For about 10 years now, a treasure hunt for Christmas presents has been part of our family tradition. Peter and I take turns planning one for each other. Neil, who loves puzzles has gotten in on the action and has been requesting a hunt for himself as well for the past few years.
Well, this year I’d already gotten my present (a trip to Germany in February) so Peter decided to combine the treasure hunt for me and Neil into a hunt for a family gift. This year, the dastardly association of G.N.O.M.E. had done it again. A few years ago, these fiends took all my presents and taunted me with clues in Latin. But I persevered, and found my stuff. This year, the first clue read:
OH NO. NOT AGAIN. HELP. HELP./Your presents have been stolen by G.N.O.M.E./Solve our riddles and find your prizes/Or on them you’ll never lay your eyezes!/What’s yellow and dangerous?
I had no clue and wandered around looking for yellow things. With a tip off, though, Neil knew the answer. Peter gave me the collected Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for my birthday, and though I have yet to read it, Neil’s read it through 3 times already. Apparently, when the computer pops up with the number 42, the heroes have to figure out what the question is, and “what’s yellow and dangerous?” is one of their ideas.
On page 42 of the book, we found our next clue:
I can not be seen/Whether day or the night/But I go on display/When the hour is right
I figured that one out right away, because we have a Christmas clock in which figures spring out of little doors and play a song every hour. I had to set it back a few minutes in order to make them come out, and managed to snag the next clue:
Enter night/Enter light
Neil, who’s a Guitar Hero fanatic, recognized it as the opening lines of “Enter Sandman.” After a few minutes, we found the next clue on our still-sealed copy of the collected works of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series:
Yo! We’re the elves from G.N.O.M.E./Better step aside/We’d be rollin’ with the honeys/But we got no rides/We’re rad like uranium/That’s been depleted/But we’re illin’ cuz our transportation’s been….
I instantly knew what the answer had to been because on a family stroll just a week or so ago, I’d gotten a laugh out of the wording for an important announcement posting along our nearest bus line:
Whatever happened to the word “eliminated?” Oddly, on the other side, the announcement is in Spanish, and they say the line is “discontinuado” so why can’t it be discontinued in English as well. As an aside, the actual elimination of the route is no big deal, since it parallels a route just a few blocks north and that one is on an unbikable expressway. And we usually just use light rail to go downtown.
Neil and I got dressed and hustled to our nearest bus stop, but the clue wasn’t there! We actually had to check out 4 or 5 bus stops along the route, until we found our clue, in an envelope that had fallen off a bus bench. It had the most esoteric clue of all:
Stanard, Stewart, and a Pistillate strobilus that’s been buried for 20 years.
Argh! I thought Latin was just a tool to force grammar on middle school students. What’s a strobe pistil anyway? We had plenty of time to think about it walking back home. I checked out the lamp posts and Neil looked at our lighted Christmas displays. It was time to resort to the computer, and Peter’s hint that Stanard and Stewart were first names, not last names. A pistillate strobilus is a (pine) cone, and Stan Ridgway and Stewart Copland were the first Stan and Stewart that come to mind. Ridgway and Copland actually collaborated once, and only once, in performing the song “Don’t Box Me In” for the movie Rumblefish. Was that the clue? Wasn’t that too esoteric?
Neil and I thoroughly searched our Christmas tree for musical ornaments and nearby boxes; and I went outside to look for any wild pines. Of the latter, there was one, directly in front of the window of an unfamiliar neighbor who’s the dog-owning equivalent of the cat lady.
Peter further hinted that the song was indeed relevant, and that the tree state might not be the current state of the pine. A wooden box? The whole house is full of wooden boxes. Neil and I brainstormed and thought it might be in his pinewood derby box. In the process of searching for it, Neil found it in the wooden toy box.
Our ultimate prize was a game of Jenga. Take that, elves of G.N.O.M.E.: you’ve been thwarted for another year!