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Atlas Quest

Help: Searching

  1. Why is the distance to a letterbox always too small?
  2. What is a ‘tagged’ letterbox?
  3. How do you search for mystery boxes?
  4. What is a ‘watched’ letterbox?
  5. How does the Basic Search work?
  6. What does that CSV link do?
  7. How does a location-based search work?
  8. How can I search for restricted boxes?
  9. Can I get notifications for boxes if their clue changes?
  10. Can I get a city added to the City Directory?
  11. How do I get notified of a newly listed letterbox?
  12. What do the different box statuses indicate?
  13. What is a restricted letterbox?
  14. Why don't I see a box in a search that my friend is able to?
  15. When I click on a clue, a page comes up saying this domain is no longer here. What's up?
  16. How do I find a GPS coordinate for a location?
  17. What is a strikeout?
  18. What do the arrows represent?
  19. How do you search for letterboxes overseas?
  20. What is the quick search box?
  21. How do I find a letterbox in my town?
  22. Is it possible to search for letterboxes along the Interstate highways?
  23. How do you limit searches to "drive-by"?
  24. How to get clues for retired letterboxes?

Why is the distance to a letterbox always too small?

Atlas Quest calculates distances based on the "as the crow flies" principle. Since the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line, the calculated distances will always be shorter than actual driving distances along windy, anything-but-straight roads. Typical driving distances are about 20% longer than the quoted distance, but this can vary greatly depending on the terrain and available roads.

What is a ‘tagged’ letterbox?

A tagged letterbox is one that you want to identify with a certain characteristic later. When you run a letterbox search or view a letterbox, a small, colored icon shows up next to the box name of all boxes you‘ve thus identified, a nice reminder for whatever it is you wanted to be reminded of. For example, you might tag a list of boxes that you think look particularly interesting so in later letterbox searches, you won‘t accidentally overlook them. Or another tag could mark mystery boxes that you've solved.

Using the Advanced Search page, found under the Letterboxes menubar option, you can even perform searches that will return only letterboxes you‘ve tagged (or haven‘t tagged) with a specific color/shape.

Premium members have up to eight different tags (each with a different color) that they can use. Without a premium membership, you‘ll only be able to make use of four of them. You can tag an individual box from the box details page, tag multiple boxes from a search directly from the search results page, to set the tags while recording a find on a letterbox.

You can set the text for each tag option wherever you can add or remove tags from a box such as on the box details page by clicking the pencil next to the submit button. That‘s the edit button for text.

As for why you may want to tag letterboxes, that's up to you. Many people use it for different reasons, but here are some common ones:
  • Tag letterboxes you plan to find soon
  • Tag letterboxes that look particularly noteworthy
  • Tag letterboxes you‘ve already attempted
  • Tag letterboxes from a specific event that you plan to attend
  • Tag letterboxes along the route you plan to follow on your next vacation
  • Tag letterboxes based on what part of your city they are located in
  • Tag mystery letterboxes you have solved but have yet to look for

Related Questions

How do I tag and untag letterboxes?
How do I remove all tags of a certain color from all of my boxes?

How do you search for mystery boxes?

You have a few options.

  • On the Advanced Search page, check the Mystery Boxes option.
  • Also on the Advanced Search page, run an area search (for example, California) and check the Use exact locations option. This option may return non-mystery boxes if the area is sufficiently small. (For example, all boxes within a specific city.)
  • On the Simple Search page, run an area search with the Include only mysteries option checked.

What is a ‘watched’ letterbox?

Premium Members have the option of putting a watch on specific letterboxes. When a letterbox is on your watch list, Atlas Quest will notify you through AQ mail whenever the status or clues for the letterbox have been updated. So if a letterbox has been pulled for maintenance and the status changed to “unavailable” or when the owner replaces the box and changes the status to “active,” you'll get a notification to let you know about the update.

As for updated clues, the watch only works properly when the clue is hosted on Atlas Quest. We'll try to give you clue updates for remotely-hosted clues, but we can only tell that something on the page has changed. Maybe the last found date was changed, but it‘ll still count as a clue change because Atlas Quest doesn‘t know any better!

You can run a search to include just your watched boxes from the Advanced Search page.

A box you have a watch on will have a small icon of an eye by it, like this one. (Except smaller!)

How does the Basic Search work?

Stopwords are common words that usually aren't very useful for searching—words such as 'the' or 'and'. Those words will be stripped from your search, and the rest of the words that are left will be used as part of the search. The search will return all letterboxes that match any one of the terms you specify, however, they will be sorted with the best matches listed first—usually the boxes that match all of your search terms.

Technically, it's a bit more complicated because people felt the results were "unexpected" when it worked this way, but if you need to know the nitty-gritty details, the + modifier is automatically added to the first half of the words being searched if no modifiers are present in the search. (More about the + modifier later.)

A word in one's search term is more-or-less any sequence of characters that are letters and numbers. Two exceptions are the underscore (_) and apostrophe (') which will count as part of the word. So a search for "self-help" would actually perform a search for the words "self" and "help" rather than the one word "self-help." Searches for "turtle's," however, will count as a single word. Additionally, a search for "turtles" and a search for "turtle's" are two completely different searches with no overlap. (This is how the database works, but for box names, tracker names, and other "titles," AQ internally strips the apostrophes when it's stored in the database so that the database will appear to find the match in those types of searches, but that's actually an AQ feature, not a database one, and you shouldn't always rely on it.)

If you want to search for only boxes that include all of the words then precede each of the words with a plus sign. So, to search for any boxes that include both "self" and "help" you would enter "+self +help". If you want to search for exactly "self help" that occur in that order then put "self help" in the search box, including the quotation marks. (Stopwords, however, are still ignored.)

And finally, sometimes you may want to search for the exact name of a letterbox—especially when the name of a box is a single word that would otherwise match a lot of other boxes. You can do this—sort of—by starting your search with the ^ symbol which tells AQ that it must match the beginning of the name. For instance, a search for "honor" would match a box named Badge of Honor but a search for "^honor" would not since Badge of Honor doesn't begin with the word "honor". And on the other side of the coin, a search for "honor" would not match Honorary Mayor since the word "honor" does not show up in it all, but it would match a search for "^honor" since the name of the box does start with "honor". Even in this type of search, the words THE, A, and AN are still ignored, however, so a search for "^honor" would still match a box called An honor.


There is a list of words, called stopwords, that are not indexed as being too common and generally useless as far as searches go. If one is used in a search, it will be ignored. The latest version of the stoplist Atlas Quest uses is: a, ain't, all, am, an, and, any, aq, are, aren't, as, at, be, became, because, been, being, box, boxed, boxes, boxing, but, by, came, can, can't, cannot, cant, co, com, could, couldn't, did, didn't, do, does, doesn't, doing, don't, each, edu, eg, either, else, et, etc, even, ever, every, ex, far, few, for, further, get, gets, getting, given, gives, go, goes, got, had, hadn't, has, hasn't, have, haven't, having, he, he's, her, here, here's, hers, herself, hi, him, himself, his, how, however, i, i'd, i'll, i'm, i've, ie, if, in, inc, into, is, isn't, it, it'd, it'll, it's, its, let, let's, letterbox, letterboxed, letterboxer, letterboxers, letterboxes, letterboxing, many, may, maybe, me, mean, might, much, must, my, myself, no, non, none, nor, not, now, of, oh, ok, okay, on, only, onto, or, our, ours, park, per, re, really, seem, seemed, seeming, seems, seen, series, she, should, shouldn't, since, so, sub, sup, th, than, thank, thanks, thanx, that, that's, thats, the, their, theirs, them, then, there, there's, theres, these, they, they'd, they'll, they're, they've, this, those, though, thus, to, too, trail, un, up, us, value, very, via, was, wasn't, way, we, we'd, we'll, we're, we've, were, weren't, whether, which, while, why, with, won't, would, wouldn't, yes, yet, you, you'd, you'll, you're, you've, your, yours, yourself, yourselves

Some examples might make this more clear:
Search Term Search For Will Match Results Will Not Match Results
flowers Will search for all boxes that have the word flowers in it. Will find Flowers for Algernon, Pick Some Flowers, and The Flowers Wrath Will not match The Flower or Baking Flour.
War and Peace Will find all boxes that have the words war or peace in it. It will ignore the word and since that is a stopword. Will match War and Peace, Make Peace, Not War, and Peace Monument Will not match Buy an AQ Patch today.
Georgia on my Mind Will search for boxes with the words Georgia and Mind. The words on and my will be ignored since they are stopwords. Will find Georgia on my Mind, Georgia Peaches, Mind Your Manners, and Mind Over Matter. Box names that use both words will rank higher than names that use one word or the other. Will not find Maine on my Brain or The Oregon Files.
turtle's Will search for all boxes that have the word turtle's in it. Will find A Turtle's Shell. Will not match The turtles are a menace!
the least of your worries Will search for boxes the word worries in the name. The words least and your are stopwords and are therefore ignored. Will find My Worries and Don't Worry. Will not find Least of All or Your Birthday Present.
^honor Will search for boxes that begin with the word honor—after ignoring words like THE, A, and AN. Will find An Honor and Honorable Man. Will not find Badge of Honor or On my Honor.

The author search requires an exact match to the trail name of the person who carved, authored, planted, or owns the letterbox, or leave it blank if you do not wish to search by author.

The box type is self explanatory, but for search results with the most detailed information, it helps to be specific about what type of letterbox you are looking for. The default "all" type strips out many useful details from the search results since it displays for the lowest common denominator.

Special Cases

If you type in a number and only a number, AQ will return the box with that box ID. Everything else will be ignored. So, for instance, if you search for a box with the "name" 181707, AQ will direct you immediately to The Skateboard Kid letterbox.

Additionally, if you know a box is listed on AQ but the clue is hosted on LbNA and so you only printed the LbNA ID number, you can look up a box based on the LbNA ID number by typing the name as "LbNA ID" (where ID is the ID number assigned by LbNA). For example, searching with the "name" as LbNA 4311 will automatically redirect you to Snoopy, which has an AQ ID of 127, but an LbNA ID of 4311.

What does that CSV link do?

CSV is sort for Comma Separated Values, a format that works well for most spreadsheet applications. This option is also only available for premium members. Most desktop computers, when you click the link, will try to download the file and open it in Excel or some equivalent. As for why you would want to do this, that's a good question that doesn't have an equally good answer.

Some people use the feature to keep track of letterboxes using spreadsheets because they're a master at using them. Others want to use it as a way to download clues to their PDAs or other handheld devices. Search results for traditional letterboxes will even include the latitude and longitude coordinates of the box in the CSV file, which may be useful for those who have GPS devices.

For most people, however, the CSV link is not necessary. If you have to ask what it is, it's probably not something you need to worry about!

How does a location-based search work?

You can run location-based searches in a wide variety of formats: by zip codes, addresses, street intersections, park names, airport codes, and even well known monuments. If all else fails, you can even search based on specific latitude and longitude coordinates. Examples might help make all of your options more clear. The following list includes some valid searches that can be run using the location based search:

Additionally, the names of a business tend to fail miserably. So searching for Joe's Taco Stand or Madonna Inn will usually not work. Use their addresses or a nearby street intersection instead.

How can I search for restricted boxes?

You can't. Early in Atlas Quest's history there used to be an option so people could mark a letterbox as being available for premium members only. To make it easier for premium members to find these boxes, there was even an option to search just for letterboxes that were available for premium members.

Unfortunately, this led to abuse of the system, where some people would search out and distribute premium member only clues for non-premium members, so there is no longer any way to search for boxes that have specific restrictions. If a box is restricted to a specific group, that information will be displayed in the details page of the box.

Can I get notifications for boxes if their clue changes?

Yes and no. If you are not a premium member, no. If you are a premium member.... maybe. Premium members can mark boxes to be watched, which will notify you whenever the status of the box changes or sometimes if a clue has been updated. Only clues hosted on Atlas Quest will send notifications of a change, however, since Atlas Quest will not know when clues have been updated on a remote website.

Can I get a city added to the City Directory?

It's possible, but not likely. The main criteria for cities used in the City Directory is that the size of the town must have a population of at least 20,000. There are some rare exceptions to this rule—usually in states without many large cities—but if you want a city added that is smaller than 20,000 people, it probably will not happen. If it is larger than 20,000 people, however, contact a webmaster to ask for its inclusion.

How do I get notified of a newly listed letterbox?

Run a search like you normally would with the results showing the types of boxes you want to be notified of. For instance, if you live in Dallas, Texas, and would like to be notified of all letterboxes planted within 100 miles of downtown Dallas, run a location-based search around Dallas with a 100-mile radius. If you want to be notified of all new letterboxes planted in the state of Rhode Island, run an area-based search for all letterboxes in Rhode Island.

In the top-right corner of the search results is a link to "Save Search." Click this link to save the search as a favorite search. You'll be asked to give the search a name and ask if you want to be notified of any new letterboxes that match this search. Give it a name, check the box to get notified of the new boxes, and save the search.

You're done. Now whenever anyone adds a letterbox that matches your search, Atlas Quest will send you an AQ mail about it.

What do the different box statuses indicate?

There are 4 choices for the planter -- active, unavailable, retired and unknown.

  • active: is considered ready to be found, but there should be no expectation that it is absolutely in place. Boxes can go missing at any time for any number of reasons.
  • unavailable: the letterbox is not ready to be found at this time. The box may be missing, or it could have been removed for some sort of maintenance, but at some point, the box is expected to be replaced and turn active again.
  • retired: not only is the box not there, but there are no plans to ever replace it.
  • unknown: may be used by planters when a letterbox is repeatedly attempted and not found. It does not indicate the box is missing, only that the planter has not confirmed the box is missing.

What is a restricted letterbox?

Some people like the ability to restrict a letterbox to a subset of members for various reasons. At this time, letterboxes may be restricted to other members with minimum P- or F-counts or to members of specific member groups. Someone can also restrict boxes so that only certain people can see the box (a "whitelist"). A dependency restricts a box (e.g., a bonus box) to only the users that have logged a find on a specific box (the dependency). The exact restrictions for a letterbox will not be displayed to help prevent abuse (for instance, some people may try to find a member who meets the requirements and bug them for the clue).

The specific reasons aren't important, and different people will have different reasons for the restrictions. Some people might restrict boxes to help ensure that search engines can't index them. Others might be wary that someone is targeting their boxes for vandalism. Other boxes might not be appropriate for everyone (perhaps it has an adult-oriented stamp) so the planter might want to ensure only specific people or types of people will look for it. It doesn't really matter what the reason is - a restricted box just means you have to meet the restrictions before you can access the clue on Atlas Quest.

If you find a box that is restricted, you won't be able to record finds on it or even find the listing on the Atlas Quest. For all intents and purposes, until you meet the restrictions, it's as if the box isn't listed on Atlas Quest at all. You can record the box as a find on an unlisted box if you are a premium member or wait until the box does show up in your searches once the restrictions are met. Most of the time, the restrictions are quite low. Most restricted boxes require less than ten finds and one plant.

Why don't I see a box in a search that my friend is able to?

Most likely, that box has restrictions that you do not meet but your friend does. Boxes may be restricted based on official AQ P or F-counts, or limited to specific user groups such as premium members or members who've chosen to be in the pin-up group. Unless you meet the restrictions, it's as if that letterbox is not even listed on Atlas Quest and therefore it will now show up in search results. Treat it like you would any other unlisted letterbox.

When I click on a clue, a page comes up saying this domain is no longer here. What's up?

You'll see this type of error message when the clue is hosted on a site other than Atlas Quest. Several different causes could be the culprit, but in a nutshell it means that where the clue is supposed to be located is not accessible for any number of reasons including:

  • Many clues are hosted on personal websites, and sometimes those websites are not maintained. When the domain for the website is allowed to expire, you'll see this message. At this point, you might try searching through the Wayback Machine to see if you can find an old copy of the clue. Use the URL you followed that gave you the error message. If it's not there, the clue is probably gone for good. Contact the planter and see if they still have a copy of it available, if you can contact the planter at this point.
  • The remote URL for the clue could have been entered incorrectly. Check to see if there could have been a typo in the URL (such as instead of
  • The website hosting the clue could be temporarily inaccessible due to maintenance. Sometimes trying back an hour or two later, maybe even a day or two later, and the problem will be gone.

How do I find a GPS coordinate for a location?

Besides the obvious of using a GPS device, you can also find coordinates with online maps such as Google Maps. Each mapping provider might require a slightly different method for looking up a coordinate, but these directions will work with Google Maps. (At least until they change their interface, as often happens with websites.)

  1. Go to Google Maps.
  2. Search for the location you want the coordinate for. Let's use South Hills Open Space, San Luis Obispo, CA in our example.
  3. Let's say I want the latitude and longitude coordinates of the trailhead rather than the center of the park that Google pulls up. I'll double click the location of the trailhead to zoom in. This also centers the map at that location.
  4. Continue zooming in further, as necessary, until the location you're interested in is centered.
  5. Just above the top of the map, on the left side, there's a link called "Link." Click it.
  6. A box will pop up with a section labeled: Paste link in email or IM with the link that is used to paste in email or IM. In this case, it looks like,+san+luis+obispo,+ca&sll=35.2685,-120.659534&sspn=0.026209,0.066047&ie=UTF8&hq=South+Hills+Open+Space&hnear=South+Hills+Open+Space,+San+Luis+Obispo,+California+93401&ll=35.262013,-120.655594&spn=0.001583,0.004128&t=h&z=19
  7. Don't let the length of the URL scare you off. The only part you're interested in is this: ll=35.262013,-120.655594. This is the latitude (35.262013) and longitude (-120.655594) coordinate of the point in the center of the map.

Important: Don't use the coordinates labeled SLL—it's the coordinates for LL you want to use!

What is a strikeout?

When multiple people try to find a box and believe it is missing, they'll record an attempt on the box. Each attempt counts as a 'strike' against the letterbox, and after three consecutive strikes, the box has 'struckout.' By default, most searches on Atlas Quest will not include strikeouts in the search results since most people prefer to avoid boxes with long strings of attempts on them. Search results will show an icon with a baseball next to boxes that have a strikeout.

If you see a box with a strikeout, the only thing that tells you is that, the last three people who looked for the box and recorded the attempt failed to find it. It does not mean the box is missing—just that it has not been found recently.

Strikeout Strikeout Strikeout

Related Questions

If one box in a series has struckout, will it strike out the whole series in a search? No, strikeouts apply to the individual boxes within a series—not the entire series.

How do I know which of my boxes have strikeouts? If you check your logbook plants or logbook attempts, you'll see the strikeout icon on boxes that have struck out. You can only see strikeouts on your own plants and attempts in your own logbook. You will not see the icons in other people's logbooks nor on any other pages of your logbook.

I found a box with three or more attempts on it, but it doesn't have a strikeout. Why? Multiple attempts on the same day only count as one attempt. We don't want one group of people who are looking for a box to be able to strike it out—we want confirmation from at least three different groups of searchers that the box cannot be found.

How can I check if a box has been struckout? Strikeouts will show wherever the series information for a box shows up. You'll find it in the clues and on the box details page next to the status and last found dates.

I checked up on my box and it's still there. How do I take the strikes off my box? From the box details page, click the "Update Status" button near the right side of the page. Mark the box as alive and well, save your changes, and AQ will remove the strikes.

What do the arrows represent?

When running a location-based search, Atlas Quest display the distance to each letterbox from the point of your search, along with an arrow indicating the direction the box is from that location.
Arrow Description
None The letterbox is exactly where you ran your search!
Unknown The location of the letterbox isn't specific enough to know what direction it is from the location you searched.
North The letterbox is north of the location of your search.
Northeast The letterbox is northeast of the location of your search.
East The letterbox is east of the location of your search.
Southeast The letterbox is southeast of the location of your search.
South The letterbox is south of the location of your search.
Southwest The letterbox is southwest of the location of your search.
West The letterbox is west of the location of your search.
Northwest The letterbox is northwest of the location of your search.

How do you search for letterboxes overseas?

Exactly like you would search for them in the United States or Canada. A location-based search can be used to search for letterboxes near specific cities and towns. Just include where the city is, such as "London, England" or "Berlin, Germany." (By default, Atlas Quest will try to search for a US city with those names, unless you clarify you're looking for the international versions.)

Area searches can also be used. Just select the country and/or section within the country (state, province, district, etc.) That'll return a list of all letterboxes listed on Atlas Quest in the area specified.

You might also find some letterbox clues on other websites. For instance, there's Letterboxing Germany and Dartmoor Letterboxing. A Google search for where you plan to travel is your best bet in finding these since they aren't well documented and can change without notice.

What is the quick search box?

The quick search box is a small area showing you some of the settings for the current search and allows you to modify them without going to the trouble of editing your search. The inspiration for this feature wasn't to make editing search easier (but it's a nice bonus!), but rather the confusion that is sometimes caused when a search doesn't return boxes that someone is expecting. Depending on one's Letterbox Preferences and from which page the search is run, different defaults might be used. There was never any information on the search results page about which defaults were used, however, which sometimes caused confusion.

So this is really a status bar showing you exactly what the search is doing, along with the option to change the settings if it wasn't what you wanted or expected.

  • Hide abandoned boxes: Hides any boxes whose owner has not logged into Alas Quest for a period of time. The default setting is one year, however AQ members can adjust this value in their letterbox preferences.
  • Hide strikeouts: Hides boxes that have had multiple attempts without success. The default setting is 3 attempts, however AQ members can adjust this value in their letterbox preferences.
  • Hide most ignored boxes: Hides boxes that are ignored by other letterboxers—presumably because they are missing, listed incorrectly, or have other problems that make finding the box all but impossible to find.
  • Hide old last finds: Hides boxes that have not been found by anyone for a period of time. The default setting is one year, however AQ members can adjust this value in their letterbox preferences.
  • Hide my plants: Hides any box in which you are listed as the planter. (You must be logged in to see this option.)
  • Hide my finds: Hides any box that you have recorded a find on. (You must be logged in to see this option.)
  • Hide my attempts: Hides any box that you have recorded an attempt on. (You must be logged in to see this option.)

How do I find a letterbox in my town?

  • Run a letterbox search for boxes in your town or click through the City Directory to your town.
  • Print clues for the boxes you want to find.
  • Follow the clues.

Is it possible to search for letterboxes along the Interstate highways?

Use the trip search option on the Simple Searches page, or type in "ALONG I-5 FROM Sacramento, CA TO Portland, OR" (or whatever the case may be) as your search. If you type out the search manually, the keywords to use are "along" for the Interstate, "from" for which town to start the search, and "to" for which town to end the search.

Many interstate highways can be found by going to Toolbox, Trip Planner and then there is a list of routes, including lots of interstate highways.

How do you limit searches to "drive-by"?

Use the Advanced Search page for all available search options including the ability to limit searches to drive-by boxes.

How to get clues for retired letterboxes?

By default, most searches on AQ do not include retired boxes, but you can always edit a search to add that option. For instance, at the bottom of every page of search results, you'll see a list of filters that were used in the search. If the "retired" option is not checked, you can check it and run the search again.

Use can also use the "edit search" link at the top of the search results which take you to the Advanced Search page which allows you to add retired boxes to the search as well.