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Atlas Quest

Letterboxing Glossary: S

The process of looking for letterboxes in likely places without the use of clues. This is most common in Dartmoor where many tors are dotted with several dozen letterboxes at a time. Most letterboxers on Dartmoor start this way since the official clue book isn’t available until you’ve already found 100 letterboxes and scavenging is the quickest and easiest way to get your first 100 finds.
A series is a group of related letterboxes. For AQ purposes, it’s important to distingiush between a series of boxes that are in close proximity that you would expect people to find in a single outing and a series of boxes spread out across multiple trailheads (such as boxes planted along the 45th parallel or at the high points of every state). When listing a letterbox, a series is only a group of letterboxes that you would expect people to get in a single outing. A series spread out where each box is independent of the others should be listed as individual boxes. The clues can link to other boxes within the series, or you could create a traditional tracker with each of the boxes in the series. Most people also include the series name as part of the name of the letterbox. (e.g. “High Point Series: Mount Hood”)
signature stamp
The stamp letterboxers use to identify themselves, both in the logbooks of letterboxes they’ve found and for exchanges. Also called personal stamps. Some people have multiple signature stamps, such as a full-sized stamp for regular logbooks and a smaller stamp for microboxes. If you want only one stamp, a smaller stamp of no more than about 1 sq. in. is a versatile size.
Signature stamp
Military lingo for situation report. In the letterboxing world, it is slang for reporting the status of a letterbox that someone recently found. This tends to be a controversial term, however, that many letterboxers do not like. If you use status report instead, you have to type a few letters, but you won’t annoy anyone.

Someone who has mastered the art of doing as little work as possible in order to find a letterbox. A slackboxer will hike with others and let other people actually find the box while they watch, perhaps with a few encouraging words in order to appear as if they’re helping. Slackboxers will let others ink up the stamp in the letterbox so they don’t have to do it themselves. Slackboxing is the goal of any lazy letterboxer.

This entry originally started as a joke. The joke started when I (Green Tortuga) was letterboxing with Silent Doug and was perfectly happy to let others retrieve the letterbox from their hiding places, and Silent Doug jokingly referred to me as a slackboxer—a pun on the term slackpacking. Slackpacking is a term used by thru-hikers—those who hike very long distance trails such as the 2,100+ mile Appalachian Trail or the 2,600+ mile Pacific Crest Trail—when they leave most of their gear behind with someone to watch while they hike with a day pack, and are picked up off the trail and taken back to their gear later in the afternoon. I am a thru-hiker, so Silent Doug jokingly referred to my method of letterboxing as slackboxing and calling me a slackboxer. We got a good laugh out of it, and I added the word to the AQ glossary as a prank.

Well, the joke was on me, because a few months later, a newspaper published a glossary of “letterboxing terms” and included slackboxer as one of the terms. We laughed it off, but the term continued to grow in usage. More and more people started using it on the message boards, and in conversations, and next thing you know, it’s actually a legitimate letterboxing term that letterboxers everywhere now use. The power of the AQ glossary!

A combination of slack-boxing and slink-boxing. A group will slink to the box, then a designated person or two will ink up the stamp for everyone to make the stamping process go faster for the slack-boxers. Sometimes the slack-boxers won’t even log their own stamp into the logbook due to limited logbook pages and the time involved.
Smithsonian Magazine
It was the April 1998 issue of Smithsonian Magazine that pushed letterboxing beyond the borders of Dartmoor. Within a short period of time, a loose alliance of adventurers and rubber stamp enthusiasts, coordinating activities using the Internet, picked up the letterboxing torch and introduced letterboxing to the United States.
A dead tree that is still standing.
snake pokey stick
It’s a stick that you poke into holes to make sure there aren’t any snakes or other creatures located where you’re about to put your hand while reaching for a letterbox. They’re often found in forests and under trees. They’re free to use and can be used to start fires by rubbing two of them together during an emergency situation. (Finding a snake, however, does not count as an emergency situation!)
social trail
An undesignated trail that diverges from an existing trail as a shortcut to a destination. It usually cuts through a vegetative barrier, such as woods, scrubs, or grass fields. It is called a social trail because it often leads to a social gathering place. Social trails maybe not be easily noticed at first but become more prominent as more people recognize and utilize them. And in case there is any misunderstanding, social trails are very bad. Avoid planting letterboxes in locations that may cause social trails, and if you have planted a box that is creating a social trail, move the letterbox somewhere else immediately.
A company that produces many stamp carving tools and supplies including Speedy-Carve.
A popular carving medium sold by Speedball. The most prominent characteristic is its pink color, and most letterboxers refer to it as “that pink stuff.” Back in the old days of letterboxing, Speedball called this product Speedy-Stamp, so you may still hear references to that.
A white carving medium produced by Speedball and hated by letterboxers everywhere for its ability to crumble without provocation. Look for Speedball’s other carving product, Speedy-Stamp, that is highly regarded.
When a letterboxer—usually by accident or through ignorance—gives away information about a letterbox that was supposed to be kept secret. Especially common when locations to mystery boxes are released publicly. Spoilers are frowned upon in the letterboxing world. What should be a secret should stay a secret.
Short for Suspicious Pile Of Concrete. Pretty much any pile of concrete is suspicious, but blocks of it will certainly do a good job of holding down a letterbox in gusty winds!
Short for Suspicious Pile Of People. Typically seen during large events where there are considerably more people than letterboxes. The people tend to cluster around the limited number of boxes, and at a certain point, you don’t even need to follow clues anymore. You just look around for suspicious piles of people. “There must be a box over there—13 people are logging into something!”
Short for Suspicious Pile Of Rocks. Often, a letterbox needs to be hidden with a few extra rocks and when you see a rock (or several rocks) in a position or location that is clearly not natural, you’ll often find a letterbox hidden behind or under it. For the record, SPORs are discouraged. The best planted letterboxes make the environment around them look completely natural, and a suspicious pile of rocks or sticks can bring unwanted attention to a box.
Staedtler Mars
A company with a popular line of carving medium (MasterCarve) that, to quote their literature, “cuts like butter.”
stamp exchange
The Stamp Exchange is a place where members can offer or request stamps from other Atlas Quest members. You’ll often find people who enjoy carving stamps but may not enjoy planting them so much offering up stamps to others while those who may not enjoy carving stamps but do enjoy planting them accepting them from others.
The process of exchanging stamp images, either with the stamp found in a letterbox or with another letterboxer’s signature stamp during an exchange. For stamping tips, visit our Art of Stamping tutorial!
Steps or bars for people to climb over a fence. Frequently found near areas where cows or other farm animals graze, but they can be located anywhere a trail needs to cross a fence such as this one found along the Appalachian Trail.
store-bought stamp
A commercially sold stamp. Hand-carved stamps are preferred in the letterboxing community, but store-bought stamps seem to endure a minority status. Somewhere in between are custom-made stamps, not quite generic as a store-bought stamp, but not exactly hand-carved either.
Store-bought stamp

Sometime a box might get multiple, consecutive attempts, which often signals that the box may be missing or, at the very least, is very tough to find. When you see a baseball icon by a letterbox, that means that the box has struckout. Unless you change the strikeout count in your preferences, boxes will typically stop showing in default searches once it has accumulated 3 strikes.

Precisely how strikes are counted isn’t exactly a trade secret, but it is a bit complicated and subject to change as needed. A high-confidence attempt counts as a full strike, for instance, but a mid-confidence attempt counts as a half-strike while a low-confidence attempt counts as a quarter-strike. Additionally, only the most recent attempt by a member will be counted; so if someone attempts a box several times and records all of those attempts, only their last logged attempt factors into the counts. Additionally, multiple people looking for a box on the same day will only be counted once.

Like I said, it’s a bit complicated—all to make strikes a meaningful count of how much effort was expended in the hunt for a box. In any case, the more strikes a box picks up, the more likely the box is truly missing.

A technical term for those that do not understand real technical terms concerning computers and other electronics.
A sharp reversal in the direction of the trail, allowing the trail to maintain a reasonable grade as it climbs a steep hillside. Switchbacks also help to reduce erosion. Don’t be tempted to cut the corners of a switchback, because doing so tramples the vegetation and creates erosion problems.