This puzzle cache is for all those cachers out there that have been appealing to us for some assistance with all the new puzzle caches that have been popping up around Lansing. More experienced puzzle cachers may find this really boring - sorry in advance.
Don't expect to be able to solve a lot of four- and five-star puzzles after going through this exercize, but the two- and three-star puzzles should start to fall before you if you use some of the tools and techniques we will go through.
For a much more extensive lesson on puzzle caches, I would recommend the Puzzle Solving 101 series, although you have to travel to Florida to actually find the caches (which might be a good excuse for a trip next February).
Most puzzle cachers probably have their own strategies regarding how they attack a puzzle cache. For us, the very first thing we do when we open up a puzzle is look for hidden coordinates or other hidden information in the form of messages or hints.
There are actually lots of places on a cache page to hide information, with one of the most common hiding spots being in the html source code. This is most simply done by including a comment line when preparing the cache page writeup, but there are also other sneaky ways to hide information in the coding for those who are more experienced with html, so always look at all of the user created coding, including any links (some may not be apparent on the cache page) and the names and locations of any images.
To view the source code for a cache page in Firefox, select View --> Page Source. For other browsers, there are similar menu selections available to view the source code. When the source code comes up in a new window, scroll about half way down until you see a line that delineates the user supplied content like this:
The information directly below that line is the content supplied by the cache owner, where you are likely to find hidden information, if it is there. Give it a try and see what you find in the source code for this cache page.
Another common way to hide information on the cache page is to put some information in a white font, so that it can only be seen when highlighted or cut and pasted to another document. I have hidden something below this paragraph. Highlight the area below that appears to be blank, and see what you find.
Congratulations, you found the hidden text! B=2
Another way to hide information is right in the text by having certain words or letters in bold or italics or in a different font size, etc. Some of these little changes can be very hard to see on the cache page, but become obvious when looking at the source code. Here is some sample text:
Hidden in this text is a little message for you. It is not easy to see, but it is there if you know where to look. It is right there, right in front of your eyes. Can you find it.
Other less common places to hide information include in the background image for the cache page (hint - be sure to check the background image for this cache page), any images on the cache page, other images available in the gallery, in the cache title, the listed cache owner's name, in the hint area, or in the listed waypoints. Theoretically, even the attributes could be used to communicate information since the attributes are entered by the owner. Any place on the cache page where cache owners can enter information, they can hide information.
Also be sure to look at things like TBs and geocoins that are listed as being in the cache, but may actually part of the puzzle, and also look at the profile of the cache owner. In either location, puzzle information can be hidden in plain sight, or could also be hidden in the source code of owner supplied areas of the TB page or the cache owner's profile page or by using white text, etc. Some puzzle cache owners are very tricky!
Speaking of tricky, if the cache does not specifically say that the cache is NOT located at the posted coordinates, then we always try the posted coordinates in the geochecker, because the whole puzzle could just be a decoy. Also, some cache owners will place a clue at the posted coordinates, or put the posted coordinates at a sign or object that is actually a hint for the puzzle, so if you live nearby the posted coordinates, it may be worth stopping by to see what is there (assuming that it is safe to do so).
Codes and Ciphers
Lots of puzzle caches use various forms of codes and ciphers. A code can be something like Morse Code, Binary, or Braille. Foreign languages are often seen as well. The ciphers can range in difficulty from cryptograms to much more sophisticated ciphers that use keys. Many of the ciphers utilize symbols, often utilizing the wide variety of symbolic fonts currently available.
You would be amazed at what some puzzle cache owners use as decoders. Some of them are very simple tools that people use every day. For example, pull out your cell phone or any phone key pad, and you can decipher the fake north coordinates for this cache:
Or, just use the top row of your keyboard to decipher the fake west coordinates for this cache:
Things like Morse Code can fairly easily be decoded by hand if you know them or have decoders available to you. On the Internet, not only can you find the decoding tables you need, but also online decoders, where you just have to hand enter or cut and paste the code and the site does all of the work for you.
Here is a Morse Code Decoder
To decode this Morse Code:
- .... . .-.. . - - . .-. -.. .. ... . --.- ..- .- .-.. - --- ..-. --- ..- .-. .-.-.-
Here is a site for decoding Braille
Binary, Octal (Base 8), and Hexidecimal (Base 16) can be, and often are, used to hide either common decimal numbers or text (ASCII characters).
Here is a binary to text converter that will allow you to convert the following to text. See what you find.
Here is a site for converting hexidecimal to text.
Here is a site for converting from binary, octal, hexidecimal and other bases to decimal numbers base conversions.
We have also encountered puzzle caches that utilize barcodes and even more sophisticated matrix 2D barcodes. Barcodes can be used to code either numbers or text. Here is a link to Wikipedia that covers the basics of barcodes.
Many barcodes can be decoded using sophisticated cell phones, if they are Internet compatible and/or have the necessary apps.
Basically ANYTHING that has either number or text equivalents can be used as code in a puzzle cache, so there are many more options out there than what I have listed here.
The use of foreign languages to hide information and coordinates is similar to coding. I like to use Google Translate for puzzle cache translations. Try using the site to translate the following from Italian to English:
La lettera F è uguale a quattro.
There are lots of choices out on the Internet for language translations. Sometimes it takes more than one site to get all the information you need from a foreign language translation based on often wide variations in language usage.
The most common cipher used in puzzle caches is probably just the ordinary substitution cipher or cryptogram, where one letter (or symbol) actually represents another letter, and that holds true throughout the cipher. Sometimes the location of spaces is given (which makes solving a lot easier) but sometimes the spaces are not known.
Here is my favorite cryptogram solver.
If the cryptogram you are solving uses symbols, the symbols will have to be converted to letters first. If you find that there are more than 26 different symbols, some symbols may represent capitol letters or punctuation, in which case the on-line solver I gave you above will not be able to handle it, and you will have to find a more sophisticated solver or you will have to tackle the transformation by hand.
Try using the site above to solve the following cryptogram (or try solving this cryptogram by hand if you are brave!):
Pjav kpw lvr rtv mpbwrspj rp rtsm aykdrplyfu, kpw esbb gjpe rtfr rtv bvrrvy l sm viwfb rp pjv.
One specific form of a substitution cipher is called ROT13. Here is a ROT13 transformation site.
ROT13 is actually the way that hints are scrambled on geocaching.com.
Similar to ROT13 is ROT47, which works the same way, but includes all ASCII symbols (not just letters). Here is a ROT47 conversion site.
Try using the site to decode the following:
%96 =6EE6C w :D 6BF2= E@ 6:89E]
Some ciphers require a key word to solve them. The key will often be hidden in the text somewhere. There may be a seemingly innocent comment in the description such as “patience is the key to solving this puzzle” where what they are really telling you is that the word patience is the key word needed to solve the cipher. Other times, the key may be the title of the cache or some other item on the cache page such as the name of the park where the cache is hidden.
The most common keyed cipher that we have encountered in puzzle caches is the Vigenère Cipher. Here is a solver that we use for Vigenère Ciphers.
Try solving the following cipher using the above site, and remember “patience is the key” on this one.
Xf rwy huis tam vvili kxg abth, non emyn jxnw blnv xwe emxggv X il muhcp io ywye.
Some other ciphers that we have encountered in puzzle caches include Atbash, Ceasar, Bacon, and Playfair. Here is a site with a whole variety of cipher tools to play with.
There are many more ciphers out in the world than are listed above, and some are very complicated and will require more in depth study regarding how ciphers work. Unfortunately, not all ciphers will be able to be simply inserted into a solver, and some may actually require multiple transformations.
Our very first puzzle cache hide, which has since been archived, was actually a cipher Haslett Cypher
All we did was type out the message in MS Word and then convert the font to Wingdings. We later found that lots of cipher puzzle caches out there just use symbolic fonts, which can often be downloaded for free from the Internet. Fonts can be found that are comprised of holiday symbols, ancient writing, and we even completed one puzzle cache that used a font made up of ink blots.
Of course, the easiest way to solve puzzles that simply use a symbolic font is to find the font on the Internet and download it. However, beware that the original text may have first been scrambled before the font was converted.
Another very common type of puzzle cache is the list. Most cache coordinates will be made up of 14 numbers, 15 if the leading zero in the west coordinate is included. So, if you see a list of 14 or 15 items, it is very likely that each item can be associated with a single digit number.
Say I had a puzzle cache called “INXS Kick” and the puzzle was a list as follows:
Need You Tonight
Need You Tonight
Need You Tonight
Never Tear Us Apart
Need You Tonight
Guns in the Sky
Guns in the Sky
The letter J equals New Sensation
If you were to go to the following Wikipedia link for the album and looked at the track listing, you would find that, using the number for each track in the list, that the above list would reveal the fake coordinates for this puzzle cache.
The key to solving this type of list puzzle is finding the pattern among the items listed. One thing you have to go on to start your search for the necessary pattern is that, in the Lansing area, the first item is likely going to be a 4. So, if the first item on the list is a person’s name, and among all the info you gather about this person you find that the person died in 1984 (a year ending in 4), then it might be worth checking to see when the other folks on the list all died. Or if the first person on the list had four kids, etc.
The puzzle list can contain less than 14 items, if some of the items in the list could be a multiple-digit number.
Say that I had a puzzle cache titled “I grew up near M-104” and the list of only 8 items was as follows:
Using a map of the State of Michigan (here is a link to the state map if you don’t have one) you would be able to find that a route running through each city on the list would give you the fake coordinates for this cache.
Sometimes the list puzzle is a list of pictures instead of a list of words, but finding the pattern is still the way to solve the puzzle. If the list involves photos, be sure to take a look at the names of the jpg images for possible clues or additional information. Also, be sure to see if the photos have links to other websites, which may contain additional information.
Some very tricky lists require you to find more than one pattern, or require you to use more than one attribute for each item.
Most word puzzles, such as crosswords, word searches, anagrams, etc. are usually pretty straight forward as far as the rules, but that does not mean that they are all easy. Here are a few websites that may help you when trying to solve these types of puzzles:
Word Search Strategies
Crossword Puzzle Help
For word searches, there is often a hidden message in the letters that remain behind after the list of words are all found. That hidden message may not necessarily start at the beginning, and it may not read left to right.
Many word puzzles depend on converting the numerical value of a letter to a number (i.e. a=1 and z=26). If the first two letters on a puzzle in the Lansing area are DB (equivalent to 42), then you may be on to something.
The letter K = D
Here are links to an online dictionary, an online thesaurus, and Wikipedia, which can all be very helpful with word puzzles.
Most math puzzles are also straight forward, but as with word puzzles, that does not mean that they are easy. Here are a few websites that contain a lot of common equations that may come in handy when trying to solve math puzzles.
The letter L is equal to the radius of the circle X^2 + y^2 = 36
Keeping track of your units is very important in puzzle caches. The given information may be in different units than the answer, requiring conversion.
M is the number of miles that equals 15,840 feet
For story problems, start by writing down everything that is given, and then look for formulas that you can use to calculate the things that you need to know from the given information. Just take the whole thing one step at a time.
Logic puzzles come in a wide variety of forms. Some common puzzle types falling in this category are Sudoku (in all its various forms), Kakuro, Nonograms, Hidato, and others. Then you have the old-fashioned story problem type of logic puzzle.
Here is a link to my favorite on-line Sudoku solver. It solves traditional Sudokus as well as several other variations.
The key to solving the old-fashioned story problem type of logic puzzle is to make an appropriate grid, as shown at logic-puzzles.org. Without using the grid, these puzzles can be very difficult to solve.
N equals the number of letters in the word Logic, minus 1
So, let’s see what you learned. This puzzle cache can be found at:
N AB CD.EFG
W HI JK.LMN
Feel free to contact us if you need help.
Congrats to SpyHikers and TrailMouse on being First to Find.
Voted one of the Lansing Area's Top Caches for 2010 and 2011.