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A Treasure-Hunting Pedigree?

A Treasure-Hunting Pedigree? - Kathy Brown, always on the lookout for clues...Do you, like me, have a long-lived affection for treasure hunts? There must be treasure-hunting in my DNA; or code-breaking perhaps. I recently learned that my grandmother was on the Enigma and Colossus teams at Bletchley Park so that’s a (rather cool!) clue for starters.

Hare Hunting

It was Kit Williams’ celebrated Masquerade hare which sealed the deal on my destiny. Dad bought several copies of the book for the family (I still have my copy), and we soon discovered there was more to it than just beautiful, detailed illustrations and became completely absorbed. Like many other families, we passed the summer of 1981 happily puzzling and giggling at our assumed cleverness and worked out that the jewelled hare was buried ‘somewhere indicated by the shadow of a statue’. Unfortunately we were way off in our calculations and one day, set off en famille with a shovel in the boot, on a four-hour drive to Somerset. We didn’t find the hare of course, but we did discover a beautiful part of the countryside as we explored the Quantock Hills, a treasure in itself.

A History of Treasure-Seeking

Thereafter followed ‘The Cadbury’s Creme Egg Conundrum’ – remember that? Then ‘Treasure’ by Dan James, ‘Ruby’, ‘Aureum’, ‘Planetarium’, ‘The Merlin Mystery’ and most recently The Great Global Treasure Hunt on Google Earth. Now this might surprise you, but each time I learn of a new prize-puzzle treasure hunt my heart doesn’t leap with joy, it sinks. I feel glum because I know I won’t be able to help but get utterly obsessed with it for months on end. Picture the scene… 3 a.m. and still researching and chatting online about possible approaches and answers with fellow hunters. No time for other leisure pursuits. Family resigned to weeks of distracted ‘Hmmmph?’ when I am asked a question… Signs and omens spotted everywhere which tell me I’m on the right track, that the ‘treasure’ really is on Easter Island, or in the shape of an oak branch, or yes, perhaps even in the Quantock Hills…

Since becoming a parent, I’ve subtly indoctrinated my children into my hobby too. I used to set paper trails around the house and garden, with little drawings on each slip of paper of ‘where to look next’ until they arrived at ‘the treasure’. Now, they are teenagers and luckily understand the difference between ‘let’s go for a walk’ and ‘let’s go and do a Trail’ and will happily come along. They will even help me with testing and planning Trails for myself and my colleagues. Not sure whether they truly have the gene though. Time will tell!

Some Recommended Treasure Hunt Activities

For those of you who empathise with my affliction, you may be interested to know of The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club, who produce their own hunts (real and armchair varieties). You might also want to know about the London Miglia Quadrato, an all-night ‘treasure hunt by torchlight’ in cars in the City of London which takes place every year in May (sadly cancelled this year due to pre-Olympics roadworks). Or its sister event, the Londinium Pedo, which takes place on foot on an October Sunday afternoon. Needless to say our City of London Treasure Trails are great practice for these!

Which treasure hunts have had you hooked over the years? Maybe you are a former prize-winner. We’d love to hear!

Author: Kathy Brown, Treasure Trails Greater London.

1st June 2012

Posted In: Trail Blazers

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Sprinkle Some Fairy Dust! How To Write Great Clues

People love Treasure Trails because they are so much more than just a walk. They are a walk with an adventure which takes the ‘Trailer’ to places they wouldn’t normally go to and makes them find clues that will help solve an ultimate mystery.

Sprinkle Some Fairy Dust! How To Write Great Clues - I-Spy with my disproportionately magnified eye...Fun, intriguing, compulsive, clever and ultimately satisfying, a great Trail requires a good route with clear concise directions and a good range of clues too. Writing a great Trail is a mix of art and science and is harder than it looks! I can’t reveal to you the secret recipe of a Treasure Trail (only our Licensed Trail Writers know this) but I can give you a little help with creating memorable clues.

Remember, a Trail is essentially a clever game of ‘hide and seek’. I hide an answer to a question and you solve my instructions (delivered in the form of clues) to seek the answer. Great clues require no prior knowledge, no high IQ, and no awareness of the laws of cryptic crosswords! The answers to clues should be located on interesting things, but what makes a great clue is clever wording that gets people thinking, looking around, and wondering where they can find the answer.

So, the wording of a clue requires a ‘Hook’ and an ‘Instruction’. The Hook gets the solver in the area of where the answer can be found. The Hook should be an intriguing and fun hint of where to look. An example of a good Hook would be – ‘In the area of the large cross find the big black W and then …….’

The second part of the clue is the Instruction, which tells the finder what they have to do next to come up with the answer. Variety is the spice of life and so it is for our clues too. Good Instructions get the participants to do all sorts of things with the various clues they find during a Trail – solve anagrams, decipher codes, convert letters to numbers. Instructions have to be accurate and leave no room for debate over what the answer could be. An example of a good Instruction would be ‘….and then take the last letters of every word on the last line and rearrange these letters to form the name of a famous person’.

Hook and Instruction combine to create the whole clue. They must balance too: A tricky Hook with an easier Instruction, and a complicated Instruction with an easier Hook. I did say it was harder than it looks!

By the way, don’t forget to sprinkle some fairy dust on your clues every now and then. Fairy dust is that bit of magic that raises a great clue to a brilliant clue. Difficult to define but you know it when it happens. Fairy dust is about putting a smile on the face of the solver once they have completed your task. It is about making the solver do something they weren’t expecting, and giving them a ‘wow’ or buzz at the end. A simple example of what I mean by fairy dust is instead of creating a clue where the answer is just a number, add some further instructions that make the person then walk that number of paces in a certain direction to where the answer to that clue lies. You can’t put too many fairy dust clues in a Trail otherwise they would no longer be special!  Two or three is plenty.

Hope this helps.  I look forward to seeing some of your clues.  I will be choosing 5 favourites to go into my commemorative 1,000th Trail.

Keep on Trailing and bring on 5,000 Trails!

Author: Steve, Director and Trail Meister, Treasure Trails Ltd.

21st May 2012

Posted In: Trail Blazers

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