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.
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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.

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William’s Favorites | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

The sheet music folder labelled “William’s Favorites” held only four staff pages, but the staves were empty on every sheet.

William's Sheet music

Superimposed over each collection of staves, however, was a circle of numerals, ranging from zero through nine, in a regular pattern of colors: red, orange, green, and blue. Each circle consisted of twelve numerals with such a placement as to put the beholder in mind of a clock face, but the numerals differed on each page, and their ordering was apparently random.

Each page contained one more item: a riddle in great letters, stamped in the center of each circle. These are the four riddles we found, in no particular order:

Riddle 1
Rung times twelve and twelve times more
Seek ye what rung has twenty-four

Riddle 2
Array of flags o’erlays the space
But one is absent from its place

Riddle 3
Rearrange words and read
Wither words fain would lead

Riddle 4
The resting place of sages past
Amid the dead, green hills contrast

 Solution 1: One of our number recognized that a clock rings 24 times in a day and started assembling a posse to search for every clock in the house, but it seemed too straightforward a solution to draw much enthusiasm. At length, Eldred led us again to the workshop, where he indicated an extension ladder, which consisted of two ladders bound together, each holding twelve rungs. Bound to the last rung was a sheet of music and a collection of paper scraps. Each scrap was printed with a telegraph key and another riddle. These riddles I shall record in a later entry.

Solution 2: An old house such as the Desmarais estate can be expected to have many a flag and banner, but nowhere could we find anything suggesting a “field” of flags. Rumination eventually brought our thoughts around to the flagged courtyard behind the house. Indeed there were passing a couple hundred of flagstones paving the ground, and one of them was indeed missing. There we found a sheet of music and another riddle.

Solution 3: It didn’t take long for the party to realize that “words” could be rearranged to make “sword,” but for some reason it was not until hours after this discovery that anyone thought it worth searching the house for swords. Late in the night, after several of the party had retired to bed, another sheet of music and another riddle were found tied to the hilt of one of the swords hung on ornamental display.

Solution 4: The expired sages, it turned out, were former occupants of the herb garden back of the house, growing out of raised planting beds surrounded with mulch. The current sage seemed to grow wild in the unkempt planters, and in the thick of it another sheet of music and another riddle.

We played each piece on the pianoforte, with the lantern resting beside, and to our wonder, the lantern came alive and glowed a new color for each of the four songs: red, green, blue, and orange.

Blue will-o-the-wisp Red will-o-the-wispGreen will-o-the-wispOrange will-o-the-wisp

Building the pianoforte

The pianoforte is a keyboard with a MIDI out port. I built a device to capture the MIDI signals and a program to compare them against a song bank. When a song was successfully entered, the device emitted an infrared signal, which the lantern received and interpreted. The code is available on my github repo.

So this diagram isn’t entirely accurate because I didn’t want to construct the images for the parts I needed. Check out the comments in the source code files for further instructions. The important thing to note is that that component bridging the MIDI signal and the microcontroller is an LTV817C optocoupler. This diagram shows an ATmega328, but I actually ended up using an Arduino MEGA 2560 because when I loaded the data for all the songs, the ATmega328 just didn’t have enough RAM to work properly (though it worked fine when I had six very short test songs loaded).

 Building the lantern

The lantern receives a data packet via IR transmission from the pianoforte. It also emits its own data packet via IR transmission. The code is available on my github repo.

Again, the diagram is not entirely trustworthy. Again, read the comments in the source code files for help. In the photo, you can see that I’m actually using four RGB leds, driven with four transistors (P2N2222AG). Add those and their resisitors, a button and jumper for control override, a power switch, and it became quite a web of wires. The device is powered off of a 9V battery. For my other portable devices, I used 2 AA batteries and an NCP1402-5V, but I couldn’t get enough power out of that to run the chip and all the LEDs. There’s a TSOP3238 IR receiver and a 950nm IR LED for transmitting.

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Finding William | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

Receiving six days in seven, always locked but always open.

Solution: It took no little puzzling, I assure you, to understand that this riddle referenced the postbox. (No letters on Sundays, and although it is always open to deposits, it is always locked against withdrawals but when the master of the house collects the letters.)

Using the postbox key, we found a small wooden box, perhaps four inches by six, wrapped with a chain and locked fast with a 3-digit combination lock. Too we found a scrap of paper with the following description:

 Guarded by spiders; seven in one, but one at a time; protect yourself lest you be harmed; under my table you shall find what you seek.

Solution: This led us — or, more properly, Eldred — to the workshop, a cobweb-infested apartment, where we found a Shop Smith table saw, and upon its steely ways, a tall wooden box.

The tall box was closed fast by no power we could discern, but closed fast it was nonetheless. At the closure of the box, opposite its hinges, three push-switches protruded from the wood, and above each switch a tiny light bulb. None of the bulbs burned, and the box appeared to respond to none of the button pushes we performed upon it, so we turned our efforts against the smaller box.

Solution: Scrutiny and argument led several of the party to the conclusion that each letter in the deranged diary entry which led us to the postbox was in fact a numeral and that some subset of these numerals might open the combination lock on the small box. Tabitha and Dash in particular were attached to this idea, but no triad of letters gave us a combination that opened the lock. In the end, I resolved that we must sum every numeral in the entire text and hope for a three-digit sum. Tabitha and Dash got to it and updated a running total at the end of each line of text. Jasper soon sensed the enormity of the eventual sum and began entering sequential values into the combination lock, starting in the neighborhood of 800. In this fashion, he got the lock open before Tabitha and Dash finished summing.

What should we find in the box but a curious device, a black circle of sorts. The diary readings led us to suppose that we had found Remy’s disgusting, unliving eye.

Solution: I can’t recall how it came about, but someone of the party surmised that the tall box was the very box of which we had read in the diary excerpts, the one containing the lantern that was William’s prison, and if that was so, then Remy’s unliving eye, bare of its eyepatch, might make it possible to work the sorcery that allowed the box to open.

Incredible though it be, gazing at the box through the unliving eye, we discovered one of the tiny bulbs — though dark as the other two to our naked eyes — glowing softly but plainly. We stabbed at the corresponding switch, and the glowing light jumped to another of the tiny bulbs. We pressed its switch next. The light continued to change places as we clicked the switch beneath its bulb, and after five clicks, the sound of a heavy lock being thrown resounded from the box. The lid lifted free!

The contents of the box was indeed a lantern of curious workmanship, and at its center, a spidery work.


The tiny bulbs on the tall box are LEDs which emit light at a wavelength of 850nm, invisible to the human eye but visible to many cameras. Remy’s unliving eye was a cell phone camera. I found that the iPhone 3 was very effective at detecting this wavelength but the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 were completely ineffective. I started out with an old Samsung sliding phone, which worked best of all, but it broke earlier this year.

The tall box was held shut by a solenoid latch. The latch was powered by a 12V wall wart, controlled by an ATtiny84 with a TIP120 transistor. The program for the ATtiny is available on my github repo.

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