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story.lead_photo.caption Katherine Ayers, 9, and her brothers Christopher, 11, and Daniel, 8, pose with their reward for winning this summer's Brain Chase competition—$10,000 and a Magellan globe. Their family traveled to the Texas panhandle to dig up the treasure chest they located by solving a difficult series of riddles and clues in the online contest. (Submitted photo)

For the Ayers children of Texarkana, their smarts, curiosity and perseverance paid off in Brain Chase glory this past summer when they completed a summer learning challenge and treasure hunt.

They even went to the Texas Panhandle to dig for buried treasure, unearth a Globe of Magellan and find, inside of a treasure box, thousands of dollars in cash. That amounts to scholarship money for Katherine Ayers, who came in first, but she'll share it with her brothers. She's 9 and her brother Christopher, 11, came in second. The youngest, Daniel, all of 8 years old, also helped.

Nicole and Brandon Ayers raised these bright kids, and it should be no surprise that their passion for learning rubbed off on the trio of intrepid youngsters. After all, Nicole is a Texas High School teacher while Brandon is a Domtar environmental engineer.

While Brain Chase stages worldwide learning games like this, this year was the first for a Texas-only challenge that the Ayers family won. Brain Chase strives to promote summer learning as youngsters work on weekly activities.

It's essentially a series of online virtual treasure hunts, which ultimately leads to the overall discovery of real buried treasure if you get all the successive clues right. The Ayers family got them right and found their treasure near Canadian, Texas.

When they unearthed the Globe of Magellan with its mystery items hidden inside, they were all smiles.

"I got first, he got second," explained Katherine matter-of-factly, referring to her older brother. "It's an online challenge and you would have to do challenges to get the next video that would give you clues of where it is." Coding, math, typing and reading were among the subject areas to work on during these weekly puzzles.

"They had certain goals for each week, and it was a total of six weeks," her mother explained. The children would find hidden images inside posted Brain Chase videos. They'd complete academic challenges, too, thereby unlocking a second video for the week.

"There were ciphered clues, geographic locations, museums, different bits of information within those videos, and they had to piece all the information together to find a master riddle and ultimately the location of the treasure," Nicole said.

Some aspects of these challenges proved more difficult than others.

"Trying to figure out when to decipher different things," said Christopher about one tough part of the Brain Chase competition. There wasn't a lot of direction given to the game, and few people figured out the final answer, said Nicole.

"We ended up connecting with different people online and trying to bounce ideas off of one another to figure it out," she said. "You might have a website, a picture and a few numbers. You don't even know what to do with that."

But from various museum websites, they'd have to figure out one word from each. This information guided them to the treasure.

For example, with the Kimbell Art Museum the Ayers children had to find a certain picture, Brandon explained. There was a picture of a bank and four numbers that added up to create a year. Ultimately, they were led to a certain Monet painting. The word? It was "river," just one word that became part of the clue to discover where the final prize was located.

"Until you finally get the very last one, you don't know how all of them ultimately fit together," Nicole said. Each video gave one word. "And then the words formed, eventually, a master riddle," Nicole said.

Katherine Ayers unlocks the treasure chest that holds the $10,000 prize for winning the Brain Chase challenge. (Submitted photo)

The Ayers found that "living landmark" was part of the master riddle. So was the word panhandle. Then they searched for old trees in the Texas Panhandle.

"And then it all kind of came together from there," said Nicole. Searching on Google, they found a landmark cottonwood tree outside of Canadian.

"You can go to that spot. It's got signs and everything," said Brandon, who'd come home every day from work during the summer to find his kids discussing clues to the big Brain Chase puzzle.

The Ayers went to this landmark tree to retrieve the buried treasure. The kids were super excited about the prizes and fun to be had, which included getting to go to the movies and having the entire historic theater to themselves.

About the cottonwood, Katherine said, "It was like a really big tree." Nearby was the treasure, explained Daniel, which was stored inside of a crate that housed a globe where the key was hidden. With the key, they could unlock the box that contained the grand prize.

"You would unlock the box, and our reward was $10,000," Daniel said, noting it was tough to get the crate out of the ground. In the box, 10 packs of 10 $100 bills awaited. "A $10,000 scholarship."

The Globe of Magellan, which they still have, is pretty nifty. It's like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you pick it up, you'll discover it's surprisingly heavy. You press the raised continents in a certain order to open it.

"The continents are made out of real gold," Katherine said.

And what's with the Magellan reference? "Because Magellan circumnavigated the globe," Christopher said.

This isn't the first Brain Chase go-around for the Ayers kids. The prize treasure was found in Norway for the 2016 summer's global challenge, and they were the third competitors to figure it out. For that, they simply got an Internet shout out. They enjoy the game, and there are Brain Chase challenges at other times of the year. Adults can play, too.

"We'll keep playing," Nicole said, even though they're not eligible to win it all. She adds, "It's a fun way to keep the kids learning during the summertime."

After all, Brain Chase gives her kids something they may not necessarily get from their regular studies during a busy school year. It beats watching TV all summer, too.

The Ayers kids enjoy Legos, drawing, riding their bikes and hiking.

"The puzzle itself I think is very challenging, high-order critical thinking and it's honestly beyond I think what a kid could do by themselves, so it really pulls the whole family together to solve this complex puzzle," Nicole said.

(On the Net: BrainChase.com.)

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