On Building a Geo-Puzzle Community

Dastardly Onyx Pathtag
Blueprint for the "Onyx" level Dastardly Pathtag

I haven’t met many puzzle constructors who don’t want their puzzles to be solved.  Yes, there may be a few sadistic souls out there who revel in creating impossibly obscure puzzles.  But most of us are like authors or directors – we’ve poured our creative energies into something, and once it’s finished we want people to enjoy it.

I have a number of geocaches published in New York City, some of them traditional (coordinates posted on the geocaching.com site) and some of them puzzles (to be solved before the location is revealed).  It’s not hard to notice how much less attention the geo-puzzles receive.  In 2007 I published two caches in Central Park, less than half a mile apart.  One is a puzzle that has been found 4 times in the last six months.  The other is a traditional that has been found 316 times in the same time frame.

I talked about it with another local constructor in the area, childofatom.  How can we change this?  What could we as puzzle creators do to interest more people in solving puzzles?

We talked about borrowing the Puzzle Solving 101 concept.  We talked about hosting an educational seminar for new solvers.  Finally we took a cue from the growing popularity of Pathtags and batted around the idea of creating a special solver tag, available only to cachers who solve a number of the area’s geo-puzzles.  Pathtags are custom metal coins that can be collected and traded, and tracked online.  They’re similar to geocoins, but smaller (about the size of a quarter) and (importantly) much cheaper to produce.

We collected some of the best geo-puzzles in New York into a bookmark list of “Dastardly Puzzle Caches”.  We hashed out a “Dastardly” design and minted it in two finishes.  There were just over 30 puzzles, so we decided that one tag would be earned for solving 15, and another tag for hitting 30.  We picked out a pub and a date two weeks in the future.  We generated a list of people who had solved at least a handful of them and sent out an email telling folks when and where we’d be, and that we’d be handing out tags to any qualified solvers.

Then we sat back.

And watched the “Great Puzzle Solving Flood of 2010” start to roll in.

In the two weeks before we sent out our email, the Dastardly puzzles on our list collected a grand total of 16 finds between them.  In the two weeks afterward?  Over 100!  When we showed up to the pub it was crowded with eager geo-puzzle solvers happily introducing themselves to each other and swapping hints.  We quickly handed out tags and joined in the conversation.  One geocacher had published a puzzle that morning in honor of the gathering, using the pub’s coordinates as a starting point; another resolved to start writing his first NYC puzzle cache as soon as he got home.  We all promised to have another gathering soon where we could hand out more tags to people who had leveled up in that time.

The tags have created a spark in our community, and we’re building on it.  Interested in seeing if it might build interest in puzzles in your area?  Feel free to contact me through my geocaching.com profile and let us know if you’d like to adapt the tag design – there could easily be a whole series of “Dastardly” pathtags representing different puzzle communities all around the country (or around the world).

Geocaching in the News (aka, Giving eP the Recognition He So Rightly Deserves)

(I haven’t forgotten about you … I’ve just been really, really, really busy in a way that seems to be soaking up an awful lot of my personal time. Real Soon Now, I will be increasing my posting frequency here back to the levels I know you’ve all come to expect.)

There was a wonderful story about geocaching in the Sun-Sentinel this weekend, featuring a mention of Yours Truly. Check it out.


I found a puzzle cache yesterday. I thought you might appreciate the log entry from it. It’s all 100% true, even the entry from 2:35:12.

August 20 by ePeterso2 (580 found)


12:40 pm – Begin work on solving this puzzle with the intent of finding it on the way home

12:55 pm – Puzzle solved. Well, most of the puzzle is solved. I’m only missing one of the words, but I’m so sure about the crossing words that I know I must be right.

4:30 pm – Get ready to skip out early to have enough time to get to the cache. Co-worker walks into cube and asks for “just a minute of my time”.

5:27 pm – One minute of my time ends.

5:28 pm – Give up hope of finding cache today.


8:30 am – Arrive at work. Plan to leave at noon. Need to be in downtown Fort Lauderdale at 4:00 pm.

10:42 am – Doctor’s office calls. The doctor will be in surgery the rest of the day – all appointments today are canceled. Reschedule for tomorrow!

12:59 pm – Get son to band camp with one minute to spare! Have lunch.

2:30 pm – Arrive at the cache parking lot. Power up GPSr, punch in coordinates, and head in the direction of the arrow. “Battery Low” warning appears on GPSr screen.

2:31:15 pm – GPSr turns self off. Press on in same direction.

2:33 pm – Trail veers sharply away from the direction I know I need to be traveling. Remember signs at trailhead that say “STAY ON TRAIL”. Begin debate with self as to whether heeding that guidance is a good idea or not. If I stay on the trail, I don’t think I’ll find the cache. Ever.

2:34 pm – Debate with self concluded. I must find this cache! Leave trail.

2:34:30 pm – Restart GPSr, hoping to get a few minutes of battery life out of it. Stare at GPSr.

2:35 pm – Walk face-first into a massive spider web across the trail.

2:35:01 pm – Drop GPSr, shake head violently, and hope the spider isn’t in my hair. Frantically swipe at hair in hopes of brushing away any potential spiders.

2:35:05 pm – Consider that if the spider is in my hair, I will have smashed it and spider guts will now be in my hair.

2:35:06 pm – Check hair for spider guts. No spider guts found. Remainder of spider web removed. Pick up GPSr to find that it has died and powered off again.

2:35:12 pm – Grab a stick to use to clear away spider webs in front of me. Look up at remains of spider web. The spider is as large as my outstretched fingers.

2:35:25 pm – Exhale. Press on.

2:36 pm – Avoid spider webs 2, 3, and 4.

2:38 pm – Power up the GPSr again. It stays on just long enough for me to walk around a particular area of interest. Cache must be there.

2:39 pm – It is. Container is in hand!

2:39:01 pm – But I can’t open it. RATS. But I do remember what I need to open it!

2:39:03 pm – What I need is the last bit of the puzzle I wasn’t able to solve. RATS. And my solution to the puzzle is back on my desk at work. 30 miles away.

2:40 pm – Piece together what I think is the correct solution to the puzzle from memory. Ignore insect stings. Ignore pain of being poked by a thorny plant. Keep trying to open the cache. Keep failing.

2:45 pm – Give up squatting. Realize that I need to work on this some more. Decide to take the container with me back to the trailhead and work on it there.

2:50 pm – Return to trailhead after avoiding spiders 4, 3, 2, and 1 successfully. Fail to open container.

3:00 pm – Make notes about the container. Return container to hiding spot. Return to car and leave the area to try to find a nearby WiFi spot to cross-check my puzzle solution.

3:10 pm – Find WiFi spot. Order frozen lemonade which is awesome relief for being outside in the afternoon heat. Check answers. Discover potential solution that I totally overlooked.

3:35 pm – Return to the cache site. Apply solution – SUCCESS! Sign log, leave Red Otter pathtag for next finder.

3:45 pm – Return to the car. Miraculously hit a lucky combination of green lights. Make it to my meeting on time.

Thanks for the cache!


Arcade Classics Puzzle Series

I was very lucky to grow up during the Golden Age of Video Arcade Games. I always loved pinball machines since I was very young, so when video games became popular in the late 70s and early 80s, I was hooked.

My earliest video game memory is wandering away from my parents’ camper at the campground in Rainbow Springs State Park and heading up to the community center just to play Sea Wolf. I still remember where all of my favorite video games were located – arcades in shopping malls, single machines in convenience stores, games lining the walls of smoky pool halls, and more. I was never an expert at playing any of them in particular – I just loved the whole electronic gaming experience.

As I graduated from high school and joined The Real World(tm), coin-op video games began to be overtaken by the power of home machines. The Nintendo NES had just been released, followed by the Super NES, Sega Genesis, and more. The allure of the coin-op games began to fade.

To honor that bygone era, I’ve started a new series of geocaching puzzles called Arcade Classics. The Arcade Classics series is not a quest (such as my PS101 Series) – all of the puzzles are of the completely standalone solve-at-your-desk variety. They’re on the easyish end of the difficulty spectrum and will take solvers to interestingly relevant places I’ve discovered on my trips around town.



PS: If you want to experience that coin-op goodness for yourself, you can do so right at home. The freeware application called the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, or MAME, lets you play all of those old games on your Windows computer at home.

PPS: If you like classic video games, you’ll LOVE these YouTube videos: Pong, Space Invaders, Pole Position, Tetris

Solve-at-Your-Desk Puzzle Caches

Like many geocachers, whenever I travel on vacation or for business, I like to try to find at least one cache wherever I go. And, of course, I like for those caches to be puzzle caches if possible.

Unfortunately, I don’t always have a lot of extra time on such trips. So to make the most of my limited caching hours, I generally shy away from puzzles that require me to use some information that is only available by visiting the posted coordinates.

While on a recent trip to Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, I discovered that a number of puzzle caches were on a “solve at your desk” bookmark list maintained by Western Mass Clan. This was really really handy – I could solve a bunch of puzzles in advance of my trip, then score as many finds as possible during my trip.

I found this concept so useful that I created a similar set of lists for Florida, one for each Florida Geocaching Association region. Creating this list was extremely informative – it gave me a very clear picture of what sorts of puzzles are in use today, from the overused to the highly original.

If you’re a puzzlehead looking to solve more puzzle caches than are available in your area, why not try solving a few of these? You can tackle them no matter where you are.

Lists of “Solve at Your Desk” Puzzle Caches

If you know of any others, please post a comment and let other folks know. And if you know of any corrections, please send them to the bookmark list owners.

I think this list is useful enough that I’m going to add it as a resource page to this site. Enjoy!

The Cerebral Codex: Use Your Brain or Lose Your Mind

“A cleverly crafted puzzle is a work of intellectual art when the simplicity of its solution is beautifully hidden by the complexity of its design. Such art requires imagination and creativity on the part of the creator and requires the solver to walk the fine line between inspiration and insanity.”

Brian Smith, Author/Creator of the Cerebral Codex

Part novel, part puzzle, part quest … it is difficult to find a single description that adequately describes the Cerebral Codex.

The Novel

The story begins with the protagonists Bret and Jon fighting for their very survival swimming through a rough sea in a raging storm. Sighting an island in the distance, they manage to avoid drowning and swim to the safety of the shore. After recovering on the island, they discover hidden deep within an old stone library the Cerebral Codex, which told a unique and intriguing tale.

In this mysterious environment, the two friends find themselves in a strange place with only the Cerebral Codex to help guide them. They find that the Codex is riddled with mind bending and mysterious mental challenges, which when solved lead them on an adventure like no other.

The Puzzle

As the characters in the novel encounter puzzles, you are given similar challenges to solve. Work to solve the puzzles and uncover hidden information in the codex and begin your own adventure.  This is a multi-stage challenge which has several levels each consisting of a mental challenge (puzzle) followed by a physical challenge.  Can you unlock the mysteries encoded deep within the Cerebral Codex?

The Quest

There are two ways to claim credit for solving the Cerebral Codex. As a cache finder or as a distance solver.

If you choose to find the cache in person, you’ve got quite a trek ahead of you. The Cerebral Codex geocache is set in the heart of the Wharton State Forest in New Jersey, USA. With over 100,000 acres, Wharton is the largest New Jersey State Forest and provides a great backdrop for this challenge.  While the cache itself is located in Wharton State Forest, this adventure will take you well beyond it’s boundaries in search of the puzzle pieces that you need to access the final cache container, the logbook, and the Codex Bonus Cache Travel Bug.

If you decide to tackle this as a distance solver, you’ve got a different sort of trek ahead of you. Download the novel, and read the entire thing. Solve the first ten puzzles to unlock the twenty Meshulash pieces. Use the Meshulash pieces to solve the final puzzle.  When you solve the final puzzle, you’ll be given the tracking code for the Codex Distance Solver Travel Bug.

The Cerebral Codex  was not designed to be tackled in a weekend – it will take thought, time and (if you attempt to find the cache) several trips.

Getting Started

If you are ready to tackle the challenge of the Cerebral Codex, click on one of the following links:

Geocache Hunters: Visit the cache page for GCVJXQ
Distance Solvers: Download the novel and begin solving from home

Air Vent Rearangements

Beyond the shuffling of architectural air ducts, if you have the tenacity to rearrange the letters of this post’s title by hand you may have the good fortune of discovering the hidden words – INTERNET ANAGRAM SERVER – but it would be much easier if you simply went to the Internet Anagram Server at www.wordsmith.org/anagram and let the interweb do the work for you. It’s a great tool to test seemingly nonsensical strings of words in a puzzle, hiding your own clues in rearranged letters or simply discovering that GATOR PEED IN ONE CORRAL is an anagram for your full name – well at least mine.

Puzzle Solving 101

I am often asked how I go about solving puzzles. As I’m interested in geocaching, I decided to create a series of geocaches that teach people how to solve some of the most common types of puzzles as well as to give them the skills to solve other types of puzzles.

The result of this effort is the Puzzle Solving 101 Series of geocaches. Each cache in the series offers a lesson on a particular topic of puzzle solving. The description of each cache offers a description of the topic as well as solving tips. Each lesson also contains an example to solve using the tips presented in the lesson – the solution to each example puzzle is the location of a geocache in Broward County, Florida.