My birthday present -- Sept 2

Submitted by Erik on Fri, 09/05/2008 - 20:16

I got one of the coolest presents this year. My brother gave me:

  • two photographs
  • a hand-scrawled piece of paper
  • and a locked box without a key

A Treasure Hunt!


I recognized the lower picture in the photos as a section of the bookcase in our living room. I also noticed the dictionary. That rang bells because for Christmas, Carl had given me a very similar dictionary with no explanation as to why, but with the following inscription: "This is one of those books that will come in handy someday. Don't lose it. Make sure you can find it easily when the time comes." Now, I knew that I had taken that particular dictionary to work with me to make sure I knew where it was, so I didn't know if there was a new one at my house or if he had gotten it from my office somehow.

So I was prepared to wait and go home to inspect the dictionary to see if there were any clues to be found. But staring at the hand written note, I noticed something about the letterhead. I thought to myself, "New Hampshire zip codes don't start with 012". Wait, 01234 ?!? not a chance. So the whole thing was bogus, but could it be a clue? Well, finally it hit that "Ritt N Whithen, Visible, Inc." is pronounced "written with invisible ink".

I remember writing secret messages as a kid in lemon juice that could be read when the paper was heated. So I took the paper in to the stove and carefully held it over a burner. Had to make sure I kept it from actually catching on fire, but I was able to finally make out characters at near the top.

It was an email address: "[email protected]". So I sent a message to that address and voila, I received an automated response email. Yippee!

Now I had something to use the dictionary for...

So, once I got home and got the dictionary, I looked up each word. None were marked or special in anyway, but I remember more than one story where the code was based on the page numbers of the words. (Turns out that Clear and Present Danger is one such story and it turns out this trick is how Admiral Cutter betrays the heros to Felix Cortez...)

So, I got the following sequence: 42 37 43 70 55 14

Now a couple of years ago, I had given Carl a Christmas present of tickets to Blue Man Group where I had given him four clues that when put together made the IP address of the BMG web site, so I immediately started looking for patters that way. But somehow what caught my eye was that I know (don't ask why) that our latitude and longitude in MA is 42, -70. So I used google maps to pinpoint 42.3743, -70.5514, but that was in the middle of the ocean...

But lat/long is often given in a triplet of degrees/minutes/seconds. I didn't realize that you can just dump six numbers into the search box of google maps and it'll treat them that way, so I found an online converter between DMS and decimal lat/long, and arrived at 42.628611, -70.92056.
When putting those numbers into a GMap URL, you get a nice picture, but no pinpointed location.

So I zoomed in, I zoomed out, I panned and searched. This is what I determined: The location was in Ipswich, MA; this fit the pattern because he canoes quite frequently on the Ipswich river; the location was fairly close to the Ipswich River. Maybe I needed to grab one of my parents' single kayaks and follow the path. But since it was 10:30pm at the time, I decided to keep investigating and get the kayak in the morning.

Trying to remember where the put-ins/take-outs were for that area, I stumbled across a article about canoeing on the Ipswich River which had the following setences:

The next formal stop can be Audubon's Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, with its more open landscape and wetlands. It is further up and it will take another couple of hours to reach the canoe landing near the Sanctuary headquarters.

I hadn't remembered the Sanctuary was there. So I looked up the Audubon Sanctuary. And it was definitely that big building visible on the map. So some more poking on their website and I found a map that showed some helpful landmarks. I lined up the google map and the trail map but it was still a bit vague. I needed that pinpoint location. So I reverted to type and made my own map which put the point right where it needed to be.

I lined the two maps up together in my mind as best as I could. It seemed as though the point was very close to the "Observation Tower" on the map! And the first picture could certainly be a set of stairs leading up to an observation tower. At last, with a destination to investigate, I decided to go to bed.

To Be Continued...

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