There comes a time when a new geocacher starts to get a little more comfortable and practiced at the art of finding a traditional cache. Slowly you start to increase the level of difficulty on your hides from a 1.5 to a 2, maybe even a 2.5 and the same with the terrain ratings. You have started to recognise that hides are more than sistema containers, bisons and the familar mint tins.
But it is with this new found confidence that a new cacher starts to wonder what other cache types are out there and you ponder the blue question mark. There may even be a bold but rookie mistake of trying to find a mystery cache at the given coordinates, only to discover that there is nothing hidden there or that the coordinates are in some random, unusual place, like the centre of a round about or football oval.
Upon some reflection and even some research, there is a light bulb moment and the realisation that the coordinates are infact virtual and do not lead to the actual hide. There is some work to do before the real coordinates can be gleamed. These delightful caches are often referred to as mystery or puzzle caches, but to a new geocacher can seem to be a little confusing to know where to start.
So to help all the new geocachers within our community on where to start with one of these mystery/ puzzle caches, I caught up with the Puzzle Queen herself – OzHockeyChick aka Kirsten for some advice.
Thanks for chatting to me OzHockeyChick, can you please share with us when you started Geocaching and what got you into this crazy hobby we love?
I started geocaching early 2015, when the lovely xsurfergirlx introduced me to what was going to become my new addiction. It was the puzzle aspect that really piqued my interest. I’ve always loved puzzles, all kinds, from jigsaws to word search to kakuro, and everything in between.
Thankfully, the details of those little blue circles with white question marks (along with the orange ones) were briefly explained to me – enough to get me started on my journey past trads.
Puzzles can sometimes be daunting to a new geocacher, what advice do you give for those new to the game?
For those who haven’t had the benefit of an explanation of the various types, I would start here: https://www.geocaching.com/about/cache_types.aspx
I joined a few Facebook groups, and visited the only geocaching shop in Victoria at the time (GeoStuff – now in SA). It was there I found Cully Long’s “How to Puzzle Cache” book. I read it cover to cover, and enjoyed working my way through it, learning lots of tips and tricks.
I then began solving some mysteries in my local area. I quickly discovered the D rating and what that meant. So I chose one CO and began solving all his puzzles, beginning with the lower Ds and working my way up to the D5s. I found that sticking to one CO at a time, allowed me to get inside his/her head, and begin thinking along the same track. This has proven to be quite helpful in many puzzles since.
But how do you know where to start?
Unless the puzzle is glaringly obvious (crossword etc), I usually do a sequence of keystrokes….
Ctrl+A Ctrl+U Ctrl+F <!–
To break that down…
Ctrl+A selects the entire cache page. This lets you see if there’s any hidden (white) text.
Ctrl+U is the shortcut to see the source (html) code. It is here where a CO can hide more text using the “commenting” syntax of <!–some hidden text ->
So using Ctrl+F (shortcut for Find) and looking for the instances of <!– is a quick way of finding any hidden text here. Currently Groundspeak uses 9 such comments, eg Copyright, Google Tag Manager etc, so if the search comes back with 1 of 9, there’s nothing to see here. However, if it shows 1 of 10 or more, head on down to the 8th instance, and see what’s there.
Where do you learn puzzle solving techniques?
The book mentioned above was my first main source. The Geocaching Toolbox and dCode are other useful places to visit. There are also various multi-solvers available, but I rarely use them. I like to know how the cipher/code actually works, and dCode explains each one in detail. I find this a better way to learn about cryptography, rather than just throwing the ciphered text into a multi-solver and have it do all the heavy lifting for you. Each to their own. Of course, the more puzzles you solve, the more you learn, and are able to recognise or identify different methods.
I also engage the help of Google – a lot! It’s not uncommon for me to have 50 tabs open at any one time, following various leads.
Another wonderful source of information is our fantastic community. I try to get to as many events as I can. I often have cachers approach me to ask for a nudge on one of my puzzles, and of course, I’m happy to help. I’d rather give hints and have my puzzle caches found, than have them discarded to the “too hard” pile and not get found.
Do you have a favourite type of puzzle?
I do like multi-layered puzzles. Once you have solved one part, it leads you to another. A bit like unwrapping a pass-the-parcel.
Anything involving maths, geometry, physics, I find quite challenging and rather satisfying to solve.
I also like the printed puzzles (sudoku, crosswords, kakuro etc), and have a number of bound booklets of these sorts of puzzles, which are great to take away off-grid camping.
Thanks so much OzHockeyChick for giving our beginners a great place to start. I am sure you have given some food for thought for those starting out. You have plenty of your own puzzles hidden which might be great to learn and build upon a geocachers puzzle solving repertoire.
For additional tips and tricks, we suggest you also look at this page for ideas.