Seoul treasure hunt has key to $450 prize

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 27, 2015 - 21:06
  • Updated : May 28, 2015 - 16:13

If you think the locks fixed to railings on Seoul’s Mount Namsan are a dime a dozen, think again. One of them could be worth 500,000 won ($450).

The first person to solve the puzzles to find one of three keys hidden in public places in Seoul that open the special lock will claim the top prize.

Brian Van Hise, who runs the group organizing the treasure hunt, Stompy Ruffers Cultural Fusion, estimated that about 500 people were working on the clues, but said that the hunt was still wide open. He got the idea from taking part in a treasure hunt set up by David Blaine, in which people had to solve puzzles to uncover clues and claim a $100,000 prize.

“I did a road trip with my friend from my home state in the U.S. to California. We didn’t find it, but I was so darn excited,” he said.

Brian Van Hise (center) and volunteers pose with a prize-winning lock to promote Stompy Ruffers Cultural Fusion’s Great Seoul Treasure Hunt. (Stompy Ruffers)

Sadly for Van Hise, someone else got to the prize first, though not until after more than a year of searching.

“It was a really fun experience. Hopefully people will get that during the Seoul treasure hunt.”

He hopes this hunt won’t take quite so long, as with a similar hunt Stompy Ruffers ran in Daegu last year. Van Hise said about 80 people joined in and it took 10 days for the winners to solve the clues and claim the 100,000 won prize.

He said the hunt got a lot of feedback and people asked him to hold one in Seoul, so he teamed up with Talk to Me in Korean, a company that provides online support for Korean language learning, to set up the hunt, which began May 16.

The choice of partner is apt, as many of the clues involve Korean language. This is something Van Hise did for the Daegu hunt, with the idea that it could get Koreans and expats working together to solve the clues.

“That was always the focus even with the Daegu hunt, to create a mix of English and Korean clues. So some of them will be easier for expats and others will be easier for Koreans. The idea was to get both working together, so maybe you’d grab your Korean friend to help you.”

But don’t try asking Van Hise for help. He said requests keep coming in, but he can only wish them luck, though some hints are on the group’s Facebook page.

“The thing is, with this kind of treasure hunting, it’s very, very specific. If somebody solves the trick, there is absolutely no guesswork. It pinpoints the exact location. Nobody should have to go to a spot and have to wander around,” he said, though he added there would be some searching for the right lock on Mount Namsan at the end.

Stompy Ruffers is a volunteer group that organizes cross-cultural events, content and services, including a summer adolescent mentoring program, fusion food at festivals and videos. The group plans to hold another treasure hunt separately in Daegu this fall.

For clues to this year’s hunt and more information, visit

By Paul Kerry (