Required Materials: Curiosity, determination, walking shoes, a fresh pair of underwear or two, loose change, a sense of adventure, chewing gum, a first aid kit, a glass of water, a light snack, and the internet, just in case.
Instructions: This treasure hunt will take place largely in the chair by your computer desk, so make sure it is reasonably comfortable. You must imagine at all times that you are an explorer, whatever that means. Follow all of the steps precisely. There will be a quiz at the end.
Open your web browser of choice and open Google Earth™. Zoom out far enough to see the whole planet, and make sure you are in satellite view. Click and drag to rotate the Earth. Play around with this a little bit; imagine what it would be like if the earth suddenly moved the way that you’re moving it on your screen. (Optional: pretend you are in charge of an alien race that has acquired the ability to rotate the earth at whatever speed they want.) See if you can find any pictures in the way the land is scattered, like you used to do with clouds when you were younger. Also note that, no matter where on the Earth you are, you are nowhere near the center of it.
Switch to map view and zoom in until you fill most of your screen with the northern hemisphere. The ruler of this region, the North Pole, turns its back on the galactic center of the Milky Way, which means people here cannot see as many stars as those in the south. They can, however, eat more candy bars. Plan to fund a trip to the Milky Way with your treasure.
Zoom in again until your screen is occupied by the north-western hemisphere. Here they most commonly speak English, Spanish, and French. Some speak all three, some speak one or two, some speak none of them, and some don’t speak. Note that North America is connected to South America by the Isthmus of Panama. Say “isthmus” ten times fast; don’t be afraid to mess it up and start over. Start planning what kind of car, house, rocket ship, pet lion, or hovercraft you’ll buy with your treasure.
Zoom in once more so that the United States of America dominates your screen. Supposedly everyone here loves baseball, apple pie, and television. You really can find people of every shape, size, and color thanks to the rising affinity for tattoos, tanning, and plastic surgery. Take a minute to pan up and take a look at Alaska and pan down to look at Hawaii. Imagine going on a road trip across the country in a red minivan with your family and trying to find license plates from as many different states as possible to make those long stretches of highway more interesting. Imagine how funny it is to find both Alaska and Hawaii license plates in the same parking lot somewhere in the northeast region, where you stopped to get gas and food at a greasy diner that fulfilled both purposes. Take a minute to ponder how truly terrifying unfamiliar places can be when you need a bathroom. Design a luxury bathroom to build with your treasure; perhaps include a toilet seat of gold.
Zoom in once again and focus on the state of Illinois. There are rural areas, urban areas, suburbs, rich and poor, different races, different dialects, social issues, Cubs fans, Sox fans, a surprising number of Cardinals fans, artists, doctors, teachers, people who are both smart and stupid. Despite its diversity it is generally flat, and its citizens experience drastic weather changes with each of the four seasons. Imagine treasure hunting in the three other seasons than the one you are currently experiencing. Move on to the next step in whatever season you want, but note that stopping at any point from here on out will be detrimental to your impending wealth.
Zoom in again to the city of Chicago, noting that, though it is located there, it is not the same thing as Illinois. Get annoyed by the notion that your treasure might be something that forces you to appreciate art, like tickets to The Lyric Opera, The Art Institute, The Shedd Aquarium, any number of museums, or some god-awful musical theater production. Change your mind about the aquarium and decide that you’ll use some of your riches to bribe somebody to let you snorkel in the huge tank in the middle with the giant green eel. Remember that it is perfectly okay to be irrationally afraid of any octopus or squid you may encounter. Plan what you will do if your treasure lies in a sunken pirate ship with tattered sails and a Jolly Roger flag.
Zoom in yet again, close enough to locate Michigan Avenue. Switch back to the map view at this point, and search for 875 North Michigan Avenue. Mark this location with an X before printing yourself a map of the city. Include as much of it as you need to help you find your way around once you get there.
Using your arms and legs, push back your computer chair. Stand up, grab the map you printed, and travel to the destination you marked with the X. Travel however you want, but as soon as you see more building than sky remaining in a vehicle is prohibited and will result in failure to achieve treasure.
Arrive at the destination, X. Congratulations, you found the John Hancock Center (Note: If you find yourself at the John Hancock Tower, you misread something and ended up in Boston. Visit Quincy Market, but then get back on track to finding your treasure).
Go inside the John Hancock center and take an elevator up to the observatory. Do not take the stairs. The elevators here are the fastest elevators in the world, and you get to ride them! They don’t, however, let you push the buttons. When the elevator door opens, step out into the observatory and enjoy the view through the window screens. Compare these views to the view from your computer screen.
This step is extremely crucial. On one of the windows, I’m not sure which anymore, you will find three, maybe four, relatively small brown spiders on the outside of the screen (perhaps still on the lower left hand side, just visible over the shoulder of a child in a family of tourists). Lean over the guardrail and zoom in to get a closer look. It is okay to shiver at the idea of these spiders crawling on you, but be careful not to wrinkle your nose too much (your face might stick that way). Take a minute to wonder how those spiders, maybe an inch across, managed to get to the top of the John Hancock Observatory, more than one thousand feet in the air. Remember that they could not have taken the elevator because they’re on the outside of the screen. Perhaps they climbed all the way up from the bustling pavement below. How long would it take to climb a distance more than twelve thousand times one’s body length? The lifespan of a spider is usually only a year or two. How much of it did they spend climbing? Or maybe their mother crawled up, or their great great great great grandparents traveled up on the sleeve of a construction worker back in 1970 and countless generations of tiny brown spiders have lived up here ever since. Imagine what their view is like. Do they look at the screen and see you, wrinkling your nose at them as other tourists admire the 80 mile view? Or do they look out, or skyward, maybe?
That’s it. Three or four little brown spiders that you would scream and call your dad to come squish with a tissue without a second thought, or perhaps fail to notice at all on any other day.
That’s your treasure, and you can do whatever you want with it. I’m sorry you may not be able to buy your hovercraft or pet lion, and that this trek didn’t get you any closer to the Milky Way. Maybe there’s a vending machine in the lobby. This treasure may not seem like much more than sparing the crumpled underbelly of a coat-pocket-dwelling tissue from a horrible fate of smeared bug guts, but at least you can probably get a candy bar out of it.