The Clock Without A Face
The Clock Without a Face by Gus Twintig (a pseudonym for Scott Teplin, Mac Barnett and Eli Horowitz) is an unusual armchair treasure hunt book, though its peculiarities are also a source of annoyance if you want to solve it all from the comfort of your living room.
Immediately catching the eye with its strangely pentagonal shape, this chunky board book is stuffed with amusing, colourful pictures. Each page shows a different floor from a 13 storey apartment block. The building’s residents have their different quirks, from the hoarder with her piles of toasters and cupboards of nuclear missiles, to the mime with his minimalist black and white decor and a secret, grimy “speaking room”.
The story riffs off Sherlock Holmes as detective Roy Dodge and his long-suffering sketch-artist, Gus, tour the building trying to identify the villains who have committed a robbery on every single floor. Most precious of the stolen items are the 12 emerald-studded numbers from a clock in the penthouse. In a dark conclusion, Dodge reveals the identity of the crooks but not the location of the missing numbers. Instead, he runs off to claim the loot for himself. The challenge is to find the treasure before Dodge does.
The Clock Without A Face was a real-world treasure hunt. 12 emerald numbers really were buried at different locations across the US. The method of finding them is amusingly revealed within the story itself: a pair of elderly puzzle solvers paradoxically have a copy of the book on their kitchen table and explain that they are trying to identify a US state, a highway (ie a number of an Interstate road), and a distance in miles along that highway. 12 pictures in the book each conceal these three pieces of information and point to a different missing number.
As each puzzle was solved, it was up to treasure seekers to drive out to the nearest rest-stop on the indicated stretch of highway and dig. Fortunately for nervous land-owners, signs in the shape of the book were stuck to trees above the burial sites to confirm the exact final location, minimising the number of wayward holes.
Before you get excited, all of the emerald numbers have long been found, most within a few months of the book’s publication in 2010. Stories of their recovery were reported on a (now defunct) website run by the authors. Using the Gus Twintig pseudonym, the website sustained the idea that the characters in the book were real and that it really was a race against time to find the numbers before Roy Dodge did. This is where a unique twist to the treasure hunt was added by the authors, and a hidden 13th puzzle within the book revealed only after a year of searching.
When the puzzle on the 6th floor (occupied by the grimy mime) was solved, it did not lead to a number. Instead, the person who solved it found a magnifying glass and a silver bracelet inscribed with the name “Roy Dodge”. With these was a note from Dodge saying that he had already found this number, the precious 12. The note presented a new challenge: find Roy Dodge to find the number.
The challenge to find Dodge took 18 months and involved cracking yet more clues throughout the book. The clues eventually led one puzzle-solver to a tiny town with a population of 180. I won’t give away the town’s location in this post in case you want to try identifying it for yourself.
The person who cracked the puzzle emailed a local hotel asking if a Roy Dodge had ever stayed there. The hotel owner replied in the negative, but said that they were also the postmaster in town and that, a year previously, a package had arrived with instructions to give it to the first person requesting a parcel for Roy Dodge. The excited tresure hunter drove half way across the US to claim the package, which did indeed contain the missing number 12, and explained everything to the bemused locals.
So, an unusual book with an unusual treasure hunt attached. The question remains whether it is worth picking up an old copy to challenge yourself. Well, yes and no.
The book is a lot of fun to flick through and is an entertaining read. There are hidden objects on each page, namely the 12 objects stolen from each resident of the apartment. These are irrelevant to the main puzzle but Masquerade proved that it’s good to have several parallel riddles running through a book to keep readers engaged while they struggle with the main thread.
The main puzzles themselves, for finding the 12 emerald numbers stolen from the penthouse, are where the book has its problems. In some respects they are not that difficult to solve. The frustration for modern puzzle-solvers is that there is so much ambiguity in the puzzles that there is no way to know whether or not you have the correct answer. The only way to know at the time was to go dig up the treasure, but that option is no longer available. Nor has a complete or clear official solution ever been published.
As an example, the 12th floor has a large periodic table on the wall. It’s complete and correct EXCEPT that Argon (Ar) has been replaced by the letters Mi. This is ambiguous. Does it mean that AR, for Arkansas, is the state you’re looking for, or is it MI, for Michigan? On other pages, the clues are even more cryptic and ambiguous, especially when trying to identify the two separate numbers for the Interstate and the distance. Consequently, finding a single, definitive solution to each puzzle is impossible. Not knowing if you have the correct answer is really irritating and spoils the book as an armchair treasure hunt.
A set of solutions is relatively easy to find thanks to a community Wikia site, but is somewhat malformed by a few wayward guesses by some contributors. Based on the wiki and an archived copy of the old official website, I am trying to put together as accurate a set of solutions as is possible, and will publish it when it is finished.
If you do have a copy of the book, or decide to pick up a copy, I recommend simply enjoying it as a childish picture book with a few dark corners, rather than trying to work out the hiding places of the 12 emerald numbers. The latter is likely to lead to frustration rather than fun.