Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Wow, it finally happened.

After a summer full of tornadoes, torrential rain, and tropical temps, we've actually reached a week of (gasp) nice weather. As I type this, it's a partly cloudy Wednesday and the sun hangs lazily in the western sky while a gentle breeze wafts through the window. Outside, kids are playing, birds are chirping, engines are revving, and the whole world seems to be enjoying life.

I, on the other hand, am currently sitting on the floor of my kitchen attempting to craft a portrait of rapper Nicki Minaj out of rice and beans.

How do these sorts of things happen to me on a regular basis? It's not as if I wake up, roll out of bed, and think, "Gee, I hope I exhibit some weird behavior today! I'd really like to continue my path of being a lifelong social outcast who people looks sideways at. Here's hoping I'm EXTRA strange this day!" If I have one motivation that carries me through life, it's still that immature voice in my head that wants me to fit in and be respected by my peers. 44 years old and I still just wanna be one of the cool kids, I guess. But among MY peers, there's nothing cooler than Gishwhes.

It may sound like a sneeze, but Gishwhes is actually the Greatest Internet Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. It's the brainchild of actor and fan favorite Misha Collins from the TV show "Supernatural." Every year, teams of fifteen players converge upon the Gishwhes website to view a list of 200+ items and tasks. Participants then have one week to collect as many of those items as possible. Teams document their quests with photos and video, which are then uploaded to the Gishwhes judges for approval. Each approved task is then awarded points that vary based on its difficulty level. At the end of the week, the team with the most points gets to join Collins on a week-long trek to Costa Rica.

Each player has to pony up a small fee to sign up, and all the profits go to Collins' non-profit devoted to spreading random acts of kindness around the globe. It's a fun-filled week made BY nerds FOR nerds, and as such, Collins is joined by folks like William Shatner, Felicia Day, and several other high-ranking names in the upper eschelon of geekness. Season one "American Idol" runner-up Justin Guarini is responsible for one of the more annoying tasks in this year's hunt:

"For 97 points, find American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini and pose with him to recreate the cover photo of 'From Justin to Kelly.'"

As a testament to the power of Gishwhes, it must be noted that this task was amended within 24 hours to specify, "Do NOT 'find' him at his actual home or you will be disqualified." Something tells me Justin got some unwelcome rings at his doorbell that first day.

While I am admittedly a HUGE fan of the abysmal cinematic nightmare that is "From Justin to Kelly," the odds of finding Justin Guarini strolling around the Quad Cities is pretty much slim to never. That's why you're shooting yourself in the foot if you create a team entirely located in your hometown. One of the points of Gishwhes is to unite the globe while fulfilling these odd tasks, so a good team needs to have players from all over the world. Our team has members from the Quad Cities, California, England, and Australia, and we STILL feel woefully under-represented when faced with this daunting list of tasks.

One task, for instance, is to take celebrity action figures and pose them in a compromising position in front of the actual Great Wall of China. Our team is instead submitting a picture of celebrity action figures doing unspeakable things to one another... in front of the actual Great Wall Chinese restaurant in Rock Island. We're hoping to get partial credit for creativity.

And creativity is really the name of the game with Gishwhes. Among the other tasks? Let's see... Build a dog (at least 40 centimeters tall) out of feminine hygiene products. Get a picture of with a certified Master Sommelier drinking kale juice from a wine glass. Tour a waste treatment facility while dressed in formal wear with an accompanying violinist. Convince a host or reporter from a TV newscast to fake sneeze the word "Gishwhes!" on air. Clean up a park. Build a community garden. Tweet a photo of two men kissing to Rick Santorum with the hashtag #facerealityRick. You get the picture.

Over the past week, my friends and I have dressed up like June Cleaver and vacuumed a lawn. We have created a teaser trailer for the non-existent horror movie "X is for Xylophone." We have crossed a football field using only a skateboard, two pieces of 5' rope, and a clothespin. And yes, we have now made a lifelike portrait of Nicki Minaj out of rice and legumes.

Gishwhes is the perfect mix of charitable acts, fun tasks, and crippling embarassment -- which is the one thing I'm simply not good at. The same part of me that wants to hang with the cool kids does NOT want to be made fun of by the cool kids, so when it comes to Gishwhessing in public, I'm a bit of a stuffed shirt. When I was shopping at Hy-Vee yesterday, I was recognized by a reader of this column who asked what I was up to.

"Oh, just some grocery shopping," I sheepishly replied, which sounds a lot better than the truth, "Oh, just standing here trying to determine which type of lentil would best capture the skin tone of Nicki Minaj."  

Based on the internet chatter I've been seeing, some teams take this event SERIOUSLY. People are taking time off work and traveling hundreds of miles to achieve tasks. We stand about a 0% chance of winning this thing, and I'm okay with that. After all, if I hate the humidity HERE, something tells me I wouldn't be a big fan of Costa Rica. But in the end, we're having fun, making a difference in the slightest of ways, and creating some pretty epic memories. For once, I feel like I AM one of the cool kids.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go write a script for a five-minute musical based on the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage, which I then need to have performed by professional actors on a theatre stage sometime between now and Saturday. Wish me luck. #gishwhes

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