Geocachers of the Bay Area Home         Collage images except poppies © Lynn Murphy  

General Information and FAQs

  Geocaching How-To'sTrade ItemsEquipmentMiscellaneous 

GBA Puzzle (Mystery) Cache FAQ

Version 1.01
7/6/2005

Contributors: workerofwood, Marky, Team Nazgul, budd-rdc, fizzymagic, boulter, escooby, TPS, TeamJiffy, BuckyD, Mauison, Cat&Bird, kablooey, mini cacher, kealia, Rogue Ramblers, The Rat, Sgt Stitches

Compiled By: Team Nazgul (so blame him for any complaints you have)

Purpose And Introduction
Definition
Advice For Making A Good Puzzle
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
Additional Information

Purpose And Introduction

Puzzle caches are perhaps the most difficult caches to create, particularly high-quality ones. This FAQ has been created to hopefully provide some guidance and insight for local geocachers who are thinking about putting out a puzzle cache of their own. Much of the information here is necessarily subjective and there are almost always exceptions to the guidance.

Puzzle caches come in many varieties and difficulty levels. Just about any level of difficulty is acceptable, but consider your desired audience and the experience you wish to deliver with your puzzle. The more challenging you make your puzzle, the fewer people will be willing to take up that challenge.

Above all, remember that you are providing something that is intended to be fun for people who attempt to solve your puzzle. Delight your audience, educate them, challenge them, make them smile or laugh, whatever. Ideally, you should strive to provide them with the best experience you can reasonably manage.

Definition

Mystery or Puzzle Caches

From Geocaching.com -

The "catch-all" of cache types, this form of cache often involves complicated puzzles that you will first need to solve in order to determine the coordinates. The information needed to solve the puzzle must be available to the general caching community and should be solvable from the information provided on the cache listing. The only commonality of this cache type is that the coordinates listed are not of the actual cache location but a general reference point, such as a nearby parking location. Unless a good reason otherwise can be provided, the posted coordinates should be no more than 1-2 miles away from the true cache location. This allows the cache to show up on the proper vicinity searches and to keep the mileage of Travel Bugs that find their way into the cache reasonably correct.

Advice For Making A Good Puzzle

  • Your puzzle cache, by definition, will not be at the posted coordinates (see Definition above) It is considered polite to post something to that effect in the cache description, and this is most commonly done at the very top (the short description of the cache). You don't necessarily have to give an approximate distance to the actual cache but again it's considered helpful and polite to do so. A typical starting comment for a puzzle cache would be "The cache is not located at the posted coordinates. It is, however, within two miles of them."
  • People should have a fighting chance to solve your puzzle. No one enjoys a riddle with no answer, or an impossible challenge, regardless of the intended difficulty level of the puzzle.
  • Take your time when creating your puzzle! Well thought-out puzzles that are crafted with care really do reflect the effort, and geocachers both recognize and appreciate those efforts.
  • While not strictly necessary, a perfect puzzle includes an interesting location and cache. Interesting does not necessarily mean difficult.
  • If at all possible, run it past people you know to get constructive feedback and to verify that your puzzle has been constructed correctly. Pay particular attention to any required math or other detail work and make sure you have it right. Try to put yourself in the solver's shoes as well.
  • Provide good hints. This can sometimes be very difficult, but do your best. Avoid outright spoilers. If information is required to solve the puzzle, it should be included in the description, not the hints.
  • Generally, people prefer puzzles where all information required to solve the puzzle is located on the cache page, with minimal or no need to use external sources such as Google.
  • Puzzles should generally not require contact with the cache owner. If there are many logs for a puzzle indicating that the finder feels that they never would have solved the puzzle without help from the owner, the puzzle is likely not constructed as well as it could be.
  • Speaking of which, checksums are almost always a good idea and they're appreciated as a way to save time and effort by preventing geocachers from going out to look for something in the wrong place.
  • If you're creating an extremely difficult puzzle that requires an advanced understanding of quantum mechanics and hours of complex mathematics, you really should have a prominent statement to that effect in the cache description.
  • Most people enjoy learning something from a puzzle. If you can teach or show them something, they'll appreciate it.

Avoiding common pitfalls

  • Try to be logical. Tread carefully where intuitive leaps are required.
  • Look at how other puzzle caches are set up. Many use established techniques and construction. Be very cautious if you're trying to do something very different.
  • If you're new to geocaching and/or puzzle caches, you are more likely to unintentionally create a bad puzzle. If you want to create one, don't let that alone stop you! But again, do tread carefully. Don't be shy about asking for advice from your fellow geocachers.
  • Be careful with your sources. If your puzzle requires that people look up U.S. Presidents, or Popes, or something like that, make sure your answers are correct. Be aware that sometimes people may try to look up information on the internet and get incorrect answers. It may be appropriate to provide a link to a trusted source or some other way of verifying answers.
  • Be consistent. You generally don't want to have something decode as "twentyone" in one place and "twenty one" in another.
  • Avoid ambiguity.
  • Be aware of the "noise level" of your puzzle. Don't create a page full of vast amounts of information and possibilities with no way of narrowing things down.
  • Minimize or avoid tedious work. Tedium is not fun.

Additional Information

This FAQ began as a thread in the GBA Forums. You may want to read the thread to get the various opinions and viewpoints in the words of the original posters - http://thegba.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=240.

The GBA web site also has a section where you can find bookmark lists of local cachers' favorite geocaches, including puzzles. It's a great resource for identifying and locating popular puzzles in the Bay Area and beyond - http://thegba.net/community/favorites.php.