ATH 1997:

Armchair Treasure Hunt 1997

Title: Fact or Fiction
Setters: Paul Coombs & Dave Harding
Themes: A wide range of topics

Paul Coombs writes...

Some Notes on the Hunt

By now I had left Logica for Reuters but was working with several keen ATHers, notably Dave Harding. He seemed very keen to set a hunt, and so we had a few drinks to discuss what we wanted to do. I thought I had been radical in the past, but one thing I had never considered was removing the 'armchair' element of the ATH. Okay, you had to stray from your chair to dig up the treasure (or explore false leads) but Dave suggested that ATHers never met during the competition, and it would be quite fun to have some intermediate points where that happened. This fitted with an idea I had been mulling over for a while, which was to have an easy first stage to the hunt (to draw more people in), but then set progressively more difficult stages until only the best or most persistent hunters survived. So we decided that each stage should end in a certain pub, at a particular date and time, where the next stage clues would be handed out. The challenge would be to find the right pub on the right day - invoking definite shades of the old pub treasure hunts. Anyone who failed to make it to the pub would eventually see the next stage clues on the web, but be disadvantaged by time. To prevent the possibility of the opening stage being too difficult we actually had four starting pubs, with two different dates at which hunters could arrive at each.

We also decided to have a number of widely different themes, and to have a completely false path throughout so that the solvers would never be quite sure if they were on the right lines or not. In the event it largely became two separate hunts written by the two of us, reflecting our own interests and favourite parts of the country. The result was a real mixture of themes, styles, clues and puzzles. The themes included punk, the Orange prize for fiction, Jack the Ripper, cinema, the Archers, Falstaff, astrology, and Mary Queen of Scots. I had visited Fotheringay earlier in the year and was stuck by the atmosphere around the castle ruins and the prettiness of the village itself - oh, and the pub there is excellent. So that became the treasure site.

We were now able to release the hunt on the web, so colour became a possibility. There were also some printed versions, although the mechanics of producing double-sided A3 colour copies proved tiresome. I was by now familiar with the full capabilities of CorelDraw, so could finally manage the sort of detailed artwork that I had wanted to undertake in the days of Masquerade. The final version, in its printed form, looked exactly how a treasure hunt should look - a sealed gold-embossed, green velvet folder containing a mixture of colourful, disparate, intriguing clue-sheets.

Unfortunately the whole thing fell flat on its face. Nobody seemed interested in stirring from their armchair to get to a pub. Some say there was not enough time, others that the pubs were too far away, and others that the whole concept was so different that it took them too long to work out what was needed. I don't find many of these excuses convincing, but the fact was that only a handful of teams started the hunt by appearing in a pub, although it later emerged that others were following it over the web. We were then committed to spending long hours in pubs in the hope of someone arriving, and while this might not seem like too much of a burden, it is not really what you want to do all over the Christmas holidays. The only encouraging element was that the people who did turn up seemed really into it.

So all in all this ATH was a noble failure - but it looked fantastic...