Introducing Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt

LogicaCMG logoA little too late for the above logo, one of the UK’s longest-running hunt traditions is gearing up for its annual Christmastime conundrum. In 1985, an IT consultant at Logica, Paul Coombs, had the idea for an armchair treasure hunt, vaguely comparable in style to that of the Masquerade book from a few years previously, complete with treasure buried somewhere in the south of England. He co-ran the first four year’s hunts and ran more in later years. Every year but once since then, an annual hunt has been set for members of Logica and their friends.

Historically, Logica have provided some backing for prizes (moderate cash prizes, but often many of them). After Logica’s merger with CGI a couple of years ago, this year the cash prizes have been eliminated and the ties with the company have been severed. From now on these will be referred to as Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunts, after the crossword compiler-style nom de guerre by which Coombs was known. This year sees the hunt open to allcomers and a renewed push to attract first-time players with a resources section, so perhaps it’s a good year to get into the habit. The hunt is to be respected for its tradition as well as its creativity.

Happily, a full archive of 28 hunts, plus solutions and setter’s notes exists, often with tales from those who played each year. This is the best way to pick up the form. Taking the 2012 hunt as an example, it’s not uncommon that there are pictures to identify, cryptic questions (usually about the year’s events – though, historically, there have been references to Logica and Sean Bean in many years) to answer, anagrams to crack, some hidden messages and a final code. Answering the questions gives you the source material to crack the code which will give you the directions to the physical hidden treasure.

While there is glory in being the first to find the treasure, there’s also a prize awarded for the most complete solutions, measured through a scoring system. Question answers, decoded references, solved directions and more each earn points. If there are, say, thirty teams submitting answers to a year’s hunt, then a question that is solved by 29 teams and missed by one team will earn one point for the 29 teams that solve it. A harder question that is solved by two teams and missed by 28 will earn 28 points for the two teams that solve it, and so on. In this way, you can make meaningful, measurable partial progress even without finding the treasure outright.

That’s the basic form; the hunt varies from year to year. For instance, the 2013 hunt features a mighty jigsaw, but this is only the starting-point; further clues were wound around the rest of the Web, including three Facebook accounts, an assortment of virtual treasure sites and more. Possibly the most impressive of all was (Coombs’, naturally) 1992 hunt which dispensed with overt questions altogether; instead, there were dozens of images, which came from sets of images with one missing. Identifying the missing item from each set sent you on your way. Brilliant!

This post is happening today because the “poster” (actually, an online video) for the 2014 hunt has been released. Form suggests there are likely to be some clues to this year’s event at least alluded to in there. The text is a reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; if that turns out to be the theme, or one of the themes, then it’s likely to be a popular choice. Further details will be teased out in a week’s time, with the puzzle itself released in mid-December.

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