Country Ways

Masquerade The Hunt for the Hare

Upon its release, “Masquerade” captured the public’s imagination. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide as armchair treasure hunters and enthusiasts set out to solve the puzzle. The book also received considerable media attention, adding to the frenzy and excitement of the hunt.

“Masquerade,” a picture book written and illustrated by Kit Williams and published in August 1979, initiated a treasure hunt by embedding hidden clues that led to the location of a jewelled golden hare.

This hare, crafted by Williams himself, was concealed somewhere in Britain. The book’s innovative concept gave rise to a new genre now known as armchair treasure hunts.

In March 1982, Williams received a letter and a sketch from a man named Dugald Thompson, who he initially believed had correctly solved the puzzle, thereby winning the contest.

However, it was later discovered that Thompson had not actually solved the puzzle himself but had instead guessed the location of the hare using insider knowledge gained from a former acquaintance of Williams. This revelation led to a minor scandal. Subsequently, two British physics teachers were recognised as the first individuals to have correctly solved the puzzle.



In the 1970s, Tom Maschler of the British publishing firm Jonathan Cape presented Kit Williams with a challenge: to create a picture book that was unlike anything done before. Williams’ response was to design a book that would engage its readers deeply, encouraging them to pore over its contents rather than briefly skim through and set aside.

The whereabouts of the hare remained a mystery for over two decades

He decided to weave the theme of a treasure hunt into the narrative as a means to captivate and involve his audience. “Masquerade” features fifteen intricate paintings that tell the story of Jack Hare, tasked with delivering a treasure from the Moon (portrayed as a woman) to the Sun (portrayed as a man). Upon reaching the Sun, Jack Hare realises he has lost the treasure, and the challenge for the reader is to figure out where it is hidden.

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In addition to writing and illustrating “Masquerade,” Williams also crafted a physical treasure: a large pendant in the shape of a hare, made from 18-carat (75%) gold and adorned with jewels. He enclosed this golden hare in a small ceramic casket.

Sixteen Paintings for Masquerade

This was done both to shield the prize from the elements and to prevent the treasure from being found with a metal detector. The casket itself bore an inscription, adding another layer of mystery to the treasure hunt:

“I am the keeper of the jewel of Masquerade, which lies waiting safe inside me for you or eternity”.

Kit Williams later said:

If I was to spend two years on the sixteen paintings for Masquerade I wanted them to mean something. I recalled how, as a child, I had come across “treasure hunts” in which the puzzles were not exciting nor the treasure worth finding. So I decided to make a real treasure, of gold, bury it in the ground and paint real puzzles to lead people to it. The key was to be Catherine of Aragon’s Cross at Ampthill, near Bedford, casting a shadow like the pointer of a sundial.

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On August 7, 1979, Kit Williams, alongside the celebrity witness Bamber Gascoigne, covertly buried the casket containing the hare at Ampthill Park. Williams publicly declared that the clues necessary to precisely locate the treasure within Britain were all contained in his soon-to-be-published book, accurate “to within a few inches.”

At that time, the only extra hint he offered was that the hare was buried on publicly accessible property. Williams also stated that to maintain fairness for participants from different locations, he would acknowledge the first exactly correct solution sent to him via mail.

The Search Begins

“Masquerade” achieved remarkable sales figures, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold globally. The book saw considerable popularity in the United Kingdom, but it also found audiences in Australia, South Africa, West Germany, Japan, France, and the United States.

On December 21, 1980, the Sunday Times released an extra clue for "Masquerade's" puzzle,
On December 21, 1980, the Sunday Times released an extra clue for “Masquerade’s” puzzle,

The treasure hunt aspect of the book led many searchers to dig up both public and private properties based on their speculations. “Haresfield Beacon” in England, for example, became a favored spot for treasure hunters, prompting Williams to finance a sign indicating that the hare was not hidden in that vicinity.

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Locations depicted in the book’s paintings, such as Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire and Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, were also thoroughly searched by enthusiasts.

In March 1982, Williams received a letter with a sketch that he recognised as the first correct solution he had received. He contacted the sender, a man who identified himself as “Ken Thomas,” and directed him to dig for the hare.

Williams soon realised that Thomas had not deciphered the puzzle as intended, and it seemed he had merely stumbled upon the right answer. Shortly after Thomas was officially declared the winner, Williams received a correct solution from Mike Barker of William Hulme’s Grammar School and John Rousseau of Rossall School, both physics teachers.

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It appeared that Barker and Rousseau had actually unearthed the prize themselves while digging at Ampthill but failed to recognise it inside its clay box. It was likely that Thomas had found it in the piles of dirt they had left behind.

The Answer

The puzzle in “Masquerade” is intricately designed and embedded within its 15 painted illustrations. To decipher the puzzle, a specific method must be followed: in each painting, a line is drawn from the left eye of any depicted creature through the longest digit on its left hand, extending to one of the letters on the page’s border.

This process is repeated from the left eye through the longest digit on the left foot, then from the right eye through the longest digit on the right hand, and finally from the right eye through the longest digit on the right foot. However, this is only applicable for eyes and digits that are visible in each painting. The letters identified through these lines can be rearranged to form words or phrases.

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This could involve treating them as anagrams or following the sequence of animals and digits suggested by the painting of Isaac Newton (pictured in the book). Employing this method correctly reveals fifteen words or short phrases, which together constitute a nineteen-word message:


The solution to “Masquerade’s” puzzle, when assembled correctly, forms an acrostic that reads “CLOSEBYAMPTHILL.” This message, once deciphered, indicates to the reader that the hidden treasure is located in Ampthill Park, Bedfordshire.

More specifically, it lies near the park’s cross-shaped monument dedicated to Catherine of Aragon. The exact location is marked by the point where the monument’s shadow touches at noon on either the March or September equinox.

Masquerade Contains Subtle Hints

In addition to the main puzzle, “Masquerade” contains numerous other subtle hints and “confirmers” throughout its pages. One notable example is found in the painting where the Sun and the Moon are depicted dancing around the Earth.

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In this illustration, the clasped hands of the two celestial figures are pointing towards the date of the spring equinox, providing an additional clue to the observant reader. These layers of clues and confirmers add depth to the treasure hunt, making the book not just a reading experience, but an engaging and interactive puzzle.

The Times Got Involved

On December 21, 1980, the Sunday Times released an extra clue for “Masquerade’s” puzzle, created by Kit Williams himself. This clue involved a unique interactive element: readers were required to cut out the published drawing, fold it in half, and then shine a light through it.

The shadow cast would reveal a message, which could be read in a mirror. This message stated, “To do my work, I appointed four men from twenty, the tallest and the fattest, and the righteous follow the sinister.”

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The phrase “four men from twenty” refers to selecting four fingers and toes from a total of twenty digits. The part about “the tallest and the fattest” indicates the need to use the longest digits in the puzzle. The phrase “the righteous follow the sinister” serves as a hint for the sequence in decoding letters (starting with the left (sinister) eyes through to the left finger and toe, and then moving to the right (righteous) ones).

The clue was presented as a self-portrait of Kit Williams, surrounded by fourteen animals. Intriguingly, the first letter of each animal’s name combined to spell “Merry Christmas,” adding a festive touch to the puzzle.


On December 11, 1988, The Sunday Times published an exposé alleging that the winner of the “Masquerade” contest had committed fraud. “Ken Thomas,” the purported winner, was unmasked as a pseudonym used by Dugald Thompson.

The story revealed that Thompson’s business partner, John Guard, was romantically involved with Veronica Robertson, who had previously dated Kit Williams, the creator of “Masquerade.” Guard reportedly persuaded Robertson to assist him in winning the contest, promising to donate any profits to animal rights causes, a cause they both supported.

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According to The Sunday Times, while Robertson had been in a relationship with Williams, she had become aware of the general location of the hidden hare, although she didn’t know the exact solution to the puzzle in the book.

Armed with this information about the hare being in Ampthill, Guard, along with two associates, allegedly began a search for it, employing metal detectors. After an unsuccessful search, they concocted a simple sketch of the location. Thompson then submitted this sketch to Williams under the alias “Ken Thomas,” which Williams mistakenly acknowledged as the first correct solution.

Responding to these startling revelations, Williams expressed his dismay: “This tarnishes Masquerade and I’m shocked by what has emerged. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all those many people who were genuinely looking for it.

Although I didn’t know it, it was a skeleton in my cupboard and I’m relieved it has come out.” This confession underscored the complexity and unexpected consequences of the “Masquerade” treasure hunt, revealing a tangled web of deception that had marred the integrity of the contest.

The Aftermath

Dugald Thompson, following his involvement in the “Masquerade” contest, founded a software company named Haresoft. He launched a new competition tied to a computer game called Hareraiser, offering the jeweled hare as the prize.

However, the game, which many believed to be unsolvable due to its seemingly nonsensical text and graphics, did not yield a winner. Following the company’s failure and subsequent liquidation in 1988, the golden hare was auctioned at Sotheby’s London by the liquidators, Peat Marwick, in December 1988. It fetched £31,900 from an anonymous buyer. Kit Williams himself attended the auction intending to bid for the hare but withdrew at £6,000.

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The whereabouts of the hare remained a mystery for over two decades until it resurfaced in 2009. The BBC Radio 4 programme “The Grand Masquerade,” broadcast on July 14, 2009, revisited the story of the puzzle’s creation and resolution. In this program, Williams spoke about the scandal for the first time in 20 years.

During the interview, he expressed a wish to see the hare again, leading to a touching reunion arranged by the granddaughter of its then-current owner, based in the Far East. This reunion was featured in the BBC Four documentary “The Man Behind the Masquerade,” which aired on December 2, 2009.

Subsequent Treasure Hunts

In 2012, the hare was exhibited at the V&A Museum in London as part of the “British Design 1948–2012” retrospective.

“Masquerade” pioneered the genre of cryptic armchair treasure hunts, inspiring a succession of similar works. These include “The Key To The Kingdom” (Pavilion Books, 1992), “The Piper Of Dreams” (Hodder & Stoughton, 1982), “The Secret” (Bantam Books, 1982), “The Golden Key” (William Maclellan, 1982), “Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse” (Intravision, 1984), “The Merlin Mystery” (Warner Books, 1998), and the still-unsolved French “On the Trail of the Golden Owl” (Manya, 1993). Kit Williams himself released a second treasure-hunt book, “The Bee on the Comb,” in 1984.

Subsequent treasure hunts have utilised various formats and technologies. “Alkemstone” (Level-10, 1981), a computer game from the Masquerade era, remains unsolved. Newer hunts have embraced modern technologies like web-based “Menagerie,” CD-ROM-based “Treasure Quest,” and “Text4Treasure,” which uses SMS messaging. Others, like “Army Of Zero” and “West By Sea: A Treasure Hunt that Spans the Globe” (Expeditionaire, 2016), combine physical media with online clues.

“Masquerade” is also referenced in Brian Moriarty’s 2002 presentation “The Secret of Psalm 46,” which delves into game design, easter eggs, and conspiracy theories.