LINCOLN SQUARE – The author of a new book full of mysteries about Chicago’s hidden gems challenges readers to decipher her clues to win a prize.
Travel writer and photographer Jessica Mlinaric came up with the idea to write Chicago Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for Chicago’s Hidden Treasures after spending more than a year in her apartment during the pandemic. She introduced the book to her publisher in 2021, saying it would help people get outside and reconnect with the city, she said.
Unlike a traditional guidebook, Mlinaric’s book highlights little-known museums, public art, natural areas, overlooked historical markers, architectural curiosities and more in the city’s neighborhoods using a treasure map with clues for readers and puzzles to solve.
“When I was writing the book last year after being locked in my apartment – I was really blown away to be able to cycle across Chicago again and come back to these neighborhoods,” Mlinaric said. “To remind me why I chose to live in Chicago and how amazing it is.”
Mlinaric tried to include locations that look interesting, are important to Chicago’s history, or play a key role in a neighborhood’s fabric, she said.
Released in May, the book contains puzzles that lead to more than 300 Chicago locations, including the first Black Art Museum in the United States, a monk-run bed and breakfast, the city’s smallest bar and a real yellow brick street, Mlinaric said.
“If you’re going to an area you’ve never been before, I’ve tried to pick some popular local attractions, even things like restaurants that have been around for a long time,” Mlinaric said. “Chicago is such a big city that it’s hard to know where to start. I hope this will give people a jump start on these discoveries.”
Mlinaric attempted to evenly represent the North Side, West Side, and South Side neighborhoods. She’s also presented “hidden gems” side-by-side in the same sections, so readers can tackle each chapter at their own pace in an afternoon or a couple of hours, she said.
“It was really important to me that this book explore the diversity of Chicago and highlight communities from across the city,” said Mlinaric. “I’m fascinated by different cultures and the groups that call Chicago home and how that helps make the city what it is today.”
Mlinaric’s book does not need to be read in order, and readers can work alone or with friends to solve the puzzles for each neighborhood, Mlinaric said.
But for big treasure hunt fans, Mlinaric has created a challenge on their website.
The contest allows readers to compete with other people to submit photos of their progress in solving their puzzles to earn points. The first people to complete the entire book will receive a custom poster created by local illustrator Jason Swearingen, she said.
“Anyone can complete it in any amount of time. I didn’t want it to be like, OK, you have three months to do the whole book. I want people to enjoy it at their own pace. There is no term or deadline,” Mlinaric said.
The rankings are updated as people and teams submit their points on the site, Mlinaric said.
Mlinaric also wrote Secret Chicago: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure in 2018. The book includes little-known sights like a salt cave in Portage Park, she said.
But Mlinaric didn’t write this earlier book of “bizarre and unusual locations” as an interactive scavenger hunt like she did with the book she released this year, she said.
The books are an extension of Mlinaric’s passion for travel, she said.
“What I love about traveling is the feeling of being in a new place – finding out, stumbling across things and learning something new,” Mlinaric said. “I don’t have to leave Chicago to have that feeling. I have this in my own city all the time because I put myself in situations where I want to explore different neighborhoods and talk to people all over the city.”
Chicago Scavenger can be ordered online for $20.95.
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