“What’s the prize?” asks my 11-year-old cousin, Nicole, her arms folded tight and her voice dripping with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Oh, right, a prize. That’s usually the objective of a scavenger hunt, but I forgot to ask about the prize. Nicole gives me a look that lets me know I’m an amateur.

“But it’s at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,” I tell her, “and that’s gotta be more fun than someone’s backyard, right?”

She shrugs her shoulders, as if to say, “What the hell, I’ll give it a try.”

There’s a new breed of scavenger hunt in town, coordinated by a company called Watson Adventures, and they’re turning up all over the city. At the Santa Monica Pier, searchers looked for a 500-pound shark, a mini-Stonehenge and even a Holy Grail; in Hollywood, families turned up clues along the Walk of Fame and outside the Chinese Theater. The most popular adults-only hunt is the one known as Naked at the Getty — scavengers keep their clothes on, but take an unblushing look at nudity in art through the centuries.

When we arrive outside LACMA’s gift shop for the Artful Dodgers Family Hunt, we’re given a sheet of 21 riddlelike questions and told that we have just two hours to search the museum’s three buildings. Four other teams are competing with us — and they’re already on the hunt.

“It’s not a race to finish first,” says our guide, Kristin. “The winner just has to have the most questions answered.” We check the time.

“Oh,” Kristin adds as we take off toward the Ahmanson Building, “you also get a point for the most creative team name.”

Our first clue has us searching the European Medals room for an animal holding a “wrap star.” After 20 minutes of fruitless wandering, I begin to worry that after a summer vacation that so far has included a trip to Florida’s Disney World and Universal Studios, a nerdy trip to an L.A. art museum might seem lackluster to my cousin. But then I watch her eyes light up when she finds the clue and nails the answer. I was worried that this would be either too hard or too easy for her — even I’m getting turned around backtracking from gallery to gallery — but Nicole seems to know the way.

When one of the clues reads, “You will enter a room with a Sluggard,” she looks at me, and I shrug.

“Okay,” she says calmly, “let’s pretend we know what that means.” Later, she finds the Sluggard and a room with a boy riding a dolphin and a figure with heartburn. She finds a goddess who took a diet too far and a creature with a flop obsession.

While mining the treasures of American art in search of a man who resembles Jabba the Hutt, we’re approached by a guard who asks if we need help. I try to explain that we’re on a scavenger hunt and that would be cheating. She takes the sheet from my hand, reads the riddle and, completely bewildered, hands the sheet back to me. We try to answer the questions as fast as we can, and head out to find the Pavilion for Japanese Art for the last three questions. But before we can step inside, we’re intercepted by Kristin, who tells us that time’s up; the others got back before us. After the tallying, we find out that we got just one wrong out of the 18 answers we finished. Plus, our creative team name — the Los Angeles Scavengers of Anaheim (it cracked us up) — wins one point back. It’s not enough for the main prize, but Nicole gets to pick out another one. I’m relieved when instead of rolling her eyes at the selection, she proudly holds her wooden chicken stamp like a ?trophy.

Upcoming Watson Adventures events include: Naked at the Getty Scavenger Hunt, the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A., Sat., Aug. 11, 5:30-8 p.m.; $20 (does not include parking); adults only. The Museum of Natural Hysteria Family Scavenger Hunt, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd., L.A., Sat., Aug. 18, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.; ages 7–12 $18, 13 and up $20.50, includes museum admission. All tickets must be purchased in advance. For information on other future hunts, call (877) 9-Go-Hunt or order online, www.watsonadventures.com.

LA Weekly