Josh Gates searches for a treasure from the book The Secret in Golden Gate Park of San Francisco, California.

The Secret Treasure Hunt Explained for Beginners

No, not that Secret.

October 23, 2019

Are you a fan of impossibly hard riddles? Then you might be interested in joining an elite society of treasure hunters centered around a book called The Secret.

Mysterious painting by John Jude Palencar

Mysterious painting by John Jude Palencar

What is The Secret anyway?

Not to be confused with the popular 2006 self-help book about using the laws of attraction, this Secret could manifest you some real cash. Okay, onto the good stuff.

In 1982, author Byron Preiss published a puzzle book that combines 12 short poems and 12 elaborate paintings by renowned fantasy illustrator, John Jude Palencar.

Paired together correctly, each painting and verse leads to different north American cities, where Preiss, often disguised as a construction worker, went to local parks and buried ceramic casques encased in plexi-glass boxes. The key inside each casque can be exchanged for a jewel - and even more valuable, bragging rights.

According to the book:

"The jewels collectively are worth over ten thousand dollars. The treasure casques themselves are of incalculable value, never having been owned by man or woman." - The Secret

Pretty enticing stuff.

Solve the riddle, find the location of a buried key. Sounds easy.

It's harder than it sounds. Seriously. So far, only 2 of the 12 boxes have been found since the book was published.

That's just 2 boxes in over 3 decades. Preiss may have overestimated how complicated the riddles were. Still to this day, there are treasure hunters dedicated to solving all 12 riddles.

So how were the first locations found?

The first of the 12 puzzles was cracked not long after the book was published by a group of young students in Chicago. In 2004, a second box was uncovered in Cleveland. Then, in a tragic turn of events, Preiss died in a car accident, taking the locations of the remaining 10 to his grave

Alright I'm intrigued, but why is this all coming up again now?

Over the last few years Expedition Unknown host Josh Gates has received thousands of messages with people claiming to have solved The Secret, but one fan just cut through the chatter with an image that made Josh’s jaw drop: the broken corner of a ceramic clock-face. Josh is one of only a handful of people to have seen Byron Preiss’ puzzle boxes in person, and there’s no doubt that this is part of one - causing Josh to drop everything and fly half a world away to join the new investigation

Get a Sneak Peak 00:28

Josh Gates is on the verge of finding a new piece of the puzzle that no one has cracked for nearly 40 years: The Secret. Is this discovery the real deal? Josh is dropping everything to find out in a special Expedition Unknown season finale event.


Josh and Coy Lothrop dig for treasure in Charleston, South Carolina (2006). No box found.

Josh and Coy Lothrop dig for treasure in Charleston, South Carolina (2006). No box found.

Where did the box come from and how the hell did this guy get it?

The puzzle-solver won’t say much other than that he believes he’s located one of the hidden treasures and has part of the box to prove it. Josh is on a mission to find out if the next chapter in the world of The Secret is about to be written.

Find out if the third treasure has been located in the Expedition Unknown season finale event, Wednesday Oct. 30 at 9p on Discovery and the Discovery GO app.

Expedition Unknown | The Return Of The Secret 01:39

The secret is a continent-sized treasure hunt that's been going on for close to 40 years. In 1982 publisher Byron Preiss buries 12 treasure boxes in 12 North American cities and releases a book of enigmatic images and verses, offering clues to their locations: find a box and you recover a key, which can be redeemed for a valuable gemstone. To date, just 2 boxes have been found.

Next Up

Exorcisms, the Ark of the Covenant, and Ethiopia: The Adventures of Justin Fornal

"There are all different kinds of demons inside of people, some of them go easy, some want to negotiate, others want to fight."

Can Coach John Calipari Survive the Alaskan Frontier? The Kilchers Put Him to the Test!

Earlier this year, the Kentucky Wildcats’ head coach claimed he had the chops to go off-grid, so the Kilchers quizzed him on his survival skills.

Tanzania: Beyond the Wildlife

Most people know that Tanzania is home of the Serengeti and an amazing diversity of wildlife. The country is made up of 430 species of wildlife and 17 national parks. But did you know that it’s where 51 million people call home as well?

The Island of the Dolls Has a Murky and Terrifying History

There's just something really thrilling about a place with a dark and mysterious past. Take La Isla de las Muñecas, for example. An island covered with decaying old dolls strung up in trees is pretty creepy on its own — even before you get to the dark origin story.

Colin O'Brady is Taking on the Drake Passage in The Impossible Row

Discovery will follow the epic journey through the Drake Passage this December.

Is This Mars-like Desert the World’s Best Spot to Watch the Stars?

Forget Chile’s Atacama Desert, or Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. A petrified forest in Colombia is where you want to go for the best stargazing on the planet.

This Little-Known Hiking Path Explores One of the Deepest Gorges in the World

A trek through China's Tiger Leaping Gorge is a journey into the country's most ethnically diverse region, where beauty and fear hang intoxicatingly in the air.

Colin O'Brady's Extreme Training Routine for The Impossible Row

How do you survive a nonstop row across the Drake Passage? With the hardest and coldest training routine you can think of.

What 200 Hours of Rowing Does to the Human Body

The Impossible Row team burned through over 100,000 calories each from start to finish.

The Black Drink, Ethnobotany, and a Lost Civilization in Florida

The yaupon holly, North America’s only native plant that contains caffeine, creates a powerful elixir known as the Black Drink.