What do you start with when you want to solve a mystery? With the listing and its analysis, of course. So here is a brief explanation of how and with what you can start if the approach to the mystery is not immediately recognisable.
- The title. Sounds trivial, but very often this is a more than subtle hint at the way to get the solution. Sometimes directly, sometimes encrypted (more on that later), sometimes as an anagram (there are many, sometimes more and sometimes less useful anagram generators on the internet). Sometimes you first have to throw the title at the feet of a search engine to understand its deeper meaning.
- The listing text. If there is one at all. How often have I only noticed the clues written here in black and white after reading them a second, third or fourteenth time? Often, however, text is hidden between the visible listing text with white writing on a white background. This can be made visible by marking the entire text (usually with ctrl-A). Detailed words on the analysis of text follow in the chapter “Language and Writing” .
- Pictures. Are there any in the listing? Or the image gallery? Is there a background image? Are there links to other images behind the visible ones (the browser may show this in the info line at the bottom, otherwise you will see it in the source code, see further down in this blog post). Is the image name a meaningful one, or just the number-letter jumble that e.g. geocaching.com uses when you upload images there? Are visually similar images different? Are the images on a different webspace? Is it possible to look into the directory or a higher one via the web browser? For example, if someone had used this picture in the listing: http://www.justchaos.de/img/7grad/IMG_2392.JPG I would look to see if I could find something helpful at http://www.justchaos.de/img/7grad/ or http://www.justchaos.de/img/ or http://www.justchaos.de/. If all this doesn’t help, I have to look in the directory. If none of this helps, the images may need to be analysed in more detail, more on this in the chapter “Image analysis”.
Image search engines such as http://tineye.com/ or Google Image Search are very helpful. Throw them the pictures linked in the cache and see if they know them and what keywords or information they are linked to.
- Hint. Is there one? Does he also use it? Or is he just a finding aid for outside? On this occasion, I wish all hints were actually hints. This is not a forced field for filler text, you get the cache unlocked even if you don’t enter one. The unfortunately too often used nonsense (“here is nothing”, “whoever reads this is stupid” and the like) is annoying, pointless and not even a little bit funny since it has been used about a million times.
- The source code. Even without in-depth html knowledge, you can easily spot hidden hints, hidden links, unnoticed tooltips (the text that can appear when you move the mouse over a link), or the target of the annoying little mouseovers (when you have to move the mouse over an image to get a link at a certain tiny point).
Using Firefox and a geocaching.com listing as an example: Highlight the text between the notes and the hint, right-click on it and select “View Selection Source”. Another window opens in which the source text is marked in blue. Do you find anything unusual here? Links, for example, begin with < a href=” and contain the actual link and the link text. If they both look like a URL, but differ, you should pay both a visit.
Pictures begin with < img src=”. Innerhalb dieser spitzen Klammern könnte hinter “alt = ” versteckter Text ” etwas verborgen worden sein, was aber, je nach Browser, auch schon im Listing sichtbar sein könnte. Text, der nicht auf der Webseite angezeigt wird, also nur im Quelltext zu sehen ist, wird mit diesen Sonderzeichen umschlossen: < ! — hier ist der “Geheimtext” — ! > .
Note: I unfortunately had to insert extra spaces in the HTML code examples, otherwise the blog would have interpreted them as html code and not shown them here as text).
- The waypoints. Who looks more closely at the waypoints? But sometimes it’s worth it. Do they have a description? Are the coordinates close to the mytery point? If they are completely different, it might be enough just to swap the minutes of the coordinates (the last 3 digits of north and east) with those of the mystery question mark? Or take a look at what can be found at the coordinate location (e.g. with Google Earth). I have also seen caches where there was a veritable flood of waypoints which, cleverly connected, then painted an X on the map or produced a text or digits on a map.
- The GC code. At Geocaching.com, caches have unique names that begin with GC. The cache owner cannot influence what follows behind it, but of course he can still use it. Possibly as a key to hide other information in the listing. Or simply as a password for an encrypted archive or a website.
- The date of publication: Does it roughly correspond to the date of publication? If not, it is a pretty clear indication that information has been hidden here. But the date can also be used to encode something, either as a password or because you take the number of the day (month, year), for example, and use the number to count off the words (paragraph, line, word, letter) in the text.
- The Geochecker: Is there a Geochecker? Then don’t forget to click on it. There may be another clue hidden here. Sometimes even with the coordinates of the listing.
- Trackables: Do you need a travelbug/coin to find the cache? Take a look at the list of “View past Trackables” – is this where the owner first deposited a TB/Coin and then immediately removed it again? Does the list of cache finders “coincidentally” match those who “discovert” this trackable? Then the hunt begins here 😉
- Code dictionary: Is there information in the listing, but you can’t assign it? Then put a code dictionary (e.g. from www.geocaching-franken.de ) next to it and see where you might find a clue.
- Related Web Page: You can link an external link to the listing. This is indicated at the top of the listing below the D-T stars as “Related Web Page” (which I like to overlook…).
- Owner: Not usual, but always a popular choice: The creator of the listing creates another account under which he submits the listing. In the profile there you will find further hints for solving the mystery.
- What else: It’s all to no avail? Then throw the cache and all its information at the feet of a search engine. Don’t forget to stalk the owner a bit, look at his profile page, follow further links if necessary (email address? homepage? Facebook etc.). Look in archived caches, maybe he left a note there. Look for a Geocaching-FakeAccount or TravelBug, whose name is somehow derived from the listing. Do your thoughts match the Difficult rating at all? All too often you overlook the obvious and poke around in the depths unnecessarily.
And as a final tip on this page: is the classic sentence that the mystery coordinate was freely chosen and does not matter missing? Then perhaps the sought-after coordinate lies exactly where the question mark has also been placed?