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The city-based search engine is a new, exciting way to sort through the barrage of letterboxes planted around the country. It's designed to be easy, fast, and intuitive, but it is different and there are a few features that may need clarification. This page will help you master the city-based search engine.

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!

Attributes

Certain characteristics are indicative of all letterboxes, and these attributes help the creator of the letterbox 'market' their boxes towards those people who are most likely to appreciate them. While a mother of four pushing a stroller might want to get a letterbox that requires a strenuous 20-mile hike over rugged terrain, it might not be practical! Rather than bombard people with every letterbox in a region, creators can specify who might be interested in their boxes, and those looking for boxes can request only boxes matching their needs be displayed.

Graphical Attributes

The table below provides detailed information about what each graphical attribute stands for:

Drive-by A drive-by letterbox, as defined on this website, is a letterbox that requires perhaps 5 to 10 minutes to nab from the time you park your car. A drive-by letterbox will be hidden within eyesite of where one parks, or at least so close that if it were raining, the person would take the box to their car to stamp in.
Urban An urban letterbox, as defined here, is located in an area where one is unlikely to experience "The Great Outdoors". A rest area in the middle of nowhere is an urban box. A large city park with trees and hiking trails is not an urban box. The 'setting' for the letterbox is urban, not necessarily the location, if that makes any sense.
Indoors This letterbox is located indoors—perfect for those cold, wet days when you really do not want to go outside.
Snowflake A snow-friendly box means that the box, in theory, can be found even with the added challenge of being surrounded by a layer of snow. Take this icon with a huge grain of salt, however. One person may consider a five-mile cross-country ski trip as 'snow friendly,' while another person may not. In theory, almost all boxes can be found in the snow if you're willing to put in enough time and effort, so consider this icon a 'recommendation' rather than an option set in stone. As in, "I'd recommend that people look for this box when there's snow on the ground."
Pets A pet friendly letterbox is located in an area that allows pets to roam, usually with a leash requirement.
Clock This letterbox is available only for a limited time. A limited time letterbox is either a box that is planted for only part of the year or a box that you intend to retire within the next three months. Letterboxes planted in regions that are covered in snow for nine months of the year or in stores that require a visit during store hours do not count as limited time boxes.
Bike This letterbox is easily accessible by people on bicycles. The path or area does not necessarily need to be paved, but it will generally be flat and easy to navigate on a regular bike, well away and safe from vehiclure traffic.
Wheelchair The trail or path to the letterbox should be accessible by wheelchairs the entire way. However, the letterbox itself may not be reachable from a wheelchair, and those using them may need assistance from others to actually acquire the box.
Puzzle You'll be expected to use your head on this one in order to decipher the clue. The code might be easy or hard—this image promises nothing on that count—the only thing it does promise is that the clue won't be straight-forward as most.
Special Gear Special gear required includes anything that most letterboxers would not normally carry under normal circumstances such as a ladder, scuba diving equipment, or rock climbing gear. Compasses do not count as 'special' gear!

Hike Length

The total number of walking miles, round-trip, required to nab the letterbox or series. Keep in mind that some people only estimate the distance, and actual values may vary. If a user specifies a minimum or maximum distance for boxes to search, boxes without hike length information will not be included in the search! In the event that there is more than one way to get to the letterbox, the creator of the box may select any of the trails for the 'official' hike length—usually the shortest or most common approach for the letterboxbox.

Elevation Gain

Ideally, this number should be the cumulative elevation gain of the trail to nab the letterbox, both going in and going out. Not everyone will know the exact elevation gain required on a hike, however, and a common estimate includes taking the difference between the elevation at the lowest and highest points on the trail. If a user requests a list of boxes within a certain elevation gain, only boxes with a listed elevation gain will be included in the search.

Letterbox Name

This field will only find the name of a series or individual letterboxes, and not the names of individual boxes within a series. So if there's the Legends of Hollywood series, you can search for anything in that term, but the search will not match boxes within the series such as 'Clark Gable'. If you want to search for the Clark Gable letterbox, you have to search for the name of the series instead.

If your search isn't turning up the letterbox you're looking for, try using wildcards. And unlike with the city name, you can use wildcards anywhere. In face, the asterisk (*) wildcard is automatically applied to the front and end of your search term to find any partial matches.

Letterbox Author

This box will search for all boxes created by a specific person, which does not necessarily mean that person is the owner of the letterbox—although at the moment that is the standard. Wildcards are allowed.

Clue Search

Use this option to search for keywords found within the clue of a letterbox. By default, the results will include all clues that contain any of the keywords you've specified. To narrow down your search even more, use the following operators to help:

+ A leading plus sign indicates that this word must be present in every row returned.
- A leading minus sign indicates that this word must not be present in any row returned.
( ) Parentheses are used to group words into subexpressions
* An asterisk is the truncation operator. Unlike the other operators, it should be appended to the word, not prepended.
" The phrase, that is enclosed in double quotes, matches only posts that contain this phrase literally, as it was typed.

And here are some examples:

apple banana
find posts that contain at least one of these words
+apple +juice
find posts that contain both words
+apple -macintosh
find posts that contain the word "apple" but not "macintosh"
+(apple banana) -macintosh
find posts that contain "apple" or "banana", but not "machintosh"
apple*
find posts that contain "apple", "apples", "applesauce", "applet", etc.
"some words"
find posts that contain "some words of wisdom", but not "some noise words"

Sort By

Sort the returned entries by any of several choices: By distance from your selected city, alphabetically by the name of the letterbox, by when the box or series was originally planted, or by when the box or series was listed on Atlas Quest. If you don't specify a specific city and try to sort by distance, the boxes will be returned randomly since distance cannot be calculated.

Hide My Planted Boxes

Check this box if you don't want boxes you've planted in the search results. This feature is only available if you're logged in. (If you aren't logged in, we don't know who you are or what boxes you've planted!)

Hide My Found Boxes

Check this box if you don't want boxes you've already found included in the search results. This feature is only available if you're logged in. (If you aren't logged in, we don't know who you are or what boxes you've found!)

Hide My Attempted Boxes

Check this box if you don't want boxes you've already tried to find included in the search results. This feature is only available if you're logged in. (If you aren't logged in, we don't know who you are or what boxes you've tried to found!)

Show Only Tagged Boxes

Check this box if only you want to search for letterboxes you have previously tagged. This feature is only available if you're logged in. (If you aren't logged in, we don't know who you are or what boxes you've tagged!)

Box Status

Since this website also acts as an online logbook, old boxes that do not exist anymore are common and never need to be deleted. But since most people are interested in boxes that are alive and waiting to be found, you can specify the status of the boxes to include in your search.

active An active box means that, as far as the owner or author of the letterbox knows, the box is alive and well ready for visitors
unavailable A box marked as unavailable means the owner or author of the letterbox knows the box is gone or inaccessible—regardless of the reason—but someday it will be replanted
retired A retired box not only is unavailable, but the owner of the box never intends to replant it either
unknown An unknown status means just that—the owner or author of the letterbox has been unable to confirm the status of the box. It's probably been reported missing by someone, but nobody has been able to confirm if the box truly is missing or if the letterboxer just missed the box