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!

A Precursor to Wegmans?

Mary Valentine The Strong Museum Trustee
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A 1927 Board Game Prefigures The Oregon Trail and Beth Dies of Dysentery

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Remembering Jerome L. Singer: Psychologist and Scholar of Daydreaming and Play

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Business Hours… For Pets

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Life in Plastic: It’s Not Just Barbie

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Cooking for Fun

When I left home for graduate school and my first apartment, I could barely boil water. But I rapidly recognized that I couldn’t afford to go out to eat very often and I didn’t want to subsist on products from the supermarket’s freezer case. My solution? Learn to cook! Living alone let me experiment and hone my kitchen skills without anyone else around to say, “I thought we were going to eat before 8 p.m.” or “Did you really mean it to turn out this consistency?” And I found that I liked cooking—both the process itself and the tasty results.

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Ralph Baer—Toy Inventor

Ralph Baer is perhaps best known as the father of home video games. He patented the idea for playing a video game on a television and then successfully developed the first home video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey, that came out in 1972. And yet Baer’s work on video games was only one small part of a lifetime of inventing. He had worked for decades in the defense industry, ultimately heading a major engineering division of Sanders, a large military contractor. And in the 1970s—after the success of the Odyssey—he became an active creator of many successful electronic toys.

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Musical Chairs

Mary Valentine The Strong Museum Trustee  
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Star Wars Day: The Action Figures that Almost Weren’t

Not long ago—1977, to be exact—in our very own galaxy, moviegoers witnessed the birth of a legend. Since its inception, the Star Wars franchise has generated billions of dollars in film, television, and merchandise, and is one of the most iconic titles in entertainment history. But while its popularity is undisputed today, that was not always the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite, which led to what could have easily become one of the biggest faux pas in toy history.

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Digging for GEM icons in an Atari ST Floppy Disk

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