A character is out on a treasure hunt, when they are given a Treasure Map that supposedly leads the character to the location of the treasure. However, when you find where the X is located and you dig for the treasure, you find nothing. Turns out that someone gave you a fake map, either intentionally or accidentally. Put more simply, a character is given a false map that leads to them Going in Circles or leads them back where they started from. Compare Road Sign Reversal and Script Swap for similar cases. See also: Wild Goose Chase.
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Anime and Manga
- An episode of Ranma ½ had Ranma and Ryoga trying to find some artifacts that would cure their Jusenkyo curses using a map that Cologne had deciphered for them. It leads them all around Nerima before ending up back at Cologne's ramen shop. Ranma naturally thinks this is in effect and attacks, but in the process uncovers the very thing he was looking for.
- In a short Bone story published in Disney Adventures magazine, Thorn reminds Phony that he needs to do his laundry that day. Phony brushes her off, then he finds a treasure map. He convinces his brother Fone to come along on the treasure hunt. When they finally reach the X, the buried treasure turns out to be Phony's dirty laundry. The story ends with them wondering if Thorn played an elaborate prank on them, or it the universe itself is conspiring to make Phony do his laundry.
- The adult humor comic Cherry Poptart #3 had a parody titled "Oklahoma Smith and the Lost Temple of the Doomed Raiders". After surviving countless dangers to recover the secret idol, Smith exits the underground labyrinth only to find himself in downtown Puerto Vallarta, where identical "idols" are on sale in a souvenir shop. He comments "I'm gonna' kill the guy who sold me that map!"
- In National Treasure, Patrick Gates thinks the search for the eponymous treasure is a waste of time because he thinks, even when he has some of the clues to its location right in front of him, that it was just put out by the revolutionaries to keep the British busy looking for something that doesn't exist. He turns out to be wrong, the treasure is very real.
- Variation: In the Reunion Show Return to Green Acres after Oliver & Lisa move back to New York City, their friends in Hooterville try to track them down in order to make use of Oliver's lawyer skills. When they arrive in NYC, they're approached by a man selling watches from inside his coat They say no thank you, but ask for directions to the Douglas's Park Avenue (Manhattan) penthouse. The man purposely gives them bad directions and they end up in Brooklyn instead.
- In the kung-fu film parody Many Return of Honorable Grasshopper Fighting, the grasshoppers of Master Chinese follow his map across deserts, snowy plains, cliffs, and a temple filled with ninjas, only to find the end of the journey leads to a 7-Eleven in their hometown. When asking him why he gave them such a long path to get there, their master responds: "The answer is simple, grasshoppers: I got those directions on MapQuest."
- In Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig, waiting to be hanged, creates an elaborate treasure map that would keep a team of cryptographers engaged for a week, specifically for the jailers to steal from his body (or possibly left in the cell after his would-be escape). It leads to absolutely nothing, because he's that much of a Con Man; he figures anyone who would actually forget where they buried $100,000 doesn't deserve it.
- The Last Hero: It turns out that the Gods of the Discworld have been leaving mysterious maps around for ages, all leading heroes into dangerous deathtraps for their amusement. They over-reach themselves when the latest one, to the abode of the Gods themselves, turns out not to be as deadly as they plan and Cohen the Barbarian turns up on their doorstep with an unpleasant surprise.
- In Jericho Moon, the Jerichite merchant Sheshai lures groups of greedy Jebusites to the ruins of his birthplace with fake treasure maps, then watches from the shadows as the rival groups kill each other over non-existent buried wealth. Then he personally kills the survivors in vengeance for how Jebusi failed to help his people against the Hebiru.
- Saturday Night Live: In a Parody Commercial for Peter Jackson's Hobbit series of films, now in 18 volumes, part three is called Apple Maps: An Unexpected Detour. Frodo's iPhone search for a Quiznos takes him to Mordor.
- Happens in an episode of Salute Your Shorts when Budnick finds directions from a long-dead camp counselor, in dance steps, to where she supposedly hid a fortune. Since the original was hard to read, he types it out and gives copies to the other kids in exchange for their boomboxes. The directions lead them to collect a bunch of junk, but they find something that makes him think they were very close to it, so he and Donkeylips start trying to get the directions back. In this case, the player gets played, as the directions he gets back were fake as well, written by the other kids to lead Budnick to dig a hole in the middle of the softball field that Ug had been meticulously trimming.
- In an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, Foggy is eager to buy "the only copy" of a pirate's treasure map. His friends are sceptical regarding the non-availability of the original, the suspiciously low and flexible price, and the implausibility of a pirate burying any treasure in inland rural Yorkshire, but he buys it anyway. After a long trip over poor terrain (unnecessary, since there was a perfectly good road Foggy neglected to notice), they arrive at the site to find it swarming with treasure-hunters who'd been sold the same fake map.
- In The Order of the Stick, after the Order of the Scribble was dissolved and each of its former members was assigned the task of guarding one of the rifts, Girard Draketooth deliberately gave wrong co-ordinates for the desert rift to Soon Kim, the member of the Order who he disliked and distrusted the most. He instead gave co-ordinates for a completely random spot in the desert, then left a magical message at that spot that would activate and mock Soon Kim if he went to those co-ordinates seeking the rift himself.
- The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "Rabbit Marks The Spot" saw Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Gopher looking for buried treasure, with help from a fake treasure map that Rabbit had created.
- This tactic was used in the third act of an episode of Mr. Bogus. After Ratty and Mole have stolen an entire trunk full of food from a party being held by a group of insects, Bogus manages to outsmart the two rodents by switching out the map they were using with another map when Ratty asks Mole on which way to go. After reading from the fake map, the two rodents then turn around, thinking that they've escaped, but become horrified when they realize that the map that Bogus gave them leads them back to where the angry insects are now waiting for them, which leads to Ratty and Mole getting chased away by the mob of insects.
- Parodied in South Park episode "Cripple Summer". The antagonist Nathan orders his minion, Mimsy, to switch the maps of the rival scout team with a fake one. Mimsy interprets the repeated order to "Switch the map, switch the map!" as to switch it...and switch it again, leaving their own team with the fake map leading to the territory of a violent tribe of Native Americans.
- In Back at the Barnyard, the crows make a fake map to make Otis and his friends leave so they can get the corn supply.
- In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode, "X Marks the Ed," Eddy finds what he believes to be the map to his brother's, "Secret stash," though he, Ed and Double D can't decode the map, which is just a curved, dotted line, leading to an X (and three small circles above it. At one point, while Double D displays the map on a projector, Ed actually has a moment of clarity, and places Eddy in front of the screen, where the dotted line leads from the tip of his nose to his X-shaped ear hole, and the three circles match the three freckles on his head. Double D then places a transparent map of the cul-de-sac over Eddy's brother's map to determine the location of his treasure is at the Kanker's trailer; after unearthing a suitcase full of wishbones, Double D comes to the conclusion that the map was a gag all along.
- An episode of Camp Lazlo had the campers give the Jelly Beans a fake map that would leave them going around in circles for a few days so they won't get in the way of Commander Hoohah's inspection of the camp. This comes back to bite them in the ass when they found out Lazlo was the only one who could start a fire, which is required for the inspection.
- Played for Laughs in The Scooby Doo Project. The gang gets lost while trying to get back to the van, despite them following the map that Velma has. When we get a good look at the map, it has a picture of the Mystery Machine, a marker for the forest, a dotted line connecting the two...and nothing else.
Shaggy: Like, how can you read this map?
- Family Guy: Peter sets up an elaborate Scavenger Hunt for Lois to play on their anniversary just so he can blow her off and go golfing with the guys. The final clue leads her back to where she started.
- In one episode of The Great Grape Ape, Grape Ape and Beegle Beagle help a pirate follow his map to buried treasure. The "treasure" turns out to be some bottles of cola.
- Played with in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Aargh!". Mr. Krabs becomes obsessed with a board game about buried treasure, and the next day he leads SpongeBob and Patrick in a treasure hunt with what Krabs claims is a real treasure map. After going around all day looking for the treasure, SpongeBob and Patrick decide to take a peek at Mr. Krabs map, and discover that it's really their boardgame. Just as Mr. Krabs is about to punish them for mutiny, they find the X that marks the spot, meaning that the game really was based on a real treasure map.
- Tangential example: Some mapmakers make deliberate mistakes like nonexistent streets on their maps, so that another map made later featuring the same street can be used as proof of plagiarism.
- The Beale ciphers are a trio of coded documents that supposedly contain the location, contents, and beneficiaries of a hidden treasure buried somewhere in Bedford County, Virginia. Only the second one, the contents, has been deciphered, but an analysis of the text suggests they may be hoaxes. That hasn't stopped people from (illegally) digging up the county looking for it. To date, no one's found any treasure, but the cops have found plenty of fools.