Wise Folder Hider Portable - Free download and software Solving puzzles - parmstro's geocaching puzzle pages FREE Security Tools - Freeware - Freeware Nonags - Free
If you have any hints/tips you want to share that I have missed - please feel free to contact me via the guestbook. Or use my new page on Facebook. This site and the Facebook page are for generic puzzle solving - for help on individual caches you can always try here.
Also please try the links on the left - hover over them and you will find lots of interesting pages to explore.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive guide, as there are many puzzles I have not managed to solve. However looking at the new puzzles that come out they all fall into one of the categories outlined on this site, so this should allow you to get started on some caches that you may have ignored in the past, or have been frustrated by. I have also many people confirm that this site works!!!!
As an aside I have solved about 600 puzzle caches (of all levels of difficulty from 1 to 5), so whilst that doesn't put me in the super-league, I would claim that it gives me a reasonable breath of knowledge and experience!!
Puzzle caches are one particular type of geocache. Whereas a traditional cache will give you the coordinates and off you go, with a puzzle cache you have to work out the coordinates first from the information provided.
Puzzle caches show a set of coordinates, but these are not (normally) where the cache is hidden. They are known in the trade as dummy coordinates and may be totally random or may be a clue to the theme of the cache. Fundamentally you are trying to find the real coordinates and hence you need to generate a string of numbers. Coordinates round here (Tadworth in Surrey) are of the form N51 ab.cde W000 fg.hij, so you are trying to find the answers for a to j. Look at the dummy coords, as they are unlikely to be further than 1 or 2 miles from the real coords, and that will give you a good idea of what ab and fg will be.
For instance, N51 16.780 W000 13.035 is a roundabout near here, which is not far from a lot of caches. Two miles North and South takes you from N51 15 to N51 18.5, and two miles East and West takes you from W000 10.2 to W000 15.8, so if those were the dummy coordinates, you would have a pretty good idea what range the solution should be in.
Sometimes the puzzle setter expects you to generate the 51 and 000 as well, which I always consider a bonus as you know what some of the answers are already and this may well help you to solve the puzzle. If the puzzle setter gives you some formulae for working out the coordinates, always look to see if you can make any logical deductions about the numbers. For instance, round here if a puzzle started N XY ab.cde, you would immediately know that X and Y are likely to be 3 and 17 or 17 and 3. Similarly W XYZ fg.hij would tell you that X,Y and Z are all zero. Normally the puzzle setter is not nearly that generous, but you can quite often work out some numbers / some constraints from the formulae - something I have learnt by bitter experience when I had to change the formulae on one of mine as you could work out the answer from the formulae without solving the puzzle at all.
Sometimes you have to generate the coordinates in a different format - see here for further details.
To help you solve some puzzle caches, I will look at some of the most common types of puzzle cache I have either set or managed to solve. Examples will be based on my caches as I don't think it's fair to give away the answers to other peoples' puzzles. Please note that a lot of my puzzle caches have been kindly adopted by other cachers, but I have included them here as I designed them and placed them. I have also archived a bunch of caches, but have included links to their web pages so you can still see how they work.
You should also look at tjapukai's mega-puzzle for a description of all the cache types he has found and set (but his puzzles tend to be a lot harder than mine!), and who did all the tedious work on laying out a taxonomy, which I plagiarised for my list below. Some puzzles fit into more than one category - that is quite normal.
There are many ways the puzzle setter can provide information on the cache page to give you clues. They include:
The title - often a clue to the theme
The dummy coords - the location may be a clue, or the numbers themselves
The text on the page - the words, the layout, different fonts or some lines written in white letters. To check for hidden text, use CTL-A to select all the text on the page
The picture in the background - see below for details of how to look at this
The cacher's name - often a made-up name to give you a clue
Some people set up puzzle caches where you have to go and find information at various places / find things that match various pictures. Being picky, I would actually say these should be multi-caches and aren't really puzzles, but hey I don't make up the rules. Anyway, the good news is that these are normally straightforward.
There is a good starting overview for solving puzzle caches in GC25WQJ.
I also came across this bookmark list from a Puzzle 101 series in the US, which is rather neat as it allows you "log a find" remotely. What happens is that when you have finished the series you can get the id of a virtual travel bug, and you write your log against that - something you can only do if you have solved all the puzzles and got the id for the TB - neat.
I have also just finished a puzzle series in Vancouver, Canada - GC26Q2N is the first in the series. It takes you through a series of different types of puzzle cache, which aren't too tricky. The cache owner does like red herrings, though, so be warned!!!
There is a handy site in Australia, which has lots of good stuff for solving puzzles.
Last, but not least, I have published a series of puzzles AGTSSP stages 1 to 13, which give you an example of each one of these puzzle types.
e.g. A Christmas Quiz; Drago Dormiens; Headley Cooperative; A Wee drop of red, Angus?
In these puzzles everybody enters guesses and the puzzle setter gradually reveals information on the cache page. At the end you normally have a straightforward puzzle cache. These are most fun at the stage when everyone is chipping in - don't be frightenened about entering a guess - the way they are designed no-one has a clue what is going on at the beginning!!
e.g. I love/hate puzzles intro, 1; I love/hate puzzles (series 2) intro; Look Sharp 1, 10
In these you are looking for a list of objects/people or similar.
For instance, the colours of the rainbow would give Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. Normally a list like this will start with Red=1, but the puzzle setter may also choose to start from zero. The easiest thing to do is to try it one way and see what comes out, and look on Google Earth where the answer you have calculated takes you. If it seems crazy, then try the other way. Friendly puzzle setters will give you the words, sneaky ones would simply use R,O,Y,G,B,I and V. Lists that go up from 1 to 10 often use the 10 as a zero - the cache setter normally tells you if this is the case. Planets are a popular theme here, although now Pluto has been demoted some caches may need changing!
Often you will end up with letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. Usually all you have to do in these simple ones is convert them using A=1, B=2, C=3 etc. Sometimes the cache setter starts with A=1, B=2 etc and then continues with K=1, L=2 etc.
Sometimes the list is obvious; other times you have to Google the words given to find out what the list is.
Some examples - Periodic Table, days of the week, months of the year, colours of snooker or pool balls.
3.More complex lists
e.g. I love/hate puzzles 2; Look Sharp 2, 5, 7; Part 1; Parts 2 and 3; Red, White and Blue;
Hints are given on the cache page. Look at the title, the words in the text, and the hint at the bottom. There may be a picture in the background. To look at this, view the source of the page (View, Source in IE; View, Page Source in Firefox; CTL+U in Google Chrome ) and search for background, which should give you the URL of the background photo. Cut and paste this in to a new window/tab and hey presto you can see the photo. Whenever you look at a photo, don't forget to use right-hand mouse click, properties to see if you can find out anything interesting about the photo (e.g. filename, size etc.) Also hover the cursor over the photo and sometimes you will find something.
Searching for photos on the Internet used to be a pain. I have tried to find some image matching software, but the only thing I could find cost a fortune and appears to be used by the CIA!!! One site that is very useful for trying to find out where a picture comes from is tineye.com. Google Images also has a neat feature now - simply click on the camera icon in the search field and you can upload a photo. Whereas tineye looks for eaxct matches, Google also looks for similar images. More on photos below.
Sometimes you have to generate the list yourself from the info/hints on the cache page.
You will probably end up using Google, and it is worth looking at their advanced search techniques info if you are not an avid Googler. For instance, I have recently solved a couple of caches by using a combination of + and - in the Google Search. +xxx says xxx must be there and -yyy says exclude pages with yyy. Often the lists can be found in Wikipedia - one helpful technique is to go into Wikipedia and then enter your search in the box there, hence narrowing the search to just Wikipedia entries.
Some examples - Harry Potter books, Mohs hardness scale, Scoville pepper scale, mountains, rivers, countries, bridges, Dewey decimal library system, films, Crayola crayons, Scrabble letters, Monopoly squares, number of players in a team, wedding anniversaries (although no-one seems to be able to agree on one definitive list!), time zones, Olympic cities / torches, F1 race tracks, tennis tournaments.
Here's one I haven't seen - S, Mi, H, Da, W, F, Mo, Y, De, C - try working out what it is if you have time!
If the list has colours, then consider the rainbow, snooker, pool, crayons, measuring sticks (used in schools), resistors, underground lines, fire temperatures / detectors etc.
If the list has countries consider dialling codes, time zones, number of stars on their flags, land borders (number of countries) etc.
Who will win the race? can be solved using the hints on the cache page, which will take you to an appropriate page on Wikipedia, or you can simply do it as a multi.
4.Ones where you (probably) don't need Google
e.g. Horton Hunter's final part of ENDGAME - a really elegant example; Space Oddity; I love/hate puzzles (series 2) #1, #2; Look Sharp 8, 10; I love/hate puzzles 3; Cache 101
As it happens, I am not a great fan of sitting on Google for hours, so I love a cache which uses information that we all know and don't have to search for. I've included Look Sharp 8 here as you build all the info you need by doing Look Sharp 1 to 7. A couple of the others listed above might require a Google for confirmation but you probably have the info in your head already.
Sometimes the cache page shows a sequence of numbers and you have to work out the next one. Try this link if you get stuck.
e.g. last part of Red, White and Blue
We are used to counting decimal numbers - in other words with a base of 10. There are many other counting schemes though, like Roman numerals, binary (base 2), hexadecimal (base 16), Mayan (base 20), base 64. This website is great for converting from one base to another. The standard calculator on your PC will also do some conversions for you. Open the calculator and click on View Scientific. Make sure the Dec button is clicked and then enter the number 255 and click on the Hex button. You should now see FF, which is how to write 255 in hexadecimal (in Hex A=10, B=11, C=12, D=13, E=14 and F=15, so FF is 1516 +15 = 255). Now click on Oct (base 8) and you get 377, click on Bin (binary, base 2) and you get 1111111. It obviously works the other way round too!
Here's another base conversion site, and yet another one.
Foreign languages are often used - e.g. Tagalog (a favourite as it sound like a geocaching language!), French, German, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Cornish, Welsh, Costermonger, Esperanto
Many other things have standard numbering schemes like books, CDs, films, musical scales, map references, mobile phones, calculators (try typing in 351073 and turning the calculator upside down) etc.
Barcodes also appear sometimes and here, here and here are some sites for deciphering them
I have also found this site, which has links to all sorts of interesting tools.
The pictures used for geocaching cache types are all numbered - try looking at the names of the gif files used. The various log types also have different numbers - try writing a log entry and then before saving it, look at the source of the webpage you are on - WORK in PROGRESS, NEEDS MORE INFO / EXAMPLE.
I have also see the International Phonetic Alphabet - the funny thing you see in dictionaries to show you how words are pronounced. This website will speak it out for you. Try typing in <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="//wʌnlɛsðənθriːtɑɪmsfɔ"> </phoneme>, and see what comes out.
Another one I have seen involves converting dates into their Unix representation - try playing with this link.
You could include Look Sharp 12 in this category as it involves counting in musical notation.
Codes / alphabets / dates / languages etc. sites and Mathematical / base sites - see the useful links page.
e.g. Codeword 1,2,3 and 4; Logic puzzle part of ENDGAME
Typical ones used here are Sudoku, Sudoku Killer, Codeword etc. If you can't solve these types of puzzle, then simply Google "Sudoku solver" or "Sudoku Killer solver" and you will find websites that will help you solve the puzzles, e.g. this one.
e.g. I love/hate puzzles (series 2) #3; Look Sharp 9; Uh huh, it was the Manfreds; The 3 Ages of Man.
In these you have to perform some mathematical calculations to work out the answer. One common theme is the hands of a clock - see grunt_futtock's About Time. I also use a simple mathematical problem at the end of Our First Bonus Cache. If you are rubbish at maths, find someone who isn't or try looking at Google - a lot of well-known maths problems are published on the Internet. For instance I recently solved a puzzle which involved differential calculus (well integration actually). I couldn't remember all my A Level Maths, but one quick Google gave me a site which did all the work for me.
Sometimes you get a puzzle that involves working out the distances form other places - in other words a sort of triangulation. This site will give you a program that creates circles round a set of coordinates. It generates these as kml files, which you can then load into Google Earth and see where they intersect.
8.Hobby / Sport puzzles
e.g. Look Sharp 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12; What Immortal Hand or Eye?; Symmetry N51 PA Bonus; A Wee Drop of Red; Part 3
My hobbies (as shown in my profile) are music, photography, golf, and Harry Potter. Always check the puzzle setter's profile for their hobbies and interests. If you suspect a sporting theme (or you are struggling with a puzzle), check the date of publication, which may well be the day someone won a race / became champion / something significant happened.I have also found information hidden in audio files - I downloaded a free wave file analyser and found morse code beeps hidden in the file.
Popular sports include F1, Olympics, cycling, rugby, cricket, golf, tennis and football.
Card games include Poker, Bridge and Cribbage.
e.g. I love/hate puzzles 4; Codeword 2
The most common cipher used by puzzle setters is the Vigenere code, but there are many others. Ian Too's excellent Cipher Progression series is a great way to learn about ciphers. Don't forget that there is a simple cipher (ROT13) on every cache page used for encrypting / decrypting the hints - some puzzle setters (including me) use this occasionally. Similar to ROT13 is ROT47, which works the same way, but includes all ASCII symbols (not just letters). Here is a ROT47 conversion site.
Again, mobile phones are used a lot here - e.g. 66784 spells North on your phone keypad.
Another one I have seen several times recently is the tap code (used to tap messages between prison cells) .
There are also two excellent websites here and here to help you. Another excellent website for ciphers and lots of other lists / alphabets etc. is here (but this seems to have gone AWOL at present????), and here is a neat decrypting site. I've also downloaded a Vigenere cracker from here, which has frequently proved useful. I also have created a Vigenere spreadsheet, which has options like enter cipher text and plaintext and it gives you the key (I use these when I think the string should give coords and I enter things like North or fifty one and see if a sensible looking key comes out). Here's a simple version of the spreadsheet:
Other useful websites are a Morse decoder, a Braille Decoder, a Binary to text converter, a hex to text converter, and Vigenere coder/decoder. Here is another site for various ciphers with encoding and decoding options.
If you have a strange looking string of characters in upper and lower case with numbers as well, it may be written in Base64, and if you have a very strange limited set of characters or words try looking up esoteric programming language in Wikipedia.
Sometime you will just find symbols - common ones are the Pigpen / Freemason cipher and Dancing Men. I have also seen sign language and signal flags - just Google these and you will find charts showing what each flag / sign means. One I have seen on cache pages and out in the field is the Scytale, where they used to wrap the parchment round a rod.
One technique used to create weird symbols is to type out the message in MS Word and then convert the font to Wingdings. Lots of cipher puzzle caches just use symbolic fonts, which can often be downloaded for free from the Internet. Fonts can be found that have holiday symbols, ancient writing, ink blots etc. Of course, the easiest way to solve puzzles, which use a symbolic font is to find the font on the Internet and download it. However, beware that the original text may have first been scrambled before the font was converted.
Cipher sites - see the useful links page.
e.g. Look Sharp 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11
As photography is one of my hobbies, I like setting puzzles that have hidden information in the photograph. Sometimes the information is simply hidden in the file - open the photo with Notepad (TextEdit on a Mac) and have a look at the end. Always right click for properties as stated above and hover the cursor over the picture as well.
The other place to hide info in photos is in the Metadata, which is the data stored about the photo - e.g. shutter speed, aperture, time and date taken etc. Programs like Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop will let you look at this. Picasa (free) will let you look at a subset of the metadata.
If you don't have photo software then you can download freeware from the Internet - one example is here. Or there is a brilliant site here, which lets you look at Exif Metadata, edit photos to reveal hidden stuff, has a link to Tineye etc.
The general technique of hiding information in innocuous things like photos is known as Steganography. It is quite easy to hide a file in a jpeg. I have seen this quite frequently now, and the software I use to extract the files is 7-zip, which is free. You download the jpg, change the file type to zip and open the archive with 7-zip. If you look at a downloaded jpg with Notepad (or similar) you can normally spot that there are other files added on the end and hence know that you need to use this technique.
Note that photos come in different sizes. Sometimes the CO uses one size, but the info you require is hidden in a different sized version of the same photo. See the URL section for examples of different URLs for photos.
If you are looking at an image on a webpage and it is a bit small, you can always use CTRL + to zoom in, and CTRL - to zoom back out again (this works on any webpage).
Another type of image you may come across is a stereogram - they are the funny pictures you are meant to look and see something appear. I can't see anything in them at all, so I downloaded a decoder from here. Another one I have virus checked and tried, which works well, is here. Searching on Google for stereogram decoder will also take you to several interesting sites / discussions. Another way to look at stereograms is to open it up in e.g. Photoshop (or Gimp, which is free), create a duplicate layer with the mode of difference. This will give you black to start with. Now move the top layer slowly to one side and after a while the image should appear.
Another one I have just come across is animated gif files. I use Google Chrome and in that if you right hand mouse click an image it will give you inspect element as an option. If you do this on animated gif files, you will find that the various images making up the gif will appear. If you want to see all of them use a site like this to view the gif.
I'm also including in this bracket ones that need you to go to Google Earth / Google Maps / Streetview. I have seen ones where you simply go into Streetview and where the cache is hidden becomes obvious, ones where you have to find some info in Streetview to solve the puzzle, and ones where you look at the photos that have been taken at or near the coordinates.
Photo / stereogram / colours sites - see the useful links page.
e.g. Who Will Win The Race? First part of Red, White and Blue
Some puzzles use a (usually recent, but not always) significant event as the theme. It is always worth checking the date of publication and then seeing if something significant happened on that day / is the day an anniversary of the event? If I tell you my name is Armstrong, you can probably guess which famous people/events I might use in some of my puzzles.
e.g. I love/hate puzzles 2,3
In these the information is hidden in the text on the page - perhaps the first letter of each line (an acrostic), or certain words in the text, or you have to work out some anagrams (try typing anagram solver into Google if you are rubbish at anagrams), or you have to do some text-based manipulations. Another technique is to wite some text in normal and some in italic - as you can see in this sentence.
Anagram sites - see the useful links page
13.Cache page puzzles
e.g. part of I love/hate puzzles - 3, Click here and drag down
There are other ways the puzzle setter can use features of the cache page to set up a puzzle. They include:
- The GC number - the puzzle setter cannot choose this number, but they see what it is as part of setting up the cache, and can use it as part of the puzzle.
- The title (obviously).
- The cacher's name. Click on this link to take you to their real name and profile. The cacher's hobbies / finds / caches etc. may prove helpful. Also look at the source of this page - you can use html in the profile page, so search for white text and comments - see below.
- The date published.
- The source - don't forget to look at the source of the webpage. Look for background to find the background picture. Look for description to find the short and long description. Also look at the icon / jpeg used for geochecking - there is often info hidden in there. Also search for <! which are comments you won't see on the cache page itself, and "white" to find white text.
- You can also click and drag (or select all) on any web page you look at to see if there is any hidden (e.g. white) text.
- The related webpage - a link near the top of the page (I use this a lot to point at this website!!)
- Translating the title into numbers to give coords, or translating the dummy coords into letters.
- The URL of the cache page (at the top beginning with http://).The attributes - see below. See also the URL section on this website.
- The logs on this or related caches- each log has a unique id - see here
- The id of the puzzle setter or a fellow geocacher. To find someone's id, you can look in GSAK if they have set any puzzles and you have those in your GSAK database (owner id is one of the columns you can look at), or go to their profile on geocaching.com and hover over the part where it says "See The Forum Posts For This User" and their id should appear at the bottom left of your screen - if not, then right-hand mouse-click properties should tell you.
- If you download the GPX file of a cache and open that with notepad it will tell you the cache id, the cache owner's id and also the numbers used for the attributes. I have also discovered that you sometimes find stuff in the GPX file that does not appear on the cache page, so it is worth looking at it carefully.
- Other techniques I have seen are hiding info in TB descriptions / bookmark lists. Don't forget to look for hidden info in these using the techniques above.
grunt_futtock (my pseduonym) stole one of these ideas for his two caches.
There is a whole section on blank cache pages here.
General bits and pieces
There are also bonus caches like I Love / Hate Puzzles (series 2) finale, MickHead Bonus, Our first bonus cache, but these aren't really puzzle caches as they simply use information you have gathered from previous caches. They really should be multis, but geocaching.com demands that they are set up as puzzles.
I have seen people write programs to eliminate options / try things out, but I'm not clever enough to do that on a PC (give me a good old mainframe and I'd be happy!)
I tend to use spreadsheets for doing calculations as it so easy to make mistakes. If geochecker says no (and I wish every puzzle cache had geochecker), then check your calcs again.
On some caches you will come across password pages - always look at the source of these, which will tell you the "value" of the password you have to enter. In HTML schemes like this A=97, B=98 etc. so you can make a pretty informed guess at the length of password required. See below for very simple spreadsheet for checking the sum of a password.
Don't forget to keep details of how you solved a cache and what the answer was. There is nothing worse than coming back to a cache a few weeks / months later and finding that you have to solve it all over again. Sometimes the owner has to change the location, and you will need your workings to solve the new puzzle. Also, make sure you download the latest GPX file to your GPS as there may be vital information in the logs, or the cache may have been deactivated / archived since you last looked at it.
Last but not least, bounce ideas off friends and family (if they are still talking to you) and never be afraid to ask the puzzle setter and other cachers who have solved the puzzle - we don't bite and are normally very happy to help! Even the gurus ask for help - where they say "I had a small nudge" in their logs, it often means a bloody great shove!
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