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 and water-soluble glue painted over a rag.

Posted in Treasure hunt | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Treasure hunt | Leave a comment

Four boxes | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

I mentioned earlier that three of the four songs we had discovered to this point were accompanied by a single riddle each. I reproduce them here:

With Danse Macabre:

Past a door with no hinge

With Victor’s Solo:

A staff which supports no man while he holds it
A dust which grows into such a staff
A place for such a dust

With Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring:

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

Solution for Danse Macabre: Though the shortest riddle, this one had us stymied for a long while. There were in fact several sliding closet doors in the house (having no hinge) but none had anything obviously useful behind it. It was after all a hatchway into the attic that led to the discovery we were supposed to make: a box locked fast like the others. It bore several bands of copper, each embedded with a tiny, white jewel no larger than a pin head. Too the box bore a black jewel about the size of a shirt button.

This black jewel was a perfect match for the ones that accompanied the invisible lights which directed us to the four wooden blocks mentioned earlier, so we readily supposed that this box would respond to the light of the lantern.

However, I will return to this later, as we discovered aught else before attempting to open this box.

Solution for Victor’s Solo

Jeanette reded that the staff in the riddle meant the staff of life. It followed that wheat flour was the dust which could grow into such a staff, and the place for the flour was a cupboard in the kitchen. There we found not one but four boxes, each locked with a combination lock, and each combination lock bore a ribbon of color: blue, green, red, and orange.

Solution for the four locked boxes

One of the party lamented that there were too many possibilities before us all the time, Fairly asserted, we seemed always to have at least half a dozen of directions to go and no idea whether we had all of the tools necessary to pursue any one of them to its end.

We might have been in no worse circumstances than usual at this point, but several of the party were well confident within minutes that the numbers to open these four locks must come from the empty staff pages in the folder of William’s Favorites.

We found the page which had led us to the red song (Somebody to Love) and observed the red numerals in the clock-like circle. After entering a couple of permutations of these numerals into the combination lock, we had it open. We proceeded in like manner with the remaining three locks, and we soon had four new items upon our hands:

  • A clock
  • A minute hand
  • An hour hand
  • A collection of diary pages, penned in the same masculine script that we saw at the start of our adventure
I will reproduce the diary pages in my next installment.
Posted in Treasure hunt | Leave a comment

The Telegraph | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

Returning to the matter of the paper scraps, each bearing a print of a telegraph key, which were included with the sheet of music whose song produced the red light in the lantern, I proceed to render the text of each.

Shine the light of death…
The more you make of them, the more you leave behind.

Let fall the light of joy upon…
Lighter than what I am made of, more of me is hidden than is seen. What am I?

Direct the glow of loneliness upon what…
Forward I am heavy, but backward I am not. What am I?

With the light of meeting, go…
 There was a green house. Inside the green house was a white house. Inside the white house was a red house. Inside the red house were babies.

Cast the light of time upon a…
A water broader than the widest lake, traversed by countless souls, and never a one drowned.

Give me the head of Jason, found within Papa Gregory’s legacy.

Our earlier reading from the deranged diary page made it apparent that these were prompts from whatever spirit haunted the telegraph and that we should have further instructions from the telegraph if we could answer the six riddles.

The solutions:

  1. Footprints
  2. Iceberg
  3. Ton
  4. Watermelon
  5. Dew
  6. July*
* This one may need some explanation: Papa Gregory refers to Pope Gregory XIII (“Papa” being Italian for “Pope”). His best-known legacy is moving the western world onto the Gregorian Calendar. If you line up the initials of the months of the Gregorian Calendar, you get JFMAMJJASOND, which contains the string JASON. The head of that string, “J,” is the initial for “July.” 

Answers from the telegraph

We keyed the answers into the telegraph and each time (except for the sixth riddle) received a response in morse code which complemented the first line of the paper:

Shine the light of death…
…opposite five checked catenaries

Let fall the light of joy upon…
…four trees without fruit

Direct the glow of loneliness upon what…
…once was a mess but now is clean

With the light of meeting, go…
…rounding up then up then down

Cast the light of time upon a…
…place of make believe

As for the entry of the sixth riddle, the telegraph machine responded by popping open with a loud click. What we found inside was a little bundle consisting of tiny bones and dust bound up in a dirty, blackened rag.

Returning to the injunctions given for the first five riddles, we could produce but four colors in the lantern at this point, and there was some disagreement about whether any of them corresponded to the lights mentioned in these instructions. But it happened that some of the party recognized one or more of the songs which produced these colors:

The light for Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring (green) was understood first: joy. Then Danse Macabre: death. Then Somebody to Love: loneliness. Finally Victor’s Solo: meeting.

Shining the first four lights

We carried the lighted lantern to the appointed places.

We shone the light of death on the bookshelves opposite a curtain which draped in five places.

We shone the light of joy upon a number of decorated Christmas trees.

We shone the light of loneliness throughout the study.

As for the light of meeting, we found a spiral stair that lead upward from out of doors to a door against the house. Inside, we found another stair, which proceeded to the top floor, but stopping short of the entire ascent, a door opened off of a landing in the staircase. Through the door was another short stair leading down again into a dark and crowded storage cellar. We cast the light of meeting in this room.

In each case there was nothing remarkable to behold except through Remy’s unliving eye: In each of these locations, a tiny light glimmered in response to the lantern light, and those lights each directed us to a single wooden block no larger than a sausage link.

The wooden blocks were routed so that they could be assembled intelligibly, and when assembled, a diagram of a key was apparent on their collective surface. Examining closely, two lines of numbers were faintly visible, one on the upper half, one on the lower half of the routed face of the wood. There was nothing remarkable about them; they only proceeded in numerical order from 0 to 9 and from 0 to 9 again. There were blemishes on the wood, making it difficult to read further, but two other marks appeared, marring some of the numbers: one looked a bit like a raindrop and the other, something like a flower. You can just descry these faint marks in the photograph above.

I have no idea what kind of bones I used in the telegraph bundle. I found them a couple of years ago when digging through a collection of earth and bones to fashion the remains of Freya the Enchantress in the 2011 treasure hunt.

I was pretty pleased with the riddle about the head of Jason. I came up with that one myself, and I thought it would stump the treasure hunters for hours, but they had not found the telegraph riddles long before the solution was pronounced.

In fact the hardest of the riddles by far for our party was the broad water one. I believe that I encountered this riddle in A Shattered Fairy Tale, which Matt Crook (a co-author of the work) read to me. Matt, you’ll be pleased to know your riddle was a stumper.

To my surprise, no one in the party actually recognized the theme from Danse Macabre. In fact, the only one they got on their own was Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. With the help of a song-recognition app and a smart phone, they identified Somebody to Love.

A heartbreak at this point was that I had staged in such a hurry that I placed the blinking spirit beacons in the wrong locations, so what should have been a fantastic effect was reduced to nothing. The red light elicited no response in the study because the green beacon was hiding there, etc. I don’t suppose a single beacon was placed in the correct location.

Building the telegraph

The telegraph was one of the easier circuits. It’s a box held closed by a solenoid latch, and the program runs on an ATtiny85. See the descriptions of the earlier boxes for orientation. The code is available on my github repo.

Building the spirit beacons

The spirit beacons run on ATtiny85’s. The code is available on my github repo. They’re powered with 2 AA batteries and an NCP1402-5V regulator. Aside from that, they’re just a crystal to govern the clock and a TSOP38238 to receive the IR signal. Oh, and an 850nm IR LED to output invisible light, just like on the box that held the lantern.

Posted in Treasure hunt | Leave a comment