1. scavenger hunt

2. A type of puzzle in which you use a series of (often-vague) clues to find an answer. Sometimes these lead to an actual treasure of sorts; some old treasure maps are like this. Other times they lead to a token prize, as in the MIT Mystery Hunt. In any case, usually at the end they'll lead you to a certain location, and you'll know if you got there first because the prize will still be there if you are. Often they will consist of many different puzzles you have to solve and combine their answers to get the final answer. Sometimes you'll have to go various places to pick up parts of the treasure hunt as you solve it.

The puzzles of The Stone are done in treasure-hunt style, and they suggest there's some big thing at the end.

Treasure Hunt was also a television game show in the UK which ran from 1983 to 1989.

The format was simple enough, two contestants in the studio had to solve a series of cryptic clues with the aid of reference material, a map and a skyrunner. The skyrunner would be in a helicopter in a different part of the country each week. The contestants had to direct the skyrunner to a location gained from solving the first clue, where she (it was only ever one of two women) would have to find a specific item or perform a specific task as gleaned from the clue by the contestants in the studio. If the skyrunner was properly directed she would find the next clue in the hunt. The team had 45 minutes to solve five clues. If after the final clue the skyrunner finds the item hidden within it, the contestants win a cash prize.

The skyrunner was origianlly Anneka Rice who was replaced in the final season by Annabel Croft. The studio host was Kenneth Kendall. From 1985, Wincey Willis appeared as the adjudicator in the studio, giving tidbits of information to the contestants and the skyrunner.

The show used a pair of Bell JetRanger helicopters - one for the skyrunner and camera crew, and another used to relay the video and audio signals from the camera back to the studio.

Treasure Hunt was also a game show in the U.S. between 1973 and 1977, and was revived as the New Treasure Hunt for a short run in 1981. Produced by Chuck Barris (of The Gong Show fame), and based somewhat on a 1950s show by the same name, Treasure Hunt was one of the strangest game shows to ever travel through our troposphere.

The actual mechanics of the game were much simpler in operation than can be described: the studio audience would be asked to simultaneously open a box under their seat. 10 of these boxes contained a smaller box wrapped in gold foil. Those lucky 10 were asked to stand, and on the Host's signal, open the gold boxes. 3 of the 10 would find a number inside their box, and those three would be invited down to the stage, where 3 larger boxes sat. The audience member (now contestant) finding the number 1 in her gold box would choose first from the 3 larger boxes; the contestant with number 2 in her gold box chose second; and the contestant with number 3 got the remaining large box. Again, on cue, the three contestants would open the large box, and one of the contestans would find either flowers or a jack-in-the-box, indicating that they were the winner.

That winner would then go on the titular "Treasure Hunt," which consisted entirely of calling out the number of one of the 66 large and lavishly wrapped boxes set on risers downstage. (The set looked like a Macy's Christmas display without the tree.) A scantily-clad model would trundle up the stairs to the chosen box, and carry it back to the host. Then the real fun began. Each box had an envelope on the top that contained a small amount of money-- a few hundred dollars usually. The host would open the envelope and offer the contestant the opportunity to take the money and walk away without seeing the contents of the box. In doing so, the host would usually peek inside the box and taunt the contestant, shaking his head with a grim expression or suddenly shifting gears into meaningless small talk or pulling out a harmless trinket from the box with the implication that more remained, all to build tension and anticipation. After what seemed like an eternity, the host would reveal the contents of the box-- the contestants practically never took the money-- which in many cases was nothing more than a "klunk," a useless prize like an old wig or a butterfly net. Sometimes, the box contained a small prop or card (or a klunk) that hinted at a bigger prize, which would again allow the host to slowly torture the contestant as he revealed what she had really won, usually the typical game show booty of appliances, Turtle Wax, etc. And, on a few occasions, the contestant picked the box containing the Grand Prize, a $50,000 check (give or take-- the amount varied from show to show). The whole cycle was repeated twice per episode.

It wasn't the basic mechanics of the game-- which was little more than an overblown kids' birthday party activity-- that made it such a curious artifact. Rather, it was the abundance of weird design elements that made each episode such a surreal experience.

The show would begin with a shot of a shadowy figure standing amid the prize boxes, accompanied by a somber voice over stating "This bonded security agent has hidden a check for $50,000 inside one of these 66 surprise packages." Emil Arturi, the "security agent"-- dressed in a black suit and derby-- stood impassively onstage during the whole show. During each game cycle, the host would ask Emil to confirm that he had, in fact, hidden the check, to which Emil inevitably answered stoically "Yes, I did." Beyond that, he maintained the fixed stare and solemnity of a guard at Buckingham Palace, despite the Host's always unsuccessful attempts to make him smile or laugh.

The strange design of the show extended to the selection of the contestants themselves. The audience was, without exception, uniformly women (frequently obsese), as the producers allegedly believed that few men would tolerate the drawn-out process of revealing the prize. Based on their reactions onstage, the producers clearly selected only the most excitable and frantic women as contestants. Edwards was routinely manhandled by contestants anytime he revealed a big prize. More interestingly, there was always a surprisingly large percentage of black women in the audience. It's not clear whether they were selected based on stereotyped belief that they would be even more hysterical and emotional than white contestants, or whether the producers were simply being progressive in recruiting black contestants, but the cynical answer is probably the correct one.

The vast bulk of the show consisted of the drawn-out and bizzare ways the Host slowly revealed the final prize. Often, the Host and other cast members would devolve into some kind of scripted skit before the prize was ultimately revealed. For example, in one show, the Host revealed that the contestant had won "a two-year old girl" as a production assistant walked a small child onto ths stage towards the bewildered contestant, only to have another show staffer run out on stage to raise a (scripted) objection to using kids as prizes. Or, the Host would simply flat-out taunt the contestant, telling her she had won "TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND . . . coffee beans! {pulling a bag from the box and handing it to the disappointed contestant} . . . that you can take for a spin in YOUR BRAND NEW . . . coffee grinder!" etc. (The contestant subjected to this particular extended torture fainted onstage after finally learning that she had won a car, and was later interviewed by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes for a piece about the "exploitative nature of game shows." She said that it was the best experience of her life.)

The entire process was simultaneously hilarious and exasperating, and the Host, game show veteran (and frequent alt.tv.game-shows denizen) Geoff Edwards, had a knack for keeping contestants on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Although most of the sketches were scripted, it was usually up to Edwards to ad-lib his way to the sketch opening, and since most boxes' contents were keyed to a separate sketch or other pre-written piece, Edwards had to memorize close to 60 different cues for each taping.

Treasure Hunt was such a departure from the usual game show conceit that some people consider it to be a sort of "anti-game show," much like Barris' other legacy, The Gong Show or Queen For a Day. In Treasure Hunt, the contestants were not required to demonstrate any skill whatsoever and the "game" was merely the drawn-out revelation of the prize itself. Arturi, the stoic "bonded security agent," was clearly a tweak of serious game shows that played up their stern security measures, like "prize vaults" or the ubiquitous "soundproof booth." The show wasn't trying to lure viewers who would imagine themselves in the contestants' places like the traditional game show. If anything, it wanted viewers to be glad they weren't the poor contestant being strung along interminably. Although some of the skits often made Edwards or another cast member the butt of the joke, the underlying attraction of Treasure Hunt was the cruelty of Edwards repeatedly raising and dashing the contestants' expecations.

It was clearly way ahead of its time in the 1970s, and would probably fit quite nicely alongside curent television game shows like The Weakest Link. I'm surprised no one has thought to bring it back.

The lineage of treasure hunt games goes back deep in the history of our species. We are always looking for the elusive, questing for the unattainable or racing each other to be the first to claim a spot of land. Think of the globe as one big game board and each of us pieces moving in for the win.

How the game was played out often has had something to do with the tech of knowing just where you are and where you need to be heading to reach your goal.

History is full of tales about the great hunts. There was the legendary quest for the Holy Grail, the map changing search for the shortest trade route to India, the every popular conquest of the world's gold supply, and a myriad other great hunts. Power, fortune and fame drove hordes of people towards the goals. In the last hundred years these hunts have become less a matter of need and more a matter of sport. As the industrial and information revolutions set the stage for an increase in the populace's leisure time, new ways to fill that time were crafted. For many the hunt became one of knowledge, discovery, and history; the age of the Explorer was on. Heinrich Schliemann wanted to find the city of Troy. Victorian explorers Burton, Speke, Baker, Livingstone and Stanley hacked and slashed across the unknown to chart the uncharted. Howard Carter hunted and pecked his way into the tomb of Tutankhamen.

For our story to really get going though we have to focus ourselves on a bleak moor in England around 1854. It was here, in this out of the way spot in the middle of the great empire that Letterboxing was born.

Letterboxing lore (1) claims its genesis on the banks Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor England. James Perrott left a message in a bottle during one of his walks across that area. The message was simple, a note card that marked his visit and a request that anyone who found the bottle also leave a card marking their visit.

Those who found the bottle read the notes of those that came before, left their note, and went back home to spread the tale of the hidden secret somewhere in wilds. Since then the landscape of Dartmoor and other locations in England have become peppered with Letterboxes. These Letterboxes were not so easy to get to; they were often hidden in remote locations that required long hikes to get near and much rummaging to pinpoint.

Somewhere along its growth the note cards were augment with stamp markings. Each Letterbox contained its own unique stamp and each Letterboxer carried with them their unique stamp. When a Letterbox was uncovered it's stamp was marked in the finder's logbook and the finder's stamp was marked in the Letterbox's logbook. (2)

Rather than relying on dumb luck to find the Letterboxes, clues were written up. Publications were put out regularly that cataloged the various clues. The informal Letterbox 100 Club is still putting these out twice yearly. The club also maintains a list of those who have over 100 Letterbox stamps in their logbooks.

For well over 100 years the great Letterbox hunt was contained to England. Then in April 1998 the floodgates opened. The Smithsonian Magazine ran an article (3) on the hunt and America soon took on a chicken pox like spotting of Letterboxes. This is not to say there was no Letterboxing taking place in the states before the article; there is recorded evidence of ones being placed in 1989. The vast majority of Letterboxing activity though is decidedly in the post- Smithsonian article era.

The next great leap in the game of the hunt came in with a whoosh. In 1974 twenty-four satellites were sent into the heavens to guide the humans below. This was called a Global Positioning System (4), or GPS for short. NavStar was born with a small cluster of satellites that grew into the twenty-four we use today. Its goal was simple, to let people know where they are. By means of just three of the satellites a receiver could tell were they were within a few feet.

A few feet, if you were in the military. Civilian GPS receivers never were able to get that accurate a reading; national security was the biggest reason why. For years GPS units could get you to within 100's of meters of your target. The "Selective Availability" or SA switched was turned off on May 1st 2000 and in the blink of an eye nonmilitary GPS units went from whistling in the dark to guided missile accuracy.

Our focus now shifts from the heavens above to the state of Oregon. Exuberant from the news of the SA being switched off, GPS user David Ulmer posted to Usenet about his plan to use this new found exactness.

"Now that SA is off we can start a worldwide Stash Game!! With Non-SA accuracy it should be easy to find a stash from waypoint information. Waypoints of secret stashes could be shared on the Internet, people could navigate to the stashes and get some stuff. The only rule for stashes is: Get some Stuff, Leave some Stuff!! The more valuable the stuff the more stashes will be started." (5)

Thus was born Geocaching. Over the next year the one stash in Oregon grew to dozens of caches, then dozens of dozens. One website, Geocaching.com (6) , quickly became the focus of the Internet sharing of the cache waypoints. It also became a gathering place for GGeocachers to tell the tales of their hunt.

As I write this today there are 14,510 active caches to be found in 112 countries.

Geocaches now come in a variety of types. There is the traditional cache type where in the finder needs to plug a set of latitude and longitude coordinates into their GPS receiver, follow some clues and eventual find the hiding place. In that place a container with a logbook and some prizes will be found. The finder marks their visit in the logbook, takes a prize, leaves a prize and then makes their way home.

The virtual cache leads not to a prize box but a place of beauty or history. These are great for finding the undiscovered areas of your surroundings.

There are multipart caches, which twist and turn the finder across several sets of coordinates and puzzles. There are event caches in which the finder's prize is a gathering of other Geocachers. There are even letterbox caches that are a mix of traditional Letterboxing with some GPS clues thrown in.

Regardless of the type the main thing is the hunt. It's the call to explore that drives folks on these quests. It could be with a GPS or without, with a prize or without. New ways may be introduced to make the hunt more interesting but under it all it's the same as before.

(1) www.ruthannzaroff.com/letterboxing/about.htm
(2) letterboxing.org/faq.html
(3) www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian/issues98/apr98/letterboxing.html
(4) www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR614/MR614.appb.pdf
(5) www.geocaching.com/

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