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Ken Jennings Writing a Book on Geocaching--Can You Help?


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Ken, I stumbled onto geocaching in 2006 when I was doing some reading in the Degree Confluence Project, like the cacher before me posted. I have always been a bit of a geography nerd. I quit college and became a truck driver so I could see the country in my early 20s. Now, I'm 40 and my home is decorated with framed antique maps from the territorial days of my state.


I'm also a junkie when it comes to transportation history. In everyday, normal conversation, I don't get to talk about my passions, since many find them boring. However, I can hide a cache at an historic ghost town, use the cache page to tell the story, and I guarantee you, SOMEONE will enjoy the history. Also, many will have an interest sparked in history, once you take it out of the boring textbook and bring it to real life and on the ground.


Most of my hides are historically related in some way. I have over 130 such hides in Oklahoma.


Edited to add: Geocaching brought me into Land Surveying, where I deal with history on a daily basis.

Edited by Okiebryan
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FYI to all:


Here's an interesting article about those who are truly directionally challenged - those for whom a map and a GPSr are still not enough. Map reading requires the ability to relate a 2-D schematic image to a 3-D real world, and some people cannot manage the spatial relations exercise.


The article points out that, on the whole, humans do a whole lot of things better than our furry friends, but that navigating isn't generally one of them - even with a map.



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Hey. thanks to all who have responded so far, including privately...looking forward to more. Some quick responses:


1. It is really me. See here, for example. But tozainamboku was cracking me up...I had read enough of that Ventura_Kids thread to get the joke.

2. Those links to Podcacher, Online Geocacher, and the Hunt / Unusual forums were very helpful. Checking them out now.

3. I visited the folks at Groundspeak a few months ago, and will probably look to do so again sometime soon now that I'm getting a little more hands-on caching experience.


Finally: the overlap between general geography fans and cachers is an interesting question. My guess is that the initial crop of diehard cachers (say, 5-8 years ago) WERE almost exclusively map/geography buffs of one kind or another. Who else owned a handheld GPS back then?


But as the sport grew, it accreted millions of fans who had no interest in geography at all: kids who liked Happy Meal toys, gadget geeks who just wanted to play with the cool new thing, outdoorsy types who liked the adventure, collector-mentality folks interesting in racking up big numbers of finds, etc.


But still, at the core of it, come on, it's a treasure hunt using geographic clues. With caching, the clues might be numerical coords instead of "100 paces west of the hangman's tree" or whatever, but it's still essentially treasure-map stuff straight out of Treasure Island. Which I imagine is a big central part of what turns people (especially kids) into geography nuts in the first place.


So I think there is still some kind of primal connection there. Am I crazy?


Far from being crazy...

I find it hard to belive that the majority of us just follow an arrow until the numbers count down to zero. Think of the planing that goes into a normal caching trip other than the spur of the moment hunts.


First you decide where and what type of caches you want to look for. You do this by using Google Earth or some other mapping program to see if you are capable of getting to those caches. You plug those caches into Mapsource or some other mapping program in order to get those caches into your GPS. You then use your mapping GPS with turn-by-turn directions on until you get near the 1st cache, then you switch over to the Topo maps to continue your trip. You then utilize those topo sheets to decide the best route to each cache with minimal elevation loss and shortest distance while staying on a trail. Yes, as you get close to the cache you then utilize the arrow to make life easier. Rinse and repeat if there is more than one cache location on your route for the day's fun.


This doesn't only apply to those remote caches but even to a day's jaunt through the city looking for urban micros. You are still using all these resources {Maps} for your days adventure.


Basically it is no different than my days in the Army back in the 80's. You are given a mission that includes some map coordinates, you plot those coordinates on your paper map using a protractor, you then decide the best route to those coordinates using some common sense and the map with a compass. Only difference now is that the topo maps fold a lot easier {push of a button and they are folded back into memory}. Instead of a co-driver looking at a paper map yelling out turn here or turn there, we get a friendly computer voice processing that map information telling us when to turn. Instead of a protractor and compass with have a neat compact GPS {still seem to misplace it just as much though}.


But, I have to agree I don't condsider myself a map/geography buff, nor was that the reason I got into geocaching. Having the background of being able to read a map and orientate myself to the terrain around me is just an added plus while outdoors enjoying what I enjoy. For those that have never had this experience and get into geocaching you can't help but think the geography doesn't rub-off onto them as they do it more and more?


Nor is the ultimate goal of the younger newer caches that I have cached with the Happy Meal toy. Yes that is the immediate gratification reward, but in the long run it seems the actual hunt in getting to that toy is of more importance. They get more enjoyment out of mastering a new skill {using the GPS and making the correct decisions in route planing} than in trading for that furry little bit of swag. So yes we are turning the younger generation into "Geography Nuts", even if they don't know it B)

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Maps. Map-driven cachers. Interesting?


I've been reading through the various responses and considering once again what drives me to get out and find certain caches. I'll head out to find what I can often predict in advance are both the best ones AND the lamest ones. I'm a bit indiscriminate in that regard - and back towards the beginning of my caching career last year, asked myself why I have been going after that latter category.


The answer is "the map".


Lots of people talk about logging caches "for the smilies". But in reality, when looking on a map at gc.com, I'll bet that many cachers make a point of clicking the "Hide My Finds" box when they are reviewing potential target areas!


I found early that what has driven me to eventually scout out and find the many caches that aren't necessarily of "high quality" by anyone's standards are to remove those blemishes from the map! When I click on "Hide My Finds" and "Hide My Caches", nothing pleases me more than seeing an area that looks like it came directly from Tele Atlas without any additions. Those little icons that remain are like pimples on the face of the map, begging to be dealt with and removed.


The net result is also that the most difficult "unfound" caches must be dealt with at some point. The icons for these caches come up on the map time after time, taunting me, blemishing my otherwise "clean" looking map. Special time is allocated to these.


Anyone else out there have the same drive to create "clean" sections of the gc.com map? And do you keep expanding the area that must be "clean" as you clear out those icons one at a time?


My guess (and it's only that) is that some of us whom outsiders would consider a bit "cache obsessed" are working from this basis. It's the doggone map that's driving much of the activity! For some high numbers cachers, it's really not about the numbers -- it's clearing territory of icons. It's what causes us to have "nemesis" caches - ones we will go back to as many times as necessary if we're convinced that they're really there (and sometimes when we're not). It's that one cache in the middle of a clear area that dares to keep showing its little icon to us each and every day.


As I think about how many caches I've felt compelled to find, and how many I might instead have found were it not for the display of the area using the mapping facility at gc.com ... LARGE difference.

Edited by ecanderson
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Hanging in there with maps but on to a new topic...


How much different would the whole world of geocaching be if the mapping function of gc.com did not exist? Or put another way, how critical is it to the game?


Imagine a world where we have GPS satellite systems and affordable GPSr units, but no ability to display graphics on those units or on a common of information source called the internet. Geocaching would be reduced to text lists, possibly available over the internet, or manually produced maps mailed out through some sort of subscription service.


We'd be reduced to the days of having to sort out which USGS topo maps covered our area of interest, and finding a store that provided them (for a price). We'd have a box of the things in the trunk of our cars. They'd often contain obsolete information about roads that have long ceased to exist or (ahem) have since been blocked to public access, and would infrequently be updated to include roads that have been added. Like our current "electronic" maps and satellite photos, they would reflect the reality of whatever year they had been updated -- but most likely with quite a few more years of age on them.


OK. I could do that. Get out the tools of the trade, and locate latitude and longitude on a paper map. Probably wind up having to create a push-pin version of the gc.com map on my office wall so I could figure out where the targets are for the day. But geocaching already (ask my wife) takes a fair bit of my available "free" time. Would I be able or willing to spend nearly as much of my time searching for caches if the planning process required so MUCH time? Probably not. Remember, in this scenario, we've got GPSr units. Placing a cache would be a relative piece of cake. Figuring out where they were, on the other hand, would either require a LOT more planning time or some truly goofy "seat of the pants" navigation based upon "as the crow flies" following of the GPSr arrow. Either would significantly increase the time required.


It's the mapping facility at gc.com that has encouraged many people to join in the game. Granted, it requires far less skill than it might have. Most cachers don't know what the word "declination" means, or that magnetic north and true north not only vary with location, but vary over time. Heck, you can't even trust the declination numbers of a USGS map if it's more than a few years old. So the availability of the gc.com electronic map does, in some sense, dumb down the game a good bit. Is that a good or a bad thing? Opinion on that is all over the map - pun intended. What has the availability of such electronic mapping actually added to the typical person's knowledge?


By easing the entry level of knowledge and effort required to play the game, more cachers exist and are exposed to new information that probably would have never come by other means. They learn about areas quite near them that they would have never visited. They certainly learn about roads that they'd have never otherwise seen, both urban and rural. If the cache owner wishes to do so, they can teach the finder how to project a waypoint with a GPSr. We certainly ALL gradually improve in our sense of visual distance. I wonder how many people really had a good sense of what "a tenth of a mile" and "a mile" looked like before they started caching? It may also gradually improve the directional awareness of a cacher who, without looking at a GPS or some tall nearby object couldn't tell north from south (OK - heading south, turning right, that means we're now going west). How many more people are learning these navigational skills because gc.com offers the nifty facility of a mapping feature? How many wouldn't have learned these skills if that feature didn't exist?

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Hey, long-time lurker, first-time poster here on the Groundspeak forums.


I'm an author currently working on a book about map and geography enthusiasts of all kinds. I wrote Brainiac, a minor bestseller about trivia nerds, and I was also the guy on Jeopardy! for much of 2004, if that rings a bell.


I'm planning a chapter in the book that will cover geocaching and other GPS games, so I'm trying to get up to speed on the culture and appeal of geocaching. (My six-year-old son and I have taken up caching ourselves this summer and are pretty well addicted. In case someone asks: we do log our caches on this site, but under a separate account.)


This forum seem to be a large, lively community of cachers, so I was hoping some of you would be willing to help out with your anecdotes, opinions, etc. What I'm looking for at the moment are funny/surprising stories that show amazing devotion to caching. Who are the real hardcores? Who here has planned elaborate vacations around geocaching, met their spouse caching, used caching for a proposal or a wedding, run up numerically amazing totals, made unbelievable sacrifices for their hobby, etc.? If not you, do you know someone else who has? The thread down below about Ventura_Kids' 413-cache day is exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for.


Feel free to reply either in this thread, or by private message. As far as I can tell, I'm not violating any forum guidelines by posting this inquiry here, but I'm sure someone will be along to tell me shortly if I'm wrong. :laughing:


Thanks in advance!


The first thing I'd do is completely disregard anything from anyone who's here with over 1000 posts. They are generally too busy here to know anything about real geocaching. :laughing:


Secondly, don't forget to profile the most prolific hider in the world, King Boreas, out of the Twin Cities.

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Hey. thanks to all who have responded so far, including privately...looking forward to more. Some quick responses:


1. It is really me. See here, for example.



As others of suggested, I'm not so sure that the attraction to geocaching is based on an interest in maps/geography. In my case, I did have both an interest in maps/geography and gadgets prior to getting into geocaching.


One of the aspects of the game that I think many enjoy is the combination of a physical and mental challenge. Although there is a sizable portion of the community that dislike puzzle caches there are also quite a few that not only appreciate the challenge of a difficult hide, but also spend many hours working on puzzles just to obtain the coordinates and then discover we're going to need to take a several mile hike (in my case, get in a kayak and paddle) to the cache.


Speaking of puzzle caches...there is this one I can't seem to figure out...think you can help figure out a cipher for me? :D

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...7.5 years ago, when I joined, it was almost exclusively outdoor/hiker types, along with a sprinkling of gadget hounds, rather than the geography buffs....


I'm trying to think back. First I consider myself second generation. The first generation came, found the 1 there was to find, placed one, and for the most part left. In my area it was the second generation who stuck around because the first blush of critical mass had been achieved. You didn't have to wait 6 months for someone to find your cache, or wait 6 months for someone else to place one. First generation guys had to deal with that.


Some of my first finds were placed by gadget nuts (hams), Search And Rescue folks, resource agency guys who were out in the larger world as part of their job, and one orienter. I'm talking 1 each of these guys though. There weren't a lot of the first gen guys to go around.


While they may not have been geography buffs directly they had a geography component to what they enjoyed. The Ham guy volunteered for remote events where radio would be handy. Can't recall if was some kind of race or orienteering. The resource guy was out there as part of the job, the orienteerging guy well, was geography.


Us second gen guys in my area may fall short of buff but geography and reading a topo map was childs play because there were a lot of great things in the world and we were interested in them even if we didn't make the time. Along comes a box and something hidden to find and now it all comes together. Geography, Gadetry, Adventure, Exploratin, and the stupid box that make it all happen because it's the goal of the quest.


Starting with the third gen you could get away with being an urbanite who is clueless about topo, geography, and who needs help wiht a PC and GPS and directions across town. Even then though they get all the same thing out of it the 2nd gen guys get. Just on an urban scale.


That's my fuzzy memory on it.

RK basically posted my observations of the generations of geocachers.


When I first looked at the site I was in college getting my Geography degree. Our local Independent paper had just put out a short story about Geocaching as a game folks were playing in Oregon. There were only a few caches online for Missoula at that point and I didn't have a GPS yet so I made a note to check out the game later and moved on. About a year later a co-worker of my husband's mentioned this GPS game and it intrigued him enough that he mentioned it to me. So I went online and checked out the site... that evening we were trying for our first cache... without a GPS... we got really close but didn't spot it. But we managed to get a virtual cache the next day and the obsession began. Met the local cachers for drinks a few nights later after buying our first GPSr. And it turned out we knew 3 of them already through job connections. It was pretty awesome to have this built-in network of folks who helped us when we needed advice.


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Hey, I stumbled on the book yesterday and bought it. A good detailed chapter on cacheing - and he also discribes a cache that I just found. Looks good!


He and I emailed a couple times. Was there any of this in there:


So I think there is still some kind of primal connection there. Am I crazy?


Geocaching is, at it's core, simply hide and seek. Hide and seek is a primal game. Heck, it was probably the FIRST game of any kind that humans consciously played if you think about it long enough.


Hunting and gathering is simply hide and seek so it's more than just human nature... It IS nature... Uh, when you think about it long enough. Am I making any sense?


Caching itself, as a survival tool, has existed since the stone age. It only took a few hundred thousand years to turn it into a game. B)

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I would never DREAM of using these forums for any self-promotional activity, so I'm glad someone else resurrected this old thread. Yes, my map book is out and in stores (and a minor bestseller, in its first week) and chapter 10 is all about geocaching.


If anyone reads it and has any quibbles with the content and/or the accuracy thereof, I'd love to hear so we can get any errors fixed for the paperback next year. Thanks to all who talked caching with me...it was all super-helpful.

Edited by kenjennings
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I would never DREAM of using these forums for any self-promotional activity, so I'm glad someone else resurrected this old thread. Yes, my map book is out and in stores (and a minor bestseller, in its first week) and chapter 10 is all about geocaching.


If anyone reads it and has any quibbles with the content and/or the accuracy thereof, I'd love to hear so we can get any errors fixed for the paperback next year. Thanks to all who talked caching with me...it was all super-helpful.


I heard your interview on NPR a week or so ago. I wish they would have talked more about your book than your experiences on Jeopardy. I haven't purchased your book yet but I plan on doing so. I have always been a map head.

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