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Golden Talon scavenges on campus

Photo courtesy Tyler Foster

By Adam Leff     4/18/23 10:51pm

Normally, the steam tunnels under Rice are off-limits to students. But on Tuesday, April 6, as part of a scavenger hunt organized by a student group called the Order of the Golden Talon, two intrepid teams got the privilege of exploring the steam tunnels under Rice. Duncan College junior Ethan Peck, who was on the winning team, noted that this was one moment when the team had doubts about the hunt.

“We were like, ‘this is where we get murdered. Is this real?’” Peck said. “But finding the owls and things like that around campus was definitely pretty convincing.”

The scavenger hunt was a week-long affair involving clues pointing to hidden owl statuettes at different locations on campus. The clues were puzzles, drawn from a variety of academic disciplines and aspects of Rice lore. Student teams gained points through challenges, such as participating in acts of community service, building a functional owl house or baking an owl-shaped cake. Luey Garcia, who acts as head of the organization under the alias “Eye of the Golden Talon,” said that the hunt was meant to expose students to more of campus.

“There’s a lot of history to the Rice campus … and that’s something that I really wanted to emphasize when we were making all of the clues for the locations around campus,” Garcia, a McMurtry College senior, said. “There’s a lot of little structural quirks that people don’t often get a chance to really look at and appreciate for what they are. The Rice campus is extremely unique.”

That was one thing that winning team member Cameron Underwood appreciated. 

“During COVID, we never really got that chance to really explore Rice in-depth,” Underwood, a Duncan College junior, said. “It’s just really nice to see all these things about Rice that you’d never heard about before.”

In total, around 30 students, arranged into six teams, participated in the hunt. The winning team collected 15 of the 54 hidden owls and were awarded the grand prize: a lunch with President Reggie DesRoches.

“I was honored and am always excited when I get the opportunity to spend time with students,” DesRoches said. “We had a great conversation over lunch. Rice students are so engaging and creative. Talking with them is one of the things I like most about my job.”

According to Garcia, this type of intellectual enthusiasm is one aspect of the Rice student body the Order of the Golden Talon aims to celebrate. Founded in 2019, the Order is an organization founded on intellectual curiosity and puzzle solving. Garcia emphasized that the organization aims to promote this curiosity among the student body as a whole.

“Everybody comes to Rice with a different intellectual background and things that they’re interested in,” Garcia said. “I think giving people an opportunity to stretch that creativity and challenge themselves, no matter where they come from, is really something that drove the organization to be created in the first place.”

The Order was founded in 2019, but the recent scavenger hunt was their first campus-wide event. According to Garcia, it was inspired by University of Chicago’s notorious scavenger hunt.

“I was inspired a little bit by the Chicago scavenger hunt because they have a very large event that's been built up over many years for the tradition,” Garcia said. “They really cater to every single department or major kind of academic discipline.”

Garcia said this is the first of a series of events which the order hopes will help them engage more with the broader Rice community as a whole.

According to Tyler Foster, a member of the winning team, the appeal of the hunt came from both intellectual curiosity and curiosity about the intrigue surrounding the organization as a whole.

“The mysteriousness and the newness of it to us was very appealing,” Foster, a Duncan College junior, said. 

Although the group bills itself as a secret society, Garcia emphasized their welcoming atmosphere. 

“If you were to look at a secret society at one of the Ivy League colleges, you might know that they're exclusive or it's very difficult to be involved,” Garcia said. “We really want to kind of buck that trend.”

Garcia further emphasized that the organization hopes to grow in scope in the near future.

“Over the course of this next year, 2023-24, I think you’re gonna find that we’re a lot more involved,” Garcia said. “I would just keep an eye out for that.”

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