Longtime participants Geoff Mayers, Monica Magiera, Laura Mayers, Nick Taylor, L to R, helped plan and host the 83rd Lewis Emery Treasure Hunt. Geoff Mayers/Courtesy
Longtime par­tic­i­pants Geoff Mayers, Monica Magiera, Laura Mayers, Nick Taylor, L to R, helped plan and host the 83rd Lewis Emery Treasure Hunt.
Geoff Mayers/Courtesy

One hundred and five car­loads of people gathered at the Hillsdale County Fair­grounds for the 83rd annual Lewis Emery Treasure Hunt on Oct. 22, waiting to hear the first of 12 clues that would lead par­tic­i­pants throughout Hillsdale County to Lewis Emery Park, where two tokens, sig­ni­fying the end of the scav­enger hunt, and refresh­ments awaited.

This year, the annual treasure hunt saw a 38 percent increase in par­tic­i­pation, and Geoff Mayers, one of the hosts for this year’s hunt, said a strong number of teams saw the hunt to com­pletion. He attributed this higher rate to the decreased dis­tance between the clues, which could all be found with fewer than 100 miles of driving, whereas past treasure hunts had required as many as 200 miles of driving. Though some teams took as long as eight hours to com­plete the hunt, the winning team clocked in four and a half hours after the hunt began.

Each year, the hunt begins with a riddle leading par­tic­i­pants to the first clue, tra­di­tionally hidden some­where at the fair­grounds. Each puzzle’s solution tells the location of the next clue. Mayers said this year’s clues included some tra­di­tional wordplay, like crossword puzzles and letter columns, as well as reassem­bling a map or fol­lowing road signs, while other clues were uniquely con­structed for this year.

One clue required par­tic­i­pants draw out the letters spelling the next location, rotating the paper and erasing and drawing new lines to form each indi­vidual letter. Another clue involved spelling out missing letters from a comic strip, and another required par­tic­i­pants to find two sep­arate papers at a park con­taining grids of letters, and overlay them atop their car head­lights to read the next clue.

“We tried to create clues that were fun to solve, that had an ‘aha’ moment where you were rewarded for unlocking it. We avoided clues that were too tedious,” Mayers said.

Another clue had par­tic­i­pants arrange a series of his­torical events in chrono­logical order, which would unscramble one of the attached columns of letters to indicate the next location.

“That one was totally unlike the clues that had come before,” Mayers said. “It was some­thing we had created, and we were pretty proud of that one.”

Mayers has par­tic­i­pated in the Hillsdale treasure hunt since 1994, when a friend invited him to par­tic­ipate with their family. Even after moving away for college at Uni­versity of Michigan, Mayers brings a team of friends back to Hillsdale each year for the scav­enger hunt.

When his team won last year, they began planning this year’s hunt, spending months scouting potential clue loca­tions and assem­bling the final set of clues the par­tic­i­pants would be looking for. During the treasure hunt, the team mon­i­tored the clue sites and gave hints to teams that were stuck.

“It was fun just to be at the clues, watching people run out of the cars and find it,” Monica Magiera, a member of last year’s winning team, said. “I ended up having way more fun watching people do the hunt than I thought.”

Their work cul­mi­nated around 3 a.m., as they waited for any final par­tic­i­pants to check in after the hunt.

“To be honest, those were some of the most excited teams — the teams that came in at 2 in the morning,” Mayers said. “There was a team with a young boy and a young girl, and they were just ecstatic to finish the race. That was really fun to see how excited they were to have com­pleted it, and how much fun they had on it.”

Though the ear­liest clues are from the 1953 treasure hunt, records date the origin of the treasure hunt all the way back to 1934 under varying names, including the Lewis Family Treasure Hunt and the Lewis Fire­stone Treasure Hunt.

“My under­standing is that there was a woman named Anna Lewis that started it for her own family, and it became a com­munity event, then her kids carried it on after her,” Mayers said. “Once they couldn’t do it they passed it on to the com­munity where the winners would host the fol­lowing year’s hunt.

Now, the task of planning the treasure hunt falls to this year’s winners, a family team that has won four times since 1993.

“There were lots of good clues this year,” Scott Gutowski, a member of this year’s winning team, said. “The people who did this year’s hunt were pretty inno­v­ative, so we’d like to con­tinue that for next year.”