correction

An earlier version of this story misidentified David Klein as the founder of the Jelly Belly Candy Company. Gustav Goelitz was the founder of the company, which was formerly known as the Herman Goelitz Candy Company. The article has been corrected.

Andrew Maas was in Kansas and had his golden ticket in sight. But someone else was holding it. “I found it!” a woman exclaimed.

Maas was 30 seconds too late.

The 39-year-old father of two from Colorado Springs had entered the Gold Ticket, a scavenger hunt-like competition started by candy maker David Klein. In 2020, Klein and his partner, Stephanie Thirtyacre, went on a trip placing 50 gold necklaces, coined “golden tickets,” in secret locations in 50 states. They released riddles with clues about their whereabouts and awarded $5,000 to the treasure hunters who found each necklace.

Maas, a lover of puzzles and adventure, registered to hunt for the necklaces in Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas. He also helped his parents hunt in South Dakota.

By the time Maas saw the necklace in someone else’s hands in Kansas, his hopes of winning were all but lost. He had one more chance — the search for an “ultimate” prize, a necklace that would win its lucky discoverer the keys to a candy factory.

The competition was meant to emulate the story of Charlie Bucket, the child to whom the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka named the heir of his mysterious chocolate factory in the 1964 Roald Dahl novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” After all 50 tickets were found, the hunt for the ultimate treasure was on. It could be located in one of six states using a riddle:

Don’t have [an] instant idea, for a treasure diehard

We see witches nearby, two stand guard

Go Solve and Search, as low as our toe

Why find a nut and walks are no foe

Maas entered the competition for fun, but he was nevertheless determined to win. Yet, after Klein announced the last riddle on Memorial Day weekend, the prospect was looking slim. Months passed, and Maas was unable to solve it.

“It was hard with so many states,” Maas later recounted on YouTube. “It was just overwhelming.”

Realizing the hunters needed help, Klein narrowed the six states to Illinois and Indiana. That is when Maas and his wife knew that “treasure diehard” described Indiana Jones, the fictional archaeologist, and the treasure was located in Indiana. He also suspected that “don’t have an instant idea” had something to do with taking things slow.

“I ran over to my phone and started looking at all the towns in Indiana to see if any of them had anything to do with not soon, or slow,” he wrote in the Facebook post.

He saw Kokomo, Ind., and began singing the line from the Beach Boys song of the same name as the town: “We’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow.”

Maas then started looking up parks in Kokomo. He saw that Highland Park had two gazebos that looked like the hats of “witches.”

With the city and state, along with the second line of the riddle, solved, he said he was “100 [percent] confident that it was somewhere in this park.” He set out for Kokomo, figuring he could solve the last two lines in person, he added.

He bought a $160 Frontier Airlines flight that took off at 6 a.m. the next day. When he landed, Maas made his way to Highland Park and began searching. He searched the statue of a bull and a sycamore stump and walked along the stream. He suspected that the final line of the riddle referred to a nut and bolt, but could not find many things made of metal. Finally, he came upon a covered footbridge, constructed partially of metal.

Klein had provided a close-up photo of the treasure’s location. Maas could tell from the lighting in the photo that it must have been buried on the northwest corner. So he grabbed a stick and started digging.

There was the necklace.

Maas quickly registered its number on the website, and a half-hour later he received a call from Klein letting him know that a 4,000 square-foot candy factory was his. According to the Kokomo Tribune, the factory produces sweet edible sand called Sandy Candy.

“Are you coming to Florida to run the candy factory?” Klein asked Maas in an Aug. 29 interview Klein broadcast on his YouTube channel as Maas was still standing in the park.

“I mean, it’s a big decision,” Maas replied.

In the end, unlike Charlie Bucket, Maas opted not to inherit the candy factory, the Tribune reported. Moving his family to Florida to run a business was too big an undertaking. Instead, Maas and Klein worked out a deal in which Klein gave Maas the factory and bought it back from him, Klein told The Washington Post. “He’s already received our check,” Klein said, declining to name the amount.

“It’s money we didn’t have,” Maas told the Tribune. “But the excitement and adventure was the real reward. The money is the gravy on top.”