Weeks After Fenn’s Treasure Was Found, Questions Remain

[Image courtesy of Westword.]

The hopes of thousands of would-be rich treasure seekers were dashed a few weeks ago when Forrest Fenn announced that his treasure, hidden a decade ago, had been found.

It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago. I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot.

I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries.

So the search is over. Look for more information and photos in the coming days. f

In the days since, interest in the treasure has peaked, quite possibly making the entire endeavor more famous now at its conclusion than it was during the height of the hunt.

fennfound2

[The chest, supposedly just before Fenn hid it in the Rockies.]

Originally, the above statement was the only confirmation we had, save for Fenn’s comments in a local interview, that the chest had been found “a few days” before he broke the story.

Additionally, he told the Santa Fe New Mexican:

“The guy who found it does not want his name mentioned. He’s from back East,” he said, adding that it was confirmed from a photograph the man sent him.

The commenters on Fenn’s website kept flooding the page with messages, questions, and their own suppositions, leading to additional pages being added to allow for more comments.

As you can imagine, the reactions run the gamut from joy that the treasure had been found to disbelief that it was over. Some shared their own solutions and progress, comparing notes and wondering how close they’d been to completing it.

Some wished to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a new treasure hunt, or for a marker to be placed where the treasure was found, so other aspiring hunters could verify their own solutions to his poem.

Others demanded more proof, positing that Fenn had retrieved the treasure himself, or that he’d never hidden it at all.

Reactions were less mixed elsewhere. Given how many times emergency personnel had been called out to rescue treasure hunters over the last decade, more than one outlet reported that entire search & rescue departments were relieved to hear the treasure hunt was over.

fennfound3

Ten days after the initial announcement, Fenn posted three images, including the one above. He again claimed the finder wished him to remain silent.

Now, it’s reasonable to assume that this photo is the one he was sent by the solver. Fenn’s comment accompanying the picture is frustratingly vague: “Photo of the chest taken not long after it was discovered.”

fennfound4

It certainly appears that the box has weathered some sort of exposure — particularly that key — and the accumulated dirt and debris along the rim seems to indicate the box was buried at some point. (Check out this YouTube video for a more in-depth breakdown of the box and its contents.)

The other two photos raise more questions.

fennfound5

Here, Fenn wears a bracelet mentioned in a previous interview, one that he claimed he wanted back. He said the bracelet was wet when it was found. That indicates the chest wasn’t sealed tight enough to prevent the elements from getting in. (It does make you wonder why only some of the treasure was in ziplock bags, not all of it.)

fennfound6

Fenn’s comment accompanying this photo: “Removing objects from the chest. It is darker than it was ten years ago when I left it on the ground and walked away.”

He claims these photos are proof the treasure was found. But if he’s going through the treasure after it was found, that means either the mysterious finder brought the treasure back to him, or he went “back east” to meet the treasure hunter. (It does look like a hotel conference room or something similar.)

Or, as some nonbelievers claim, this is just more misdirection. The photos could have been taken at any time. Or Fenn had the treasure all along.

Again, the vagueness that permeates everything about the end of the Fenn treasure hunt makes it hard to believe events have progressed as Fenn stated.

Tony Dokoupil, who wrote about Forrest’s treasure hunt for Newsweek and is credited for helping publicize the treasure hunt, believes that the chest hasn’t been found and the announcement is a hoax. He claims that Forrest wants to be found with the treasure after his death, as a way of ensuring that his name will be remembered for years to come.

What Dokoupil doesn’t explain is how ostensibly calling off the treasure hunt now would effectively help him do so.

Some of Fenn’s other comments recently seem to lend credence to the idea that he’s lying about the treasure. In previous statements, he said he hid the treasure. In the recent post with the released photos, he says, “It [the chest] is darker than it was ten years ago when I left it on the ground and walked away.”

Is that nitpicky? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s an inconsistency borne from an older man who simply didn’t keep his story straight.

forrest fenn

[Image courtesy of The Santa Fe New Mexican.]

The multiple lawsuits we discussed in our previous post are still ongoing. Is concealing the solution part of an effort by Fenn to prevent further lawsuits from solvers who were close, but ultimately failed and might blame Fenn or the unnamed solver? Is it an attempt by Fenn to help the solver avoid paying taxes on his newfound loot?

Among doubters, the prevailing theory seems to be that the treasure was never hidden at all, and the whole thing has been a publicity stunt to sell his book.

Others believe Forrest when he said the goal of hiding the treasure was to get people out to enjoy nature. Some YouTubers are taking a similar path, posting videos with clickbait titles like “How We Found Forrest Fenn’s Treasure,” only for the end result to be them talking about enjoying the journey, not actually reaching the destination.

That might be enough for some, but for many more, they’re waiting for further proof. I, for one, must count myself among the doubters.


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The Beale Ciphers: A Puzzly Treasure Hidden Since the 1800’s?

There’s nothing quite like a treasure hunt to spark the imagination. From The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to the adventures of Indiana Jones, from tales as far back as Poe’s “The Gold-Bug” to stories as recent as an episode of NCIS: New Orleans last year, a treasure hunt can turn a crime story or an adventure tale into an irresistible narrative for the ages.

Thankfully, there are a few treasure hunts lurking out there in the real world, offering clever solvers the chance to live out their own adventure. In the past, we’ve explored the mystery of Forrest Fenn’s Rocky Mountain treasure, we’ve chronicled efforts to locate all of Byron Preiss’s The Secret treasures, and we’ve suggested tactics for cracking Jason Rohrer’s A Game for Someone hunt.

But as intriguing as those hunts are, none of them have spanned more than a century of searching. (Without resulting in unfortunate demises, that is. We’re looking at you, Oak Island.)

No, that singular honor belongs to a treasure hunt known as the Beale Ciphers.

beale_papers

As the story goes, a man named Thomas J. Beale buried a treasure trove of gold and silver somewhere in Bedford County, Virginia, in the early 1800s. Beale then encrypted the location of the treasure, the contents of the treasure, and the names of those he wished to have the treasure. Beale handed off those encryptions to an innkeeper, then vanished, never to be seen again. (His promise of later providing the key for the ciphers was never fulfilled.)

The innkeeper failed to crack the ciphers, then held onto them for decades before passing them along to an unnamed friend before his death. The unnamed friend spent twenty more years trying to unravel the encryptions (managing to solve the second of the three encrypted messages). Eventually, the friend published the encryptions and the story of Beale’s treasure in a pamphlet he began selling in 1885.

So, how do the ciphers work?

It’s simple, really. Take a book, pick a given page, and number all of the words on the page. (Or just start at the beginning of the book.)

If you’re using A Tale of Two Cities, for instance:

1 It
2 was
3 the
4 best
5 of
6 times,
7 it
8 was
9 the
10 worst
11 of
12 times…

So, using the first letters of each word (and the corresponding number), the word BOW could be encrypted 4 11 8 or 4 11 2 or 4 11 10.

This grants people in the know two advantages. The code is incredibly difficult to break on its own, because unlike a cryptogram (or any other message encrypted with a Caesar cipher or a one-to-one relationship between coded letters), each appearance of a given letter could be a different number, not the same one over and over.

Plus, if you know the key (the book and page number), decoding it requires no puzzly skill at all.

It’s diabolical and effective, as proven by Beale’s trio of ciphers, since only one has been cracked (because the solver stumbled upon the Declaration of Independence as the key).

[The second Beale cipher.]

The decrypted text from the second cipher:

I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith:

The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars.

The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

bealemap

Of course, there are some problems there, even with the cipher that treasure hunters consider solved. You see, there are some irregularities with the solution. Not only are there four misspellings in the translation, but a variation on the original Declaration of Independence must be used or the cipher doesn’t decode correctly.

Now, mistakes happen. (As we learned with the story of Brian Patrick Regan.) But if there are mistakes in the two unsolved ciphers as well, that only makes the chances of finding the proper key even slimmer, because a mistake in the early numbers of the code might convince someone that they’ve got the wrong key, even if they have the right one!

Do you find that challenge daunting, fellow puzzlers? It’s understandable if you do. The other two ciphers have resisted the best efforts of even master cryptographers and cryptanalysts.

Given that the Declaration of Independence was the key for the second cipher, many aspiring treasure hunters have tried using other famous historical documents as possible keys for the other ciphers, including the Magna Carta, the Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine, and more, as well as the plays of Shakespeare and the Lord’s Prayer.

bealemontvale

There are also plenty of reasons to doubt that this treasure exists at all. (The same question marks hang over some of the other treasure hunts we’ve mentioned, like Forrest Fenn’s.)

There are questions regarding the language in the pamphlet, where the gold was supposedly found, why Beale would bother encrypting the names of the people he wanted to inherit the treasure, and even whether Beale himself ever existed in the first place. (Famous skeptic and investigator of the supernatural Joe Nickell believes the pamphlet is a fraud.)

But does that mean the ciphers are? Not necessarily.

An analysis in 1970 by Dr. Carl Hammer of Sperry-UNIVAC indicated that the number patterns are not random. He believed that further attempts at cracking the ciphers would be worthwhile.

Heck, even our old codebreaking friends Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her husband William tried to unravel the Beale ciphers, but without success. She called the ciphers “a diabolical ingenuity designed to lure the unwary reader.”

And, of course, not every hunter has come away empty-handed. One team of treasure hunters stumbled upon a cache of Civil War artifacts while hunting for Beale’s trove.

So what do you think, PuzzleNationers? Is the Beale treasure real? Will it ever be found? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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April Fools! (Update: Solve Puzzles Like Never Before!)

Alas, we’re sad to inform you that PNVR — PuzzleNation Virtual Reality — the hot new tech on the puzzle scene, is just a delightful conjuring of the PN development crew. There’s no such thing.

(Not yet, anyway. Though, given how Ready Player One is performing in theaters, we might bump PNVR up the priority list.)

But we hope you enjoyed our little April Fools Day prank, particularly the free bonus coins for Daily Pop Crosswords at the end of the proverbial rainbow. It was great fun to cook up and execute, and the response from the PuzzleNation audience was terrific.

Thanks for a fun day, and keep your eyes peeled, because there are always fun, surprising ways to earn bonus coins and other great deals from PuzzleNation!

We’ll see you again soon, friends.

And please remember that puzzling and bike riding don’t mix.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

APRIL FOOLS! (Update: A Brand New Puzzle App!)

Alas, we’re sad to inform you that Puzzles for Pets, the hot new app on the puzzle scene, is just a delightful conjuring of the PN development crew. There’s no such thing.

We know, we know, your pets are disappointed. Mine too.

puppy

But we hope you enjoyed our little April Fools Day prank. It was great fun to cook up and execute, and the response from the PuzzleNation audience was terrific.

Thanks for a fun day, and keep your eyes peeled, because we do have a new puzzle set for you coming this afternoon!

We’ll see you again soon, friends.

puzzlesforpets2


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!