As the 1970s became the 1980s, a children's book hit the headlines and sold over a million copies. It told the story of how the Moon, having fallen in love with the Sun, enlisted the help of Jack Hare to take her a bejewelled treasure, and how on his journey Jack lost the treasure. The story was simple and every page contained a wonderful piece of artwork. Each of the pictures contained many animals or characters, such as Tara Treetops or Sir Isaac Newton and hidden away in every picture there would be a hare to find.
Masquerade, written by Kit Williams, was of course no ordinary book. Within its pages it concealed the solution to where Kit had buried a bejewelled hare worth £5,000. Only Kit and his witness, TV presenter Bamber Gascoigne, knew the golden hare's location. It was a hunt that lasted until February 1982 when 'Ken Thomas'1 eventually found the treasure.
Solving the Riddle
When the hunt began Kit said:
The treasure is as likely to be found by a bright child of ten with an understanding of language, simple mathematics and astronomy as it is to be found by an Oxford don.
No hints were given in how to solve it; maybe the story contained a message, maybe the picture concealed a code. Around the border of each picture there was a message, for example 'All animals are equal in a tale of tail to tail, end to end to end'. Solving the puzzle was not easy and red herrings were plentiful. No wonder it took over two years to solve.
'Ken Thomas', or Dugold Thompson as he turned out to be, managed to solve the book by using lateral thinking. Instead of using the book's clues, he researched Kit's life and the places he'd lived and, with the aid of a metal detector and some of the book's clues, he eventually dug the hare up in Bedfordshire. He also had a business partner who had lived with a woman who had been Kit William's girlfriend when he wrote the book - Kit rightfully felt somewhat conned by this.
The proper solution to the book was not found out for a few more months until two physicists, Mike Barker and John Rousseau, managed to work it out using a clue from a letter and drawing that Kit had sent to the Sunday Times newspaper.
The golden hare turned out to be buried near a statue of Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, in a park in Bedfordshire. The exact location of where to dig was indicated by the shadow cast by the statue at midday on the Vernal Equinox, 21 March.
The book's solution was in fact very simple and hinted at by a poem on the title page inside:
Within the pages of this book there is a story told
of love, adventures, fortunes lost, and a jewel of solid gold.
To solve the hidden riddle, you must use your eyes,
And find the hare in every picture that may point you to the prize.
To find the solution all you had to do was draw lines in the book: a straight line from the eye of each animal featured through their longest finger, toe, claw or fin until it reached a letter on the picture's border. The letters, when rearranged, created a word. When all the words from the 15 pictures in the book were strung together they created a message:
CATHERINES LONG FINGER OVER SHADOWS EARTH BURIED YELLOW AMULET MIDDAY POINTS THE HOUR IN LIGHT OF EQUINOX LOOK YOU
Reading the first letter of the first word on each page gives the phrase CLOSE BY AMPTHILL. A clue to the hare's location in Bedfordshire.
What Kit Did Next
Having endured obsessed fans and generally had his life turned on end by the search for the golden hare, Williams vowed never to be involved in treasure hunting again. A couple of years later, in 1984, he had the 'unnamed' book published, where readers had to solve the puzzle in the book to reveal its title. To win the prize of a beautiful bee box containing the book made by Kit himself, readers had to send him the title of the book but without using the written word. For those interested the book's title is in this footnote2.
Living in Gloucestershire, Kit continues with his artistic works and among the most notable is his Wishing Fish Clock that hangs in the Regents Arcade in Cheltenham. Made of wood and including balls, bubbles and mice popping out of windows, it is a sight worth seeing. However, ordinary shoppers not interested in seeing the clock should really avoid the arcade on the hour as the congregation of four-year olds craning their necks to see the clock can cause quite a bottleneck.
Following the success of Masquerade, a number of other treasure hunt books have been written over the years, examples include Conundrum, Treasure and The Maze. However, none of them has ever lived up to the standards of frenzy set by the original.
Bamber Gascoigne, who had acted as witness to the hare's burying went on to write a book Quest for the Golden Hare which explained the solution and told stories of how obsessive fans had become.
The golden hare itself was last reported being sold at Sotheby's for $31,900 in 1988.