COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Andrew Maas barely missed out on a $5,000 prize but later won an even bigger prize in the recent GoldTicket Treasure Hunt.
The hunt last fall was organized by "Candy Man" David Klein, the creator of Jelly Belly candy.
Klein hid a numbered golden ticket worth $5,000 in all 50 states, then released a series of riddles and clues to help treasure-seekers find the locations; thousands of people each paid $50 to register for the hunt.
"I signed up for Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota," Maas said. "Someone found the Colorado ticket in Castle Rock. The Wyoming ticket was too far away. I grew up in South Dakota and had my dad try to find that one, but that didn't work out."
Maas correctly determined that the Kansas ticket was in Oakley, on the western side of the state.
"I figured it had to be in western Kansas because it was close to other surrounding states where the tickets were being hidden," he explained. "But when I got to Oakley and started looking, someone else found it."
However, all was not lost.
Participants in the state-by-state hunt also were eligible to win the grand prize -- a candy factory in Hawthorne, Florida, just east of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville.
Maas spent three months studying the clues and decided the prize was buried under a covered bridge in a park in Kokomo, Indiana -- north of Indianapolis.
"It started with a handful of Midwestern states being possibilities," he said. "The clues said something about brining sandwiches, so I thought it had to be in a park. I looked up parks and saw one that had two picnic shelters with roofs like witches' hats that were mentioned in the clues. And another clue from a Beach Boys song led me to Kokomo."
Maas immediately traveled there at the end of August and found the coveted ticket not long before someone else showed up looking for it.
"I had to send the code in, wait for confirmation and do an online interview," he said. "It's still hard to believe that I won it. I contacted my family on Face Time to let them know."
Daughter Hartley Maas, 9, was equally excited.
"I wanted to get all the candy I had and just eat it, because, well... we won a candy factory," she giggled. "I thought it was going to be like conveyor belts and more conveyor belts. Humongous!"
It was an exciting adventure for Maas, his wife and two kids; but because they love Colorado and don't want to move to Florida, they opted to accept a cash payout.
"I don't want to say how much it is," he said. "It's not going to change our lives, but it'll allow us to donate to some charities and do some other things. It's not about the money, it's about sharing the experience and the fun."
Klein said that his partner deserves credit for helping with the idea for the hunt.
"We didn't do it for money," he said Tuesday from his California home. "We did it at a time that this country was hurting with COVID and everybody was afraid to do anything, and we provided something where they could take their whole family out. Who knows, we may do it again."
The factory makes Sandy Candy, which is used in edible art displays. Klein said that his purpose for the hunt was to help mentor a new candy maker.
"When was the last time you saw a new candy bar?" he said. "We can always use another candy maker."
Klein said that he may use the factory to help new restaurant businesses get started, and the success of that will determine whether he'll continue making candy there or somewhere else.