A mind-bending encounter with the creators of The Great Global Treasure Hunt, plus a chance to win a luxurious mystery holiday by solving the Telegraph’s exclusive riddle.
It’s an unusual scene, to say the least. In front of a giant 21st-century computer screen showing the Earth as seen from outer space, a very medieval type of transaction is taking place.
Illuminated by the monitor’s blue-green glow, a man holding a small flame is melting a bright red stick of wax on to the back of a crumpled envelope. As the liquefied drops congeal, he presses down with an ancient-looking seal, leaving an imprint of a longbow and three arrows.
At which point, he thrusts the sealed document into the hands of a black-clad lawyer, who promptly leaves the room, for a location no one is allowed to know.
It all seems rather strange and mysterious, but there is, in fact, a rational explanation. We aren’t attending some weird pagan ritual. Rather, we have come to the London headquarters of publishers Carlton Books in order to witness the launch of an extraordinary book: namely, The Great Global Treasure Hunt.
Inside its covers are 14 mind-and-imagination-stretching puzzles, ranging from the fairly easy to the super-fiendish. But these aren’t just any puzzles. Solve all 14, and you’ll find that the answers form the clues to the final puzzle – an exact location on Google Earth – thereby winning yourself a €50,000 (£43,740) cash prize.
Too late, it becomes clear that the envelope which has just been whisked from our presence contained the only piece of paper in the world on which the ultimate solution has been written.
The form that solution takes is, in fact, a series of numbers, except that their significance is not mathematical, but geographical. For between them, they express, in ultra-precise latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, a small point on the globe, measuring no more than 20 sq ft.
How are you supposed to track it down? By buying a copy of The Great Global Treasure Hunt (see overleaf) and poring over the text and pictures inside, at the same time as constantly cross-checking and cross-referring with the website Google Earth.
It is, not to put too fine a point on it, an Everest-sized challenge.
To help you limber up, the creators of The Great Global Treasure Hunt have devised an exclusive one-off puzzle set for Weekend readers: the Standing Tall Treasure Hunt, which will win the solver of said conundrum a trip to an exciting location – the clues and hints are overleaf.
So far as The Great Global Treasure Hunt goes, the good news is that in the race to the €50,000 summit, Telegraph readers will have an advantage over all other treasure hunters, as each Saturday we will be printing an exclusive clue, in addition to the intermittent hints and tips that will be available to the whole world, both on the competition website (www.jointhetreasurehunt.com) and via the tweets emanating from www.twitter.com/dedopulos.
And who, or what, pray, is Dedopulos? Why, none other than The Great Global Treasure Hunt puzzle-setter himself, who spends most of his life knee-deep in obscure manuscripts relating to codes, symbols and esoterica both scientific and paranormal. Today he has arrived, blinking, in the big city, to hand over that precise combination of digits that make up the winning solution, now entombed inside the unknown solicitor’s safe.
“The solution is not written down anywhere else, I have not disclosed it to anyone, and you cannot even extract it by getting me drunk, as I do not touch alcohol,” beams the splendidly ponytailed Dedopulos beatifically, “All I can advise you to do is to look at all the clues from different angles and, by considering their implications with respect to each other, you will discover the swiftest path to the solution.”
Try to press him further and he merely grins and urges you to look at the book again, only harder.
Even then, the answers hardly leap out at you. Open up The Great Global Treasure Hunt and, alongside colour illustrations that look like the work of Salvador Dalí, M C Escher and René Magritte combined, you find passages of quasi-poetical text, both allusive and elusive.
Each puzzle has a cryptic title, such as Facing The Gallows or Scarlet Chambers, and each page is fringed with a border of circular symbols (flowers, waterfalls, multicoloured marbles), plus seemingly random sets of numbers.
They are, in fact, geographical coordinates, relating to real-life locations on Google Earth.
Key in some of the digits on the first puzzle, and you will come up, surely, with part of a vital piece in the jigsaw?
“Quite possibly,” comes Dedopulos’s cryptic reply.
“On the other hand, it may just take you to some beautiful or amazing part of the planet which I feel you should know about. I must confess, I will feel bereft if this quest does not engender, among the participants, a sense of wonder at this amazing world.”
Ah well, what do you expect from a man whose ancestor bought a Grecian dukedom from the doges of Venice, and whose emails all bear the legend: “If there were two of you, which one would win?”
Slightly more helpful is the book’s illustrator, Jon Lucas, who has also come to witness the handing-over of the solution. He reveals that, with each puzzle, Dedopulos’s instructions to him were to put in five or six key images, 10-15 secondary images, and however many red herrings he pleased.
However, try and quiz either the artist or the puzzlemaster on exactly how to solve the 14 challenges and they go very silent. It’s left to Piers Murray Hill, the editorial director for Carlton Publishing and the man who came up with the whole concept, to explain where Google Earth comes in.
“You cannot solve this puzzle without constant reference to the Google Earth website,” he stresses. “And I mean constant. It’s not like trying to solve The Daily Telegraph general knowledge crossword on a Saturday, where you only go on the internet as a last resort, having already rung your friends and asked for help with the clues about atomic numbers.
“With this competition, you have to go on Google Earth from the start. In fact, the whole idea came to me when I found that you can stick a virtual pin into your favourite locations on Google Earth.
“It struck me that you could also use a pin to mark a spot where virtual treasure was hidden, thus enabling you to go on a worldwide hunt without leaving your armchair.”
Thereby making this a different kind of quest from the last great treasure hunt to grip the nation, some 32 years ago. Back in 1979, author and artist Kit Williams informed the world that he had buried a valuable, bejewelled golden hare at an undisclosed location somewhere in England. The only way to discover its whereabouts was to buy his picture book Masquerade and try to solve the clues.
The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide as puzzlers first pored over its pages and then set out, spade in hand, to dig up large parts of the English countryside.
After two and a half years, one participant correctly identified the place where the hare was buried, in the Bedfordshire village of Ampthill, at the precise spot touched by the shadow of a monument to Catherine of Aragon, at noon on either the spring or autumn equinox. Sadly, the prize later lost its sparkle when it was revealed that the winner had received insider help from Kit Williams’s ex-girlfriend.
Since then, though, says Dedopulos, treasure hunts have come a long way, and for some time now have bridged the divide between the printed and the virtual world.
“There now exists a vast, alternate-reality gaming community, much of it based round the website www.unfiction.com. It began with a game in the 1980s called PiMania, which took several years to solve, and which eventually led the winners to a golden sundial located at the site of a chalk horse carved into the Sussex hills.
“Nowadays, the online gaming community engages in collective puzzle-solving and I would not be at all surprised if people got together to tackle the Great Global Treasure Hunt.
“For many of them, the motivating force is not the prize itself, but the glory of having solved the puzzle. That said, when it comes to the final sprint to the finishing line, things might get a little tight-lipped as regards sharing information.
“As to how long it will take, I am confident no one will solve the puzzle in five minutes, but equally confident that someone will get there within the allotted seven months.”
Not that speed is of the essence. Final date on which you can submit your answer to the Great Global Treasure Hunt is March 31 2012. However, you’re only allowed one entry per email address, so how can you be sure you’ve got the right answer?
“All I can say,” declares Dedopulos, “is that if you believe the answer to be, say, the Labyrinth of Knossos in Crete, and you are unable to find corroborating evidence on Google Earth, then you have an erroneous answer.
“The great thing is, though, that in order to solve my puzzle, no specific skill is needed, no particular expertise or cultural background or age,” he says.
“All you need is an inquiring mind, a careful eye – and, of course, the will to seek the solution.”