It may not be real, but it sure is a great yarn. And if by chance it is real, it could make you rich. Lucas Reilly at Mental Floss digs into the legend of Thomas Beale's buried fortune in Virginia's Bedford County. The short version: Beale was a 19th-century adventurer who supposedly buried gold, silver, and jewels—worth an estimated $60 million today—in a secret location within four miles of a tavern in what is now Montvale, Virginia. Beale then left a lockbox with a hotel owner in case he never returned. He never did come back, and the lockbox contained three ciphers that, if cracked, will supposedly lead the lucky puzzle-solver to the location of his treasure. So far, only the second cipher has been solved, one that is said to describe the contents of the treasure.
The ciphers themselves are based on a relatively simple concept: They consist of a long series of numbers that correspond to a text, perhaps a famous book. The second cipher, for example, turned out to be based on the Declaration of Independence. Find the text and it's an easy solve, but nobody has done so for the remaining ciphers. The story recounts how scores of people have gone bankrupt searching for the treasure, annoying locals by digging up land and then leaving town. Meanwhile, amateur and professional cryptologists alike have devoted countless wasted hours to cracking the ciphers. Perhaps the craziest thing is that the story might be 100% fake, including the existence of Beale himself, all part of a ruse to sell pamphlets recounting the tale in the 19th century. Click for the full story, which includes the ciphers themselves and maps of the area.