Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse ~ by Kurt Konecny

treasure hunt book

Armchair Treasure Hunt Book: Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse

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.

treasure hunt search of golden horseFor 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.

armchair treasure hunt 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:

Article about the failure of the treasure hunt

Article containing The Captain Nemo Solution

1990 Inside Edition story about the puzzle – Part 1

1990 Inside Edition story about the puzzle – Part 2

 

~ By MW Team Writer Kurt Konecny

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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33 Responses

  1. Jenny Kile says:

    Although I’ve always loved puzzles and games as a child, I didn’t start working on Treasure Hunts until about 15 years ago…. So thank you, Kurt, for this excellent past account on the Search for the Golden Horse.

    What an interesting story and turn of events! And creation of Mystery!

    Love it! The fun never ends!

  2. Sparrow says:

    Wow. I still have a copy of that book filled with notes and doodles. I worked on it for years! This brings back a lot of memories. I have jokingly suggested that Forrest buried his treasure where the Golden Horse was found—because who would ever think to check the same burial site twice? lol

  3. Sparrow says:

    Just to add. Sheldon Renan, who actually wrote the “story” part of the book says that a silver horse is buried near “Riddle, Oregon” as that was the original place they were going to bury the horse. They had also considered Pietown, New Mexico but changed their minds when word got out of where they had traveled.

    I have always believed that Tennesee Pass Colorado was a last second choice–a change that was made to the book after the story had already been written. The book seems to lead elsewhere—only the small symbols in the artwork lead to Colorado. And these could have been added at the last minute. Something very strange definitely happened with that Treasure hunt—-and the fact that they have never revealed the clues, or how to solve it is in my opinion extremely strange.

    • Kurt K. says:

      I totally agree about the strangeness. A few years ago, I ran the 4 decoded words through the matrix, and it really does come out as “TRY ROUTE TWO DOZEN”, and I feel like that’s too big of a coincidence if the treasure wasn’t hidden at Tennessee Pass. I feel like the horse had always been buried there, but there were definitely weird things going on.
      I’ve actually written back and forth with Sheldon Renan on Twitter a few times, so I should ask him about the silver horse. It would be great if there really was one still out there!

      • Don Adams says:

        You can read my posts on Jenny’s Facebook page but there was a clue that I think very few people solved. Everyone remember the easy clue to “Ignore state shapes”. But it did not say to ignore their names. If you took the first letter of each state (California, Ohio, Nebraska, Texas, Delaware, Iowa, and Virginia, you got CONT DIV, abbreviation for Continental Divide upon which Tennessee pass is located.

        • Don Adams says:

          Oops, Idaho, not Iowa.

        • astree says:

          I took it a bit further, RE-STATE SHAPES (wrap around) AT “A”

          There are 4 “A”‘s. “The road to your horse will be found by 4 ….”

          The Continental Divide take and the states also looks like a good base to start with.

    • MS girl says:

      Hey Sparrow, this is Ms. Girl from The Thrill of the Chase. My Mother and My family did work on this famed The Golden horse puzzle and it had a deadline. I was buried in Veil, Colorado and some searchers figured it out after the time limit and found the location with the cloth shirt pieces that had wrapped it still in the place it was hidden. We bought the video also and my little nephew was 8 and figured out some clues. The solve was in an old Treasure Hunt Magazine and the video was quite helpful. My Mother and I went to NM in 2013 to search for Mr. Fenn’s treasure and my nephew passed away in 2012 he was 36 with cancer. My Mom has the Gold Horse treasure book somewhere in her house and we still talk about it while searching for Fenn’s lock box! This is so cool but some of the clues were the red stick and veil over the dancer’s face as she danced and the song said on the video ” when it is right there in front of you.” “Be not afraid” was a graveyard and other clues still stay fresh in my mind. I wish we could figure this all out with TTOTC and just walk right up to it. I am giving it another try and want my 81 almost 82 year old Mother to help solve the mystery of Fenn’s hidden chest. Thanks, Jenny and all for this walk down memory lane. There was a video to that book… Ms. Girl still in the chase.

      • Sparrow says:

        MsGirl—

        Yes– the Golden Horse Treasure hunt was extremely exciting. I have always wished they would print a book with the actual solve. There is a lot similar between the Golden horse and Fen’s Treasure.

        Just a couple of examples (though it could be complete coincidence). “Where warm water halt”— in the Treasure book “the warm wind stirred again”. A main character in Treasure was “the man with black gloves”. Forrest has said gloves could be helpful, and there is no scrapbook #32 (O.J.Simpsons number)– O.J. is known for the “gloves”.

        There are several other things about the Fenn Treasure that remind me of the Golden horse search, but again, it could all be coicidental.

  4. JC1117 says:

    Thanks for the story, Kurt and Jenny.

    Reading this makes me glad that Forrest Fenn didn’t create a deadline for his Treasure.

    The fact that these creators ended theirs is really pointless, IMO.

  5. Jeremy P. says:

    Have there been any treasure hunts of significant value that have been solved and retrieved? I know Masquerade wasn’t really solved, and this one wasn’t, are there any notable ones that were?

    • Kurt K. says:

      The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Perplex City, but that one was based in England. I’ll be writing about that one next. I know quite a few that are still unsolved, where nobody really knows whether the treasure/reward is even still there.

  6. Sparrow says:

    Jeremy—-

    “Masquerade” was solved. Someone had gotten within a few feet of it, but dug up the wrong place. An English gentleman finally found it. Kit Williams also had a book shortly after that with no title. The cover had a Bee on a Honeycomb. If you could find out the title of the book you would win a golden Bee.

    Many people solved it–including my sister. The title was “THE BEE ON THE COMB”. Williams had to choose a winner from all of the creative entries sent to him.

    By the way, In “Treasure of the Golden Horse” book, when referring to the “clue card”, the writer says–“here is a clue, but I will mask it”. “I will mask it” anagrams to Kit Williams. So it was kind of interesting. But many things about “treasure” were mysterious. 🙂

  7. mouse893 says:

    I well remember this puzzle and worked many years on it. The key for me was the video! It was certainly solvable because the video held the key with the book. 1. Rocking horse photo – Rocky Mountains! 2. Video had fences and porches made of crossed boards – this was the key – tens I see – Tennessee pass. I solved it to late. 3. Also ancient Greek symbols in book translated to – land of red – Colorado. 4. In book the phrase – paste board passes – a pass through the mountains. 5. The map was a location for the trees near the war memorial. I almost solved it. VERY solvable! For years I have heard the arguments and have waited for someone else to say what I just said. Come on guys – solvable!!!!!! Easily solvable like Fenn’s puzzle.

  8. mouse893 says:

    I just ran out of time! Real bummer! I haven’t run out of time on Fenn’s puzzle – no time limit. I love that!

  9. Sparrow says:

    Wy—

    I mentioned this before a while back. I still joke about this. But in the movie “The World according to Garp” a plane crashes into a house. Garp immediately goes over and offers to buy the place. They ask why. He says “You know what the chances are a plane will ever crash into that house again?”

    What if Forrest buried his chest in the same location that the golden horse was found to have been buried? Who would ever think someone would do that? What if the chest is buried in tennesee pass, Colorado? That would be hilarious. 🙂

  10. Spoon says:

    What an excellent story, and really well written.

    It brings to mind The Thrill of the Chase; just how difficult it must be to write a complex riddle/puzzle that is both solvable, but not easily so, and done in a way that the treasure can reasonably be found, but hidden such that ONLY the person that solves the riddle/puzzle can find it. Further add to the equation that any landmarks referenced in the riddle/puzzle may not stand the test of time. It is truly a daunting challenge for the puzzle setter. As wily a character as is Mr. Fenn, and despite his statements that he thought of everything – which I believe he truly means – we have to wonder whether such a feat is really possible.

    • Kurt K. says:

      Thank you, Spoon!!!
      I totally agree about landmarks. One of the casques from “The Secret” is buried near me in Milwaukee, but it sounds like there were 5 birch trees that were markers, and they’ve been removed. 🙁
      I wish I lived closer to where the Fenn treasure is hidden. 🙁

  11. Sparrow says:

    Kurt–
    You got me thinking immediately about “Treasure” and forgot to tell you that you wrote a really great article. You covered it very well. Now I have to figure out which darn box out in the garage has that old “Treasure” book in it. lol

    • Kurt K. says:

      Awww! Thank you, Sparrow. I’m glad you liked it.
      I was kinda worried, because I wanted to convey just how much this book means to me. It’s a very nostalgic item for me. But I also didn’t want to be too sappy. So thank you. And I hope you found the book! 🙂

  12. Helen says:

    Kurt

    Thank you, especially for the personal side of your story.

    Your words have beautifully captured an aspect of armchair treasure hunting that is difficult to express. I’m struggling just to paraphrase it.

    There’s something so special about holding a key in your hands – whether map, poem or artifact – and knowing it’s all you need to transport you from your warm comfy place to the adventure of a lifetime, somewhere out there.

    Happy hunting!

    Helen

    • Kurt K. says:

      Thank you, Helen!! 🙂
      I totally agree…putting the feeling into words is difficult. I am glad I was able to express it just a little bit.

  13. Stonerolledaway says:

    Kurt, thanks for the excellent story.
    Interestingly, this treasure hunt required difficult ciphers with no confirmation, running the text through a Vigenere Matrix (?), and had a 5 year time limit. Mr. Fenn’s Chase thankfully doesn’t rely heavily on ciphers, has cleverly built in confirmations (although some of that may be “confirmation bias” that many have warned against), and has had no time limit. Thank you, Forrest

  14. Madesquare says:

    Great post. Does seem like failed treasure hunts are a common as successful ones. There’s risk to treasure hunt creators as well-

  15. Day Late,Dollar Short says:

    I learned about the Golden Horse treasure about a month before it expired. It should be noted that in addition to the other items, the clues were also available as a story on a VHS videotape, which I still have. I played and studied that videotape every day until the hunt expired. I also saw and videotaped the news story of the two guys that found the horse. I compared their solve of the puzzle to the videotape story and it fit perfectly. Therefore I have reason to believe the horse was buried exactly as stated by the finders. Maybe the horse’s location was changed after other publications were distributed, but the videotape version seems very accurate to the finder’s location. Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Kurt K. says:

      I totally agree. I ran the ciphertext through a matrix, and it DOES spell out “Try Route Two Dozen”, which can’t be a coincidence. I’m convinced that the treasure was never moved during the contest.

  16. Morpheus221 says:

    Hello,

    I am glad to see some new interest in this hunt. I had worked on this hunt several years ago and had studied all three media (the book, VHS, and laserdisc). I was able to find a complete solution in each media that all led to the same location (Tennessee Pass). The problem with the published Nemo solution is that it employed clues from different media to reach a solution. I would be happy to post my solutions to the book, VHS, and LD in the forum if there is any interest.

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