Diary: Rose Festival Medallion Hunt

On Friday, June 8, my partner and I found a medallion, part of an annual treasure hunt put on by Portland’s Rose Festival. Every day for two weeks, clues are printed in The Oregonian that help players narrow down the final location.

This is the diary I kept during the game, discussing in detail our thoughts on the clues*, our solving methods, and our trips to various gorgeous Oregon state parks.

*many of which were pretty off, even though we ended up in the right place; there’s an official clue guide here

Sunday, May 27 (Day 1)

Researching our history and looking up lore
is always a mystery but never a chore.
So hit the ground running and search to and fro
with wile and cunning in our twenty-eighth show.

The first clue

First day of the treasure hunt! We’ve played a lot of puzzle hunts in the past, but never this one. It seems it’s actually been running again for the last several years, but I had no idea. One recent year it was even at the Vera Katz Esplanade, which is right down the street from our adventure game company…I wish we’d known!

Today’s clue seems to be an introduction of sorts. From previous hunts, it looks like most of the first week are introductory or describe the structure of the hunt in some way. They seem to start with a wide view and narrow down slowly: a set of counties, then only one, then a region, then a park, and so on.

Monday, May 28 (Day 2)

And what shall we say doth surround
most of this wondrous hunting ground?
A tribe, a village (so some wrote),
an adjective, some fish, a boat.

Well, I guess it’s started! There are a lot of possibilities for this solve, but nothing fits 100%. I’m skeptical but the most promising seems to be Sauvie Island or an area south of us near Canby which includes Champoeg and Molalla River State Parks.

Feels too early to drive out anywhere. Also, several past hunts seem to direct people to one location, and then new clues come out toward the end to move them to an adjacent area. If that’s the case, then there’s definitely no point, this early on.

Tuesday, May 29 (Day 3)

One in five,
usually.
This time, though,
hints roam free.

Uh oh…if the game isn’t structured to narrow down the number of counties, this is going to be a lot harder…

“Hints roam free” also seems like it could have a double meaning. Definitely it’s suggesting that the clues will be out of order, but could there be another way to read it? Later clues will reveal more.

Wednesday, May 30 (Day 4)

On a crusade
for this grail?
Heed the first test
or you’ll fail.

Indiana passes the test of the penitent man in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Clearly a reference to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (by coincidence, we watched Raiders of the Lost Ark a few days ago).

The first test is the Breath of God, which if I recall correctly had a gust of wind followed by a bunch of buzzsaws just itching to decapitate someone. In the film, the clue is “Only the penitent man will pass,” and to avoid the blades, the person has to kneel.

Someone in the Facebook group points out that Henry Jones’s diary abbreviates the challenges in Latin: the Pendulum, the Cobbles, the Invisible Bridge.

A bit of googling reveals that the Reed College newsmagazine is called The Grail. I spend a lot of time reading back issues that talk about the founders of Reed — maybe some detail in their biographies will pop up later on, and I’ll be able to make that connection.

Thursday, May 31 (Day 5)

Have fun, but don’t
be myopic.
The game may well
be entropic.

These sure are being played close to the vest! But I guess it wouldn’t do to have people out in the parks already, in case someone finds it and the hunt ends early. It must be an incredible balancing act to get the timing so precise, that people are only searching in the right areas on the final days of the hunt.

Myopic could mean several things — looking at a larger picture (like a map) and narrowing it down, or needing to be high up or far away from something in order to see the correct site.

As for entropic…no idea!

Friday, June 1 (Day 6)

Antonyms and synonyms,
homophones and homonyms,
pseudonyms and acronyms,
ever at the writer’s whims.

Based on Clue 4, we rewatch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

A player we know from the old days of playing ARGs on UnFiction, enaxor, shared an amazing archive of previous Rose Festival Medallion Hunt clue sets. This sort of generous gesture is what makes for fun and supportive communities, which is what I love best about these games, so I’m very excited.

With puzzle solving, half of the battle is knowing the mind of the person setting the puzzle. With crossword puzzles, you have to know “crosswordese”, the short words commonly used in puzzles, and often the whims or sense of humor of the “cruciverbalist” (just learned this term, what a cool word) who’s writing it. Same goes for any other sort of puzzle game.

Knights Bridge on a map, near Canby Ferry and Molalla River State Park

South of a park called “Molalla” (related to the tribal hunting grounds clue?) there’s a road called Knights Bridge. Of all the potential ways to interpret the tests mentioned in the grail clue, a knight’s bridge seems as good as any, even if it is the third challenge in the film, and the clue refers to the first.

We plan to head out tomorrow, so I pack a bag with towels, sandals, sunscreen, antacid and painkiller, juice boxes, nuts, headlamps, and portable batteries. You never know where the day is going to take you, so it’s best to be prepared.

Saturday, June 2 (Day 7)

Failed farmer, founder of a town,
he’d love today, but he’s six feet down.
Name’s familiar, not one in sixteen,
one of his kids really sets the scene.

In past hunts, the clues started with a wide range, and narrowed down the potential searching area each day. There were some suggestions that this year’s clues wouldn’t follow that same pattern, but all the same, it’s unlikely that things are going to get specific until the game is somewhat in progress — after all, it wouldn’t be good if someone were able to solve it on Day 2.

Today’s seems to confirm our guesses on the relative areas. “Not one in 16” probably means “Sam” — the 2016 hunt focused on a number of different Sams. This one is probably Samuel Boardman, who is considered the “father” of Oregon State Parks. There are, maybe, 180 state parks in the state? It’s amazing that the exact information is so hard to come by. The number within the potential search area is significantly smaller, though.

I’m skeptical about the relation of Molalla to the previous clues — nothing seems to perfectly fit the “adjectives” and “fish” information.

We drive out to Knight’s Bridge and walk the road to get to a little path down to the river.

Standing on top of and below Knights Bridge near Canby, Oregon

There are so many families out enjoying the amazing weather. We stay and watch birds skim the surface of the water for a while. It’s the golden hour, so everything looks magical — there’s floating pollen in the air over vast rolling fields and it’s beautiful.

Part of the Cottonwood Trail in Molalla River State Park

In Molalla, we have a nice long walk down one of the two trails. We see something intriguing behind a log, only to discover that it’s a geocache.

A geocache and its contents

At least that means our prize-spotting eyes are sharp.

Sunday, June 3 (Day 8)

Take half of the natural state’s motto
and a genius who’s lost an eye.
Add babies that have no beginning,
then favor the former or cry.

Woke up in time for the clue without an alarm. As a lifelong Night Owl this is honestly a minor miracle. A puzzle hunt is probably the only thing that could compel this from me.

Some analysis later, we settle on an interpretation of the clues as referring to cottonwood and fir trees. Then, we find an obscure hiking map — the Molalla park we were at yesterday has two picnic areas… Cottonwood and Fir. If that isn’t pointing at this park, it would be an amazing coincidence — but of course that’s a possibility with any of these.

A secondary solving track gives us the option of some heritage trees nearby. There’s one park, Champoeg, but its cottonwood tree is on the wrong side of the county line. There is another park right across the river, though. The two counties could be to and fro, and the “myopic” clue could refer to standing on one side (the in-game area), to see the tree on the opposite side.

Entering Molalla River State Park

We drive out to Molalla. Right away we see the sign for the Cottonwood and Fir trails, with arrows pointing each way.

We start wandering down the Cottonwood trail, checking out every bush and side path.

There’s also a dog park, a wildflower field with a long hedge, and some picnic areas.

We scope these out from start to finish, but there are some serious thorns in the hedges. If I were hiding an item, I wouldn’t put it somewhere so prickly, but who knows. I get a few scratches along the way, so I find a nice, solid stick to help push back thorns and other obstacles.

There are only a few parts of the Molalla trails that contain landmarks (turnings, distinctive trees, etc) that would make it easy to direct someone with obscure clues. Most of it is just straight paths. That helps narrow the searching field a bit, but ultimately there’s just a massive amount of space.

The wildflower field/dog park that greets visitors to Molalla River State Park

Final clues in previous hunts have been literal street turning directions with house numbers, or pointing out 1 in 5 rocks; a high level of detail with specific directions. If there’s nothing around that could provide it, it feels less likely to me. But it’s also possible that landmarks will only become obvious after the clue is released, or that it’s just the starting point for a different, later location. So it’s important to scope it out.

Far down the Cottonwood Trail in Molalla

Along the path, we run into a father and daughter pair. “Whatever you’re looking for, it isn’t here,” the father says as we wander down a trail. “Maybe,” Jey replies, laughing.

The chances are slim that we’ll actually find anything, but it’s more of a chance than we’d have if we’d stayed home.

In Champoeg, looking over the river to see if there’s a good spot on the in-county side

After the Molalla ramble, we head to Champoeg to check out both sides of the river, and to see the historic cottonwood. There are many more potential landmarks here than at Molalla, but we’re starting to get tired, so I don’t check out every single bush, tree, nook, and cranny, as I have been all day.

One final stop at the Greenway (also mostly just a long trail, but with dandelions the size of a man’s fist, and a red and black snake that slithered across the path) and we’re off home.

I really hope we didn’t touch any poison oak today. I definitely brushed into some nettles — Jey stopped me just before I walked fully into them — and even that brief touch stung a bit through my clothes.

Monday, June 4 (Day 9)

From Moses and Aaron to Philip and Nathanael,
from David and Goliath to 180.
From 180 to 34,
learn history, plot and plan some more.

Ouch…woke up at 6 before the alarm again, but super groggy. The clue today seems Biblical, which from a puzzle-setting perspective has a million possible routes — books, numbers, verses, historical relations. It’s not something specific enough to immediately hop in the car and drive, so we get a few more hours of sleep.

The best interpretations so far come from the Facebook group. The group is divided: half believes the location is Mary S. Young Park (MSY being a significant part of the 6th clue, which contained a lot of “NYMS” words). Half now is focusing on Molalla.

One points out that Molalla is at mile 43 down the river, which is 187 miles long. Incredibly, someone else has realized that half of the pairs listed are first names of previous winners: Aaron, Nat, David. That tracks, since a previous clue (#7) relied on knowledge of a previous hunt. This group is a blessing.

Forming a triangle on a map by connecting three previous winning locations

“Plotting” those winners’ find locations on a map shows a huge triangle. It sure looks like it’s pointing…right in the direction of Molalla, maybe even at the Canby Ferry. But it lands in Tryon, too.

Tuesday, June 5 (Clue 10)

The treasure aligns
with a boundary north.
Grab your BFF
and sally forth.

Another early morning to see if today’s clue yields enough new information to get in the car and drive out to a park.

“A boundary north” — since that could be just about anything, it’s not specific enough. “Sally forth” is definitely a military term, and there’s a “sally port” on the Clackamas County Courthouse. I’m very intrigued by that possibility but it’s not strong enough to make the 40 minute drive, so we go back to sleep for a bit.

While I’m at a morning appointment, Jey checks out part of Tryon Creek State Park. There’s a north boundary of Clackamas County inside that park, around the Red Fox trail. He finds an area there that’s promising, with a “Friends Circle” that includes a poem about bringing pals along (BFFs maybe).

Parts of the Friends Circle in Tryon

After I’m done with work, we both go and walk the trails. We start out on the Red Fox Trail side to the south (after also checking out a small nearby park) and hike around. My step counter is gonna be off the charts by the time this game is over.

But also, wow! This park is gorgeous. It has a deep forest on massive rolling hills, with trickling creeks and little winding paths. I’m so glad we know about this place now. It’s about 20 minutes from home and I already want to come back.

Fascinating trees in Tryon

We have a look at the other park entrance, which has flat, paved paths. On the side of the paths are labeled trees — including an abies! We check out every single sign on the loops but there’s no populus.

Along the Ruth Pennington trail in Tryon

Up til now, we weren’t feeling really “in it”. Other people have such clever theories and it feels like they have an insight into what other parks might be real contenders. Finding that abies was a little shot of adrenaline, though. Maybe we have a chance, after all.

Wednesday, June 6 (Clue 11)

A serviceman in drag
has bearing on the case.
He wants forty percent
of the place that you chase

We’re still on a cottonwood kick so get up at 6 and go a little distance south to the oldest standing cottonwood grove in town, Cottonwood Bay Park. It’s on the Willamette Greenway Trail and it’s sort of in the center of the triangle we plotted.

There’s no medallion here (unless we’re just standing on top of it without knowing), but there are a ton of geese and goslings of various ages and stages of fluffiness. We spend a lot of time just watching them and enjoying the morning sun on the river.

At a nearby coffee shop, we spend some more time on the map. “Bearing” seems really obviously map-related. Someone on the Facebook group points out that Darcelle, Portland’s beloved drag performer, was a serviceman. Darcelle’s venue is right on the top line of the triangle, so that seems viable enough.

Thursday, June 7 (Clue 12)

Just check all your sources,
make sure that you’re right.
It starts where he ended
at a modest height.

A man with the same name
was looked for keenly
by many a searcher.
They found him with glee.

It ends near the treasure
where three become one.
So marshal your forces,
the hunt’s almost done!

We wake up closer to 5:30 so that we can be on the road to Tryon when the clue arrives. And wow, this is a long one.

Honestly…not sure about this any parts of it. I’m not feeling too sure about any of the clues. If the park is Tryon, what’s the village? What are the adjectives? There’s lots of ways to wiggle stuff around to force it to fit but nothing feels quite right:

  • “Three become one” seems like it has to be Tryon (tri+one, if that wordplay clue means that we’re fudging letters of everything a little bit).
  • “Marshal” is another military term.
  • Someone on Facebook finds that Multnomah County “parcel 34” (from Day 9’s clue) lands right in the midst of Tryon, just near where we were searching yesterday.

So, we might as well check it out. We spend a lot of time hiking and it’s just as gorgeous as before, but we don’t find anything.

After we leave, we have another look at the clues, trying to see if there’s any way at all read them differently. There are a lot that have to do with dying (“six feet under”, “where he ended”) and quite a few related to military terms.

The Grand Army of the Republic Oregon Historic Cemetary

There’s an Oregon Metro-owned Civil War graveyard nearby, the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery, which contains a gravestone for a man named Salmon Brown. It’s a stretch, but maybe that’s “some fish”? There’s a graveyard map with clearly-numbered “plots” (from Clue 9).

I’m sure there’s nothing actually hidden in a graveyard, but maybe we have to get more information, like a date or other numbers, which will be relevant later.

Friday, June 8 (Clue 13)

If you’re finding it difficult
To get something really nice
Just change the manufacturer’s
Suggested retail price

Up at 5:30 again and there’s no question this time: MSRP becomes MRSP, and that’s definitely Molalla River State Park. I was skeptical of Molalla the first time we went, but now I’m so grateful we did all that scouting.

We stop at Canby Library to check some of our map info, and draw a line from the northernmost boundary of Canby across the park. It cuts across the Fir trail rather than the Cottonwood trail. That surely can’t be right, but it’s what we’re working with right now.

Out at Molalla at 7am

When we arrive around 7am, there are tons of cars parked outside the park boundary — I guess the gate must have been closed when everyone got there. I really admire that amount of dedication to the game. Getting up this early every morning has been hard. I’m kinda hoping someone finds it today, even if it isn’t us, so that I can sleep in tomorrow.

We scope out all of the Fir trail. I think the “modest height’ clue might mean it’s up in a tree, as it was in a previous hunt, so I check out every bush and every tree. There are lots of people on the trails and everyone’s pretty friendly, but keeping to themselves. I’m really excited to see everyone out in their element — no matter who gets it, the camaraderie is the best part of these games.

I want to walk the northern boundary line, which cuts right across the wildflower field that serves as a dog park. The grass is so tall it would be easy to hide something by just dropping it onto the ground. It would be easy to walk right by something and never know it — or even to stand on top of it and not know.

A post on a fence amidst a hedge

As we make our way towards the hedge running north-south down the middle of the park, we notice that the fence has barriers with three posts at the bottom that combine into one at the top…three become one. No question about it. [Post-hunt note: this turns out to be totally unrelated, actually! Just goes to show how easy it is to make things fit when you want them to.]

In the field, aligned with that post, is a big thicket full of thorns, and I spend 20 minutes combing through the tall grass, pushing aside thorny vines. There are a lot of burnt logs in the thicket and I’m feeling good about the chances of finding something there, but I’m also getting really stuck by the thorns. I’m bleeding a lot and they’re pulling my hair and clothes. Nevertheless, I keep at it until I’m more or less satisfied that the medallion isn’t there.

Jey is waiting for me on a picnic bench near the hedge and three-to-one post. I notice that a sign along the edge of the field says “Pet Exercise Area Boundary”. Could it really be as simple as that? Roam free, BFF, boundary…

Photo by Bryan Oberg via the park’s Google listing

The northern boundary is right in front of me, so I go to the other side of the fence. I know (or hope, anyway) that it isn’t in the hedge, since I thoroughly checked that side of it a week ago.

But there are still some things nearby: a big thorny thicket (no! I can’t take any more…) and a big pile of scrap wood.

Last week, we poked around the scrap wood pile, but I figured nobody would hide something in a place where it might possibly be destroyed. Still, it’s worth a look. I check out the side that aligns with the northern boundary. We walk up some logs to have a higher view — the “modest height”? Someone nearby lifts up a large wooden pallet, but moves on.

I’m getting the feeling that maybe “ended at a modest height” refers to trees being cut. There’s a big, distinctive pile of fir branches. If there’s firs, are there other distinctive piles? There are. I check out every single one, turning them with my boot and moving stuff aside with my trusty stick.

We continue around past the wood pallet, and I crouch down to check out an intriguing nook under some logs. Tucked very deep inside, I can see a the corner of a little metal box.

“Jey,” I say, looking up at him. “We found it.”

My hands were still shaking at this point

Thank you to the Rose Festival, the Oregonian, and the Clue Writer for making such a fun game. It’s really a blessing to be able to visit so many new places in our beautiful state, and to learn so much about Oregon history.

Thank you to Spirit Mountain Casino & Resort, for sponsoring the event.

Thanks to the Facebook groups, Rose Festival Medallion Hunt 2018 and Rose Festival Medallion Treasure Hunt, without which this game really wouldn’t be possible. Meeting everyone in person after the find was really fun, and I’m looking forward to playing with everyone again next year.

Thanks to The Oregonian’s Eder Campuzano and Jamie Hale for the article about our win, and the treasure hunt clue guide that reveals how far away we all were from the true solutions.

And thanks to Jey for being a fantastic partner, in puzzle hunts and in life.

L. E. Hall is an artist, writer, puzzle-maker, immersive environment and narrative designer living in Portland, Oregon. Her work focuses on the intersections between arts, culture, and technology, especially in gaming.

She is the founder of puzzle, game, and experience design company Timberview Productions, a co-founder of Portland’s first escape the room game company, the award-winning 60 Minutes to Escape/Meridian Adventure Co., and the author of Katamari Damacy for Boss Fight Books. She proudly serves on the board of the Portland Indie Game Squad (PIGSquad), a non-profit organization supporting game development and indie game enthusiasts in Portland, and on the board of the Enthusiasm Collective, a not-for-profit creative co-working space for artists and activists in Portland.

Immersive, escape rooms, narrative, video games, ARGs, VR, puzzles, mysteries. PLANNING YOUR ESCAPE, Simon & Schuster. KATAMARI DAMACY, Boss Fight Books.