I just learned of a new puzzle-solving resource called RiddleMeThisSWAG. Here’s the description from their splash page:

  • This Wiki is a place to find resources on the internet for geocachers who are working to solve puzzle (or mystery) geocaches
  • The idea for this wiki grew out of a planning meeting in support of the event GC2DQCW Riddle Me This – A Puzzle Solving Workshop to be held on October 3, 2010. We are excited to hear that geocachers from Alaska are interested in this workshop, so we needed to find a place to share resources with geocachers beyond North Texas.
  • General Resources This page lists websites that are generic and offer puzzle solvers a good place to start when trying to decode a puzzle cache.
  • About SWAG (South West Arlington Geocachers – if you are in town, come by, say “Hi!” and be prepared to meet a bunch of local cachers!)
  • Questions, comments, concerns or have something to add? We would love to hear from you at Swagpuzzlers@gmail.com

I added a link to the list of Tools links here. Enjoy!

Geocaching Codebox

Do you search for puzzle geocaches with your BlackBerry? If so, the Geocaching Codebox app is for you! Here’s the description from the BlackBerry App World:

The Geocaching Codebox contains a set of tools useful for solving Multi- and Mystery Geocaches. Supported features: Decoders and Encoders for Morse Codes, Caesar’s/Rotation Cipher, Binary Numbers, Hex Numbers, Phone Key Pad Codes, Roman Numbers and others plus a possibility to store cache notes and hints.

Best of all – it’s free!

MIT Mystery Hunt 2011

It’s time for the MIT Mystery Hunt again!

The MIT IAP Mystery Hunt is an annual puzzle competition held at MIT during the January Independent Activity Period (IAP). The competition challenges each team to solve a large number of puzzles which lead to a coin hidden somewhere on-campus.

*Sigh* … if only I lived in Boston. Although, given the weather this week, I’m perfectly happy to be here in Florida right now.

The Most Favorite Caches in Florida

Recently, Groundspeak released a new feature for geocaching that allows users to mark a cache that they’ve found as one of their favorites – it’s essentially a limited-use Like button for geocaching.

A few days ago, one of the volunteer reviewers for Florida posted a note on my Puzzle Solving 101 – The Final Exam cache that said that the PS101 Final was one of the 20 most favorite caches in all of Florida.

Naturally, I’m honored. But I’m also naturally curious. I know some of the caches on that list, and some of them have been found literally thousands of times, while the PS101 Final has been found very few times. Because you can only mark a cache as your favorite if you’ve logged a find on it, caches that are found more often should get more favorite points than those that are found less often.

So that got me thinking – what if we ranked caches by the percentage of finders that marked a cache as one of their favorites? That would get us closer to measuring the overall reward factor of a cache than just a raw measurement of favorite points.

So I took the top 20 caches in the state as of this writing (in terms of absolute number of favorite points), and I sorted them by the percentage of finders that marked each cache as a favorite, and here’s the results:

Name Type ID Finds Favorites Percentage
Puzzle Solving 101 – The Final Exam Mystery GCYXN0 49 18 37%
Lemmings Loop Multi GC11MA3 56 16 29%
South Florida Challenge Quest Mystery GCTVT8 99 24 24%
Final Florida Challenge Quest Mystery GCTVTE 75 17 23%
North Florida Challenge Quest Mystery GCTVT3 92 19 21%
M&M-183 Wherigo Whenican’t…Downtown
Whereigo GC1Y3HH 126 18 14%
Where The Green Fern Grows Multi GCD459 141 19 13%
The Federation MUST PAY! Traditional GCGX5D 277 25 9%
Jungle Bungalow Traditional GC1D5YB 171 14 8%
A Cool Cache Traditional GC15RQB 668 34 5%
STS-107 Columbia (was Kennedy Space
Virtual GCBD49 458 21 5%
Wings Over Orlando Virtual GC4F78 710 20 3%
Animal Kingdom Virtual GC3334 2480 54 2%
Magic Kingdom Virtual GC10FB 3753 72 2%
USA, all the way South Virtual GC2C32 2371 36 2%
Hot Shots Virtual GCB34B 1111 16 1%
EPCOT Virtual GC3336 2981 36 1%
Hollywood Studios Virtual GC3338 2420 26 1%
That’s Some Whater, Eh? – TDR3v Virtual GC9F98 2153 21 1%

Now, this analysis isn’t complete – a cache with one find and one favorite point has a 100% favorite factor. It’s probably useful to consider a more statistically significant sample of caches that have, say, 25 finds or more, before considering them in this list, given the relatively low rate of marking caches as favorites. But I bet the result would be the same – the easy-to-find vacation virtuals would go to the bottom of the list and the mysteries, multis, and Wherigos would float to the top.

Civil War Message Decoded: No Help Coming

No Help Coming…

This intriguing AP story was printed in the Naples Daily News today.  A 147 year old secret Civil War message was finally opened and decrypted.  Here is the content of the story…


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A glass vial stopped with a cork during the Civil War has been opened, revealing a coded message to the desperate Confederate commander in Vicksburg on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.

The dispatch offered no hope to doomed Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton: Reinforcements are not on the way.

The encrypted, 6-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton’s surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.

The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.

“He’s saying, ‘I can’t help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,’ ” Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message. “It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was.”

The bottle, less than 2 inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the museum since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.

It was Wright who decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.

“Just sort of a curiosity thing,” said Wright. “This notion of, do we have any idea what his message says?”

The answer was no.

Wright asked a local art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. He looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle’s mouth. He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers.

The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.

But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, did not reveal itself immediately.

Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success.

A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks.

A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Gaddy’s interpretation. Cmdr. John B. Hunter, an information warfare officer, said he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time.

“To me, it was not that difficult,” he said. “I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have.”

The code is called the “Vigenere cipher,” a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an “a” would become a “d” — essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.

The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.

The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.

The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:

“Gen’l Pemberton:

You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen’l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy’s lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston.”

The last line, Wright said, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message.

“The date of this message clearly indicates that this person has no idea that the city is about to be surrendered,” she said.

The Johnston mention in the dispatch is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose 32,000 troops were encamped south of Vicksburg and prevented from assisting Pemberton by Grant’s 35,000 Union troops. Pemberton had held out hope that Johnston would eventually come to his aid.

The message was dispatched during an especially terrible time in Vicksburg. Grant was unsuccessful in defeating Pemberton’s troops on two occasions, so the Union commander instead decided to encircle the city and block the flow of supplies or support.

Many in the city resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather. Soup was made from wallpaper paste.

After a six-week siege, Pemberton relented. Vicksburg, so scarred by the experience, refused to celebrate July 4 for the next 80 years.

So what about the bullet in the bottom of the bottle?

Wright suspects the messenger was instructed to toss the bottle into the river if Union troops intercepted his passage. The weight of the bullet would have carried the corked bottle to the bottom, she said.

For Pemberton, the bottle is symbolic of his lost cause: the bad news never made it to him.

The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river’s edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city.

“He figured out what was going on and said, ‘Well, this is pointless,’ and turned back,” Wright said.


Kryptos – Does Langley know about this?


Fellow Puzzlehead Child of Atom sent this note to me the other day …

One of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century (and now the 21st century) is Kryptos. This sculpture – in the courtyard of CIA headquarters – contains a cipher, 3/4ths of which has been cracked. The story of its

On November 20, 2010, the artist released a clue to the remaining unsolved section – that six letters in the ciphertext translate to the word “BERLIN”. For a far better write-up than I can provide, check out the New York Times article.