I wanted to return to The Whistle Pig by Duck Miller because the book purports to contain clues that lead to a key that was hidden on February 2, 2003, and, as the key doesn’t seem to have been found, I have more to say on the matter.
Whistle pig is another term for a ground hog. In the back of Duck Miller’s (not his real name) book is a hunting log (presumably for making notes about the clues) and a “Pass the Pig!” section, where a person can enter his name and the date, with instructions to, “Pass the book around and share the puzzle!” Because of Duck’s exhortation to “share the puzzle” and the fact that there is a wiki devoted to solving that puzzle, I want to pass along my observations. Little of what follows will be any different from what’s on the wiki, with maybe one exception. If you want to read the book and figure things out for yourself, this serves as your SPOILER ALERT!!! and you should read no further.
The Whistle Pig contains 11 short stories and an introduction. Because the book’s back cover makes clear that this is a treasure hunt that leads to a hidden key on public property somewhere in the United States, from the get-go I approached it differently from other books. I wasn’t reading for literary quality, though I did notice that the stories tend to end in unsettling ways. Instead, I was looking for commonalities between the stories, unusual markings on pages, odd spellings and uses of language in the text, specific descriptions or dates that seemed significant – in short, anything that “felt” strange. I kept notes of what I found, but didn’t use the Hunting Log in the back of the book because I had checked it out of the library.
The commonality all the stories share is a strong sense of place, so I wrote down all the obvious places mentioned (woodland, flat rock extending onto lake, barn, office, etc.), particularly when specific places were named (i.e. New York, Nantucket, North Sea, Potomac, etc.). Tunnels and watersheds both come up at least twice in two different stories each. As one of the wiki writers noted, how often does one see the word “watershed” in a story?
Each story is narrated in first-person, and while there are a number of dads and grandpas, there are very few proper names used, so I made note of those. Diane, Les, Ms. Mary, Townsand Banks – a.k.a. “T” – Sam, Tom, Meade, Annie, George Donner, Coop, Stephen’s General Store, Cork, Gerald Lee Winston, Rick, Ella, Mr. Silas, Jack, Brother Calvin. If you look at the name Townsand Banks, you’ll notice that Townsand is spelled in an atypical way, not Townsend, but Townsand. Does this mean something? In looking at the names, I realized that there are a few other names in the book. George Mallory and Samuel Clemens are quoted and the book is dedicated to Don Geronimo and Mike O’Meara. Why is Samuel Clemens’ quote attributed to that name and not Mark Twain? And what’s up with the name “Duck Miller”? When dealing with a puzzle book, one cannot discount any potential clue.
I discovered a word usage that was incorrect on page 6. Instead of using the word “sight,” a sentence on this page reads “What a mesmerizing site,” in reference to the narrator looking at a dress with carnations and roses.
In the story “Grandfather’s Office,” there seem to be a number of significant lefts – pigeon holes to the left side of the office door, a table to the left of the bookshelves, a plastic-coated map of the U.S. missing a thumbtack in the lower left-hand corner. This story has what appear to be some other obvious clues. Three specific books are mentioned: “Pythagorean Numerology in the Modern Day,” “Successful Orienteering,” and “Hunting and Fishing with Ernie,” along with a series called “Age of Discovery.” In addition, considerable text is used to describe a calendar on the wall, including the picture on the calendar and the marks Grandfather has left on it. In the square for the second day of the month, there is a black star. Could this refer to February 2, Groundhog’s Day? Two days later (“in the second box of the next line” – pg. 25), there appears a “little gold fish.”
As I combed through this story, I found that page 22 was numbered with an “X,” rather than a number like the other pages. That made me realize that I should be paying more attention to the other parts of the book, not just the story text. Even though I checked all the other page numbers for irregularities, it wasn’t until I read the wiki that I discovered that page 11 is missing from the book. The numbers 11 and 22 are important in numerology, which refers back to the book on Grandfather’s shelf – “Pythagorean Numerology in the Modern Day” – and also harkens back to the number of stories in the book – 11. Surely, these numbers are hints to other clues in the book. Perhaps?
The story “Full Moon” seems to refer to a specific point during the U.S. Civil War, giving a specific date: July 2, 1863. In “Winter Land” New Year’s Day is featured and “George Donner’s ship” is mentioned.
There’s one poem in this book of short stories and it’s called “For the Record.” What impressed me about this piece is the image of the key above it. Every story opens with a horizontal key in the book, but this poem has a vertical key. Not sure what that means, but because it doesn’t follow the pattern set up in the book, it stands out.
The story “Sand Castle” has a misspelling – stewartship, instead of stewardship on page 66.
Two specific years, 1945 and 1956, are mentioned in the story “Egg Hunt,” which features an elaborate hunt for 13 specially decorated eggs on April 23. The story includes this cryptic moral for when any of the 13 eggs remains unfound: “… the loss of the unfound … made the collected all the more cherished.” (pg. 73) This story’s narrator discusses how he once found the coveted 13th egg under a nesting wild turkey. His father had painted a “… miniature rendition of Jack opposite the egg’s primary painting.” (pg. 73-74) There is no mention of a Jack anywhere in the rest of the story, so this appears to be another potential clue.
I found a rather direct surprise/solution for “The Bow,” the final story in the book. As I read the final paragraph, I was struck by the strange truncation of the sentences, which didn’t follow from the rest of the book. When I looked at the first letters of each sentence in the last paragraph, I discovered that they spelled “fruit.” I went to the paragraph above and found that the first letter in each sentence spelled “the.” This was too much of a coincidence, so I went back to the beginning of the story and marched forward, paragraph by paragraph, first letter by first letter, finding this message: “Bare the cross, leave the center, find the fruit.”
A couple more observations about the book. There is a map on the end papers of the book. (There’s also one following the introduction with a spot clearly marked on the state of Pennsylvania. The wiki folks working on the puzzle suggest that this spot is Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, home of the most famous ground hog in the U.S., Punxsutawney Phil. Looking at Google Maps, this appears to be correct.) The end papers map is not a current day map because it shows North and South Dakota as Dakota and Oklahoma as Indiana Territory. As Oklahoma didn’t become a state until November 16, 1907, we can be certain that the map is from prior to this date. North and South Dakota didn’t become separate states until November 2, 1889, so the map seems to predate this, too.
My final observation comes as a picture. Between pages 29 and 30 are three strange marks in the binding:
These marks have not been mentioned on the wiki I’ve cited, so I can’t be sure whether these are merely printer’s marks that show up in this particular copy, or whether they are another clue.
That’s the majority of what I’ve been able to glean out of The Whistle Pig. Amazingly, many of the same details that jump out at me in the story are ones that other readers have also noticed.
As I have to return this book to the library and I don’t live anywhere near Pennsylvania, where some suspect the key is hidden, my search has ended. Happy hunting to those who’ve taken up the challenge!