Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

Secret containers lie hidden throughout the city. There’s one outside the Starbucks on High Street and another outside Yale-New Haven Hospital. Others are concealed down by the bay and up along the spine of West Rock.

They’re not government drop points or secret-society stashes or drug caches. They’re geocaches. According to geocaching.com, which helps people around the world create and track them, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache hidden at that location.” By the site’s count, 2.7 million-plus geocaches are hidden across the world, with some 6 million people searching for them.

Recently, I joined the hunt.

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All it takes is a GPS-enabled device, probably your smartphone, and a download of either the free or premium ($9.99) Geocaching app. You log in to the app and it peppers a map of New Haven with treasures you haven’t yet found. But simply knowing where the containers are isn’t always enough. You may also have to pit your wits against those of whomever planted the geocache.

Some are ingeniously well-hidden. They might involve fake screws on the undersides of benches, concealed camera film cylinders or imitation rocks. They can be as small as the end of your pinky or the size of a large bucket. Some take just minutes to find. Others require diligent searching. This video gives you some other ideas for what to expect—namely, the unexpected.

Soon, you might find yourself rustling through dead leaves and examining bikes that look like they’ve been out in the elements a suspiciously long time. While trying not to look shady in urban areas, you may become acutely aware that police cruisers, Yale guards on Segways and overhanging security cameras are much more prevalent than you’d realized.

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When you find a geocache, it’s quite a treat. You’re suddenly privy to a secret few others know. Sign the log book and confirm—or gloat about—your discovery in the online log connected to the geocache. Sometimes the cache contains “treasure:” an item, or several, you can take with you, as long as you leave something behind. You might expect tokens like a poker chip, a hair clip, a bunny finger puppet or something called a “Trackable”: a geocaching “game piece” marked with a code with which its movements can be tracked on Geocaching.com. According to the site, some Trackables have been known to move hundreds of thousands of miles.

There are different kinds of geocaches, some of which involve more intricate maneuvering than just following your GPS. A “mystery” geocache hidden in Evergreen Cemetery leads you to the grave of Mary Hart and teaches you about the eerie legend of Midnight Mary. But finding the grave is the easy part. The hard part is a series of arithmetic problems based on the information on her tombstone, which provide the latitude and longitude of the actual geocache hidden elsewhere in the graveyard.

Not surprisingly, the mystery- and game-loving founders of Escape New Haven are both avid geocachers. Max Sutter and Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent, the latter of whom is now out in Sacramento launching another Escape outpost, love to befuddle their clients with—and love to be befuddled by—puzzles and hidden compartments. While geocaching, they’ve found secret panels, fake electrical boxes and hidden caves. “My favorite moments,” says Sutter, “are when the most skeptical person in the group—whether that person is your 6-year-old niece, your roommate or someone you met earlier that day—finds their first cache. They’re going to remember that moment forever.”

Geocaching is a way to explore new places you might never have wandered on your own. Cache descriptions often include recommendations for local places to eat, sights to see or things to do in the area after you’ve found your quarry. It can be a social event that brings people together or a personal mind game.

However you play it, the game is never-ending, and anyone can set up a geocache. Even us. Indeed we’ve hidden our own geocache somewhere in New Haven. You can search for our geocache, either on the app or the website, with code GC64TFE.

Happy hunting.

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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