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Letterbox Location Help

Locating a nearest city or town can be a complicated process, so this screen was designed to help you narrow down the location of your letterbox (if necessary) and verify the city, state, and country of your selected location.

Location Name

Use this section to let other letterboxers know what park, forest, building, or the name of wherever you planted your letterbox. For mystery boxes such as a Lewis and Clark series, you could make the series a 'United States mystery box', then use this area to tell the user the box is located somewhere along the route Lewis and Clark followed during their epic journey.

Address

The street address or street intersection for where the clues start. The street address takes the form of the street number plus the street name. If the park or location does not have a street number, use a nearby street intersection instead, or perhaps try putting the number 1 before the street's name (e.g. type "1 Main St" instead of "Main St").

If the location is at or near an intersection, you could type an address of "Main St at Washington St" or "Main and Washington." For addresses in the United States, Atlas Quest can determine the precise latitude and longitude coordinates of an address or street intersection for a more accurate listing.

Using the exact street address is usually the easiest way to go if there's one available. Using a nearby street intersection is usually the second easiest location to list. Making up a number for a street that the site will accept is usually the most challenging method of listing an address.

If all else fails, just leave the address blank. The address is optional, and it's certainly nice when it is available, but letterboxes would prefer not having an address to not having any clue at all!

For non-US cities, Atlas Quest is unable to calculate the precise latitude and longitude coordinates of a specific address so instead it will store the city center's coordinates. The calculations will not be quite so precise, but it will still be accurate enough for most purposes.

Nearest Town

This entry should contain the 'populated place' nearest to the trailhead for the letterbox. Usually this will be a city or town, but it can often be parts of a city or town—especially for large cities. The more accurate your selection, the more accurate we can calculate distances from your letterbox to other cities or other letterboxes.

As with every rule, there are exceptions and the 'populated place' is one of them. On Dartmoor, letterboxing tends to be based on tors and hills, so Atlas Quest does support many geographical features found in the area such as Pew Tor, Cranmere Pool, and Cut Hill.

If you are planting a series of letterboxes separated by large distances, we suggest that you enter them separately as individual boxes so each letterbox of your series can be accurately represented. A series, as defined for the purposes of this website, is a group of letterboxes that you would expect a letterboxer to get on a single outing or hike. So, for instance, a series of boxes located along the 45th parallel are better off entered individually than as a series.

If no city name is entered, the letterbox presumably is a mystery box and will be treated as such. If the state is specified, it will be described as a letterbox somewhere in that state, or if just the country is specified, it will be describe as a mystery letterbox somewhere in that country. If no location information is provided, Atlas Quest will list the letterbox as a mystery box that could be located anywhere in the world.

If you do list a mystery letterbox, it's recommended that you at least specify the state the letterbox is located in. It's not required, but there are hundreds and hundreds of mystery letterboxes located in the United States, and few people have the time or energy to wade through all of them to find the few that might be located within a reasonable distance of home. Mystery boxes without a state listed tend to get very, very few visitors. Which is okay if that's your intention, but could be disappointing when nobody ever goes out to find your letterbox. Rarely will listing the state give away the location, and it will help people concentrate on solving mystery boxes near where they live and work.

The next screen will confirm your selected city and allow you to see other towns near your selected city to help narrow down the best selection for your letterbox.

City Search Engine

Rather than divide letterboxes into regions such as counties, states, or even pre-defined areas, this search engine is based on cities. You specify the city that should be the focal point of your search and how far out from that location the search should encompass. From there, the search engine will shift through the latitude and longitude coordinates for hundreds of thousands other cities, towns, and podunks across the globe, quickly calculating which ones fall within that distance of the focal point. All letterboxes within those cities are compiled into a single list and sorted. Those letterboxes in the list that fail to pass your other search requirements are eliminated, and the final list is displayed as the search results.

The search engine is smart and requires only enough information to distinguish your town from all others. Seattle, as it happens, is the only city in the world with that name, and if you request a search centered around Seattle, you do not have to include the state or country information. The city you had in mind is clear without that information.

Other city names, such as Portland, exist in several states, and you'll need to specify which of the cities you're targeting by specifying the state. All cities are associated with a 'state', regardless of whether the country calls it a state, province, department, region, etc. In some cases, where information on the first-level governmental regions was not available (particularly for third-world countries or very small countries), I created arbitrary areas to help narrow down a search within a country. For the United States and Canada, it'll be the two-letter abbreviations officially designated by the post office or whatever government agency sets those abbreviations. For the rest of the world's countries, I tried to use a similar standard if I could find such information on the Internet, but usually just made up three-letter abbreviations that would be indicative of the real name for the region.

So for a city with a name such as Portland, you'll need to include the state information for the search engine to know precisely which city you're making the focal point of the search.

The country field, rarely, will be required. Even the city name of Portland is located in multiple countries, but none of them use the same state abbreviations. More likely, you'll use the country field when you don't know the state abbreviation for a city. You can search for a city such as "Quebec, Canada." There's only one Quebec in Canada, so the province information isn't required. For those in the know, they could have searched based on province instead of country name.

How do you know how much information is required for the city search engine to find your city? If you include the city and state, it's probably enough. There are, perhaps, ten exceptions, and it's highly unlikely anyone would ever stumbled upon those by accident. However, if the search engine ever finds itself in the predicament where there's some ambiguity between two or more cities, it will list all potential candidates, including state and country information for each of them, and ask you to select the one you had in mind. So go ahead and type just the name of the city—it won't hurt anything. If there's a conflict with a city of the same name in another state or country, the website will tell you.

The second point is this: The city name is optional! In the event that you do not specify the name of the city, the search engine will assume that you're interested in all letterboxes—including mystery boxes—that match the state and/or country specified.

If you use the name 'Mystery' as the city name, Atlas Quest will return only mystery letterboxes that match the state and country you specify. This differs from leaving the city blank which returns all letterboxes in the state and country specified.

I Can't Find A City! Help!

Breathe deeply. We'll figure it out. Sometimes, the name of a city isn't what you might expect—especially in foreign countries where they speak something other than English. All city names used for searches use only English letters, so if the actual name should contain accents or tildes or other strange symbols decorating the letter, use the English-letter equivalent.

Sometimes there are multiple ways to spell the name of the same city depending on the language. We say "Guatemala City". In Guatemala, they say "Guatemala" or—if there's possible confusion whether it's the city or country being referred to, they'll say "Cuidad de Guatemala". And, I'm sorry to say, some of my data sources use the local name, not the English name of the city. This is a real-case example, but it's been fixed by hand so now you can search for "Guatemala City" and get the right results. One, strange anomaly was that London—you know, the big city in England—was listed as "City of London". It too has been fixed, but many other strange variations may have been missed where the city is indeed listed, but difficult to locate. If you find any that need fixing, contact us!

You still can't find the city you're interested in. Now what? Try using a city or town near the one you're interested in that you can find. Let's use a totally contrived example: Say that for the life of you, you cannot find London. Where could it be? You could do a search for Chelsea, a part of the city. Don't list the state or country to make the search deliberately vague. The search engine will ask which the Chelsea's are you interested in and provide a list. Click the one you want (there's only one listed in England), then click on "Lookup Nearby Towns". The search engine will show you towns close to the one you requested, including a suspicious looking entry that reads "City of London", the place you were really interested in.

Wait a minute! Back up, you're probably thinking. Chelsea isn't the name of a city or town, it's the name of a part of London! You've got me there. It is. For large cities, the search engine can find districts or sections within a city. It may even include apartment complexes! Obvious cases of apartment complexes, condos, campgrounds, and such have been weeded out, but undoubtedly some have slipped through. So many of the 'cities' listed aren't actually cities, but you can still use such entries for your searches and letterbox locations.

Still can't find your town of choice? It's time to bring out the big guns: Wildcards.

Wildcards

Wildcards are special characters that represent zero or more characters in a string. They come in useful as shortcuts or to help find specific information you may not know how to spell.

Wildcards are supported in all form fields used for city names, trail names, or letterbox names. Two types of wildcards are supported: The asterisk (*) and the question mark (?).

The asterisk (*) represents zero or more characters—any characters. For instance, let's say you want to look up letterboxes near the town of Quetzaltenango. That's a mouthful to type out, and you may not even be sure how to spell it correctly. So instead of typing the full and proper name, you could type 'quetzal*' and the search engine will find all cities that begin the letters 'quetzal'. As it turns out, seven cities are supported that begin with those letters, and Quetzaltenango tops the list.

The question mark (?) represents any single letter. You might find this wildcard useful when you're not quite sure what letter to use in a search. For instance, to continue with our previous example, let's say you're not sure if the city name is spelled Quetzaltenango, or is it Quetzaltanango? Instead of trying both, you can perform a search for 'Quetzalt?nango', and it'll search for both possibilities.

You can use as many wildcard characters as necessary to fine-tune your search. Let's use another totally contrived example: There's a town called "Ha-not'an-dong" in North Korea. Depending on the text you read, it might be listed as Hanot an dong, Hanot'andong, or some other of a hundred different variations. Wildcards to the rescue! You could do a search for "Ha*not?*" which would locate any of the above variations. Such a search will find all cities that begin with 'ha', have a 'not' coming somewhere after it along with at least one character coming immediately after 'not'.

There is one caveat when it comes to wildcards: When you use them as part of the city name, you can't use them as the first two characters due to system performance reasons. It's just not efficient to sort through hundreds of thousands of cities without giving a hint or two of the first couple of letters. It's like a phone book in that manner. You might not remember quite how to spell someone's name, but if you know the first few letters, you can still probably find it in the phone book. Get the first couple of letters wrong, however, and it'll take you a long, long time to find the correct entry. Searching for cities works the same way here, so the first two letters are required before you can start using wildcards.

When All Else Fails

Still can't find the city or town? Perhaps you found one that really isn't included on this website! The United States is extremely well supported since most users of this website are from the United States, and most listed letterboxes will be found there. I did my best with Canada, but those Canadians will only sell complete listings of all their cities—not an option for a free website such as this—so I never was able to find a disgustingly thorough source for populated places in Canada—the next most likely visitor to this website. Canada is still well supported, however, just not to the same extent as the United States.

And for other countries around the world, many smaller towns and cities unlikely to ever see a letterbox were deliberately left out to improve the system performance. (Imagine a phone book with 1,000 entries instead of 100,000. It's a lot faster to process the smaller number!) In all, hundreds of thousands of cities around the world are supported, but even more were rejected! For a country like Iran where you probably won't see letterboxes showing up soon, only their largest and most important 250 cities were included. But the original dataset has over ten times that number!

So if your selected city isn't included, send an e-mail (contact information is at the bottom of the page), and we can probably add it. If the Swedish suddenly go on a letterboxing spree and want better support for their country, I can add over 10 times the number of cities now supported. For tourists, however, the current number (about 750) should be more than sufficient. Speak up! This is your website! Let us know which countries and areas need more extensive support.

Supported Countries, States, and Provinces

Atlas Quest supports letterboxes in over 200 countries around the world located in thousands of different states, provinces, regions, departments, and other first-level government territories. For a complete listing, click on the link below. If you're on a dial-up connection, it may take a bit of time to load—it's a large 110K byte file!

Yes! Show me a list of supported countries, states, and provinces!