The lineage of treasure hunt
games goes back deep in the history
of our species. We are always looking for the elusive, questing for the unattainable or racing each other to be the first to claim a spot of land. Think of the globe
as one big game board and each of us piece
s moving in for the win.
How the game
was played out often has had something to do with the tech of knowing just where you are and where you need to be heading to reach your goal
is full of tales about the great hunts. There was the legendary quest for the Holy Grail
, the map changing search for the shortest trade route to India
, the every popular conquest of the world's gold
supply, and a myriad other great hunts. Power
drove hordes of people towards the goals. In the last hundred years these hunts have become less a matter of need
and more a matter of sport
. As the industrial
revolutions set the stage for an increase in the populace's leisure time, new ways to fill that time were crafted. For many the hunt became one of knowledge
, and history
; the age of the Explorer
was on. Heinrich Schliemann
wanted to find the city of Troy
explorers Burton, Speke, Baker
, Livingstone and Stanley hacked and slashed across the unknown to chart the uncharted. Howard Carter
hunted and pecked his way into the tomb of Tutankhamen.
For our story to really get going though we have to focus ourselves on a bleak moor in England
around 1854. It was here, in this out of the way spot in the middle of the great empire that Letterboxing was born.
claims its genesis on the banks Cranmere Pool
in Dartmoor England
. James Perrott
left a message in a bottle
during one of his walks across that area. The message
was simple, a note card that marked his visit and a request that anyone who found the bottle also leave a card marking their visit.
Those who found the bottle read the notes of those that came before, left their note, and went back home to spread the tale of the hidden secret
somewhere in wilds. Since then the landscape of Dartmoor
and other locations in England
have become peppered with Letterboxes. These Letterboxes were not so easy to get to; they were often hidden in remote locations that required long hike
s to get near and much rummaging to pinpoint.
Somewhere along its growth the note cards were augment with stamp
markings. Each Letterbox contained its own unique stamp
and each Letterboxer carried with them their unique stamp
. When a Letterbox was uncovered it's stamp
was marked in the finder's logbook
and the finder's stamp
was marked in the Letterbox's logbook
Rather than relying on dumb luck to find the Letterboxes, clues were written up. Publications were put out regularly that cataloged the various clues. The informal Letterbox 100 Club is still putting these out twice yearly. The club also maintains a list of those who have over 100 Letterbox
stamps in their logbooks.
For well over 100 years the great Letterbox
hunt was contained to England
. Then in April 1998 the floodgates opened. The Smithsonian Magazine
ran an article (3)
on the hunt and America
soon took on a chicken pox like spotting of Letterboxes. This is not to say there was no Letterboxing taking place in the states before the article; there is recorded evidence of ones being placed in 1989. The vast majority of Letterboxing activity though is decidedly in the post- Smithsonian
The next great leap in the game of the hunt came in with a whoosh. In 1974 twenty-four satellites were sent into the heavens to guide the humans below. This was called a Global Positioning System (4)
, or GPS
for short. NavStar was born with a small cluster
of satellites that grew into the twenty-four we use today. Its goal was simple, to let people know where they are. By means of just three of the satellites a receiver
could tell were they were within a few feet.
A few feet, if you were in the military
. Civilian GPS
receivers never were able to get that accurate
a reading; national security
was the biggest reason why. For years GPS
units could get you to within 100's of meter
s of your target
. The "Selective Availability" or SA
switched was turned off on May 1st 2000 and in the blink of an eye nonmilitary GPS
units went from whistling in the dark to guided missile accuracy
Our focus now shifts from the heavens above to the state of Oregon
. Exuberant from the news of the SA
being switched off, GPS
user David Ulmer posted to Usenet
about his plan to use this new found exactness.
"Now that SA is off we can start a worldwide Stash Game!! With Non-SA accuracy it should be easy to find a stash from waypoint information. Waypoints of secret stashes could be shared on the Internet, people could navigate to the stashes and get some stuff. The only rule for stashes is: Get some Stuff, Leave some Stuff!! The more valuable the stuff the more stashes will be
Thus was born Geocaching. Over the next year the one stash in Oregon
grew to dozens of caches, then dozens of dozens. One website
, Geocaching.com (6)
, quickly became the focus of the Internet
sharing of the cache
waypoints. It also became a gathering place for GGeocachers to tell the tales of their hunt
As I write this today there are 14,510 active cache
s to be found in 112 countries.
Geocaches now come in a variety of types. There is the traditional cache
type where in the finder needs to plug a set of latitude
coordinates into their GPS receiver
, follow some clues and eventual find the hiding place. In that place a container
with a logbook
and some prize
s will be found. The finder marks their visit in the logbook
, takes a prize
, leaves a prize
and then makes their way home
The virtual cache leads not to a prize
box but a place of beauty
. These are great for finding the undiscovered areas of your surroundings.
There are multipart caches, which twist and turn the finder across several sets of coordinates and puzzles. There are event caches in which the finder's prize is a gathering of other Geocachers. There are even letterbox
caches that are a mix of traditional Letterboxing with some GPS
clues thrown in.
Regardless of the type the main thing is the hunt. It's the call to explore
that drives folks on these quests. It could be with a GPS or without, with a prize or without. New ways may be introduced to make the hunt more interesting but under it all it's the same as before.