This is the second in a series of caches that we hope will help cachers learn some of the tricks to solving puzzle caches. Although experienced puzzle solvers can jump in at any point in the series, each successive lesson is meant to build on concepts that were demonstrated in the previous caches. The first cache in the series contains some background information on puzzle caches as well as a link to the tools we use when solving puzzle caches.
This series is not meant to be an "end all" on how to solve every puzzle cache that exists. It is only a starting point on what to look for when you see a puzzle cache. If you go through this series, you should be able to solve most puzzle caches that have a difficult of 3 stars or less. If we gave away all our secrets, then we wouldn't have anything to do but put out lamp post caches.
This series of caches contains the following caches
Alert: There are downloadable files in our toolbox and printable copies (PDF) of the puzzles for the caches in this series. These files are not required to solve the puzzles, although they may be useful to you for both this cache series and other puzzle caches you solve. As the cache owner, I represent that these files are safe to download although they have not been checked by Groundspeak or by the reviewer for possible malicious content. Download these files at your own risk.
List puzzles are very popular because they are both easy to create and can be made as difficult to solve as the hider wants. In there most basic form, list puzzles will provide one item for each number in the puzzle coordinates.
List puzzles don't have to be just a simple text list of items. Some hiders will use a series of images to represent the numbers. To solve these, you will need to figure out if the pictures mean something, or perhaps there is something embedded in the pictures for you to find (how to find these will be discussed in a later cache). Here is a good cache that uses pictures to provide the list for the North coordinates: The Blues #35 - The Mystery Train #4. This may be a difficulty 4 cache, but if you use the techniques discussed here, you should be able to solve the first part of this puzzle.
Some hiders enjoy providing a story for you to read. It's up to the solver to search through the story to find the items in the list and then determine how they relate to one another. Here's a fun little puzzle by Allyn56 that does that: Exchange Rates
Another way to disguise a list is by splicing snippets of audio or video together. It's then up to the solver to break the list down to its individual components and deduce the coordinates from there.
In the end, many puzzle caches in their most basic form will turn out to be a list. It's how the hider disguises the list that raises the difficulty.
Solving Puzzle Caches
To start solving list puzzles, ask yourself the following:
1. How many items are in the list?
Since coordinates in our area are 15 digits long, if you see a list of 15 items then each item probably corresponds to a single digit in the coordinates.
If there are only 13 or 14 items, the hider may have omitted the leading zero for the minutes. Check the posted location to see if that's a possibility.
If there are less than 15 items, did the hider provide you with any numbers in advance such as the degrees? If not, then each list item may provide multiple digits to the solution. For example, if we had a list of only four states for our north coordinates and the first one listed was Nevada, we could assume that the hider is using the order of admission to the union as his numbering scheme since Nevada was the 36th state.
2. Did the hider provide any hints?
Sometimes they may tell you if the corresponding number to a list item contains multiple digits (21) to only use the last digit (1) or maybe to add them together (3). Some may even tell you the exact piece of information you'll need to find for each list item.
3. Do any of the items in the list repeat?
If you had this list of names with posted coordinates of N 36 13.300 W 115 15.300:
Then you could logically deduce that the coordinates are N 36 13.(V)3(T) W 115 15.5(T)3. You've reduced the missing numbers from 6 to 2 and you know that once you figure out how Peter equals 3 and Sam equals 6 it will be easy to figure out what Victor and Tom equal. However, although this rule generally holds true, there are caches out there that use one numbering scheme for the North coordinates and a different one for the South.
4. Do any of the items have any similarities or something in common?
If nothing in the list jumps out at you right away, look at the following:
Does the name of the cache provide any clues?
A cache name "Elementary, Dear Watson" might have something to do with Sherlock Holmes or the periodic table of elements.
Does any text in the cache description provide clues?
A cache with a list of names along with the text "The Sporting News was established and 1886 and was the dominant publication covering baseball and had the nickname of "The Bible of Baseball". After John Spink inherited it from is father in 1914, he expanded its converage to include other sports as well." could lead you to search for each of the names along with "Sporting News", "John Spink", or "baseball".
Does information about the hider provide clues?
zzbob published The Blues series of caches here in Las Vegas and all of his puzzle caches had something to do with Blues music.
Does a search of terms on the internet provide any similarities?
If you search for each of the list items, is there anything on the first page of results that is the same for each item?
For us, the search of the internet usually provides the quickest answer to what we're looking for.
List Puzzle Walkthrough
Here is a sample walkthough of solving a simple list puzzle (Note: This cache is a sample only and does not exist on the geocaching web site!)
So, using our list above:
1. How many items are in the list?
15. So each list time should be a single digit in the coordinates
2. Did the hider provide any hints?
Yes. It decrypts to "if more than one, use the second", so when we look up these items, we can't discount a number like 33.
3. Do any of the items repeat?
No, so we can't easily pick out duplicate numbers.
4. Do the list items have anything in common?
Not really other than most of them start with "The" so,
Does the cache name tell us anything?
Maybe. It might have something to do with dice, but the list doesn't really match up with that.
Does the cache description provide any clues?
No. The only thing there is the list.
Does information about the hider give us anything?
Not really. Their profile is just the regular statistics.
How about an internet search?
-- The Ghost in the Machine turns up a lot of information about a book by Arthur Koestler and a 1993 horror movie
-- The Bump in the Road gets a #1 hit of a Bones episode. Hmmm...that fits in with the title
-- If we go back and search The Ghost in the Machine +Bones, the results turn up an episode as well. Now we have a commonality in the list and we can do a search for a list of all episodes of the Bones TV show. Time to head for our trusty font of knowledge, wikipedia.com. Remember, they can't put anything on the internet if it isn't true
When we search through the list of Bones episodes and find "The Ghost in the Machine" we find the following information that contains numbers:
Number in series: 151
Number in season: 9
Production code: 7AKY17
Original air date: December 3, 2012
Out of all those numbers, the only one that is close is the original air date. Once we go through all the items in the list, selecting the day that the episode originally aired, we come up with a final destination of N 39 24.905 W 119 46.575. When looked at in Google Earth, it appears to be a tree in the parking lot of a golf course. If there's a solution checker provided we could plug these coordinates in to see if we're correct.
Now that we've discussed lists, shown some basic steps on how to solve them and given a few examples, here's a list puzzle for you to try.
North 36 xx.xxx West 115 xx.xxx
We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates. See, without the tax relief package, there would have been a deficit, but there wouldn't have been the commiserate - 'not 'commiserate' - the kick to our economy that occured as a result of the tax relief. In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda. They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it's some kind of federal program.
My administration has been calling upon all the leaders in the—in the Middle East to do everything they can to stop the violence, to tell the different parties involved that peace will never happen. You see, not only did the attacks help accelerate a recession, the attacks reminded us that we are at war. We are fully committed to working with both sides to bring the level of terror down to an acceptable level for both. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we. But I also made it clear to [Vladimir Putin] that it's important to think beyond the old days of when we had the concept that if we blew each other up, the world would be safe.