X marks the spot for a treasure hunt

If you think treasure hunts are just for pirates, think again! Discovering hidden treasure has been delighting kids and adults for many years. And even if the "treasure" is just a few lollipops, apples, cool pencils, or trading cards, searching for it is often just as much fun as searching for gold.

When you plan a hunt for your friends, you need a pirate treasure. Find an old shoe box. Put something in it that you are willing to share. Then wrap the box in black construction paper. Use crayons to draw on some brown straps and silver buckles – and there's your treasure chest!

Next, open a brown paper grocery bag along the seams to make a flat piece of paper – your map. Then hide your treasure near a landmark in a yard, park, campground, or house where your friends will be hunting. A landmark is an object that is easy to notice, such as a tree, a gate, or a rock that marks a special place.

Walk around the area near the hidden treasure and pick out five more landmarks.

Draw each landmark on your map. Put the word START at the first landmark that you want your friends to go to. Draw a dotted black line on the map to connect the first landmark to the next landmark and so forth.

Connect the landmarks in the order in which you want your friends to search. Make the dotted line end at the drawing of the landmark where you have hidden the treasure. Make a large X on the map to mark that spot.

Cut the map into six puzzle-shaped pieces. Have only one landmark (including the spot where the treasure is) on each piece.

Put the map back together and write a small number on the back of each piece in the order in which you want your friends to search. The piece marked START will be No. 1. The piece with the X that marks the hidden treasure will be No. 6.

Keep the START piece to give to your friends. But hide the rest of the numbered pieces.

Walk the path of the dotted line to the first landmark and hide puzzle piece No. 2 there. Then walk to the second landmark and hide piece No. 3 there, and so on until you have hidden all of the pieces.

Piece No. 6 – the X piece – should be hidden at the last landmark before the one where the treasure is hidden.

Now you are ready to give your friends the first piece of the treasure map and let the fun begin.

As they find each puzzle piece, they will reconstruct the map. Where X marks the spot, they will find the hidden treasure!

Backyard Letterboxing

First, find a new freezer bag or a plastic food container. This will be your letterbox. Put a small notebook, a colored marker, and one of your favorite rubber stamps inside.

Hide the sealed bag or container in your yard or in a park. Choose a place where no one will accidentally find it. Hollow trees work well.

Next, write the directions to the letterbox on a piece of paper. Letterboxing directions say which way to turn and how many paces to take after each turn. A pace measures one regular step and is often used for measuring the distances.

To begin writing your directions, stand where the hunter will begin and write down the location. For example, write "Stand on the bottom step of my back porch."

Then write directions that will create an interesting path to the letterbox. Write down each step as you go.

Although directions that say something like "Walk 20 paces straight ahead from the porch" might take a hunter right to your letterbox, following them would be boring. But it would be interesting to follow directions to the same place that say something like this: "Walk straight ahead for five paces. Turn left and walk three paces toward the old cherry tree. Turn right and walk 10 paces toward the birdbath. Turn right again and walk three paces. Turn left and walk five paces. Now look up, look down, look all around until you spy the letterbox."

After writing the directions, try them out to be sure that they work.

Now you are ready for your friends to attempt your hunt. Each friend should bring a notebook and a favorite stamp. Give them your written directions and watch as they try to find your letterbox. When they find it, they can stamp their notebooks with your letterbox stamp. They also can put their own stamp on a page in your letterbox's notebook.

Then it is your friends' turn to set up letterbox hunts. Before you know it, you will have two notebooks to treasure. One will be filled with stamps from the letterboxes you have found. The other will be filled with stamps from friends who have found your letterbox.

Rules of the hunt

• Always ask the permission of an adult before you plan a hunt.

• Decide the boundaries ahead of time so that you can tell the hunters where they are allowed to search. Will they be outside? Ask an adult to check the area to make sure that participants won't come across anything that might hurt them.

• Keep the players in mind when you plan the hunt. Will they be adults? Make it trickier. Will they be young children? Make the hunt easier so that they don't become frustrated.

• If you need to borrow anything for the hunt, ask permission. Make sure that you return the item later.

• As always, do not talk to strangers unless you are with an adult.

• Have the hunters play in teams if you can. It is always more fun than playing alone.

• Be respectful of every team member's ideas.

• Remember, searching for the treasure is the part of the hunt that is the most fun. What we find is less important. After all, our motives aren't the same as real pirates' were!

Treasure trivia

• The only pirate known to have buried treasure was William Kidd, who stashed his 'booty' on Long Island. The pirate in the book 'Treasure Island' may have been based in part on him.

• Some people say pirates wore eye patches as a disguise and to train their eyes to see better at night.

Want to know more?

Visit the website www.letter boxing.org for more about letterboxes around the world.

See www.geocaching.com to find out about a hunt that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate treasures hidden in beautiful out-of-the-way spots. You take what you find but leave a new treasure for the next player.

Older kids may want to visit www.mit.edu/~puzzle/index.html for information about an annual hunt for a hidden coin at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

Teams find the coin by unraveling complicated riddles and advanced mathematical codes.

Staff

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