Engagements: A Tale of Two Cities

Posted on January 18th, 2011 at 6:36 am by


Susan's ring

Susan's new ring

I. Seattle

Some pretty exciting news came my way last September.  My friends at Groundspeak, the international geocaching organization, wrote that their Reverse Geocache™ Puzzle Box had recently facilitated a young coworker’s wedding engagement!  (You’ve encountered this very box in an earlier post.  I built it to celebrate geocaching’s tenth anniversary—the first commission I ever did.)

So how does a puzzle “facilitate” an engagement?  It’s a marvelous idea that goes something like this:

Wedding bells in mind, the presumptive groom acquires an engagement ring and hides it in a puzzle box.  He configures this box to open at a secret location he knows to be meaningful to his admired one, preferably a place with some deep significance or other fascination to the couple.  This might be the tree outside her dormitory where they first kissed, the cafe they visited on their first date—these are real examples!—or perhaps a dreamy five-star hotel in the Seychelles.

Without any extraneous explanation, he casually presents his beloved the sealed box.   Through a series of distance clues, its trademark blue display gently coaxes her towards the magic destination.  If all goes as planned, her beau steps from the shadows, bouquet in hand, just as the ring is revealed, compounding her amazement and affirming exactly what that dazzling ring implies.  Tears flow, and a lifelong memory has just been created.

In this story, our aspiring groom, Justin, chose the back yard of the beautiful new home he and his bride-to-be were moving to for his hoped-for betrothal.  Just 4.4 miles away, this selection may seem tame and uncomplicated compared to the year-long, 150+ mile adventure my French friends slogged through.  But even small quests sometimes take unanticipated turns.  Justin reports that after he handed over the box, Hailee complained that they were far too behind in their packing to engage in “some frivolous hide-and-seek” game.  She suggested he return the box to the company break room “to let someone who wasn’t so busy play with it”.  For some days his plan seemed about to fall apart, but he did finally overcome her reluctance, and happy tears did ultimately flow.  ”The box was open, and I had the ring in my hand,” he wrote, “but only after I asked ‘Hailee, my best friend and sweet darling girl, will you marry me?!’ did she really grasp what had just happened.”

Adrian's Box

Adrian's Box

II. Sydney

Justin’s happy note concluded with an interesting and curious question. “Are we,” he asked hopefully, “the first couple ever to get engaged with a Reverse Geocache?”.

As it turns out, this was a surprisingly difficult question to answer.  Just two weeks prior, I had shipped an Engagement Ring box to a young man in Sydney with a very similar vision.  Adrian, the aspiring Aussie groom, conceived the idea that sending his Susan on a short puzzle box quest near her home in Cootamundra might make his forthcoming proposal that much more irresistible.  (For those of you not familiar with Australian topography, Cootamundra is about 90km northeast of Wagga Wagga.)

Following up with him afterwards, I learned that this adventure had also turned out happily.  In the shadow of a famous local monument, so he told me, Susan had opened her box and responded with an emphatic and delighted ‘yes!’.  (Could anyone say no?)  But the question still remained—when did the actual engagement take place?  Was it earlier than Justin’s?  I had to grill both grooms for details, and the results are surprisingly close:

Adrian (Australia): “…just before 1:00pm on the afternoon of August 20th“.
Justin (Seattle): “…at 8:05pm PST on August 19th“.

At first glance, it appears Justin’s engagement wish came true.  But of course New South Wales is not in the same time zone as Washington.  Not by a long shot.  In August, it’s 17 big hours ahead, and factoring that in yields a tasty little surprise:

The first two couples became engaged within ten minutes of each other—more than 7500 miles apart!

This amazed and delighted me.  I did a double- and then a triple-check.  It seemed too good to be true, but it was.  The two engagements really did occur perhaps even as little as five minutes apart, though sadly not in the order that Justin had hoped.  I had to tell him that he and Hailee had missed being first, as it were, by that much.

And that’s when things got really interesting.

Justin wrote back:

Well since it was that close…you forced me to sync my iPhone up to my computer so I could substantiate my claim with a digital timestamp.  When I said 8:05pm in my previous email, I was actually reading Hailee’s analog watch in one of the first few photos I took of the ring.

Attached you’ll find that I have a photo of the final button press at 7:56, and the first photo I have of her with the ring on is 8:01pm.

Amateur forensics: the iPhone timestamp

Amateur forensics: the iPhone timestamp

This brilliant bit of digital forensics pushes Justin’s estimate back between four and nine minutes, meaning… what?  Well, Justin and Hailee got engaged sometime between 7:56 and 8:01, and the best guess for Adrian and Susan is “a little before 8:00″ [Seattle time].  Can we call it anything but a tie?  I think not.  And, as Justin so nicely puts it…

…either way, it’s pretty cool that we were probably down on a knee at the exact same moment on the other side of the globe!