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Geocaching is an outdoor hobby and an interactive scavenger hunt game that relies on an online community and the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. The game usually involves planting a cache, defined as a waterproof container with a log book and tradable items, in any geographic location in the world and then sharing the GPS coordinates for other participants to track down the object.
The game of geocaching was first conceived on May 2nd, 2000, following the U.S. government’s removal of a security feature called Selective Availability from the GPS platform. As a result, civilians were given access to the coordinate data that are ten times more accurate than before, allowing GPS users to pinpoint an exact location and be able to return to it later. Two days later, computer consultant Dave Ulmer decided to test this accuracy by hiding a black bucket with a logbook, software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot in Beavercreek, Oregon. He posted the coordinates to a GPS enthusiasts newsgroup, sci.geo.satellite-nav, calling it a “GPS Stash Hunt” and encouraged people to take something, leave something, and record their visit in the book. In 2006, a plaque was placed at the location to commemorate this event.
On May 30th, 2000, Matt Stum, a member of the Yahoo! group “GPSStash,” suggested a name change from “GPS Stash Hunt” to “GPS Cache Hunt” or “Geocache.” Dave Ulmer agreed with Stum and renamed the game. Geocaching.com was registered on July 3rd, 2000 by participant Jeremy Irish as a hubsite for stash locations, as well as instructions on how to make and place a stash. He later founded the company Groundspeak to help expand the site.
In 1854, British travel guide James Perrott began placing a bottle with his calling card tucked inside as a record of making the trek to an area known as Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, Devon, England. Other hikers began placing letters or postcards addressed to either themselves or friends in boxes along similar trails. The person who found the box was then responsible for sending the letters via mail. In 1888, a tin box (below right) was placed at the site, followed by a granite box (below left) erected in 1937. These boxes housed rubber stamps so visitors could mark off the places they had been, similar to passport stamps.
By 1976, fifteen letterboxes were found across Dartmoor. The tradition stayed quiet until April 1998, when the Smithsonian Magazine published an article about the hobby. This article was the first introduction of Letterboxing to an American audience. The practice was later featured in TIME, Wired, and on NPR. Letterboxing.org is a repository of clues and maps to help people find letterboxes across the globe. The North American division has 4149 likes on Facebook as of April 2012.
The first tech site to cover Geocaching was Slashdot in September 2000. Later that year, the hobby appeared on the New York Times and in a segment on CNN. Several early participants sought to compile the history of the hobby through websites like GPSGames.org and personal site Guys Named Kim. Throughout the 2000s, Geocaching was featured on Technorati, The New York Times and in an episode of TV crime drama series Law and Order.
Geocaching is an active topic of discussion on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr. The official Facebook fan page has more than 205,000 likes as of April 2012. A wiki titled Cacheopedia was created in May 2005 to host additional information for people who want to learn about Geocaching. Additionally, mobile apps for both iPhone and Android have been created to enhance the experience.
Outside of Geocaching.com, there are several additional websites with Navicache.com was created in February 2001 as a less restrictive alternative to the main site, since they do not limit their listings to caches with physical containers or make their users pay for any listings. Opencaching.eu was created in 2006 to help provide listings based on specific regions. This site also notifies users of new caches in their area and also provides an API for third-party developers to make new applications. Also in the spirit of a free and open alternative, OpenCaching.com was created, featuring games protected under an Open Source license. A more restrictive site, TerraCaching was built in 2004. TerraCaching does not allow for caches to be listed on any other site, and each one is peer-reviewed by its userbase. Finally, GPSGames hosts similar games in addition to geocaching including Shutterspot, in which players are challenged to recreate a photo in the exact same spot it was taken, and MinuteWar, a global game of capture-the-flag.
Cacheopedia hosts a full glossary of terms and acronyms unique to the hobby. Some important terms include words used during the act of caching, shorthand for messages in logbooks, or hints for where the particular cache can be found:
BYOP – (Bring Your Own Pen/Pencil) The cache in question lacks a writing device for the logbook.
DNF – (Did Not Find) Did not find the cache container being searched for.
FIGS – Found in good shape.
FTF – (First To Find) The first person to find a cache container; less commonly one may see STF (second to find, or TTF, third to find).
TFTC – (Thanks For The Cache) This is often used at the end of logs to thank the cache owner.
TN – (Took Nothing) no trade or traveling item was removed from the cache.
LN – (Left Nothing) no trade or traveling item was added to the cache.
SL – (Signed Log) used when the participant visited the cache and signed its logbook.
LPC – (Light/Lamp Post Cache) used in the description on where a cache may be hidden.
MKH – (Magnetic Key Holder) used in the description on the type of container used for the cache.
PLC – (Parking Lot Cache) used in the description on where a cache may be hidden.
POR – (Pile Of Rocks) used in the description on where a cache may be hidden.
POS – (Pile Of Sticks or Stones) used in the description on where a cache may be hidden.
Controversy: Bomb Scares
Geocaches have been routinely mistaken for bombs or weaponry across the globe including Idaho, USA in 2006, Arkansas, USA in 2009, West Yorkshire, England in 2011 and Disneyland in Anaheim, California in March 2012. In April 2011, the state of Nevada went as far as to remove over 100 geocaches along the Extraterrestrial Highway due to complains from drivers stopping in dangerous sections of the road to access these containers. Over 180 geocaches on Geocaching.com have been marked as “bad ideas,” which have either lead to a bomb scare or destruction of the stash.
Maryland Geocaching Society – Geocaching featured on Law & Order: Criminal Intent