks are in various locations around the world. If you don’t have enough team members on your own, you will eventually have a few assigned to you, which is kind of a good thing because it’s a way of connecting with people who are far away. The first year, we had folks from a few places including Oklahoma, Texas, and Rotterdam. Last year, my team was even better, with members in Oklahoma, California, and even Japan (there were a couple of Japan-based items on the list last year).
Last year, I joined team WallaWallaBingBang with my super talented artist friend Heather. WWBB is a team of mostly experienced GISHers. It was incredible to be part of a group who get so into GISHWHES. They had a whole strategy for doing everything, and they were all very creative and fun. But the cool thing about GISHWHES is you don’t have to be the most creative person around to have an amazing time and contribute to a team. It’s a self-paced experience; take on the tasks you can and have fun with it.
So here’s how it worked.
I registered for GISHWHES a few months ahead of time. This year, registration opened about two weeks ago. The first year I registered, I could not afford the $16 fee, so I applied for a scholarship. Experienced GISHers can donate extra registration money for others, and from what I understand, pretty much everyone who applies for a scholarship gets covered. The second year, I was able to pay for it myself, and I was thrilled to do so. The money from the registration fee goes to pay for costs of running the event, and anything left over is used for charity. This year’s fee is $21.
The first year, I had no idea what I was doing, but last year, I was totally jazzed and planned ahead as much as possible. What does planning for GISHWHES involve? Mostly talking to other GISHers and a whole lot of guesswork. Here’s what I do to prepare for GISHWHES:
Hoard supplies. No one knows what is going to be on the GISHWHES list, but you can pretty much guarantee that hoarding random art supplies will help. You can’t go wrong with generic craft supplies: glue, paint (all kinds, especially spray paint), scissors, paper, cardboard boxes, glitter,
Stock the fridge. GISHWHES is exhausting and will keep you super busy. We stocked up on granola bars, fruit snacks, juice boxes, water bottles, fresh fruit, and other easy food to keep us going during the week. Also, you’re going to need a lot of kale, which is known as [redacted] in the GISHverse.
Prepare to take pics and video. You probably want to clear out the storage on your phone, or better yet, borrow a camera.
Gather your human resources. One or more of the items always involves stormtroopers. It’s good to have stormtroopers on demand, which can almost always be found through the local comic book store. You also will need friends around the world to help out with certain items. I send my pals around the globe a quick little note that I may be calling on them for help with an item and to be ready just in case. It can also be very handy to know professionals in certain fields and have access to various facilities. Last year’s items included an airplane, so knowing a pilot and having access to a plane was helpful. There are also plenty of local people who want to be part of GISHWHES but don’t have the time to participate formally. These people love the chance to help out with an item or two. I recommending making a Google spreadsheet with names, locations, talents/hobbies, resources, and professions.
Start a group chat or Facebook group with your team and develop a game plan. WWBB uses Facebook and messenger to communicate and Google drive to track our items. We upload our pics to a Google account and use a spreadsheet to claim items. When the hunt begins, we look over the item list and put our name next to items that we think we can do. If someone is interested in taking over an item, we just bring it up in the group chat. There were a couple of times where items were passed off, and occasionally, folks were set on certain things. Good communication is key. We also have one point person responsible for making sure everything is uploaded to the GISHWHES page.
Decide what your team’s unique contributions are. We decided before the hunt ever began who was good at what so we could recommend each other for items. I am the writer, and there’s a couple of artists, a graphic designer, a knitter, etc. Determining who is good at what helps us hit as many of the items as possible. Figure out who can play an instrument and who works in a school, and put it all down in your spreadsheet or Google doc.
Make an announcement. I always tell my Facebook community when GISHWHES is coming up so they can root for us and be on the lookout for other GISHers. It adds an extra layer of fun to have everyone else in on the excitement, and when you go on Facebook and ask your friends for a roll of exam room table paper, your friends are more than happy to jump on board.
GISHWHES has become a time for our family to work together and grow closer through art and acts of kindness. I look forward to it because let’s face it, this world has been a bit of a poopatorium over the past few years, and positivity is hard to find. Besides, it’s like my grandma Misha always says. When life hands you lemons, make a weird hat out of them and wear it in public while giving hugs to strangers.
This year’s hunt is July 28th through August 4th. The Roe-Owens will again be participating, and I hope to get some of my blogger friends from TulsaKids on board (I’m looking at you, Tara Rittler!). You will be able to follow our progress online, but we can’t post pics of our items until after judging is complete! Don’t worry; there will still be plenty of tomfoolery to report.
If you’re on the GISH app or planning to participate, drop me a comment so we can catch up! And may the [redacted] be with you!