A new edition of the Trail of the Golden Owl book was announced on September 16, 2019 via the Rochefort Museum of the Golden Owl website. The book, written by Michel Becker, offers insights into the development of the Golden Owl treasure hunt. The book is available for sale for € 39.95, and I’d recommend buying a copy if you’re serious about this hunt and speak French.
The book includes an early version of the clues, with a very different theme. The Hunt of Father Méhus is about a quest for a golden egg. The theme was changed to an owl following discussions with the game’s backers as golden eggs were connected to Faberge.
Becker also presents two ‘intermediate’ clues, created between the egg version of the hunt and the final published clues.
The early versions of the clues reveal subtle differences that might hint at a solution to the final puzzle. They are almost identical to the Golden Owl clues, but have a few changed visuals and words. The book also contains the instructions written for Becker to create the art, these instructions could show the emphasis we need to place on the visuals.
The early clues list the colours that would be shown on each page, green, blue-green etc. This was later changed to the colour wavelength numbers we see now 530, 500 etc. This is because the colours couldn’t be printed exactly accurately, and using the numbers make this element of the puzzle more solveable.
The first draft of the clues
Here are the new clues (translated to English) with the key differences noted. I’ve listed them in the acknowledged game order.
There is none so blind as those who want to see.
1 = 530
3 = 470
5 = 600
7 = 420
9 = 650
11 = B
Notes for illustration: A rainbow on a black background on the left, with all the colors blending on the right to produce white.
Differences from final version: The numbers are the same as in the final version, but here we find the addition of 11 = B. Presumably B=blanc or white. Does this suggest the game order and then returning to the B enigma for the super-solution? The illustration notes are followed, but with the addition of a statue.
Clue 2 : 530 enigma, OPENING
My first, first half of the half of the first age,
Precedes my Second and Third, seeking their way.
My Fourth is inspired, my Fifth is in rage,
But, without protest, follows my Fourth and the roman alpha.
My Sixth is hidden at the limits of ETERNITY.
My Seventh, standing, spits his venom.
To find my all, just to be wise,
Because the Truth, in truth, will not be a Devin’s affair.
Notes for illustration: A sign marked ‘13469696’ pointing to a rooster.
At the top of the page is the instruction for the colour. ‘4 – sheets. Sheet green.’ Possibly Max might have wanted the whole page coloured green? The 4 is a bit of a mystery, perhaps he planned to print this page in fourth place in the book? It was eventually the fifth page.
Differences from final version: The riddle seems to be exactly the same, and spells out Bourges. However the illustration direction is quite different, it says, ‘a sign marked “13469696” and pointing to a rooster.’
In the next version of this clue Becker is told to draw the following, ‘A rooster (the symbol of France) stands in the middle of France – its legs are up to the city of Bourges.’
In the published book’s final illustration it is the rooster’s eye on the centre of France not its legs. The number sign is gone completely. Presumably, discussions with Becker led Max to agree to an illustration suggesting ‘Bourges’ but with the french cockerel positioned differently.
Some people think the 13469696 number, multiplied by the game measure, suggests a thousand leagues, and Bourges location in the middle of France. 13469696 * 0.33 = 4445 m = 1000 leagues = “middle”. A problem with this theory is that we are given this clue before we’re given the game measure… BUT, we have to remember this early version was to sell the idea to publishers. Max hadn’t finalised everything, and might he even have manipulated the text to make it appear that the illustrations were more important than they really were?
Clue 3: 780 enigma, FIRST STEP
There is only a first step.
Where you want,
By the nag and the coachman.
But where you must,
By the compass and the foot.
Notes for illustration: A compass whose circumference is exactly 33 centimeters. North is at the bottom of the page, and the needle therefore points down.
(Feuillet rouge-violet.) Red-purple sheet.
Differences from final version: The final version of this clue has a simple title of ‘PREMIER PAS…’ So, there was a slight title change in the earlier draft, it said ‘IL N’Y A QUE LE PREMIER PAS. Or, ‘There is only a first step.’
The clue text appears to be the same, and the illustration note seems to confirm the game measure of 33 very clearly. The final drawing has a depiction of a coach and figure as well as the compass.
This is the right path only if the arrow is aimed at the heart
My first multiplies by gaiety.
My Second offers you space,
My Third from the air, and my Fourth from the water.
Sleep, my Fifth hums.
My sixth is worth a hundred, and my seventh is just one node.
My eighth tastes like laurel,
while my ninth, with astonishment, stays behind.
My tenth is always naked when there’s a link.
My eleventh, finally, is the unknown.
Find my All, and through the Opening you will see the light.
Notes for illustration: Something that evokes Roncevaux, or Roland (Durandal stuck in a rock?)
Differences from final version: This clue seems to be identical, save for a few minor word changes. We have ‘couche, mon cinquième ronfle’ (sleep, my fifth hums) in this early version. The final version phrases this with a few more words, ‘Quand il est couche, mon cinquieme ronfle.’ Becker chose to illustrate this clue with the Durandal sword as Max suggested.
THE GOOD WAY, IT IS THE WAY OF THE OPPOSITE WAY, AND VICE VERSA
184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.15.9.19 the navel and the heart is first
18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.15.4 from where Dix left in thirty, is second
188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.18 and his faithful Abraham, is third
220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.9.13 at the divine cellars, is fourth
22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.15.1.6 at the smoking towers, is fifth
188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.12.15.19 in its golden case, is sixth
18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.9.13.8 shame of the reckless, is seventh
126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52 victim of the duke, is eighth
184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.10 where was lost a Louis, is ninth
18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.1.12, the sweet one is tenth
Notes for illustration: The letters B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, A (in that order), and something that evokes a musical instrument (bow on the strings of a violin?)
Differences from final version: In the final version the fancy descriptive text is gone, the clues simply say ‘is worth 1′ is worth 2’ etc. So we have ‘Issoire will be worth 8’ and no reference to the duke. It seems likely that the descriptions refer to historic associations with the listed towns.
In the final illustration the order of the letters is changed. Becker’s illustration note changed into ‘The letters B, A, G, F, E, D, C (in that order.)’ Max’s vague instructions about the musicians was unchanged.
WHEN AL-MAR ALLIES WITH PRENESTE’S FIBULA, THE DARKNESS SHINES
BDI, J. DF, F. CFD. BJ. HJ. EA, B. BC. E. DC, B.
CDI, B. BAB, H. BE.
CD. FB. BCG, J. BIG D. BE. BG. BJD, B. DB. BGH C.
Notes for illustration: A hand comes out of the water and holds a huge key.
Differences from final version: No differences here, this clue links to the previous one, with numbers and letters to decode a phrase. The illustration note makes it clear the background is meant to be water.
Clue 7: 500 enigma, UT QUEANT LAXIS
Ut queant laxis
At 2424 42 42 424 44 224 24 42 24 take the tangent. Count around 560.00 measurements on the Mega, and search for the spiral that has 4 centers.
Notes for Illustration: A walrus (the animal) a musical range, a square, a compass, a ruler going from 0 to 18.5cm (the rest of the ruler is hidden).
Differences from final version: The final version of this clue said: ‘ At 2424-42-424-44-224-24-42-24, take the orthogonal to find the spiral with four centers, 560,606 measurements, is far away. But the Mega is a million times less.’
So a slight difference of wording, and originally it was a ‘tangent’ not an orthogonal. It is also 560,000 measurements on the mega that you have to count instead of 560,606. The ‘mega’ is sometimes thought to be the smaller, super solution map, but in this original version Max seems to be referring to the main game map.
The final version’s illustration appears to be the same as was described.
From the sky comes the light
C’E-10752-365 LA Q-30667-E THE AIGLE
687-ARQ-30667-E DE 10752-E-10752 10752-ERRE-10752
DA-60140- 10752 LE 10752-ABLE,
CENT 4330-O-30667-R-10752 AVA-60140-365 DE 10752-E
E-365 Y-CAP Y LAI-10752-10752-ER 10752-E-10752
Then lend a bow to Apollo :
from there, he will count 1959,697 measures towards the zenith.
In a 46,242,688th fraction of a day , his line will fall.
Hurry to find the arrow.
Illustration note: The symbols for the earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and the letter N.
Differences from final version: In the published version of this clue we are told he counts 1969,697 measures to the zenith. It is 46,241,860 fractions of a ‘sidereal day’ not a day, though I believe this works out the same way. 1959,697 and 1969,697 are quite small changes. Might Max have deliberately used the wrong number in the pre-release copy of the clues in case his papers got into the wrong hands? Unlikely but possible! In the illustration notes for the final version Max lists the planets and also adds ‘a compass planted in the letter N.’
Ad augusta per angusta
Through the opening you will see the celestial light.
When, at Carasburc, you will have ALbion in your back.
Don’t linger, don’t ask for your rest,
But be ready to walk on the waters.
Turn your back on the North,
Neptune, twice, will have to help you.
It’s the right way, don’t stop
Until, through the opening, Léon appears.
Then we will have to draw a line
So you can go without deviating an inch.
You will not regret what you did,
Because, sometimes, a rolling stone collects moss.
Illustration note: A pencil “splits” the sea, from the bottom of the page, on the right, towards the top, on the left. See example of attached visual.
Sheet green yellow.
Differences from final version: There are a few interesting changes here. The final version includes ‘Before seeing, through the Opening, the becalmed Nave,’ with Léon dropped completely. The published version includes no last line about rolling stones collecting moss.
It’s also worth noting that the visual shows the pencil in a different direction.
A pencil “splits” the sea, from the bottom of the page, on the right, upwards, on the left . See attached visual example. In the final version the note says, ‘A pencil “splits” the sea, from the top of the page, on the right, towards the bottom of the page, on the left .
Becker also includes an ‘intermediate’ version of this clue that also mentions Léon, but it has a slightly shorter final paragraph.
Draw a line without deviating an inch,
And only then will you collect moss.
It is the treasure hunter collecting moss and not a rolling stone now. It’s worth noting that ‘tu amasseras mousse’ could also translate as ‘you will collect foam.’ I’d assume that ‘mousse’ is moss and not foam, based on the earlier version of the clue, and the famous saying, ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss.’
We can only guess why this line was removed, but it’s an interesting piece of information.
Léon might be a town in south western France, but is it also the mysterious ‘becalmed nave’ that’s mentioned in the later clue?
This is another clue where we find an intermediate version of the text.
Version 1 (The hunt for the golden egg)
When everything is revealed
Now you have wings.
Take off and fly north, northeast 11 degrees. 8000 measures further, the three sentries await you.
Illustration note: The numbers 7, 1, 7, 2, 1, 0, 5 7, and a shovel.
NO colour note.
Version 2 (Pre-publication)
When everything is revealed
Back to the Ponant, look for the three Guardians
At 8000 measurements from there, they are waiting for you.
Find them, you need to review them.
Illustration note: The figures 7,17,2,1,0,7,5 and a shovel.
Sheet red 650 nanometer
Version 3 (Final published version)
When everything is revealed
Back to the Ponant, seek the Sentinels.
At 8000 measures from there, they are waiting for you.
Find them, you need to review them.
Differences from final version: There are a few helpful points here. There are definitely 3 ‘sentinels’ which is suggested in Becker’s final illustration but made clearer by these iterations of the clue. The ‘sentinels’ are also called sentries and guardians by Max in the two earlier clues.
The 8000 measure is consistent in all the clues, with far more direction in the first version, which directs us to fly north northeast 11 degrees. However this first clue has a different order to the numbers on the illustration, ending with a 57 and not the eventual 75. A small change, but perhaps significant?
Clue 11, 520 enigma, EARTH OPENS
There are a couple of earlier versions of this text.
Version 1 (The hunt for the golden egg)
Be a little crazy, and to your madness, add a nest, two wings and an egg.
Illustration note: A shiny golden egg at the bottom of a hole surrounded by grasses.
Version 2 (An intermediate version provided by Becker)
To the left? To the right ? Between ?
In front of the last or behind the first? …
But, before finding, wasn’t it important to search?
Illustration note: Light (reflection of gold) springs from the bottom of a hole surrounded by grasses
Sheet green-blue 520 nanometer.
Version 3 (Published version)
Between them, there would only be two intervals if they were aligned
But that would be far too easy a game!
Now that you’ve untied all the threads,
Doubt is the last torture that will be inflicted on you, because it is the rule of this cruel part:
Alone, you must find where to carry your shovel.
Show your respect for Mother Nature,
And, before you leave, close your wound.
Illustration note: Light (reflection of gold) springs from the bottom of a hole surrounded by herbs.
Sheet green-blue 520 nanometer.
Differences from final version: This clue is the most changed, with three very different texts. It’s almost as if Max reached the ‘sentinel’ stage and then wasn’t absolutely sure of the directions to give! We can assume that the first clues nest and wings are to fit the bird and egg theme, but does this tell us anything more? The version 2 directions tell us to ‘search’ is it a hint that we move now to the super solution?
Summary of key differences in the early version clues
B clue : 11=B
530: A sign marked “13469696” pointing to a rooster.
780: No significant change.
470: No significant change.
580: A little extra text about the locations, a different order of the letters in the illustration.
600: No significant change.
500: A ‘tangent’ not an orthogonal. 560,000 measurements to count instead of 560,606.
420: A day not a ‘sidereal day’, 1959,697 measures not 969,697, adding a compass to the image of North.
560: We see Léon through the opening instead of the ‘becalmed Nave.’ There is an addition of a line about gathering moss, or rolling stones gathering moss. The visual shows a different alignment of the pencil.
650: A direction to go north, northeast 11 degrees. Sentinels described as sentries or guardians. 7, 1, 7, 2, 1, 0, 6 7, instead of 7, 1, 7, 2, 1, 0, 7,5.
520: Completely different text in two earlier versions of this clue, one suggesting going crazy, one suggesting a confusion of directions.
The most interesting thing about these early clues is how similar they are to the final published version. Max quite clearly had his game play mechanics completely worked out, perhaps even the final location for the treasure set. Did he use a mechanic that could be easily tweaked to show any location in France? In that case 71721067 would lead to a slightly different location to 71721075, with both numbers working within his game ‘system’. If that’s the case then might anyone who uses totally fixed places in their game solution be likely to come unstuck?
There is lots of food for thought here. Many concepts remain the same and so must be vital to the solution, while other elements are much more vague… What do we make of the three words for the three sentinals? Max himself doesn’t seem 100% clear on what these creatures are representing.
Finally, this book confirms, what many people have said for decades, the illustrations are mostly unimportant to the solving of this puzzle. Anyone who sees hidden meaning in the imagery is almost certainly on the wrong track. There are a few conspiracy theories around about these additional clues and information have been faked by Becker, but that seems like nonsense to me.
I was worried that the release of these extra clues would reveal too much information and spoil everyone’s enjoyment of the hunt. They do nothing of the sort, I think they add even more intrigue to this great fun game!