Go For a Nice Relaxing Puzzle Hunt with Letterboxing!

Who can resist a treasure hunt? Who doesn’t want to play the role of the clever intrepid adventurer who reads maps, deciphers clues, solves riddles, and finds a hidden cache that eluded so many others?

We’ve discussed them in the past, covering famous ones like Forrest Fenn’s poem or the visual treasure hunt clues of The Secret, as well as tips for creating one of your own.

But did you know there’s another sort of treasure hunting out there that requires nothing more than your wits, your patience, and your willingness to exercise and explore?

[Image courtesy of Underhobby.]

It’s called letterboxing.

Essentially, you’re hunting for small, weatherproof boxes in publicly accessible areas — parks, for instance — with the goal of celebrating your success locating the well-concealed box. From a given starting point — a letterboxing catalog, or a website, or one given to you by the letterbox designer themselves — you must hunt down the box. (Your state might even maintain an archive of available letterboxing spots. Mine certainly does!)

Sometimes there are clues, or puzzles to be solved, or it’s simply meant to be found by determined, keen-eyed hunters.

Inside, you’ll find a logbook awaiting your personal stamp (to mark that you found it) as well as a stamp unique to that letterbox for you to use in your own record book to record your success in locating the box.

Devoted letterboxers often keep careful records of how many letterboxes they’ve planted, how many they’ve found, which letterboxing events they’ve attended, and more.

And it’s a hobby that dates back more than 150 years!

[Image courtesy of Ms. Nasser’s Art Studio.]

Now, if this sounds familiar, there’s good reason for that. Over the last fifteen years, an updated version of letterboxing has emerged: geocaching.

Geocaching functions mostly along the same lines, but with one crucial difference.

Geocaching is all about finding exact GPS coordinates.

But it can also involve the same exploration, puzzling, and problem-solving as letterboxing. I’ve seen some that contain puzzles that reveal coordinates to other geocaches, like popsicle sticks that have to be sorted to reveal the necessary numbers. There are even some that require you to solve a puzzle to open the letterbox itself.

Some people are very clever indeed, and they’re waiting for you to accept the challenge.

Have you ever been letterboxing or geocaching, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Are you planning to try it out in the future? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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The Man Who Found Forrest Fenn’s Treasure

One of the biggest stories in puzzles last year revolved around Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt, which had left treasure hunters and puzzle fans baffled and searching for almost a decade.

The hopes of thousands of would-be rich treasure seekers were dashed when Fenn announced that his treasure 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.

But in the days and months that followed, controversy ensued. The identity of the hunter who found the treasure was kept secret, only referenced as someone “from back East.” Some treasure hunters demanded more proof, positing that Fenn had retrieved the treasure himself, or that he’d never hidden it at all.

fennfound3

Lawsuits were filed, alleging that the mysterious treasure hunter had stolen his solution from someone else, or that Fenn had faked the entire decade-long endeavor.

In September, a few months after the announcement that the treasure had been found, Forrest Fenn passed away. Depending on what you believed, it was either oddly poignant or terribly convenient that his passing would follow the discovery of his long-hidden treasure.

Eventually, though, as these things go, the story grew quiet.

A reader of the blog recently asked me if there had been any updates on Fenn’s treasure. As it turns out, there had, but they’d flown relatively under the radar.

Back in December, a gentleman named Jack Stuef came forward as the finder of the Forrest Fenn treasure.

According to an article on NPR, Stuef claimed he pored over Fenn’s poem for two years, as well as interviews with Fenn, “teasing out clues from his words to understand what kind of person he was and where he might be inclined to hide his riches.”

As for why he remained anonymous, he further stated:

For the past six months, I have remained anonymous, not because I have anything to hide, but because Forrest and his family endured stalkers, death threats, home invasions, frivolous lawsuits, and a potential kidnapping — all at the hands of people with delusions related to his treasure. I don’t want those things to happen to me and my family.

The U.S. District Court for New Mexico has ruled that Forrest’s estate must provide some of my personal information to a woman I do not know and with whom I have never communicated who has brought a meritless lawsuit against me. This would make my name a matter of public record, so I chose to come forward today.

The entire piece is interesting, sharing his solo efforts to solve the mystery and find the treasure, as well as debunking a number of false reports, accusations, and various attempts at conspiracy theorizing.

fennfound6

But he also refuses to disclose where he found the treasure or how he arrived at that solution, which will no doubt frustrate and confound some of the more obsessive folks that spent the last decade trying to find Fenn’s treasure. (As for people claiming he was working with Fenn or that the treasure being found is still a hoax, I doubt they will ever be satisfied with ANY answers, short of them finding the treasure themselves.)

Still, with the expectation that any and all lawsuits related to the Fenn treasure hunt will be thrown out, this brings one of the strangest and most interesting puzzle mysteries of the last decade to a close.

Jack Stuef apparently managed to do what thousands of armchair adventure seekers (and more than a few real-life wildlife trekkers and treasure hunters) failed to: unravel Fenn’s riddle.

As a closing thought, I do hope that Stuef or someone connected to Fenn’s estate place some sort of marker where the treasure was found, if only to offer something for future treasure hunters to find. It would be a nice way to keep the spirit of the mystery alive, hopefully without the rancor or nonsense involved.


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Farewell, Forrest.

For fans of Forrest Fenn’s “The Thrill of the Chase” treasure hunt, it’s been a strange and frustrating year.

In 2010, Forrest Fenn hid a treasure chest full of gold and diamonds, purported to be worth millions, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The only clues offered — nine, to be specific — were hidden in his poem, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

After a decade of dissecting his poem, searching across a half-dozen states, engaging in hundreds (if not thousands!) of hours of brainstorming, deliberating, planning, and exploring, no one had found a thing.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere during the pandemic, Fenn announced on his website on June 6th that the treasure has been found. The hunt was over.

But there were no details. No revelation of the treasure’s location, no hint as to the lucky treasure hunter’s identity, nothing. The best we got was that he was from “back East.”

As you might expect, many would-be treasure hunters were disappointed, and more than a few cried foul, believing that either the announcement was a hoax, or the entire hunt had been a hoax. Doubters couldn’t decide if the treasure was never buried at all, was buried and then recovered later, or if the finder was an accomplice.

fennfound3

Weeks later, Fenn offered some photos — two of him examining the treasure and one of the treasure chest supposedly in situ, long exposed to the elements — which proved unconvincing to the doubters. If the photos of Fenn handling the treasure were taken after it was found, why did the finder bring the chest and treasure back to him?

It was all very confusing and more than a little suspicious.

Finally, more than a month after announcing that the treasure had been found, in response to many cries for him to reveal the solution and end the mystery for so many, Fenn revealed… the state in which the treasure had been found: Wyoming.

That answer satisfied some, particularly those whose solutions had pointed to other states, like New Mexico, Colorado, or Montana. But others remained upset. Understandably so. Wyoming is a pretty big state, after all.

Unfortunately, the hunt may truly be over, as Forrest Fenn passed away this week at the age of 90.

fennfound6

Fenn leaves behind a complicated legacy. Five deaths have been attributed to the treasure hunt, as well as numerous costly search-and-rescue operations (including one in the Grand Canyon!), several court cases, and even a break-in at Fenn’s house.

Beyond the treasure hunt, Fenn was also associated with federal investigations regarding antiquities and artifacts. In 2009, his home was raided by federal agents and several items seized. Fenn escaped charges, however.

Regardless, many hunters and admirers are in mourning, sending heartfelt messages in celebration of the man who enriched their lives with this curious endeavor.

But, once again, solvers have been left without a definitive solution. In an interview, Fenn claimed there is a way to verify that the chest was found even after he’d gone, but he didn’t specify how.

And now, his passing has reignited the doubters, who find the timing of everything all the more suspect. Exactly ten years after it was first hidden, the treasure is found by an unidentified seeker, a virtual ghost. Then a few months later, Fenn passes away.

forrest fenn

[Image courtesy of The Santa Fe New Mexican.]

The idea that he wanted to end the hunt (or the hoax) before his passing does seem more plausible, given the timing. It’s especially notable given that he claimed on more than one occasion that his dream was to pass away BESIDE the treasure, and achieve immortality by being found with the treasure, as if we were an Egyptian pharaoh or something.

We don’t know if this is truly the end for “The Thrill of the Chase” and all those treasure hunters over the last decade.

What we do know is that an inventive and captivating figure brought his love of nature, the outdoors, and adventure to thousands of strangers through his treasure hunt. And whether it was real or fake, the magic of that puzzle, and the good times they had trying to solve it, can never be taken away from them.

Farewell, Forrest. Thank you for the mystery.


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Another Treasure-Filled Puzzle Hunt in the Works?

When it rains, it pours.

Just last week, after lamenting the (possible) end of Forrest Fenn’s famed treasure hunt, we spread the word about a new treasure hunt based in Michigan that had emerged unexpectedly from the ongoing circumstances caused by the Coronavirus.

As it turns out, Michigan may not be the only place an intrepid treasure-seeking puzzler can look for a challenge that ends with riches.

We recently received a message about the latest cache being hidden by “the Treasure Man” H. Charles Beil, a curious figure who is supposedly hiding caches of gold, coins, crystal skulls, and other valuables all over the country.

His goal is to hide a cache in each of the fifty states, and apparently, the hunt for his fifteenth cache — the Gallows Harbor Treasure Hunt — will soon be underway.

ark of the covenant

[This chest, designed to look like the Ark of the Covenant,
is supposedly already in place, awaiting cagey solvers.]

From the message, which was structured like a press release:

H.Charles Beil has hidden a multi-million dollar treasure weighing nearly a half ton in the Appalachian Mountains.

The treasure consists of six large brass chests, crystal skull signed by actor Dan Aykroyd and six smaller chests filled with gold, silver, precious gems, coins, pewter, jewelry, historical items and custom art objects.

I went looking for more information, and was a little surprised to see mentions of H. Charles Beil confined to treasure hunting forums and other odd corners of the Internet, rather than being reported in the major news outlets, as Forrest Fenn’s hunt was.

That’s especially curious if five of the caches have been found. How were none of them reported in online news sources? (At least, as far as I could tell.)

Of course, Fenn’s treasure hunt was quiet for years before it gained mainstream press, so it’s not impossible that this has flown under the radar, just highly unlikely.

The Treasure Man caches have evocative names like The Lost Cache of Wolf Run, The Secret Lovers Lost Cache, or The Legend of Woodsy Swamp, and they’re often steeped in local lore. (Click here for a rundown of many of the caches.)

Although sites like GallowsHarbor.com and TheTreasureMan.com have some details, they’re more like teases — hints you’d expect in a promotional campaign — instead of fully informational sources. It appears that most of the helpful information for these hunts are tied to the Treasure Man’s Facebook Group, where many hunters post videos and information relating to their efforts to hunt down these caches.

The Gallows Harbor Treasure Hunt is apparently tied to a book that hasn’t been released yet. This does make the websites, as well as all the cloak-and-dagger elusiveness feel like a PR stunt to sell a book, rather than a puzzly adventure. But again, I have no proof one way or the other.

gallows harbor

I wish I had more details to share with you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. It seems like the most useful and accessible source of information about the caches is Mysterious Writings, a website and YouTube account dedicated to treasure hunts of all sorts. You can check them out here and here.

If this is all true, then it’s a marvelous endeavor that is bringing joy and excitement to adventurous solvers all over the country. If it’s not, then it’s a fairly elaborate and well-constructed hoax that will hopefully boost some book sales for the Treasure Man.

Either way, it’s an interesting story, one that we hope sparked your imagination and your puzzly spirit.


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Treasures Galore Await Puzzlers in Michigan!

johnny treasure

[Image courtesy of Johnny’s Treasure Quest.]

One famous treasure hunt might finally have ended, but another one has risen up in its place halfway across the country.

And unexpectedly, this new bright spot on the puzzly calendar has grown directly out of the darkness of the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.

I’ll give you the backstory first. J&M Jewelers has been a presence in Washington Township, Michigan, for decades as a local emporium for gold, silver, diamonds, and antiques, but unfortunately the store was forced to close due to the economic strains imposed by the state’s lockdown period.

With plenty of unsold inventory from the jewelry store just sitting around, owner Johnny Perri and his wife Amy came up with an ingenious way to salvage the situation…

A statewide treasure hunt.

Yes, the Perris have prepared actual treasure troves in places all around the state, and they have invited puzzlers and treasure seekers to accept the challenge of their Michigan-spanning “treasure quest.”

If you locate one of the hidden troves — marked by an X, of course — you can either keep the treasure as you find it or exchange it for its cash value with the organizers! How can you go wrong?

There are different quests in different counties on different days, and you need to sign up for your particular quest and pay a registration fee. Also, be sure to join their Facebook group for details.

Several of the quests have already sold out, so new ones have been added, but spots are going quickly!

Honestly, this is a pretty ingenious way to make the best out of a bad situation, allowing intrepid treasure hunters to embark on a puzzly adventure and help out a struggling business all at the same time.

The first of the treasure quests starts on August 1st, with more later in the month and others launching in September. (One was just announced for October as well!)

Good luck to all the aspiring treasure hunters out there. And to Johnny and Amy Perri, thank you for this marvelous puzzly adventure. We here at PuzzleNation wish you and your family all the best.


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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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