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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Kubrick’s Game Continues!

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Back in September of last year, I reviewed the novel Kubrick’s Game by Derek Taylor Kent, a puzzly adventure/thriller that incorporated elements of Da Vinci Code-style mysteries, film history, conspiracy theories, and a cracking whodunit.

I also announced that a tie-in game was created for readers and puzzlers to tackle. Known as The Game or Kubrick’s Game, this months-long puzzle hunt started quite innocuously, with a poem introducing solvers to the game, and then the following text:

From Ai to the shiNing, from Two thousAnd and one to dr. Strangelove, from sparTacus to lolIta, from Clockwork oRange to pAths of glory, no director in history has given the Cinema more Enigmatic masterpieces than Director stanley kubrick. Over his Turbulent Career, kubrick produced an Oeuvre that gained him the nickname of the Maestro. So what if this Legendary Artist hid a priceless treasure away Somewhere and left clues to the location within his movies, Hidden away in plain sight? KUBRICKS GAME asks this very question and the answer will blow you away.

Once you’ve found the hidden message, it leads you to an encrypted message that directs you to complete a task that will lead you further into the game.

Each puzzle you solve, as well as each additional side task, riddle, and challenge you complete, is worth points (plus bonuses for being among the first to crack each puzzle). A leaderboard tracks the individuals or teams with the top scores as the game progresses.

puzzle4

The players are currently tackling Puzzle #4, and unlike earlier puzzles, instead of getting bonus points for solving the puzzle faster, points will be determined by how few hints the competitors need in order to crack the puzzle.

Only four players have cracked the puzzle thus far, and impressively, several managed to do so without any clues.

I reached out to several of the players for their insights into the puzzle hunt. For one of the players, Rey, this is a particularly intriguing challenge:

This is my first experience doing it as a contest, which really puts the pressure on and actually makes it more satisfying when I solve one of the puzzles. I started off by getting interested in Escape Room attractions and found that it really piqued my interest trying to figure out how all the little clues connect.

So far the last puzzle (#4) has been the most challenging. Definitely took me the longest to figure out. They have all had their own little bits of difficulty that make them different. The Game Masters really know their stuff and are making this a very interesting contest.

fantasticrace

[Game Master Bob Glouberman instructs a batch of competitors
in the Fantastic Race. Image courtesy of The LA Times.]

And speaking of the Game Masters, I had the opportunity to chat with mastermind Bob Glouberman about creating the hunt featured in the book.

I have been obsessed with Kubrick since I first saw The Shining in 1980 when it was released. The idea of a Da Vinci Code with Kubrick’s films at its center was enticing to me. Derek wanted to know if I could invent an elaborate puzzle that went through all of Kubrick’s films and I was so eager to jump in, I said, “no sweat.” Of course it was lots of sweat….but fun sweat.

As for how he actually constructed the puzzles for the novel, well…

I watched all of Kubrick’s films (I had seen them all before multiple times) over again. I bought a white board and I started noticing all of the similarities and tie ins that exist between the films. I then wrote in different colored dry erase marker depending on the film, the connection, and the possibility for a puzzle. I connected all the tie ins with lines which was very reminiscent of Dexter Morgan’s blood spatter strings.

I then watched all the movies a second time and added all of the strange symbols in all of Kubrick’s movies that I didn’t quite understand. I figured those symbols would be ripe for clues. Perhaps if they had meaning for the film, they might also have a subsequent meaning for a puzzle.

I then watched them a third time and added all the scenes that didn’t make sense. Random scribbles on a wall. Scenes that faded out for no apparent reason. Lines of dialogue that appeared clunky. Characters that seemed to go nowhere. These seemingly random elements might have been added for coherence to a puzzle.

And the end result, I believe, is a very satisfying series of puzzles that works well with the films. Naturally, Kubrick didn’t intentionally create a series of puzzles… but he might have. And they may have looked like the puzzle system Derek outlined in Kubrick’s Game.

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There’s still time to get in on the hunt for Kubrick’s ultimate prize! Organizers are keeping registration open until March 1st!

You can click here for all the details on the Game and to get started. For more info on author Derek Taylor Kent, click here.

And be sure to check out Bob Glouberman’s other diabolical projects: a treasure hunt company called Fantastic Race and an escape-room company called Get the F Out.

Happy hunting, everyone!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Melancholy Mastermind edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today’s update is all about the Great Urban Race.

I had the privilege of providing puzzly tech support for my sister as she ran several Great Urban Race events, and it was both a terrific challenge and a marvelously fun experience.

Each race was totally different, designed around the host city, and the questions could involve anything from trivia and cryptography to anagrams and pattern-matching, along with some serious chops when it comes to Googling in a hurry.

[A glimpse at a sample set of challenges from a previous event.]

So I was sad to find out that this year’s competition, which wrapped up with the championship round in Vancouver back in August, will be the last GUR event.

From their website: “After eight fun and action-packed years, Great Urban Race will no longer be touring the country.”

[A team crosses the finish line at a GUR event.]

I reached out to friend of the blog and GUR Senior Manager Jordan Diehl, who had this to share:

The decision to retire Great Urban Race was not an easy one, but ultimately the best move for our company.  We are excited to continue to produce unique and exciting events like Warrior Dash, American Beer Classic, and Firefly Music Festival and will be focusing our efforts on these ventures and others that we will be launching in the future.  

On behalf of GUR and Red Frog Events, we wholeheartedly appreciate the support of our participants over the past eight years and hope to see them at a future Red Frog event! 

While I’m disappointed that the puzzlerific Great Urban Race that we know and love is no more, I’m excited to see what else the creative minds at Red Frog Events come up with. I’ll be sure to update you if anything particularly puzzly arises in the future.

Until then, I wish all the best to the GUR crew, and heartfelt congratulations to all the masterminds who traveled the country accepting the Great Urban Race challenge.

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Treasure Room edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of treasure hunts.

A treasure hunt (and its sibling, the scavenger hunt) are terrific puzzle events, because they can combine crafty trivia, questions, and deduction with some good old-fashioned physical activity as you chase down the next clue. (Sometimes, they even involve some digging, if your huntmaster is crafty enough.)

And the parents of one very lucky four-year-old are topnotch huntmasters.

Not only did they organize a treasure hunt for their son, complete with clues to unravel, but the final clue led to his bedroom, instructing him to push aside his dresser.

Behind the dresser, he discovered his birthday gift: a hidden treasure room, all for him!

As it turns out, when the birthday boy was almost two years old, he and his parents moved into a new house. The room intended for him had a small storage room attached, and in a fit of brilliance, his parents not only had the room refurbished, but they kept the room a secret for TWO YEARS before revealing it as his birthday gift for turning four.

Now that is some world-class puzzly skill being put to a wonderful use.

[This story originally appeared on Sarah Goer’s blog Things I Make, and I discovered a repost of the story on IO9.com. All pictures of the treasure room courtesy of Things I Make.]

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On the hunt… for treasure!

We’re well into summer, and you’re probably looking for great puzzly summer activities to share with the kids. And I have just the thing for you. Have you considered a treasure hunt? (And I’m not talking about spotting a chest at the bottom of your fish tank.)

You could organize one yourself! My friend told me a story about a treasure hunt her uncle masterminded for her and her siblings one year. He went out at low tide with a small chest of fake jewels (plus her mother’s actual pearl necklace, which she tossed in for fun), and buried it, prepared to bring the kids back a day or two later with a treasure map and let them “discover” it.

Naturally, a storm came through the next day, so they couldn’t dig it up. It was a few days before they could organize the treasure hunt, and when low tide came, the storm had so changed the landmarks and sandbars that they never found the treasure chest.

I don’t want to discourage you from embarking on your own treasure hunt adventures… just make sure it’s a place you have maximum control over.

Of course, you could always pursue one of the real-life treasure hunts lurking out there for the industrious amateur adventurer. We’ve written about a few of them in the past, but they’re hardly the only examples. For an aspiring Indiana Jones or lost member of the Goonies, real treasure awaits you.

One, surrounding a bronze statue of an owl, requires a trip to France, though. A man named Max Valentin buried it, and whomever unravels eleven clues and finds it can exchange it for a second statue valued at one million francs. (As long as you don’t get too overzealous and blow up a chapel in your quest to find it, as one amateur treasure hunter did.)

For one with an American twist, you could try to solve the mystery of the Beale ciphers. Three encrypted texts from the 1800s detail the location of a hidden cache of gold, silver, and jewels, and astonishingly enough, The Declaration of Independence is supposed to be the key to cracking the code!

While the ciphers and the story might be a hoax, you could still be the one to solve the mystery! (One group of treasure hunters stumbled upon Civil War artifacts while digging in the wrong place.)

Whether it’s a Dead Sea Scroll or the last missing treasure from a brilliant tie-in to a book, treasure could be yours this summer, even in your own backyard.

[Thanks to IO9 for inspiring this post.]

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PuzzleNation Book Reviews: The Code Busters Club, Case #3

Welcome to the ninth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features Penny Warner’s third Code Busters Club novel, The Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure.

I regularly get questions from fellow puzzlers who are looking for fun ways to get their kids into math, science, history, and other subjects through the media of board games or puzzles. Sadly, I don’t always have the picture-perfect recommendation for them prepped and ready in my back pocket, gift-wrapped for delivery.

That’s what makes stumbling upon a book tailor-made for encouraging both reading AND a love of puzzles such a delight. And if you’re looking for a gateway book for scavenger hunts or coded puzzles, look no further than The Code Busters Club series.

When there’s a puzzle to be unraveled or a code to be cracked, you can count on the crafty quartet known as the Code Busters. Friends Cody Jones, Quinn Kee, Luke LaVeau, and M.E. Esperanto are ready at a moment’s notice to put their codecracking skills to the test, and a field trip to Carmel Mission might be the perfect opportunity. There are some shifty characters lurking about, but with rumors of a pirate’s treasure hidden nearby, what else would you expect? Can the Code Busters make history and solve the riddle of de Bouchard’s gold?

If you’re looking for a fun way to introduce coded puzzles to younger readers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a book that employs as many different styles of coding as The Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure. Warner has clearly done her research, employing everything from Morse code and semaphore to symbols, skip codes, Caesar ciphers, alphanumerics, and more.

[A quick interlude for coded-puzzle newbies:

  • A skip code is a message wherein you skip certain words in order to spell out a hidden message concealed within a larger one.
  • A Caesar cipher, also known as a shift cipher, works by shifting the alphabet a predetermined number of letters. For instance, if you shift the alphabet 5 letters, A becomes F, B becomes G, etc.
  • An alphanumeric code (in its simplest form) replaces the letters in words with their corresponding digits on a telephone keypad. So an A, B, or C becomes 2 while G, H, or I becomes 4.

End informational interlude.]

As a puzzler with plenty of experience with coded puzzles and cryptography, I was impressed by the breadth of codes and secret messages Warner had snuck into book that’s less than 200 pages, including illustrations and a sizable typeface.

The story itself is a bit threadbare, but considering the brisk storytelling pace and the sheer number of puzzles included, it’s easy to forgive the author for providing just enough impetus to get the Code Busters (and the reader) from one puzzle to the next. After all, this is a book about friends solving puzzles, and the puzzles are dynamite introductory-level puzzles for young readers.

I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for further Code Busters Club adventures.

[To check out all of our PuzzleNation Book Review posts, click here!]

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