Friday, July 15, 2011

Geocaching: The Beat Poet Vision

So, Poetry & Popular Culture was just in the western suburbs of Chicago visiting family for the July 4 weekend, and we got a chance to hang out for a while with brother-in-law Jim who's an I.T. guy, an amateur astronomer, and really into geocaching—the worldwide treasure-hunting activity, apparently started in the year 2000 by a guy from Beavercreek, Oregon, where people use GPS devices to track down any of the 1.3 million hidden objects secreted by game players in over 100 countries around the globe. Not content to simply give out the coordinates of their caches, some clever geocache hiders, united by the official site, make the game one step more interesting by requiring players to first solve a puzzle in order to discover the treasure's coordinates. Brother-in-law Jim, who has tracked down any number of caches in and around the Chicago area and elsewhere, saved the following puzzle for P&PC, hoping that our poetry acumen and beatnik-friendly disposition would help him with a hunt in the nearby suburb of Winfield.

Harnessing the associative logic and apocalyptic rhetoric that is stereo- typical of beatnik-style coffee-shop verse—and not entirely unlike the poem that Herman Munster recites in the video clip that Angela Sorby commented on for P&PC about a year ago—the Winfield puzzle encodes the treasure's coordinates. From the slang to the punny language (we especially appreciate the pun on "cool cat" that is "cool cache"), we think it's a little masterpiece. It was written and placed in March of 2010 by someone identified as sgauss, and brother-in-law Jim says we should use the identification tag GC250N1 when mentioning it—itself a little finding mechanism (the registered GC code) for geocachers in the know.

Schooled in the riddles of Anglo- Saxon poetry as well as in the sometimes riddle-like difficulty of modern poetry, P&PC was indeed able to help brother-in-law Jim out with his quest. Every coordinate for every geocache is a string of numbers like the following

N 41° 52.400 W 088° 09.350

and so the suburban Chicago's Beatnik has given us a poem in the following scenario that converts from its associative word salad—and references to both popular poetry and popular culture—to a string of numbers like that. Totally grooving with the hep cat's verse, we hopped in the car, tracked down the location, searched around for a while, and eventually found the cleverly-hidden treasure: a water-proof capsule which contained a little Anglo-Saxon-like scroll on which we wrote our names testifying to the fact that we were there. We got it, man. Can you?

Here's the "Beat Poet Vision" puzzle (GC250N1) as written and posted by sgauss:

Short Description

As the weather has gotten warmer I've thought more and more about hiding a cache, maybe a few. But where should I hide a cache? How could I do something original, creative and fun? I just wasn't inspired by the places I could think of for hiding a cache...

Long Description

And then I had The Vision. I was standing outside, and a voice was saying, "Here, you should hide a cache here, man!"

I looked around and spotted someone who just didn't seem to belong at this spot. I saw him, and I knew he was a beatnik. He was a beatnik, and he was in Winfield. Why was a beatnik in Winfield? Why was he telling me where to hide a cache? As if this beatnik has read my mind he spoke again, "You wanted to know where to hide a cache, and how to hide it. You wanted a cool cache, and I have come bearing answers. Put the cache right here!" And he walked up and pointed out where the cache should go.

I looked where he pointed. I could hide a cache there, but it wasn't really an original hiding place. It would just be a park- and-grab. I thought I had come up with one or two ideas that were a little better. I told the beatnik, "Well, sure I could put a cache there, but I'm not sure how cool that would be."

"You don't think this would be cool? Trust me, man, this will be cool. Because you're not just going to tell people where to find this! It will be a mystery, it'll blow their minds!"

"Oh, you mean a puzzle cache? I've had one or two ideas about logic puzzles, or something with computers..."

Impatiently he interrupted me, "Like, put away the numbers box! I will give you the clues! Listen, and I will lay it on you!" And he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and looked off into the distance as he read the following verse:

Horsemen of the Apocalypse
world is enough
Nickel Helium Mudville!
turkey degrees of Kevin Bacon
crazy is enough
everything means less than
jon & kate plus Stu Sutcliffe
love potion number Air Force

"Umm ... crazy? I'm not sure I get this."

The beatnik looked back at me and said, "It's poetry, man. Free association. Stream of consciousness. Trust me, they will GET it man!" And then he handed me the piece of paper with the poem on it. I looked at the paper, re-read the poem, and flipped it over. On the back were a set of coordinates. I looked at the coordinates, and then flipped the paper over again, and looked at the poem some more.

I looked back up at the beatnik. He said, "You dig?" I nodded, and bongo drums started to play as he turned, started to walk away, and then faded out of sight. Crazy.

If you think you get it, check your answer at

Bring your own pen or pencil; an extraction tool is recommended.

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