This spring, funnyman and political shtickmeister Stephen Colbert launched a nationwide treasure hunt to poke fun at Political Action Committees, or super PACs.
The Super PAC Super Fun Pack Treasure Hunt pitted participants in a battle of wits to crack a code using elaborate clues.
"When you first looked at it, it kind of looked like a lot of garbage," said 22-year-old Daniela Aizpitarte of Eagle, one member of a four-person team from the University of Pittsburgh that cracked the code. "But as you picked through it with a fine-toothed comb, you found some interesting things. We just started amassing all the clues."
Inside the Super PAC Super Fun Kit was a small American flag, an allen wrench, a decoder ring, official rules and a Super PAC guide.
The video below goes into more detail on the absurd complexity of the contest, which required decoding a secret message written on a serpent, poring through the legal disclaimer included in the kit, and deciphering a map built into the American flag.
Daniel Stough took home the prize for the team—an antique silver turtle with a bell—while the rest of the team watched from the audience on June 28.
"They actually paid for us to go out there," said Aizpitarte. "We got to watch some of the show's rehearsals. Colbert is really friendly, and really nice, even off-camera."
As the clues came together, the team launched a late-night trip to Dixon, Ill., the hometown of president Ronald Reagan and the GPS location revealed by the clues.
"My teammates got together every weekend and spent maybe eight or nine hours every weekend," Aizpitarte said of the process. "We spent a lot of time going down completely tangent paths. One of us thought it had something to do with the layout of Washington, D.C., so he was actually mapping the streets."
Aizpitarte blogged the entire process to its hilarious conclusion, which is worth a read to understand how bizarre the contest actually was.