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littlemiss67

Help with Mystery Caches

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Any suggestions on how best to approach solving a mystery cache?

 

Read the listing? :ph34r:

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There's a "puzzle cache for dummies" book out there. (Don't blame me, I didn't write the title.) A friend of mine picked it up, and I flipped through it. Some helpful things in there, but about the same as what I've seen here on the forum. I think it's nariD who has a standard post with some helpful links. Perhaps he'll be along shortly.

 

There is at least one social media resource out there that is dedicated to solving puzzle caches. As a cache owner, I'd rather not see my puzzles spoiled, so these days I let folks know on my cache pages that I'm willing to help them through. I know other COs take a similar approach, so perhaps reach out to the cache owner for a hint.

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Any suggestions on how best to approach solving a mystery cache?

 

There are as many approaches as there are puzzles. It basically depends entirely on the puzzle and the description on the cache page.

 

I put basically zero stock in the books.

If someone is using a cipher, logic or other standard puzzle type, you basically can figure that stuff out using Google and often can find online decryption/solver tools you can use.

If someone is using an html or other sort of web-based trick (hidden text, steganography, etc.), the approach is different for each type and the key is often in figuring out WHAT they are doing...and solving it ends up being fairly straightforward.

If someone is using specialized knowledge (aviation/navigation, physics, mathematical principles, etc.), then again, Google is your friend.

If someone is using a unique/non-standard (read: non-Google-able) decryption method, then no book is likely to be of use anyway.

 

So really, your best bet if you are stumped on what to do is go to one of the following sources:

A - The cache owner (helpfulness and responsiveness varies greatly, depending on who the CO is)

B - A previous finder (again, your results in dealing with them will vary greatly)

C - A friend who enjoys puzzles, mysteries.

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Here we go. I'll save him the trip. Credit to nariD who credits The Rat.

 

According to section 2-D of the geocaching.com terms of use, "You agree not to: [...] xxiii. Publish on our websites the solutions, hints, spoilers, or any hidden coordinates for any geocache without consent from the geocache owner.” However, here are some general puzzle tips (based in part on a puzzle-solving class event presented by The Rat a while ago):

 

Identify the theme. Check the cache title, the hint, the HTML source, the graphics (including names/URLs), any links (including URLs), whatever is at the posted coordinates, etc. If you can figure out the theme, then you should look for numbering systems that are associated with that theme (zip codes, athletes’ jersey numbers, episode numbers, product codes, etc.).

 

Around here, coordinates will have 15 digits, and will look like "N 37° xx.xxx W 122° xx.xxx". So when I'm solving a nearby puzzle, I look for a group of 15 things, and then I look for ways to get the digits 37xxxxx122xxxxx from them. In general, I look for ways to get the number 37 (or the digits 3 and 7) from something near the beginning of the puzzle, and the number 122 (or the digits 1, 2, and 2) from something near the middle of the puzzle. (Of course, you'll need to adjust this for the coordinates near you.)

 

Other useful resources include:

Puzzle Solving 101 Series (bookmark list)

Calgary Puzzle Solving 101 (bookmark list)

Puzzle Shortcuts Series (bookmark list)

Solving Puzzle Caches (online article)

How Do I Solve All These $@! Puzzle Caches? (tutorial-style puzzle cache)

Geocaching Toolbox ("All geocaching tools a geocacher needs in one box.")

Puzzle FUNdamentals (archived event cache) and the Puzzle FUNdamentals resources on the GeocacheAlaska! education page

The GBA's Puzzle Cache FAQ (for puzzle designers, but useful for understanding how puzzle caches work)

LANAKI's Classical Cryptography Course

How to Puzzle Cache (book)

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Any suggestions on how best to approach solving a mystery cache?

 

There are as many approaches as there are puzzles. It basically depends entirely on the puzzle and the description on the cache page.

 

I put basically zero stock in the books.

 

I haven't read it myself but I have seen a lot of favorable reviews of Cully Longs "How to Puzzle Cache" (https://www.amazon.com/How-Puzzle-Cache-Cully-Long/dp/131275382X)

 

 

So really, your best bet if you are stumped on what to do is go to one of the following sources:

A - The cache owner (helpfulness and responsiveness varies greatly, depending on who the CO is)

B - A previous finder (again, your results in dealing with them will vary greatly)

C - A friend who enjoys puzzles, mysteries.

 

Personally, I'd change that a bit.

 

If you're stumped on a puzzle, the first thing to do should be:

 

1. Ask the cache owner for help. Let them know that you're interested in solving the puzzle, what you may have tried so far, and that you're stuck.

If the CO is responsive, continue down that path until the puzzle is solved.

 

If the CO is not responsive, I still think it's respectful to the CO to try to solve the puzzle without going directly to someone that has previously solve it. Instead,

2. Find a friend or other geocacher interested in puzzles, and collaborate on solving the puzzle.

 

If, you're still completely stuck, and the CO won't provide any additional help,

 

3. Ask others that may have solved it for hints (again, let them know what you've tried and want help in solving it, not just the solution)

 

Building your puzzle solving skills, either through books or one of those "Puzzle Solving 101" series will improve general puzzle solving skills. Unfortunately, many are only interested in getting the solutions to puzzles and don't really care how they get them. There are lots of "cipher solving sites" that one can just plug in some text and it will do all the work, but they don't really help one learn how to solve puzzles or decode ciphers. There are tons of books on various ciphers that may be worth looking at if you're interested in how ciphers work (and not just looking for solutions). Of course, there are a lot of puzzles that have nothing to do with ciphers, and sometimes the most difficult part of a puzzle cache is determining where and what kind of puzzle it is. To me, the best way to get better at solving puzzle caches is to solve a lot of puzzle caches.

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If you're stumped on a puzzle, the first thing to do should be...

I agree with what you're saying, but I don't think ordering them is the best way to put it. Here's my point of view:

 

Ideal: Solve it yourself. Yep, even if you're stumped, just keep trying or come back to it later. That's what I normally do, so my map's littered with unsolved puzzles. Your "get better at solving puzzles" advice fits in here, too.

 

Most fun: Solve it with one or more friends. One friend's enough for a puzzle that's simple, but some complicated puzzles require multiple lines of investigation, and it's really exciting when a group turns up different clues in different places. There aren't many puzzles suitable for that, but it's a real blast.

 

Technically correct: Ask the CO. If the CO's interested in helping, then their help is the most likely to keep the puzzle as fun as possible.

 

Last, but not least: Ask other finders. When you think about it, this isn't that much different than solving it with a friend, except in this case the friend has automatically come up with the answer first. It's not uncommon for this to be exactly the same result when you solve it with a friend if they hit on the right approach before you do.

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