Pablo's Armchair Treasure Hunt

Armchair Treasure Hunt 2001

Title: 2001: an Armchair Treasure Hunt
Setter: Ian Canning
Themes: Tolkien

Hunters' Tales

I found the 'treasure' on 13th Dec 2001, at 2:30 pm, by solving the two sets of instructions which led to it. I spent the rest of Christmas trying to work out how I was supposed to have done this using the other clues in the treasure hunt (but without much success).

First, I immediately recognised the script at the bottom of the page as being the same as that used on the 'Hillingdon Trail' signpost in last year's treasure hunt. This was the Tengwar font, originally created by JRR Tolkien (in the Lord of the Rings) - one of the key themes of this year's treasure hunt. I realised that whilst this can be almost transcribed directly into English, special attention was needed for double letters and some character pairs and common words (such as 'the' and 'and'). This message then gave instructions from some starting place ('The B & B') to an intermediate location, at the end of a road. it seemed very likely that the symbols at the sides of the pages (especially on the last page) would be the detailed instructions for getting from the end of the road to the treasure. So all I had to do was find the starting place, and crack the 'symbols' code.

I quickly identified the quote on page 2 "I you believe... " as being a reference to Sir Stanley Unwin, regarding 'The Hobbit' by JRR Tolkien, so it was looking like JRR Tolkien would be significant.

The next code I looked at was on page 7 "xyla.." I realised that if written in reverse this seemed to make a bit more sense. Before too long, I had established that this was a list of names - all different types of "Lewisia" plants. At this stage I was not too sure what to make of this. I then looked at the three maps on the last page - I concentrated on the map in the bottom left corner, as that seemed to have more identifiable names. Sure enough, searching the web for "Sydenham" and "Holywood" I came across the web site for the church of St Marks Dundela, Belfast, which had links to CS Lewis, as this is where he was baptised. This also explained the earlier 'Lewisia" clue - so both JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis were part of the main theme.

Reading short biographies of both individuals soon established that they had something in common - they both met regularly at the Eagle and Child pub, in Oxford (which they referred to as the "Bird and Babe"), as part of a group of like-minded individuals called "The Inklings" Assuming that the "Bird and Babe" was the "B&B" at the start point of the first set of instructions, this identified the precise location for them. Sure enough, a few further checks on the internet confirmed that there was a "Friends Meeting House" at 43 St Giles, Gerard Manley Hopkins was indeed curate at St Aloysius church, just up the road, and there was a "10 O'Clock Pharmacy" at 59 Woodstock Road. Thus, the location was definitely Oxford, and the first set of instructions seemed to lead to the end of Walton Well Road, on Port Meadow.

Thus, all that remained was to crack the "symbols" code. I first allocated an arbitrary letter of the alphabet to each symbol, and noticed that there were more than 26 types of symbols (but only just). I thought that perhaps some were punctuation marks, or spaces - or were the "underlined" symbols representing spaces? I looked at the frequency of occurrence of the different symbols, and then tried substituting the most frequently occurring ones for E, T, A, O, R, N, I, S, H.

At first, this didn't seem to produce anything sensible - there weren't any "the" or "and" sequences emerging. Then it occurred to me that this message may also be written with the same sort of syntax as Tengwar (ie "the" and "and" would be special single characters), and double letters would be treated differently. So I re-tried, without looking for any "the" or "and" sequences, or worrying about double letters. Soon I had "ON LEFT' appear at the end of the message - this looked encouraging. Extending into the message, I had "NE?T TRE ON LEFT" The symbol for "E" before the "ON LEFT" had one of the "underlined" symbols associated with it, so I then suspected that this signified a double letter, and I now had "NEXT TREE ON LEFT". I now knew this was the solution! But the rest of the message still did not seem to make much sense. I then wondered whether these symbols might actually be another of JRR Tolkien's creations (given that it seemed to have a similar syntax), so I did a search on the internet for "Tolkien font example" (using "Google"), and this gave (as the first choice in fact!) a web site ( with the "Goblin Font" used by Tolkien in his "Father Christmas Letters".

Lo and behold - there were all the symbols! Using these, I quickly decoded the rest of the message, which gave detailed instructions from the end of Walton Well Road to the precise location of the treasure. The instructions seemed to fit in well with other clues in the ATH - maps showed a path across Port Meadow to a footbridge over the River Thames (called Isis at Oxford - as the picture of the Egyptian goddess Isis indicates, on page 7). Another bridge takes the path onto Fiddler Island (the picture of a fiddle, also on page 7, was further confirmation of this being the correct destination).

I had originally thought that I would wait until the weekend to go and find the treasure, but was eventually persuaded that others may also find the solution before then, so the next day I set off for Oxford, with instructions in hand.

I parked in the small car park at the end of Walton Well Road, and followed the detailed instructions from that point. Everything fitted very well. There was a footpath and a bridal way out of the car park - I took the bridal way (ie "followed the horses"), which led directly to the bridge across the Isis. After crossing, there was another bridge, to my left, precisely as described, so I crossed that, then started counting paces - after about 350 paces I saw the lifebelt stand, and knew I was nearly there. On arriving at it, there was only one tree on the left, and (after checking no-one was approaching from either direction) quickly extracted the bag from the fork of the tree, and returned to the path. On finally unwrapping the contents, I was glad to see the "number one" ticket still awaiting collection, so I took it, and rolled up the package again (with some difficulty), trying to look not too suspicious, as dog walkers and joggers occasionally passed me. When the coast was clear, I restored the bag to the hidden cleft in the tree, and covered it with more dead leaves.

Martin Milnes

This was the Eureka moment! Unfortunately it was late on the evening of Thursday 13th December, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it on the Friday. I had the maps - I even had overhead pictures from Multimap - and it all fitted perfectly But it would just have to wait until Saturday.

We found the treasure at 0830 on the morning of Saturday 15th December. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to discover that two others had beaten us to it.

It was a lovely bright, frosty morning. Crossing the field to the river, with the ponies and cows in the field beside me, and the house on the island ahead of us, I suddenly felt that I had walked into a landscape from Tolkien. So peaceful and very English, just as the Shire or Underhill should be.

Garry Smith

In-out, in-out, in-out. it was back in early November that I started the breathing exercises to limber up in preparation for this years ATH. I had an inkling that it would be on the theme of space. Of course when the poster came out with an obelisk it was a dead cert. Should I purchase a copy of '2001' and read it in anticipation. In the end I didn't.

When the ATH was published we eagerly downloaded it and printed off a few copies. Last years jigsaw needed many copies to shred so it could be a worthwhile investment. The ATH this year seemed slightly less obscure than last years and we set about solving the straightforward questions. One of our team, with keen help from a couple of mates called altavista and google, had pretty much found most of these answers by the end of the week, although it didn't seem to mean much.

By this time we'd found out that the theme was probably The Inklings. This wasn't much help to us as our collective knowledge on these guys was negligible, One of us thought that J R R Tolkien wrote "Fly Fishing" and someone else thought that C S Lewis had something to do with a girl named Alice, or was it Carol? [Well not quite!] Once we'd got those thoughts out of the way we found someone who identified the Arabic script to be a Tolkien script and this lead us to Oxford.

The following week we tried to crack the codes. The binary stuff was straightforward. Wavy text and funny spoon symbols were more difficult. Lots of frequency analysis later and umpteen variations of ROT-N and we were still no closer. Anyway, we planned to visit Oxford the following weekend to follow the steps in the Tolkien script.

On early Friday evening I had a breakthrough. Various searches on the "dancing men" code, most of which ended up on Sherlock Holmes pages, coincidently brought me back to a Tolkien fonts website that I'd visited before. Serendipity - the dancing men were, in fact, the Goblin code from the Christmas letters, by Tolkien. I texted one of our team, 'The Codebreaker', with the URLS. It's amazing how long it takes to text a URL. Later that evening I was doing some more research (watching Lord of the Rings at the local cinema) and got an excited voicemail to tell me that we had the rest of the instructions to the treasure.

Never had the Codebreaker got up so early in the morning. He writes:

"At the end of the road was a field with the river visible across it. There were two paths one marked bridleway and one marked path. Hence I followed the bridleway as instructed. This came to the river and I crossed the bridge ( actually a bridge across a mooring area ) I was still on this side of the river. I turned left and crossed the next bridge. This was across the entrance to the mooring area. again I was still on this side of the river. I then walked about 400 yards down the towpath and came upon the lifebelt stand (with lifebelt surprisingly ) and in the next tree on left I found the box. it was a short trunked tree and where the branches came away from the trunk some leaves had gathered. The treasure was in there. I opened the box with anticipation of first place, surely no one could have beaten us ? Alas I looked in horror as the next ticket left was number ten. I searched the whole box in disbelief , surely the other tickets had just fallen out of the book. I then convinced myself that some prankster had found the treasure and taken the first nine tickets as a joke ( I'm still clinging on to that thought ). Anyway I staggered away in disappointment to work out the other parts of the message."

Team Norway

We decided to give it a go then, after all it seemed easy, 22.11.63 wasn't that when JFK was shot. We were off and running, only thing was we had made a false start, we didn't really have an inckling. Thinking that all you had to do was answer the questions we began to realise that some needed 'Oxfordized' answers, this thing has a theme, so we had to answer them all over again. This now seemed like fun, and I liked the idea of being called a virgin again, memories of my Ford Capri Ghia came flooding back, - I digress.

We spent a long lunch in the Weatherspoon's in Leatherhead translating Tengwar, after six pints it all became clear we'd cracked it forget those annoying little symbols, they probably only wished us a Merry Christmas anyway. Off to Oxford then, starting in 'The Eagle and Child', stopping off for a pint in some pubs along the way and finding a pot of gold. No such luck.

Plan B - it must be something to do with 'Continual Dew' then. Guildford library seemed the place to be. Couldn't find a parking space that would allow us to stay longer than 30 minutes, where was the library?. - 27 mins left.

Found it, need to find a PC, need to find the book - 19 mins left. Eureka, book looked a bit thin, what - it's only got 45 pages - can't be. 7 mins left. Back to the car, how the years had changed my life I thought as I revved up my Ford Mondeo - I digress.

So here we are a month of solving clues later. Virgins no more, time for a cigarette - it was good for us, how was it for you?

The Virgin Hunters


Our team are not really Tolkien fans and perhaps our attitude is best summed up by the runner up of last year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (worst opening line of a novel competition), namely:

"I could tell you stories about this road we shall be travelling," the old man told his young companions as he leaned on his staff and stroked his silver beard, "of how it was built by Dwarves of the Barad-dur in the days of Thranduil the Great, numberless years before the Elves of the Ered Luin left their silver woods in Lindon, sailed their ships over the Western Sea, and passed from the knowledge of men, but what would you learn from these tales, except that I squandered my college years reading far too much Tolkien instead of meeting girls."

Week 1. The ATH was out on Tuesday, by Wednesday we had decoded the message at the bottom of each page. By Thursday we were onto Tolkien in a big way and realized that the code started at the B&B, Tolkien's local. The answers to the questions were also pouring in. CS Lewis was getting a mention and the inklings had been uncovered. Our man in Hong Kong was particularly strong this week and able to carry on as we slept! Rather worryingly we were not making any progress with the code on the side of each page, despite a lot of analysis.

Saturday saw some success with our Oxford based team members following the route to Port Meadow and identifying lots of the picture clues. They reported back "There are not many sites to hide a treasure box but there are a few. Suspiciously three rusty bikes were padlocked together, but a search revealed nothing" We were on a roll now - it could only be a matter of time.

Week 2. T-Rex made an appearance early in the week and we struggled to understand the significance, More CS Lewis references with Shadowlands. We began to think about Fiddler's Island as a possible treasure location site, it looked likely and fitted the picture on the last page. By Tuesday we had identified the map locations on page 8, yet another reference to the inklings. But the worry lines were increasing because none of the other codes were getting cracked. The wavy line, the Morse like lines and the space station portholes were appearing in peoples dreams, along with frequency tables and indices of coincidence. We tried breaking into the PDF binary but it didn't show much, just a few fonts that didn't seem to help. The music was also driving the good people of Norbury to distraction as our pianist tried to work out what it was, it helps to have a team member with a baby grand in his back room (or it should).

Thursday, 20th December, was a clutching at straws day and I asked my Oxford contingent to scour Fiddler's island for a Logica L (little did I know that there wasn't one!). My clients started coming to our help, the chairman of the PRS looked at the music and immediately said "The Ring" - unfortunately I didn't appreciate how important that clue was. Friday morning my team scoured Fiddler's island and I had a number of digital pictures of the island - I would need a bigger team (perhaps the inhabitants of Oxford).

Week 3. Christmas started to get in the way. I was on a canal boat in north Wales using a mobile phone to connect to email, the speed did not matter since we had stalled.

Week 4. No real progress until the Friday, 4 January, when I stumbled across the solution to the vertical code on each page. After all our efforts to crack the codes I came to the conclusion that it must be easy. So I looked again at Tolkien and, purely by luck, went straight to a site that had the pictogram code. it was the "Goblin Alphabet" from the Father Christmas Letters (yet another Tolkien book). Great excitement as we began decoding. The start was no good, just the names of the books referred to in the quotes. But the last page had it all. it clearly pointed to Fiddler's island and gave exact instructions.

8.15pm, Jeanne and I set off through the fog for Oxford on a 106 mile round trip. The car park in Port Meadow was empty and, unsurprisingly, we met no one as we headed across ice encrusted ground to the river We were grateful for the moonlight as we crossed the bridges and negotiated the last 400 yards along the bank. Satisfaction when we find the box in the tree bole, but alas we were 15th. The significance of the ring music now obvious with the life belt stand next to the tree. We should have been there three weeks ago!

Dave Kee

As answers developed, an Oxford connection began to come through. Helen, having lived in Oxford for 4 years, noted "Well, if I was going to bury treasure in Oxford, I'd put it in Port Meadow." Chris had acted as an extra in Shadowlands, but still spent a while wondering what connection Anthony Hopkins had with Oxford! Continuous mentions of Belfast were ignored.

Although we were, strictly speaking, no closer than Helen's original hunch, we couldn't resist going to Oxford on New Year's Day, with a trowel discreetly in a bag 'just in case'. We followed the directions, hid from everyone that looked that they may have heard of Logica, photographed post boxes, understood the 'at Ten o'clock' direction. And then got to the junction of Walton Street and Walton Well Road and saw the house from page 6. At that point Helen shamefully admitted that she had actually lived in Walton Well Road for a few months, and still failed to recognise that house.

Alcoholus Lubricatum

Having identified Oxford as the location and Port Meadow as the more specific location via the Tengwar decryption from B&B to end of road, we still couldn't solve the hieroglyphs. Bored over Christmas, I suggested a family day out to Oxford with the surreptitious motive of scouting out the route so far identified.

Following the trail from the B&B, and identifying the picture clues en route, I had an hour before sun-down to have a look around. I was armed with a detailed map of the area, and thus decided to employ my "well-honed" ATH sniffer skills to see what I could find. At the end of the road, three paths into Port Meadow presented themselves. The map and the boatyard in the distance suggested the path straight ahead was the most likely Reaching the bridge over one strand of the River Isis I saw Weir Cottage straight ahead and had the choice of left or right. Right looked more likely and I eagerly scoured the names of the boats moored to my right for likely clues. Nothing. Some way along I reach another bridge, and I consulted my map to see that this trail led on for some way and time was short.

It was at this point that a bright light suddenly appeared from above and a choir of heavenly angels could be heard singing melodiously as inspiration suddenly hit me with the impact of a wet haddock. The map showed Fiddlers island sandwiched by the River Isis, and suddenly the pictures of the violin (a fiddle) and Cleopatra ('The New Isis' my research had informed me) on page 7 suddenly assumed pertinent significance.

I retraced my steps, taking the tow-path onto Fiddlers Island. A veritable swamp, there didn't seem to be many options than the trees lined along the left of the tow path. I began scrabbling around the back of every likely looking tree to the side of the path, earning a number of suspicious scowls from passers-by out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll. I was on the verge of dismissing this idea as wishful thinking when I came across a life-ring mounted on a board. A landmark I thought!

Twenty yards further along was a small concrete "bridge" over a duct into the river. Another landmark I thought! This is the kind of thing an armchair treasure burier would require. And there, in between was a large tree with seven trunks spanning out and upwards to form a nest. I hardly dared hope, but after a bit of rustling in the leaves and twigs, I espied a black water-proof bag. Suddenly the heavely angels broke out into a chorus of "Hallelujah" as I frantically opened the bag to find a treasure box.

My smug feeling of self-satisfaction lasted all of 30 seconds, since on opening the box I found the next ticket was numbered 13. I concluded that twelve other teams had already been this way, and most if not all of these had probably done the thing properly and solved the hieroglyphs that led them directly to the box. Oh well.

Mark Abbott

Other Quotes

"Roger Ingrams is a famous trumpet player who went to Keble College, Oxford."

"The planet is Saturn, the destination in the original book version of '2001' - later changed in book and film to Jupiter. The 'white spot' on Saturn (a bit like the red spot on Jupiter) was discovered by an amateur astronomer called Will Hay, better known as the star of numerous British comedies of the 1930s and 1940s."

"Oxford, city of dreaming spires, isn't the warmest of places in mid-December. Particularly when you're standing on your own at a desperately quiet Park n Ride on the outskirts..."

"There's a nice poem in Continual Dew describing a journey down a railway line from Sheffield to Banbury..."

"We think the treasure is hidden near the Williams Formula 1 HQ in Didcot..."

"Kennedy Assassination .. Anson Kennedy wrote the book 'Fire In The Sky' about the alien abduction of Travis Walton - cf. Walton Road, Oxford..."

"On 22 Nov 1963 (the day JFK was assassinated), the constellation Monoceros (Unicorn) was in the South over Dallas Texas at 03:59:40 local time, and the star Procyon (in Canis Major) was due South at about 60 degrees elevation. From that and their relative positions in the dot picture, I conclude that the other bright stars shown are Sirius (in Canis Major) and Rigel (in Orion) HOWEVER, JFK was shot at about 13:40 EST - could the time shown be a misprint?"

"The maps were great fun. Phoned up Bloemfontaine tourist office to find this one out, very satisfying, one of the first puzzles I solved. When the woman actually worked out what the hell I was talking about, we had fun working out the street location, she only twigged what I was after when I told where I was 'where are you calling from?' in accent!"

"I went to Port Meadow and looked on the 'round hill' (under hill connection), by a gravestone for some chap Wyatt, near the stream by the hill, and all around the car park by the bridges, so if it was meant to be in any of those places, it wasn't and it's not fair!"

"An obvious reference to the film 2001 by Stanley Kubrik thereby suggesting that the treasure is buried in the garden of his house in Hertfordshire."

"Priority to oncoming traffic. This is symbolic because the main arrow points down indicating that Barnet were relegated last season."

"In answer to Q67, Greece (obviously their restaurants always run low on second hand crockery)."

"She was standing on Westminster Bridge - There was a character in the Monty Python Nationwide sketch called Mrs Edgeworth of Pinner who had to stand on Westminster bridge but I can't see how it fits in ... there is an Edgeworth Road in Barnet, but I guess that is not relevant..."

"There are also museums with T Rex exhibitions in Oxford, Bloemfontein and Belfast, but I guess this is coincidence."

"The part of Robbie the Robot in the recent film of Lost in Space was played by William Todd-Jones, who also provided puppets and played the part of Aslan in televised version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe."

"Perhaps we have to find a way of picking the letters out of the 9x9 grid. If you arrange the answers in a 9x9 grid writing across the page then read the answers down the columns and then decode using Vigenere and a keyword of xxxYRPETERSETxxxx the words CHAPTER and PAGETWO can be read. This is probably a complete coincidence...."

"If I really wanted to link the poster and page 1 to the Inklings, then I would point out the diffraction rings on the poster, and that the space station consists of two rings, and link them to The Lord of the Rings But I think that's going too far! (Not necessarily - Ed)"

"We have identified the Captains from each series of Star Trek ... in 1969 Patrick Stewart, aka Jean Luc Picard played 'Leatherhead' in Bartholomew Fair."

"We have also identified individual Star Trek episodes ... the children?s surname was Pevensie. William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey Bay in 1066 with his half brother Odo, the shape shifter in Deep Space 9..."

"The opening lines of War In Heaven by Charles Williams, a book on the search for the Holy Grail (I know the ATH is difficult to find, but that?s going a bit far!)."

"Continual Dew P256 - This relates to the Dewey classification system; where 652.8 (anagram) is 'Codes, Cyphers and Cryptology'"