We love scavenger hunts. They’re what we do.
Sometimes they’re what other people do, too. But in the case of these three real-life scavenger hunts, rich men or mysterious organizations capture the world’s imagination and lead avid hunters on years-long quests for buried treasure or unknown rewards. Check out these wild, unbelievable hunts that have actually happened—and are still happening today.
1. The Fenn Treasure
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 1988, millionaire art collector Forrest Fenn decided he would bury a treasure chest before he died. He survived the cancer, but in 2010 Fenn went ahead and buried his treasure anyway.
Thought to contain $1 million to $3 million in assorted jewels, coins, and more, the bronze chest is supposedly buried somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. After he hid his booty, Fenn released a riddle full of clues. It begins like this:
As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk,
Put in below the home of Brown.
Since 2010, Fenn has released more clues, including one as recently as January 2015, and a partial treasure map inside his 2013 autobiography. To this day, not a soul has found the treasure chest, though many have hunted for it—and gone so far as to stalk Fenn himself!
2. La Chouette d’Or: The Golden Owl
In April 1993, a Frenchman going by the name Max Valentin claimed to have buried La Chouette d’Or, the golden owl, in a secret location. The owl statue (actually made of bronze) could be found only with the help of 11 clues Valentin and a sculptor named Michel Becker released at that time. If recovered, the owl could be traded in for a fabulously valuable prize.
Despite valiant efforts—one person apparently bombed a chapel thinking the owl might be hidden beneath it—the owl has never been found. Valentin claimed one attempt came awfully close, as he reported finding evidence that someone had dug up the ground near the owl’s hiding place. Valentin died in 2009, but the mystery lives on.
3. Cicada 3301
A shadowy organization releases three mysterious code-filled scavenger hunts on the Internet to recruit highly intelligent individuals. It might sound like the wind-up for a Hollywood cyber-thriller, but truth once again proves stranger than fiction.
Cicada 3301 published its first test on January 5, 2012, then two more on January 5 in 2013 and 2014. Accompanied by a creepy cicada image and a cryptic introduction, each hunt, according to CBS News, “involved online images, cryptography, number theory, physical clues, phone calls, QR codes, and websites on the ‘darknet.’”
The purpose and outcome of Cicada’s three hunts remain unknown to this day (at least that’s what “they” what you to think), but the puzzles have captured the imagination of many—including the folks behind the CBS show Person of Interest, which featured a scavenger hunt inspired by Cicada’s work.
For scavenger hunts a little less on the bizarre, creepy, and impenetrable side, visit our public hunts calendar.