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2Jun/111

How to solve Puzzle or Mystery geocaches

Google Earth

Google Earth - a great geocaching tool

Make Google Earth your friend

The best advice that I can give on how to find a Puzzle or Mystery geocache is to make Google Earth (GE) your friend.

Download it here.

Once you have worked out possible solutions, or partial solutions to puzzles, plug the co-ordinates into GE.  The location will give you a good indication of whether you are correct or not.  For example if the co-ordinates are in someone's backyard, or in the middle of the water or somewhere else unlikely, then you're probably not correct. Eliminating possibilities in this way will save a lot of driving.  I have solved many mystery caches in this way even when I couldn't work out the total solution.  You can often work out enough of the puzzle to get you there.

Often you only have to work out a few of the last digits to be able to solve it.

This doesn't always work, but it sure helps in a lot of cases.

Mystery Geocache Tutorial Video

Here is one of the best tutorial videos on solving Puzzle or Mystery geocaches that I have seen.  It's by Zytheran based in Adelaide, Australia who is famous (infamous?) for his puzzle caches. He gives you a lot of tips of narrowing down your focus.

Do you have any tips that you can share on how to find these types of geocaches.

20May/110

Garmin GPSMAP 76Csx Review

Overview

Garmin GPSMap 76Csx

The venerable Garmin GPSMAP 76Csx has been around for a few years now but is still an excellent GPS to use for geocaching. The Csx refers to C for Colour screen, s for Sensor (compass and altimeter) and x for micro-SD card.

Important features for geocaching include:

  • Sensitive GPS receiver
  • Electronic compass
  • Bright colour TFT screen -readable in any light
  • Ability to upload maps
  • Micro-SD card for storing waypoints and maps
  • Ability to store 1000 waypoints
  • Rugged and waterproof

Electronic circuitry

The circuitry in the 76Csx is identical to the 60Csx and therefore they are functionally the same.

It uses the SiRFstarIII chipset which are the receiver and processing chips that receive the signals from the GPS satellites, calculate the co-ordinates and run the software in the unit.

It means that the unit is more sensitive under tree canopy and in urban (or natural) canyons. In difficult environments  like these the GPS will receive both direct and reflected signals that bounce off hard surfaces and cause multipath reflections.  This introduces errors into the process and is why you have trouble locating caches in these sort of conditions.

The SiRFstar III chipset has the processing power to crunch the numbers from all the reflected signals and come up with something meaningful.  This processing power also means that the chipset can consider weak signals that were ignored by previous chipsets. The SiRFstar III also has faster acquisition times, making for a faster time to first fix (TTFF), and a quicker reacquisition if the signal is lost.

Geocaching is often about trying to locate a container within a small radius.  So often we are under trees or in between buildings, and it's in situations like these that the excellent reception of the 76Csx comes in handy.  This sensitivity is just as important when placing a cache.  In addition the 76Csx has the ability average co-ordinates to improve the accuracy of placement even more. I have placed many caches using this unit and finders report very accurate co-ordinates even in difficult locations.

Battery Life

Garmin claims a battery life of about 30 hours using normal alkaline batteries. I used rechargeable 2700 mAh batteries and although I never actually timed hours of operation I am able to do several geocaching runs over a number of days on the same batteries.

Maps

The 76Csx comes with a base map of whichever country you bought it.  However you can upload other maps that take priority over the basemap.  In fact you can upload a number of maps via the USB port and select which one is displayed.

It comes with Mapsource which enables you to upload various maps and waypoints.

Using the GPSMAP 76Csx

The unit has the typical Garmin interface and buttons. It has 6 main pages; Satellite page, Trip computer page, Map page, Compass page, Altimeter page and the main menu.  You cycle through the pages by pressing the MENU button to go forward and the QUIT button to go in reverse. Extra pages can be added in page sequence option of the main menu.

The 76Csx is "geocache ready" which means that it has a two waypoint symbols; one for "Unfound" cache and the other for "Found" caches.  It also has a calendar feature that shows when you found the caches. There is also a  search feature for geocaches that is separate from normal waypoint searches.

I use the GSAK Smart Tag feature to create meaningful waypoint codes that indicate type of cache (traditional, multi etc.), container size, terrain, difficulty and text for the hint.  This appears on the compass page under Notes. An annoying feature of the Compass page is that it is too easy to hit the Found button and remove the cache from the list of unfound caches.  If you do accidentally hit the Found button, you have to find that cache in the list of waypoints and change the symbol back to an unfound cache.

The nice thing about having an electronic compass is that it will point to the cache even when you standing still.  When using GPS units that don't have this feature you have to be moving before the needle will point to where you need to go.

However it is important to calibrate the compass.  If you don't calibrate the needle will point in the wrong direction when you trying to find a cache. To calibrate, go to the Compass page, hitting menu and selecting Calibrate.  When you select Start you turn at a certain speed until the unit tells you it has finished.

Ruggedness

As is typical of Garmin units it is rugged and waterproof.  In fact it is rated to IPx7 (Ingress Protection rating), which means that you can submerse it in water to a depth of 1m for up to 30 minutes. The backside of the unit has rubber covers for the battery case, antenna and power connectors.

A handy feature if you're canoeing or boating is that it floats. I don't know how they build it so light.  The newer Oregons and Colorados are much heavy and would sink like a stone if dropped them overboard.

It certainly is rugged.  I was using it to navigate while flying my hang glider.  It had a nasty whack when I had a "non-optimal" landing but like a Timex watch, it took a lickin' and kept on tickin'.

Summary

The Garmin GPSMAP 76Csx is an excellent unit for geocaching because it has high sensitivity, a colour screen that is readable in any light, an electronic compass and a number of specific geocaching features.  In addition it is rugged and waterproof so that it will handle any conditions that in which you may be working.

Because it is now over five years old, you can pick them up for a few hundred dollars.  If I had the choice I would recommend one of these over something like an e-Trex if you could pick it up for the similar money. I would also choose a 76Csx over a 60Csx because of ability to float and be used as a marine GPS.

In summary, the Garmin GPSMAP 76Csx is an excellent unit for geocaching.  It's an oldie but a goodie.

5May/110

What is geocaching?

Geocaching logo

Geocaching logo

Even though geocaching has been around for over 10 years, it's surprising to find that many people have never heard of it, or if they have, how to geocache.

So what is it?

Some people describe geocaching as a high-tech treasure hunting game.

Geocachers hide a container called a geocache (or cache for short) somewhere and record the co-ordinates of its location using a GPS receiver.  These co-ordinates plus a description of the location and possibly a hint about how to find it are entered into a huge online database at www.geocaching.com.

Other geocachers can then search for caches near a particular location – wherever they may be in the world. Every country in the world has at least one cache.  Even Antarctica has caches.

If you want to participate you need to  register at www.geocaching.com.  A Basic Membership is free and allows you to view the co-ordinates of the geocaches.  A Premium Membership is very economical at US$30 per year and provides a wide range of useful features compared to Basic Membership.

You will need to buy or borrow a GPS receiver in order to find geocaches.  However there are individuals who manage to find geocaches by referring to a map!

Many geocachers have become concerned about the increasingly poor quality of geocaches that are being placed.

This Progeocaching site is aims to show people how to geocache properly and help to put the quality back into the game.