More Gloop than Bucket, It Turns Out



As I wrote in September, my friend Charlie bought my kids and me a ticket for a Willy Wonka-ish contest. Promoter and businessman David Klein, who likes to be called The Candyman, is giving away a candy factory in Florida, and the winner will come from two rounds of competitions.

The first round, now in progress nationwide, on a rolling basis, is a treasure hunt for a golden dog tag hidden in each state. Klein sold up to 1,000 tickets per state, and my friend bought us a ticket for the Illinois hunt, which went live yesterday, at 1:00 pm CST, with the release of these clues:


He laughed so hard it blew the fort down
Kids art was great to do in town
I was painted green way back in the day
Below the stones you’ll find me today
Note—look at picture, 3” below the stones


The accompanying photo was a closeup of railroad tracks, with ballast around the rails and ties.

Klein had sent an earlier message (all sic): “We are doing somethinga little special with Illinois due to the Covid restrictions that are inplace. We are letting all Illinois searchers know that The Gold Ticket is NOT in Cook County Illinois.”

Illinois is a tall state, and looking for a golden dog tag might have meant another long drive with a teenager, who has endured more than his share. Nobody even knows what the second competition will be, or what “full ownership of the [candy-making] building” might mean.

There is no contract if you buy a ticket, and no boilerplate or disclaimers or liability statements on the website. Klein seems to be doing it for the attention—and perhaps for some part of $2.5 million he stands to gain if all the tickets sell. The whole thing is so slapdash that the Jelly Belly Company has felt the need to distance itself from Klein and his contest.

Still, the winner of each state’s hunt supposedly gets $5,000, and our lives have been restricted for most of the year. It would be good to get away from laptop and gaming console for a while.

My family convened to ask each other if there was a tall tale about somebody blowing something down with laughter…maybe Lincoln, or Mike Fink the riverboatman? Did George Rogers Clark famously laugh when he captured Kaskaskia from the British? Could the clues refer to the “Green Diamond,” an early streamliner train in Illinois, originally painted green, shrieking its whistle?

We decided the clues pointed to Metropolis, at the southern tip of Illinois, which branded itself the home of Superman, who does that super-blow thing. The fort maybe meant the Fortress of Solitude, or (somewhat tastelessly) buildings at nearby Fort Massac, damaged by a tornado. The touristy downtown must have a place for kids’ art, and we saw online that a shop owner painted rocks green and sold them as “kryptonite.” Google Maps showed a railroad office near the Superman statue. I asked for any other ideas before my younger son and I hit the road for almost three hours.

I guessed that not as many people would know of the contest in the rural part of the state. If someone was driving from Chicago, they would be on the road six hours. Our odds were good, I estimated to my son, at half a percent, and we were in no great rush. We stopped for gas and fast food, which we do not get much anymore and enjoyed thoroughly. It was cold and rainy. The crops were in, except for the weird, hand-painted Trump signs high in the trees of a haunted forest that everyone who takes the route mentions.

We got to Metropolis half an hour before dark, pulled in at the statue, looked around the courthouse, argued in person and on the phone with others, drove under some railroad trestles, and finally went in the Superman souvenir shop and museum to pee.

I asked the cashier if he had a second. He looked dubious, but when I explained and showed him the clues, he instantly offered his own interpretation: they meant Chester, Illinois, home of Popeye, who laughs and says “blow me down” a lot and eats green spinach. As I was telling him he seemed more likely to win a candy factory than me, Klein announced on Facebook that someone had found the golden dog tag far upstate, in Galesburg.

A YouTube video later showed Klein and his partner Stephanie calling the winners, who were still in their car.

“Do you know who we are?” Klein said hopefully. “Who are these people congratulating you? Who are we?”

“Uh. Uh…well? You guys are the owners of the contest.”

Yeah. I’m The Candyman!” Klein said.

It turned out that “blew” was meant to be like “gale,” and “fort” like “burg.” “Laughter” did not play a role, and the city’s name was Galesburg, not “Galeburg”—Gale presumably the “he” in the clue. It did not make much sense, but “Gale blew the fort down,” Stephanie told the winners.

They were a couple who worked from home, 45 minutes away. Their kids and dogs were with them. She was originally from Galesburg, knew trains played an important role in the city’s history and that there was a children’s museum there. They found the dog tag without understanding the clue about green, however, and had to ask.

“Well, just that the train color was kind of green,” Stephanie said. She said there was “not much to this” set of clues, so she was “really surprised it was found so quick,” since all they had to go on was Galesburg and something with art.

“Oh, ok, we weren’t sure if something was painted green way back when, or if it was more of a metaphor,” the woman on the phone said.

“You know, I haven’t heard that word, ‘metaphor,’ in 40 years,” The Candyman said.

He said there were 13 states left. “We have to make them harder,” Stephanie said ruefully and laughed.

My friend Charlie was shocked. He thought it would take weeks or longer, like those treasure hunts for a golden hare or bee, or that chest filled with gold and gems.

My younger son took the disappointment pretty well. For five minutes there was some upset over how he hates to lose, and how the screwy Superman statue was only like 15 feet tall—that catsup bottle was 17 stories, and he expected Superman to be something good—but then we settled into the long ride home. It was dark, and the wipers were thumping; the car was warm and snug. He was like Mike TV, watching a movie on his phone, and I was like Augustus Gloop, with KitKats. Not everyone can be Charlie Bucket. Then again, Klein was no Willy Wonka. But we had all done something a little loony together, an accomplishment and diversion, just like in the movies.


Read more by John Griswold, here.  

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.