Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history.

Hunting for Treasure

Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?

Masquerade, The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Whether we’re children or adults, there’s something irresistible about following a trail of clues (a map makes it easier and more fun) to some hidden cache that promises untold riches. Most often treasure hunts live only in the world of fiction—Treasure Island with its memorable characters Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, Billy Bones, and Captain Flint—set the mold that has been imitated by countless books and movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, National Treasure, and Ready Player One.

Treasure hunts have been on my mind recently for a couple of reasons. First, the owner of Jelly Belly candies announced he was reprising the giveaway from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by hiding a golden ticket for searchers to find and potentially win a candy factory. Second, I was cleaning out the large supply of children’s books at home and came across my childhood copy of Masquerade, a book that inspired treasure seekers far and wide to try to decipher the messages encoded in the book of the same name. I hadn’t thought about Masquerade in a long time, and it turned out that there was more than one mystery wrapped in this story.

Artist Kit Williams illustrated and authored Masquerade, which was published in 1979, on the dare to make a children’s book that was different than anything that had been done before. In the pictures and text he embedded clues that promised to lead to an 18-carat gold jeweled rabbit that he had buried somewhere in the English countryside. I lived in Connecticut, but it didn’t stop me and my older brother from scouring the book for clues to try and solve the puzzles. We failed of course, but so did everyone else until 1982 when Ken Thompson solved the puzzles and discovered the rabbit.

The Secret, The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Ken Thompson then used some of the money and fame associated with it to co-found with John Guard a computer game company, Haresoft. Haresoft’s first and only product was a two-part game called Hareraiser that promised players that embedded in the game were clues to finding the rabbit from Masquerade. The game was universally panned and the company failed. That would seem to be the end of the story.

And yet over time it turned out there was further mystery involved, and like many a good treasure hunt story a rogues’ gallery of suspect characters. It turned out that Ken Thomas was in fact not a real person but a pseudonym for Dugald Thompson. Thompson was the friend of another man, John Guard, the co-founder of Haresoft. Guard had been dating Veronica Robertson, the ex-girlfriend of Kit Williams himself. They discovered the jeweled rabbit with the help of some metal detectors and Robertson’s tip that they should look on Ampstead Hill, a site she had visited with Williams.

Masquerade inspired other true life treasure hunts. In 1982, for example, the book The Secret: A Treasure Hunt put seekers on the quest of 12 treasure boxes supposedly buried around the United States. Not all have been found, so if you feel up to the challenge, you can track this down and perhaps discover the treasure. But watch out for villains along the way, for no true treasure is found easily!

Stories from the Stacks: What You Don’t Know about Stormfront Studios

While processing the Don Daglow papers for The Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, I had the privilege of sitting down with Daglow himself when he was in Rochester for an event here at The Strong. Though our time together was short, the stories he told me made a big impression. I think it’s important to document these details that provide so much context for the materials we have in our archive and I’m happy to share these fun anecdotes with you.

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Skater Girls: A Brief History of Female Skateboarders

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Toxic Times: The NIMBY Satirical Board Game

1989 was the year of the Basel Convention, officially named the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. An international treaty designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, it is meant to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. It does not address radioactive waste. As of 2020, the United States signed, but never ratified the treaty.

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A Brief History of Online Games

For most of human existence our ability to play together has been circumscribed by our physical connection with others in our immediate vicinity, a radiating circle of family, friends, and neighbors, spiced with an occasional get together with more distant associates. As I write this blog, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has mandated new social distancing rules greatly limiting our ability to gather with others. And yet the play must go on.

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A Monopoly on Monopoly: Parker Brothers’ Pursuit of a Game to Call Their Own

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Cute as Button

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Pin the What?!

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Saving Speedrunning and Digital Communities

Alexis Eva, 2019 Intern at ICHEG

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Continuing the Adventure from Home: Tabletop Role-Play Games while Social Distancing

For most gamers, rolling for initiative has been put on hold for the moment.

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Name That Tune

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