The Treasure Hunt for Beer

Selling Treasure Maps on the Street

Readers of this website know, in the summertime, my leisure time turns to two favorite activities: 1) setting up treasure hunts, and 2) standing on a street corner asking people to help me with a project. This summer, I combined these into one activities. I sold treasure maps for beer.

Imagine it! You and your friends are out on the town on a Friday night and you stumble across a pirate lurking behind a flimsy card table. He’s got the map to treasure! A cold six pack of beer awaits you, somewhere, hidden, out in the city. You are skeptical, sure, but the maps aren’t crazy expensive, and you are just in the right state of mind to try it!

I had wanted to set one of these up for years... but how do you set up a treasure hunt where the treasure feels valuable? Chocolate coins? Plastic gems? It's hard to assemble a valuable treasure... unless you are willing to spend a hundred bucks. However! Liquor is one of those magical gifts that can feel more valuable than the price.

The next problem with setting up a treasure hunt for beer is that you need a place to hide the beer. I spent a few evenings poking around downtown buildings and streets, looking for potential hiding spots. Unfortunately, the places I found were trash cans and bushes. There just aren't many good, fun, public, easy to access places to stash a treasure chest.

But eventually, after a couple of years tossing this idea around with friends, I discovered a pretty good place to hide a big wooden chest.

The treasure hunt would work!

I wanted to be able to sell a bunch of maps every night, and for each map to lead back to its own six pack. This wasn't going to be a race to the treasure, like It's a mad mad mad mad world. This was a puzzle, like an outdoor escape room where there is a prize at the end.

The first step in the design was to create a mock up. The chest was going to be wedged and locked into a tight space, so I tested my initial design with a cardboard prototype.

Once I had verified the cardboard cutout fit into the space, I began work on my 10-compartment treasure chest. Each of these little cubbies was built to hold a six-pack of beer bottles and a slab of ice.

I also cut little doors for the cubbies, but waivered between buying basic silver steel or "ye olde" style black wrought iron hinges and hasps.

I decided on black iron hinges and bought a huge bag of them on ebay.

Attaching hinges and hasps.

The hinges didn't have to be 100% invulnerable to theft, but I wanted them to be hearty enough to discourage a group of hunters that was tempted to plunder the whole chest of booty.

I love how the hinges lined up right along the center of the box.

Chunks of ice, about the size of a brick, would keep the treasure beer cold.

Construction complete, I planned to stain the wood, but wanted to decorate it with some animal paintings first.

Preparing stencils with an exacto blade.

Chest decoration.

All of the stencils complete! The black paint looked ok on pale pine box, but I knew they would look amazing once I had some stain on there.

Check this out!

While I was building the box, I was also setting up my 10 treasure hunts. The treasure maps lead to two things, a key and the chest. I needed ten good or interesting hiding spots for keys, preferably located within a few blocks of the treasure chest.

The first one I found was under this aluminum cosmetic ring for a parking meter. This was the perfect place to hide a key.

I found another good spot inside a vacant lot which had been fenced and locked up.

There is a gold trapezoid inside, hiding a key, you just have to reach between the bars to grab it.

These weird benches look like they were made out of telephone poles. A nice place to hide a key.

This gate keeps people from tampering with the gas pipes, but there is plenty of room to slip a key underneath.

I swung one key from a tree branch, and hid another one amongst some rose bushes.

Next I went beer shopping. I wanted to get nice beer for the treasure hunt, but I also wanted to keep costs down. I also considered setting aside one compartment for a four-pack of cider.

The treasure chest holds a whole lot of beer.

It only took one accident to switch my plans from bottles to cans.

With the maps printed, I bought a small folding table and went downtown to sell some treasure maps.

Before I start selling, I stock the treasure chest with ice and beer, lock all the locks, hide all the keys and get into costume.

Then it is time to sell some treasure maps!

Here's the setup! Just a regular pirate on the street, selling treasure maps.

I don't want to rile up any animosity from businesses, so I set up on R street, a street which has a fair amount of foot traffic, but one that also has quiet stretches of dark office buildings. There are two busy new bars on this street, Shady Lady at one end and Bottle and Barlow at the other. There is a steady flow of beer enthusiasts who move from one end to the other.           

On the first night, I sold three maps! Three and four-person groups are the best customers, and women are always the first adventurers to pull out their money for this oddball experience.    

The hunt takes a little effort, but almost any group that is focused on the task finishes the treasure hunt and finds their six-pack.

The hunt is set up so that the victorious groups don't have to come back to my little table setup, but quite a few do, and sometimes they share the beer!

There are two kinds of groups that walk past and ask about the treasure hunt:

1) People with absolutely no interest.

2) People who are totally into it.

I'm sure some people are skeptical of my credentials. They want to be confident that there is really a treasure hidden out there in the city before they hand over $15 cash for a map. I usually win them over. The incredible result is that the most skeptical map buyers get flipped into the most enthusiastic fans of the treasure hunt experience.

You may have noticed that all of these photos have a nice mural in the background. That's a Sacramento thing. We've got dozens or even hundreds of great murals on buildings downtown.

Sometimes I run into friends!

Sometimes I see someone from work!

At the end of the summer, the nights got cold, dark and wet, and walking around outside seemed more like a chore than an adventure. I've packed up shop for the winter, but I will be back out at it again in the spring.

Selling treasure maps for beer has been a really excellent experience! While I never went home with $200 in my pocket, I definitely met the coolest, most adventurous people in town!

It turns out, the treasure was inside the people on R Street the whole time!