In addition to the surprise element and sheer fun, there's a psychology behind these once-a-summer happenings. Camps nowadays are attended by kids used to compelling forms of entertainment, from videogames to interactive theme park rides, so some try to make memories beyond the silly traditions, creative themes and daily activities that have historically shaped the camp experience.
"How fun can you make camp? How out of the box can it be?" says Lori Waldman, co-owner of Camp Blue Ridge near Dillard, Georgia.
Here are a few examples of off-the-wall events staged now and then to shake things up at summer camps.
TAPED TO THE WALL
On Crazy Feats Day at Camp Blue Ridge, campers are divided into teams and given supplies, including a few rolls of duct tape, along with a series of tasks. They don't get detailed instructions — just a clue about what's expected. For example, they might be told to create Toby Maguire's protege — hint "Spider-Man". If they're smart, they'll choose the lightest person on their team to tape to the wall like Spider-Man.
Fans of the TV show "Seinfeld" will remember Festivus, an alternative to celebrating Christmas. At Maine Teen Camp in Porter, Maine, it's an alternative to colour war.
"The idea is not for us to define precisely what needs to happen, but instead, allow staff and campers to come up with a fun theme for a day-long carnival and feast," explained co-director Matthew Pines. Themes have included NASA, zombies and superheroes. A "wheel of misfortune" offers random campers and staff "such wonderful prizes" as a pie in the face, getting drenched by a waterfall (water poured off a balcony) or a surprise party, with confetti blown from a leaf-blower. You might be covered with chocolate syrup or paint — to be washed off by a dunk in the lake — before taking part in sports and game competitions, followed by an evening banquet of, what else?, lobster (this is Maine).
"Everyone likes playing in the mud," says Driftwood Day Camp owner Mike Wagenberg. So once a year, the camp fills an outdoor inflatable skating rink with truckloads of dirt, adds water, and invites campers and staff to jump in. When it's over, you get hosed down.
Related events at the camp, located in Melville, N.Y., have included applesauce wrestling and a "Tough Mudder" course with obstacles including a mud run.
PIE IN THE FACE
Jodi Turk's twins have summer birthdays. Here's what sold them on attending Camp Echo: On your birthday, you get to pie any counsellor you want in the face while the rest of the camp chants "Pie in the face! Pie in the face!"
Oh, and there's also a cake for your cabin, and the whole camp sings "Happy Birthday." But the pie's the highlight, especially since the moment is recorded with a photo that gets hung in the dining hall. Those getting pied can choose between whipped cream or shaving cream.
"After a while, the staff began to realize there's no bigger compliment than getting picked for a pie in the face," said Jeff Grabow, director of the camp in Bloomingburg, New York. "It's not a vengeance thing. We can tell who the best counsellors are because their pictures are on that wall of fame."