Our 2008 Christmas Treasure Hunt

It’s become our family tradition to hide each others’ gifts and set up clues in order to find them. This year it was my turn to hide Peter’s presents. I tried hard to keep it easy, but not too easy. When the clues are too hard to figure out, it frankly gets frustrating for everyone. But if they’re too easy, the game’s over almost as quickly as it began. But I figured I could count on Neil’s classical-style education to help Peter through clues he might not know intuitively.

I put one present for Peter and Neil, the laser strategy game Khet, under the tree. On it was an envelope containing the first clue:


I thought Peter and Neil would almost immediately go to where the next clue was, in Neil’s history book, Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. But they put too much thought into it. The Gaul were mainly French, right, so did we have any French books? Could it be found in a Latin text? All the Asterix and Obelix comics (in various languages) got a through look-through, until I finally hinted it had to do with the Gallic Wars. The next clue, hidden in the text’s pages was:


I knew Peter and Neil would recognize “green eggs” right away because I’d been drooling over the Latin version of Green Eggs and Ham all Christmas season–and Peter gave it to me. “Cenabis” was the lame Latin I had to come up with myself, which means “We will dine.”

As soon as they’d translated the cartoon, Peter and Neil found my green eggs in the refrigerator. The night before, I’d mixed alum and vinegar and written the next clue on the eggs. It’s supposed to soak through the egg shell and imprint on the egg white of a boiled egg. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, so I had to give them the next clue directly:

In tympanum est.

Peter immediately knew this meant it was in a drum. He and Neil searched all the percussion instruments in the house until he found Neil’s Mathematica book (another present) on a drum in a drum case. Neil, our resident mathematician, loves codes and ciphers, so I gave them this one:


It’s a playfair cipher with “virent ova” as the key. But wouldn’t you know it: Neil translated the key, and tried solving the clue with “green eggs” as the key. That resolved into gibberish, which Neil tried to use anyway: was it a scrambled clue, or hold a message within it? Peter tried it with “virent ova” but he didn’t quite understand the mechanics of the playfair cipher and got it wrong as well. Finally, he figured it out, and read:

How Abbe Faria discovered the treasure map

Neil just read The Count of Monte Christo last year, but he was as baffled as Peter was. They had to figure out where Abbe Faria come from and then brush up on the great novel. For the rest of you who haven’t read or don’t remember the details of The Count of Monte Christo, the treasure map was written in hidden ink on a bookmark inside a breviary. The map was revealed only when the Abbe was about to throw the bookmark into the fire and the heat revealed the message.

I’d placed a bookmark in Neil’s Mathematica book. The night before, I’d written the next clue in lemon juice on a bookmark, but the letters had browned instantly. So instead I used milk for the secret ink. It worked just as well, but it takes more heat to make the message come out. Nevertheless, Peter and Neil, through various methods, Peter and Neil got the bookmark heated up enough to reveal the words:


Inside our printer was a present with this written on the wrapping:


and a desktop calendar I’d bought when I was in Germany. The date was in European style, and it was easy to find on the date in the calendar:


And on the other side, the answer:


Both Peter and Neil speak German well enough to understand that it referred to the Sesame Street song. Behind the Sesame Street’s 25th Celebration DVD I’d hidden the next present: a Blu-Ray version of Life of Brian, the Christmas (Brian-mas?) story for our geek farm.

On there was the last clue:


Neil immediately recognized the pre-Germanic runes from his German/history lesson, and transposed them to the clue: Stairway to Heaven. I was afraid it might get the boys into a Led Zeppelin jag, or trying to read meaning into the lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven.” But maybe a sarcastic comment I made about stoner Led Zep fans sent Peter immediately in the right direction.

He climbed the stairs to our attic and found a video game based on a movie we all recently saw and loved, Bolt.

All in all, the treasure hunt took just under 2 hours, and all had fun doing it.

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