Pablo's Armchair Treasure Hunt

Armchair Treasure Hunt 2000

Title: Snakes and Ladders
Setter: Dave Kee
Themes: Hillingdon Trail

Hunters' Tales

Many hours of trawling through internet search engines, reference books, popping into Disney Shop and Waterstones, and reading the life history of Tony Hancock results in a good set of answers. It doesn't, however, reveal where Tony Hancock's grave is. Research shows that he died in Australia, which is a bit far to go and isn't a London Borough anyway. Luckily he was flown back but he was cremated before being brought back which makes a grave less likely.

Wednesday 3rd January 2001

Success - we've found out where Hancock's grave is. It's in Cranford Church, Middlesex. That's handy as we think that there is a Middlesex theme. An old A-Z indicates that it's at the north side of the park. We've got loads of answers to the questions but haven't been able to assemble the jigsaw so don't have the foggiest what to do when we get there.

Sunday 7th January 2001

12:30 Expedition Cranford meets up at Cranford Park. It only takes a moment to tell that we are in the right place as we find the post with HT on it. It's the Hillingdon Trail, which is a 20 mile walk to the west of London. We explore the graveyard, quickly locating Hancock's gravestone (it's actually his and his mother's).

12:50 We take a look around the area and find a map of the Hillingdon Trail.

12:53 We hide from a lady with small child as someone thinks that she looks familiar so could be a Logibod.

12:55 Back to the map. Out with the camcorder to record it so we can refer to it later when we get lost. It's now becoming obvious what we have to do. It's simple. We walk the trail until we find the buildings sketched out and the casket will pop out in front of us. OK, we walk until we find one building and then decide how it fits in.

13:00 Start walking the trail. Don't know what David Kee means by Global Warming - Global Wetting more likely. It's a bit damp underfoot. One of us has had the foresight to bring his walking boots but the rest have lighter footwear like trainers. After a few hundred yards it starts getting boggy and numerous short detours are needed to keep feet dry. Some places are several inches deep. The decision to carry the baby in a papoose rather than use the pushchair was a sensible one. One wood and one large field later and all but one of us have given up trying to avoid the wet ground.

13:45 Civilisation. We've hit the road and a pub. After a brief visit to the pub we set off again. This is the urban part of the trail. We're still looking for the Logica 'L'. It's tempting to check in the middle of the roundabout but digging there might attract attention and there's nothing in the clues about needing nocturnal cover.

13:55 The cream of civilisation now. Graffiti everywhere. Has David contributed to it. Can't see anything.

14:05 A canal. This is good as it fits in with some of the clues, such as Ram's heads and Swan's necks on the barges. We follow the signs as best we can. Part of the fun is trying to guess which direction the arrows used to point before people swivelled them.

14:10 We're walking down the side of the canal on the towpath. Lots of buildings to look at. Keep getting the clues out to compare with the sketches. Why do so many look like the Lego building?

14:20 Lots of people walking their dogs. Eyes peeled for L on every wall that we pass. Surely we must see one of the buildings in the sketches soon.

14:30 We must have gone too far. Perhaps we should have checked Cranford Park before setting off on the trail? We'll walk to the next bend. Another four or five hundred yards. It's more of a curve so where does the bend start. There's a bridge ahead. The girls volunteer to walk to it. They find nothing and we start to walk back.

14:50 The sun looks low. Wonder how long before it sets. We didn't bring a torch.

15:02 A chill goes down my back. The wind must have changed direction.

15:05 It's a long way back but we walk fast and bypass the fields by using the roads.

15:55 We've made it back to the cars and grab a bite to eat before returning to the park. We split up. This is where the mobiles phones were handy. "Any luck?". "No". "I'll check this field". "OK".

16:50 We really should give up. Perhaps we should be at the other end of the trail? One last check around the churchyard. We don't go in as we don't think that we'll need to do any digging there. A final check around the underneath of the big trees. A final check of some of the other paths.

17:00 It's time to go home and wash the mud out of our trousers.

Team Norway

After initially thinking the green mess on page 11 was crumpled up Christmas wrapping paper, we realised it was a map and a quick look at a Ordnance Survey map showed that it was of Hillingdon borough. Looking at the map the area west of Ruislip looked promising hunting territory, so a brief speculative visit on Christmas Eve was made to check out the lie of the land. Spotted a "Hillingdon Trail" sign by Bayhurst Wood, which looked like the signpost drawing and also clicked with the "HT" post. However, having got nowhere with the detailed instructions we could go no further.

After Christmas the serious work of sorting out the jigsaw began. Once we'd spotted that there was a connection between some of the pictures and the answers to questions (some more groan-worthy than others) we found we'd got enough information to put the pieces together and play the game. Enough of the letters came out in the right order to give us confidence we were on the right track, but we didn't have enough to tell us where to start. Still, nothing ventured etc, we headed off to Bayhurst Wood and looked for a bridge. Found a small stream crossing the Hillingdon Trail just inside Mad Bess Wood, and followed some vaguely promising paths but no luck. Retired to Ruislip Library to pick up some info on the Hillingdon Trail, which gave us a few more ideas.

Suddenly realised what the "htto://" typo meant, and that the sentence began "HT to R Pinn", so armed with the extra bit of info, a party was despatched the next day to follow this new lead. Found the bridge over the Pinn with the aqueduct on it (trough on bridge...) but the snow and ice made navigation difficult and it wasn't easy to spot likely treasure sites.

Returning a week later with a few extra clues in the sentence, and with no snow on the ground, we quickly found the white Logica L (easy to miss in the snow...) and hence the box, containing ticket no 1 (reference number 4398).

The Famous Five

As usual, Dave Harding started to get itchy around mid-November as ATH-fever recurred. Our first problem was to find a Logica captain, for our contacts within that fine and noble company dwindle yearly. Fortunately we remembered Kailas Sidpara, who turned out to be ideally qualified having never entered the competition before. Whether our attempt to claim to be "virgins" succeeds remains to be seen (editors note: it didn't).

Initial difficulties downloading the Hunt having been overcome, and Dave having recovered from his annual car-related disaster, we had an initial team meeting in The Exmouth. Teetotal Kailas looked particularly perplexed as the drink-fuelled theorising got wilder and wilder. An initial blast with assorted search engines (however did we manage to undertake the ATH before these?) yielded a satisfactory haul and we were off. However, drinks with a rival team at quiz night in The Bailey, seemed to reveal that we were already falling behind. Shortly afterwards, some of the connections between the answers and the pictures began to suggest how a Snakes and Ladders board may be constructed. Also the Hillingdon Trail had begun to feature, so several initial explorations were undertaken to spot likely sites. This included a very wet tramp on Christmas Eve, which also took in a tour of Harefield Hospital to see if any of it matched up with the line drawings (still unidentified).

We were then mentally as well as physically bogged down, having the wrong pieces at the top right of the board. This made it impossible to assemble a layout which conformed to the rules we had set ourselves (e.g. the tops of snakes and ladders should be above the bottom) while keeping the connections between questions and pictures that we had already established. There were too many unknowns, given that we didn't know we had the right answers to the questions, or the right board layout or the right algorithm for generating dice throws.

This situation persisted well after Christmas until a breakthrough in which the correct piece was moved to the top right. Now everything fell out, although at the expense of some much-cherished answers and connections - for instance Simon and Garfunkel did not go with Robinson Crusoe ("Mrs Robinson") but with Frank Lloyd Wright ("So Long Frank Lloyd Wright"). We also discovered that the differences between the question numbers never differed by more than 6 but the 'obvious' method of using this to generate some detailed instructions yielded the discouraging starting sequence of GTIORBINN. Fortunately Matt, a man put in this earth to solve ATHs, persisted and realised not only that some words were emerging but that the sequence ended precisely on the "Finish" square.

So we now had the right layout and algorithm, all that was needed was to turn the gibberish sections into English. Many more cherished answers were questioned and rejected. However the all-important initial words remained a mystery - we even looked for the "Golf Ball Inn" (GTI ORB INN, geddit?). The remainder of the message suggested walking by a waterway so we decided that the wording had to be HT TO UNION - i.e. take the Hillingdon Trail to the Grand Union Canal. Dave H spent a Sunday morning in this less than salubrious area, stepping over the drunks and druggies to search the rubbish dump that is the bank of the canal. Having failed in this we discovered on the Monday that the box had been found. Had Dave been in the right area earlier in the day and missed it?

Another spying mission in the Bailey yielded the "pump" answer, which suggested something we should have thought of earlier on - the Hillingdon Trail is crossed by the River Pinn, which may account for the INN part of our starting point. Could it be HT TO R PINN? We had to wait until the next weekend to test this theory, leaving us right up against the deadline.

So it was that Matt, Pablo and Dave H met early on Saturday morning near Ruislip station, even remembering the trowel. To keep the ATH spirit we elected not to find the nearest road but to follow a rural path, ankle deep in mud, criss-crossed with fallen trees and permanently bombarded by errant golf balls. This took us to mud central, a footbridge with all the relevant features of a trough (water-filled) and a fallen block. Deep in the undergrowth lay a piece of wood shaped like a Logica L. A suspicious-looking piece of ivy having been removed, the trowel struck metal. At this point we realised why the gloves had been mentioned as well, as some manual digging revealed the steel vault and inside a securely wrapped treasure casket. At least no one else had been there during the week, and we got this... (ticket no. 2)

All in all a well-constructed Hunt, and we only have ourselves to blame for not doing better. What an "ATH virgin" would have made of it all is hard to imagine. Anyway, that's enough brainwork for this year - time to get back to work...

Trailer Trash

Speculative Forays

Early on, we identified the county as Middlesex, and the Borough as Hillingdon, and identified the significance of the Hillingdon Trail (see "Codes" and "Miscellaneous Pictures" below). So the week-end before Christmas, we made a trip to Hillingdon to get a copy of the Hillingdon Trail leaflet, which we had seen from a web site was available from local libraries. This proved very useful, as a number of the pictures on the board had clearly been taken directly from these leaflets. Whilst we were in the area, we decided to visit the tunnel, which seemed to be significant in that it was the only picture from any of the specific pages for each of the stages of the walk. Sure enough, we found the tunnel, but there were no obvious "steel vaults" or Logica "L"s anywhere in the vicinity. Though we did get pretty wet and muddy on the route to the tunnel (from Ickenham).

We tried to interpret what the "steel vault" could refer to - the casket could be missing, but not the steel vault (but there could possibly be a problem with the steel vault). Thus, the implication was that the steel vault was a fixed feature - but what could it be? We also thought the reference to "blazing a trail" and the "undiscerning smoker" clues could be significant. On the set of pages for the Hillingdon Trail there is just one picture of a smoke trail - at Bayhurst Woods, where there are barbecue facilities close to the Hillingdon Trail. We thought these would be worth a look. It was raining when we got there, and just as muddy as elsewhere!

We checked-out the three barbecue areas - Perhaps the fixed steel barbecues were the "steel vaults" - but we didn't see any Logica "L"s or find any hidden caskets in any of the barbecues. At the main information centre (closed for Winter), we did come across two very promising looking "steel vaults", like the backs of container lorries. We assumed these were used for storing the charcoal for the barbecues. Unfortunately, both of these vaults were locked - despite our attempts at breaking into them!

A further idea was that since the "Tony Hancock" memorial was in the "Start" square on the board -corresponding to the start of the Hillingdon Trail, maybe the treasure at the "Finish" was at the end of the Hillingdon Trail, near Harefield. So we drove to the northernmost point of the trail, but could see nothing appropriate without having more detailed instructions - so it was back to the drawing board!

Overall Approach

It was clear that we were supposed to cut up the Snakes and Ladders Board into four pieces per page, and then arrange the pieces in a 4x12 grid, giving a 12x12 cell board (as indicated by the "TANGY ROPE SHAG" clue).

Having cut up the pieces, the real problem was how to fit them together. We first tried aligning tops & bottoms of snakes and ladders, and that clearly didn't work. So we relaxed the rules, to allow only that a head/top needed to be above a bottom. Together with the selection of the 12 left-hand and 12 right-hand edges, this started to put a bit of structure on the solution. However, we were puzzled by the 7 top pieces, but decided that we couldn't have a top piece with the bottom of a snake or ladder. With all the edge pieces apparently identified and the snakes/ladders rules, there were still a huge number of possible permutations. Historically, we have always tried to avoid answering the questions. But this time it seemed we had no choice. After answering a few, it became clear that the pictures may relate to the answers to some of the questions (albeit somewhat obscurely!). This imposed further restrictions on the possible permutations, but there were still far too many candidates for us to be sure of having the "correct" solution. We thought that the "10.37" clue may be important (along with the question numbers of page/piece numbers) to provide a way of fitting the pieces together without the need to answer all of the questions, but we couldn't work out how!

Moving round the board.

We assumed that once the correct layout of pieces had been achieved, we would then need to move round the board, going up ladders and down snakes. We decided that the dice throws to use would most probably come from the differences of successive question numbers (once the questions had been ordered), starting with the first question (first throw = 1 is shown on the "Start" square). This seemed reasonable, as the differences were all in the range 1 to 6. However, we couldn't get anything sensible at all to emerge - The message always started with GTTOR, since these depended on the "fixed" bottom line of the board. For a long time we guessed the second letter was O, giving "GOTO..", which seemed encouraging, but on getting the definitive answer to Qn 187 = T, this rather scuppered our earlier thoughts. We then decided that we would need to apply a substitution code to the message (as indicated by the "Vatsyayana or Singh" clue), but we couldn't determine the key. We were also still worried by the fact that we seemed to be landing on quite a few squares with no questions. To start with, we thought that these could be blanks between words. However, we eventu-ally decided to have another look at all the edges in detail (especially the tops and bottoms, which we had assumed for a long time had been correct). We then spotted that one of the right-hand edge pieces could also be interpreted as a top right-hand corner piece, and the piece which we had definitely placed there may not actually be a corner piece, despite it not having a "lug" on top. On swapping these pieces round, we then got Captain Hook to match up with Wendy Toms (which is what we had wanted), and also discovered that all 103 dice throws resulted on landing on a question every time. This convinced us that we had (at last!!!) found the correct layout of the pieces. Unfortunately, the message was still very garbled.

After trying out various decoding possibilities, we eventually concluded that the message wasn't coded after all, as a frequency analysis of the initial letters of the answers so far obtained seemed to indicate that there wasn't any coding. This could only mean that we had lots of wrong answers - which on checking seemed to have been the case - starting with the first one, which should have been H (hole-in- one), not G (golf), so we now had HTTOR-INN as the start = Hillingdon Trail TO R- Inn. We thought of the Soldiers Return pub which we had visited earlier (RT=return?), and looked at the possibility of any other pubs along the Hillingdon Trail. Then we remembered our visit through the tunnel and across a golf course to the River Pinn, where the week before Christmas we had walked along the bank of the river up to a bridge with a concrete aqueduct going over it (as indicated in the Hillingdon Trail guide). Little did we know that we were just a few feet away from the casket at that time! Having convinced ourselves that the message was not coded, and began with H.T. To R. PINN, we then tried to construct the rest of the message through guesswork, checking earlier answers, and simply ignoring answers which just didn't seem to fit. This resulted in a plausible set of instructions (see "Message Sequence from moving round the board" below), which we set out to follow on the morning of Saturday 13th Jan 2001.

Finding the Treasure

We followed the instructions, and lo-and-behold, there was a Logica "L" - sticking out of the ground (rather than on a tree, as usual). We rushed over to it, but had some initial difficulty in locating the vault. However, before too long we found it, and on opening it up, found the casket, but found also that someone else had got there between the first discoverers (on 7th Jan) and ourselves. We picked up ticket number 3 (Reference Number 9986).

The Space Invaders

Many thanks to Dave, Anthony and the gang for setting another entertaining and frustrating Armchair Treasure Hunt. When was the last time anyone solved it from the comfort of his or her armchair I wonder? Usually the ATH involves at least one fruitless journey to the middle of nowhere to dig up the village cricket pitch or end up knee deep in mud. This year was no exception, but more of that later... We all liked this year's Snakes & Ladders theme, and the use of links between questions and pictures. And the prize structure - with the aim of attracting some new blood to the ATH - was an excellent idea. But most of all we especially appreciated the complete absence of Mr Fibonacci this time! (editors note: this is a reference to the previous masterpiece set by our team where the Fibonacci spiral was the centre piece of a perfectly crafted treasure hunt - unfortunately no one found it and extra clues had to be issued).

The release of the ATH was greeting by the usual burst of frantic activity. We made lots of progress in the first few days, answering most of the questions and finding several strong pointers to the Hilling-don Trail. A bit of surfing revealed a web site with a photo of an information board at the entrance to Ickenham Marsh. The board included a picture of the tunnel entrance that appears at the foot of page 7 of the ATH - this turns out to be the Cow Tunnel on the Hillingdon Trail, leading under the railway into Ruislip Golf Course in Ickenham. Meanwhile we had a pretty good theory about how to cut up the pages of the ATH and assemble them into a Snakes & Ladders board, and how we could use the question numbers to form a route around the board.

On the first weekend, we made an expedition to check out the Hillingdon Trail and in particular Ickenham Marsh and the Cow Tunnel. After all the rain, the Trail was extremely muddy, and the Marsh was under a foot of water. But the area by the Cow Tunnel looked like a good place to hide the treasure. We just needed to crack the sentence hidden in the Snakes & Ladders board and we were home and dry.

But that's where we got stuck. Try as we might, we just could not get a sentence to come out, although it seemed to start with "Go To ..." or "Get From...". The Christmas holidays passed with little progress. So we were reduced to trying to crack the sentence by brute force using some rather nifty software. For several days Deep Thought II TM analysed every possible layout of the board that would satisfy all the rules and links between questions and pictures. Then finally, on the last day of the ATH, it announced its conclusion: "There is an answer...but I don't think you're going to like it! The answer is 'G?TFR?M?N OKPSETR?AEONNTSBARSR?E GNGATR ?RRRTEASARAEUMCN??S?AAEONTRSEBEC OEONTSARSEEASREAEUGRBAGNSTARS'. Apparently this is Welsh for "Back to the drawing board...".

No Management Potential