Dear everyone--

First I would like to congratulate Starthinker and his son for his find. It is certainly hard to be the one to cast doubt on the circumstances leading to such a wonderful discovery by an excited 14 year old. And I also recognize that my contention is merely a question of timing and fairness, not inspiration--it is obvious that every hunter who simultaneously discovered the snail's location should be equally congratulated on his or her achievement, and it is equally obvious that we all owe a great debt to the larger hero of this situation, Elrohir, for his discovery and illustrations over the weekend (without which it is likely we'd all still be in the dark).

Upon hearing the exact circumstances of my friend Dave’s trip to the Anita Lake State Park in Iowa, I feel that he was the victim of more than just bad luck. I think that it is important that I share his experience with the forum (despite his reluctance to publicize this story) because I believe that it is in everyone’s self-interest as people solve new puzzles and seek the remaining tokens.

It is my belief that Dave (who posts on Tweleve as Calvin from time to time) was the very first "trover" to the tree at the park (a tree that resembled the one on page 65). He arrived there at approximately 4:15 AM CST on Wednesday morning, 5/25 (soon after the park opened). He had solved the puzzle in California in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and flown to Minnesota and then to Iowa on Tuesday afternoon. In a post by Bass021 (early Thursday morning), he says how a note was found in the exact treehole when the next hunter discovered it at 10:30AM (Wednesday). No one has posited that anyone was there before the placement of this note in the hole, and I am assuming that no one would question that this note is the first indication of an intentional knowledge that this was the exact location of the snail token. Bass021 mentioned Dave by (first) name. If there is any doubt to the validity of this story, either I or Dave have phone records, e-mail records, plane trip and car rental receipts, and pictorial evidence of him at the tree, including a photo of the note he had just placed in the hole. As Starthinker did not arrive until hours later, there is no evidence in these pictures of a spike. Dave phoned his wife, who from California wrote an e-mail to Mr. Stadther about his discovery--before any other hunter claims to have visited the tree. If anyone can posit and prove any claim that, having solved the snail puzzle, they beat Dave to the tree (i.e. any time before 4:15 AM Wednesday morning), I will not speak of this issue again.

As he describes it to me, Dave explored every accessible square centimeter of the knothole thoroughly, sifting through as many layers of the soft topsoil as he was able without digging to the extent of damaging the knothole. Being at an Iowa park at 4:00 in the morning on the day after (and before) he had to be back at his job in California, he certainly made it a point to search as adamantly as I believe the rules of this contest allow.

Normally, Dave and I would just have to live with the gut-wrenching oddity that he traveled 1,500 miles and did not find something despite knowing exactly where it was. This was apparently the unfortunate fate of other hunters after us, before Starthinker's finding. But my problem is not simply with the bitterness accompanying such luck, but with the contest rules. Before I go on, I would like to stress that none of this, of course, is the fault of Starthinker, but of the hiding place and its maintenance. According to Starthinker's account, he and his son had to dig into the knothole more than once to find the token. Clearly, they did not see it at first glance or even at first dig. Dave was adhering to what he and I believe are the clear rules of this hunt: As it says both in the poem and in the fine print guidelines, "no digging or prying, just reach inside." It also says that nothing is to be disturbed throughout the land, and I think it is a credible argument to say that the knothole had to be, at the very least, "disturbed" to dig deeply and extensively enough to get to the token. A comparison of the photos shot by Dave and by Starthinker show (in my opinion) considerable destruction to the treehole, an act which seems like it was utterly NECESSARY for the acquisition of the snail token. (Dave’s can be retrieved, hopefully, by looking at my http://www.ofoto.com account, then looking at the only album (7 pictures) that is there. Because I never used this site until Dave sent me these photos, I have nothing special to protect. My e-mail address is gellahz@aol.com, and my password for the site is “tweleve,” to be convenient. Starthinker’s pictures can be found at http://www.starthinker.com, and then by clicking the “A Treasures Trove” page.) Even if one were to believe that the poem should serve in some cases as just a “guideline”, I have to believe that no token should require someone to compromise its tenets. The crux of my post, then, might be just to alert the forum that a circumstance could arise whereby they may be forced to bend or break at least the above specific guidelines in order to find one of the 11 remaining tokens.

By this time, Mr. Stadther or his associates have heard Dave's story. They may well rule against us (possession is 9/10 of the law, maybe), but they are at least aware of what I consider to be Dave’s legitimate desire to share the accolades of this find. I hate that I have to be the bearer of (possible) confusion or potentially sour the dominant story of the last 48 hours in the forum. But Dave and I have also invested our heart, effort and frustration into this hunt, and it is disheartening (among other things) to have to relinquish a token under these circumstances, circumstances under which I believe he did everything correctly. If anything of substance occurs, I will alert the forum. I hope that any backlash of comments against me (or Dave) is not overwhelming.
--Steve, "Milltycoon"