[Image courtesy of Go.ActiveCalendar.com.]
Who can resist participating in a real-life treasure hunt?
I certainly can’t. I’ve organized them in role-playing games and as part of birthday celebrations, creating maps, riddles, and puzzles in order to challenge friends to locate hidden loot in both imaginary and real locations over the years.
From The Goonies and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to National Treasure and the Indiana Jones series, treasure hunts are a part of our collective cultural imagination. People hunt in their attics for forgotten antiques and prowl flea markets and thrift shops for unexpected bounties.
So is it any wonder that a few intrepid souls out there are still pursuing treasures hidden over three decades ago as a publicity stunt?
[Image courtesy of Amazon.]
In 1981, when author Byron Preiss launched a puzzly scavenger hunt to promote the release of his new fantasy book The Secret, he had no idea he’d just fired the starting pistol on one of the greatest unsolved puzzles in history.
Twelve plexiglas boxes were hidden around North America, each protecting a ceramic container that, in turn, held a key to a safe deposit box containing an actual gemstone.
The book contains twelve paintings and twelve poems. Solvers were expected to figure out which poems to pair with which images, and then decipher them in order to reveal the locations of the keys.
Preiss believed that all twelve boxes would be found relatively quickly.
Only two have been recovered in the thirty-plus years since then, one in Chicago’s Grant Park and the other in Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens.
[Image courtesy of Vice.]
This image is believed by some treasure hunters to point to one of the boxes being hidden in Milwaukee’s Lake Park, but thus far, no box has been recovered there.
There are entire forums online dedicated to parsing the various poems and images in The Secret, plumbing them for hidden clues and vetting theories from fellow treasure hunters.
Unfortunately, the cleverness of Mr. Preiss isn’t the only opponent for these hunters. Time itself is against them.
It’s safe to assume that the missing ten boxes are also buried in public parks and other spaces open to the public. But parks get renovated. Landscapes change. Hell, some parks are repurposed and paved over!
So how many of those prizes are no longer within easy reach of a shovel’s blade, even if you do unravel the mysterious clues available? How many were tossed aside as curious garbage by disinterested work crews during renovations?
As The Secret and the treasure hunt it inspired fade into history, so too do the chances of anyone recovering those keys and claiming those gemstones for themselves.
[My thanks to friend of the blog Darcy Bearman for reminding me of this marvelous puzzly mystery, as well as Josh Gates and his Travel Channel show Expedition Unknown for reminding her.]
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