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Originally published Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 11:09 AM

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Emerald City Search ends as medallion is found in ivy

The prize medallion in the fifth annual Emerald City Search was found early Tuesday on an ivy-covered fence near the Qwest Field north parking lot.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A battery-powered headlamp may not be the most fashionable accessory, but Kem Valliant-Saunders certainly makes good use of hers.

It's handy when she goes camping, hiking or running in the evening hours to train for a marathon.

And shortly after midnight Tuesday, the lamp paid for itself many times over, helping Valliant-Saunders spot the prize medallion in the fifth annual Emerald City Search, worth more than $6,800 in entertainment, art and cultural experiences over the next year.

"When I saw what it was, I screamed," said Valliant-Saunders, 29, of Seattle, who'll share the prize with her friend and co-searcher, Patrick Gibbs, 37, of Mountlake Terrace.

Gibbs, who carried a flashlight, was a few yards away when Valliant-Saunders saw a glint of light reflected by a 4-inch-long copper tube hidden behind ivy leaves, about knee-high on a chain-link fence at the edge of the Qwest Field north parking lot.

The metal cylinder bore the word "Bumbershoot," and inside was a ruby-crowned metal-and-fabric umbrella, created by Bellingham artist Jim Dixon, along with a message confirming that this was, indeed, the object of this year's search. The exact form and shape of the medallion, which changes each year, had been kept a secret.

"I heard her scream a block away," said Jeff McCord, of Playmasons LLC, which conducts the search, partnering for the second year with One Reel, producers of Bumbershoot. McCord had come down to the Pioneer Square area to be close at hand if the prize was found after the midnight online release of the seventh daily clue.

The prize package Valliant-Saunders and Gibbs have won opens with two Platinum Passes to each day of Bumbershoot, Seattle's Music & Arts Festival, Saturday through Monday at Seattle Center.

Tickets and VIP passes to other shows, exhibitions and performances continue through the year.

Valliant-Saunders, a scientist with Benaroya Research Institute, and Gibbs, a grant administrator for the University of Washington, didn't start looking until several days into the contest. In past years, they've concluded that the first few clues do little more than set a theme for the event and provide material that gains meaning as later clues are added.

Valliant-Saunders also had an "expert" to bounce some of her hunches off — her friend, Leigh Ann Johnson, who won the event two years ago. Johnson urged her to think creatively and to watch out for clues that point too obviously at a location, potential red herrings.

Gibbs and Valliant-Saunders said they were intrigued by clues that suggested the prize location had something to do with a square.

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"I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where everything is a square, but there aren't many squares in Seattle," Gibbs said. They could think of only two: Red Square at the UW, and Pioneer Square.

Gibbs spent some time prowling campus Monday morning but eventually joined Valliant-Saunders in Pioneer Square.

"We probably did more than 10 laps around the pergola. We were becoming the strangest people in the area," he said.

They searched from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, then decided to take a break and come back to the area, waiting in a parked car to check the midnight clue release on their smartphones.

The Tuesday clue's reference to hedera, a species of ivy, sent Gibbs and Valliant-Saunders back to the ivy-covered fence that she had noticed, but avoided, earlier in the day, because a construction crew was working on the sidewalk nearby.

But at night, with the workers gone, the fence appeared more accessible.

"On Sunday I had a dream we were going to find it," said Gibbs. Although the dream didn't actually tell him where the medallion was hidden, it provided an encouraging boost for the treasure seekers.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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