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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Forrest Fenn’s Treasure: Found?

Well, it looks like someone took my advice.

On June 6th, Forrest Fenn announced on his blog that his treasure has been found.

In such quiet fashion ends a ten-year search undertaken by an estimated 350,000 people, one that sadly cost five of those people their lives.


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.”

[Image courtesy of Westword.]

After eight years — and several of the deaths mentioned above — Fenn offered a few new clues in the hopes of preventing any further tragedies:

The treasure chest is not under water, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice.

Please remember that I was about 80 when I made two trips from my vehicle to where I hid the treasure.

In the two years since those clues were released, many more attempts have been made to find the treasure.

And now, with this brief announcement, it appears to be over:

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.

Fenn claimed 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 paper then reported that Fenn “declined to produce the photograph Sunday.”

forrest fenn

[Image courtesy of the Santa Fe New Mexican.]

But, as you might expect when there are millions of dollars at stake, this news is not without controversy.

A real estate attorney in Chicago alleges that she solved the puzzle but was hacked and had the solution stolen from her. Supposedly, the thief had been taunting her through text messages for months. She is suing not only to prevent the unnamed treasure hunter from selling any of the treasure, but also to have the court award the chest to her as well.

This seems like a peculiar scenario. Unless she was unwisely braggadocious about her solve, how would someone she doesn’t know “hack” her, steal her solution, and then beat her to the treasure?

(Having traveled between Chicago and Santa Fe over twenty times as part of her search, she claims she’s spent between $10,000 and $30,000 trying to locate the treasure, only to have it stolen out from under her.)

This isn’t the only lawsuit tied to Fenn’s treasure hunt. He was previously sued for $1.5 million by a Colorado man who claimed Fenn cheated him out the treasure through misleading clues and fraudulent statements. (This case was thrown out by a judge in late February, but the claimant is petitioning to have it reopened.)

A third case is pending, and the plaintiff believes Fenn is fraudulently announcing the treasure has been found in order to undermine his case.

Of course, there are folks who believe the treasure was found years ago, but Fenn never told anyone, using the mystery to feed fame and book sales.

And then, there are those who claim the treasure never existed at all.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

I must admit, I can understand the doubters’ skepticism. It’s a little too perfect, isn’t it? Exactly ten years after he first hid it, despite no new clues for two years, suddenly the treasure is found.

And yet, we have no photograph, no identity for who found it, and court cases already claiming theft and chicanery. All we’re left with is a brief announcement, a small flurry of press, and more questions.

Who found Forrest Fenn’s treasure?

Was the solution stolen?

Did the treasure ever exist in the first place?

Perhaps we’ve waited ten years only to end up with a new mystery.


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There’s a Little Something Extra in These X-Words…

Crossword constructors can be fiendishly clever, so there’s often something extra lurking inside a crossword grid, if you know where to look.

Sometimes it’s easy to spot. There are shaded areas or circled letters to reveal the hidden bonus answers that add a touch of pizzazz to a grid.

For instance, our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have a recurring crossword variant, Revelation, which conceals a quotation in a standard crossword grid.

The New York Times crossword has also featured this gimmick in puzzles plenty of times, perhaps most notably in a May 2015 puzzle where both poet WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS and the title of his poem THE LOCUST TREE IN FLOWER read down the sides of the grid, and the circled letters within the grid concealed the poem in full!

[Image sourced from Amy Reynaldo’s Diary of a Crossword Fiend.]

For his puzzle featured in an episode of The Simpsons, constructor Merl Reagle famously snuck a message into another New York Times crossword puzzle, allowing Homer to apologize to Lisa for his transgressions in the most public puzzly forum possible.

If you went diagonally from the upper left to the lower right of the grid, the statement “Dumb dad sorry for his bet” could be found.

[Image courtesy of The Guardian.]

Whether it’s a hidden quotation or a secret message hiding amidst the black squares and crisscrossing entries, these bonus answers offer a final little twist that wow solvers, leaving them shaking their heads at the cleverness and skill of constructors.

A puzzle in The Wall Street Journal recently reminded me of another surprise that a crafty constructor can spring on an unsuspecting solver.

This particular puzzle from September 28th of this year had instructions instead of the usual themed answers. If you read 22 Across, 61 Across, and 105 Across, you received the following message: Find the names of ten gems / hidden within the puzzle / grid in word search style.

wordsearchxwd

[Image courtesy of Reddit.]

Yes, the appropriately titled “Treasure Hunt” by Mike Shenk had jewels hidden among the answers in the grid, reading horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, just as they would in a word seek or word search.

Although this led to a few awkward entries — GOT ENRAGED is a bit clunky for an answer, even if the goal is to hide GARNET backwards within it — the grid is mostly great, and the spread of gems — from DIAMOND and EMERALD to ONYX and TOPAZ — is impressive. (I particularly liked RUBY reading out backwards in HURLYBURLY.)

I haven’t encountered many of these word search-style crossword surprises over the years, but there is one other prominent example that came to mind.

In his second appearance in today’s post, Merl Reagle constructed a special puzzle to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the crossword in 2013.

His puzzle was converted into a solvable Google Doodle — you can still solve it here! — and Merl added a crafty word search element by hiding the word FUN multiple times in the grid.

Why “fun,” you ask? Because that was the set word in Arthur Wynne’s original “word-cross” puzzle over one hundred years ago.

Believe me, constructing a great crossword grid is taxing enough. Adding touches and tricks like these just ratchet up both the difficulty involved and the skill level required to make the whole endeavor a harmonious success.

Kudos to those, past and present, who have pulled it off with such style.


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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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A Secret Code Lurking in the Library Stacks!

[Image courtesy of Wonderopolis.]

The best thing about secret codes is that they can hide in plain sight. In the past, we’ve referenced all sorts of ciphers and codes that were employed to pass secret messages across open channels.

But, as it turns out, clandestine communication isn’t the only end to which secret codes can be applied.

Recently, I stumbled upon a series of Tweets that detailed a mystery at a library involving a secret code.

[Image courtesy of Princeton.edu.]

Take it away, Georgia:

So there was a MYSTERY at the library today.

A wee old women came in and said “I’ve a question. Why does page 7 in all the books I take out have the 7 underlined in pen? It seems odd.”

“What?” I say, thinking she might be a bit off her rocker. She showed me, and they did.

I asked if she was doing it, she said she wasn’t and showed me the new book she was getting out that she hadn’t even had yet. It also had the 7 underlined! “I don’t know, maybe someone really likes page 7?” I said, assuming of course that there is a serial killer in the library.

I checked some other books. Most didn’t have it, but a lot in this genre did – they’re “wee old women” books (romances set in wartime Britain etc). Lots of underlined 7s. The woman who pointed it out shrugged and went on her way, “just thought you should know”.

[Image courtesy of MovieSteve.com.]

What could it mean? Was there a secret message spelled out somehow across the seventh page of all these books? Perhaps the seventh word? What could the message be? A warning? A threat? A great universal truth? A clue to a hidden treasure? The start of a symbol-laden journey across European with sinister forces hot on your heels?

Well, no. Calm down.

As it turns out, there wasn’t a secret message or a hunt across Europe or a threat from a diabolical library-obsessed serial killer on the loose. There was simply an elderly client with her own unique code.

Apparently, she was underlining page 7 in every book she read, in order to keep track of which books she’d already read, in case she comes across it on the shelf again.

And she’s far from the only one! Upon further research, the librarian uncovered a number of different tracking systems, many of them pre-dating the use of computers to keep library records!

Whether there’s a little star on the last page, or an F on the title page, or a page 7 underlined, each code reveals a different, dedicated reader with their own system.

When she posted this story on Twitter, other library employees and former employees piped up to share their own encounters with secret library codes that patrons employed!

I think it’s fascinating that systems like this seem to have been around as long as libraries, probably discovered (and re-discovered) periodically as different patrons and librarians alike notice them.

Better living through secret codes. Who knew?


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New Clues for an Unsolved Treasure Hunt!

[Image courtesy of Westword.]

Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? The chance to pit your wits, your skills, and your luck against the elements, a dodgy old map, and the curious clues left behind by an eccentric mind… who could resist?

We’ve detailed a few famous unsolved treasure hunts in the blog in the past, and by far the most popular one that remains is the brainchild of Forrest Fenn.

Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, there is said to be a treasure chest containing millions of dollars worth of treasure.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

How does one find this treasure? By deciphering the nine clues in Fenn’s poem, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.

Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.

From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is drawing ever nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.

So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak

So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Hidden since 2010, the poem has baffled and beguiled thousands of aspiring treasure hunters, and several accidental deaths have been attributed to the treasure hunt.

In order to prevent such accidents in the future, Fenn has released a few additional clues to keep hunters safe:

“The treasure chest is not under water, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice,” he writes. “Please remember that I was about 80 when I made two trips from my vehicle to where I hid the treasure.”

Whether these hints will help aspiring hunters, it’s hard to say. For now, that treasure is still out there somewhere…


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