The “Top Secret” one-day Cryptic Treasure Hunt in Essex

A logo for the location where the puzzle hunt took placeMonths ago, this site previewed the “Top Secret” One-Day Cryptic Treasure Hunt that happened last Saturday. Here’s a second-hand report of what happened.

The event took place at the so-called Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch in West Essex, just outside the M25. The site is a tourist attraction now, but has a history of having played a number of different roles in civil defence over the years.

One challenge that puzzle hunt organisers face is trying to set potential players’ expectations appropriately, not least to give people the right information to judge whether this is the right hunt for them or not. (Not that there are a great many hunts to choose from! At least, not yet…) It’s a particularly difficult challenge for a one-off or first-time hunt, as a good technique is being able to point to (at least an account of) a comparable hunt. This hunt had its original flyer (.pdf file) that cunningly contained hypertext (marked “Top Secret!”) that linked to a teaser that give a hint to the location.

The hunt offered the teams the chance to attempt to retrieve clues from within a variety of rare, valuable and intricate mechanical puzzle boxes, construction puzzles and the like. These clues would give hints, in various media, towards decoding a metapuzzle to find the exit of the bunker section of the hunt.

One particularly popular and clever puzzle saw the teams exploring a recreation of the nuclear bunker within Minecraft – upon finding a particular object hidden in the virtual world, teams were directed to find a clue hidden in the counterpart location in the physical world.

Outside the bunker, there was a later clue requiring use of part of the ropes course on site, and the conclusion of the hunt saw a very visual demonstration of where Stephen Miller, who organised the hunt, got his Pyro Puzzles brand name from. You can see how atmospheric the location was and judge the reactions of the players from this collection of photos from the event.

There are many different parallel puzzle hobbies in the UK and Ireland, often with little overlap – the armchair treasure hunt hobby, the logic puzzle contest hobby, the mechanical puzzle hobby, the DASH-and-Puzzled-Pint hobby, the exit room hobby, and so on. Part of the impetus for this site is to try to bring elements of these hobbies together and help people who know they like one to find other hobbies that they may enjoy as well.

It was clear that most of the entrants to this hunt came from one particular background. The extremely positive social media response goes to show how well-received the hunt was and how well the hunt succeeded in its evident aims.

Many thanks to organiser Stephen Miller and team for putting the show on; it’s clear that a great deal of effort goes into running any puzzle event. This site notes the imminent release of his Fire mechanical puzzle, the start of the Elemental series, and looks forward to further developments.

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