Narrowing Focus


It's important to note, before reading this, that it was written prior to the Boston casque being solved. I have no had a chance to go back and review this article post-Boston and I'm on the fence as to whether this still holds up. I've kept it here for historical purposes, but please take it with a grain of salt.


Imagine it's 1982. The Secret has just been released. Byron Preiss expects you to interpret an painting/verse pair, to get you to an exact location to dig up a buried treasure. There's no Google Maps, no Google Street View. There's barely even GPS, unless you're in the military.

So what are the tools that he expected you to be able to solve these puzzles with?

In our land and in our time, the Fair People and
their treasures yet wait to be discovered. If Man is
good, and kind, and playful, he and she will find
That is The Secret.

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 32

Unfortunately, good, and kind, and playful doesn't really help all that much. Maybe playful refers to a certain amount of whimsy required for interpreting the verses, but it's really hard to say.

Realistically, the expected toolset looked more like:

  • City Maps
  • Tourist Maps
  • Compass, Protractor, etc
  • Knowledge of Iconic Landmarks
  • Libraries
  • Newspapers
  • Encyclopaedias

You'll notice that I didn't mention "boots on the ground" investigation. That's because an element of these puzzles were intended to be an "armchair treasure hunt", i.e. you could, in theory, solve these puzzles without ever having left your house. This is referenced in "The Treasure" section at the back of the book.

You may also use this form if you believe you have determined the location of a treasure but are unable to explore it in person.

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 219

Preiss was open to the possibility that it could be solved without exploring. I mean, why else would they have done a Japanese edition, if there was no chance that it could be solved without actually being there.

Ignoring all of the technological advances at our fingertips and thinking about how we would have had to approach this in 1982, I will outline a theory that the painting, verse, or both, offer a progressive narrowing of focus to guide the hunter as close as possible to the dig site, before requiring the boots on the ground investigation.

Narrow to the State

Each painting has a stylized depiction of the state where we are to place our initial focus. This is easier to see in some paintings, than in others. This is the most macro piece of information found in the paintings.

Here is an example from Painting 5, showing an outline of the state of Illinois.

Compare the outline in the image on the left to the state outline on the right. Painting 5 has been flipped horizontally.

A State is an extremely large area to cover for a treasure hunter, so it seems fair to assume that this is just the first of a set of clues to help get us closer to the right location.

Narrow to the City

The next big breakthrough in narrowing focus came back in 2004 from a user on the Quest for Treasure forum named "fox". As far as I can tell, fox was the first to identify the longitude/latitude pairs that are found in all (but one?) of the paintings.

Two longitude/latitude pairs will define a boundary box around a particular area. This is how we can narrow focus from an entire state to a precise city (or couple of cities).

Below is an example from Image 1, showing the numbers that represent the latitude and longitude points. Within the hair, you can see the numbers 37 and 38, which are the latitude points. Along the dress you can see Roman Numerals representing 122 and 123, which are the longitude points. Though, in order for the longitude points to actually point to the United States, we have to use -122 and -123.

Lng lat
37 and 38, representing the latitude are seen in the hair. 122 and 123, representing the longitude are seen in the dress.

Treating those numbers as max/min pairs of latitudes and longitudes will draw a bounding box around the city of San Francisco. The bounding box narrows our focus from an entire state, to a particular city (or cities...) within that state. In the picture below, you'll see that the Bay Area should be our area of focus.

Bounding box
San Francisco appears near the middle of the bounding box defined by the latitude and longitude points found in the painting.

Unfortunately the bounding box does not give us a 100% deterministic city to start searching in, i.e. is it San Francisco, or maybe Oakland? Since the area defined is still too large for someone to reasonably search for a buried treasure, we continue to look in the painting for information to help us to further narrow our investigation.

Narrow to the General Location

A quest for twelve treasures: over ten thousand
dollars in precious jewels. They may be hidden in
your city or your local park or even in your own

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt pg. 1

We learn on page 1 of the book that we are probably looking for a park (or something similar). Continuing with the above example of San Francisco, assuming we are able to rule out Oakland as an area of interest, there are 223 public parks within the city limits of San Francisco. In 1982, It would have taken years to thoroughly investigate each one. There has to be a way to narrow our focus even more.

For this, I've taken a clue from the first Painting that we see in the book. It has two conspicuous symbols that look like symbols from a topographic map. Remember, Fairies secrets / Come in twos...

Topographical symbols
In topological maps, The square with a dot in the center represents a boundary marker; the triangle with a dot in the center is a horizontal control.

Given that this treasure hunt was conceived in 1982, maps were one of the most readily available sources of data for getting to a dig location. We already know that we are expected to be able to identify a state from its outline and interpret geo coordinates. It does not seem like a far stretch to assume that we are also expected to understand a few common map symbols. Let's look at some definitions of these symbols.

Horizontal Controls

"horizontal control points" are points with precisely established latitude and longitude.

United States Geological Survey (USGS)

The triangle symbol is known as a horizontal control. From the definition above, it sounds like we have already determined that there are horizontal control points embedded in the painting. We have identified that there are four latitude and longitude points.

Each latitude/longitude pair creates a precisely established point:

  • (min lat, min lng)
  • (min lat, max lng)
  • (max lat, min lng)
  • (max lat, max lng)

These points are the horizontal controls hinted at by the presence of the triangle with the dot in the middle. They define the bounding box around the city-level area of interest.

Boundary Markers

A boundary marker, border marker, boundary stone, or border stone is a robust physical marker that identifies the start of a land boundary or the change in a boundary, especially a change in direction of a boundary.


After having found something in the paintings that matches the horizontal control symbol, it seems reasonable to continue inspecting the paintings to see if there is anything that matches the definition of a boundary marker. This is where I believe the "iconic images" come into play.

Each painting has a number of images embedded within it, many of which are exact matches for physical things in the real world. Some of these, like the Chicago Water Tower in Painting 5 or Milwaukee City Hall in Painting 10, are easier to spot. Others, like the Cleveland Terminal Tower in Painting 4 are harder to find, because you have to interpret the negative space between the trees. In both cases, the images are widely recognized and well-established icons in their respective cities.

After identifying these iconic images, my hypothesis is that they are a reasonably good candidate for something that can be considered as a "boundary marker". As described above, boundary markers identify the start of a boundary, which in this interpretation, would be the start of the boundary around the park (or other public location) where the casque is buried. Narrowing our focus further, from the bounding box defined by the horizontal controls, to a more precise location.

In order to test this hypothesis, the iconic images need to be plotted on a map and analyzed to determine if any important information can be learned.

Given that only two casques have been found so far, in Chicago and Cleveland, I always test my hypotheses on those two use cases first.

Chicago Boundary Markers

There are at least three images in Painting 5 that are unrelated to the dig site, but that can be considered as iconic markers: the Chicago Water Tower, the Fountain of the Great Lakes, and Chicago Central Station. Even though the Chicago Central Station was demolished in 1974 (approximately 6 years before Preiss buried the casque), you still see some of its features prominently in the painting. It would have been well known to anyone living in Chicago at the time.

If we are going to treat these icons as boundary markers, we need to plot them on a map. I think it is reasonable to believe that this is something Preiss expected us to do. Especially for those trying to find the treasures from their armchairs.

Once plotted on the map, we can draw lines that represent the boundaries implied by the markers.

Boundary markers
Marker 1 is the Chicago Water Tower; Marker 2 is the Fountain of the Great Lakes; Marker 3 is Chicago Central Station.

Horizontally, Markers 1 and 3 define the northern and southern most boundaries, respectively. They focus our attention on an area that contains a small handful of parks as our potential areas of interest. The boundary defined by Marker 2 cuts horizontally through Grant Park. Vertically, The water line and Marker 1 define eastern and western boundaries.

The intersection of these boundary lines limits our area of interest to a small section of the city, east of Michigan Ave. It's pretty clear from the grid that Grant Park is where we should start investigating.

At this point, looking within the boundaries, we would start to see connections to the Locator Stanza in Verse 12. Seek the sounds / Of rumble / Brush and music. We see that Marker 2 is cutting through the railroad tracks, the Art Institute, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This tells us to go to the intersection of Marker 1 and Marker 2 to start our investigation.

As we know, the intersection of Marker 1 and 2 is where you see that the names of Mozart and Beethoven are set in stone on the wall of the Symphony Orchestra, which coincides with Line 1 of the Starting Point Stanza , Where M and B are set in stone. Steps away we see Roosevelt University and Congress Parkway, which aligns with Line 2 of the Starting Point Stanza, And to Congress, R is known.

With the Starting Point Stanza confirmed within the boundaries defined by the iconic imagines, it is pretty certain that the casque is buried in Grant Park. Luckily, since this is one of the casques that was found, we can confirm with certainty that Grant Park is correct.

Cleveland Boundary Markers

There are at least 2 iconic images in Painting 4, associated with Cleveland. The first, the Cleveland Terminal Tower, is an exact match outline found in the negative space between the trees in the background. The second, a sphere with a triangle on it, is a bit more obtuse of a clue. This icon is generally interpreted as a reference to Euclid, the Greek Mathematician known for being the Father of Geometry, whose namesake Euclid Ave. runs through the city of Cleveland.

Applying the same technique of plotting the iconic images on a map and drawing the boundary lines produces the map below:

Boundary markers
Marker 1 is the Cleveland Terminal Tower; Marker 2 is Euclid Ave, as it runs southwest towards the Terminal Tower.

Horizontally, Marker 1 defines the southern boundary while the water line defines the northern border. Marker 2 cuts diagonally from the north until it intersects with the boundary from Marker 1, defining both southern and eastern boundaries. After the intersection point, Euclid Ave runs parallel to the Marker 1 boundary. Vertically, Marker 1 defines the western boundary.

Again, we see that the boundaries focus our area of interest to a small section of the city, with only a few candidate parks to investigate. Right above the intersection of the Marker 1 and Marker 2 boundaries, we see the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

As we narrow in on the Cultural Gardens, we see a connection to the Starting Point Stanza of Verse 4 (which also happens to be the Map Locator Stanza). The curve of Parkgate Ave aligns to the line As the road curves. From here, we would know to continue our search in the Cultural Gardens.

The next steps are to apply this same technique to the remaining Paintings and see if it confirms or denies any of the prevailing theories about areas of interest. It may even point us in the direction of new areas that had not previously been considered!


With only two casques uncovered, there really is no way to show whether this theory is valid or not, without using it to find more casques. Right now all "solves" for casque locations are still just theories. That said, I want to run through a couple criticisms to the Narrowing Focus theory to further flush out my ideas.

One criticism of the Narrowing Focus theory is that the iconic images can get you to the city, without the need for the state outline or the bounding box. This was proven in practice by the folks who found the Chicago casque. The key point of reference for them was the Chicago Water Tower, and that got them to their city.

The claim above is irrefutable. I cannot deny that they were able to skip straight to Chicago once they saw the Water Tower. The iconic images are iconic for a reason! Especially for someone who lives in the city of the iconic image. But we know that this treasure hunt was intended for a more broad audience, who might not even have realized that was the iconic Chicago Water Tower until after they narrowed to Illinois and then started looking at maps and pictures of Chicago. One thing that I can say, is that the presence of the state outline and the bounding box show that Preiss had something else in mind. If he truly thought that the iconic images were enough information to get someone to the dig location, then there would be no reason to include the state and geocoordinates at all.

Another criticism, stems from the fact that the horizontal and boundary marker symbols are on Painting 1, but not all the paintings. That may mean that it is referencing particular boundary markers in the San Francisco area, for example, the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway or the boundary markers at Ocean Beach.

To this, I would just say that it is interesting that it is on Painting 1. Preiss would have known that this is likely the first painting that we would see and it is possible that he encoded extra information into this Painting on purpose, to help get us started.

With respect to the symbols being on Painting 1, I think that is not necessarily true. Painting 2 has very prominent "circle with a dot inside" symbols on the fairy's wings. These could represent the topological symbol for "Located or landmark object". We also see a similar "square with a dot inside" on Painting 11, below her right elbow (on the left side of the painting). I think there is a lot of room for a deeper investigation into the meaning of these symbols, and whether they add further weight to this theory.


For this theory to work, interpretation is key. If we had interpreted the Euclidean Triangle in Painting 4 as something else, say, representing the Holy Trinity, it would have lead us to a different set of boundaries. If the interpretation of the iconic images is incorrect, then the boundaries will be incorrect.

The important takeaway here is that the boundaries can be defined. We can apply the boundaries in the same way across multiple interpretations and see which areas of interest best align with the Painting and the Verse. It is only when everything lines up just right, and with such ease, that we find the right place to look for the casque.