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The Puzzle Book that Drove England to Madness, An Illustrated Lecture with Jess Zimmerman
Jan 5, 2016 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm| $8
In 1979, a children’s picture book drove people in the United Kingdom — and eventually the world — into a madcap treasure-hunting puzzle-solving frenzy. The book was called Masquerade, and its intricate illustrations held clues to an actual buried treasure, a jeweled golden amulet in the shape of a hare. For three years, “Masqueraders” traveled hundreds of thousands of miles across England, dug up acres of countryside, wrote tens of thousands of letters to the author, broke into historic properties, and sometimes even sought psychiatric help for their fixation. They looked for answers in medicine, weaving, astrology, ornithology, mathematics, poetry, and the Bible. And for three years, almost every single one of them was wrong — including the man who finally found the jewel.
This talk will look at the Masquerade frenzy, from the far-ranging wrong solutions to the elegant right one. We’ll discuss some of the most extreme examples of Masquerade obsession, and the scandal that eventually tainted the whole enterprise. And we’ll ask: what is it about the human mind that makes us believe so fervently in the most unlikely answers?
Jess Zimmerman is a writer, editor, and smartass who lives with a dog in Brooklyn. She has written for the Guardian, Medium, the Hairpin, the Toast, the Daily Dot, Aeon, and others, and identifies as Chaotic Good.