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Help: Virtuals

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Sub-Categories: Adding/Editing Virtuals · Searching

  1. What are virtuals?
  2. How do I find virtuals?
  3. Is there a list of virtuals available?
  4. What do the icons on a virtual represent?
  5. What is a passkey?
  6. Where can I find virtuals?
  7. How do I make a virtual with an image search clue?
  8. What does the uncle button do?
  9. How do I make a Virtual?
  10. How do I add a virtual find?

What are virtuals?

Virtuals started as a way to search for letterboxes online. It would pose a question, series of questions, problem, or many other types of conundrum for you to solve. By solving the virtual's clues, you create a password or passkey that is then used to 'unlock' your reward—a virtual image (sometimes a scanned hand-carved stamp, sometimes a hand-drawn image, and sometimes a digital image), which you can then save as your record of finding the virtual.

The earliest known virtual as the online version of the Kimball Library Letterbook, created by The Orient Express in 1998. Not only is this the earliest known virtual, but also the original letterbook (creating a letterbox using an old book as the container). The Kimball Library Letterbook was a physical letterbox planted in a library in Randolph, Vermont, that also had a virtual quest version for those who were not able to get to Vermont to find the actual letterbook.

Virtuals have long since moved away from the 'hunting' aspect, and are now largely one-word answers that unlock an image found from somewhere else on the web. They're rather dull and uninteresting by comparison and the severe lack of images for hand-carved stamps—the heart and soul of a letterbox—got them 'delisted' as an official box type on Atlas Quest. Virtuals are still supported, but no longer share any code for the officially supported box types and are completely separate entities now.

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How do I find virtuals?

First, make sure you are a member of the Virtuals Group. You must be a member of this group to see many of the virtual links on Atlas Quest, and you must be logged into your account in order to solve virtuals.

Next, once you're a member of this group, you'll find the Virtuals homepage as a link under the My Page menubar option. This is your gateway to virtuals. You can view your virtual plants and finds, search for virtuals to solve, and find out what's going on in virtual land.

To start solving virtuals, search through them for one that looks interesting, then click the Solve button to solve it.

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Is there a list of virtuals available?

You can search for virtuals using the Advanced Search page. The search results will return a maximum of 2,500 virtuals under the theory that if your search returns more than that, you really need to narrow down your search more.

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What do the icons on a virtual represent?

Stamp Types

The solution uses your images of hand-carved rubber stamps. If you're just ripping images of rubber stamps off the web, it's a web image—not a hand-carved rubber stamp.
The owner painted, drew, sketched, or used some sort of physical medium to create the artwork used in the solution.
The owner created a unique image or adapted another image into something unique with computerized tools such as Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop.
The solution uses a photo they took, probably with the help of a digital camera.
The solution uses a photo that was taken from a public website.


These virtuals are those that involve hunting for "virtual letterboxes" by "mousing-over" an image of a location to find stamped images.
Solving these virtuals require looking up information in books or something in the non-Internet world.
If you solve these virtuals, the solution will give you a clue to a real, live letterbox! Woo-who!
These "on location" virtuals require a visit to a physical location in order to acquire.

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What is a passkey?

A passkey is a series of letters and numbers that consist of the solution for a virtual that others must solve. Historically, they passkey was solved one letter at a time to create either a real or made-up word, such as the AQ Scavenger Hunt. More recently, passkeys are more likely to be real words or phrases that are filled out in one fell swoop such as "Fill in the _ _ _ _ _" and the missing word is the passkey. The latter are quicker and easier to make, but often less satisfying for those looking for more of a challenge.

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Where can I find virtuals?

Virtuals have their own little space on Atlas Quest at If you edit your Miscellaneous Preferences to include virtuals, you will find a link for virtuals under the My Page menubar option. You must be a member of this Virtuals group to see the menu options for virtuals.

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How do I make a virtual with an image search clue?

  1. Start by Adding a Virtual, just like you would with any other virtual.
  2. On the Attributes page, change the virtual type to Image Search. Once you've done this, you'll notice two new pages on adding a virtual, the map and the areas.
  3. Change to the Map page. The 'map' is the main image that you want to be searched. Click on the help buttons (Help) if you have any questions about the individual options available on this page.
  4. Change to the Areas page. This page allows you to put 'objects' into your image. The first object is the solution—the area that must be clicked to succeed with the virtual. Subsequent objects are decoys—clickable areas of your image that lead to incorrect locations. Again, click on the help buttons (Help) if you have any questions about the individual options available on this page.
  5. Save your virtual!

After you've saved your virtual, it's a good idea to test it to make sure you did not make an error entering the areas—an easy thing to do. Make sure the solution is on the image where you expected it to be, and that the decoys are where you expected to find them.

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What does the uncle button do?

Saying "uncle" is a euphemism for giving up. You're telling Atlas Quest, "This is too hard! I give up!" And AQ will give you another virtual to solve instead.

What will be the next virtual to solve? It's not random. If you run a virtual search, you'll find a list of virtuals that match the search. When you cry uncle, AQ will give you the chance to solve the next virtual in that list. Once you've reached the end of that list, you won't see the uncle button anymore—there's no "next" virtual to solve. At least not until you've run another virtual search.

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How do I make a Virtual?

Step 1:

Give your Virtual letterbox a name.
Mark it "available" when it is ready to be published otherwise choose "unavailable" until you've completed all the steps and it's ready to be solved.

Step 2:

Choose a stamp type. Most Virtual solvers prefer an image of your own carved stamp as a reward for solving the puzzle. For definitions of the other stamp types see:

For your typical basic Virtual puzzle you won't need the Attributes "Off Line", "Includes Bonus Clue" or "On Location" but if you think you might need them, you can see their definitions here:

There are basically 2 subtypes - your typical basic Virtual puzzle uses a Passkey, the other type is more complicated and involves hunting by "mousing-over" of an image of a location to find stamped images. Instructions for image search puzzles are here:

Step 3:

Here's where you add the passkey, a congratulations statement and the link to the reward image - ideally a hand carved image of a stamp you carved.

You need to store the image off-site i.e. not on Atlas Quest.

Scan or digitally photograph your stamp image and upload it to a photo sharing site (e.g. Photobucket, Flickr) or a blog (e.g. Wordpress, Blogger) or if you have your own website you might want to store the image there.

The file must be an image file.
The file extension will end in .jpg or .jpeg or .gif or .png.

This is a correct url format:
This is wrong:

Step 4:

Virtual Clue
This is where you place your puzzle questions.
I suggest you save the answers to your puzzle somewhere so you can refer back to them if a letterboxer contacts you wanting a bit of help. I like to email myself the puzzle questions with the answers and store it in a folder in my Inbox for easy access.

Step 5:

The Location page is not used for the typical basic Virtual.
Some letterboxers create a type of Virtual letterbox where the finder must physically visit a location in order to find answers (perhaps off of a plaque at the location). The answers will provide the finder with a passkey which they will use to get, ideally, a virtual hand carved stamp image. These types of boxes are typically placed in interesting locations that don't allow or unsuitable for physical letterboxes (e.g. many U. S. National Forests).

Step 6:

Restrictions are generally not used when placing a Virtual but it is possible to restrict to a certain Member Group.

Step 7:

Click the save button to publish your Virtual. (If you marked your box as "unavailable", go back to Step 1 Basics a change "unavailable" to "available".

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How do I add a virtual find?

Click the 'solve' button, then solve the virtual.

Help Home > Virtuals