A Flurry of Puzzle Box Activity

Posted on July 22nd, 2010 at 8:12 am by


There is so much to report that I hardly know where to begin.  The biggest news is that I have begun actively delivering commissions!  If you want to finally get your hands on a second-generation programmable Reverse Geocache™ puzzle, keep reading.


This winter I began developing a new specialized PCB (“printed circuit board”) that greatly improves reliability and shortens build time. What this means is that it no longer takes me several days to create a new box, so those of you who were hoping to get one soon might actually be able to!

The new reverse geocache PCB

The latest revision of the Reverse Geocache PCB

The new PCB has enabled me to build a number of samples. Large, small, ornate or restrained, they are all fun to build, and each has its own unique charm. Check out these samples:

The "Painted Indian"

The "Painted Indian"

The "Elegant Black"

The "Elegant Black"

The second-generation "Elephant"

A second-generation "Elephant"

The "Elegant Ring"

The handmade "Engagement Ring"

MAKE Magazine article

In March I was contracted by MAKE to write a feature-length article on the Reverse Geocache™. It was a surprising pleasure to write down my experiences with puzzle boxes and to recreate amazing tale of the very first one (which still isn’t open, by the way…) Look for the article to appear in print in the Fall (October 26th) issue! (Edit: it actually came out in January, 2011.) Here’s one of the photos I took. That’s my nephew Nate solving a mini-quest using one of the “Elegant Black” boxes.

My nephew on a mini-quest

My nephew on a mini-quest

Travel Advisory

During Spring Break I took one of my “Engagement Ring” boxes to New York to show at the Arduino developers’ conference. On the trip I learned what (and what not) to do with a box at airport security. With the box stashed in my carry-on luggage, I jammed up the Portland (ME) security line for about five minutes and was subjected to some rather serious grilling. Once things quieted down, the security chief confided sternly that I was lucky my box was empty. Had any “mass” been detected alongside all those wires and electronic components, he warned, it would have “shut the place down”!

Trouble at the Airport

Trouble at the Airport

Lessons learned:

1. It’s probably not a good idea to send your friends on a quest that requires air travel. Don’t put them into the position of having to bring a suspicious box they can’t open onto an airplane.
2. If you do travel by air with a puzzle box, leave it unlocked in your checked luggage and remove the batteries. (This seems to work for me.)
3. (From the security chief) If you have to carry one through security, first remove any contents and the batteries, place it open on the conveyor belt, and alert the security officials beforehand.

Puzzle Box Movie?

While in New York I had a telephone meeting with a couple of guys who work at a Hollywood production company. They are actively developing a studio pitch for an adventure film based on a mysterious puzzle box that appears in the lead character’s mail. Wouldn’t it be fun if such a movie gets made?!

Mini-quests are fun

Towards the end of March I gave a short talk about my boxes to a crowd at SXSW (South by Southwest) and afterwards sent members of the audience on little mini-adventures to nearby bars and restaurants. One of the great (and frankly surprising) things I’ve learned is that while the first box was designed for a long, romantic adventure, it also works great for tiny ‘treks’ to nearby destinations with modest “treasures”. A short quest to a bookstore or restaurant is easy to put together and great fun for all ages.

Interview with geocaching.com

In April a video crew from Groundspeak (geocaching.com) flew down to Austin to interview Richard Garriott and me. A new website they’re building in honor of the 10th anniversary of the first geocache (5/3/00) will include about 20 short videos detailing great geocaching stories, of which mine is apparently one! (Garriott is most famous for having paid $25 million to ride the Space Shuttle in 2008, and while aloft hid a geocache on the Space Station.)

After we wrapped up our interview I surprised the crew with a fully armed puzzle box filled with candies and a gift certificate to a Mexican restaurant. They had a blast using the box’s guidance system to lead them to the restaurant, and of course, being plenty hungry after their lenghty search, were pleasantly surprised to discover its contents. If you want to see the route they took to get there, here’s the Google map generated by the box. Eventually, I hope to make it possible to publish any adventure this way.

Eric and Reid's Dinner Journey

Eric and Reid's Dinner Journey

The first commission

The last bit of news is that in May I mailed the very first commercial puzzle box to Seattle, fulfilling a commission from Jeremy Irish, the president of Groundspeak. I was actually a little sad to see it go. It was one of my pretty “Engagement Ring” model boxes, designed to comfortably hold a small payload in a felt-lined interior.

Commissioning a box

As I mentioned, I have started building commissioned boxes. If you would like one, I will build you either an “Engagement Ring” model for USD $699, or the “Painted Indian” model for USD $549 plus actual shipping. The “ring” boxes are handmade by my talented artist friend Andy Myers (see his website). The “Painted Indians” are funky modified World Market boxes.

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • A handmade Reverse Geocache (requires 2 AA alkaline batteries)
  • A one-year warranty
  • (Free) Windows configuration software to program new destinations, greetings, number of attempts, and sensitivity radius.

Each box has its own serial number and password, which you need in order to reprogram it. There is already a backlog, so please be patient. I’ll mostly fill requests in the order received, although I know some of you are hoping for boxes for particular events. When you send your request, please send the date you need it (if any) and I’ll try to work that into the schedule.

I appreciate any feedback you may have. Thanks for being part of this fascinating community; I’ve received such interesting emails and letters. I particularly look forward to collecting more great stories of your own quests.