by Sherri Skanes

MARCH 20, 2004

1:02 am

The last piece of the puzzle finally makes sense after 6 hours of anagramming. Exact location is determined. E-mail of solution with intent of search sent. One would think sleep would ensue due to exhaustion. One would be wrong.

7:00 am

Leave home with map, solution, diet pepsi, and camera. Get gas. Scream at the new prices, but pay anyway.

8:00 am

Arrive at location, realize parking anywhere remotely close will lead to car being towed to Hollywood division. Been there, done that, not going again. Park in vacant lot in mud. Grab camera and solution.

Peek through fence of 2451 Laurel Canyon Blvd. Notice lions from the Fearless DVD. How to get inside? Gate is locked. Gotta get in there, gotta get in there, gotta get in there...

8:10 am

Check east side of property perimeter for gates, openings, possible alternate locations of the orb. Concrete timbers? Nah...

8:30 am

Notice severe trampling of tall grass. Discover hobo living in ruins. Duck for cover as empty wine bottle whizzes past head. Run. Fall in mud. Run some more. Decide that maybe there will be an entrance on the adjoining Tree House property.

8:40 am

Begin searching for entrance to Rubin Estate via Tree House property. Gate open. Ten sets of 70 or more steps lay ahead. Might as well count them out and make notes, just in case, it is all one big piece of property. Begin with nearest staircase: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...

9:30 am

...91, 92, 93 94. Reach first summit, and note that 6 foot chainlink fence surrounds entire Rubin property, separating it from the Tree House property. Step in coyote crap. Wipe off flipflop with handy leaves... hey, these look familiar! Kind of ivy shaped but with succulent stems. Pretty.

10:00 am

Discover an orb along summit path. Protected by a doe and a fawn, who scurry away with a flash of tail. Notice legs and hands are itching and swelling. Suddenly remember what that pretty leaf was.

10:30 am

Discover altar and candles left over from Zappa fans. Read graffiti. In a series of violent scratches, discover clothes are covered with ticks.

10:31 am

Freak out.

11:00 am

Debate with self as to whether nakedness is an option. Realize photos were not taken of Zappa altar, but too tired to go back. Notice a possible opening in the fence and move closer to investigate. Step in thick mud, oozing between toes, and up over ankles. Make mental note of itching relief on feet and legs. Continue with perimeter and counting endless steps.

11:05 am

AHA!!! The fence ends four feet from the end of the property on the back (south) side, leaving an opening. Debate with self ensues.

11:15 am

Debate with self resolved. Decision to enter property based on local real estate laws (property posted for sale is subject to public inspection), likelihood of finding a musician friend who might have pull enough with the owner to grant mercy for trespassing, and an insane desire to pull the whole thing off.

11:16 am

Enter Rubin estate.

Continue along top of property, heading east...then have to sit down. Breath escapes with a choking sensation. Goosebumps well up over poison plant rash. Tears come to eyes. Hunt officially begins at this moment, for there lies the same view as seen in the Fearless DVD.

11:20 am

Study clues intently. Determine the house may be vacant. Begin search of estate for “concrete timbers” and series of 70 steps.

Deteriorating fountain on southeast side of house. Spectacular view of the canyon from this perch.

East side patio. Room looks like ballroom, vacant except for what appears to be a sound board covered with a blanket.

Front entry hints at the estate’s use in the classic movie SUNSET BOULEVARD.

Front of house, discover lions from Fearless DVD. Decide (incorrectly) this is where counting steps begins. After 18 steps, staircase splits with three choices of continuing ascent.

Hoping the bitchin’ Roadrunner belongs to a friendly groundskeeper Willie. All three directions are attempted, which produce three more splits and possible ascents. Aye yi yi. Feet, legs, and back sting with pain.

1:00 pm

Concrete timbers FINALLY located. Bridge appears to be made of bent wood, but it is in fact made of cement. Ivy is real, though no attempt is made to touch it, just in case.

Steps lie at base, counting ensues... at 70th step, confusion.

Retaining wall of steps is demolished for steps 69, 70, and 71. Rocks from that side are stacked in a LARGE pile on the south east side. Debate with self begins. Has someone beat me to it? Did Mother Nature have the final laugh? Visual search of area follows.

Top of steps (79), route to southeast begins. It ends 50 feet later at original vantage point of the tower. Interesting tree is nearby to the southeast, and becomes stronghold to regain balance after sliding down muddy slope on backside. It fortunately has four sturdy trunks, kind of like a big W, and an exposed root system. Make mental note not to trip on roots.

Double check end of path route, just to be sure. Slip on wet stone and wrench right knee.

Head back to 70th step. Emotion ensues.

2:00 pm

Debate with self rages. Should the hundred stacked rocks be sorted through? Is there a “solitary stone” to the southeast? Should there be, and can I get to it through the deep mud of the flowerbed? WAS SOMEONE ALREADY HERE?? Exhaustion, pain and rash become intolerable. Debate with self ends.

2:22 pm

Exit Rubin property and begin drive home.

2:30 pm

Turn onto 101 Freeway. Debate with self begins once more.

2:55 pm

Passed by truck with writing on the tailgate. Must photograph due to bizarre coincidental value. TATTOO... heh.

Head spins. The tattoo clue. If my tattoo is fearless, then climb ten weeks to find the route. I know that tattoo and fearless refer to the DVD. And climb ten weeks is the steps. If my tattoo is fearless, then climb ten weeks to find the route, and route is spelled r-o-u-t-e. Now why would someone have to go and spell out route? Rhymes with out, about, trout. Oh yeah, some people say it differently, like root. Another “mock their mate”? Climb ten weeks and find the route, root...

OMG. The tree.

3:15 pm

Debate with self concluded.

4:00 pm

Return home to pick up son who has now completed (and won) his Little League game. Apply treatment with Benedryl, Calamine Lotion, and ice for knee and back. Feed kid. Determine that I am not able to hold down food successfully.

4:30 pm

Persuade (beg) ex to drive for me since feet and legs are now reaching monstrous proportion. Prepare for return trip to be made in darkness.

5:15 pm

Begin return trip to Rubin property, with ex and son in tow.

5:16 pm

Begin first of thousands of assurances to ex that this is not a wild goose chase.

5:45 pm

Traffic comes to a complete halt at Malibu Canyon. Assurances begin with vengeance. Defiance and resolve solidify. I finally *believe* I am right.

6:55 pm

Arrive at Rubin Estate for second time. Son grabs flashlight, and follows me through fence. Ex has severe doubts about the impending invasion of private property, but continues through fence behind us.

7:00 pm

“Shhhh, don’t make any noise!”

“Hey! Don’t shine the flashlight in windows, keep it on the trail.”

“Are there any ghosts here?”

“I said SHHHHH! Just whisper.”

“I think this place might be haunted, mom.”


“I can’t see anything.”

“Stay behind me, you don’t know where you are going!”

“Where ARE we going?”

“There is a big tree with 4 trunks like a W, by some steps over that way. The stone should be in the roots.”

“Look mom! The big W!!! Like the movie!”

“Shine the flashlight the roots!”

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWW! What is that? A salamander?”

“It’s a lizard, mom.”

“It’s’s on the fake rock....get if off!!!!!”

“Mommmmm, it’s just a lizard.”

“You get the rock. I am not going near that slimy thing.”

“Don’t let it roll down the hill...careful!”

“Wait, I have to take a picture!”

“OK, we got it, now RUN!!!!!!!!!”


New York Times, March 20, 2004: Sherri Skanes, a retired school teacher in Ventura, CA, solved the intricate, cryptographic puzzle buried within the pages of magician David Blaine’s New York Times’ bestselling book MYSTERIOUS STRANGER: A Book of Magic.

Hidden throughout MYSTERIOUS STRANGER: A Book of Magic were visual ciphers that, once understood and solved, revealed forty-one clues, and ultimately a twenty-one word riddle that directed Ms. Skanes to a golden orb concealed somewhere in the Hollywood Hills of California. As the person who uncovered the treasure, she was awarded a cash prize of $100,000.00 by Mr. Blaine.

“Blaine’s book was a fascinating look into the history of magic and stunts as well a deeply personal look into David himself,” said Bruce Tracy, Editorial Director of Villard Books and editor of the book. “The treasure hunt embedded in the book is pure Blaine and I’m amazed anyone solved it.”

Skanes, who tested and shared many of her answers on an internet message board devoted to the puzzle, said, “I’ve always been fascinated by puzzles and when I learned of ‘Blaine’s Challenge,’ I decided to give it a try. It was harder than I originally imagined, but when it got down to the final stretch, it became a matter of anagramming, the one puzzling skill I seem to be proficient at. It also took a leap of faith when I found myself counting steps in the Hollywood Hills.”

Blaine added, “We worked so hard on creating this puzzle — I was worried that it wasn’t going to be solved in my lifetime. I am thrilled and relieved to reward Sherri for her hard-work, dedication, and out-of-the-box thinking. Apologies for the poison oak, Sherri. Congratulations.”

David Blaine goes for the World Record by making the gold orb vanish
and re-appear from under the winner’s son’s eyelid, 2451 times.