Ability checks sort of fill this role – a Wisdom check, in the case of noticing something. I say "sort of" because the way you describe where the characters interact with the environment and directly uncover information is the default assumption about how searches and such are to be conducted in AD&D and earlier, but it doesn't always serve the group's needs.
In your case where it's becoming tedious, a Wisdom check (with any modifiers the DM deems appropriate) can be used to skip past the details. Other situations where detailed interactions just don't make sense are well-served by a Wisdom ability check: noticing a strange symbol on the sultan's necklace, for example, is something that might be done by a character, but you can't very well ask the players "do you visually search the sultan's outfit while he speaks?" without it being artificial and tipping them off that there's something to find.
The origin of this rule/ruling is mostly in the rules for Non-Weapon Proficiencies and the (easily-overlooked) Glossary on page 11 of the PHB. The ability check is defined in the Glossary:
Ability check – a 1d20 roll against one of your character's ability scores (modifiers may be added to or subtracted from the die roll). A result that is equal to or less than your character's ability score indicates that the attempted action succeeds.
NWPs (PHB p. 52) give a framework for using character stats to accomplish tasks, and works just like ability checks. Proficiency checks are required for things that require training though: what about things that just anyone could do? And, notice the rules on PHB p. 101 for using ability checks in place of saving throws, the example being dodging a falling-block trap.
Hence our group for years very naturally used ability checks for things like spotting things out of place (Wis), crossing slippery ice bridges or evading a rockslide (Dex), clearing fallen debris after a tunnel collapse (Str), deciphering a lost dialect of a language they know (Int), turning on the charm when trying to get a free drink (Cha), or withstanding a frigid wind during night watch (Con). Though the book never says "Use Wisdom ability checks to notice details", it just organically arose during play, and in retrospect accords perfectly well with what few rules are written about how ability scores can be used during play.
The ability check served us very well for years, and adequately filled the role for those moments where we wanted to determine if something succeeded randomly but there wasn't already an existing rule to use.
The biggest drawback of the ability check is that it relies heavily on DM judgement to set appropriate modifiers (or decide that none at all is best), and those modifiers are non-intuitive: a +X to the roll makes the check harder, while a -X makes it easier. NWPs have this problem, and we just imported it. We eventually found that it was more sensible to apply a modifier to the ability before rolling, which made positive modifiers good and negative bad, like they are in combat rolls. Having used them for so long, too, I eventually just got a feeling for what bonuses and penalties were well-suited to the task at hand. As a rule of thumb, I kept them in the +2 to -4 range, with anything worse than -2 being reserved for serious challenges. Anything greater than a +2 bonus begged the question of why we were rolling for it, but we did sometimes, when I figured it was easy but there needed to be an outside chance of failure.