Return of Challenge Caches

Today we’re happy to announce the end of the moratorium on challenge cache submissions. Effective immediately, new challenge caches may be submitted in accordance with the updated guidelines.

Challenge caches encourage people to set and achieve fun goals. There’s no doubt that they’re a beloved part of the game for many geocachers. However, challenge caches represent a major exception to a basic guideline: For physical caches all logging requirements beyond finding the cache and signing the log are considered additional logging requirements (ALRs) and must be optional. Geocaching HQ has long exempted challenge caches from this guideline because they can bring so many positives to the game.

With that exception comes an expectation that the negatives won’t outweigh the positives. Unfortunately, a number of negative factors led to the moratorium going into effect last year, including:

Subjectivity often results in a difficult review process. Reviewers are volunteers who give their time to support the geocaching community. With most cache submissions, it’s usually pretty clear to reviewers whether a geocache is publishable. But challenge caches are different. Many reviewers cite the sometimes contentious process of reviewing challenge caches as the least fun thing about reviewing. Since each reviewer examines hundreds or thousands of cache submissions each year, we (HQ and the community) owe it to them to make the process as enjoyable as possible!

High percentage of appeals to Geocaching HQ. Cache owners can appeal a reviewer’s decision to HQ if a cache submission is deemed unpublishable. We found that more than 50 percent of appeals related to challenge caches prior to the moratorium. That’s despite the fact that less than one percent of cache submissions were challenge caches. It was another sign that the challenge cache system wasn’t working.

Logging requirements are often misunderstood. Some challenge caches are very simple for cachers to understand. However, more and more we found people were submitting challenges with very long lists of logging requirements. In some cases, a single challenge cache listing totaled multiple pages when printed. Appeals for such caches often resulted in the kind of back and forth that can make the process very difficult.

These were among some of the known drawbacks to challenge caches. A big goal of the moratorium was to gain an even deeper understanding about what the community and volunteer reviewers liked and didn’t like about challenges. We also wanted to hear your suggestions for how to improve challenge caches. Hundreds of geocachers took part in our User Insights Forum. Nearly 20,000 of you also completed our survey on challenge caches. With all of that data in hand, we set about building a framework that we hope will allow challenges to continue and thrive.

What’s Changing?

Challenge checkers. Perhaps the biggest change is that all future challenge caches must include a web-based challenge checker. We began looking at this idea after it was suggested by many community members during the User Insights Forum. We then found that a high percentage of survey respondents favored the idea. Checkers will make it much easier for caches to know whether they qualify for a challenge.

Since Project-GC is already very experienced in hosting challenge checkers, it made perfect sense to work with them to officially integrate checkers into new challenge caches. Read more about challenge checkers in our Help Center. (We want to thank Magnus and his colleagues at Project-GC for their partnership in this process!)

Guideline changes. We’ve updated both the format and some content in the Challenge Cache Guidelines. Here are some of the more important updates:

CO is required to have qualified for the challenge. This change was heavily supported in the community survey. In the past, some COs submitted crazy challenges for which even they could not hope to qualify.

Time-limited challenges are not permitted. For example, “Find 500 caches in a month” or “Find 10 different icons in a day.” The aim here is at least two-fold. First, these challenges encouraged people to hurry to find caches in a short time period. That’s something a majority of survey respondents said they didn’t like about challenge caches. And it’s not something we wish to encourage. Second, we’ve seen a lot of people creating Events and/or CITOs only to add an icon to the area for “Busy Day” challenges. That’s not at all the spirit for which those activities are intended.

Streak challenges limited to 365 days. Ask an experienced cacher, “What did you like most about your caching streak?” and the common answer is, “The day it ended!” Finding caches every day for a long period often makes caching feel like a chore. But we didn’t want to restrict them completely, so we’re setting a maximum streak length for challenges.

No challenges based on Waymarking, Benchmarking or Trackable logs, or specifying Lab Cache finds. The community survey results showed low approval ratings for challenges involving these things. While many geocachers do enjoy Waymarking and Benchmarking, these activities aren’t geocaching. Challenges involving trackables can lead to mass logging and other behaviors that aren’t ideal for TBs.

We are not permitting Lab Cache challenges because Lab Caches are temporary, are generally only available to those who attend Mega- or Giga-Events, are not associated with Found It logs, and are not completely integrated into Geocaching.com stats. However, since they are included in user profile stats for Total Finds, Longest Streak, and Finds for Each Day of the Year grid, we are making an exception to permit Lab Caches to be used as qualifiers for challenges related only to those metrics.

Challenges cannot be based on these listing elements: cache titles, cache owner names, GC Codes, or listing text. This would include such challenges as “Find a cache for every letter of the alphabet” or “Find caches with the Periodic Table symbol in the GC code.” They generally reward database management, rather than geocaching achievement. More importantly, they often lead people to place caches whose titles start with a certain letter or contain a specific word, only to help people qualify for challenges.

What’s Not Changing (for now)

The idea of a challenge cache icon or attribute earned significant support from the community. We agree there are a lot of good reasons to implement one. However, we want to confirm that the new framework will reduce the problems which led to the moratorium. It wouldn’t make sense to engineer a new icon or attribute only to lose it if challenge caches don’t work out. We’re going to give it a year or so, and then re-evaluate the situation. If we find that things are going well, then we will strongly consider adding a new icon or attribute for challenge caches.

What’s Next?

We love how challenge caches encourage people to set fun goals and expand their caching horizons. There’s no question we want these caches to thrive for years to come. We have high hopes that this new framework for challenge caches will reduce some of the pre-moratorium difficulties for reviewers and the community.

But challenge cache owners are integral to the success of this framework. It’s important that they work within these guidelines in order to reduce the burden that reviewers felt prior to the moratorium. If after a period of evaluation we find that a lot of the pre-moratorium issues are still causing problems, then we’ll know that this new framework isn’t the answer. We don’t have a backup plan. The only remaining option would be to not permit challenge caches as they currently exist.

But we’re hopeful the community won’t let it come to that. Through your participation in our User Insights Forum and survey, geocachers and community volunteer reviewers have eagerly participated in a comprehensive process that has resulted in what we believe is solid framework. We’re happy to know that challenge caches will continue to inspire people around the world to achieve exciting geocaching goals!

Read more:

Challenge Cache Guidelines

Learn about Challenge Checkers

Challenge Cache Subjectivity

Hopelessly addicted cacher and Geocaching HQ's PR Manager.
  • The Pathetic Earthling

    Existing ones will remain grandfathered, yes?

  • Limax

    I’m assuming this is for new caches going forward, not for existing challenges?

  • Robert Wolfe

    Please give them their own icon!!!!!!!!!!!

  • J V

    I like the direction this is taking, but I disagree with not making them their own “cache” type. The fundamental, “basic” guideline exception still rubs me the wrong way to have challenge caches still listed as “Unknown” types. To me, “For physical caches all logging requirements beyond finding the cache and signing the log are considered additional logging requirements (ALRs) and must be optional” is an important *fundamental* part of the game, and I’d like to more easily remove the “challenge cache” types from PQ and searches unless I really want to find one to qualify for.

  • Ryan

    I think an Icon will assist in identifying the grandfathered challenges and the new ones.

  • Chris

    As noted above, we certainly see the potential value in assigning an icon to challenge caches. But it wouldn’t make sense to engineer a new icon or attribute only to lose it if challenge caches don’t work out. We’ll re-evaluate the situation after we’ve got a feel for how the new framework is going.

  • Ryan

    Last line of the guidelines.

    “Note: At this time, challenge caches published prior to April 21, 2015 are grandfathered into the game. As with any grandfathered cache, Geocaching HQ may archive caches which become problematic.

  • Michael

    I really wish they would have eliminated the requirement to “opt in” to complete a challenge. I have never liked this idea; a cacher should be able to work on a challenge without saying publicly they are. Any chance this can be changed, Chris? I guess the ones that already have them will still have them, which sucks.

  • Geocats

    We work on challenges all the time without having to opt in first. Do you have an example of this? That sounds annoying.

  • Geocats

    The new icon idea does create a bit of a problem for those who have already been using the existing mystery icon to qualify for other challenges. If somehow they are purple question marks instead of blue, &/or reserved only for the new ones it’d probably be ok.

  • c2icGeocaching

    And a french traduction of this post is possible ? Thanks ! 🙂

  • Ryan

    I have not seen the “opt in” requirements

  • Michael

    There exists a challenge in the St. Louis area (GCZPRB) that requires an opt in via a note stating intent to complete the challenge to have your finds qualify. They must be found after the note is posted.

  • Michael

    There exists a challenge in the St. Louis area (GCZPRB) that requires an opt in via a note stating intent to complete the challenge to have your finds qualify. They must be found after the note is posted.

  • arisoft

    It is already done. “Restrictions on date of finds used for the challenge are not permitted.”

  • Snowie

    I don’t agree with the geo checker part. This makes any challenge cache going forward have to be associated with stats and numbers which is the exact opposite of what geocaching is. Epic fail if you ask me.

  • Randy Lewis

    Doesn’t it have to be based on “something” to be a challenge? I’m all for the checker requirement. I can slice and dice my stats in GSAK, but I’ve seen challenges out there that could take hours or even days to calculate. I’d rather be out caching…

  • The Pathetic Earthling

    Thanks. Reading comprehension is hard!

  • AG99

    Hopefully it’ll be retroactive.

  • MystRanger

    What is CO?

  • Turner

    Not letting the alpha-numeric/text challenges is stupid. Those were always the funnest. Going out of my way to find a “q” or “x” cahhe is part of the fun. To call id “data management” is a hideous stretch….

  • Lauren

    CO= cache owner

  • dlmb622

    Would GS consider allow the limitation on “streaks” to be 366 days instead of 365 (so as to include a Leap Day)?

  • nct

    Realistically, if a cacher didn’t want to do the work to assemble their qualifying finds, then they didn’t have to log the challenge cache. If other finders were able to assemble their qualifiers, then it must’ve been possible.

  • nct

    It seems so. At the bottom of the Guidelines page, it says “Note: At this time, challenge caches published prior to April 21, 2015 are grandfathered into the game. As with any grandfathered cache, Geocaching HQ may archive caches which become problematic.”

  • nct

    If problems persist because of a proportionally small group of Challenge Cache CO’s, then how about prohibiting those CO’s from submitting CC’s? It would be considered drastic, but removing all CC’s would also be considered drastic. I hope the global community won’t have to pay the price for the ‘bad apples’ that won’t abide by the guidelines. 🙂

  • nct

    Are you referring to filling the calendar? For example, have at least 1 find for each day on the calendar. That type of challenge is not affected by the new guidelines and will still include Leap Day, depending on the text in each Challenge Cache of course.

    The calendar challenges are not the same as the “streak” challenges. “Streak” challenges mean “find a cache every day for xxx days in a row”. These challenges can start on any day and I don’t think Leap Day plays a significant role in this type of challenge. For example, someone finds at least one cache every day June 10th 2015 – June 8th 2016 (includes Leap Day) or June 10th 2014 – June 9th 2015 (no Leap Day).

  • Mike Crook

    Well done on the effort put in to review this. A monumental task. Sure, everyone’s going to agree and disagree on various points but I don’t think we can fault your thoroughness and commitment to keeping caching focussed on getting outside and discovering great places.

  • C Wortz

    I am glad to see the requirement for challenge checkers. I have run across several challenge owners that had such a poor command of the English language (even though they were supposedly born and raised in the USA) that it took a long series of emails to determine exactly what the requirements were for their challenge. Now with a checker I will know what they meant even though that may not what they said on the cache page.

  • C Wortz

    If HQ is not sure whether the new challenge requirements will solve the problems with challenges, then it does not make sense to create a new icon at this time. If and when hey are satisfied with how the new challenges are working, then they have a few decisions to make with creating a new icon for challenges.

    1. Will the new icon only apply to the new challenges, or to the ones from before April 2015 also? If they apply to the old ones also, that will mess up a lot of peoples statistics and make some of the old challenges about cache types problematic.

    2. If they do decide to apply the new icon to old challenges, how do they determine which blue question marks get changed to the new icon. There are at least three (3) types of caches now under the blue question mark: a) purely puzzle types (both desk puzzles and field puzzles), b) challenge caches where the cache is at the posted coordinates, c) hybrids where there is both a challenge to complete and a puzzle to solve to find the final location of the cache.

    I am sure there are other considerations they will also have to take into account if and when they decide that challenges are here to stay. Let us just be glad they decided to not kill challenges and let us try to work with the new system.

  • C Wortz

    Those of us that have been around long enough remember when several ‘bad apples’ were banned from the game and some others got ‘time outs.’ So there is precedent for banning or restricting those that cause too much trouble.

  • HighpointerGeocaching

    I agree, as I was considering creating a streak cache of 366 days. The streak would start and end on the same day in the following year (i.e. May 27, 2016 – May 27, 2017), unless there was in intervening leap day, in which case it could end one day earlier in the following year (i.e. May 27, 2015 – May 26, 2016).

  • HighpointerGeocaching

    I am working on 50,000 Feet Elevation Challenge (GC24K9Z) but because I didn’t “opt in” to this challenge until Jan. 1, 2016, all of the high-elevation hikes that I have completed in Washington in 2014 and 2015 do not count. If those hikes would have counted, I would have well over 50,000 feet in elevation gain. This includes an ascent to find two caches atop Mount Adams (approx. 8,000 feet elevation gain from trailhead) in Sept. 2014 plus hikes to the summits of many well-known peaks such as Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe, Mailbox Peak, Snoqualmie Mountain, Guye Peak, and many others.

  • I’m going to miss the creativity of these kinds of challenges. There is a great one in Hamilton called the “Olympic Challenge” where you had to pull country names from your finds. Canada, Italian, USA, Polish, etc. I also remember doing a fun one with colours and they even let you submit your own suggestions. If there was a crayon with that colour you could probably use it lol

  • Very true it’s not easy! There is some stuff i’m disappointed about, and other things I’m happy for. At the end of the day it’s nice to have some clarity.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head. As much as I would love to see a new cache type icon, I can see groundspeak’s point that it’s not viable until challenges pass the test of if they can remain part of the game and there is a lot to consider about it.

    It’s my hope that maybe 2017 or 2018 Challenges will get their own icon 🙂

  • Stefan Longueville

    What i find very frustrating is:
    I have worked out a challenge for Belgium (666 challenge) (time limited), this challenge is simular as the exciting ones in UK, Germany, Netherlands, ….
    With the new challenge rules from HQ this one will not be published, ok i can understand.
    But what i can not understand is that the existing ones may stay even if their are time limited, i my opinion rules are made for everyone –> it’s “YES or NO”, “Black or White” but not the both (grandfathered).
    It’s not a mandatory to log “every cache that you see”, if you don’t like time limited cache, then DON’T do them and pick another one.
    Because of this frustration i have archived all my 77 caches (trails, multi’s, mysterie’s..).
    From now on i will not publish any caches anymore, just go in the field search and log, no worry’s…

  • Infoferret

    That’s a shame, that you feel that, just because of one rule change you feel that you need to archive all of your existing caches.

  • Infoferret

    I’m undecided on this one – I’m working on a couple of ‘opt in’ challenges, which will take me a couple of years to complete. Posting a ‘will give this a go’ note has helped me to link up with a couple of others working on them.

    However, this has prevented me logging a couple of challenges which I’d already qualified for.

  • nct

    Considering the amount of work required by the CO of that challenge, then that is why there needs to be an ‘opt-in’ aspect. This is one of the most well-managed challenge caches I’ve ever seen, with constant CO involvement to ensure qualifying finds are consistent across all participants. If you insist on complaining about this challenge, then it will likely be archived and you still won’t be able to log it. Everyone else that’s working on, or completed, this challenge has fulfilled the ‘opt-in’ requirement. Not sure why it’s so onerous for you to do so as well.

  • Chris

    Requiring a cacher to contact the CO or “state intention” before starting the challenge is not permitted under current guidelines. (And hasn’t been for quite some time.) This is addressed by “Geocaches found before challenge was published can count towards the achievement of the challenge” and “Restrictions on date of finds used for the challenge are not permitted.”

    Challenges that do require CO contact or statement of intention before starting were likely published before the applicable guidelines were put in place.

  • Carni Grewal

    Not allowing the one day time challenges is a HUGE disappointment. Out of my 200, those are the ones that cachers enjoyed the most.

  • islandfinders

    Thank you GS for your thorough, much needed review of the challenge caches. Although I’m not crazy about some of the new guidelines I’m sure that the necessary evaluations were made. I can understand why some people are disappointed but hopefully they express their opinion in a respectful way. I have completed some “data management” challenges that require you to submit 50-100 caches adding up things like distances – I’d rather be out caching than working on a spreadsheet so I understand this one (although I’ve always enjoyed the alphabet type challenges).

  • PurpleJoker

    Oh, good. I have a number of these types of challenges that I’ve been working on and would be very, very disappointed if I wasn’t able to log them.

  • Ron Groth

    It doesn’t say directly, but the new guidelines reference new challenge caches. Can we assume that existing ones which published before the moratorium are grandfathered?

    Also, thanks for the time and effort to review challenge caches and come up with what seem to be a set of reasonable guidelines.

  • nct

    Yes – challenge caches published before the moratorium are grandfathered. Exact wording from the Help Center article says: “Note: At this time, challenge caches published prior to April 21, 2015 are grandfathered into the game. As with any grandfathered cache, Geocaching HQ may archive caches which become problematic.”

  • Murazor

    Requiring a checkers effectively bans challenges like “find X caches that are 50 m or closer from any bridge”, or “find X caches that are on islands”. The price for less problems is allowing less creativty. 🙁

  • Don Ansley

    Bingo! You hit the nail right on the head. I loved the alpha-numeric/text challenges. Now, after over 3 weeks of the new rules, there isn’t one challenge cache within 100 miles of my house. Seems they took this way to far to basically eliminate challenge caches. I