A Real-Life Treasure Hunt Awaits You…

[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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When pigs fly? You’ve got yourself a deal!

I’m a sucker for a good mechanical puzzle. Figuring out which piece goes where to complete a given item or accomplish a certain task is a staple of many roleplaying games and video games, and coincidentally, that’s one of my favorite aspects of each.

Rube Goldberg machines, perhaps the pinnacle of mechanical puzzle tinkering, never cease to entertain or amaze me, as you can tell by some of the videos Eric and I have posted in this blog over the last few months.

(They also make for excellent set pieces in movies, The Goonies and National Treasure providing two entertaining examples.)

Like many of those who enjoy mechanical puzzles, I can trace my interest back to the board game Mouse Trap, which featured an elaborate multi-stage trap to snare your fellow mice. I don’t recall ever actually playing the game as instructed. Instead, friends and I would freely add pieces, complications, rules, and new wrinkles to the mouse trap itself before setting off the trap with glee.

I have plenty of fond memories solving (and designing) mechanical puzzles of all sorts. Unfortunately, I’ve been having a difficult time sparking the same interest in my nieces and nephews.

Sure, I’ve gotten them all hooked on LEGOs, which is a marvelous start for the tinkerer spirit, but more often than not, the kids would build the sets precisely as instructed, and then just leave them that way. No disassembly, no experimentation to build their own sets and ideas.

None of them have a bucket of random LEGO pieces made up from the fragments of a dozen or so disassembled sets, or know the joy of digging through the bucket laboriously in order to find the one perfect piece to finish a creation of their own design.

Thankfully, my cousin delivered the ideal solution as a gift for Nephew #3’s birthday, discovered by chance at Wal*Mart. The Smart Lab Weird & Wacky Contraption Kit.

This thing is great. The goal is to build a path from the top of a velcro-friendly wall to the bottom for a marble to traverse, traveling down slides and through obstacles of all sorts, in order to reach the landing pad at the bottom, which launches a spring-loaded celebratory pig into the air!

It’s similar to plenty of pipe-and-marble toys from years past, but with a lot more adaptability and flair, and it was an instant hit. Not only did every niece and nephew want a turn designing their own contraption, but they freely made suggestions (helpful and otherwise) for each other’s designs.

The best thing about it? When designs failed or the marble stalled, the kids didn’t get disheartened. It just encouraged them to try again and indulge their cleverness even further. It was a blast simply to watch.

And you better believe the adults got into it too, adding new wrinkles and complications to each contraption, and cheering just as loud when the pig was launched into the air after a successful run.

My cousin was roundly praised as king of the gift-givers that day, and I’ve been recommending the toy far and wide ever since. It’s a great mechanical puzzle and a fun time all at once. And it’s got a flying pig! What more could you want?