The Story of the Treasure Hunt for the Golden Hare in Masquerade

During the Christmas holiday, as I re-read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I was wondering how this new sensation of armchair treasure hunts had started to become popular. The genre of armchair treasure hunts means a produced hunt for a prize or treasure which has been intentionally hidden and requires the solving of clues or providing the correct claim for the hunt’s prize. Through research on the origins and the first hits of this genre, I came across this interesting scandal of a real-life treasure book called Masquerade. This treasure hunt book and Kit Williams might not be the ultimate founding father of this new genre, but they played a role in attracting attention and initial interest that later fueled this new genre.  

In 1979 England, a children’s book illustrator Kit Williams wanted to gain more attention and interest for his illustrations in his children’s picture books, so he came up with the solution of partnering with a writer, Tom Maschler, to publish a puzzle book that contained 16 detailed drawings with a word border. These 16 pages included clues to a location where Williams had buried an 18-carat golden hare that he had constructed. The initial response for the book was extremely positive and it became popular straight after its release; the publishers had to reprint a further 15,000 copies the day after its publication, then another 15,000 after three days. It was a phenomenon, with the book selling more than a million copies and sparking a worldwide hunt for the golden hare. An airline even sold transatlantic Masquerade tickets, which came with a free spade on arrival. Two years had gone by without anyone solving it, but then in March 1982, a man called Ken Thomas sent in a letter that didn’t have any insight into how the puzzle system worked but instead provided a crude map that pointed to the exact place of where the hare was hidden.  

The actual solution to this unique puzzle was invented solely by Kit Williams, based on a concept that anyone of any age could figure it out. On every page, it included a picture with a border of a phrase; the reader must first identify every living creature in the frame, secondly trace the left eye to the left hand, then the right hand through the right eye, then the left eye through the left foot and finally the right eye through the right foot. This would point to specific letters on the border where they would be unjumbled back into a word.  If this method continued to be utilised in all 16 pages, the final phrasing would come out to be “Catherine’s Long Finger Over Shadows Earth Buried Yellow Amulet – Midday Points The Hour In Light of Equinox- Look you”. If the reader had taken the first capitalised letter of every word, it would give out the phrase “CLOSE BY AMPTHILL”. This refers to the small town of Ampthill, the phrase “Catherine’s Long Finger” refers to Catherine of Aragon’s grave which was located in Ampthill Park. At the hour of the equinox, the sun would cast a shadow on a specific area on the grass.  

But there was never a man named Ken Thomas. 

In December 1988, six months after the nationwide search was over, with the help of a local paper at Ampthill, they discovered that ‘Ken Thomas’ was a pseudonym for Dugan Thompson. Thompson had been in business with a man with the name John Guard who was living with Kit William’s ex-girlfriend, Veronica Robertson. Robertson had been to Ampthill Park on several occasions and guessed that he might have hidden the prize there. Dugan Thomas metal detected the whole area and dug holes everywhere but couldn’t find it. 

This was only after he saw where the actual winners (two physics teachers Mike Barker and John Rousseau, who solved the puzzle) were trying to dig for the location of the hare. 

When this scandal was revealed, Williams had already started an online video game company called Haresoft, with the new game Hareraiser, which promised a new golden hare to the winner. But by the time of the exposé, Haresoft had gone bankrupt, and the golden hare was sold in an auction at Sotheby’s for £31,900 and at that time no one knew who the buyers were.  It was not until August 2009 that the golden hare was returned to its original owner, Kit Williams, who lived in secrecy.  

As the genre continues to evolve its format into various media such as tapes, videos, and recordings, it shows the genre’s main appeal- that anyone is able to solve the puzzle inside the comfort of their own home. The idea of having a reward or hidden treasure outside continues to inspire hope and excitement for those who participate, providing a temporary escape through solving puzzles from fictional contexts from their reality, however, with a promise of a prize in real life.