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The 80s Treasure Hunt in New York We Can't Let Die

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

I remade a treasure hunt created by Byron Preiss with augmented reality so you can find a priceless gem


Somewhere in New York Byron Preiss buried a porcelain casque with a key to a safety deposit box. That safety deposit box contains a precious gem. And I know where it is. But instead of digging it up myself, I created a new kind of treasure hunt - one that uses augmented reality to overcome the frustrations of the original treasure hunt design.


Who is Byron Preiss and why did his Treasure Hunt create such Fanatics?


40 years ago author Byron Preiss buried twelve treasure boxes at secret locations in the United States and Canada. Inside the boxes were keys corresponding to safety deposit boxes with gemstones worth thousands of dollars each. Now that inflation and nostalgia are trending, the real value of these gems is much higher.


The original treasure map takes the form of a book titled, The Secret: A Treasure Hunt. Though treasure hunters focus on the mystifying fantasy art of John Jude Palencar, clues are also found in the corresponding poems and the often overlooked story arch. And if you are wondering whether or not this is just a wild goose chase or prank, rest assured, three gemstones have been found and treasure hunters are hot on the trail of nine more.


Nine Gemstones Still Under the Soil in a Park Near You

Visual clue for the Chicago clue of the Bryon Preiss treasure hunt
The Chicago Clue

The appeal of Palencar’s art is that it depicts a fantasy world layered onto our base reality. The first two of the above images are from the chapter that led to the gem that was found in Chicago. The third image is a water tower found IRL (In Real Life). Treasure hunters looked at the fantasy image and said, “This is not fantasy, this exists.” The key to finding the gem lies in accepting that there is a magical layer to our mundane world. In 1983 three treasure hunters were rewarded for this belief.


Chicago water tower and art from The Secret: A Treasure Hunt
Fantasy layered onto reality.

Then a lawyer in Cleveland dug up another gem in 2004. And then, for a while the game seemed to stall. Nine small casques with keys to safety deposit boxes sit waiting under the soil. Sales of the book slowed. Interest dropped.


Tragic Twist in the Byron Preiss Treasure Hunt Story


On a Saturday in July, the only person that knew the location of the gems, got into his car to drive to his Long Island synagogue. He never made it. Byron Preiss died in a car accident at age 52. Many feared the legacy of The Secret would die as well, and the gemstones would be buried forever.


Besides the death of Byron Preiss, other obstacles besieged The Secret. The Boston gem, another one of the three found was buried under the home plate of a baseball diamond. Or rather, it was found at the construction site of a condo development that was springing up over a former baseball diamond.


A Famous Explorer Joins the Treasure Hunt In New York


In January 2018, The Secret gained widespread exposure on an episode of Expedition Unknown.


Josh Gates on the Byron Preiss treasure hunt for Expedition Unknown TV series
Expedition Unknown on the Discover Channel

Host Josh Gates crisscrossed the United States, Indiana Jones style. The film crew recreated Byron Preiss burying the treasure. Armchair treasure hunters cursed at the screen because, damn, they were just about to find a gem and he was helping the competition. In the episode Gates interviews Byron Preiss’s daughters on Ellis Island. They explained how their father wanted the treasure hunts to bring people together.


New Technology - New Problems


40 years later, it’s not hard to see that people, more than ever, need reasons to come together. In the 90s a guy named Al Gore created something called the Internet and now we use it to swipe left or right instead of gathering the courage to meet someone new. Tinder is an all new kind of treasure hunt. Mark Zuckerberg wants to hold the keys to the Metaverse - a place where avatars have preset personal boundaries to combat sexual harassment.


We now have computers powerful enough to launch the Apollo missions and we use them to photograph our dessert.


Byron Preiss would roll over in his grave if he could see this dystopian/utopia hybrid we live in. We are alone together.


New Technology - New Solutions


But this same technology lets us instantly translate other languages. Internet forums spread ideas quickly and problems can be solved by crowdsourcing them. Maps and Street View allow us to check out places without getting on a plane. These tools are precisely why the legacy of Byron Preiss has not died with him. These are the tools that led me to the location of the New York gemstone.


I think if Byron Preiss had lived he would have found a way to use the technology we are blessed with today to overcome some of the obstacles still plaguing his treasure hunt. Back then he might have said that nothing beats the thrill of driving a spade into the earth and hearing the ‘clink’ of metal on metal. But maybe there is something just as cool.


In the 1980s fans turned the pages of Byron Preiss's treasure hunt book and imagined themselves in the fantasy world created by Palencar’s art. Then they got up off the sofa, shovel in hand, and ventured out to see if they could match the fantasy image to the real world. Now, with the magic of Augmented Reality, we don’t have to imagine. Picture yourself pointing your phone’s camera at that water tower in Chicago. The screen transforms the skyline into a fantasy realm. Another clue is dropped and the hunter is off to another location to find the next trigger image. If the image changes, let’s say another building goes up beside the water tower, all that puzzle creators have to do is upload the new trigger image. No dirt, no buried baseball diamonds.


This is what I’ve done. Instead of just telling you where to dig, I’m releasing an Augmented Reality Treasure hunt in three parts.


Expedition Unknown Almost Solves the New York Treasure Hunt - Oh So Close


While in New York, Expedition Unknown host, Josh Gates couldn’t help but take a crack at solving the Treasure Hunt in New York. Here it is:


New York clue for the Secret: A treasure hunt by Byron Preiss

Josh thinks the gray giant is the statue of George Washington at Federal Hall. George's hand gestures slightly down a narrow street - the slender path - Wall street. Wall Street is an important clue. So thinks Josh.


Next Time We Pick up the New York Treasure Hunt Where Josh Left It


I could tell you what I think, but that would be telling. I’m going to leave this week’s blog with the augmented reality treasure hunt puzzle. Next time we’re going to travel down Wall Street to Trinity Church and open the gates to a cemetery. It’s here that Josh Gates thinks an American Icon holds the key.


This post’s puzzle solves the question of the Gray Giant. This might be enough for some hunters to find the gem. Maybe not. Next week there will be another Augmented Reality puzzle taking treasure hunters even closer to the gem.


Byron Preiss’s Treasure Hunt Now an Augmented Reality Puzzle


To activate the Augmented Reality in the puzzle below you’ll need the Zappar app. It’s free, doesn’t take up too much space, has no ads or invasive spyware.


Augmented Reality adaptation of The Secret: A Treasure Hunt by Byron Preiss
Download Zappar and scan the image to find the gemstone.

If you've solved Part One, Part Two is now live. If you like games we're testing an alternate reality game in New York's Central Park. We need beta testers. Sign up HERE.

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