ATH 1985:

Armchair Treasure Hunt 1985

Title: Armchair Treasure Hunt 1985
Setters: Paul Coombs & Brian Jackson
Themes: The Melting Brain

Some Notes on the Hunt

Paul Coombs writes...

Around 1978 I was sitting in the Newman Arms with Glenn Wright, then organiser of the Logica darts club. Through the door burst four strangely-dressed people clutching sheets of questions which seemed to refer to various objects to be seen in the pub. Having unceremoniously shoved us out of the way to examine the inscription on an old print behind us, they swilled down a pint, and left. After this had happened for the sixth time, we grabbed one of the participants and asked what it was all about. He hastily gasped out the principles behind a pub treasure hunt before downing his pint and running out of the door. "Logica ought to do things like that", we said.

A few months later, the first Logica pub hunt took place, with 12 teams of two people. From these humble beginnings it grew to embrace most of the company, peaking at around 60 teams of 4-6. If I could name a highspot, the June 1993 issue of the internal magazine Noticeboard contained a picture of two blindfolded consultants drinking rum through straws from the rear orifice of an inflatable sheep. Those were the days.

These pub hunts continued about twice a year until around 1994, being revived for a one-off event in 2005 to raise money for the Tsunami disaster appeal. But while the pub events were a regular feature, I became aware of a demand for a similar but more sedate entertainment.

Kit Williams' book Masquerade was published in 1979, and gripped many, including myself, with its tale of buried gold, with the clues held within the highly-detailed illustrations. If you've not seen it before, have a look here. I'd have loved to set something like that (and still would) but I am slightly hampered by a complete lack of artistic ability. Then someone showed me a Christmas quiz from their employers, Task Force. This had a series of general-knowledge questions plus an imaginary journey clued from place to place by a series of puzzles. It was the ideal template - we could still have a buried treasure, but instead of the pictures we'd have questions and puzzles that in some way provided the clues.

I had been aware for some time that Brian Jackson was a pretty good artist, but in those days he seemed unwilling to draw things to order. However, we took some of his existing work, the 'melting brain', to break up the text. For some reason which now escapes me, we decided to lay out all the text in Letraset, which gives the finished article something of the look of a ransom note. The questions were a pretty easy set of old chestnuts that wouldn't last five minutes by modern ATH standards, and the imaginary journey was taken almost verbatim from the Task Force quiz. A simple substitution code gave the final location but in a last-minute panic ("it's all too easy!") I then decided to add an inept and unnecessary final twist.

The name "Armchair Treasure Hunt" suggested itself naturally as a continuation of the pub hunts, and had remained in place despite their demise. Clearly, it is a fine and appropriate name because I later discovered an organisation called the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club, who set each other competitions of this nature throughout the year.

Obviously, we picked on Christmas Common for its name, but an added bonus was that it had (and maybe still has) a fine pub staffed by a single old lady who had to climb down in to the cellar and draw off a pint every time someone asked for one.

I had been keen to have a jewel as a prize, but the budget and time-pressures meant that this idea was dropped. Instead, the idea of having a book of raffle tickets in the box, with each team taking the next one, has proved sound.

Distribution of the hunt was a problem (and continued to be so until the advent of the Intranet), so we recruited various volunteers through the Sports and Social Club to leave piles of the laboriously photocopied sheets in various kitchens and reception areas. It was impossible to imagine how many people would be interested, or to know if we had set something too easy or too hard. In the event, it seemed just right, with Steve Morris gleefully showing off one of the chocolate coins with which we had stuffed the treasure-box to give it that authentic pirate look.

I am particularly proud of the scoring system, by which the questions found to be hard gain higher marks. In this hunt the system was applied rather half-heartedly, because I wasn't quite sure it would prove to be fair, but now it has become the norm. The wheeze of only sending answers to people who had entered the quiz reduced the photocopying requirement, as well as introducing the phenomenon of the token entry merely contrived to get a look at the answers. All in all the first hunt was seen as a great success, particularly by the Sports and Social club, as it seemed to draw in people who did not usually participate in the more active events.

Brian Jackson writes...

The Melting Brain poster was an idea without an application, much as Pablo's quiz was an idea without a format. I was interested to see that he remembered Letraset when it was, in fact, the biggest 'scissors and pritt' job we ever did, pasted up onto A3 sheets and copied. Each question was individually typed, printed, cut out, stuck on and often gummed up too. There was very little time to put this one together - the reluctance on my part to draw to order came from some quite grand ideas being presented to me in the last week of November, and I had to advise Pablo on what was actually feasible. Friction between the writer and the artist - twas ever thus (as you will see).

My other recollection of the Melting Brain was spending a December Saturday in GPS with Pablo (having borrowed Geoff Beeson's key) manning a photocopier while we made all the copies. We learned how to replenish toner and even had to go to Rymans to get more paper after we used all the A4 we could find in the building (heaven help anyone who had some urgent copying to do on the following Monday).