The Ultimate Quest

Ultimate quest book cover

The Ultimate Quest

The adage of never judging a book by its cover was never truer than with The Ultimate Quest by William Lynhope. The forest scene daubed in primary colours creates an expectation of something similar on turning the page.

The harsh reality of the interior is 50 pages of unremitting grey text as a grey man meets with a grey lawyer and his blonde assistant. Make it through the story to the clues that supposedly lead to the Holy Grail and you’re rewarded with grey photos of a Michelin road map of France and a copy of The Burlington Magazine. My excitement is barely contained!

Published in 2001, The Ultimate Quest is the search for the Grail. The first person to locate the Grail Keeper and answer his questions three (no, five!) would receive a “priceless” replica of the Grail itself. In 2011, the publishers admitted defeat and closed the competition, never revealing the solution.

The puzzle is a combination of code-breaking and cryptic clues. A little searching on the Internet reveals that nobody has much idea of the solution and the pieces that have been decoded hint at a level of ambiguity that probably renders the puzzle impossible.

» Read more

The Egyptian Jukebox

Egyptian Jukebox book cover

The Egyptian Jukebox

The Egyptian Jukebox is an intriguing puzzle book and certainly worth a read, though it is not one that you are likely to return to time and again.

Written by Nick Bantock in 1993 the titular jukebox is a cabinet having 10 drawers, each associated with a different Egyptian God, and all lovingly photographed. Every drawer is stuffed with creepy knick-knacks, coins and postcards from around the world. A short, often ghostly story accompanies each drawer and gives context to the contents.

The creator of the jukebox poses a single riddle: “Where do my worlds join?”. To help solve it, cryptic clues have the reader running around each drawer like a rat in a maze.

This is an enjoyable and solvable puzzle. Small clues scattered throughout the book must be pieced together to find the correct path through every drawer. It’s nicely structured so that the reader can see that they’re making progress, but different stumbling points present themselves on each page and require a slightly different approach to solve.

» Read more

Untitled Bee Book by Kit Williams

Bee Book cover

Untitled Bee Book by Kit Williams

A few years after Masquerade‘s hunt for the golden hare came to an end, Kit Williams produced a new puzzle book featuring a golden bee.

Having learned from experience that inciting people to dig up England wasn’t a wise move, this time the puzzle was a postal competition: work out the title of the book, represent it artistically and mail it in within the 1 year time limit. Kit chose his favourite solution and awarded the prize of a mahogany box containing a titled copy of the book on a special edition of the Terry Wogan show in 1985.

As with Masquerade, the art is gorgeous. Rather than straight paintings, Kit Williams shows off his marquetry skills with beautiful and imaginative frames, set with gems and carvings. Sometimes, as on the cover, the painting itself is only a tiny part of the whole work. Everything is beautifully photographed to show off how 3-dimensional each piece is.

The story is whimsical and timeless, though lacking the quest narrative impact of Masquerade.

» Read more

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.

» Read more

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.

» Read more

1 4 5 6