It's a little after 2 on a hot Saturday afternoon when Carole Kaminski climbs on a bench in the square at South Broadway and Thames Street to announce that the Secrets of Fells Point Scavenger Hunt is about to begin.
There are 11 of us gathered around her. Most of us have not been on a scavenger hunt since elementary school. Neither have we taken turns flailing blindfolded at a pinata or playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey since then, but we're here for one compelling reason: We have no social life.
OK, that's not true. Actually, we're here because this is not your garden-variety scavenger hunt.
In this hunt, run by an outfit called Watson Adventures and presided over by Kaminski, the object is not to scavenge for hard-to-find objects, but for answers to tricky questions about the Baltimore neighborhood and its history.
Watson Adventures holds these hunts in historic neighborhoods all over the country, as well as in museums, aquariums and parks, for both public and corporate outings.
This hunt, which costs $14.50, will take two hours and send us on a fast-paced walking tour of Fells Point.
We'll get plenty of exercise, try not to pass out from the heat and also give our brains a workout. We'll also divide into three teams, with the team that answers the most questions correctly winning snappy burgundy Watson Adventures T-shirts.
After the usual waiver sheets are signed, absolving the company of responsibility for any misfortune that could possibly befall us, from tuberculosis infection to stepping through an open manhole to an asteroid slamming into us, each team is handed a sheet with questions and clues about specific areas of Fells Point, and we set off.
"Remember, two hours! Points off if you're late!" says Kaminski ominously.
I'm on a team with Mike Irwin, 47, from Arnold and Tom Deliso, 45, from Towson, as well as Irwin's godson, Daniel Ortiz, who is 8.
Deliso, vice president of operations for a marketing firm in Lanham, is a friendly guy and one of those Type A personalities genetically programmed to move fast and get things done.
He's also one of those people who can somehow simultaneously read directions, scan the landscape for clues, carry on a conversation and walk without slamming into a light pole or running over a toddler on the sidewalk.
In other words, he's a guy who can actually multitask, a rare breed.
With him setting the pace, we knock off the first few questions at our first stop, the corner of Broadway and Shakespeare Street, then farther down Shakespeare at the family crypt of William Fell and Edward Fell, founders of Fells Point.
This is going to be a cake-walk, we're thinking at this point. The other teams don't have a prayer. We're going to crush their bones and make 'em weep.
Kaminski said Watson Adventures would prefer that I not divulge the answers to specific questions on the hunt, as this might spoil things for anyone taking part in the next Fells Point hunt on June 23.
But here are a few of the questions and clues we were given. No cheating, and don't go scouting the neighborhood for the answers, either:
"Shakespeare, Broadway - What high and mighty ballot proposal might get you to say 'I'll drink to that!' "
"Thames, Broadway - What two objects might remind you of a failed presidential bid or a Hawaiian cannery?"
"Thames Pier, past Wolfe - Whose tasty ship is not seaworthy?"
OK, it's not an advanced epidemiology course at Harvard.
But the questions weren't exactly no-brainers, either.
At this point, we should mention that each team is also required to take creative and funny photos at certain spots on the hunt, and to give itself a nickname reflecting one of the photos.
After possibly three seconds of deliberation, we end up calling ourselves the "Admiral Loungers," after a bar on Thames Street called - you saw this coming down Broadway, didn't you? - the Admiral Lounge.
Oh, yeah, are we deep or what?
Another team, headed by a woman named Julienne Mui of Baltimore and calling itself "Congress," takes a photo depicting the three members in classic see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil.
(Now that's brilliant - at least compared to the Admiral Loungers.)
On Bond Street, we run into the team of Laura Irwin, Mike's wife, Eleanor Schwartz ("I'm from Hampden, hon!"), Pam Ortiz from Chestertown, who is Daniel's mom, and her daughter, Sophia, 12, Daniel's sister.
The women start hooting and trash-talking when they see us, high-fiving each other and vowing to kick our butts in this hunt. When they follow us for a block or two as we continue to decipher clues, a Sun photographer trailing us warns: "Keep moving. They're mooching off the intel."
Intel! I love it! It makes us sound like we're undercover for the CIA in Tehran or something.
Speaking of intel, though, the Admiral Loungers, while starting out like a house on fire, have a major brain-power malfunction in the latter stages of the hunt.
Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's all the walking around, but we find ourselves stumped on at least three questions in the final 45 minutes, despite all sorts of clues that probably wouldn't require a Sherlock Holmes to solve.
"That's why I'm an accountant," says Mike Irwin, looking drained.
Deliso, our Energizer Bunny, seems to be running out of steam, too. And yours truly, the Sun reporter, isn't helping the team much, either.
In fact, Daniel, the 8-year-old, is turning in a stronger performance, especially when he straightens out the middle-age Sun reporter and informs him that a clue about "Woody" on Broadway does not refer to Woody Allen, as the geezer scribe thought, but rather to Woody, the little cowboy with the brown hat from Toy Story.
At 4 p.m., after two hours of criss-crossing Baltimore's most eclectic neighborhood, the hunt is over.
We all meet back at the square at Broadway and Thames. Carole Kaminski tabulates the scores, then climbs up on a bench and delivers the bad news.
The Admiral Loungers are pathetic and finish in last place with 19 points. We hang our heads in shame and agree we couldn't have done worse even if we'd stopped in a bar beforehand and gotten loaded.
Congress finishes second with 21 points, winning the best photo competition in a landslide.
The Admiral Loungers briefly mull lodging a protest, since Mui turns out to be a ringer of sorts. This is her third scavenger hunt - she has done one in Washington and one at the Walters Art Museum. But the protest fizzles out after we determine it would take too much effort.
Finishing in first place in the Secrets of Fells Point Scavenger Hunt with 25 points is - drum roll, please - the team of Laura Irwin et al., immodestly calling itself "Babes on Broadway."
This sets off another round of whooping, high-fiving and trash-talking among the women, as well as some pointed comments about the lack of innate intelligence in the male species - and not just pertaining to scavenger hunts, either.
But everyone seems to have had a good time, and Laura Irwin sums up what seems to be a prevailing sentiment.
"These hunts give you a flavor for the area, so you want to come back and explore it when you have more time," she says.
The Admiral Loungers agree, although the sting of this crushing defeat will last a long, long time.
Watson Adventures watsonadventures.com 212-780-0244
Scaventures scaventures.com 888-398-8326
Seaport Scavenger Hunts natlhistoricseaport.org 410-783-1490
Dr. Clue Treasure Hunts drclue.com 415-861-1314
Scavenger Hunt Anywhere scavengerhuntanywhere.com 905-901-9300
To create your own scavenger hunt, go to: scavenger-hunt-idea.com