Ahhh…the Dreaded Mystery Cache

I’m up in Omaha, enjoying the quiet before I go to bed on the nearby couch.   Having a 3-day weekend helps make the visit seem less rushed. But while I’m up here, I thought I’d get started on my next topic…mystery caches.

We all know cachers who dread them.  That ? symbol next to the cache name.  Some automatically exclude them from searches, some take a look before closing it and passing it off.  However, some love them.  If you remember my post about completing The Case of Operuse Obfuscation, you’ll remember Vorticity.  He’s a cacher in Colorado who loves puzzle caches.  Some see them as just what they are, a challenge.

But the category of mystery (or unknown) caches is so broad.  On the Geocaching site, it has a great opening description for this type: “The “catch-all” of cache types…”.  That pretty much sums it up.  If it doesn’t fit into another category, then it fits into this one.  What does that mean for you as a cacher?  It means that if you are passing up mystery caches because you feel they are all puzzles, then you might be overlooking some interesting caches.

So I’ve put together a list of the ten most common types of the dreaded Mystery cache (as defined by me).  This should help as we get started exploring them in a bit more detail.

1.The Pict-O-Cache

A type of multi-cache that uses pictures to mark the stages instead of actual hides.  Go to the starting coordinates, follow the pictures, find the cache.  If well done, these can be popular.

2.The Cipher

A type of puzzle that can best be equated to code-breaking.  Figure out how the message or coordinates have been encoded to solve.  The hints posted on cache pages are an example of a basic cipher.  Can be letter or number based.

3.The Newspaper Puzzle

Named not for the use of a newspaper but for the style.  Sudoku’s, Crosswords, Word Jumbles.  This style takes the kinds of puzzles you might find in your newspaper and turns them into a method for determining the coordinates.

4.The Visual Puzzle

Not as commonly seen by many, this type of puzzle uses images to create the puzzle.  The ever annoying Magic Eyes are an example of one method used.  Others may use images to encode the coordinates, much like a cipher.

5.The Trivia Puzzle

Much like the name implies, this type requires you to answer questions.  The answers will help determine the final coordinates.  Multiple choice questions are often employed for this style.

6.The Challenge Cache

While varying in design, this style boils down to finding caches that fall within a certain list of guidelines.   Usually, you will find yourself doing a lot of planning and a lot of travel to complete these.

7.The Night Cache

Imagine how hard it can be to cache at night.  Now imagine a cache that can only be found at night.  Based around the idea of using reflectors to find the cache, this can be a fun cache to find, provided you aren’t scared of wandering around in the woods at night.

8.The Word Puzzle

Delicately built, these puzzles encode the final coordinates through the use of words.  Using poetry, lyrics, or just plain text, your ability to see patterns or read between the lines will be put to the test. I would also consider story puzzles part of this, as often the story will contain information important to finding the cache.

9.The Multi-Puzzle Cache

This style of puzzle can best be explained as a multi-cache that requires just a little bit extra kick to complete. Codes that are placed in the different stages, or in multiple caches, are then used to solve a puzzle.

10.The On-Site Puzzle

This method doesn’t involve solving anything before you leave home. Instead, you will have something that needs to be done at the cache site to determine the final location. Make sure to read the instructions on these before you go. Some may be quick, but sometimes you may find yourself spending 30-60 minutes working on something before you are able to discover the final coordinates.


Okay, I said ten most common types, but there are mystery caches out there that might not fall into any of the above groups. So, I decided to classify them as “other” since they aren’t as common as the ones above.

Many of these types of puzzle caches can be further broken down into sub-categories. Ciphers could be broken down into letter or number based. Challenges could be broken down into area coverage or number coverage (County & Fizzy respectively, for example). As more and more cachers attempt puzzles, more ideas are presented that others hadn’t thought of before.

So next time you are online searching through caches, don’t throw Mystery Caches out just yet. Look at them and you might find something that is easier than you expected. And, if you still aren’t quite sure, well we are going to take a look at some of these types in upcoming articles.


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3 Responses to Ahhh…the Dreaded Mystery Cache

  1. golfgunny says:

    The only types of mystery caches that I enjoy, and even think have anything to do with geocaching, are the on-site puzzles (counting items, or performing some task on-site), night only caches, and the “others.” If the “puzzle” is designed to give the cacher a full tour of the point of interest, or learn more about it, it’s definitely worthwhile.

    Solving a sudoku, looking up song lyrics, or generally wandering the internet in search of trivia, isn’t my cup of tea.

  2. philfromktown says:

    I am going to have to agree with golfgunny. If you have to spend so much time inside trying to find a solution it is nearly a waste of time. I would rather spend my time outside on the hunt.

    If you cannot give a clue about a puzzle then it is unsolvable by most. A little bit of internet is ok especially when the weather is bad but too much is too much.

  3. Fredrik says:

    If you enjoy puzzles and caching, mystery caches are a way to do both. If you don’t enjoy puzzles, you can just go ahead and ignore them.

    You don’t need to take time away from “real” caching to solve mysteries. You can solve them while you commute, at night before going to sleep, when the weather is bad, or when you need to be at home for one reason or another.

    Personally, I really like solving mysteries, but I think I enjoy creating them even more.

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