Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse ~ by Kurt Konecny
The Armchair Treasure Hunt:
Treasure: In Search of the Golden
By MW Team Writer Kurt Konecny
December, 1984. The storm outside is blowing sleet and freezing rain against my window, but I barely hear it. I am 14 years old and I am sitting on my bed with a pencil, a notebook, and the book “Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse”. Somewhere in the United States, a golden horse is buried, and inside the belly of the horse is a key to a safe deposit box containing $500,000. As I work on the puzzle, my mind is elsewhere, far from the sleet and snow.
Somewhere, at that very moment, there is a golden horse in the ground, and everything I need to find it is in my hands. I continue to read the book and jot down notes, full of excitement and wonder and hope.
“Treasure” was published by IntraVision in 1984, a few years after Kit Williams’ “Masquerade” was a runaway success in England, and it was supposed to be the American version of Kit William’s armchair treasure hunt. The book told the story of Amanda, a young girl whose father and horse both mysteriously disappear, and she travels the country looking for them. The book was written by Sheldon Renan and illustrated by Jean-Francois Podevin, with the puzzle being created by “Dr. Crypton” (the pseudonym of Paul Hoffman).
Although most people today remember the book, ‘”Treasure” was released in several different forms, including a book, a laserdisc movie, and an episodic television show that aired on pay cable channels, and while every form was different, they were all seen as different paths that would lead to the very same spot where the golden horse was buried. The first person to dig up the horse would win the $500,000, but if nobody found it by May 26, 1989, the horse would be dug up by the book’s creators and the money would be given to a charity of their choosing.
For the next several years, thousands of people around the country spent countless hours searching the beautiful illustrations of the book for clues, and many people spent thousands of dollars travelling around the country to locations like Crater Lake, Oregon or New Orleans to follow up on their hunches.
Time passed, and May 26, 1989 arrived with the horse still laying in the ground, undiscovered. The creators of the book went to the location, dug the horse up, and awarded the $500,000 to the charitable organization Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
That should have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t.
People who spent the last several years studying the book or spending their life savings to travel around the country waited eagerly to hear the solution and to find out how close they were to finding the treasure or to hear how to solve the puzzle, only to be met with silence. The book’s creators were finally approached and asked when they would be reveal the solution, only to answer that they would NOT be releasing it. They claimed that they wanted to possibly use the puzzle method again in a future book, and that they never stated that the solution was going to be released in the first place.
Fans of the book were irate. They felt that after spending time and money on the book, they deserved to know the solution, and several people started to wonder if a treasure was actually even hidden in the first place. Several people who spent their life savings on the treasure hunt banded together and started looking into possible lawsuits and legal action against IntraVision. People who had loved the book now had started to turn against it and against it’s creators.
A few months later, former FBI investigator Nick Boone and lawyer Tony Castanada came forward and said that they had finally solved the book’s puzzle and traveled to the location where the horse had been buried. They dug in the location, and found a vial holding the message that it had been the hiding place of the golden horse. They released their solution to the puzzle, known as the “Captain Nemo Solution”, and finally revealed the location that everyone had been looking for during the past five years: the horse had been buried near a misshapen tree in the woods near the 10th Mountain Division Memorial near Tennessee Pass in Colorado, high up in the Rocky Mountains.
The overall puzzle of the book, as revealed in the Captain Nemo Solution, required readers to decipher several words from the book, using several different kinds of ciphers, and then run that string of words through a matrix to reveal the phrase “TRY ROUTE TWO DOZEN”, which when coupled with other clues from the book would lead to Tennessee Pass, Colorado and to the memorial stone which was to be used as a starting point.
As people looked into the Captain Nemo Solution, however, they began to question it’s authenticity. Several of the codes used in the book didn’t seem to correspond correctly with the Captain Nemo Solution, and several key items in the Captain Nemo Solution seemed to require leaps of logic that made no sense. The more people looked into the posted solution, the more it seemed to fall apart, and the general consensus started to be that the creators of the contest, wanting to avoid any legal action, secretly gave a solution to Boone and Castanada that they could publicly announce.
With the release of the Captain Nemo Solution, people began to see how the puzzle worked, and felt that the puzzle was basically unsolvable. Where “Masquerade” could be solved by anyone who figured out the method, the solution to “Treasure” required finding difficult ciphers with no confirmation that the reader was on the right track, and then running the text though a Vigenere Matrix to discover the correct phrase. These days, a Vigenere Matrix cipher can easily be found on internet sites devoted to ciphers, but back in the pre-internet days of the contest, only a handful of people would have had any idea what a Vigenere Matrix even was. The people who spent years working on the puzzle felt duped.
Rumblings also started coming out that at some point during the contest, the creators actually dug up the horse and moved it to a different area because too many people knew the secret location. People who participated in the contest felt that if this had truly happened, the contest should have been called off and the people who bought the book should have had their money reimbursed. The majority of people who poured their time and money into the contest came away feeling angry and cheated.
Today…over 30 years from the release of the book…there are still people working on the puzzle who are convinced that the Captain Nemo Solution is not correct and they are still trying to find the true solution. Rumors also continue that a silver horse was also buried, either at the original location of the horse after it was moved during the contest or at other locations hinted at in the book, and people are still scouring the book and its illustrations, hoping to find a hidden silver horse.
In the end, rather than being a worthy successor to “Masquerade”, this gorgeous and well-written book ended up giving armchair treasure hunts a black eye that it never recovered from, due to a poorly-conceived puzzle and some questionable actions taken after the contest was over,
The copy of the book that I had in 1984 disappeared over time. A few years ago, I bought a new copy of the book online, and I still enjoy opening it up and losing myself in the illustrations and the story. Whether or not the book was a success or a failure, reading it today takes me back to that winter night in 1984, young and full of hope and dreaming of my treasure that lies hidden somewhere out there, waiting for me.
LINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Kurt Konecny lives in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and has a B.A. in English. After accidentally stumbling across Kit Williams’ book “Masquerade” at the library when he was a child, Kurt became captivated by tales of buried treasure and armchair treasure hunts, and he has carried that love with him through his adult years.
His other hobbies include geocaching and ghosthunting.
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