Chris Cole

Masquerade, by Kit Williams, Jonathan Cape, London, 1979

Masquerade The Complete Book with the Answer Explained by Kit Williams, Jonathan Cape, London,1982

The Quest for the Golden Hare by Bamber Gascoigne, Jonathan Cape, London, 1983

Noesis readers may be familiar with the spate of treasure hunt books that have been published in recent years, I believe the seminal work in this fad was the beautifully illustrated children's book-cum-treasure map Masquerade, by Kit Williams. This book contains fifteen very detailed one- or two-page paintings rendered in the fantastic style typical of a high quality children's book, together with a dreamy story containing characters such as Jack Hare, Tara Tree-tops and the Lady Moon. Most of the very lifelike people in the paintings are actual friends of Mr. Williams.

This book set off a frenzy of solving activity unequalled by any subsequent book, even though its imitators offered much higher prizes, culminating in the $500,000 of the book Treasure with puzzle by Paul Hoffman (a.k.a. Dr. Crypton -- does anyone know what happened to this prize?) This relative lack of interest may be due to the market being crowded or the poor intrinsic quality of the subsequent entries. Or perhaps people just got tired of treasure hunts.

The solution to Masquerade is simplicity itself, and is fully in keeping with the nature of the book: namely, a picture book. First of all, the text has nothing to do with it; the pictures alone contain the answer. Secondly, the answer is literally pointed to by the pictures. Each picture is bordered by letters, which is a dead giveaway since the letters have no reason for being there if they are not part of the puzzle. By drawing a line from the eyes of the various creatures in the pictures, through their longest fingers, biggest toes, etc., and extending to the bordering letters, this message is found:


The first letter from each page spells:


This method of solution is hinted to on the title page with the rhyme:

To solve the hidden riddle, you must use your eyes, And find the hare in every picture that may point you to the prize.

Armed with this information, it is a simple matter to discover that there is a statue of Catherine of Aragon in a public park near the city of Ampthill. By doing a little amateur astronomy, the exact spot pointed to by the statue's long finger can be determined without waiting for the equinox. Beneath this spot was the treasure, a golden hare. The book also contains a number of confirming clues.

Quest chronicles some of the amazingly far-fetched approaches taken by Masqueraders. Mr. Gascoigne, a respected author on the arts, accompanied Mr. Williams the night he buried the treasure. He also read the tens of thousands of letters received by Mr. Williams. The hare was found three years after the book was published by a shadowy figure with pseudonym Ken Thomas. Mr. "Thomas" found the hare by researching Mr. Williams' life, going to places that he had lived, and doing a lot of digging with the occasional help of some of the confirming clues. Two British physicists did finally solve the puzzle with the help of a hint published by Mr. Williams in the Sunday Times, but they were a little too late.

After the announcement that the hare was unearthed, many fanatical Masqueraders tried to prove that their approaches could lead to the correct solution. For example, someone discovered that the word "thill" means a fleck of paint (according to some obscure dicfionary), and he thought he saw an inexplicable fleck of paint in each painting. He also thought he saw the word "amp" hidden in each painting. For example, in one picture a girl is floating in the air above houses. And a volt (vault) over an ohm (home) is an amp.

Mr. Gascoigne summarizes his observations thus:

Tens of thousands of letters from Masqueraders have convinced me that the human mind has an equal capacity for pattern-matching and self-deception. While some addicts were busy cooking the riddle, others were more singlemindedly continuing their own pursuit of the hare quite regardless of the news that it had been found. Their own theories had come to seem so convincing that no exterior evidence could refute them. These most determined of Masqueraders may grudgingly have accepted that a hare of some sort was dug up at Ampthill, but they believed there would be another hare, or a better solution, awaiting them at their favourite spot. Kit would expect them to continue undismayed by the much publicised diversion at Ampthill and would be looking forward to the day when he would greet them as the real discoverers of the real puzzle of Masquerade. Optimistic expeditions were still setting out, with shovels and maps, throughout the summer of 1982.