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Treasure hunter says ‘tarry scant’ to solve Fenn’s puzzle

To say the rock was ‘slippery’ is putting it mildly.

Moment I set foot on it, I was gone. My feet flew skyward and I plunged down hard onto the rock and into the icy creek below, fortunately landing on my shoulder and not my head in the process.

The resulting bruise lasted more than a month, proving that a few inches higher and I would have cracked my skull and drowned.

Point is I was one of the lucky ones, whereas at least four other treasure hunters were not. Sadly, they did not survive their own slippery rocks. Worse, they probably died for scant, as in “nothing.”

The hunt started in 2011 when a Santa Fe antiquities dealer named Forrest Fenn self-published a memoir titled “The Thrill of the Chase” containing a poem that he claimed, if solved, would lead to the “end of his rainbow and the treasure.” More specifically, a small bronze chest filled with riches hidden in the U.S. Rocky Mountains, somewhere from Canada to New Mexico.

The poem spawned an entire cottage industry devoted to the hunt, sending tens of thousands into the wilderness to search with hopes high. Yet, in the eight years since, the chest has not been found. Why not?

Because, if you actually solve his poem, your reward is not a treasure chest – no, your prize instead is a mea culpa from the author himself. And it’s “hidden but not buried,” as Fenn put it, in plain sight. So obvious, in fact, that all you have to do is take a good, hard look at a single lonely line in his poem.

The fateful line is: “But tarry scant with marvel gaze.”

This phrase is the most obscure in the entire piece, as well as the clue most Fenn hunters gloss over, a product of its intentionally confusing design. It is almost universally translated as “delay little with amazed look.”

Yet that interpretation is merely a fancy, nonsensical way of saying “look quickly” – which is already in the previous line of the poem and is actually one of the many clues pointing (directly) to the “tarry scant” line.

How then do we “tarry scant with marvel gaze?”

Traditionally, to tarry something as a verb means to “inspect”, “visit”, “look up” or even “smother with tar” and, of course, gaze is “to stare at something intently.” Therefore, the line is asking the reader to “inspect, stare at and study” the word scant.

Or literally, “smother scant with smart eyes.”

It fits, too, as Forrest once admitted there is a single word in the poem that’s key to solving the puzzle. Therefore scant is that word and we’re being instructed to analyze it judiciously with a marvel gaze or “with genius eyes.” And that’s where it all falls to pieces.

For one thing, scant means “bare” or “barren,” as well as “deficient,” “little,” “void” and “short of amount indicated,” but look further down the Collins English Dictionary and the origins of the word make your heart skip.

Scant comes from the “Old Norse skamt, or skammr/short, related to Old High German scam.”

That’s the result if you inspect, visit, smother or tar the word scant – nothing, the chest is barren, void and the author admits it boldly right in the middle of the poem.

Forrest has said every word is deliberate, so he certainly knows these tidbits about scant and wouldn’t use the word otherwise. A giant red flag planted in the poem’s center.

So why did he do it? Further down the poem, he offers his reasoning: “I’ve done it tired.” In this case, tired refers to “jaded,” “disgusted” and perhaps most apt: “fed up,” as in “I am so tired of people killing the environment,” for instance.

His secret is brilliantly conspicuous (as in “blaze”), showing he ultimately wanted it found, puzzled over and debated. Angry social and environmental activism is likely the motive (beyond gonzo book sales).

Yet this highlights why I feel compelled to reveal his secret with urgency: people have perished looking, essentially, for one word. At the very least, the hunt must end before anyone else gets hurt attempting to find the poem’s scant admission.

Yes, instead of the rich jubilance of discovery, I have to inform others that they, like me, were skamt in a grand scam.

To say Fenn’s rock is “slippery” is to put it mildly, so let this scant key act as the shoulder others land upon before four inevitably becomes five … and beyond.

Miguel Antonio Fiol, of Minnesota, is an entrepreneur, writer and amateur treasure hunter who has spent nearly a year deciphering Forrest Fenn’s poem. In 2015, he gained attention when said he’d discovered that five planets – Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus – were aligned in the shape of a man on a crucifix on the day Jesus is believed to have died.