If you had the lucky timing of getting dinner last Saturday around 6ish, you witnessed some dude dressed in black shouting about being a knight and the word “ni” being shouted out a lot. Then two monks began singing (in Latin I think) and each banged their heads against the books in their hands (by far the best use Beowulf I’ve seen). That demonstration was to gather attention about the Pterodactyl Hunt (that’s the event the people with the foam swords that you ignored for the last three weeks as you tried to get into Sharples). And just as quickly as the shouting and singing happened it stopped and the people left. Unfortunately for them the Dactyl Hunt was postponed because the weather just wasn’t feeling it. Nonetheless, the Dactyl Hunt is one of the many staples of Swarthmore (unlike appropriately sized signs for any of the buildings at Swat). Now because you’ve been ignoring the people with the foam swords for like three weeks, you probably have no idea what the Dactyl Hunt is or why it even exist. Luckily for you, I do and soon you will too.
In order to understand why Swatties participate in the Dactyl Hunt every year, you first need to understand the history of the Dactyl Hunt. And in order for you to understand the history of the Dactyl Hunt, you need to understand the history of Psi Phi (Note: not Phi Psi. This will not be a history of Swarthmore’s frats). Yes, I know this is a bit much but what exactly about the notion of a Pterodactyl Hunt calls for a concise explanation? All you need to know is this: Defenders of the Ivory Tower changed to SWIL (Swarthmore Wardens of Imaginative Literature) changed to Psi Phi (yet again not the frat). The first Dactyl Hunt started off as a joke by the Folk Dancing Club but little did they know how much the Hunt would take off.
The Dactyl Hunt takes place every year, usually some time during the first weekend after fall break. Think of the Dactyl Hunt in the words of Arthur Davis: “a video game come to life.” So like most video games, the Dactyl Hunt has both a theme and an overarching story to it. But like all good video games, there are plenty of side quests. This means that there are designated characters for each Dactyl Hunt, but those characters change year to year depending on the theme of the Dactyl Hunt that year. However, if people (who can sign up early or show up on the day of the hunt) do not want to be a specific character they can always just fight the pterodactyls. The ultimate objective of the hunt is to defeat the pterodactyls and keep Swarthmore safe for at least another year (yes that’s correct, the highest form of security at Swarthmore is not Duo but a bunch of Swatties battling pterodactyls).
This year’s Dactyl Hunt theme was Ye Ole Renfaire. Translation: think “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” sprinkled with Merlin. What was supposed to happen was a bunch of characters (King Arthur, the shrubbery, the Knights Who Say Ni, Morgana and the like) would play their role in the hunt while other individuals battled a few monsters and the pterodactyls. But like I said, Mother Nature wasn’t having it and the Hunt was postponed. But unlike Mother Nature, Swatties (aka random members of Psi Phi I asked) love the Dactyl Hunt, rain or shine, for various reasons. Some told me that they loved the costumes, while others told me they liked the quest and how it was a nice break from their busy schedule. But my favorite answer was because it was fun to run around campus and bop people with foam swords. Essentially, all the answers I got boiled down to fun. The entire notion of the Dactyl Hunt is so wild that the only option for people to enjoy it. Psi Phi’s Pterodactyl Hunt is a treasured tradition at Swarthmore because it brings to life the some of the craziest ideas, throws in some pterodactyls, and gives the ever stressed out Swattie some room to breathe and enjoy themselves for a bit.