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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Diary Excerpts | Magical Treasure Hunt 2013

I begin with a reproduction of the diary excerpts we discovered.

The first was a single leaf, rendered in a decidedly masculine script:

8 February 1908

I see from the date of my last entry that I have not opened this book — or, with but a single exception, this house — in passing 30 years.

A telegram arrived Monday. Needless to say, it caused me much wonder, even before I had read its contents. The intervening decades notwithstanding, Gabrielle knew her work and surprised me by bearing it in on the one-time wonted silver tray.

I held the envelope some minutes, baffled, then trod to the front door and gazed at where the avenue to the road had been. It was as inundated as ever, and I could only stare and despair anew. But I wonder, if the swamp finally loosens its grip after all this time, can it make any difference, or must I turn my sight to the mouldering walls and die in this house?

Who can say if the courier who bore the telegram was preternaturally resilient, whether the swamp be in fact relenting, or — I shudder to think — if Danu is merely relaxing her grip in order to perpetuate her revenge for another generation?

The telegram was composed by one Richard O’Shea of New York — a name I recognized only after reading that he was sending his protégé, a daughter, to stay at Château Desmarais. This Richard must be Agathe’s son; and since he sends his girl to me, I suppose that Agathe is no more.

If the girl arrives, it must signal either that my salvation is at hand or else that Danu anticipates my death.

This was followed by a series of diary leaves, all rendered in a script which revealed its writer for a girl, probably on the verge of adolescence:

8 February 1908

News arrived yesterday evening that Perry is soon to try for the pole, so Father has moved forward his own expedition. Of a consequence, he has arranged for me to go to Louisiana next week, though we have had no word from Château Desmarais.

17 February 1908

I arrived today at Château Desmarais.

Remy, my great uncle, is positively the most ghastly creature I have ever seen. I know it is small of me to think so, yet I cannot think otherwise. He is so pale and spare that he is almost a ghost; indeed nowhere is there more color in his aspect than in the blood red rim about his eye. I say “eye” and not “eyes” because he has only a single eye and wears a black patch over the place of the lost, which invites the imagination in unpleasant directions.

There is no trace of pigment in what remains of his hair and thin mustache, so they might have been any color in former times. Even his remaining eye seems somehow drained of hue, though it is discernibly yet a faint blue.

Remy’s lips are thin or nonexistent, and the corners of his mouth are turned immovably downward, which gives him a grave and doleful aspect as though he had just imbibed the bitterest poison in the world.

When we met face-to-face, though, I could swear I thought he looked as horrified of me as I was of him. Observing him in the hours since our initial encounter has caused me to wonder further if he is afraid of everything?

27 February 1908

Sometimes I see lights upon the swamp through my window. I imagined they were robbers on boats, hiding from the law. Mathilde says they are no such thing. She said the explanation was in the tale of one miscreant named William — just William, no last name — which she related and I shall attempt to synopsize here.

William was a varlet so wicked God would have nothing to do with him. He burgled and blasphemed, ravished and seduced, murdered and gambled. When he met his death, even the devil would not admit him any place in hell, so he was condemned to wander the earth, never to rest until doomsday. Before quitting hell’s doorstep, he begged the devil some blessing, and the devil allowed him one flame from the fires of hell, which William kept atop an undying candle to light his way at night as he wandered. That candle flame is the namesake for the lost spirit commonly called Will o’ the wisp.

I doubted whether the lights in the swamp could be Will o’ the wisp in his interminable ramblings because I think that I have seen more than one light at time. Besides which, why should I have never seen such a light before coming to the Desmarais estate? Surely a man condemned to wander until the end of time should not restrict himself to this swamp of all places.

Bethany had another tale to tell. She said that the lights are the souls of murdered children unbaptized.

28 February 1908

I think it must be the doleful surroundings that produce the lugubrious aspect that I see in all who dwell at Maîson Desmarais, most particularly Remy. Since I have been here, I have not seen the sun at all, and an insipid drizzle pervades almost every day. Even should the cloud cover break, I wonder if any golden light could penetrate the barrier of tree branches which hangs above every part of the grounds.

Through the windows it appears that nothing but mire and tangled trees can be found in any direction. Nevertheless, I will not continue in this house with nothing to do.

The house is dark and always cold but by the fire. There is nothing to do but servants’ work. If there is any library or drawing room, it must be behind one of the many locked doors in the house. Bernard tells me I’m not to poke about, but there is no need for the instruction, for there is no poking about that can be done.

And no one leaves the house or comes except for the as-yet-unnamed person who brought me here. There is some mystery in just how he leaves, for I have discovered no path from the stables that will allow a cart’s passage.

I think that there is nothing here that brings me any pleasure but to sit by the stove while Mathilde tells ghost stories.

Tomorrow, I will go out on the swamp whether it rains or not.

There are four servants at the house, only one of whom seems at all well disposed toward me. That’s Mathilde. She says she has not been at the house so long as the others, only eight years.

6 March 1908

A most fantastic development has occurred. I was exploring the swamp as on other days when my skiff ran aground of an unseen landing, for the water is so murky that it may stand at six inches or six fathoms anywhere you look, and you should never know it. I stepped out onto the submerged ground so as to lighten the skiff, and immediately I had done so, a swamp light appeared in front of me astir like a candle flame excited by an updraft. It moved to and fro like a victim of St. Vitus’ danse, then flitted off some yards and waited.

I made fast the skiff and then set out in pursuit on foot, finding the footing not so bad. The flame flickered and then darted for cover behind a tree. I circled the tree but discovered it glowing in a new hiding place some distance away. Again I pursued and again it evaded, and this went on for some time.

Eventually I caught up with it again at the bow of my skiff. I splashed toward the boat, but before I attained it, a frigid wind ran through the air and rattled the tree branches. The swamp light blinked from existence like a flame extinguished.

13 March 1908

Last night, to my wonder, I was awakened by light in the bedroom: it was the swamp light with whom I have played hide and go seek this week. I named him William and asked what business brought him here at that immoderate hour. I’m not sure that William understands English or any sort of speech. I spoke to him in French, but that produced no better effect.

William flitted about the room in his wonted, excited manner, then darted through the keyhole of the bedchamber door. I dressed in my gown and slippers, then followed him into the hallway. With none of his characteristic dalliance, William pursued a direct course for a certain one of the locked doors which I have several times attempted to pass.

He flitted through the keyhole and back, through and back, as if to beckon me. I whispered that it was no use for the door was locked, but William persisted, so I turned the knob and pushed the door to show him. On William’s next pass through the keyhole, I heard the lock thrown, and I tried the passage again, this time with success.

The curtains were drawn over the windows in the room beyond, but William hovered over the furnishings individually so that it was soon apparent that this was a music room. Last, William hovered above an ebony pianoforte and remained there.

I considered that, if discovered, any punishment could scarcely be more or less than the condition of a guest at Maison Desmarais, so I raised the lid over the keys and played quietly. William shivered with delight and glowed vermilion.

20 March 1908

I was in the music room with William tonight, playing quietly as ever, when Remy burst into the room with a bang. He raised a lantern before him, and immediately William’s color fell, and he flew to the lantern’s center, where he remained.

Remy fixed me with the glare of his limpid eye, then spun away without a word.

I was terrified, but I stole after him to learn what must become of William. In his study, Remy’s back was turned to the doorway, and I watched him pass his free hand several times over a closed box, which in a moment responded by opening as by magic. Remy put William and the lantern that encased him into the box and closed the lid with a snap.

I cried out loud — I couldn’t help it — and Remy spun on his heel with a furious expression on his face. His eyepatch was raised and his bad eye exposed. I think I must have fallen silent at the spectacle of it. It was horrible! What should have been white or blue was all black, and what should be black was white, and its gaze, malevolent and penetrating, fixed me where I stood.

When Remy lowered his eyepatch to its usual place, I exploded in tears and begged him to release William. He gave me no answer but summoned Bernard, and I was forcibly returned to my bedchamber, where I am now confined under lock and key.

17 April 1908

Today I heard Remy calling from his bedroom. There was some business of Bernard moving back and forth between Remy’s room and the kitchen, and after some while, Mathilde interrupted me from my doldrums and bade me carry a pot of soup to his room.

Having seen and heard nothing of him since he had me locked in my room, I theretofore had no intimation that he was ill. He always looks rather cadaverous, of course, but seeing him lying abed today, there could be no doubt that his health had fallen. To see him, he might have been a revenant three weeks dead.

He called to me, “Bernard!” I told him that I was not Bernard, but he could not understand me. He beckoned me to him. On his legs rested a small box and in his fingers, a black handkerchief drawn half clear of the box. I peered downward to discover the rest of the box’s contents: dark dust and tiny bones.

Remy gripped my wrist in his frail, cold hand. He said, “I have it! It’s not too late! Fetch thickness fat use!” I was nonplussed. I asked him what that meant, but he didn’t answer. Instead, his breath caught, and his last exhalation carried the words “Irene’s notes… in Atlanta’s fifteenth area.”

And those were the last words Remy said. He was dead after that. I looked for Bernard and asked him who Irene was and what Remy could have meant. Bernard said he didn’t know any Irene. It’s clear that there’s no way to get to Atlanta anyway. One may enter Maison Desmarais, but there is no escape.

Lastly, a single diary leaf written in a script which is best described as “demented.” Here is a reproduction of the original, in all its eeriness: [click]. And here is my transcription of it, in more readable form. I suppose that you shall reach the same conclusion as we did concerning the identity of the writer:

13 October 1927

I was right about last night’s riddle. When I gave the answer to the telegraph, it came alive again. It instructed me to exhume Remy, which I did. There was nothing left of him but his disgusting, dead eye. I took it, but the next riddle has me flummoxed so far, and I can’t say if or when I’ll get past it. I am storing the eye…

And then the script changed abruptly, as though another hand had taken the pen and appended only the following riddle:

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


The answer to the riddle shall appear in a following post.

Thanks to Matt Crook for crafting the .ttf font file, which he has named By The Numbers, used in the diary excerpt above. I first discovered the glyphs as a child in Martin Gardner’s book of mathematics and paradoxes Aha! gotcha. Matt’s invesitgation revealed that the glyphs were created by one Scott Kim, who did not respond to our inquiries.

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