Danu’s Lock | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

When I say that the Box of Bog Bryg held an opera, I mean that it in fact held the entire 100-page score to an opera: Atalanta by George Frideric Handel.[1]

Naturally, we all understood — to varying degrees but all at once — that Remy’s last words pertained to this opera: Atalanta’s 15th aria, not Atlanta’s fifteenth area. We consulted the score’s index to find the 15th aria, and, as we should have expected, the vocal part belonged to the character of Irene. Unfortunately, Irene’s notes were written in C clef, but Jeanette actually made short work of them and played the melody without error on the pianoforte.

Not long into the aria, the lantern glowed pink, and we knew that we had found our key. We directed the lantern’s light onto the black jewel on the very large box and were rewarded with a loud thunk. The box opened, and inside we found another box! This box was locked fast and bore two keyholes in its face, separated by a medallion embedded in the surface of the wood. Of course we immediately tried the silver key in each of them, but it would not turn.

Inside the leathern pouch

The party was at a loss, and we reviewed the information we had collected so far for some clue to the opening of this box. Our attention returned to (among many other things), the pouch Brigit had sent on her homunculus’ penultimate call. More particularly, we re-read the excerpt from Le Morte d’Arthur.

It was discovered that the pouch and the letter (or perhaps the key?) which it contained were an analogy for the scabbard and sword in the text — or so we surmised from our supposition that Brigit’s intended message lay in Merlin’s assertion that the scabbard was of more value than the sword. The pouch in fact had something to teach us. Turning it inside out revealed that a message had been written on the inside of it:

The left lock will turn if I press my hand against the medallion until the lock clicks.

The solution

Honestly, our party pressed more than one palm against the medallion, and even after a very long time, the box made no response, and still the silver key would not turn.

The box in fact needed no hand at all, only something cold, as Brigit’s hand was. After chilling the medallion for a while, a thunk was heard from the box, and the silver key turned in the left keyhole. It would not turn in the right keyhole, however. Heating the medallion produced another thunk, and the key turned in the right keyhole. At last, the box opened, and inside was a clear crystal cut into the shape of an intricate snowflake.

The conclusion

After the success of our treasure hunt, the swamp began to recede, and before a week was out, the roads were passable once more. Dash and I legged it to Yvelines, where we obtained a carriage to collect the others.

You might think there would still be some fighting to do over the inheritance, but to the best of my knowledge, none of the claimants has pressed the matter even to this day. Being stranded as we were was an experience which I hardly wish to revisit even mentally. I am content to pretend the old estate never existed, and I suppose that the feeling is common to most of the party.

Building the dowry box

Dad and I actually built the two locks for the dowry box ourselves. It took me several designs before coming up with something reliable that was easy to construct. We cut the frame and bolt from some thick acrylic Dad had lying about, and the bolt’s stopping points were controlled by putting a large compression spring and ball bearing into a slot cut into the acrylic frame. The bolt had a couple of bumps along its length so that it would snap into position when moving past the ball catch.

In the back of each lock was a ward which blocked the keyway. The ward could be extracted via a pull solenoid controlled by the dowry box’s brain, an ATtiny85.

Alas, the temperature-sensitive lock did NOT work on game day. Luther and I worked on it to no end, and we had it mostly working a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, but we found that once any solenoid activated, it threw a wrench into the temperature sensor’s ability to deliver reliable readings. (We used a TMP36 for the sensor.) We tried attaching capacitors of various sizes immediately against the sensor, but it made no difference. The solenoids were each only about 1.5 or 2 inches away from the sensor, so perhaps there was nothing that could be done with the intense magnetic disruption that their activity caused.

You can find the code for the dowry box on my repo at github: https://github.com/Vaselinessa/treasure-hunt-des-marais/tree/master/dowry-box.

The opera

A nod goes to Matt Crook, whose brilliant puzzle concerning the tombs of Caesar Augustus in his Blood Faith installments served as inspiration for the Atlanta-Atalanta riddle. Seriously, go read Blood Faith if you haven’t done so. It’s probably shorter than 30,000 words in all.

[1] http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/0/07/IMSLP19079-PMLP44870-HG_Band_87.pdf

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The Clock | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

Shortly after opening the four boxes in the flour cupboard, we examined the clock and assembled it by attaching the hour and minute hand to it.

The pendulum was actually a stud which could be pressed like the switches on the box in which we had found the lantern.

It seemed reasonable to assume that the riddle from the page bearing Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring was pertinent. I reproduce it here:

Both hands upon the keyboard place
Observe the figures which they chase
At midnight hands must rise to face
And indicated hours trace


Jeanette played Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring on the pianoforte, and many of the search party were attentive to the figures which her hands traced, but we initially turned up nothing. We used the lantern to shine the light of joy on the clock, but it made no response. Jeanette tried playing other songs on the pianoforte, and we watched her hands. Still we had nothing.

Another thing that we considered was that the tiny bones from the telegraph’s bundle might be finger bones (for a hand 1/5 the size of a human’s) and that they must be placed upon the piano keys for some effect, but this proved fruitless.

After much frustration, Eldred mumbled almost absently that the four wooden blocks when assembled constructed a keyboard.

Much forehead thumping ensued.

We pulled the two hands from the clock and placed them on the keyboard. The two faint marks mentioned earlier (raindrop and flower) matched two of the designs cut into the clock hands. When placed against these marks, the point of the hour hand indicated a “6”, and the point of the minute hand indicated a “4.”

Understanding the meaning of the riddle at last, we reattached the hands to the clock face, starting at midnight, and then turned the minute hand until the clock read six and twenty. A press of the stud on the pendulum elicited a melody from the clock.

We reproduced this melody on the pianoforte, and the lantern glowed yellow.

Shining the light

It was clear now what “the light of time,” referenced in one of the telegraph riddles, meant.

We found the place of make believe in short order: the large house actually had a small theater in it, and with Remy’s eye and the light of time, we found yet another invisible beacon. Attached to it was the silver key.

The box from the attic

I should emphasize that the order in which I relate all these proceedings to you does not reflect the order in which our party went about our discoveries but only the order in which I think they make the most sense. If I were to tell you the disorganized facts of everything we tried and how many times we left a riddle to come back to it later, this account should be ten times as long.

At this point, I return to the box I mentioned in an earlier post, the one we discovered behind the door with no hinge. There were on this box, as I mentioned, seven tiny jewels and one larger, black jewel.

With the solution to the clock’s puzzle, we now could elicit five colors from the lantern, and we proceeded to shine each one on the box, with no result until our final color: blue. No sooner had the blue light hit the box but the leftmost of its seven white jewels blazed with blue light, brighter than I had thought possible from such a tiny thing.

Invigorated, we returned to the piano with more enthusiasm and repeated several colors from before. The box next responded to the orange light. With the first two jewels alight, glowing blue and orange, it didn’t take Dash long to call out the answer: blue, orange, green, blue, red, yellow, green.

The solution

We asked him how he had determined that sequence, and he explained that the initials of those colors spell “Bog Bryg.”

Box of bog bryg

Sure enough, this sequence lighted the white jewels in turn until we had a brilliant but disorganized rainbow, and when the final jewel was glowing, the box clicked audibly. We lifted the lid and discovered to our wonder an opera.

Another disappointment arose at this point. Some time prior to discovering the answer to the riddle but after plugging in the electrical leads on the clock, the clock went awry. Luther mentioned he smelled burning and pulled the electrical leads. I guess that they had been plugged in backward because in fact we found that the board had burned out. I had to rewire it and find a new power supply after the hour had been entered on the clock and the pendulum stud pressed to no avail.

Building the clock

The clock was powered by a wall wart, and the program ran on an ATtiny85. The code is available on my github repo. The clock was in fact an old mechanical pendulum clock, which Dad and I modified to close a circuit at 6:20. When the ATtiny detects a rising or falling edge on the I/O pin connected to the pendulum stud, it plays the song if the circuit formed by the clock is closed.

Building the box of Bog Bryg

The Box of Bog Bryg is essentially a conglomeration of the spirit beacons mentioned earlier and the other solenoid latch boxes mentioned earlier. It’s driven with an ATmega328. The code is available on my github repo.

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The Pouch | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

The riddle given in my previous installment, the one included with the latter collection of diary entries, pointed us to an English yew writing desk (of which the upper drawers were real and the lower drawers were false) and within, the leathern pouch mentioned in the diary.

Within the pouch was the afore-referenced letter from Brigit to Remy and a torn page from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur but no silver key.

The letter read as follows:

Remy my love,

I write what may be my last communication to you. The injury in my hand has laid me low, and all of Danu’s science has thus far proved insufficient to stay the spread of the poison.

I write fearing the worst for both of us but hoping salvation for yourself. By the laws of the Fay, I cannot come of age while unwed and living under my mother’s rule. (Our marriage is not magically binding until you take possession of the dowry.) However, because you are of age, the oath you swore in the chapel is binding. Therefore, Danu has exercised the laws of the Fay to claim equal rights with yourself over all your land. I am certain that she will render it uninhabitable for you.

Take the dowry and this shall be undone. The purse I have sent you holds the key to opening the box.

Danu cannot take the box from you, but if she can open it, she will reclaim the dowry, and our union will never be legally effected. You must not let her open the box.

Until we meet again, if only in death.

Your Brigit

P.S. Breathe hot upon the next missive which you receive.

The torn page bore the following text on one side:

…Then Sir Arthur looked on the sword, and liked it passing well. Whether liketh you better, said Merlin, the sword or the scabbard? Me liketh better the sword, said Arthur. Ye are more unwise, said Merlin, for the scabbard is worth ten of the swords, for whiles ye have the scabbard upon you, ye shall…

And the following text on the side opposite:

…give me a gift when I ask it you, ye shall have it. By my faith, said Arthur, I will give you what gift ye will ask. Well! said the damosel, go ye into yonder barge, and row yourself to the sword, and take it and the scabbard with you, and I will ask my gift when I see my time. So Sir Arthur and Merlin…

Our party was perhaps equally so disappointed as Remy appeared to have been — maybe more so since he at least had the silver key and we had none at this point. It was only a great while after finding the pouch and moving on that anyone returned to this pouch and made any sense of the Malory excerpt.

Contents of the telegraph box

I explained earlier that we found a bundle inside the telegraph: some dust and bones wrapped in a blackened rag. It was popularly supposed among us that this dust and bones were the remains of Brigit’s homunculus. Reviewing Remy’s diary entries indicated that it had delivered no message on his last visit but that its robe of Irish moss was replaced with a dirty handkerchief, so we applied Brigit’s latest instruction, “Breathe hot upon the next missive which you receive,” against the blackened rag.

Miraculously, the blackness melted away before our breaths but closed in quickly when the affected area cooled. With concerted effort, we forced the blackness away for long enough to discover and transcribe a message written on the rag:


Danu has placed a lock of her own on the box and attempted to move it beyond your reach. Here is a key to find it.

Bring me your offerings unclothed, and I will return them in stripes; ignore me, and black they'll be.

As for breaking the lock, rely on Danu’s flame. Its loyalty can be won if you find its favorite.

The solution

The party did not require long to identify the barbecue grill as the solution to this latest riddle. Within it we found a very large box with no adornments save a single of the black jewels which were familiar to us by now. We rightly surmised that this was Danu’s lock.

We played all of the songs we had found from the folder labelled “William’s Favorites” and shone the lantern on the box with each light we produced but to no effect.

We had some progress yet to make in other directions before we could get this box open, so in my next installment, I will return to the contents of the other three boxes which accompanied the latter diary excerpts.

Yes, I am aware of a continuity problem here, since Remy mentioned in his journal that he attempted to open the box even after receiving the pouch, which should have been impossible since, by that point, the box was supposedly hidden by Danu. Initially, it was my plan to have Remy hide the box, not Danu, but that’s not the way it came out in the end, so I ended up with this loose thread.

Perhaps Remy’s diary should have lamented not being able to find the box instead of lamenting not being able to open it. Let this be a testament to how very, very hard it is to make a treasure hunt. Issues of continuity (and pacing) are the last things you’d think of when enumerating the difficulties of composing these things, but they are real and they are hard. Everything about composing a treasure hunt is difficult.

The fact is that I was actually recognizing holes in the treasure hunt the day it was staged. I had to come up with times/places to insert two clues 10 minutes before staging was complete because I realized that although they had been more-or-less composed, they had been left off of my checklist and didn’t fit obviously into the story. What’s more, when we took a break for the night, I hand-wrote and hid an extra clue, without which I realized the treasure hunters would never figure out what to do with one of the items.

The temperature-sensitive blackened rag was achieved with a mixture of thermal dust (for purchase at http://solarcolordust.com/Site/Products.html) and water-soluble glue painted over a rag.

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Diary Excerpts 2 | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

These are the diary pages we found most recently. They all appear in the same masculine script as one of the writers from the diary excerpts we discovered in the beginning.

1 July 1855

Today’s explorations took me beyond Honeysuckle Lake and off of the solid ground in pursuit of Bog Bryg, which I have seen often in charts but never in life, and what a singular exploration it became!

The bog was, as one might expect, sodden and sunken, as to be impossible on horseback, with great multitudes of knees of the bald cypress interrupting the way so as to render boat passage impossible as well.

Yet when I was at the point of turning Sebastian around to return the way I had come, there emerged from deeper into the bog such an unseasonably cool breeze that I was arrested in wonder. Apart from being pleasantly and unexpectedly cooled on a hot July day, I was inexorably drawn to investigate deeper to discover the source of this unnatural phenomenon.

I tethered Sebastian and waded through the bog, never sinking very deep, now and again guided and enticed by one preternaturally cool breeze after another.

Queerly, I lost track of myself, for when at last I perceived a change in my surroundings, I found that I no longer waded through the swamp, for it was frozen beneath me. Light snow drifted lazily over the icy surface and collected windward of every tree. And arising from the ice before me stood a single, frost-bound island with a blackthorn tree rooted at its pinnacle.

I had supposed to have lost myself in a dream and under that supposition, clomb the mound and plucked a blossom from the tree; and here, in my study, I sit at the desk with the flower in a vase before me and wonder. I may convince myself that the frigid center of Bog Bryg was only an hallucination, but whence this flower? It is none endemic to the land — or at least none that I recognize.

I have determined to invite Dr. Renault to visit tomorrow and have him examine it.

2 July 1855

At midnight I awoke to a rap at my chamber door. It repeated, so I donned my dressing gown and opened the door in annoyance, completely prepared to give Bernard what for but completely unprepared for the solitary apparition that greeted me—a ghostly woman, peerless for delicacy and beauty.

I could say nothing, and she waited not for me to speak: she gave me to understand that the flower I had taken at Bog Bryg was very dear to her and importuned that I please return it.

What could I do but surrender to the inducements of this angelic visitor? I led her to the study and presented her with the flower. She smiled upon me, and it seemed as if it were fortune itself smiling.

I have no recollection of how I returned to bed or indeed of anything that took place after I surrendered the flower. Yet after I rose this morning, I immediately took my way to the study and was not surprised find the flower absent from its vase. I did not send for Dr. Renault.

Instead, I breakfasted in haste and returned with Sebastian to Bog Bryg. As before, and scarcely knowing how, I found my way to the mound above the ice, and there I found the night’s apparition. She seemed pleased for my visit, so I introduced myself; and she gave her name as Brigit. She said her mother is the lady of Bog Bryg.

Exactly what all this can mean I am too charmed to question. I am inclined to proceed as if nothing of the matter were out of the ordinary. Together Brigit and I admired her flowering tree. Then we strode about the frozen swamp for some time, she introducing me to the surroundings, until I noticed that she was barefooted and clad only in a loose gown of no great weight. I do not suppose that she was uncomfortable, but I became aware that I was chilled to the bone and dressed no more warmly than a July day’s wont.

I expressed to Brigit that I was enchanted to know her and asked whether I might call in the future. She seemed well disposed to the prospect, so I invited her to join me to dinner and a gala for Agathe’s birthday when the lawn shall be lit with full moon. With her promise, I returned to Sebastian and rode home.

13 July 1855

Anticipation for last night’s gala was never far from my mind through all of the preceding ten days, and I’m sure that the memory of it shall be equally close to mind through the ten to come.

Brigit arrived a vision in white offset with a diadem of shining brilliance and tiny diamonds pinned along the length of her sash.

She was much admired by the guests. Few if any were so aloof to her charms that they did not seek a second audience with her before the night was through. But probably something of this attraction came from the aura of coolness, a welcome relief from the hot summer air, which emanated from her.

Sometime late in the event, I found myself without her. With no explanation at all, she had absented herself and made herself at home in the library, which is where I found her, tucked into a chair and engrossed in a volume of fairy tales. The unabashed interest in her pursuit was endearing, and I proposed that she take the book, along with a few others, home with her when she should retire. She made no concealment of her pleasure, profuse in declarations of gratitude.

16 August 1855

It having been several days since I last saw Brigit, and Agathe having returned to her new society in New York, I called at the frozen island in Bog Bryg. Brigit was not there. Instead, I was confronted by an older woman who treated me very coldly and forbade me to call on Brigit again.

With conciliatory words, I attempted to make peace with her, but she would not suffer it. She commanded me to depart, but I persisted and demanded to know where Brigit was. The strange woman opened her mouth wide and howled with the voice of the wind. Snow whirled down about me and fell so thick as to obscure everything from sight.

I stumbled away blindly for some time, wet and cold when I tripped over tree roots into the swamp. At length the air cleared, and I found my way free to solid ground.

I reached home, wet and possessed of a terrible chill, so I ordered Josephine from the kitchen, disrobed there, and sat before the fire, wrapped in a dry blanket. Probably I dozed, for I was suddenly aware of a well-proportioned but miniature young man standing on the ottoman and beside my feet. He was dressed only in a gown of Irish moss with a flower for a hat and a blade of grass for a belt.

He told me that I might find Brigit at Castle Rock at dusk. Having been slow in my escape from Bog Bryg and having been at the kitchen hearth for some time, the hour was already late in the afternoon, so I sprang from my seat, donned dry clothes in haste, and set out for Castle Rock. When I saw Brigit, I was possessed with the determination to ask her hand, though I had scarcely contemplated the subject previously.

Brigit accepted my token of betrothal and secured my promise to meet her tomorrow night that I might receive hers.

The woman I encountered this morning is Danu, Brigit’s mother, and a terribly jealous one, I perceive.

14 September 1855

Owing to Danu’s interference these several weeks, Brigit and I held some concern that she should prevent the wedding. Too often, Danu’s ignis fatuus has appeared at our trysts, and Danu herself has never been far behind. Therefore, except for the incident at Castle Rock, we spoke nothing of our engagement when in each other’s company and arranged our plans only through the medium of her homunculus, a discreet little creature; I have never noticed it coming and have often failed to notice it going. The only time I am sure to see or hear it is when it delivers its message.

By this means, then, we were able to appoint a day and hour for our union. I arranged for the attendance of the guests, the clerk, and the very Reverend Oury.

Oh black night! After the horror of all that went wrong, it is a terrible exercise to revive the gentle feelings which dominated the early part of the evening, to recall Brigit’s gentle beauty, to imagine the emollient touch of her cool hand. Now everything that took place before Danu’s arrival has been burned away like the left half of my face, and everything that once was beautiful is replaced by ridges and gouges which must in time become scars.

Danu arrived — or at least we first saw her — when Brigit and I turned from the chapel altar to face our guests, who were in the process of rising from their seats in anticipation of our returning promenade down the aisle. At the end of the aisle stood Danu, who released a howl so terrific that the church windows broke, and frigid winds burst through. The timbers of the church groaned above the bewildered shouts of the guests, and the walls bent; some must have broken, for a series of explosions was heard, and splintered wood lanced across the aisle. Danu caught up her ignis fatuus in one hand and cast it at us. I turned to push Brigit to the floor, and the fire struck me in the face.

The roof of the church fell in in places and created a barrier between Danu and us. I still had the use of one eye, so I picked up Brigit, who had not moved since I pushed her to the floor, and bore her away through one of the broken walls. I had not gone far when I became conscious that the flickering ignis fatuus yet clung to the left side of my face. I saw that evasion was impossible, and I fell to the ground, almost immediately overtaken by Danu.

She took Brigit from my arms, and I saw that she — Brigit, I mean — was impaled with multiple great splinters which must have come from the timbers of the west side of the church. Danu pulled the ignis fatuus from my face then held it against each of Brigit’s wounds as she extracted the splinters. Miraculously, the wounds disappeared without a trace, all except the last one, which was the smallest and most distant from the vitals: a single nail pierced her right hand, and in the short time since the violence was wrought, already her hand and wrist had changed color. Close about the nail, her skin was black and cracking. More distant from the site of injury, the color faded to gray, but unless my senses deceived me, the blackness was spreading to her arm before my eyes — or, rather, before my eye.

Danu commanded me to remove the nail, and although I might better have asked why she did not do so herself, I reached for the nail without thinking and plucked it free. No sooner was the nail free of Brigit’s hand than thick snow descended upon us, and when the air cleared again, the three of them — Danu, Brigit, and the ignis fatuus — were gone.

24 September 1855

This is the first day that I can move about the house after being confined to bed by the fever which followed my disastrous wedding.

The day after the wedding, I dispatched Bernard and Gilbert to Bog Bryg to find Brigit. On returning, they reported that they never made it as far as Bog Bryg, that in fact the whole of the northeast border of the estate had become impassable boggy ground. I sent them on the same errand twice more, but each time they returned with the same report.

Today, looking from the windows, their report is confirmed. The swamp has encroached further still and is nearly at the house.

During my illness, Dr. Renault bound my injured head and called only once more, a week later, to examine the wound’s progress. When he unbound my head, his face went pale and he crossed himself. He wrapped my head again in the same bandages as before, without washing the area, then made some stiff utterances to the effect that there was nothing in his education that would serve me and he might as well depart. He has not returned. Nor has there been any call by any other friend or associate.

It would seem that no one but the swamp wishes to associate himself to this house.

This morning at 11 o’clock, Brigit’s homunculus appeared, laden with a leathern pouch half as large as the tiny creature itself. With only the words “Use this. It is all here,” it disappeared in a wink.

I opened the pouch with high hopes but found only bitter, bitter disappointment. The pouch contained only a dour missive from Brigit, a silver key, and a single page from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. It is Brigit’s favorite book.

Brigit’s letter allowed little hope for her survival. Tomorrow I shall undertake my own journey for Bog Bryg.

I attempted to comply with the directions in Brigit’s letter, to open the dowry box, but there appears to be something missing. The silver key does not open the box.

29 September 1855

After days and days without word from Bog Bryg, I had short relief in the appearance of Brigit’s homunculus, who arrived, unlooked for, under the lamp on the pianoforte. I say it was but short relief because almost immediately it was apparent that matters were worse in the swamp than at home. The homunculus’ pallor was sickly gray, and instead of his wonted garment of moss, he was dressed in a dirty handkerchief of sorts. He said nothing, swayed on his feet some moments, then crumpled in place and died.

I tried for some minutes to revive him, but I scarcely knew what I was doing. The little creature was cold as stone before he fell.

What this can mean I do not know, but I fear the worst for Brigit.

Included with these pages was a single scrap of paper which read:

Half false, half true, I am inclined for writing.

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