Pablo's Armchair Treasure Hunt

Armchair Treasure Hunt 1996

Title: Armchair Treasure Hunt 1996
Setter: Dave Kee
Themes: Fibonacci Series

Dave Kee writes...

Some Notes on the Hunt

I competed in my first ATH in 1986. I managed to get one question right using my own resources. However, I quickly discovered that family, friends, colleagues and clients were considerably more resourceful and pretty soon the team was powering through the puzzle. The icing on the cake was, of course, visiting the treasure site in the middle of the night - after that we were hooked!

The one blight on the whole process was that we could never get to the treasure first. Each year we competed and lost. In despair, and to be sure to get to the treasure site first, we decided it was time to offer to set an ATH. I had a few simple, but brilliant, ideas that would make a great ATH. My team were good at questions. Pablo had published his Guide to Setting the Christmas Quiz - what could be more straightforward?

Pablo suggests a 12 month gestation period for a ATH, "you cannot start too early" is his mantra. We started a bit later than this but after several dinner parties we had a mass of questions for me to weave into my brilliant ideas and I was confident that the ATH would automatically pop out at the end. We had even visited the treasure location just after Christmas to check the state of the site in winter.

When I presented my brilliant ideas to the team, I was concerned that they were too simple (my ideas) and would be solved in days, if not hours. Pablo had said, "it must be the hardest thing ever", or at least that's what I thought he said. I was therefore relieved to see that my team found my ideas incomprehensible - at the time I put it down to the absence of a scientific education.

As the summer of 1996 approached I started to acquire the necessary equipment. A new PC, scanner, postscript printer, Adobe software, etc. There was a bit of trouble getting it all to work together and the scanner had to be replaced, however we were well ahead in our preparation. Just after the new PC arrived I was ill for a week. Moping around at home all I seemed capable of, or interested in, was creating Excel spreadsheets to calculate positions on the golden spiral (perhaps I was more unwell than I thought). This was an essential precursor to construction of the ATH. At the end of the week I was smugly satisfied with progress. I had 1 megabyte of complex spreadsheets ready to roll and they were password protected against attack (paranoia is the first sign of ...).

All that remained was for me to use the professional page layout package to construct the hunt and ship it to the printer (these were the days when the hunt came out on paper in the house magazine). Previous setters had had problems converting from PowerPoint, Word, etc into the formats used by professional printers. I was going to bypass all that by using the same software as the professional printer.

My primary brilliant idea was to use the fact that an A4 page has the same dimensions as a golden rectangle, successive pages would be linked together into a golden spiral with the treasure at the centre of the spiral. A subsidiary idea was to use hidden "magic eye" images to contain coded messages. "Magic eye" images are those strange graphics which if you look at them long enough, and squint, show stereoscopic images. Typically they are in colour but they can just be grey dots, which I planned to use - at the time colour was a step too far in the production process.

I was confident in September, having put my equipment failures behind me. My confidence turned to panic when I discovered that A4 pages do not have golden rectangle proportions and if I put the golden rectangle outline on an A4 page it looked very odd - it seemed to shout out "I am a golden rectangle". Worse when I started using the magic eye software I found that the images were too obviously odd, could not be easily hidden as background and I could see no sure way that the printer would reproduce them at the contrast levels I wanted. And, to cap it all, I had forgotten the password to the spreadsheets that had taken a week to create!

I would like to say that I didn't panic, that I reasoned my way out of the situation, but in reality I couldn't see what to do. So I pottered on and realised that I could make a virtue out of A4 not being a golden rectangle. If I was using the whole of the A4 page and having items in specific places I could run into all sorts of problems when the production process started to trim the pages. Far better to have a free floating outline of a golden rectangle. However, I was left with a 1" margin down one side which I needed to disguise. My research into "magic eye" software had turned up a program that created these images just using text, i.e. something the printer could not disrupt. So the page now looked OK, a neat rectangle in which to put pictures, codes and questions and a margin populated with a mass of text.

I felt that we were now back on track. I started to put in the questions that the team had devised and some pictures and codes and we had a first draft for team review. Clearly the team were not of a numerical bent because, yet again, no one "got it". However, I was confident that the Logica teams would perform the necessary lateral thinking to see through the puzzle.

It is amazing how long the fine tuning and detailed checking can take when you are generating just 12 pages. Each question was hardened against the new threat of internet attack. I had my first discussions with the printer, they used QuarkXPress and Macs not Adobe PageMaker and PCs as I had assumed. However, the printer did have an old copy of PageMaker that ran on the Mac and we both hoped it would work. I learnt a lot about the intricacies of Adobe's Illustrator, Photoshop, PageMaker and Acrobat packages during this period - not that this knowledge has enhanced my employment prospects. However, we were getting there, the print deadline was only a few weeks away but I was confident once again. Logica then decided that, on Monday, I should go to Perth for three weeks. My skills were needed as part of team to work 7 days a week to put a call centre demonstrator together. I tried to explain that I did not see where Photoshop and Acrobat featured in call centre systems development, and anyway, I already had a 7 days a week project. All to no avail; I was in Perth, Australia, a few days later.

Perth is a long way away. This was in the days before we could tunnel across the internet back into Logica. Modem speeds were 28.8K. We had time zone problems talking to people in the UK, they always seemed to be asleep. Luckily I had acquired a notebook and loaded it with all the necessary software and so could continue with the development of the ATH when I might have been sleeping.

Finally I completed the ATH and was ready to ship the file to the printer in Bournemouth. When I enquired about their email address I got the distinct impression I had asked about the mason's handshake, no one admitted to knowing it, "all our jobs come in on ISDN". Regrettably the hotel did not have ISDN. Also I discovered that Logica email was restricted in size and the file size was getting rather large. The obvious solution was to post them a floppy disk, I had about a week left on the timetable. I then discovered that the file was too big for a single floppy disk, I'm glad that the hotel windows did not open. The team in Perth suggested that I use a splitting utility to break the file up and put it on several disks and that the printer could easily reassemble it. It all sounded a bit unlikely, but what choice did I have? I dispatched my disks from the central post office in Perth more in hope than certainty. Clearly I could not review the proofs, the postal delays would be too long and the time zone issue would make it impractical. So this problem was delegated to my wife who found some errors in what they had done but decided that we could live with them, so she OK'd the proofs and we began to relax.

All that remained was to plant the treasure. I set off early one Sunday morning with the treasure box and some tools to help me suspend it in the supports of a footbridge over a semi-dried up stream. There was hardly anyone about so I got under the bridge and, between ramblers walking overhead, I started to staple the outline of a Logica L. At this point a gentlemen in running gear descended into the stream bed and was about to nail an orienteering control to the underside of the bridge when he saw me. We had a slightly odd conversation, he didn't actually ask me what I was doing crouched down under a footbridge but he did try several other conversation gambits that I declined. Eventually his time pressures, another 10 controls to place before the start of the event, caused him to run off and I continued in peace. Just before I left I checked that the box was hidden from above and below. Of course it wasn't and I descended again to the stream bed for handfuls of muck and twigs to complete the concealment with wattle and daub.

From here it was plain sailing. We produced paper copies which we dispatched in SAEs supplied by the entrants, waiting for the house magazine was unreliable. Also for the first time we produced a version in PDF format that was available on the Logica intranet. We had a relaxing Christmas for the first time in years. No incomprehensible puzzle to solve.

Unfortunately as the deadline for the end of the ATH approached it became clear that my team's review comments had been spot on - it really was too hard! So more time on the PC to create a set of extra clues. These were published on the Friday and the treasure was found on the Sunday.

Perhaps there is some justice in the world. We could never get to the treasure first and this year we ensured that no one else did.