Lesson 1 of this series of caches gives you a generalized approach to solving puzzle caches. Lesson 2 supplies you with some basic tools that can be used to take apart a puzzle and make it solvable. With this lesson, we begin to look at some specific types of puzzles and discuss strategies applicable to each.
This lesson deals with solving a type of cache that I call a “trivia challenge”. A trivia challenge is a cache whose solution depends upon being able to correctly answer a number of trivia questions about a particular subject.
Trivia challenges used to be difficult. Unless you were a subject matter expert on the topic at hand, you used to have to get up out of your chair, hop on the bus, head to your local library, and hunt through encyclopedias and magazines and newspapers and microfiche slides and vinyl records and videotapes and audio cassettes and arcane dusty tomes you found in the card catalog. (Remember when the card catalog was made up of actual physical cards?)
Today, due to the wide availability of high-speed internet connections, fast search engines, and massive free online repositories of all world knowledge, you can launch an effective attack on a trivia challenge without leaving the comfort of your own home computer. To solve a trivia challenge, you need to know ways in which information is organized and presented on the internet.
If you’re reading this online, then you probably already know what a search engine is. Search engines are probably the single most useful tool in existence for tracking down trivia.
A search engine is a tool that allows you to look for key words or phrases in a database of web pages. There is no particular ordering to any of the web pages in the database – the search engine treats them as though they were one giant mass of information.
Every search engine has its own copy of the data on the internet and its own method of determining what pages match your query. Sometimes Google alone isn’t enough – you may need to use Yahoo, MSN, AOL, or Ask.com to find what you’re after.
Just knowing the URL of a search engine or portal isn’t always enough – you have to know how to use that tool to effectively find what you’re after. You can’t just enter every word; you have to enter the right combination of words.
For instance, suppose your trivia challenge topic is the band Pink Floyd and the question relates to the song “Breathe”. If you enter “breathe” into Google, the first page of responses won’t have any links that relate to Pink Floyd. But “breathe pink floyd” returns only relevant matches.
One of the most powerful features of a search engine is the ability to search for things other than just keywords. Google can search for images, maps, news articles … even sets of data.
There are a great many specialized databases out there that contain all sorts of excellent fodder for trivia challenges. Most of the time, entering the name of your topic (such as “curling” or “calculus” or “ice cream”) plus the word “trivia” into a search engine will give you an excellent list of starting points for finding your answers. Here are a few other databases that often come in handy.
Internet Movie Database
Has every fact about every movie, television show, and video game
Find any named place in the United States by name or partial name
Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection
Tons of maps from around the world and throughout time
CIA World Fact Book
Geographic, political, and economic information about countries around the world
A wiki is a collaborative informative web site that anyone with access can update. Content in a wiki is organized into pages with links to other topics in the wiki. These links allow you to find a topic, then find related topics, then find topics related to those topics, etc.
The best-known wiki is Wikipedia, which acts as a very large general purpose encyclopedia of human knowledge. Many other wikis exist that are tailored to specific areas of interest.
A wiki's greatest strength is also its biggest weakness - the accuracy of a wiki's contents is only as good as its contributors. It is very easy to find wrong, outdated, or incomplete information on a wiki, so use them with caution.
A forum is an online bulletin board system (remember the days of pulse-dialing into a BBS at 300 bps on your C-64?). A bulletin board system allows its users to post messages and carry on conversations on a variety of topics. Forums typically support a community of individuals unified by some common interest (such as geocaching or puzzles).
The beauty of a forum is that it is not only specific to a topic and searchable for content, but that it is also interactive. Forums are great places to ask for help if you’re stuck on a puzzle or missing a critical piece of information. If you can't find an appropriate forum that's specific to the topic, check with the Groundspeak Forums.
One note about forum etiquette: while it is okay to ask for help in solving a puzzle, it is generally frowned upon to discuss the solution to a puzzle in public. It's usually best to ask the cache owner for a hint or a pointer in the right direction before posting a public request for help.
Puzzle writers know about all of these information sources and how easy it is for solvers to access them. Here are some ways that puzzle writers make the trivia challenge more difficult in this day of fast and easy information access.
Make it hard to find the answer. A question may reference a bit of information that exists only one web site. Or for which there are multiple conflicting source. Or doesn’t exist online at all. Or requires you to find a picture, sound file or movie clip – something that can’t be Googled.
For example, what’s the answer to this question: In Yorkshire, England, the record was set for longest distance flown by a paper airplane in what category?
Make it complicated to answer the question. This is easiest to achieve in a true/false statement with multiple components. In order for the statement to be true, every single component of the statement must be true; otherwise, the statement is false.
For example: True or false? The Barefoot Mailman’s six-day 136-mile round trip route between Palm Beach and Miami during the period of 1885 to 1892 included overnight stops in the Orange Grove House of Refuge in Delray Beach and the Fort Lauderdale House of Refuge, both of which were operated by the U. S. Coast Guard.