Treasure Hunt Roundup

The last few weeks have been full of treasure hunts and puzzle design. Between partcipating in a few new treasure hunts and joining the ERChamp design team, I’ve had my hands full.

Joining ERChamp was a tough decision. ERChamp is my favorite puzzle contest of any kind- an annual race-to-the-finish online escape room in which thousands of competitors rush to solve a gauntlet of puzzles. I’ve always appreciated how each round is meant to be solved in a few hours at most, and I’ve eagerly awaited every round for the last two years.

Now that I’ve joined the team, I can no longer participate, but it’s been extremely exciting to be able to contribute to make this year’s championship the best one yet! I wont be able to write about any details whatsoever from the process to protect the integrity of the game, but what I can say is that the ERChamp team is wonderful and I’m happy to be on board.

In news on the things I’m solving, The Incredible Hunt has drawn the bulk of my attention. It’s a very interesting hunt- six $10,000 prizes hidden around the US, with a single card providing all the clues needed for each of the treasures. The hunt has a fun gimmick in which players reach various checkpoints via web or phone and thusly get added to a leaderboard so everyone can see their progress.

On the downside, The Incredible Hunt suffers from most steps being incredibly arbitrary. The way I’ve described it to people is being similar to the infinite monkey theorem.

The idea is that if you have a monkey mashing keys for an infinite amount of time, it’ll produce any number of extremely complex results among its random mashing, including the complete works of Shakespeare. The Incredible Hunt is like being that monkey. Progress is only really made through excessive amounts of trial and error. Anything else would require reading the designer’s mind.

To illustrate, I’ll use an example step from the only card completed thus far, card #6.

Step 1 is fair enough. Snake through the numbers following the arrows and you get a phone number to call. Step 2 is where things get murky. When you call the number, you get a message “before we give you the code, you must first give us the message.” at this point, the message could be literally anything. Crafty solvers might use the leaderboard to note that the message probably needs to be texted to the hunt’s phone number, but there are zero clues as to what the message might be.

It could be the name of the card, or any word within. It could be that the runes clue something. It could be something hidden on the hunt’s website. It could be the phone number you just used. It could be your own phone number. It could be the name of the guy who made the hunt. It could be something from another card.

What it ended up being is a set of five numbers – if you take right arrows on the wizard’s paper as “plus” and the left arrows as “minus” then you can enter those five numbers into a text message to get the next clue.

That wouldn’t have been in my first thousand things to try. Nothing indicated even text vs. numbers or message length. Ultimately the way progress worked for this card and the others is that one person eventually gets the right answer via massive amounts of trial and error, and then that person drops clues on Discord or other sites and/or trades info with other teams until everyone has caught up- rinse and repeat for the next clue.

Having a big prize pool adds some excitement- you’re always potentially one random guess away from finding the location of a $10,000 treasure! But with so much of the contest based on random guessing / reading the designer’s mind, I find it’s not that fun. The first puzzle in the hunt was even worse- you need a password to enter, and the clue you have is a voice saying “To the victor, the spoils.” The answer was to reverse the letters in each word (“ot eht rotciv…”) and then switching letters for numbers (“15 20 5 8 20…”) and entering that. Hints came quickly on that one, but it’s so arbitrary as to be unsolvable without the hint.

I’m disappointed to have missed out on a different cool treasure hunt that launched this week! The Kayak Jack hunt hides a treasure in a novel- the novel describes a character’s journey across the state of Wisconsin, and based on things the character sees on the way, participants follow in his footsteps to find the treasure.

The books were mailed out Tuesday. Unfortunately for me, the treasure was found Thursday, and my book hasn’t even arrived yet! Thankfully, the author is offering a full refund. I’ll be eager to try this one out next year- the author is looking to use PDF distribution to make it a level playing field, so that all participants get their copies at the same time.

That’s it for now! I’ve got the itch to go on a trip to a new destination in the next few weeks, and I have a month of vacation time to burn to make it happen. After seeing Top Gun: Maverick, the escape room on an aircraft carrier in Corpus Christi jumped to the top of my list, so maybe a trip to Texas is in the cards. 🙂

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