Thrill of the chase

Game play - How better to understand Duchamp's iconic urinal than go in search of a real one, asks N

The game was over. As we turned the corner and saw the clamps on the car wheels, our hearts sank. Moments earlier our team, "Hackney empire", had registered for Tate Scavengers, Tate Modern's 100-clue, London-wide scavenger hunt. Yet Southwark Council, it seemed, had already dashed our dreams of success. (Although, looking on the bright side, at least we could offer ourselves as clue 42: "Anything stuffed.")

Tate Scavengers was created by Joshua Sofaer, a provocative performance artist with an eye for detail. Everything about the event was perfect, from the beautifully painted team badges to the austere judges and Bob, the "Bulldozer Security" man guarding the £1,000 cash prize.

"People rarely come to Tate Modern to look at the paintings," said Sofaer. "They come for a date or a coffee." Tate Scavengers encourages participants to engage with art in a more purposeful way - and even to become artists themselves. The day after judging, scavenged items would be exhibited in Tate Modern. "It will be an exhibition of rubbish in one of the most famous museums in the world," Sofaer said gleefully.

For us, the challenge lay in finding the unfindable. "I'll be surprised if anyone gets clue 100," Sofaer had said. And after an hour of simulated "uncontrollable tears" in a council office, the clamps were off the car and we were back on the road. When, 20 minutes later, I had persuaded a local man to part with his outdoor toilet (clue 100: "You've got to be taking the piss"), we were back in the game.

What followed was a blur: an all-day frenzy of cutting lawns, baking, knitting, sawing Yellow Pages, filling tins with human hair, cooking a bird's head and making voodoo dolls from sponge, guns from cooked rice, igloos from sugar cubes and dogs from soap. "I'd like a spoonful of whiskers," said Craig the academic to the local Turkish barber (clue 48: "A tablespoon of five o'clock shadow). "You want shave?" came the reply. "No, just the hair from someone else's." "You want shave?" "No, just, oh, never mind, thanks."

The tension was, quite literally, nail-biting (clue 83: "A tablespoon's worth of red varnished toenail clippings"). But the crunch came when Craig phoned, panicking that a toilet would not do for clue 100, as it was a reference to Duchamp's Fountain. "It's got to be a urinal," he insisted. Alan the artist came to the rescue. Minutes later, we were at his studio in Bow, relieving the building of its out-of-use urinal, which was duly disguised in a jumper for a quick getaway.

By 6pm, we were frantically unloading our wares on to the judging table. We emerged with a very satisfying 2,979 points and, being the only team to have got the urinal, were feeling hopeful. "Flash the cash, Bob," said Sofaer, and Bob opened the briefcase to applause from the crowd. "And the winner, with 2,995 points, is . . ." I understand now how Tim Henman feels.

Then I noticed clue 71 staring at me from our table: "Where is this? 020 7407 2679." Answer (to save you time), London Bridge. It was written in my own fair hand, but I hadn't shown it to the judge. Seventy-one points. It was ours. We'd won - but the moment had passed and the winners had already been showered in champagne and whisked off with their £1,000 in a black limo. Never have I been so disappointed to realise that I had won something.

The exhibition, however, was a fantastic success. Though the exhibits were essentially a pile of rubbish, they shone above the Herzog & de Meuron architectural models in the Turbine Hall below. Tate Scavengers was a test of humour as much as creative genius. Next year, we'll be back with a new name: "The empire Strikes Back".