The Eleventh Hour

11th Hour book cover

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base

The Eleventh Hour screams out “kids picture book”, but don’t let the simple style fool you. This is a wonderful adventure and puzzle for children of all ages. It won author and artist, Graeme Base a well-deserved “picture book of the year” award in his adoptive home of Australia in 1989.

The story is sweet and told in short rhyming passages. A diverse group of animal friends enjoy celebrating Horace the elephant’s 11th birthday together. But disaster strikes at 11 o’clock when the banquet prepared for lunch is stolen. Can you identify the criminal mastermind?

The answer to this question is quite simple, but the joy of the book comes in finding all the different clues confirming it. Secret messages and hidden clues are crammed into every inch of every brightly coloured page.

Hieroglyphics? Check! Musical notes spelling out a message? Check! Turning the book upside down? Check! I don’t know about an eleven year old, but it kept me quiet for a day. A sealed section at the back of the book goes through all the clues and I guarantee not even the most eagle-eyed reader will spot them all.

If you know an eleven year old, buy them this book, then steal it for yourself to cherish forever.

The Merlin Mystery

Merlin Mystery cover

The Merlin Mystery

The Merlin Mystery by Jonathan Gunson and Marten Coombe was published in 1998.

This was the second armchair treasure hunt book I discovered after Masquerade. Unlike Masquerade, I found it when it was new, just as the three year countdown for solving it started ticking. Of course I bought a copy straight away.

Certainly the book sets its stall pretty plainly, with its gold enlaced cover and its promise of a pot of gold and a garish gold wand for a clever winner. Rather than a buried treasure, the wand was safely locked away in the vaults of the Bank of England and solutions were to be mailed in.

Its astrological and chemical symbols immediately appealed to me and there was some fun to be had spotting patterns and linked figures.

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Masquerade by Kit Williams

Masquerade cover

Masquerade by Kit Williams

“Armchair Treasure Hunts” first came to my attention through the amazing book Masquerade by Kit Williams

Published in 1979, it is a glorious work of art filled with visual and textual puzzles and a sweet fairytale story of unrequited love. The unique (at the time) selling point was that the book contained clues to a golden hare that had been buried somewhere in England. A real-life treasure hunt!

I was maybe 10 years old when I stumbled across my grandfather’s copy and it stuck with me for years afterwards. I used the final words of the book as my email footer all through the late 1990s: “The best of men is only a man at best, and a hare, as everyone knows, is only a hare.”

But I never managed to solve the puzzle and never had the faintest idea where the golden hare might have been buried. It wasn’t until 2005 that I thought to look up the solution on the Internet.

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