All-night scavenger hunt at the NY Public Library!

This is so cool that calling it so cool doesn’t do it justice. Just when you think “okay, it couldn’t possibly get any cooler than this,” it gets even cooler.

On May 20, 2011, five hundred pre-registered people will get to spend the whole night in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library, the newly restored 1911 Beaux Arts masterpiece that was supposed to be the glamorous venue for Carrie Bradshaw’s aborted wedding to Mr. Big and is the main branch of the NYPL system. From dusk until dawn (8 PM to 6 AM), players will explore 70 miles of stacks, including 40 miles of underground stacks that are normally closed to the public, and use their laptops and smartphones to find historical objects from the NYPL’s collection that have been secreted all over the library.

Among the historical objects are a copy of the Declaration of Independence written in Thomas Jefferson’s hand, an ancient menu, and Charles Dickens’ letter opener whose handle was made from the taxidermified paw of his beloved cat Bob. Players will be divided into teams of eight. They will be sent on quests to find specific objects via their smartphones. Once they find an item, they use a custom designed iPhone/Android app to scan its QR code on their phones to prove they’ve found it.

That would be cool enough right there, but wait, there’s more! The scavenger hunt is part of a game called “Find the Future.” Every time players find an object, they’ll be assigned a writing task inspired by the item. For instance, when they find Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, they’ll be asked how they would write a few sections of a Declaration of Independence today. Then, at the end of the night, all 500 players will combine their writings to create a collaborative book which will be published and added to the Library’s book collection! That’s how the game is won.

Can you even stand that?! There are so many levels of nerd paradise here that I can’t even stand it.

Here’s another level: The game is designed by Jane McGonical, whose brilliant TED talk on how video games can help build a better world provided invaluable input to my essay on how to make history appeal to these gaming kids today. In a Q&A about her work and “Find the Future,” she describes her wonderfully immodest aim thusly:

The game is designed to empower young people to find their own futures by bringing them face-to-face with the writings and objects of people who made an extraordinary difference. Like every game I make, it has one goal: to turn players into superempowered, hopeful individuals with real skills and ideas to help them change the world.

It won’t just be the lucky 500 who get to play. On May 21st, once the quests have been completed and all the essays uploaded to the game’s website, the game will be unlocked, people in New York will be able to play at all NYPL locations, and all the rest of us schmoes will get to play online and create our own book of answers.

If you’re 18 and older, and in New York or plan to make your way there at the end of May, submit your entry by April 21st. Entries must be no more than 140 characters in reply to the question “In the year 2021, I will become the first person to ______.” The 500 players will be selected from all the entrants by a panel of judges.