What started (for me) with an October 28 Facebook message from a friend saying I should check out the Canlis menu treasure hunt ended yesterday, New Years Eve 2010, with a team of ten friends and me finding the final two prizes buried in Gas Works Park. Two prizes that we didn't even know about when I began.
(If you don't know about the Canlis menu hunt, the Nosh Pit blog gives a good overview.)
When I started following clues, I was lackadaisical. Clue #10:
"Where ash once swung, pine now rests."This is obviously at the old site of Sicks Stadium on Rainier Avenue (now a Lowe's), but we had just gotten home from camping and I couldn't be bothered to drive that far when someone else would likely get there before me. And there were 40 more clues to go, anyway.
By clue 36, though, I was willing to drive toward Issaquah at rush hour on the off-chance of finding a menu. It finally all paid off with clue #39:
"Have no fear, Church is here. But how did she get from here to there?"This refers to Ellen Church, the first stewardess, and the only model of plane she worked on, the Boeing 80A, which is on display at the Museum of Flight. I drove down to the Museum (farther south than Sicks Stadium), arrived well before anyone else, and found the menu after what seemed like an eternity of plane-circling (but apparently was less than ten minutes).
By this time, it had been revealed that the 50 menu winners, in addition to getting a Canlis dinner for two at 1950s prices, were eligible to compete in a final phase 2 hunt on New Years Eve Day, with the prize being the ability to give away a free Canlis dinner for two to a deserving person once a year for life. I started planning immediately for phase 2.
While chatting with Mark Canlis during our Canlis meal (on December 7, our anniversary), he revealed that there wouldn't be anything strenuous required during the New Years Eve hunt (Brian Canlis had said something about an Amazing Race style hunt in his interview with Aurora Seatle, which led some people to wonder whether we'd be rappelling down a cliff or doing a Polar Bear Swim). Still, I planned to bring along a bicycle and a fast runner in the car, just in case. For the fast runner, I asked Eric Bone, who puts on numerous running and orienteering events around town for his company, Meridian Geographics. He's a much faster runner than I am, and a good navigator, and in addition I assumed all the legwork he does to put on numerous in-city events such as the Seattle Night and Day Challenge gives him a pretty good base of Seattle knowledge.
(Incidentally, the Night and Day Challenge and the shorter Street Scrambles are a lot of fun. You should try them if you like the Canlis hunt. Plus, I will probably create the course for next year's Fremont Oktoberfest Street Scramble, and the Canlis brothers have promised to supply me with a checkpoint idea or two).
My wife, Elizabeth Walkup, was also going to be on the team, of course, although at home on the computer. She was the person who figured out who 'Church' was in clue #39, so she would obviously be very helpful. I also added some other friends we know from grad school: Erik Selberg (the husband of the friend who first suggested I participate), Terry Farrah (who is an orienteer as well), Lauren Bricker, Franz Amador, and Dorothy Neville. In the last few days, we also added Mike Schuh, who Eric, Terry and I know from orienteering events, and Christy and Brice Semmens, friends who at first simply volunteered an iPhone for me to use, and eventually loaned us a USB device that lets you use 3G on your laptop. Brice rode shotgun in the car and operated the laptop while I drove. Eric was our runner in the backseat (with his Blackberry). Eric ended up getting all five checkpoint stickers, as well as ultimately finding the site of the buried treasure.
After the Dag's clue (#46), I realized I should probably start doing some extra studying, particularly on Seattle restaurant history. I put a bunch of Paul Dorpat and other Seattle history books on hold from the library, to be read over Christmas. I also realized an automatic decoding page might be helpful, so I wrote one myself. The page was never used. We had a prodigous number of books both in the car and at home, which I'm pretty sure were also never used. But reading the history books did help solve the final clue.
A few days before New Years Day we switched the home base to Lauren Bricker's house, which is bigger and has better Internet service than ours. The 'home team' gathered around 7 laptops on her fully extended dining room table.
I created a Facebook secret group to use for communication. It seemed to me the best choice for smartphones, and ended up working fine for the laptop as well (Brice kept a Facebook group chat window open). I borrowed an Android phone from a friend, but apart from a few text messages before the hunt started, never had occasion to use it. Out of the car we communicated via our regular cell phones. We made sure everyone in the car had everyone else's numbers. If you reached someone who was busy, you could just call someone else - this ended up happening at Gas Works, where there was also a time when Mike Schuh was talking on two cell phones simultaneously while typing on a laptop.
I also created two documents: a fairly long Google doc with a lot of notes about basic clue solving, along with a list of interesting trivia that did not turn out to be useful. You can see it here. The day before the hunt, I also gave a short summary of what I thought were the best methods to search for clue answers. A version of that document is here.
Note: The KOMO story has all the clues referenced below. We decided pretty early on to reference the clues by a unique phrase or word in them, either 'Ferdinand', 'King County', 'Harrison' or 'Elizabeth' (we solved the Runaway Elf clue before we had time to name it).
I had thought the hunt would be sequential (one clue leads to another clue, etc.), given that the Canlis brothers had in the past insisted on being at the locations when the menus were found. But I began to have my doubts when they put out a call for finish line volunteers the day before. Sure enough, at the start they made it clear we would get a number of clues at once. Furthermore, they said the clues would be of 'medium' difficulty (probably because New Years Eve is a big night at the restaurant and they didn't want things to take forever). I think both these were favorable for our group, particularly the multiple clues at once, because we had enough people to solve multiple clues simultaneously, and because it makes good route planning important, which Eric and I are both skilled at.
We got there late enough that we had to park in the lower parking lot, and were worried we'd be stuck in a traffic jam getting out. But we took our time when the start was called and once we were ready to go, most of the other cars had left. We started by reading the clues, with Brice photographing them with his iPhone and e-mailing the pictures to Christy. The home team promptly printed out copies of the clues. Meanwhile, I was trying to plan a route based on very incomplete information. All I could tell was that the 'King County' clue was clearly south of downtown, and there were only a couple of places "uphill from Harrison": up on Queen Anne, and the very top of Capitol Hill. Almost immediately the word came back from the Home Team: "Runaway Elf Inside" = REI. Franz figured that out. Dorothy notes:
"Ages ago we made up a game to keep ourselves occupied during a long car ride, thinking of new words to go along with common acronyms. Franz was the champ with "Free Beers Inside", which got 8 year old Z. laughing for minutes and has been a long standing family joke. So "Runaway Elf Inside" was obvious to him. Having the actual clues photographed and printed was a huge help there, visually seeing the capital letters. That was very smart of Brice and Christy."
Since REI was close by, we left immediately. I took Dexter to Denny, probably because I was on autopilot and thinking of bike routes. Aurora might have been a better choice.
(You can follow our complete route here. Except we went down 3rd Avenue downtown, not 4th, and the routing software added a superfluous loop off the West Seattle Freeway to 4th Ave S and back on.)
Judging from Facebook timestamps, the home team figured out the 'Ferdinand' clue was Schmitz Park before we even arrived at REI. Dorothy on the 'Ferdinand' clue:
"The reason we got Ferdinand so quickly was that Greg had taught us how to search History Link. Using the Google 'site:' feature, Schmitz is the top answer. Using History Link's internal search, he ['Ferdinand'] doesn't show up at all."
I dropped off Eric and Brice at the corner of Yale and John (behind a car with its hazards on --- probably another hunter), then went down the block to find a place to park and hang out. I told the home team I wanted to solve the 'King County' clue before heading to Schmitz Park, since I didn't want to go from West Seattle back north and then down south again.
Meanwhile, inside REI, Eric and Brice split up and Eric found the elf on the second floor. True to its name, the runaway elf ran away, but Eric was faster and grabbed her and got the sticker. One down, four to go. Eric phoned me to come back to the drop off point. Brice had left his phone in the car but Eric found him as well and I picked them up.
The running on the part of the runaway elf may have been unapproved personal initiative. I remember a conversation between Eric Bone and one of the Canlis brothers at Gas Works as going something like this:
Eric: I saw a woman who looked a bit like an elf, so I turned toward her, and she started running. I thought, "What, I'm supposed to catch her?"
Canlis brother: She ran??
(You can see the Runaway Elf in KOMO's video, which also features me saying 'Holy crap' as we find the treasure. Alison Kramer, Canlis's dining room manager and the Runaway Elf herself, confirmed for me that it was indeed her own decision to run away).
In the meantime, the home team had solved the 'Elizabeth' clue, and it was also nearby (3rd Avenue between Madison and Spring downtown --- Seattle Public Schools's website has the explanation). I was feeling better about heading to West Seattle, since we now knew approximately where all 5 clues were. All we had to do was nail down the 'King County' location before we left Schmitz Park, and the 'Harrison' location before leaving the 'King County' location. The latter was (mostly) solved when Erik read about Seattle Children's Home. There was a little bit of argument about whether it was the old Seattle Children's Home location (at 4th and Harrison) or the current one on West Queen Anne, but Erik and Elizabeth noticed that only the latter is "uphill from Harrison", and "still top of mind" only makes sense if it refers to the current location, not a building that is long gone (4th and Harrison is now the old Fun Forest site).
3rd Avenue is restricted to buses mostly, so I went south on 5th until I hit Madison, then turned down to 3rd. Eric and Brice again jumped off at the corner, while I waited at a red light. They were back with a sticker before the light turned green. So far, so good. After some confusion as to how to get onto 99 southbound, we were headed to the 'Ferdinand' checkpoint in West Seattle, hoping to solve the 'King County' clue on the way.
(KING5's story shows teams at the 'Elizabeth' (downtown) and 'Ferdinand' (Schmitz Park) checkpoints).
The home team was thinking a mission on Beacon Hill was the answer to the 'King County' clue, but I was not convinced. I had Brice search for "sisters of the Sacred Heart" (based on the words in the clue), which yielded much more promising results. The Sisters (who founded Providence Hospital) started a poor farm and hospital down in Georgetown and moved north later (accounting for the parenthetical coda to the clue, which mentions "two options"). Their first poor farm was not popular with its neighbors, which was sort of a "betrayal" (although not a completely convincing fit). Best of all, when they left, King County took over the facility. So it sounded pretty good, except for the betrayal, and except that we had no address. The only location information we found was 'Georgetown' and 'near the Duwamish', which isn't helpful, since the course of the river has been moved around quite a bit in the past century.
Meanwhile, we had driven to Schmitz Park Elementary, since Ferdinand Schmitz donated land for the school as well as the park, and the home team had found info about a flagpole ceremony at the school that seemed a better fit for "our spirits (and eyes) lift". While Eric and Brice searched the flagpole fruitlessly, I tried to find an address for the King County Poor Farm, but had no luck, either. We drove around Schmitz Park to its main entrance on Admiral. A couple of teams were there already, and Eric (once again) got the sticker quickly. Apparently the Canlis person there was impressed that we had three already, but I assumed that was just an artifact of them having mostly seen people who went to the park first or second.
We headed toward Georgetown, and while driving down to the West Seattle Bridge, Brice hit paydirt on the address, and solved the "betrayal" problem as well, thanks to this KOMO story.
Jake also shows us the area where you enter and exit I-5, near the Georgetown Playfield.
"This used to be the King County Hospital and the poor farm," she tells KOMO. "And also the hospital's cemetery."
As the story goes, the hospital was closed, and 3200 bodies from the cemetery were unearthed and moved.
Not only do we have an address, we have the betrayal of the hospital and cemetery being closed. Plus, I knew just where the Georgetown Playfield was, since I used to have ultimate frisbee games scheduled there frequently. Coming down the ramp from I-5, we saw someone pacing on the side of the playfield and knew we were in the right place. After cutting through a parking lot (multiple speed bumps, but it's the fastest route there), we got sticker #4. There was another team here, in a red SUV with an official-looking logo that almost made it look like they were caterers for Canlis (this was team #8, who found the menu at the Ballard Locks).
It appears that the 'King County' clue was the hardest of the original five. It certainly was for us. Dorothy says the Canlis brothers told her only 17 teams got a sticker at Georgetown Playfield.
There remained the final checkpoint at Seattle Children's Home, and the question was just how to get there fastest. I decided 99 was better than I-5 and headed west on Michigan. Google agreed this was a better route, but suggested we go all the way up to Canlis and exit 99 there. After some map consulting, Eric and Mike Schuh decided exiting 99 at Western was a better idea. And it kind of was, except for the part where we traveled on the non-arterial 2nd Ave W, and I failed to yield to a police car going west (I had stopped at the intersection, but mistakenly thought it was an all-way stop instead of a stop just for 2nd Ave W). After a little of the Pemco passive-aggressive intersection dance, we all continued unharmed and soon arrived at the Children's Home, acquiring our 5th sticker and our final clue.
The final clue was where all the reading up on Seattle history paid off, as I knew about the Eastside coal mining, even up to the part where they transported it across Lake Union to the current location of South Lake Union Park, then hauled it by railway on the current route of Westlake Ave. Lauren soon found the reference to the 1873 New Years Eve gas lighting, but the coal gas plant at that time was near Pioneer Square. I pulled over on a side street near Aurora before we finally decided we had to go to Gas Works, since the only actual location mentioned in the clue was the "hilly park yonder".
(Incidentally, further research I did after the fact says that in 1873, the coal came from Coal Creek, by ship across Lake Washington, then across the Montlake isthmus [no ship canal then], then by scow to South Lake Union. The Westlake railroad line was finished by 1872, but the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway (which became the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle) had not even been begun, so I'm now dubious that the 1873 coal ever came to the site of Gas Works Park. Later, of course, the railway brought the coal from Newcastle around Lake Washington to the Gas Works Park site for the coal gas plant there. But in any event, as I said, the "hilly park yonder" was the only location in the clue, so we went there.)
At Gas Works, I dropped Eric and Brice off at the end of Northlake Place, as close as you can get to the top of the hill, then went back to the main parking lot. I surfed the web trying to figure out where the Washington Gas blue flame building was on South Lake Union, since it seemed like the next likely place to go if Gas Works did not work out. I was starting to wonder where they were, when I got a call from my wife saying Gas Works was clearly the place, but that Eric and Brice were wandering around the park gathering bits of a message from people with letters on the backs of their shirts, and would I please go help.
I went in the park where I saw the people with the letters, as well as a few other teams that had gotten there before us. By that point my help was superfluous and with some insight from Eric, Mike and Dorothy and the help of good bookkeeping from Christy and Elizabeth, the home team had mostly worked it out. The one person I approached had an 'L' on their shirt, and told me their message was
47 dot, and I am the first.Eric found me and told me he thought this likely meant the code was a latitude/longitude location (he does make maps, after all; Mike also figured this out), and I believe Dorothy deduced that the proper thing to do was to order the messages based on the bolded letters in the clue: "Light up Seattle". I still have not figured out whether the reference above to "I am the first" was a clue that L was the first letter, or an indication that this was the first of the two L's. Amazingly, all three T's and both E's yielded the same numbers, and the location still worked. I imagine it took a bit of searching in the park to find a nondescript location that had these properties.
Anyway, at this point I think the home team was getting a little confused, since they told us the latitude/longitude seemed to be at the Space Needle. So we piled into the car to cross the Aurora Bridge again. We got a call just before turning onto Bridge Way telling us they were mistaken and we should return to Gas Works. This did not sound good. As I said, there were clearly at least two and probably more teams there besides us (I think the Canlis brothers later told us there were seven total teams in the park, and I've heard elsewhere that we arrived at least ten minutes after the first one, although I don't know if that was our first or second arrival).
[On further review, I believe we were one of 5 teams who made it to the park before the treasure was found, the other four being The Wrong Racers (who got to Gas Works first), Frango for the Gold, The A-Team, and the team that found the Husky Stadium menu. At least two of these teams should not have been a surprise: the captain of the A-Team had a hand in finding 4 menus (Sicks Stadium, Gum Wall, Seattle Underground and Canlis Glass), while between them, the members of The Wrong Racers found 3 (Marsh Island, Seward Park, and Husky Stadium; on the latter they held off until a relative came by and let them pick it up).]
The new target location was on one of the gas towers in the fenced off area. Brice was desperately trying to get someone to cough up the actual coordinates (we hadn't written them down, only read them off to the home team). Once he had them, it was then a struggle to get Google Maps to load the right tile.
We eventually just gave up and took our phones into the park, dialing up different people to talk to. Brice and I were running to the south side of the fenced off area, where we met Eric looking at everything on the fence. Nothing. We thought about climbing the fence (the clue did mention that "you can't do it alone," and the fence is so high you might need someone to help climb it), but I remembered Mark telling us we didn't have to do anything hazardous. Our friends told us there was another mistake, and to look instead at the section of elevated pipe that travels outside the fenced off area (including a few support posts outside the area). This seemed more promising, but we couldn't see anything on the pipe (which was at least 10 feet off the ground) or on or near the supports. Again, climbing the supports seemed too hazardous.
Dorothy on the latitude/longitude problems:
"...while there were other teams there who solved the first five, I am suspicious that any of them had solved that last clue and had GPS coordinates. We certainly floundered and argued whether the coordinates were Gas Works or Seattle Center. But we knew for sure it was a lat-long answer, just that there was a wee bit of chaos at mission control and it took a few iterations to get all the digits correct."
[After talking with a few of the other teams, I think at least 2 of them figured out the importance of 'Light up Seattle', and at least one figured out the numbers were latitude and longitude. But apparently they also had problems with getting the correct final coordinates, similar to ours. In particular, I believe they were not as lucky as we were at finding the first 'L'.]
Finally, the home team had another location, this time even farther west (apart from the Space Needle, all their locations were on the same latitude, so it was apparently just a problem with the last longitude digits. Mike Schuh confirms this: he was giving us positions based on incomplete longitude digits --- as he added more digits, the longitude got higher and hence, farther west). Eric and Mike Schuh proceeded to do cell phone orienteering, which is a variant where one person has a map but stays still, talking via cell phone with another person who walks around looking for a checkpoint. Meanwhile, I was speaking with Lauren, who told me to find the place where the path leaves the fenced off area, then head due west. The spot was between the next two paths I intersected. I went there and saw nothing except grass and a couple of small rocks, although Mark Canlis and a few other people were there trying not to look interested (Brian Canlis told me later I stepped right on the spot). Eric had been directed to the benches just south of this spot by Mike, and was heading north, but didn't find anything either. We both ended up looking at the benches intently (shades of when I found an Emerald City Search medallion). But there was nothing at the benches.
I decided we must still have some digits wrong, and went to talk to some of the letter people, particularly those with 'E', 'L' or 'T' on their back. They were all on the top of Kite Hill, and after a minute or so, Brian Canlis came up to me and asked if I had solved it. I took him off to the side and explained we knew it was a latitude/longitude spelled out by the last words in the clue, but we seemed to have some numbers wrong. He asked where we thought the location was, and I told him "just north of the benches over there, but I looked and didn't see a thing." He told me I should go over there and check again. Hooray!
And then I did a very stupid thing: when I got over to the grassy area north of the benches, there was a rather ratty-looking 'X' made from white electrical tape that I didn't remember being there before. That seemed very promising, so I picked it up and looked at it, wandering off a few steps. At which point Mark Canlis told me I should dig where I had found the X. But by then I didn't know where that was, exactly. And neither for that matter did the Canlis brothers. Oops.
Mark said the soil should be loose at the right spot, so I started on the more bare areas of the grass, getting nowhere. Pretty soon people from another team joined in. And then Eric and Brice did as well. Eventually the Canlis brothers decided that only Eric and I had solved the puzzle, and since we were both on the same team, our team should be the only one digging (despite my boneheaded move with the 'X'). They shooed the people from other teams away, and paced off some distance from the benches to tell us the proper place to 'dig'. After a minute or so more, Eric found a chunk of loose sod. Apparently the Canlis brothers had arrived at the park around 8am, dug out a chunk of frozen sod, put the treasure underneath and replaced the sod. Eric lifted up the sod and sure enough, there was a leather envelope with the treasure inside. We acted like joyful treasure finders for the TV cameras.
There followed a bit of fumbling with the leather envelope (my hands were half-frozen and filthy from digging, and I still have some bits of Gas Works under my fingernails), but eventually I pulled out two metallic cards with 'Canlis' engraved on them. I recognized these from the Canlis website as Canlis 'account' cards. One said "Dinner for Life" on the back, which was the promised reward, a dinner for two once a year that we had to give away. I figured the other was just a standard Canlis account card, which meant I could get reservations more easily, or something like that. A nice little perk, I thought. It was only during our second TV interview that Brian Canlis got it through my head that no, that's not just an account card, that's another "Dinner for Life" card, for the winner's own use.
I think Brice and Eric did a much better job than I did in the TV interviews, but we were mostly edited out in favor of shots of people jumping into cars and explanations from the even-better-spoken Canlis brothers. Shortly after the TV people were done, the home team arrived from Lauren's house and many pictures were taken by us, Karen Rosenzweig, and JennyLee Lieseke (among others). Brice's young daughters got some of our best shots. Karen gave me her 'H' shirt (as she said, it was one of the ones that mattered). We all drove away happy.
And to answer the inevitable question, no, we don't know who we're giving it to. It will be a team decision in some way, since everyone contributed (and I plan to divide up the free dinners similarly). The team does plan to go celebrate with drinks at Canlis sometime soon, so perhaps we can hash it out there.
--- Greg Barnes, January 1, 2011.