Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt notes from the field:

St. Paul Pioneer Press - 02-02-2018

Parking lot genius, royal hunt postponed


Harriet Island Regional Park stretches 70 acres along the Mississippi, where it can field fierce winds and snow unimpeded from the north. It has woods, trails, a long shoreline and a great lawn facing the river. In that vastness, someone found a 2½ inch-diameter medallion the color of ice, based on inscrutable clues.

This was my view over the years from the newsroom of the Pioneer Press, which since 1952 has compelled those souls out into the cold in pursuit of the $10,000 prize.

But this year I got to see it firsthand, reporting on the Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt.

I loved it.

I always read that it was about the people, the camaraderie. I witnessed it over and over again — so many people who’ve become fast friends over the hunt, and so many just plain friendly people, all with the same goal. Surely there’s something we can learn from this in our divided society.

Not sure the hunters want to hear it, but I felt lucky that my first Hunt went to the 12th clue.

I also fell in love with the parks. People know Ramsey County parks better than people elsewhere know their parks because of this wild and wooly hunt. I believe getting outdoors helps us survive our winters — and what a great way to get outside. Many even spend precious vacation time to get out hunting, in the dead of winter.

So many friendly people. I loved meeting Coon Rapids’ Kelly family and their ace in the hole; Yvonne Hoffman and her truant youth brigade; the Cooler Crew’s overflowing love for newly engaged Jana Armstead and Brad TeGantvoort; and Joyce and Mike Hughes of South St. Paul, Joyce wearing PiPress newspaper wrappers in her boots.


A park’s parking lot for a medallion hiding place, really? Kinda like taking a photo of the Ice Palace through the car window, isn’t it?

Actually, this year’s winner, Rob Brass, approved.

“The hiding spot was pretty bold and a little bit genius. A little bit of both. It’s clearly very clever and it stumped everybody.”

In fact, one of his crew members, Steve Worthman, reminded him that another crew had stuck birthday beers in that very snowbank the night before. Turns out they’d spent a fair amount of time near that piled-up snow and ice.


Some of the seasoned hunters at Thursday’s news conference, where Brass received his oversized check, said they noticed fewer hunters this year. Worthman noticed it over the duration of the hunt, but also the night the final clue came in, he said. This year there was plenty of creative parking around the park, but no traffic jam as is usual. Was it the deep snow? The extra-convoluted clues?


After Thursday’s press conference, as members of the Royal Family mingled with Pioneer Press executives and tired-looking Treasure Hunters, the Queen of Snows, Jilla Nadimi of St. Paul, was overheard saying that, before she wore the crown, she was a commoner who also enjoyed hunting for that elusive medallion.

Of course, said the queen, she can’t search this year.

She looked a little sad about it. Maybe next year ….


I’d like to thank a few expert hunters who shared their wisdom about the Hunt and its allure. Thanks to Ed Brodie of Maplewood, who’s also Clue Master of the Payne Arcade Harvest Fest Medallion Hunt; Jesse Anibas of White Bear Lake, whose book “Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt History” was indispensable (after reading past clues and their meanings side-by-side I finally started to see how those words would get you there); and Steve “MapGuy” Worthman, who meticulously documents every Ramsey Park and publishes each year.


Two Harriet Island hills were stripped of their snow because of a line in Clue 5: “2-3-2 is the number that’s true.”

Winner Brass’s mom, Marcia Brass — who started hunting with her mom at 8, and Rob around that same age — was noodling that clue and found the trail marker 232 and an elevation marker 232. Marcia, of Shoreview, cleared that spot until she was bone-weary, she said.

Chad O’Leary, the force behind the White Bear Lake’s Manitou Days treasure hunt and a biology teacher at White Bear high (go, Bears), also spent hours on Clue Day 10 after seeing a particular Google Street’s image of the park, where a school bus No 232 was parked.

He found nothing at that spot. “All I got were a lot of callouses and the need for a lot of Alleve,” O’Leary said. “I never want to see that hill again.”

If the medallion had been found straight out from that bus, O’Leary would’ve thought that clue brilliant. “Otherwise that’s one hell of a coincidence,” he said.


“There are lots of things to hunt in Minnesota,” Brass’s wife, Steph said Thursday after the press conference. “My husband hunts medallions.”


One veteran Treasure Hunter loved the aftermath of the big snow that struck on Day 2 of the hunt. “This is what the Norse gods call exacting a toll, lol,” Ken Ng of St. Paul texted to a reporter. “I love when it snows during the hunt. A digging hunt is wayyy better than a brown hunt.”

He also likes the edge he receives after a big snow: A lot of snow means (competitors) doing what someone else may have done. Thanks to tracking steps and an app, i track where I’ve been and try not to dbl the effort.”


I had a quick learning curve, being out trying to meet the hunters out on their digs but take notes at the same time. As I left Harriet Island park one day with freezing fingertips — with those fingerless gloves — one veteran hunter came to my aid. Mary Mulholland of Mounds View gave me her Little Hotties hand warmers. Once I got the feeling back in my hands, I realized they were indispensable. Thanks again, Mary!

When our paths crossed later, she told me that everyone in her family gets Hotties from Santa, along with a Winter Carnival badge that they all register the next day, in order to qualify for the big medallion prize.


In my Day 11-of-the-Hunt story, I quoted this guy, about what it would be like that night when the final clue came in:

“Thousands of people will come running with shovels and headlamps. It’s like a scene from ‘Frankenstein,’ with all the peasants running with torches.”

The speaker was Paul Ryan (not that other speaker, this one is from Minneapolis and Amsterdam). He was there with his six-guy crew, Team Irish Scream. (More on that later.) Another Screamer, Todd “T.J.” Johnson of Bloomington, referenced the “Titanic” movie to describe what it would be like after the post-final-clue digging started.

“It’s like when the Titanic just sank, everybody yelling in the dark, trying to find their relatives,” he said.

But back to that name of the team — which also includes Jeff Wurst, Mike Hawes, Mark Schwab and Johnson’s son Liam. Lots of folks have “how close I came” stories. These guys (accidently, I hope) dropped their (empty) mini Bailey’s Irish Cream bottles next to the spot where the 2013 medallion was found in Cherokee Park. Our story quoted Scot Tuma, husband of winner Lynn Olson-Tuma, that those hunters “were working too hard on those instead of chipping at the ice,” he said.

Johnson called up his crew and said, “Hey! We made the paper this morning — but not for a good reason.”