LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — For almost 10 years, there had been a chrome 'Z' hidden in North Las Vegas. It had been stuck to the bottom of a bench under Eldorado Park's gazebo.
David Steele put it there on a whim while he was visiting the city to watch the World Series of Poker.
Over the course of the past decade, that Z -- a stick-on car decoration which Steele bought from a local auto parts store -- was nothing special.
Yet, whenever Steele returned to the city, he visited the park to check whether it was still there. Steele had an idea, and he wanted to make sure nobody had removed his hidden ornament.
"I had in the back of my mind: 'maybe someday, I'll do a treasure hunt,'" Steele said. "It was never a certainty."
That whim became part of a search for treasure known as The Great U.S. Treasure Hunt, which has people across the country trying to decipher clues to find four hidden items that will get them $10,000 each.
Steele had been in love with Treasure hunts ever since 1982, when a book titled 'The Secret' was published.
Not to be confused with the self-help book promoted by Oprah Winfrey, The Secret promised readers the chance to find one of twelve hidden items, buried in small boxes across the United States.
Coincidentally enough, that very book sent Steele to Las Vegas all those years ago, searching for the promised treasure. One of the book's illustrations had a figure that looked like a Genie, which made Steele think of the old Aladdin Hotel and Casino, which used to exist where the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino now stands.
"I drove to Las Vegas on a whim just to see if I could figure out, 'what could this illustration mean?'" Steele said.
Unfortunately, Steele didn't figure it out. Nobody has, in fact, though the treasure hunt's unofficial website shares the belief that the treasure is in Houston, not Las Vegas.
In fact, only three of The Secret's twelve treasures have been found, giving the book a long-standing allure that has resulted in multiple re-printings. One reprint was released as recently as 2015.
Steele didn't want his treasure hunt to be as mysterious as The Secret, however. He wanted his treasures to be found.
So for Steele's newly-released book, he hasn't buried anything -- he's just hidden four everyday items across the country, each of which is worth $10,000 to the lucky finders -- including the Z.
"Anyone could have found that thing in the last eight or nine years," Steele said. "Nobody did."
The Z remained completely unknown until Steele published his book electronically on November 13, 2020. Soon, people from across the nation were trying to decode his cryptic clues.
Thirty days after the book's release, the hunt's official Twitter account released a bonus clue to help the treasure seekers on their quest.
That clue was enough to help Beth Hovanec, a Pittsburgh-area artist, puzzle out the answer. She used the letters from the 'One Hit Wonders' listed in chapter four to spell out the message:
North Vegas, Eldorado Bench, Silver Z
Unfortunately, Hovanec lived all the way across the country. But she knew a friend who lives just a few miles away from the park, Nancy Zitko.
Using those directions, Zitko went out to the park at 7 a.m. this Sunday morning. Using the flashlight on her phone, she found the Z and peeled it off the bottom of the bench.
The duo sent a photo of the inconspicuous artifact, along with the solution they used to find it, to the hunt's official email address.
It was a close call for Zitko. Steele reports that four other teams were hot on the trail.
In fact, the very same day that the Z was found, another group messaged Steele to complain that the letter wasn't where it was supposed to be.
Steele says he's traveling to Las Vegas tomorrow to deliver the $10,000 prize to the winning team. According to contest rules, $9,000 will be given to Hovanec for solving the riddle, and $1,000 will be given to Zitko for finding the Z.
There are still three items, worth a total of $30,000, yet to be found. New bonus clues will be released to the hunt's Twitter page every 30 days, meaning the next hint will be released to the world in mid-January.
The Great U.S. Treasure Hunt e-book is available exclusively on Amazon for $8.88.