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The Secret: An Honest-To-Goodness Real Life Treasure Hunt

One of my favorite parts of any RPG is the looting…which usually involves dead bodies – a product of my other favorite parts of any RPG: combat. But we can come by treasures other ways, too. Picking the lock on a chest, coming by an honest-to-goodness treasure map (complete with an X on the spot and everything!), or just, you know, stealing.

Most of us don’t get the chance to do any of those things in real life, though. I mean, I lifted a kiwi once from a local grocery store when I was seven, but we’re not gathering today to talk about that. Plus, there is the statute of limitations, the lack of hard evidence (I ate it), and only my testimony to go on – and I’m not all that reliable or trustworthy. I honestly don’t know why any of you read what I write here for NoE.

We’re also not here to talk about actual criminals and crimes. What we are talking about is a legitimate treasure hunt that has been ongoing for nearly 40 years across North America. One with riddles waiting for you to decipher them, treasures to be unearthed, and gemstones to be claimed.

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt

The Secret a treasure hunt cover

In 1982, Byron Preiss released a short puzzle book entitled The Secret which contains some fantasy storytelling about the immigration of The Fair People from the Old World (Europe) to the New (North America), their relationship with the indigenous population they discovered upon their arrival (Native Americans), their flight before the wave of settlers (white men), and their subsequent vanishing into the wilds.

The Fair People had with them a dozen “wonderstones” – gems such as diamond, amethyst, emerald, ruby, and such – which they hid during their retreat. They “would belong to Man if he could find them” which they can do if they are “good, and kind, and playful” (pg. 32).

I don’t mean to belittle the narrative here…but nobody seems to be all that interested in it or care about it much if at all. We want to get to those gems! If you strip this aspect out of The Secret, I’m not sure anyone would have heard of it.

As it is, a collection of twelve verses of rhyme and twelve paintings serve as the clues to the treasures’ whereabouts on the continent. The verses must be paired with a painting, the clues of which will point to a publicly accessible place. Once you believe yourself to have deduced the correct locale, you will find a plexiglass box buried at a depth of no more than 3.5 feet which contains a ceramic box which in turns holds a key. Turning in these items once found will result in the awarding of the gem stone associated with that location.

So far, only three of the twelve boxes have been unearthed. Let’s talk about those briefly!

The Fair People’s Wonderstones

The first box was claimed by David James, Eric Gasiorowski and Rob Wrobel hardly a year after the book’s initial release. The then-teenagers paired the fifth image with the twelfth verse in the book and dug up their booty in Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois. You can catch a full breakdown of the clues on TheSecret.Pubworks.com. I’ll link to this amazing repository of information for each of the solved puzzles because it is downright fascinating, for one. And two: Who knows…maybe it’ll give you a head start in solving one yourself!

The second was found in 2004 by Brian Zinn and Andy Abrams in the Greek Cultural Gardens of Cleveland, Ohio. They paired verse four with image four. Here’s Hackensack, New Jersey’s The Record‘s coverage of their journey and success, along with the total breakdown of the image and verse.

Most recently, the third box was found during renovations of Langone Park in Boston, Massachusetts, when treasure hunter Jason Krupat alerted construction workers of the possibility that they were disturbing the hiding place of buried treasure. The workers thought he was crazy. Months passed as Jason pleaded with foremen and city government before a frontend loader operator found plexiglass shards in some dirt he was moving. The box and its contents were shattered, but Krupat was still credited with its finding and awarded a peridot. His story is also featured on an episode of Expedition Unknown. Catch the full episode by clicking that link!

Krupat (left) and Expedition Unknown’s host, Josh Gates, holding pieces of the shattered key.

Nine More Remain!

The hunt continues across North America, and you can purchase a copy of the book to participate yourself and/or track the progress and developments across any number of sites.

The phenomenon has grown so large and some cities’ parks were flooded with so many spade-wielding treasure seekers that there are now legal processes you must submit to that were inspired by and exist solely for the search for the wonderstones on public grounds.

The city of San Francisco, for example, whose Golden Gate Park is believed to house one of the treasure boxes, now has a unique crew of park employees called Treasure Rangers. After submitting this online form, a Treasure Ranger will supervise your dig for exactly one hour on park grounds before you are required to submit another application for a future dig.

Possible pairings and locations are listed on wikipedia, as well.

Bonus Cheeky Bestiary and Sighting Document

As added fun, The Secret contains a huge section – fully three quarters of the book – that lists a series of Fair People spotted in this New World. They read very much like pun-heavy creatures that would find a home in something by Piers Anthony with creatures like The Maitre D’eamon, Handimanticore, Paltry Geist, and more.

They’re a fun and quick read, and more than a few of them might be fun to covert for play in Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. Plus there is an official document you can fill out if you “spot” one of these beings yourself. You submit their names, range, habits, and history (lore) for inclusion in future printings of The Secret. And if you do that, you’re 80% of the way done with a Monster Manual entry anyway, so why not follow through?


Happy hunting!