On the Trail of the Golden Owl

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
On The Trail Of The Golden Owl
On The Trail Of The Golden Owl
Front cover
AuthorsMax Valentin
Original titleSur la trace de la chouette d'or
IllustratorMichel Becker
GenreArmchair treasure hunt

On The Trail Of The Golden Owl (French: Sur la trace de la chouette d'or) is a French armchair treasure hunt book created by communications expert Régis Hauser under the pseudonym "Max Valentin" and illustrated by artist Michel Becker. The book was first published in 1993. It provides clues to the location of a buried statuette of an owl, created by Becker.

The puzzle contained within the book remains officially unsolved as of 2020, making it the second longest-running contest in the armchair treasure hunt genre. Hauser/Valentin died in 2009, and the solutions are now held by his lawyer.

A new edition of On The Trail Of The Golden Owl written by Michel Becker was announced on September 16, 2019, via the Rochefort Museum of the Golden Owl, called The Secret Notebooks (4th edition 2019).


On The Trail Of The Golden Owl was Max Valentin's first treasure hunt. He came up with the idea for the puzzle in the late 1970s, and spent 450 hours designing eleven textual riddles, which together hold the clues to a final location and a cache, hidden somewhere in France.[1]

Michel Becker created eleven paintings for the book, as well as the final prize, the Golden Owl statuette.[2] The statuette is 10 inches (25 cm) high and 20 inches (50 cm) wide, and weighs 33 lbs (15 kg). It is entirely made of gold and silver, with diamonds on the head.[3] In 1993, the owl was estimated at 150,000 euro.[4] A legal protector holds it in Paris. Becker also created a replica made of bronze, which was buried somewhere in France by Hauser on the night of 23 April 1993.[5] The treasure hunt was launched on 15 May 1993.

Valentin designed the hunt to last for a few months and to be solvable by experts or amateurs, insisting that "If all the searchers put all their knowledge together, the owl would be found in....two hours".[6] Valentin also included false trails in the riddles, which he admitted was normal in treasure hunt games,[7] but which he later regretted putting too much work into.[8] He estimated that the hunt would last between four months and a year.[9]

Valentin later created more than twenty other treasure hunts, all of which have been resolved.[6]


The book consists of eleven double-page spreads, each of which is a discrete riddle composed of a title, text, and a painting. Each pair of pages is numbered with a wavelength associated with its colors, and with an owl face.

Page number O1 order B2 order Title and text Meaning
At 2424-42-424-44-224-24-42-24, take the orthogonal.
To find the Spiral with four centers,
560.606 measures, it's far.
But by the Mega, it's a million times less.
Applying time signature to the numbers, reversing the sequence, and treating the sequence as morse code reveals the word Carignan, a French city.[10] The reference to finding, or drawing, a spiral has not yet been decoded.[11]
530 2 2 OPENING
My first, first half of the half of the first age,
Precedes my Second and Third, seeking their way.
My Fourth is inspired, my Fifth is in rage,
But, without protest, follows my Fourth and the roman alpha.
My Sixth is hidden at the limits of ETERNITY.
My Seventh, standing, spits his venom.
To find my all, just to be wise,
Because the Truth, in truth, will not be a Devin's affair.
The riddle identifies the starting city of the game, Bourges.[12][13] (B/baby)(OU/où)(R/air)(G/in rage)(E/start and end letter of ETERNITE)(S/SssS)
780 3 3 FIRST STEP...
Wherever you want,
By the ross and the coachman.
But where you have to,
By the compass and the foot.
This riddle is unsolved. Valentin gave hints, but no answer has been identified.[14] He once described this as the second-most important riddle of the game.[15]
BC. E.
Al-mar is an ancient word for Arabs, implying numerals, and the Praeneste fibula implies letters - so numbers should unite with letters. If the reader applies the rule A=0 to the letters, he or she gets numbers which can be treated as atomic masses. The symbols for the elements indicated form the sentence "The Key is on the Black Perched Ship".[16] The meaning of this phrase is unknown. Valentin gave clues, including an anagram implying that the illustration means "Becalmed Nave", associated with the "Black Perched Ship".[17]
1 = 530
3 = 470
5 = 600
7 = 420
9 = 650
This is the only riddle that does not have a wavelength as its page number. Applying the colors/marks of the other riddles to a color wheel and looking for the complementary color gives the "B order" of the ten wavelength riddles: B-530-780-470-580-600-500-420-560-650-520.[18] If the eleven riddles are resolved in this order, new links appear which may point to the final zone.[19][20]
(the translated text is encrypted with the original method)
365-HI-10752 I-10752 WHERE 365-HE EAGLE
90677-RI-60140-365-ED 365-HE
687-ARK OF HI-10752 CLAW-10752
I-60140 365-HE 10752-ABLE,
O-60140-E H-30667-60140-DRED DAY-10752 BEFORE
BREAKI-60140-G HI-10752 BEAK
A-60140-D LOO-10752-I-60140-G HI-10752

Then lend a bow to Apollo:
from this point, he will count 1969,697 measures towards the zenith.
In a fraction of a 46,241,860th of a sidereal day,
his line will fall.
Hasten to find the arrow.
The numbers are planets' revolutions, and the first letters of the planets are the missing elements of the text. The completed text is This is where the eagle printed the mark of his claws in the sable, one hundred days before breaking his beak and loosing his feathers, meaning Golfe Juan, the city where Napoleon returned from exile.[21] The second part is still unsolved. The direction of Apollo's arrow is presumed to be important. Valentin corrected some theories from hunters, and clarified the action of Apollo.[22]
520 7 11 EARTH OPENS
Between them, there would be only two intervals if they were aligned.
But this would be a too easy game!
Now that you have undone all the yarns,
Doubt is the last torment that will be inflicted to you.
Because it is the rule of this cruel game:
Alone, you have to find where to land your shovel.
Show your respect for Mother Nature,
And before getting away, close its injury.
This text is relatively straightforward: the treasure-hunter finds something in the zone, and can start to dig. If a hunter understands it correctly, he or she can find the buried owl.[23]
Back to the Ponant, seeks the Sentinels.
At 8000 measures from there, they are waiting for you.
Find them, you need to review them.
This text remains cryptic; some treasure-hunters consider the "Sentinels" to refer to one of the last steps, since the treasure-hunters have to "review" them (presumably in the physical final zone).[24]
My First multiplies by gaiety.
My Second offers you space,
My Third air, and my Fourth water.
When he's lying, my Fifth snores.
My Sixth is worth one hundred, and my Seventh is just one node.
My Eighth tastes like laurel,
While my Ninth, with astonishment, stays behind.
My Tenth is always naked when there's a link.
My Eleventh, finally, is the unknown.
Found my all, and through the opening, you will see the light
A simple word game. The solution is another city, Roncevaux.[25][26] (A/haha)( /space)(R/air)(O/eau)(N/lying ZZz)(C/Latin number)(E/noeud)(V/victory)(A/aah)(U/French grammatical rule)(X/the unknown)
When at Carusburc, you will have Albion in the back,
Seek the opening that reveals the Heavenly Light.
Don't linger, don't ask for your rest,
But prepare yourself to walk on water.
Twice, Neptune will help you
And carry you away from the icy north.
Pursue your road and do not interrupt your journey
Before seeing, through the Opening, the becalmed Nave.
Without deviating an inch, draw a line,
And you will not regret what you did.
The only riddle that requires the treasure-hunter to have several elements from other riddles. The treasure-hunter is told to do something from Cherbourg (old name Carasburc), by passing Bourges (opening), to find the Becalmed Nave. This riddle is only partially understood, but is presumed to be very important because it may point to the final zone – the "Becalmed Nave" being a reference to 600 and a special feature of the map.[27]
580 11 5 THE GOOD WAY, IT IS THE WAY OF THE OPPOSITE WAY, AND VICE VERSA will be worth 1 will be worth 2 will be worth 3 will be worth 4 will be worth 5 will be worth 6 will be worth 7 will be worth 8 will be worth 9 will be worth 0
This riddle requires a three-stage decryption. First, by converting the numbers into letters, then, by reversing them, and finally, by applying the letter notation code to the Solfège code. The solution consists of the names of ten cities - Bourges, Cherbourg, Dieppe, Épernay, Forbach, Gerardmer, Héricourt, Issoire, Jarnac, and Angers - associated with ten numbers. The final key is A=0 B=1 etc., which is used in the following riddle.[28][29]


  1. ^ Original Order, as published: 500, 530, 780, 600, B, 420, 520, 650, 470, 560, and 580.
  2. ^ B Order, by solving the B riddle: B, 530, 780, 470, 580, 600, 500, 420, 560, 650, and 520.

Additional clues[edit]

After releasing the book, Max Valentin gave some general clues about the game.[30] These clues were often short riddles, or plays on words. Some of the clues were refutations;[31] readers were looking for the owl in erroneous places such as Mont Saint-Michel and at Notre Dame de Paris, and Valentin felt the need to publicly dismiss these solutions.[32] He also published new clues, in the form of two cards – one global, one precise – that lead to the final zone and the buried owl.[33] He also said that the owl was not on an island,[34] and that it is buried at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) inland.[35]

On 3 June 1993, Valentin created a Minitel server, 'MaxVal', in order to answer public questions about the game.[36] During the following eight-year period, he answered nearly 100,000 questions.[37] The subjects were various, and Valentin detailed many parts of the game, including the elements of the final zone, and the techniques needed to interpret the eleven riddles. Valentin closed the server on 13 December 2001, commenting that it had represented the highest level of "intelligence per square centimetre" in France.[38]

Three specific techniques were confirmed by Valentin before his death:

  • The use of maps. The reader must do something with a map, to reveal the final zone of the game, then use a precise map of that zone to find the cache that contains the owl.[39]
  • The existence of a "mega trick", which is the key to using the sequence of eleven riddles to identify the final zone.[40] Many readers had already reached the conclusion that such a technique must exist.
  • The existence of a final, hidden riddle that completes the game.[41] When a reader finds this riddle in the final zone, he or she will be able to utilise elements of the previous riddles to form and solve the last riddle. The decryption of the last riddle will lead to the cache that contains the owl.[42]

In 1995, Valentin said that the book's readers have collectively got 95% of the solution, but as they are not sharing and communicating their solutions, they can't get the last 5%.[43] He also said that when he was checking on the cache of the owl in August 1995, he found some earth overturned about 400 feet (120 m) from it, but that he was unable to tell if it was done by an animal, or by a treasure-seeker.[44]

In 1996, Valentin said that the "remainders" are the key to the owl, and that they can be found in the decryption of some of the ten riddles that have wavelengths.[45]


Many treasure-hunters[who?] believe that the final zone is the township of Dabo, Moselle. They have identified it based on links between the riddles (the 500 spiral found on the precise map, the height of the Apollo arrow), and some clever interpretations of the riddles (alternate targets for the 560). The area itself has been explored, but nothing significant has been discovered. The identification of Dabo occurred at the same time as explorations of Mont Saint-Michel and Notre Dame de Paris, and though Max Valentin dismissed the latter two places he did not unambiguously dismiss Dabo.

Other treasure-hunters[who?] think that the Aude department plays an important role. They focus on the 470 illustration and try to find the good light from Roncevaux. Phonetic-similarity links the Aude department with the Aube river, and (because 'Aube' is the French word for 'dawn') with the sunrise, and so the treasure-hunters use the Aude department (which is also the 11th French department) as the targeted light in 470. They use historical information about Roncevaux (which is close to the Aude department) to complete it and find the zone.

Some others[who?] try to extract letters from the riddles to form a "super riddle". Their reasoning is based on Valentin's public answers about "remainders", and the solution of the 600 page. Since the atomic masses left some letters behind (the "s" inside "Cl.Es.F"), it is theorized that other unique letters must exist. But the book does not provide any clear system with which to extract letters from the riddles, and devising a rule that works for all the riddles is complicated, as the riddles consist of varying amounts of text and numbers.

Some others[who?] try to find details in the paintings. They look for objects and hidden shapes, with which to identify the remainders in the riddles. Over the years, treasure-hunters have found many elements in the paintings, including hands, eyes, people, gods, tools, and even submarines. They have inferred various "12th riddles", involving (among other things) Napoleon and obelisks such as the one in Place de la Concorde.

In 2015, one treasure-hunter stated that all the others have only solved 40% of the puzzle. He says that he has the correct zone, but that as he is a newcomer to treasure-hunting, he needs time to explore it. His solution is to organize the eleven riddles by the order of the wavelengths of light: B, 420, 470, 500, 520, 530, 560, 580, 600, 650, 780. He then "reads" them and discovers the zone. He claims that the puzzle uses the concepts of darkness and light, and that it has five parts : "Original Order", "B Order", "Light Order", "Super Solution Part I (zone)", and "Super Solution Part II (owl cache)".

In December 2019, one of the treasure hunters[46] suggests that the "mega-trick" is a geometric transformation of the map before drawing lines, by joining the top edge to the bottom edge, and the left edge to the right edge, without any half-twists. He said that the Becalmed Nave is the church at the Alpes d'Huez Notre-Dame-des-Neiges.


Hauser ("Max Valentin") died in 2009, leaving the secret to the puzzle inside a sealed envelope.[6] The solutions are now held by his lawyer.[47]

By 2004, the debts generated by the treasure hunt had become enormous, and the surviving creators of the hunt were unable to maintain the security of the prize. The Golden Owl statuette was seized by the courts. The creators recovered it in 2008.[48]

In 2011, Michel Becker, the co-creator of the hunt, claimed sole ownership of the Golden Owl statuette, and intended to sell it. Two judicial decisions stopped this from taking place.[47] The treasure-hunter association A2CO played an important role in the preservation of the prize, and the whole community raised petitions to support A2CO's lawyers.


The creators of Montecrypto: The Bitcoin Enigma, a treasure hunt game released on 20 February 2018 which offered a prize of 1 Bitcoin to the winning player, cited On the Trail of the Golden Owl.[49]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Valentin, Max. "450 Hours of Work". Public Answers Database. 5 May 1998.
  2. ^ Becker, Michel. "Fabrication of the Golden Owl". La Chouette d'Or.
  3. ^ "Description of the Prize". l'Express. 22 July 1993.
  4. ^ Krotoski, Aleks. "Description of the Prize". The Guardian. 25 January 2008.
  5. ^ Valentin, Max. "How the Quest Started". Public Answers Database. 28 January 1997.
  6. ^ a b c Schofield, Hugh (2018-08-12). "France's 25-year treasure hunt for a golden owl". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  7. ^ Valentin, Max. "The False Trails". Public Answers Database. 16 August 1995.
  8. ^ Valentin, Max. "The Strength of the False Trails". Public Answers Database. 13 December 2001.
  9. ^ Smith, Reiss (2016-12-10). "10 lost treasures that YOU could still find: From Blackbeard's loot to hidden Nazi gold". Express.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  10. ^ "500 Explained by Monglane". A2CO Database. 2001.
  11. ^ "500 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  12. ^ "530 Explained by Monglane". A2CO Database. 2001.
  13. ^ "530 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  14. ^ "780 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  15. ^ valentin, max. "The 780 Special Case". Public Answers Database. 19 August 1995.
  16. ^ "600 Explained by Monglane". A2CO Database. 2001.
  17. ^ "600 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  18. ^ "B Explained by Monglane". A2CO Database. 2001.
  19. ^ Valentin, Max. "The 11 Riddles Sequence". Public Answers Database. 11 November 1995.
  20. ^ "B Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  21. ^ "420 Explained by Monglane". A2CO Database. 2001.
  22. ^ "420 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  23. ^ "520 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  24. ^ "650 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  25. ^ "470 Explained by Monglane". A2CO Database. 2001.
  26. ^ "470 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  27. ^ "560 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  28. ^ "580 Explained by Monglane". A2CO Database. 2001.
  29. ^ "580 Synthesis". Figaro Magazine. 1997.
  30. ^ Valentin, Max. "Clues about the Heart, the Light, the Pointer,..." Additional Information Database. 1993 to 1996.
  31. ^ Valentin, Max. "Negating the Bad Location". Additional Information Database. 1994.
  32. ^ Valentin, Max. "Negating the Bad Location". Public Answers Database. 11 November 1996.
  33. ^ Valentin, Max. "The Use of Maps". Public Answers Database. 2 October 1995.
  34. ^ Valentin, Max. "The Zone is Not on an Island". Additional Information Database. 23 June 1993.
  35. ^ Valentin, Max. "Distance of the Zone from Coasts". Additional Information Database. 9 June 1995.
  36. ^ Valentin, Max. "Closure of the MaxVal Server". Public Answers Database. 14 December 2001.
  37. ^ Valentin, Max. "Final post: The Results". Public Answers Database. 14 December 2001.
  38. ^ Valentin, Max. "The Ratio of Intelligence on MaxVal". Public Answers Database. 14 December 2001.
  39. ^ Valentin, Max. "The 11 Riddles Sequence". Public Answers Database. 27 April 1998.
  40. ^ Valentin, Max. "What is the Mega Trick". Public Answers Database. 28 April 2000.
  41. ^ Valentin, Max. "The 12th Riddle". Public Answers Database. 16 March 1996.
  42. ^ Valentin, Max. "The Super Solution". Public Answers Database. 9 August 1995.
  43. ^ Valentin, Max. "Everything is 95% Discovered". Public Answers Database. 7 September 1995.
  44. ^ Valentin, Max. "Yearly Checks of the Cover". Public Answers Database. 20 June 1996.
  45. ^ Valentin, Max. "How to Find the Remainders". Public Answers Database. 19 March 1996.
  46. ^ "Sur La Trace De La CHOUETTE D'OR :: Forum Officiel de l'A2CO". lachouette.net.
  47. ^ a b "Second Seizure of the Prize". Huffington Post. 24 September 2011.
  48. ^ Galaud, Flore. "First Seizure of the Prize". Figaro Magazine. 15 January 2009.
  49. ^ "'Montecrypto: The Bitcoin Enigma' Promises 1 Bitcoin To First Player Who Beat It". Retrieved 2018-08-13.