The earliest appearance of treasure hunting is in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Published in 1883, it was the first time that the concept of treasure maps, hidden pirate’s gold and x marks the spot appeared in the public domain.
More recently, Dan Brown has been assaulting our senses with his Da Vinci Code series. They are all based on ancient unsolved or undiscovered puzzles permanently installed in the landscape and architecture.
In the late 1970’s and early ’80’s before the takeover of computers, there were a huge variety of Choose Your Own Adventure books. These series of puzzles allowed you to choose your own path through the books and to a satisfactory conclusion (treasure). Key components of this were Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Both of whom crop again in gaming circles, both board and computer based, significantly with Tomb Raider.
If you search online, there are quite a few treasure hunts floating about in print. The “World’s Greatest Treasure Hunt” is a bit better than most as it is built on twelve separate factual stories of treasure hunting history. The prize is one of the emeralds from Mel Fisher’s Atocha mounted in a Golden Eagle. All you have to do is answer some trivia questions. This particular hunt purports to be all for charity but has not featured too highly in the media recently since it was launched earlier in 2010.
The book of all treasure hunting books is this, Masquerade by Kit Williams. He sold hundreds of thousands of copies of the book when it was launched in 1979. It was a legendary success. Williams buried a golden hare that he made in a metal-detector proof ceramic cast. In the book is a rhyme which tells you how to solve the riddle. The rest of the text is all just misleading. Connect the right eye to the right pointing digit on all creatures, reveals letters on each page – stringing them together gives the location. The prize was located by Ken Thomas in 1982. Legend has it, that at the same time two teachers worked it out, dug it out without realising it for Thomas to recover from their discarded soil. Thomas then went bankrupt trying to profit from the hare and it was auctioned off. It later turned out that an old housemate of Williams’ was married to Thomas’ business partner, and that Thomas had sent in a copy of a map that he had already known about – and was announced the winner. We mustn’t feel sorry for Kit as he was so relieved to be out of the limelight and not to have to open all of his post or answer the telephone any more. Previously he received 100’s of letters a day had to read every one just in case they had answered it.
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Starting with Jason’s search for the Golden Fleece, which is an early example of how a series of mostly physical challenges and puzzles leading to the final treasure.
Then we witness Humphrey Bogart recovering the lost Knights Templar treasure in a murder mystery based treasure hunt. Then there are two early examples of treasure hunt based comedies, which are of interest because firstly we have Vincent Price setting a challenge for people who wish to inherit from his estate in Scavenger Hunt, followed by Michael J Fox’s first film appearance in Midnight Madness. An interpretation of a cultphenomenon in Seattle called The Game that runs to this day. An extremely popular overnight challenge to see who can get to the end of a series of themed puzzles first for nothing more than bragging rights.
At the latter part of the 20th century there was an explosion of treasure hunt based films. The Da Vinci Code is just one big puzzle. Hollywood directors fell in love with the subject matter, leading to major film franchises capturing the public imagination repeatedly. And the thing that links them all: Treasure hunts.
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