Treasure Hunter Claims $10K Prize

Richer, Morris Man Returns From Idaho

Treasure Hunter Claims $10K Prize


Puzzlemaster Kristian House of Oneonta throws ten thousand dollars in Monopoly money around the living room. House won the same amount of real dollars last week when he solved a national treasure hunt, following clues he decoded to a hidden spot in Nampa, Idaho. (Mike Forster Rothbart/

Kristian House, proprietor of Oneonta’s former Monkey Barrel Toys, loves puzzles.

In fact, he’s found a way to make a living by solving them. In the decade since he moved back to the county, he’s earned income as a toy store owner, math teacher and writer of crosswords and math problems.

(His crosswords show up in newspapers including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal; the math questions appear in textbooks).

Now House has a new claim to add to his list: treasure hunt winner.

This month, House, who lives in Morris, flew to Idaho on the hunch that there was a token taped under a playground slide in Nampa, a city west of Boise.

His gamble paid off: he flew home the next day $10,000 richer, the treasure in hand.

Published last November, “The Great U.S. Treasure Hunt” offered readers a chance to participate in “a real-life adventure to find four ordinary items” and win prizes, according to the book’s author, who uses the witty pseudonym Theco DeMaster.

Competitors had already been searching the book for clues for two months when House heard the treasure hunt discussed on a podcast, “The Secret.” He bought the e-book and solved the first chapter clue in 48 hours. Or, to be accurate, he thought he had solved it.

“I noticed that certain words were repeated within sentences. They were uncommon words to be repeated — rolled, shaved, escape,” House said during a phone call from his basement in Oneonta.

“I started from the beginning and took the first letter of each of those words that were repeated in a sentence, and it spelled out something I needed to know to solve the puzzle: Trislide, Nampa, Lions, Hermes, Badge.”

From his crossword-solving experience, House knew Nampa was a town out west. “I looked up Nampa and Lions, and the first thing that came up was Lions Park in Nampa… so I went to Google maps, satellite view of the park, and zoomed in over the playground, and saw the play structure had a slide with three chutes on it. That was the tri-slide, that’s what I took it to be.”

House has passed his love of puzzles on to his sons, Ian and Eli, both students at Oneonta High School. Eli started doing the Hometown Oneonta crossword at age 6 and recently submitted his own crossword to the New York Times.

The boys were eager to join their dad on his trip to Idaho. Their mom, pediatrician Kwan Chan-House, said no.

So House bought one airplane ticket, donned a double mask for eight hours and flew across the country.

He drove straight to the park. “But unlike here—we had a foot of snow, it was 20 degrees—in Nampa it was 60 degrees there that day. The park was packed, with kids running around.”

House was nervous and uncomfortable. Alone in a strange town, he didn’t want to be that creepy guy, all by himself on the playground, crawling around under the slide. So he left. He drove around town for a couple hours, checked into his hotel, afraid the whole time that someone would swoop in and grab the prize while he was gone. He returned to the park and kept watch there until evening before venturing to look.

“The good news is it was right there, right where I thought it was, right under the very bottom of the slide. It’s amazing some little kid didn’t find it.” The token, a small medallion with an image of Hermes—the Greek god of luck, protector of travellers and thieves—had been duct-taped there since mid-summer.

If you want to try the treasure hunt, you’re too late, says House: the final clue was decoded, the prize uncovered last Sunday near Nashville.

However, the publishers plan to release a second volume this summer. House is featured on this week’s edition of “The Secret,” the same podcast where he first learned about the contest, at

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