Quests from Real Life

Three tales define the Quest Box experience.

Artfully designed Quests affect our minds in unexpectedly powerful, even “mythic and medieval” ways. Grant McCracken writes:

“What I like particularly is the sensation we get when we first hear about the [Quest Box]. It’s as if something has operated on the tumblers of consciousness. Something seems to click. We hear about the box and snap to. We awaken. We smile. We are charmed.”

Three Defining Tales

Great Quests “incorporate a profound and unexpected interplay between Master, Subject, Destination, and Treasure.” Observe how the following stories unfold with this principle in mind.

[+] California, 2010: “Hand in Hand”

A young woman gives her father a curious present for his 65th birthday, something that leaves him in tears at the end of a 3000-mile journey.
It was her father’s 65th birthday. One the day of event, Jess ceremoniously presented her visiting parents a curious piece of electronic art: a beautiful locked wooden box with a button on its lid.

When they first turned it on, a pretty blue display suggested something astonishing: from the back garden of their daughter’s Pasadena home, it was nearly 2800 miles to the “special place” where it would open.

The initial consensus was that this mysterious destination must be their house in New Hampshire- Jess’s childhood home. But when they repeated the experiment a few days later back in New England, they found themselves still a distant 100 miles away. So the box was consigned to a living room bookshelf, where it languished.

Into the Woods

Weeks later the pair set off again with maps and pencils, intent on finally solving their daughter’s puzzle. Following its clues, they drove off into the New England wilderness, first confidently, and then less so as the surrounding woods grew deeper and darker.

And then suddenly the box unlocked at what seemed the unlikeliest of destinations: the dilapidated mountain resort where, decades ago, the family had skied together. None of them had been back here since Jess was a very young girl.

And here’s where the threads of the great quest come together. In the shadow of the old ski lift, some 3000 miles from his starting point, Jess’s father lifted the unlocked lid and found…

  • three dusty old Polaroids, showing him and a giggly seven-year-old skiing happily together hand in hand
  • some ancient family ski passes, lovingly culled from an old scrapbook
  • two glossy new lift tickets
  • and finally, a heartfelt and sentimental note…a love letter really, from Jess to her beloved Daddy, thanking him for his always being there when she needed a hand

Jess’s mother reports that when they finished reading the letter, they just sat in the car digesting it all. Then they both burst into tears. It was an experience neither of them will ever, ever forget.

[+] South Africa, 2011: “Red Stripe”

A bereaved granddaughter discovers that the puzzle box her boyfriend built for her was created entirely in her grandfather’s honor.
A young South African engineer writes of a quest he is planning for his girlfriend Pia. Pia is still grieving over the loss of her favorite grandfather, a cheerful old man who was for many years a popular and well-loved figure in the town.

Now this happy old grandfather was known for hiking each evening to a certain bench on a certain scenic beach, carrying with him exactly two bottles of chilled Jamaican Red Stripe beer. He so preferred this brand, normally unavailable in South Africa, that he had cases of it imported specially. Pia says that as a young girl she would often join him on these hikes, and she ranks the memories of the many evenings she spent watching the sunset on his bench while he drank as among her happiest.

So our young engineer’s plan is to install some electronics into an ordinary cold beverage container, creating the world’s first “Reverse Geocache Puzzle Cooler”. Before he presents Pia this unusual gift, he will naturally lock two cold bottles of Red Stripe inside and program it to open only at a certain special place. You can probably guess where. He predicts that when Pia arrives at the famous bench and grasps the significance of the cooler’s contents, “it will melt her”. Indeed. What a lovely memorial experience that will be.

[+] England, 2012: “Mountain Vault”

Three teenage brothers are given Quest Boxes designed to remain dormant for years. Their opening defines a magnificent new coming-of-age ritual.
A young English woman has created three treasure chests for her teenaged brothers. Each boy has been told that he must someday solve his box without help.

Unlike our conventional boxes, each of these has been specially programmed to count down the days until its respective owner turns eighteen, an event which is still years distant for the younger brothers.

On that day, each young man’s box suddenly begins to display distance clues, launching him on an expedition to a remote mountainside where a vault has been cut into the rock face. As he approaches, his box whirs open, revealing a key and a carefully selected collection of memorabilia from his childhood. A letter from his loving older sister instructs him to meditate carefully on each item and then move it permanently into the vault.

Inside the vault he finds a number of other precious family heirlooms, some dating back generations. The letter asks him never to divulge what he has done and seen.

After some time, we presume the young man will lock the vault door and symbolically leave his childhood behind. He’ll climb back down with his empty box, having experienced a unique, solitary, and terribly meaningful rite of passage.

What will your great quest be?