The rabbit’s card shows up in Chapter 19 (PARTY). It is given to Amanda by the rabbit, with the following comment:
« Here is a clue, but I will mask it. »
The card is also characterized as follows:
Though she did not yet understand, it was a card of many meanings.
This card is most unusual in the sense that it seems to be directed at us and clearly refers to some kind of puzzle, whereas most of the book is seemingly concerned with storytelling. Unsurprisingly, this card attracted a lot of attention from treasure hunters.
Let us go in more details through this proposed solution (described here).
Decipher the first
This involves solving for the seven circles. Their solution was related to the cipher alphabet used by Mary Queen of Scots. Here are the seven letters of this alphabet found on various pages of the book.
Read in page order and transformed to our alphabet, this forms the word FESTOON. Note that page 40 has two strange constellations in the shape of symbol X, each deciphered as O.
At this point, we have the following (using colors to represent shapes):
Leave the second unaltered
The second requires only one letter, represented by the square. But this letter, a J, is split between two different pages: one image is cut out of the other in the shape of a state.
We add the J to our clue card:
Interpret the third
There are six diamonds. We are therefore looking for six letters. It turns out that we only have to find a single: Z. It is found in the design of the carpet on page 53. It is then interpreted as meaning IZZARD, another name for the letter Z. This is not an easy one to find, but it occurs in LODGE, next to the open door showing a BLIZZARD outside. Perhaps a clue.
We add IZZARD to the clue card:
Translate the fourth
Here, Castenada and Boone provide a weird explanation, having nothing to do with finding letters hidden in images, like we did for the first three words. Their solution incolves cutting out the green ice crystals on page 50 and use the page as a grille on page 10 (after superposing the matching pattern on these two pages). This reveals a text: « He did it himself ». They then translated this text to Latin: « Ipse Fecit » and used the abbreviation of the latin term as the answer: IF.
This is a very clumsy answer (try to use the grille and you’ll know what I mean!). Too many steps with no clear indication as to why this should be the procedure to follow. They possibly guessed the answer by working backward, trying different letter combinations until they got something meaningful, and then tried to find a way to get it from the book.
I will now provide what I consider a better way to get the fourth word. There is a the following sentence in Chapter 13 (LODGE):
It was built entirely from roughly hewn woods, with many levels and countless doors.
The clue is in the term « hewn wood ». More specifically in the antlers of the dear on page 55, spelling the word YEW, a tree that translates in French to IF.
This completes the clue card.
Apply the Key
The second line above does not make any sense. The solution is to pass this line (viewed as cipher text) through a Vigenere matrix, using MAP as the key. This key indicates which alphabet is used to decrypt each of the letter. Depending on the letter, one of three alphabets will be used: M, A, P. These are the relevant alphabets.
We get TRY ROUTE TWO DOZEN, which corresponds to Road 24, where Tennessee Pass is found.
A card of many meanings
Is the Castaneda/Boone solution correct? It provides four words made up of concealed letters found in the book (if we accept my solution for word 4 – IF) , and using a very plausible key we get a readable text corresponding to the location of the treasure. This is hardly a coincidence.
My problem with this solution is three-fold:
- It requires a lot of crypto knowledge. In particular, the Mary Queen of Scots cipher text and corresponding latin letters are not readily available, particularly considering that this puzzle was made at a time where internet was not available. Even a quick search on the internet does not readily provide the required information.
- It does not take into account the last part of the card: « Look further and apply the master scheme herein ».
- I found another solution (4 different words) that is more closely aligned with the text of Chapter 19 (PARTY) and appears to provides important information toward the solution of the puzzle.
I will expand on point 3 later, when I provide an alternate solution to the card. For now, let me just say that although the Castaneda/Boone solution seems to be genuine in providing a valuable clue, it may be hiding the more complex, but more important solution to the puzzle.
Point 2 has to do with the structure of the transformation. What happens if we reapply the « master scheme » (i.e. the same transformation) to row 2? And then to row 3? etc.
The result is the above table. Only numbers are shown. There are 10 rows. Reapplying the scheme to row 10 brings us back to the first row. It seems that a 16 x 10 grid must be created. This is another meaning of the card. The columns have interesting properties:
- Column 1 does not change, number 1 being repeated 10 times
- The ten columns 2-3-5-6-7-8-11-12-13-16 go through these same 10 numbers
- The five columns 4-9-10-14-15 repeat these same 5 numbers twice
I believe that this is significant because the same pattern is found in the movie on videotape, where we have only 15 numbers and a different transformation.
Here is the associated transformation, forming a 15 x 10 grid:
The columns have the following properties:
- The ten columns 3-4-5-7-8-9-11-12-14-15 go through these same 10 numbers.
- The five columns 1-2-6-10-13 go through these same 5 numbers twice.
Note that the laser videodisc version has a totally different approach. Here is the scene in slow motion:
We have a chess puzzle! The first image says « WHITE TO MATE IN THREE ».