The Bacon Station - HAM Tutorials, Reference, and Lessons
Get ready for an exciting adventure that will bring together, amateur radio direction finding (ARDF or Fox Hunting), history, and decoding all into one amazing activity that you as the educator will have as much fun with as the students will during the actual treasure hunt.

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Playfair Treasure Hunt

The Bacon Station Playfair Treasure Hunt

Get ready for an exciting adventure that will bring together, amateur radio direction finding (ARDF or Fox Hunting), history, and decoding all into one amazing activity that you as the educator will have as much fun with as the students will during the actual treasure hunt.

In the spirit of the National Treasure movie franchise, what we have done with this project was to take a traditional ARDF activity and add a little twist and purpose to finding the fox. Once the student's find the fox, they will get a clue that they can then use to help solve a playfair cypher. After solving that cypher (or cyphers), they will get another clue that will lead them to a treasure. Not only will this activity demonstrate the skills behind direction finding in amateur radio to the students, it will also hit on many educational facets that includes history and encoding/decoding skills.

Prerequisite

Participation in these treasure hunts does not require an amateur radio license. The students will only be listening for the beacon signal and not transmitting; however, we used students who were licensed and allowed them to use their radios to communicate with each other while they were finding the fox. Before you proceed with this activity, you should go over other topics with your students to get them prepared for the treasure hunt.

  • Introduction to the BaoFeng UV-5R - This will teach the kids how to program and use their radios.
  • The Tape Measure Yagi Beam - This is a maker activity where the kids can make directional antennas that can connect to their radios.
  • Radio Direction Finding - Teaches the kids about the art of the fox hunt or radio direction finding.
  • Playfair Cipher - A lesson that discusses the Playfiar Cypher and how to encode and decode them. The students will need to know this to continue on in the treasure hunt.

How it works

The Playfair Treasure Hunt works very similar to a normal fox hunt, but instead of just finding the fox and coming back to the class, the students have a little more activities in order to go on to find the treasure. Here is how we ran ours, but yours can be modified in anyway you need to fit the topics you are covering.

  1. We provided the students with 2 coded messages. The first message would lead them to the a location for fix the key for the second coded message. The second coded message then led them to a specific classroom where we had their treasure sitting and waiting on them.
  2. At the time we ran our treasure hunt, it was in the spring and pouring down rain outside, so we went with plan "B" and just ran it within our school building.
  3. With the fox, we added a messages... "What is the name of the ship that sunk in 1912 with Marconi Operators on board?". This was printed on a piece of paper and was just sitting next to the fox. If we would of been outside, we planned on taping to the outside of the container that the fox was in.
  4. Once we went over the rules with the kids, we let them go looking for the fox. This took some time, but once they found it, the quickly solved the clue with the key to their cypher. The all came back to the classroom, and this was pretty much the end of the radio directional finding portion, but they did need to have the skills to find the first clue.
  5. When the solved the first cypher, they then got a clue that led them to their ARRL Technician books. We picked a page, paragraph, and word that was the key to solve the second cypher.
  6. That second cypher led them to the classrooms where their treasure was located.

We ran this the first time around Spring Break and Easter vacation, so the treasure was that each person who participated within the hunt received a bag of jelly beans. The kids had a blast participating in this activity, and we hope to have many more in the future.

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