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2Jun/111

How to solve Puzzle or Mystery geocaches

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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.

25May/110

Tips on how to find a geocache

How to find a geocache

Your mission is to find that geocache

Geocaching can be an exasperating activity.  You arrive at GZ (ground zero) with your GPS reading less than 3 metres only to sometimes spend hours of frustration trying to locate what is supposed to be there.  How do you find the geocache?There are many reasons why you can't find the geocache such as:

  • It may not actually be there;
  • The co-ordinates are inaccurate
  • It may be located where it is difficult for the GPS to get a good reading;
  • It's really well hidden;
  • It's a camouflaged container;
  • You're just looking in the wrong place;
  • You may not have widened your search radius far enough.

So what are the secrets of experienced geocachers?  How do some people consistently find geocaches when others often struggle and log a lot of DNF's.

So here are the top 10  tips on how to find caches when you have arrived at GZ. We'll ignore the fact that you may have done a multi or solved a puzzle cache to get here. We'll talk about solving these in another place.

  1. Get as close to a zero reading as possible on your GPS at GZ.  This will be your starting place.  I usually put something down (e.g. the GPS) at that spot.  When you are searching around GZ this acts as a reference to show how far away you are from the initial GZ.
  2. Recognize that your GPS is accurate to a radius of 3 metres (~10ft)... AT BEST!  When you get under trees or among tall buildings the accuracy may be much less than that.  Let's say it goes out to 10m (~33 ft).  Your search area has increased almost 30 times! So you'll need to expand your search radius considerably and look in more places.  Hopefully the cache owner gives a good hint if it's difficult to get good lock on the GPS.
  3. Think about where you may have hidden the cache and look there.
  4. Often there are indications of where a cache may be hidden.  A power trail may have developed where other cachers have followed their GPS to the cache.   A pile of rocks covering the cache is often a giveaway. If it's hidden in a wall there is sometimes marks or breakages where other people have been accessing hidden items.
  5. Who has hidden the cache? If they are an experienced cacher there is a good chance that the co-ordinates are accurate.  This will give you more confidence of where to look.  However they may be more evil (!) and be made a sneakier hide.  If the cache was hidden by a newbie be suspicious of the accuracy of the co-ordinates.  Expand your search radius if you can't find it initially.
  6. Check the hint if there is one.  Check the logs of previous finders to see if they have given any hints. Read the description for clues.
  7. Check that you've entered the correct co-ordinates for the cache in your GPS. This may sound obvious but so many DNFs are related to finger trouble - especially if you are calculating numbers as part of a multi.  Always check and recheck the numbers you have  calculated and the ones you have entered in the GPS.
  8. Go with other people.  Having extra eyes looking with not only save time but you'll motivate each other.
  9. Think in 3D.  Is it above, or below or underneath?
  10. Check for camouflaged containers e.g. sprinklers in garden beds, hollow bolts, electrical boxes,  painted containers that look like their surroundings etc.  We may do a page sometime, on the various  containers that you could encounter. Geocachers can be a very creative lot!

If all else fails contact the cache owner or someone who found it recently.  It may have disappeared.

You'll find that as you gain more experience in how to find geocaches, it will become easier.

Please feel free to share any other hints that you may have.

15May/111

How to geocache – Understanding GNSS

The GNSS constellation has about 24 satellites orbiting at nearly 11,000 nautical miles.

GPS Constellation

A GPS unit is the primary tool for geocachers so it's important to have a really good understanding of how the system works, the limitations and things to consider when using them. A good working knowledge of the system will help you to understand how to geocache properly.

The GPS system is one of the great inventions of the 20th century.  It has revolutionized navigation and many applications have been developed that make use of this system.

The system that we use for geocaching is called GNSS, or Global Navigation Satellite System.  It was set up and is operated by the US Air Force and costs billions of dollars. We get to use it for free!

Basically GNSS is based on about 24 satellites that orbit the earth and transmit a radio signal towards the ground.  The signals from the satellites are all synchronized to incredible accuracy by a ground-based atomic clock.

The GPS unit that you hold in your hand is basically a radio receiver (not a transmitter!) that is able to calculate the time differences from the signals that it receives from the various satellites that it can "see" in the sky above where you are standing.

Remember that these signals are travelling at the speed of light, so the time differences from the various satellites are minuscule.   Even so, your GPS can detect these differences and triangulate where you are down to about 3 metres at best.  The optimal place to get the most accurate fix is when you can see clear sky all around, such as on the top of a hill, or out on the water.  The signal is degraded if you are, for example, under trees,  in a canyon, in amongst tall buildings or anywhere you don't have a clear view of the sky.

Garmin Oregon - a popular geocaching GPS

The GPS receiver is a marvel of modern technology.  To give you an idea of its sensitivity, it is equivalent to trying to see a 100 watt light bulb located 10,988 nautical miles out in space!

So what does this mean for you?

It means that next time you're trying to find a geocache be aware of the limitations in the accuracy of position.  The best accuracy your unit can achieve in the most optimal conditions is about 3 metres (~10ft).  So your search radius is about 3 metres from where your GPS says is GZ - and that's assuming that the cache owner has published accurate co-ordinates.  If you are under trees, in a canyon or some other difficult location, your search radius may be wider.

It also means that when you are placing a cache don't just hide the container, mark the location and leave.  That's a recipe for inaccurate co-ordinates.  Spend the the time to average the position (a good GPS has this function) to get accurate co-ordinates - especially if it's in a location where the signal is not so good.    Your fellow geocachers will have loving thoughts towards you if your co-ords are accurate.

This is a really important subject when you learning how to geocache, so we'll go into more detail elsewhere.