Author: Golden Owl Hunter

An official new organiser for the Golden Owl Hunt

Michel Becker, the illustrator of the Chouette d’Or, has officially taken ownership of the management and organisation of this long running treasure hunt. The announcement came via a video press release on October 30th 2021, followed by a text press release. Several more strange developments in this hunt have followed, as part of the ownership handover.

In April 2021 the original sealed envelope of solutions created in 1993 by Max Valentin was transferred from Regis Hauser’s family to Michel Becker, and to his trusted legal bailiff, Blanche Neige-Schmitt. (Hauser is the real name of treasure hunt author, Max Valentin, however, I use his pen name ‘Max’ throughout this site.) A contract has been set up passing all rights of the game from the heirs of Regis Hauser to Michel Becker and his company Éditions de la Chouette d’Or®

The sealed envelope of solutions
The floppy disk containing the game solution

The bailiff wrote a report detailing this handover. It describes how Max’s envelope of solutions contained a protected file on a floppy disk, which was written in 1993 on word processing software that is no longer supported. As the bailiff could not decipher the old file, Michel Becker worked to decrypt the .sam format file. The text of Max’s solution was finally presented to the bailiff on October 22nd 2021. The bailiff checked the solution text and validated it as real in her opinion.

The files on the floppy disk

Michel Becker and the bailiff travelled to the location mentioned in the solutions to check if the buried bronze owl was still there. They hoped they could confirm the owl’s location so the hunt could continue under their new management.

In 1993, when the game launched, Max Valentin stated that a bronze, varnished replica of the golden owl was buried around 40-50cm from the surface, with some kind of protection from metal detectors. The owl was cast as one of eight replicas of the solid gold bird, and marked with a number 1/8. Along with the owl Max said he placed a phone number, a password and details of what to do when the bird was found. The bronze owl replica, when found, would be swapped for the valuable gold owl prize.

The hole dug to find the owl

On the evening of October 22nd. Becker and the bailiff went to the owl’s location and measured a distance, as specified in the ‘super solution’ to then dig a hole. At around 80cm under the earth they found a rusted iron bird wrapped in a plastic bag. The bag had the numbers S09 2005 written on the plastic. Becker has speculated that the iron bird was placed in the ground by Max in 2005. Max Valentin died in April 2009, presumably knowing that there was a replacement bird at the location?  It is not clear why the bronze owl was replaced, or where the bronze owl marked 1/8 is now.

A rusty iron bird in the hole
The plastic bag around the rusty bird with letters S09 2005

As Michel Becker wants the treasure hunt to continue in good order, he placed a new bronze owl marked 2/8 in the ground. He also added an envelope containing new instructions and password for the finder of the bronze countermark. It seems he had brought a second bronze owl with him on his digging mission in case it was needed.

The bronze owl 2/8 in the hole

Becker, the new organiser of the hunt, has released various official documents through his new company. On the website a new set of game rules has been published (the unofficial English version is here – for information only.) There is also a form to fill in if you dug for the owl at a date before October 2021 and want your solution checked. Presumably this is because there was rusty iron buried deeply, and not a crafted bronze owl at the location? Owlers can send in their solutions until December 31st 2021, they will be checked by the bailiff in January 2022. Anyone who has the correct solution will be told, and asked to dig up the bronze owl to fit the rules of the game. It is worth noting that this form seems to be intended for use by those who dug in the past… However treasure hunters outside France may be tempted to use it to check their solutions, without paying for an expensive plane fare!

Various reports and minutes from the bailiff have also been published online, giving legal legitimacy and certainty to what has happened with the hunt in the last few months. The golden owl has seen a few complex legal cases over the years, and there is currently an ongoing challenge from Yvon Crolet who appears to claim the owl was never buried. He states that he solved the clues but discovered the owl was not there at the final location, so he is challenging the game organisers. As part of the work to put this treasure hunt in good order, Becker asked the bailiff to check the solution submitted by Crolet. She confirmed that this does not match the location she had visited, or details of the solution that were devised by Max Valentin.

This unusual situation, and mysterious rusty iron ‘bird’ has certainly got the owler community talking! It is possible we will never know why a replacement ‘treasure’ was placed in the hole, and by whom. Here are a few ‘best guesses’ that are being discussed.

There were legal complications around the hunt in 2004 – 2005, with the publishing company going bankrupt, so some theorise that Max removed the bronze owl for some reason related to that. It doesn’t seem very obvious how an iron bird not a bronze owl connects to this story. If someone presented an iron bird to Max then he would know they had solved the hunt, and presumably give them the bronze owl marked 1/8? But why would this ruse be needed?

Max told a friend that he dug up the bronze owl marked 1/8 many years after it was buried. He said he wanted to check if the paperwork had survived. All phone numbers in France had changed so the old one listed with the owl was invalid. However, a clear detail of this story is that he wanted to place new paperwork with the owl. Yet with the iron bird there was no kind of paperwork at all.

It is understood that Max wanted to protect his game in the event of his death, yet leaving an iron bird in the ground effectively destroyed this great hunt altogether. The rules state that the bronze owl replica must be swapped for the real gold version. If someone had found an iron bird then they would get nothing. If the rusty iron bird has been in the place specified by the super solution since Max’s death, no one could win the game in all those years!

One theory doing the rounds is that Max might have left a false trail on the floppy disk, so the true solution has not been written down anywhere. This could mean that Becker and the bailiff dug in the wrong place, fooled by Max with a false solution. This seems unlikely, and would lead to an awkward situation with two buried bronze treasure hunt owls and both 1/8 and 2/8 now buried somewhere in France.

Another theory is that an owl hunter dug up bronze 1/8 and didn’t exchange it for the gold owl, leaving an iron bird in the hole. This seems highly unlikely for obvious reasons!

There are some who suspect Michel Becker of something illicit in this situation, but in my opinion it is in his best interests to keep the hunt going and to make it respected. He will want to sell copies of his clue book, and promote his golden owl museum in Rochefort.

If a winner of the hunt is declared any time soon they will certainly come under great scrutiny. Two people now know the solutions, but previously no one living knew the owl’s location. However in every treasure hunt we have to have a degree of trust in the integrity of the game and its organisers. As strange as all this is, I do think this game will continue, and be just as enjoyable to play as ever.

The mystery of the rusty iron bird is a strange one, and equally mysterious is the location of bronze owl 1/8. I’m going to keep working on this hunt, and I’m planning my next trip to France soon. One way to look at this is that the hunt is now more exciting than ever, when we dig we don’t know if we will find owl 1, owl 2, more rusty iron, or, nothing at all and back to the drawing board!

Michel Becker seems to be having a little fun with the missing owl twist, offering a reward to the presumed owl 1/8 finder who perhaps chose not to claim a golden reward…. The following post has appeared on the Les Editions de la Chouette d’Or® social media accounts.

WANTED POSTER: To anyone who has deciphered the final enigma of the game On the Trail of the Golden Owl, and who would come into possession of the bronze owl marked 1/8 before the one, numbered 2/8, is unearthed by another player, you are warmly invited to contact Editions Choutte d’Or without delay in order to exchange it for the prize awarded to the winner, namely: the golden owl set with jewels on its base of zoisite veined with rubies.

At least it seems finding either owl 1 or owl 2 wins a reward!

Note: The details and images used in this article are from the reports written by the bailiff, Blanche Neige-Schmitt, that have been widely shared online through websites, forums and on social media The photos remain copyrighted to the author of that report. I share them here aiming to bring clarity to the English speaking seekers of this treasure community.

The questions to ask if you think you have the solution

These 25 questions are adapted from a post on Patrick Salvy’s blog. Sadly the site no longer exists but I have found the questions a good checklist to see if a solution might be right.

The questions are based on the fact that there are a number of questions that no one has been able to answer. At least not with the precision needed to locate the owl. Some of the questions appear to be simple, yet not one has a clear answer accepted by everyone in the community. Patrick suggests everyone seeking the owl should have ‘humility’ and take a pause before announcing they have the answer. Many people jump to the conclusion that their theory is right, and ignore the fact that cognitive bias is a huge problem in all treasure hunts.

I hope you find these questions useful.

530: Why the word “opening”? [1]
We know for a fact that “opening” is the answer to the 530 clue’s riddle. This is Bourges, the place to start the game. But the word “opening” must have some other justification. Why did Max choose the word “opening,” what is the purpose of this word?
780: What is the “first step” that will induce others? [2]
The “first step” referred to in the title of the clue is not taken with our feet, and the fact that it is the first implies that there are others. What does this first step consist of?
470: Why is there an “A” in front of “Roncesvalles”? [3]
This clue gives a place. The result of the riddle is “A_RONCEVAUX”. Why is there an “A” in front of “Roncesvalles?” The riddle of the first enigma only gave “Bourges” with no additional letter. Roncesvalles seems to be a destination while Bourges was only a starting point, but wouldn’t we have understood that the hunt was leading us to Roncesvalles if the result of this clue had only been “RONCEVAUX”?
470: What is the light? [4]
At the end of this clue, we must be sure of what the light is, and the light does not only concern this clue. If we don’t see the light at this stage of the game, it would suggest a serious problem. Max said that an element prior to this clue allows us to know if it is the “right” light. What does this light represent that we see from the “whole” of the clue through the opening?
470: What is the heart? [5]
There is only one heart in the book. An additional clue said that ‘from the opening a heart was born’. Between the heart born from the opening and that of this clue, the symbol is identical, even if the meaning is slightly different …So what is this heart?
470: What does the arrow aimed at the heart represent? [6]
The arrow of this puzzle is not the same as the arrow of Apollo. Max said this arrow is incapable of killing. The word “arrow” must be interpreted by the treasure hunter. If this arrow is aimed at the heart, is it because it has not yet left the bow at the end of the riddle? Aiming for the heart means aiming in a certain direction and not in another. No doubt we will reach the intended destination later (or have we already reached it?) But what is the meaning of this arrow aimed at this destination?
580: Why is the geographic distribution of the ten cities important? [7]
The order of the cities in this puzzle must surely be important.
If it is only a question of finding the answer that A = 0, B = 1 etc … the order does not matter. But why is Angers at the end of the list rather than at the beginning? Would Angers-Bourges-Cherbourg have been inconvenient from a geographical point of view? Would it have harmed the understanding of the direction of rotation represented by the distribution of the ten cities? What does this direction of rotation mean?
600: What is the perched black ship? [8]
The decryption of this clue leads us to search for a black ship that is somehow ‘perched’. What is this perched black ship? Do we need to look for something that comes close to such a description, or do we have to interpret this expression?
600: What is the key that is hidden on the perched black ship? [9]
In the decryption of this clue we learn that ‘the key is hidden on the perched black ship.’ We are supposed to find out what this key represents and why would it hide? What is this key?
600: How is the key useful? [10]
Is the key a decryption key? Digital? Alphanumeric? Alphabetical?
Or is it to be somehow interpreted in order to understand what to do next? How is the key useful for deciphering the following riddle?
500: What does “2424 …” represent? [11]
“2424 …” is a place where we arrive thanks to a line already found and from which one sets out again, at a right angle and in a straight line, towards the Spiral with four centers. But what is this place? Is the generally accepted decryption of Carignan, based on Morse code, the correct one? Why did Max choose to use 2’s and 4’s?
500: What is the Four Centre Spiral? [12]
We must find it (Max doesn’t say ‘draw’ it, but he might mean that) at 560,606 measures of “2424 …” and we should know what it is at the end of this clue. We know that the spiral has four centres. What are these four centres which must be identified? Is it a truly four-centre spiral, in the geometric sense of the term?
420: Where is the “there” located? [13]
The “there” mentioned in this clue is an important location, it is the place where Apollo shoots his arrow. Is it linked to where the previous clue ends, at the Spiral with four centres?
420: What does “count 1,969,697 measures towards the zenith” mean? [14]
Apollo counts 1,969,697 measurements towards the zenith before firing his arrow. Is it important that it is Apollo? Why does Max mention the altitude or height of the landing place? Is it because this guarantees the precision with which the arrow will land? The clue says, “count 1,969,697 towards the zenith” to solve this clue we need to know exactly what this means.
420: Where does Apollo’s arrow fall? [15]
Since it is a question of finding the point where the arrow falls, this suggests it aims at something concrete and real, located by its height. Max told us the exact laws of ballistics do not apply to a Greek god, we can ignore the possible mountains located on its path! So where is the arrow’s landing place?
420: What is the arrow that we find at the end of the clue? [16]
At the place where the line of Apollo’s arrow falls we are told we must “hasten to find it”, to discover only one arrow. The arrow is some kind of imagery in this hunt. Why is it necessary to suggest that its length is less than the route it will have made? What is this arrow?
560: What does “searching for the opening” consist of? [17]
Max suggests that from Carusburc, it is impossible to see the Heavenly Light through the Opening. This suggests “looking for the opening” might mean some movement on our map to get into the axis of the Opening and the Light. Or should we carry out the movement when we are on the axis of the Opening and the Light? Since the course seems to be interrupted when we see the Nave through the Opening, are the Opening, the Light and the Nave aligned? What exactly does “seeking the opening” consist of?
560: Where does the journey end? [18]
When we see the Nave through the Opening, Neptune is helping us. He is the god of fresh water and salt water, so we must be in an ocean or a large lake. Since Neptune interrupts his help at this point, are we on a shore? And what is this place? Is the orientation “back to Albion” enough to find it?
560: What is the ‘Becalmed Nave’? [19]
“La Nef”, located in mainland France, is tangible and above sea level. The word nave suggests a church or ship. Max said it has seen crowds pass or go there. What is this calmed ship? Is it the same entity as the perched black ship?
650: Where are we in the 650? [20]
Are we where Neptune left us after he gave us his help? Are we near the Becalmed Nave? Are we beyond the Nave on the “line we won’t regret”?
650: What does the “71721075” series of numbers correspond to? [21]
These numbers must be related to the other puzzles. How? Overall? Taken separately? Should this block of digits be decrypted or is it designed to be used as it is?
650: What are the sentinels/sentries? [22]
Max said these sentinels have a generic name without having a proper name, and their number is confirmed in one of the clues. They watch over something important in the context of the game and can be considered in their military sense of the term. They are massive but you cannot physically see them from a distance of 8000 measurements. We can only touch them separately even if at the foot of any one of them we can see the others. What are these sentries who get wet in rainy weather?
520: What does “them” represent? [23]
‘Between them, there would only be two gaps, if they were aligned.’ It is conceivable that this “them” is already encountered in a certain form in one of the preceding clues. Max said it represents something tangible. Does the word “them” relate to the sentinels?
520: What are the “threads”? [24]
What are these threads? Max said they are tied together by a single knot and can be counted once untied.
520: What doubt will remain? [25]
What will be the ‘doubt’ that will be inflicted on us at the end of the game? Is it the announcement of a super-solution?
Your ability to dig up the Owl might be determined by the number of correct answers given to the above questions.

Less than 10: You still have a lot of work to do!

Between 10 and 14: You have some good ideas but it’s unlikely you’ll find the Owl until you know more.

Between 15 and 20: Not bad! Persevere and you should be able to identify the final zone on the 989 map.

Over 20: Well done! You have every chance of digging in the right place. But this is a difficult game and most likely you need to be able to answer EACH of the 25 questions to uncover the Owl!

Good luck!

NEW The Secret Notebooks (4th edition 2019)

A new edition of the Trail of the Golden Owl book is now published. 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 new game rules state that you must hold a copy of the clue book to claim the golden owl prize.

This new edition of the Chouette d’Or book includes the original clues, along with an earlier 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?)

Sheet blue.

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 the navel and the heart is first from where Dix left in thirty, is second and his faithful Abraham, is third at the divine cellars, is fourth  at the smoking towers, is fifth in its golden case, is sixth shame of the reckless, is seventh victim of the duke, is eighth where was lost a Louis, is ninth, 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?)

Sheet yellow.

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. 



BDI, J. DF, F. CFD. BJ. HJ. EA, B. BC. E. DC, B.
BC. E.

Notes for illustration: A hand comes out of the water and holds a huge key.

Sheet orange.

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).

Sheet blue-green.

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.

Clue 8: 420 enigma, FROM THE SKY COMES THE LIGHT

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
CA-10752-10752-ER THE
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.

Sheet violet.

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.’

Clue 9: 560 enigma AD AUGUSTA PER ANGUSTA

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)

Earth opens

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.

Sheet green-blue.

Version 2 (An intermediate version provided by Becker)

Earth Opens

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)

Earth Opens

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! 

The spiral with four centres

The 500 enigma introduces the concept of a ‘Spiral with four centres.’ It is described this way:

At Carignan take the orthogonal. 
To find the Spiral with four centres, 
560,606 measures, it is far.

This suggests we take a right angle from a line plotted to Carignan, then measure 185km or 18.5cm on the Michelin map and either find or draw a spiral.

This spiral is described very precisely as ‘four centred’ and many owl hunters suggest this may mean drawing a spiral that’s an involute of a square. I had a go and it is actually quite easy to draw a spiral with four arcs using a bow compass or even a taut piece of string.

WikiChouette makes the point that any four sided polygon, not necessarily a square, can be used to create a spiral with four compass arcs – technically four circle centres. Unfortunately the directions in the 500 clue do not provide clear guidance on any starting point square or polygon.


In mathematics, a spiral is a curve which emanates from a point, moving farther away as it revolves around the point. There are several variations of a mathematical spiral, and there is no clear information on which version to use or what size to draw this spiral.

Some versions of spirals include an Archimedean spiral.

Fermat’s spiral.

A Fibonacci Spiral (the golden spiral)

A logarithmic spiral

The spiral of Theodorus

and more!

It is worth bearing in mind that Max must have intended any geometric spiral to be drawn using a bow compass which limits the size of this feature on the map.  There are two appearances of bow compasses in the clue images, one in the 500 which adds weight to the idea that we use a compass here, and there is a picture of a compass in a North symbol in the 420 clue. It’s not clear how this fits with the clue about Golfe Juan, Apollo and his arrow. Does it suggest we draw another spiral?

Some people do not believe this is a mathematical spiral at all and instead think the spiral is some feature or place that must be found on the map. Of course spirals can be found in many places, from curving paths like the famous one in Dabo, spiral staircases, architectural features, and in nature, like the spiral shell in the 560 clue image.

While spirals are everywhere it’s harder to make a case for a spiral with four centres. This mysterious spiral remains one of the biggest sticking points of the hunt.

More information:

Mathematical spirals described at Wikipedia.

The Archmidean spiral at MathCurve.



The 11 clues on one page


Gives the clue order using the colour wavelength numbers for each of the clues.


1 = 530

3 = 470

5 = 600

7 = 420

9 = 650




Gives seven letters that spell out the name of the city Bourges.


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 be wise,
Because the Truth, in truth, will not be a Devinator’s affair.



Gives the game measure, most likely 33cm, but much of this clue is mysterious.


Where you want,
By the nag and the coachman.
But where you must,
By the compass and the foot.








Gives letters that spell out the name of a town, ‘A_Ronceveaux.’

My first by gaiety is multiplying.
My Second offers you space,
My Third is of the air, and my Fourth is of the water.
When he’s lying down, my Fifth snores.
My sixth is worth a hundred, and my seventh is a node.
My eighth has the taste of the laurel,
while my ninth, in astonishment, is dragging.
My tenth is still naked when he has an affair.
My eleventh, finally, is the unknown.

Find my All, and through the Opening you will see the light.


Gives 10 towns in alphabetical order, the final key is A=0 B=1 etc., which is used as a key to solve the next clue.  So it means Bourges will be worth 1, Cherbourg worth 2, Dieppe worth 3, Epernay worth 4, Forbach worth 5, Gerardmer worth 6, Héricourt worth 7, Issoire worth 8, Jarnac worth 9, Angers worth 0.

THE GOOD WAY, IT IS THE WAY OF THE OPPOSITE WAY, AND VICE VERSA will be worth 1 will be worth 2 will be worth 3 will be worth 4 will be worth 5 will be worth 6 will be worth 7 will be worth 8 will be worth 9 will be worth 0


The key of the last clue is used to produce an unsolved clue phrase, ‘The key is on the black perched ship.’


BDI, J. DF, F. CFD. BJ. HJ. EA, B. BC. E. DC, B.
BC. E.







Gives the town of Carignan, where we must take a right angle to find a four-centred Spiral at 185km.


At 2424-42-424-44-224-24-42-24, take the orthogonal.
To find the Spiral with four centers,
560,606 measures it’s far
But by the Mega it is a million times less.







Decodes to give the town of Golfe Juan, where Apollo fires an arrow 559km towards a 650m zenith.


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
CA-10752-10752-ER THE
E-365 Y-CAP Y LAI-10752-10752-ER 10752-E-10752

Then lend a bow to Apollo :
from there, he will count 1969,697 measures towards the zenith.
In a 46,241,860th fraction of sidereal day ,
his line will fall.
Hurry to find the arrow.


We are at Cherbourg, with England at our back, and we must look for the Opening, drawing lines on the map.


When, at Carusburc , you will have Albion in the back,
Look for the Opening that reveals the Heavenly Light.
Do not wait, do not ask for your rest, But get ready to walk on the water.
Twice, Neptune will come to your rescue And lead you away from the icy North.
Pursue your way and do not interrupt your journey
Before seeing through the opening, the becalmed Nave.
Without deviating an inch, draw a line, and you will not regret what you did.


Having solved the previous 9 clues we have found the mysterious ‘Sentinels.’ We review them at 2.64km from the end location of the previous clue.


Back to the Ponant, seek the Sentinels.
At 8000 measures from there, they are waiting for you.
Find them, you need to review them.







A final clue suggesting information that will help us when we dig for the buried owl prize.



Between them, there would be only two intervals if they were aligned.
But this would be too easy a game!
Now that you have undone all the yarns,
Doubt is the last torment that will be inflicted on you.
Because it is the rule of this cruel game:
Alone, you have to find where to land your shovel.
Show your respect for Mother Nature,
And before getting away, close the injury.

The legal status of the Golden Owl prize

This treasure hunt was set up in 1993, and the book’s publisher has since gone out of business, and Max Valentin, the designer of the puzzle, and co-author of the Chouette d’Or book, has died.

The original rules of the puzzle state there is no time limit to the game. ‘ It is not limited in time, but will be closed the day of the discovery of the cache.’

The rules also state, ‘The Prize is a statuette of gold, silver and stones, representing an owl sculpted by Michel Becker. Its value is about one million francs. In no case can it be exchanged for its cash value.

The rules continue, ‘The book provides the clues needed to solve the riddle. The first person who has deciphered the final enigma to locate the cache is deemed to be the winner.’

In October 2021 Michel Becker, the book’s illustrator, was given contractual control of the treasure hunt by the descendents of Max Valentin. His Editions de la Chouette d’Or company is now running the hunt, and there are clear rules on their website, and a bailiff, Maitre Blanche Neige-Schmitt, overseeing the hunt to ensure the fair enforcement of the rules. You can read a translated copy of the rules here, or learn more about the handover of the game to Michel Becker here.


The final stage – The super solution

The first stage of the treasure hunt uses the 11 enigmas to find a location on a map of France. Max said this stage reveals an area the size of an average city. So how to find exactly where to dig?

Max said that when you understand the clues to solve the puzzle there are elements leftover, he called these ‘remnants.’ The ‘super solution’ to discover the owl’s location uses these remnant clues.

It’s likely that the super solution will be a few words long, just a short sentence that clearly defines where to dig. It might be something like, ‘5 metres from the left foot of the statue’ or ’10 metres opposite the town clock.’ It will be a clear direction that means the owl can be found simply.

Putting together the super solution is really only possible when the 11 enigmas are solved, it would be difficult to know which elements of the enigmas are ‘remnants’ until we have solved the treasure hunt.

See also

What we know about the owl’s location

Mandits for the Super Solution on Zarquos site (French) 

Towns and cities

There are five places clearly revealed by the clues, Bourges, Ronceveaux, Carignan, Golfe Juan, Cherbourg. There are also some vague or unknown locations described by clues.

There are 10 towns listed in enigma 580 but many people believe these are only used for decoding clue 600.

The game places are revealed in the following order.

Clue 1 : B enigma – None.

Clue 2 : 530 – Bourges

Clue 3 : 780 – None.

Clue 4 : 470 – Ronceveaux

Clue 5 : 580 – Bourges, Cherbourg, Dieppe, Epernay, Forbach, Gerardmer, Héricourt, Issoire, Jarnac, Angers. These may just be used to decode the 600 enigma.

Clue 6: 600 –  “The key hides on a black perched ship” This may be a place.

Clue 7: 500 – Carignan

Clue 8: 420 – Golfe Juan

Clue 9: 560 – Cherbourg, “the Opening” (Bourges?) “the becalmed nave”

Clue 10: 650 – “the Sentinals”

Clue 11: 520 – None

We know we need to trace lines on the map, probably connecting the locations in the order they are revealed.

The five locations clearly revealed by the clues.


These towns appear to align with Bourges as a central point


All the named Golden Owl locations (excluding “Albion” and Preneste which are outside France.)

The sticking points – Why is this mystery still unsolved?

There are many elements of the Golden Owl treasure hunt that are understood and accepted by the ‘chouetteur’ community, but several sticking points that prevent progress from being made.

Taking the clues in order I will try to highlight the major sticking points.

Clue B – Gives the game order, its solved.

Clue 530 – Reveals the city Bourges.

Clue 780 – Reveals the game measure (likely 33cm) and probably more, perhaps a direction, but the ‘coach and bad horse’ concept of this clue is little understood.

Clue 470 – Reveals Ronceveaux,  but also through the Opening you will see the light.

Clue 580 – Reveals 10 towns, used to solve the next puzzle. It’s not clear if the towns have some other purpose.

Clue 600 – Big sticking point, the mysterious phrase, The key is on the black perched ship.’

Clue 500 – Reveals Carignan, but what is the spiral with four centers at 560.606 measures?

Clue 420 – Reveals Golfe Juan, but from there we need to plot the fall of an arrow flying at 1969,697 measures towards the zenith.

Clue 560 – Reveals Cherbourg, but we don’t understand  the opening that reveals heavenly light or  how Neptune helps twice, or the meaning of seeing the ‘Nave becalmed’, through the Opening.

Clue 650 – Describes how to process the clues that have come before, there are Sentinels at 8000 measures from ‘here’ and we need to decode the number 71721075 that is drawn in the image.

Clue 520 – Suggests the final place to dig for the owl, at this stage you need to understand the remnant clues that give the super solution.

So, to solve this puzzle you will need to:

  • Understand the meaning of the coachman and bad horse in the 780
  • Understand the meaning of the ‘light’ seen through the opening and also described in clue 560 and 600.
  • Decide whether the 10 towns of clue 580 have some extra function.
  • Discover the meaning of ‘The key is on the black perched ship.’
  • Know what the spiral with four centers means.
  • Know where Apollo’s arrow lands when it’s fired from Golfe Juan.
  • Plot a route from Cherbourg as described in 560, understanding the meaning of Neptune’s help and the meaning of the ‘becalmed nave.’
  • Know how to use the places discovered through the 11 clues with the number 71721075 and some ‘sentinels’ that have been revealed.
  • Know which game phrases and concepts have not been used before and are clue ‘remnants’ that reveal the super solution of exactly where to dig.

General pointers :

There is almost certainly some simple game ‘trick’ that makes sense of the towns and cities that have been revealed.

The clue order probably matters, there is an important progression from one to the next.

Insights and personal theories into the meaning of repeating game concepts such as ‘light,’ sentinels, ‘the Opening’ will give ideas for progressing the game.

There are many small mysteries alongside the big ones listed here! It’s quite possible that someone exploring a small game mystery will stumble upon something that solves this 25-year long game.

The additional clues and ‘mandits‘ have been explored as much as the original 11 enigmas, yet they don’t seem to have progressed the game an awful lot. Max said the owl could be found by studying the book alone. In my opinion he spent years carefully avoiding giving any meaningful answers in those mandit Q&A! However the mandits can be very useful to check theories.

The topics that Max refused to be drawn on in his ‘mandits’ are almost certainly key to solving this puzzle. Max refused to answer questions on the light, the methods for linking each enigma, the spiral with four centers, the becalmed nave, and (understandably) any clear description of the final location.

The game images, drawn by Becker, were added after the basic concept and clues were devised by Max. It’s worth bearing in mind the fact this was originally devised as a text only treasure hunt! The images were drawn based on Max’s descriptions with Becker having no understanding of the game solution. It’s hard to be sure of the role the pictures play, clearly when Max knew the book would have visual elements he incorporated them. Clues such as the 650 and 500 have important visual elements.

It’s expensive and almost certainly unnecessary to buy a copy of the out of print original book ($220 on Amazon) however I found it useful to print a bound copy using a downloaded PDF of the clues. This cost me about £10 including shipping, I used Dox Direct. but any online printer will do!

Next Page »