Building a good location-based puzzle can be really hard. Just because a place is interesting doesn’t mean there’s anything there that’ll make for a good puzzle. Sometimes you can hide that by delivering unique and interesting information about the place. Or, maybe you’re lucky enough to have a plaque on site to work off of. Though, even those can be hard to turn into something creative. Here at Traipse we feverishly try to avoid things like, “what’s the fourth word of the fourth sentence?”
I feel especially tuned to what makes for a bad location-based puzzle after years of geocaching. There are a few special geocache types that utilize virtual stages--with variations on the theme-- where there isn’t actually a container at that place to immediately find. You have to answer a question about something found at the coordinates given. The truly virtual geocaches have you emailing your answer to the cache owner to receive credit for the find.
I have rankled many a geocacher by declaring that I don’t like virtual geocaches. Many virtual geocaches, while potentially leading you to places of interest, do very little with the format. I think that geocachers tend to conflate the old age of virtuals (a geocaching statistical challenge is to find really old geocaches) with an entertaining hunt. There’s just something anticlimactic about emailing your answer to the cache owner who will rarely even reply. It’s what I like about the Traipse format, you plug your answer into the app and are immediately told about your success.
In theory these sort of geocaches have a place in the geocaching world: they can be a great way to highlight an interesting location that won’t allow for a physical container on site. If there are several locations within an area that serve as a theme or tell a story of sorts, you can link them all together under one journey. The trouble again, is creating on-site puzzles that aren’t just an annoying speed bump to the player, but also consider that the player is out in the field and won’t have the patience or resources for something too difficult. I have found many virtual geocaches and none of them have done a good job of this.
This virtual stage of a Washington, DC geocache brought me to an interesting historic building. I had to count gargoyles to move on. Not super exciting but fine. The problem? The geocache owner missed a few gargoyles in their count… after a couple visits I eventually discovered the problem.
We at Traipse aren’t perfect either. However, we beta test each other’s puzzles to make sure they make sense and are fun to complete. We also regularly review and change our puzzles as we ourselves grow and think of better ways to challenge players. We have been working hard to broaden the scope of what we can do within the app-- our last big update now allows for embedded video and audio which means we can do some funky things with our challenges. If we bring you to a site and there’s not much for us to build a puzzle from, we can instead, say, embed a puzzle within a video you have to watch and interpret.
I didn’t mean for this post to turn all “rah-rah Traipse” but I literally spend all my time thinking about puzzle building and fretting over the quality of what we’ve built. There’s a lot about geocaching that I adore, particularly the hunt for a secret, physical container. The problem there is that it’s not curated and the quality varies accordingly.
Here at Traipse we are responsible for every piece of content and puzzle in the app, and it keeps us up at night. (In a good way.) We’re ever looking forward to challenging your brain while bringing you to locations you wouldn’t have otherwise considered visiting.