Go For a Nice Relaxing Puzzle Hunt with Letterboxing!

Who can resist a treasure hunt? Who doesn’t want to play the role of the clever intrepid adventurer who reads maps, deciphers clues, solves riddles, and finds a hidden cache that eluded so many others?

We’ve discussed them in the past, covering famous ones like Forrest Fenn’s poem or the visual treasure hunt clues of The Secret, as well as tips for creating one of your own.

But did you know there’s another sort of treasure hunting out there that requires nothing more than your wits, your patience, and your willingness to exercise and explore?

[Image courtesy of Underhobby.]

It’s called letterboxing.

Essentially, you’re hunting for small, weatherproof boxes in publicly accessible areas — parks, for instance — with the goal of celebrating your success locating the well-concealed box. From a given starting point — a letterboxing catalog, or a website, or one given to you by the letterbox designer themselves — you must hunt down the box. (Your state might even maintain an archive of available letterboxing spots. Mine certainly does!)

Sometimes there are clues, or puzzles to be solved, or it’s simply meant to be found by determined, keen-eyed hunters.

Inside, you’ll find a logbook awaiting your personal stamp (to mark that you found it) as well as a stamp unique to that letterbox for you to use in your own record book to record your success in locating the box.

Devoted letterboxers often keep careful records of how many letterboxes they’ve planted, how many they’ve found, which letterboxing events they’ve attended, and more.

And it’s a hobby that dates back more than 150 years!

[Image courtesy of Ms. Nasser’s Art Studio.]

Now, if this sounds familiar, there’s good reason for that. Over the last fifteen years, an updated version of letterboxing has emerged: geocaching.

Geocaching functions mostly along the same lines, but with one crucial difference.

Geocaching is all about finding exact GPS coordinates.

But it can also involve the same exploration, puzzling, and problem-solving as letterboxing. I’ve seen some that contain puzzles that reveal coordinates to other geocaches, like popsicle sticks that have to be sorted to reveal the necessary numbers. There are even some that require you to solve a puzzle to open the letterbox itself.

Some people are very clever indeed, and they’re waiting for you to accept the challenge.

Have you ever been letterboxing or geocaching, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Are you planning to try it out in the future? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Puzzling Virtually at Norwescon 43!

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Over the weekend, I participated in an online version of the celebrated sci-fi, fantasy, and horror convention Norwescon.

Although many of the convention’s panels and events have a writerly focus, plenty of attention is also given to art, films, games, and pop culture, so there was plenty for puzzle and game fans to enjoy at the event.

Naturally, since the convention was being held virtually rather than in person, some creativity was required to redesign events to be enjoyed from the comfort of attendees’ homes.

For instance, costumes were shown off through video or submitted photos — there was even a closet cosplay challenge held where participants had twenty minutes to create a costume based solely on what they could find in their closets!

As for my contributions, each year I host a themed scavenger hunt and an escape room for teen attendees to enjoy.

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The scavenger hunt adapted to the format easily. We cast volunteers to portray different characters from the film The Princess Bride, and players had scheduled times to actually interact with them through Zoom chats. Players downloaded a PDF of the rules and some puzzles to be solved, and they would receive a code phrase upon completing each of their assigned tasks.

(The code phrases, when properly combined, revealed a secret word which would “trigger” a surprise video.)

Their more puzzly tasks included using instructions to whittle down a list of 40 possible ingredients down to the three Miracle Max would need for his miracle pill for Westley, as well as solving a logic puzzle to find evidence that an ROUS was innocent of a royal guardsman’s disappearance.

And on the last day of the convention, they attended the wrap-up panel where we explained the hunt in full, thanked the cast, announced the winners, took suggestions for a theme for next year’s scavenger hunt, and even played a Cameo video from a member of the film’s cast as a surprise for all the attendees!

It was a rousing success.

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Adapting the Star Wars-themed escape room for a virtual format was far more daunting. After all, one of the most satisfying aspects of escape room solving is to actually physically solve puzzles, unlock containers, open doors, and defeat all sorts of key locks, combination locks, and more.

My solution to this problem was to still allow players to “unlock” and open something, just something virtual: password-protected PDF files.

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[This “panel” required a 5-digit code and a 3-digit combination to unlock.]

I created a webpage with images of all the “locked” panels for them to virtually open, each of which had symbols to indicate what sort of lock there was, as well as links to the password-entry screens. As they found keys and solved puzzles, they coordinated to try different panels and see which keys and codes unlocked the PDFs, which then opened to give them new tools and puzzles to solve.

It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but once players got the hang of it, they were soon racing through the room, using a built-in chat window to keep track of items they hadn’t used and working out passwords in real time.

One of the players even started livestreaming her efforts to solve a pipe puzzle on Twitch so everyone could solve along with her. It was a very cool and innovative way to virtually solve!

Hopefully, we’ll be back in person for next year’s convention and we can get back to opening locks and running around for a proper scavenger hunt. But either way, it’s nice to know we’re adaptable and creative enough to still pull them off in the virtual space when circumstances arise.

After all, as long as the players had fun, we can definitely call it a win.


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Make the Season Bright (and Puzzly)!

Christmas is fast approaching, but there’s still time to put a nice puzzly spin on this festive holiday.

Naturally, we have a few ideas for how to do that without shelling out more of your hard-earned cash. (This is why you won’t see puzzle boxes or those marble-run boxes for gift cards here. This is all DIY!)

So let’s look at some puzzle-inspired ways to enhance your Yuletide endeavors!


[Image courtesy of Destination Imagination.]

Scavenger Hunt / Puzzle Hunt

Yes, this is always the first suggestion on our list because it’s a fun idea you can tailor to any age group. Whether they’re solving riddles, figuring out vague references to places in the house, or simply searching for gifts like Easter eggs, it can freshen up the Christmas morning experience to exercise their brains before they put their arms to work tearing open wrapping paper.

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Puzzles for Presents / Puzzle Password

I know a couple who absolutely love cryptic-style crossword clues, and on more than one occasion, before one gives the other a birthday or Christmas gift, they’ll have to solve a cryptic clue.

Often they’re about the couple themselves, or multiple clues will spell out a message. It’s a sweet little puzzly way to “earn” your gifts, if you’re into that sort of thing.

You can easily do this with kids by pretending the wrapped gifts are “locked” and they have to figure out a code or find a “key” to free the present. (Heck, some ribbons are so resilient that you really can lock up a present!)

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Paper Locks

Similarly, you can create actual paper locks to be opened or employ the puzzly art of letterlocking to create a little mechanical puzzle to be unraveled before opening a gift.

There are some wonderful DIY tutorials and YouTube videos out there detailing how to create these whimsical little challenges, and it’s pretty impressive how much you can do with some paper, glue, and creativity.

[Image courtesy of Nadim’s Craft.]

Origami Puzzle Box

And speaking of all the things you can do with paper, it should come as no surprise that there are puzzle boxes out there that you can create with the Japanese paper-folding art of origami.

Some are simple, some are complex, and yes, none of these will stop a child determined to get to that gift, but these are wonderfully intricate and stylish ways to present someone you care about with a gift experience they’re remember.


Do you have any suggestions for making the holiday season puzzlier? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Puzzly Ideas to Keep You Busy!

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We’re all doing our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones engaged, entertained, and sane during these stressful times.

And after weeks of doing so, it’s possible you’re running out of ideas.

But worry not! Your puzzly pals at PuzzleNation are here with some suggestions.

Please feel free to sample from this list of activities, which is a mix of brain teasers to solve, puzzly projects to embark upon, treasure hunts, unsolved mysteries, ridiculous notions, creative endeavors, and a dash of shameless self-promotion.

Enjoy, won’t you?


Puzzly Ways To Get Through Self-Quarantine

In all seriousness, we hope these ideas help you and yours in some small way to make the time pass in a fun and puzzly fashion. Be well, stay safe, and happy puzzling.


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Go Big, Then Go Home: The World’s Biggest Scavenger Hunt

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[Image courtesy of Cornell.edu.]

Have you ever done a scavenger hunt, fellow puzzler? They can be a lot of fun.

Some simply challenge you to find a bunch of random items, while others create a laundry list of activities to complete. Over the last decade or so, businesses have even sprung up to fulfill any party, group, or even city that might require a scavenger hunt for an event.

Yes, you can easily gather a group of friends, hit up any city at a certain point in the year, and find a scavenger hunt event waiting for you. They often involve puzzles, trivia, and other obstacles to success, rather than just a list of tasks to accomplish.

I’ve served as tech support for several, as well as an organizer for themed scavenger hunts at various sci-fi, fantasy, and writing conventions. I was supposed to be running one this weekend; that event, like so many others, was cancelled due to preventative measures to contain COVID-19.

So, as you might expect, I’ve got scavenger hunts on the brain. And with ample time to ponder, I couldn’t help but wonder… how big could you go?

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[Image courtesy of Guinness Book of World Records.]

I mean, if we’re talking a city-wide competition, you’d probably need to complete a half-dozen or a dozen objectives, based on previous city-themed hunts I’ve seen.

But what if it was the biggest scavenger hunt in the world? How many would it be then?

If you said as many as you could from a list of 150, then you have some impressive and specific guessing skills.

On September 10, 2017, the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, hosted a mass scavenger hunt to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary. (For comparison’s sake, the one listed on the website for this year involved twenty obstacles.)

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[Image courtesy of Ottawa Citizen.]

So, how many people showed up to tackle 150 challenges for this world-record-setting scavenger hunt?

2,733.

Many of them wearing costumes.

Each of them pitched in on answering trivia, solving puzzles, exploring the city, and taking pictures of specific items or scenarios throughout the area.

It sounds like an absolute blast, one that Ottawa went all out for.

I wonder who will try to topple a record like that.

Well, if they do, I can’t wait to see it.


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Puzzly Ideas Just in Time for Valentine’s Day!

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Valentine’s Day looms large, and sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect way to express your love for that certain someone… particularly if that certain someone is the puzzly type.

But we’ve got a few suggestions…

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Jigsaw puzzles are the perfect metaphor for relationships, as they require separate pieces working together to complete the picture.

There are necklaces and other pieces of jigsaw-themed jewelry, as well as do-it-yourself jigsaw patterns you can utilize. You could depict anything from a favorite photo to a specific Valentine’s message in the completed image.

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Now, you can always start with something simple, like a subscription to a puzzle service like The Crosswords ClubThe American Values Club Crossword, or The Inkubator. New puzzles every week or every month are a great gift. (Especially the Valentine’s Deluxe Sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords app! *wink*)

If they’re more into mechanical puzzles, our friends at Tavern Puzzles offer several brain teasers that incorporate a heart shape.

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But if you’re looking for something more personalized, why not make a crossword for them yourself?

(Yes, you can also commission a top puzzler to do one for you, but you’d usually want to get the ball rolling on something like that well before Valentine’s Day.)

Now, to be fair, crosswords can be tough and time-intensive to make, so if that feels a little daunting, why not try a Framework puzzle or a crisscross instead? They incorporate the same crossing style, but don’t require you to use every letter.

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It allows you to maintain a terrific word list all about you and your significant other without all the effort of filling in every square crossword-style.

Or you could write the object of your affection a coded love letter! All throughout history, people have employed different tricks and techniques to keep their private messages away from prying eyes, and you could do the same!

Whether it’s a simple letter-shifting cipher or something more complex, make sure your message is worth reading. =)

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[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

Plus you could learn a bit of letterlocking to some flair — and a sense of puzzly secrecy and personalization — to your message.

Even if you don’t go the encryption route, the unique presentation of a letter-locked message makes a simple card or a heartfelt note feel more precious.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Have you considered a puzzle bouquet? You could grab some newspaper crosswords and origami them into flower shapes for a fun puzzle-fueled spin on a holiday classic.

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Or you could hide jigsaw pieces around the house that, when put together, spell out a Valentine’s message or a picture of the two of you.

Put your own spin on the idea. A little bit of effort can go a long way, plus it doesn’t cost anything.

With a little more effort, you could whip up a scavenger hunt! You could leave clues around leading to a gift, or a romantic dinner, or some other grand finale. Maybe offer a rose with each clue.

Show off how much you know about him or her. You could make each clue or destination about your relationship or about your partner, allowing you to show off how well you know them… where you first met, favorite meals, favorite movie…

If you don’t want to leave things around where anyone could nab them, keep a few small tokens on you, giving one for each destination reached or clue solved. Heck, you could enlist a friend to text clues to your special someone once they’ve reached a particular destination!

Or for something less formal, you could make a game of your romantic wanderings and play Valentine’s Day Bingo.

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[I found this blank template on Makoodle.com.]

Maybe go for a walk or take your loved one out to dinner, and see if they can get bingo by observing different things. A couple holding hands as they walk, a Valentine’s Day proposal, outrageously priced flowers…

The possibilities are endless when you put your mind to it.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!