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WGA Member

Joined: 2007-06-12
Posts: 4538
Location: Appleton, WI

PostPosted: Fri Jan 30, 2009 6:39 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Image-cheeto- and gotta run's puzzle creator workshopImage

** Please, Do not post replies to this thread **

Have you ever wanted to peek into a puzzle cache creators head? (well maybe not certain creators...) Well, this thread will be a chance to get some tips and tricks from puzzle cache creators. You may already know some of these tips but perhaps some of the things we share will help you in building (or solving!) new puzzle caches.

The tips and ideas below come from experience building and solving many different types of puzzle caches. gotta run and I live and geocache in the heart of Wisconsin puzzle cache territory (the Fox Valley area in NE Wisconsin). When opinions are expressed they are ours, not necessarily opinions of the WGA and your opinions may vary.

Feel free to use and abuse any of the tips. It's okay to "copy". Really it is! Very Happy

If you have ideas or tips and would like them included in the workshop, please send them to either gotta run or myself via a personal message or email. Doing so will keep this workshop thread easy to read and follow.

I hope to "package" many of the tips posted here into a presentation or class as well.

Could I also ask that this thread be made "sticky" so it remains at the top of the Puzzle forum please?

Gotta run will be posting the first workshop "lesson" very soon.
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gotta run
WGA Member

Joined: 2007-11-26
Posts: 3306

PostPosted: Fri Jan 30, 2009 7:46 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Puzzle Creating Workshop: What numbers now?

In creating a puzzle one of the key decisions to make is how many unknown numbers you are going to ask cachers to solve.

We’ll limit the discussion to the common degree/minute format used by Obviously you could have people solve for degree/minute/second or UTM. Therefore, you are dealing with a maximum of 15 numbers:


Generally Speaking

If you are trying to create a puzzle that must actually be solved and that is unlikely to be found by “slamming,” the general rule is the more numbers to solve, the better. The only risk here is that if you ask to solve numbers that are likely "known," such as NDD or WDDD, it can lead people to break your cipher--but more on that later.

Also, since the farther to the “left” you go in either latitude or longitude, the greater the distance represented by that number becomes, making numbers to the left the harder ones to solve will make it less likely that someone with a partial solve can simply wander around until he or she finds the cache.

In other words, if you ask cachers to solve for N 44 27.ABC W 88 10.DEF and the cacher solves for everything but “C,” there is only 60-foot difference from C=0 to C=9, and it is a simple matter for a find-by-wandering type to walk in a straight line for a short distance and try to come up with the cache.

Of course, any puzzle that is solved with the exception of one number (or even more) anywhere in the puzzle can be force-solved given enough time and effort with the geochecker, or by plunking enough waypoints onto a satellite map until one comes up with a likely looking spot. For that matter, anyone with enough time and inclination could check out enough territory to finally find your cache no matter what you do.

As you create puzzles, you will find that for some people, signing a piece of paper is more important than actually solving the puzzle. To those folks, as Buzz Lightyear would say, “You have my pity.”

Assumptions and the 2-mile Rule

Now let's talk about that NDD / WDDD "known" situation. Because of the Geocaching “2 mile rule” which states that “dummy” coordinates (the coordinates listed on the page of a puzzle cache) should be within 2 miles of the final coordinates, cachers can make pretty good assumptions about numbers through the first digit of the minutes, unless the area is near a major line of latitude or longitude.

For instance, a cache in Green Bay is always going to be N 44-something. However, whether it is N 44 2M.MMM or N 44 3M.MMM depends on where in the city it is. But it gets trickier for West, because it could be W 088 or W 087.

Therefore, you can increase or decrease the difficulty of both solving the puzzle and finding the cache by choosing dummy coordinates carefully. If the 2-mile radius rule means that, based on dummy coordinates, a cache HAS to be at W 087, it makes no sense to have cachers solve for W 08X if you want the puzzle to be difficult.

However, if the cache could be at either 088 or 087, it might make perfect sense to require a solve for 08X since this is a very critical number!

Stumping the Assumpters

Puzzle-solvers can use “must be” numbers to help solve a puzzle. However, as a puzzle creator you can also use that “must be” information to stump cachers who try to reverse-engineer a cipher.

Again, go back to our Green Bay example. Let’s say we ask the cacher to solve for N AB CD.EFG. Obviously, A and B have to be 4.

Well, perhaps you are just making an easy trivia puzzle and it is ok to make those answers obvious. But if it is an Evil Puzzle, you need to find a way to make cachers question their assumption because the connection between the answer and the question or code is not apparent on the surface. This is not easy!

Let’s use music as an example of how you might do this. On the guitar, the low G# is played at the 4th fret on the 6th string, and the high G# is played at the 4th fret on the 1st string. In tablature notation, these two notes are BOTH written as 4. Therefore, you could show the notes low G# and high G# to equal “44.” Without the research or knowledge to realize that, the key to the code would not be immediately apparent.

Preventing Force Solves

The best way we have found to prevent the “one missing number” force solve is through the use of number strings. Rather than have cachers solve just for individual numbers, instead have them solve the entire coordinate as a single number.

For instance, let’s say the solution coordinate is N 44 27.123. Rather than asking cachers to solve for N AB CD.EFG, ask to solve for N XX XX.XXX where X,XXX,XXX is a single number.

Here’s a good example of that method:

It makes it virtually impossible to solve the puzzle without solving all of the puzzle.
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WGA Member

Joined: 2007-06-12
Posts: 4538
Location: Appleton, WI

PostPosted: Sat Jan 31, 2009 12:39 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Puzzle Creator Workshop - That's Just Bogus!

Most puzzle caches contain some sort of note at the top of the page resembling: "THE CACHE IS NOT LOCATED AT THE ABOVE LISTED COORDINATES." (this is the exact message I have borrowed and use on each of mine). Unless you have placed a puzzle cache before, you might not know that picking those "bogus" or "dummy" coordinates as we affectionately call them is not as easy as it first seems but it can also be a lot of fun.

First off, cache placement guidelines require us to choose coordinates that are within 2 miles of the actual cache coordinates.

Secondly, the reviewers will often require that the location of the dummy coordinates be "unsearchable locations". Handy unsearchable locations might include: Rivers, Lakes, Ponds, Middle of Major Highways, Middle of Garbage Dumps, Waste Treatment Plants, Quarry's, you get the idea. Many cache owners will joke about the location in the cache listing, like "Don't go there, unless you want to go for a swim!"

Also, note that dummy puzzle cache coordinates do not have to abide by the .10mi proximity rule. They CAN be within .10 of another physical cache, way point of a multi, other bogus coordinates, etc. In fact, they can and sometimes are placed right on top of other bogus cache locations. This has been referred to as "stacking" in the forums and you can visit that thread if you would like to express your opinions on this practice. I
would stay away from "stacking" on other actual known caches and this may not even be allowed anyway.

TIP: You can also think of bogus coordinates as one more way to be creative with the cache listing. Maybe the location can fit into the theme of the puzzle! Maybe the puzzle will involve using the bougs coordinates in some way. Maybe you will have to measure distances based on the bogus coordinates. Maybe the bogus spot will be a starting point or a vantage point for viewing something. Be creative!

Some examples of creatively using bogus coords:
- I'm in a Rut - FINAL (GC1DAJ5) is a final to a "6-pack" like cache final where each of the parts is on a walking trail that surrounds a city park. The coords point directly at the park. The final isn't in that park but the park is right in the middle of a semi-circle of caches needed to find it.
- Historic Neenah - Old Council Tree (GC1GJ3B) - Bogus coords are actually an approximate location of where the subject tree used to stand based on information from the historical plaque. To find the plaque you use the bogus coords and a measurement and direction from the cache description (thus reversing the information on the plaque).

You can also actually post the "real coordinates" instead of bogus coords Wink This is normally done with caches that have 'ALR's' (or additional logging requirements) like the Delorme Challenge caches and Marc's Cemetery photo cache series. In fact with ALR's that do not also contain puzzles, most cacher's actually like to know where the final is, especially on the "challenge" type caches.

With so many choices, what is a puzzle cache creator to do?
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gotta run
WGA Member

Joined: 2007-11-26
Posts: 3306

PostPosted: Tue Feb 03, 2009 8:03 am Reply with quote Back to top

Puzzle Creators Workshop: Coordinate Checkers

This is not a discussion of whether checkers should be included on a cache. This is a collection of various checker services, and comments about them.

What is a checker?

A checker is just that--a way for puzzle solvers to check their solution against the correct solution. They are available at various sites outside You provide the solution to the site, and the site gives you a link to include in your cache page (more on that later).

Here are the three main checkers currently in use, in descending order of apparent popularity.

1. Geocheker

Pros: Most commonly used; easy to use; supports proximity solutions (also known as "horsehoes and hand grenades--where the solution can be within about 100 feet of where the cache is.); validation code now easy to read. No account signup needed. Provides links for cache owners to view number of solve tries and/or number of correct/incorrect solution tries.

Cons: Has had occasional service outage problems.

2. Evince

Pros: No account singup needed. Easy to use; supports proximity solutions.

Cons: No cache owner statistics. Accepts only one wrong solution before a 10-minute timeout (perhaps a “pro” for puzzle creators—but a “con” if you mis-type). Validation code is graphics-based and can be difficult to read.

3. GeoCheck

Pros: Provides more cache owner tools than other sites. Several options for cache page display, including solve attempts and Google maps.

Cons: Requires account signup. Site and coding seems a bit unstable at present time. Validation code is graphical and very hard to read.

Also: Much more grapahically focused than other sites.

Using the checker link

To use the checker link, simply paste it into the body of your cache page, somewhere. Just be sure to also have the "this page contains HTML" box checked when you create or edit your cache page on

Dressing up the link

It's easy to change the plain link you get from the checker site. Most links look something like this:

<p>You can check your answers for this puzzle at
<a href=""></a></p>

In that link, the boldfaced text is the stuff you can change to your own text. Do NOT change the http:// link!!! The text that comes after the end of the string and before the </a> is where the actual link is.

You can put text in here, or you can also use an image. Here's how you would make an image on your page a clickable checker link if that image is in the gallery of your cache page:

<a href="">
<img src=""
border="0" /></a>

To find the name of the image, go to the cache gallery and (if using Windows), right-click on the image and select "properties." There are other places to host images--which is the subject of a different thread--but it would work the same as above, simply by changing the location of the <img src=" "> information.
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gotta run
WGA Member

Joined: 2007-11-26
Posts: 3306

PostPosted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 3:36 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Puzzle Creating 101: Choosing a Puzzle Type
So you want to create a puzzle—but what type of puzzle should you create? How about this three step process:

1. For a start, look at puzzles within the common search radius of most geocachers in your area. What types of puzzles are already out there? Is it worth duplicating one of those types, or should you create something different?

2. What type of puzzles do you enjoy solving? It’s a good idea to start with some of these because, number one, having experience solving a type of puzzle will help you make a better puzzle yourself and, number two, working on something you like also tends to lead to a better quality result.

3. Lastly, what are other types of puzzles out there that might not be in the local caching grounds? Marc has done a fine job of outlining many different types of puzzles in his sticky thread in this same forum, so we won’t go into them in detail here.
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gotta run
WGA Member

Joined: 2007-11-26
Posts: 3306

PostPosted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 3:38 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Puzzle Creating 101: Puzzle Types and Solution Situations

As you consider puzzle types, you should also consider how the puzzle type creates potential problems and how to avoid them. For the puzzle-solver, these problems include frustrations in not being able to solve puzzles because of bad design or information. For the puzzle-creator, these can include frustrations at creating puzzles that people don't enjoy or that lend themselves to being cracked, rather than solved.

This is not a comprehensive list--again, look at Marc's thread--but here are some general considerations.

Six-Pack. This is not a “solve it” puzzle, but instead is a mystery cache where you need to find a certain number of other caches before finding the bonus. For cachers, issues are not being able to find underlying caches, missing clues from underlying caches, or simply losing the clues over time. For owners, issues are maintenance and (if it bothers you) shortcutting by guessing at missing bonus clues. Maintenance is essential. Shortcutting can be deterred by making it essential to find each underlying cache, such as by involving math or gathering cache-specific information, so it’s not just a “one number per cache” solution. Or, simply make it an ALR (additional logging requirement) that each underlying cache be found. (That also solves the “lost clues” frustration for cache-finders!)

Trivia. Trivia puzzles are a great puzzle in the Internet era…but they also present frustrations. Wikipedia sure is handy, but it’s not a definitive source of facts. Also, topics can be changed by anyone and information can disappear. If you use Wikipedia, choose the “Permanent Link” option to create a “snapshot” of the page as you used it. Keep in mind that ANY online source can disappear, so if you can host the information on your own site for people to link to, it’s a good option. You can’t prevent all problems with conflicting or erroneous information, but make an effort to research the topic as if you were another cacher to attempt to find other sources of information that might differ.

Field Puzzles. As the name implies, these are solved in the field. Most of the frustrations here are on the cache-finders’ side, and can be avoided through good design and thorough communication on the cache page. Can it be solved all in one trip or is it a take-back, and how does that affect the number of cachers who would be inclined to work on the puzzle? How clear are your instructions? Probably everyone who has worked on a field solve has had to contend with confusing write-ups. Be explicit. Use compass directions and clear reference points rather than relative direction such as “on your left” or “nearby you will see.” Most people are not as familiar with the field site as you are. Write up your description and give it to someone to review and proof before you publish.

“Regular” puzzles. This includes all the types of things you might find in a puzzle book, from crosswords to Sudoku to word searches. Again, check out Marc’s puzzle workshop link. As long as these are well-constructed, they shouldn’t present any real frustrations for cache finders. However, as a cache creator, be aware that there are online tools available for cracking all sorts of regular puzzles, particularly numeric based puzzles.

Ciphers. Here we’ll lump in anything that involves a “code.” Besides the expected frustration cache-finders have of simply solving the cipher, there are frustrations around what have been termed in these forums as “read my mind” puzzles. Every cipher has a key, but what might make perfect sense to a cache creator might make no sense to anyone else. Run your code logic by someone before you publish for a second opinion. Also, be aware that there are online tools for solving most of the common ciphers, from any variety of ROT encryption to Caesar to Vignette.

Everything Else. Hey, this is a 101 course—for advanced puzzle creating, go solve a bunch, and get some ideas! One thing is certain, you will come up with a half dozen possible ideas for new puzzles based on ways you try to solve other puzzles!

Don’t forget that coming up with your great puzzle idea means you’re only half done! You still need to place the cache. A creative container that ties into the cache theme can be a great final reward, particularly if cachers need to invest a lot of time into solving your puzzle.
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