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Mystery Cache

Puzzle Solving 101 - Lesson 5: Mathematics

A cache by ePeterso2 Send Message to Owner Message this owner
Hidden : 8/12/2007
In Florida, United States
2.5 out of 5
1.5 out of 5

Size: Size: micro (micro)

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About This Series

The first nine caches in this series will help you build your puzzle-solving skills. Each one contains a lesson focusing on a specific skill, examples of how to use that skill, an exercise to test that skill, and a cache to find as a reward. Study the lesson, complete the exercise, and you'll find the location of a geocache.

Each of those caches contains a piece of information you'll need to take the final exam (the tenth cache in the series). Bring some way of recording those clues for later ... paper and pen/pencil would come in handy, or perhaps a camera. (A hammer, chisel, and very large rock would work but probably wouldn't be very handy.)

Lesson 5: Mathematics


Counting sheep when you're trying to sleep,
Being fair when there's something to share,
Being neat when you're folding a sheet --
That's mathematics!
Tom Lehrer, "That's Mathematics"

If you've ever found a cache, you've used mathematics. There's a pretty sophisticated amount of trigonometry and more that makes it possible for you to punch the cache coordinates into your GPS so that you can follow the arrow to the container.

In your caching journeys, you may have encountered an offset cache - a cache that requires you to go to a certain location, find or deduce some set of numbers, and add those numbers to your coordinates to find the final coordinates. That's one of the most common types of mathematics seen in puzzle and multistage caches.

The purpose of this lesson is not to try to cram the vast totality of the mathematical body of knowledge into a few pages in a cache description. Its purpose is simply to give you some exposure to various math topics you'll occasionally come across that are used in puzzle caches, along with some references to understand them. As always, Google is your key to unlocking more information about all of these topics and more.

Topics in Mathematics


A constant is a number with a specific value, often given a single letter name for easy reference. Numbers such as i (the square root of -1), e (the based of the natural logarithm), and pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diamater) are some of the more well-known. All of them appear in unexpected ways throughout the study of mathematics, most notably in the famous relationship discovered by the great mathematician Euler:

epi*i + 1 = 0

Interesting Properties of Numbers

A prime number has no factors other than 1 and itself. In other words, you cannot divide a prime number by any number and get a whole number as a result. The numbers 2, 3, 5, and 7 are prime, whereas 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10 are not. A number that isn't prime is called composite.

A perfect number is a number whose factors other than itself add up to that number. For example, the factors of 6 are 1, 2, 3, and 6; the sum of 1, 2, and 3 is 6.

Numbers can be happy, weird, frugal, extravagant, sublime, friendly, and more.

Alternate Bases

Our number system is what is called base 10 because it has ten different digits, zero through nine. (Okay, that's oversimplifying tremendously. Apologies to you math majors out there.) The number written "10" in base ten means that there is 1 ten and 0 ones in the value. The number "342" means 3 hundreds plus 4 tens plus 2 ones.

But what if we only had eight digits in our numbering system instead of ten? Instead of the tens place, we'd have the eights place. And instead of the hundreds place, we'd have the sixty-fours place. So 342 in base 10 is 342, but 342 in base 8 is (in base 10) (3*64)+(4*8)+2 or 226.

Computers operate in base 2 (binary), and you often see computer numbers represented in base 8 (octal) or base 16 (hexadecimal, with the letters A through F used to represent the values 10 through 15).


Topologists can't tell the difference between donuts and coffee mugs - they consider both equivalent, which is why you never see them at Dunkin Donuts (or if you do, why they have coffee all over their pants).

Topology is the study of shapes ... topologists deal with knots and twisted ribbons and holes and more. Two shapes are considered equivalent if you can stretch, twist, mold, and bend (but not tear or puncture) one shape to make another. Which is why the donut shape is equivalent to the coffee cup shape - both have exactly one hole (the coffee cup has an indentation, but that doesn't count as a hole).


A sequence is an ordered list of items. The list may have a fixed number of items in it, or it may be infinitely long.

An arithmetic sequence is additive. If you begin the sequence with a particular number, you find the next number in the sequence by adding a fixed amount to it. The sequence 1, 2, 3, ... is arithmetic. So is 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, ...

A geometric sequence is similar to an arithmetic sequence, except you multiply instead of add. Here's a geometric sequence where each term is multiplied by 2 to get the next term: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, ... You can also multiply by numbers smaller than one or even negative numbers.

A Fibonacci sequence starts with two terms (such as 0 and 1), then adds the two together to get the next term. Then repeat with the last two terms in the sequence to get the next term. So 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, ... If you read The Da Vinci Code, you know all about this sequence.


The history of mathematics is full of fascinating stories of the origins of mathematics in ancient cultures and of famous mathematicians (Newton, Euler, Gauss, Erdos, and more).


Searching for the term recreational mathematics or mathematical puzzles will give you a wide variety of links to sample problems (with solutions), further topics, typical puzzles, and much more.

Wikipedia also has an excellent mathematics portal along with topic pages on recreational mathematics and mathematical puzzles.

Of course, no discussion of math would be complete without a bunch of links to horrible math jokes.

Exercise 5: A Rhind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

The ancient Egyptians were highly skilled mathematicians. By 2700 BC, they had the earliest-known fully-developed base 10 numbering system. Using this system, they were able to study arithmetic, alegbra, number theory, linear equations, and the beginnings of integral calculus. They used this knowledge in a variety of government, business, scientific, and engineering applications ... including the construction of the Great Pyramids.

It is a little-known fact that the ancient Egyptians also were avid geocachers. Below is an annotated photo of one of the Tombs of the Scribe Surveyors at Thebes in southern Egypt on the western side of the River Nile, almost adjacent to the famed Ramesseum, a grand temple built in honour of Ramesses the Great.

Unfortunately, Egyptian numerals were considerably unwieldy and cumbersome to use by today's standards.

For instance, the ancient Egyptian version of this cache description page might show the north minutes like this:

And the west minutes like this:

Hmmm ... I guess it's not much of a puzzle if I just go ahead and put the coordinates of the final location in the cache description. Oh well ... maybe the next cache will be tougher.

This puzzle was inspired by (but is completely unrelated to) the Plimpton 322 cache, one of my favorite math puzzle caches.

Additional Hints (Decrypt)

[Puzzle] Gur jevgvat vf uvrengvp, fb jngpu lbhe srrg
[Cache] Zntargvp uvqr-n-xrl arne Bevba'f tneqra

Decryption Key


(letter above equals below, and vice versa)



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Last Updated: on 8/31/2017 12:31:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time (7:31 PM GMT)
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