Club Publications
How To Win Treasure Hunts
One Who Knows How But Rarely Does

The following is taken from a pamphlet written by John Cooper in 1969. The original also included a detailed analysis of the questions and answers to one of the walks of that year. Unfortunately, the details of that walk have been lost and it seemed best to leave it out. However, we have placed a similar analysis of more modern clues elsewhere on this site. Nevertheless, the document is still has much relevance today and is worth a read for more than just historical reference.

For a walk you can actually do, the original route sheet with photographs and questions is available.



It seems to me that one of the essentials for winning hunts is to discover just how the organiser's mind happens to work. To do this, one should try to find out where your organiser's interests in life lie. You will then be in a much better position to estimate just how he would react to any name or object which happens to catch his eye. Joe Bloggs, the butcher in the High Street, may call to mind a film star of the thirties, a noted Scottish international footballer, the Labour member for Wigan, a cartoon character from The Beano or the bloke who invented the safety pin. It all depends upon where your interests lie. If your organiser turns out to be a crossword fanatic then many more complications can set in and Joe Bloggs could become a fearsome individual. We are fortunate in this sense for we are unlikely to be lumbered with an organiser who can complete the Times crossword in ten minutes flat.

Having discovered your organiser's main interest in life and his probable approach, the next step is to try and fins out exactly how he goes about the job of preparing for his hunt. For me, the formula is a comparatively easy one. Having, by nature, an extremely lazy attitude to life I find that anything that smatters of hard work has to be avoided and, therefore, all my hunts are arranged with the minimum of physical effort. By this same token, then, it can be safely assumed that as many bonuses as one can be certain of meeting will have been considered long before any physical effort has been expended.

How is this done? You may well ask!

On a day off if the weather happens to be particularly inclement and there happens to be some tedious chore which needs avoiding I fish out the old and battered Ordnance Survey maps and work out the way I would have gone if the weather outlook had been more compatible for raking about the countryside. From these maps, and such others that I can lay my hand on, I then amuse myself devising clues about the local names I know I shall meet as and when I am able to go out and follow the route which has been roughly sketched out. Thus it is almost inevitable that particular roads and streets and the like will figure prominently in the result when completed. I have found from experience that these things, in the main, to be the most difficult for the field to sort out.

On the appointed day I sally forth with a copious supply of paper to the station of my choice only to find when I get there that I've left my sketch map at home! This is only the first snag. Arriving at the station I find it in no way resembles the station we shall see on the chosen Sabbath. In the first place it is absolutely cluttered up with cars belonging to those long departed on their daily toil. Then there seems to be a whole host of individuals whose main job it seems is to keep an eye on me. I have long given up the idea of expecting much from British Railways and now walk from point "A" to point "B" just in case there's something that appeals as a possibility. Nowadays I put the start into just three classes of possibilities: 

a) things that can be seen at any station
b) things that could only be found at the chosen station
c) things I pass between "A" and "B".

Included in a) would be the abstract things like track, platform, station and signal box. In b) would be the name of the place and in c) such items as are quite readily seen as no keen scrutiny is ever attempted. Normally I include only one from each group.

The early stages, which normally means residential roads, do not usually have much to offer apart from house and street names so that most organisers will find little or no incentive to dawdle about and will depend on the items mentioned to provide the next few clues. In these stages I find that I general trend and I find myself ignoring the smaller and less obvious items. You might, therefore, look more carefully at the more obvious.

Once these roads are forsaken for the lonelier spots we get down to the meat. Here the scope becomes much wider to include a sprinkling of the smaller items such as locks. Any object which can carry a maker's tag or have a word or figure should be hunted out. If, in such sparse surroundings, such small objects do not exist (for if they do they are almost certain to be used) and the worst comes to the worst then the too obvious big items will become the object of the organiser's attention. It is in such surroundings that a frustrated organiser will be tempted to use the abstract. That is those things which are nameless like a bridge, a fence or a tree - any of which an organiser of merit can think up some obtuse clue or other. For my part, I prefer not to use such clues and will only do so when pushed.

It is always advisable in stages such as these to ascertain the exact start and end of a stage for I find that often this point will separate two bonuses which are very close together. The particular point is chosen to end a stage so that bonuses can be shared more evenly between stages of the hunt. I find too that bonuses craftily placed right at the start or immediately close to the end of a stage can easily be missed.

Returning towards civilisation one finds that more attention has been paid to the names passed. This is probably because our organiser feels a bit uncertain that he has enough material to provide all the questions he needs and it is in such stages that you are likely to find the easier and more obvious make-up-the-number clues. If a row of shops appears on the horizon, the chances are that the answers will be quite conspicuous and the clues pretty devious. As most hunts that I arrange are made on week-days these shops are almost certain to be open so that I am prevented from giving them more than casual inspection. If, for instance, I pass a bank it is quite clear that I cannot closely examine the night safe or the lock on the front door (I've troubles enough now!) If, however, either carries a message that I can easily read while passing (and I usually look) then I should probably use it.

Finally, I notice that question 25 is normally to be found within spitting distance of the start - arranged no doubt in the hope that by this time all will have given up hope.


For the purpose of this exercise it will be necessary to classify bonus questions into four groups. These may be called simple, complicated, cryptic and abstract. To help in deciding whether or not the answer you may find is the right one you may have to dig a bit deeper into the clue for, as far as I am concerned, the customer's answer must fully meet the requirements of the clue. If you cannot reconcile the whole of your answer with a part of the clue then you are probably wrong!

Simple Clues
So called because they rarely are! These clues are simply designed to associate two things: one in the clue provided and the other somewhere along the road. This usually means a straight answer to a straight question. They can prove hard for either of two reasons: you don't know the relationship between the two relevant items or you can't find the missing one. It may waste more time than the answer is worth to continue a search for too long. Sometimes you cannot be sure of an answer for lack of knowledge of the subject of the question. When setting such clues I usually refer to an encyclopaedia for reference when I am not sure, say about a geographical location, a historical date or works of a writer and find that Pears is able to supply most of such information.

Example: In a way she leads her pupils
Answer: Miss Dales, piano tutor

Complicated Clues
These are clues to an answer which can be broken down to a number of components, each of which are defined in turn by the clue. Fortunately it is a habit which has not caught on with many organising colleagues. Perhaps just as well for this type of clue can, at time, appear quite innocent and as such difficult to spot. Many years back we were confronted with the following:

Drink - Ten - Article - Knock - Question 

Which translated to 

Phys (?fizz) - IO - The - Rap - Y (or Physiotherapy)

However, these five well separated words in a country lane was a very different proposition from the following recent specimen: 

Spoil a record for it. 

This innocent phrase should have been split: 

Spoil - Record - It

which gives MAR - LP - IT, as in Marlpit Lane (a road name).
It would seem good policy to watch out for bits of your clue matching bits of a possible answer.

Cryptic Clues
These, in the main, are the diabolical instruments of the sadist. They are calculated to frustration and despondency far and wide. The anagram is the chief weapon in the devil's hand. Fortunately in many cases you are forewarned by the presence of tell-tale words in the clue. At one time the use of this weapon was indicated by shoving quotation marks around or a line under the offending words. Now, for better or for worse, we have progressed and as often as not we get nothing of the sort. You can be sure, however, with yours truly every letter in the answer will be accounted for somewhere in the clue. Complete words or names will be used supply the letters to an anagram and if the answer will turn out to be part anagram the remainder will be described in some way or another by the clue. No bits are left hanging about.

Abstract Clues
Force of habit has led us to expect that the answer to our question will be written down somewhere or other. Now and again it isn't. Do not forget that it is virtually possible to compose a clue about any fence, any stile, any tree or any, almost, anything. One of these days one bright spark or another is going to compose a hunt made up exclusively of abstract items. Then there'll be some fun!

Occasionally one reads a clue which seems to make sense, but more often than not it will read like so much gibberish. Certain words and phrases, however, pop up from time to time which will indicate the way the organiser has approached the problem of devising his clue.

The use of names in a clue may suggest one of four possibilities:

a) an associated name or other word
b) indicate use of capital letter
c) to abbreviate letters of an anagram or combined words clue
d) alternative meaning to name.

Examples of each possibility: 

a) Charlie knows the answer
b) Fred is really excited
c) Tom has made a name for himself
d) Frank is this sort of chap

The answers to which are: a) peace; b) fire; c) Thomas; d) open.

Words or Names Which are Often Abbreviated
There is a long list of words and names which are often abbreviated. It may mean that the shortened form will appear in the answer. Amongst such words are: saint (St); doctor (Dr); artist (RA); current (amp); mother (Ma) and the like. An example clue of such possibility:

A saint and a chemist

Which translates to ST - A - MPS, or STAMPS.

Capital Letters 
The name of an organisation mentioned in the clue requiring a title and having no obvious connection with anything seen may mean that the name's title initials are included in the answer. For example: 

The Territorial Army takes eleven

Which translates to TA plus XI, or TAXI.

Deliberate Bad Grammar or Slang Expressions 
Such expressions will be used for a specific purpose in a clue usually to suggest that the answer sounds similarly or spelt similarly. Although every attempt is made to avoid spelling mistakes they sometimes arise accidentally. With these, they should be checked with the organiser who should be prepared to confirm or deny deliberate intention. Otherwise one takes one's chances.
Frequently Occurring Expressions in Clues 
Such expressions are often a very reliable guide to the type of clue you are trying to solve, particularly for anagram or cryptic type clues. "Will give", "will provide" or "will supply" usually means that the preceding part of the clue contains the answer in proper sequence. The following example:

Take a rest at Ions and you will be provided with the answer

The underlined portion reads STATION but, of course, the underlining would not appear in the real clue.

"Possibly", "perhaps", "maybe", "mixed up" or "in a way" usually means that one or more clue words are an anagram of the answer.

Kiss Neta and perhaps you will get the answer

Kiss Neta being an anagram of KENSITAS.

"Included", "has gone in", "goes in", "is swallowed by" means that something representing the first part is to be found inside something representing the second part. As an example: 

No one knows who is inside the Civil Service

The "no one" translates to ANON (representing the first part of the clue) is to be found inside CS (representing the second part), giving the answer CANONS.

"Swallows" or "takes in" may be used similarly but the other way round. 

Bill has swallowed something 'orrible

Here "Bill" is to be found outside something representing something 'orrible, as in BUG HILL.

"For" is a simple word which may mean that something representing the first part of the clue has been added to something representing the second. An example may be: 

Mixed gin for Harry

This clue is an example of several points made in this booklet. Mixed gin suggested anagram of ING added to an associated name for Harry, which could be WORTH, altogether confirming the correct answer WORTHING. (Harry Worth, a well known comedian of the time - ed.)

"In the first place" or "initially" often suggests that the initial letters of the clue words form the answer. 

Frank is really excited

has initial letters which spell FIRE.

An interesting variation of this one occurred not so long back. 

Initially it sounds as if someone wants a word in your ear

The answer to which was PLEASE SHOW SEASON TICKETS, the initial letters of which read PSST!

At one time in the past it was common custom to substitute letters for numbers. The habit has fallen out of favour lately but no doubt an example is bound to turn up sooner or later. 

Change 22 to 13 and find the monkey

The answer is PRIVATE, by substituting the "V" with "M", the word PRIMATE is formed.

It is also recommended that competitors might remember that many letters suggest words:

A = 'ay (the stuff 'orses eat)
B = bee
C = sea or see
D = Dee (the river)
E = eye
J = jay (the bird)
K = Kay (the girl's name)
L = ell (cloth measure)
P = pea
Q = queue
R = are
T = tea or tee
U = you or ewe or yew
X = Exe or that unknown quantity
Y = why or ?

Certain words and phrases are often associated with numbers: 

1   fine day
2   pence coloured
3   men in a boat
4   poster
5   finger exercise
6   pips
7   oaks
9   men morris
10  little indians
16  sweet
20  score
21  key of the door
40  life begins at


From all that has been said, it would seem that once a stating point has been made known, the next move is to make a close study of every name on a local map within a three mile radius. If the names are looked at from every conceivable angle you are almost certain to get a number of answers before you even start!