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Atlas Quest

Help: Finding

  1. Where do I find clues?
  2. I clicked on a clue and got an error message! Help!
  3. How far is a pace?
  4. How do I use a compass?
  5. What happens if a box is missing?
  6. How do I get letterboxing started in my area?
  7. What to do after finding a damaged box?
  8. What is snowboxing?
  9. What if a logbook is smaller than the stamp?
  10. How do I link to clues hosted on LbNA?
  11. What features can I use to find boxes while travelling?
  12. How do I properly rehide a letterbox?
  13. How can I get clues from someone who gives out clues via e-mail but does not respond to their mail?
  14. What happens if a logbook is full?
  15. How do you report on the website that you’ve found a letterbox?
  16. What is an F-Summary (Find Summary)?
  17. How to search for series boxes?

Where do I find clues?

The largest selection of clues can be found at Letterboxing North America (also known as LbNA). Atlas Quest has thousands of clues easily accessible from the city directory, many not found on LbNA. The Simple Search and Advanced Search pages on Atlas Quest give you many more options for searching letterboxes near you. Many other letterboxers keep personal websites that list their clues that you can frequently find with Google searches or by viewing their profiles on Atlas Quest. Still other clues are often hidden in plain sight, embedded into otherwise innocent sounding posts on talk lists or by following a picture link. Other clues are by invite only (typically called word-of-mouth or WOM clues, though the clues aren't always delivered verbally). Most clues, until the Internet age, were passed along as word-of-mouth clues. Some letterboxes are listed on (choose "Letterbox Hybrid" from the "All Geocaches" drop menu).

Clues are everywhere, and with experience comes an ever wider variety of clues at your disposal. Becoming an active letterboxing participant and interacting with other letterboxers through e-mail and message boards is important to gather the widest variety of clues possible.

I clicked on a clue and got an error message! Help!

Many letterboxes are listed on Atlas Quest while the actual clue is hosted somewhere else, and occasionally, these remote sites go down for limited periods of time. Maybe an upgrade is in progress, maybe a server crashed, maybe a lot of different things—but you wind up getting some sort of error message when clicking on such a clue.

The easiest solution is to try back later and get the clue when the remote site comes back up, but if you're in a pinch and absolutely must get a clue, you can try accessing a cached version of the clue. Atlas Quest regularly scans and saves the text of remote clues, and the saved version of the clue is accessible by clicking the 'View Cache' button on the letterbox details page. It'll be at the bottom of the block of buttons on the right side of the details page.

How far is a pace?

Depends on who you ask. Most letterboxers will use the term pace and step interchangeably, and unless a clue states otherwise, it's best to assume that one pace is the same as one step. Many individuals, especially those with military backgrounds, say one pace is equal to two steps, so if you're having trouble finding a box using the one pace equals one step rule of thumb, try the one pace equals two steps rule of thumb.

Paces and steps, obviously, are dependent on a variety of factors including the terrain and height of the individual doing the counting. This is where it helps to know who planted the box. Is it a child or a full-grown adult? With experience, you'll figure out the size of specific letterboxer's steps in comparison to your own, but the vast majority of the time, your counts will come out within 10% of almost anyone else's counts.

Many times the clues will indicate whether a pace is one step or two. It may vary depending on the planter.

How do I use a compass?

A complete tutorial on using a compass can be found in our compass tutorial.

What happens if a box is missing?

Frequently, especially for new letterboxers, it can be difficult to find a letterbox and the box is actually still there waiting to be found! With experience, you'll improve your letterbox finding skills. You'll note small cracks or suspicious, unnatural-looking piles of rocks or twigs that beginner letterboxers frequently overlook. Even when you know you're looking in the correct area, it is often difficult to find small boxes.

If a day comes when you have trouble finding a letterbox, however, and it will happen to everyone at some point, try to contact the owner of the letterbox. If no contact information is provided in the letterbox, it may be listed in their clues. Both Atlas Quest and LbNA provide mechanisms for contacting members, so you can also try contacting the person who planted the box through those websites. If all else fails, you can post messages asking for the person to contact you or ask if anyone knows how to contact such-and-such person.

As a side note, it's usually best to say that you weren't able to find a box, not report that it's missing because you'll feel pretty silly afterwards when somebody reports back later that no, the box is still alive and well. After that happens a time or two, you'll find yourself reporting boxes you weren't able to find rather than reporting that a box is missing. Unless you've found the box previously and know for a fact exactly where it should be, the safer option is to report not being able to find a box. The owner of the box may even reply with tips and suggestions for where your search may have gone astray!

How do I get letterboxing started in my area?

If you are unfortunate enough to live in a sparsely populated letterboxing area, don't give up! There's a saying among letterboxers: "Plant them, and they will come." You can still actively participate in letterboxing by planting letterboxes—a fun pursuit in its own right. Many letterboxers plan trips around finding boxes and frequently will leave behind letterboxes of their own along the way. As letterboxing continues to get more press in newspapers, magazines, or television, others in your community will want to check out letterboxing. It's important that you've already seeded the area with letterboxes because you want to get them hooked! It can be discouraging to do a search for letterboxes in your area and nothing turns up. Many people who would love to letterbox might see that and never consider the hobby again, so seed your area with lots of letterboxes.

If you really want to get the ball rolling, you can even try talking to your local newspaper and see if they would be interested in creating a letterboxing article. Many parts of the country exploded after a small article in the local paper. Perhaps you can ask your local stamp store to hand out pamphlets about letterboxing.

Letterboxing is a fast-growing hobby, however, and with or without your encouragement, it will come. Seeding an area with letterboxes, however, is the quickest and easiest way to get others hooked on letterboxing. It might take a year or two before things really get moving, but it will happen!

What to do after finding a damaged box?

Repair the box the best you can. Re-hide it well. Contact the owner of the box and let them know of its damage. Do not take the box out of its location for maintenance unless you have permission from the owner.

What is snowboxing?

Snowboxing is a popular sub-category of letterboxing, most common in Upstate New York, east of Lake Ontario. This area averages over 150 inches of snow a season, and so letterboxing in the white stuff is practically inevitable, as "the season" can last nearly 6 months!

Snowboxers "gear up" in snowmobiling suits or ski pants, and often use snowshoes to reach remote boxes. A short stick or ski pole is used to chip away any ice holding a letterboxer in place. Speedy stamping is often necessary as markers and small ink pads can freeze in the severe cold. Many snowboxers wear mittens which open at the fingers so their hands can remain warm while stamping in. Common hiding places for snowboxers may include the inside of an evergreen or in an ice fishing shanty.

Besides avoiding frostbite, one major challenge in snowboxing is avoiding leaving an obvious path right to the hiding spot.

One popular snowboxing celebration is Desperately Seeking Sun, an annual event held in this region, where weather-resistant boxers can meet up and accomplish some boxing before the spring thaw.

What if a logbook is smaller than the stamp?

Many logbooks are very small, especially those for hitchhikers, microboxes, cooties, and other small letterboxes, and you might find that a stamp is too large to fit completely into the logbook. It might be your signature stamp, or it might be the stamp from a letterbox you need to stamp into a hitchhiker's logbook, or a variety of possibilities, but the end result is the same: The stamp will not fit into the logbook. Don't worry, just stamp a portion of it. Choose the most significant part of the stamp to add to the logbook.

How do I link to clues hosted on LbNA?

When you Add a letterbox at Atlas Quest, make sure you have the URL that points directly at the clue page for your specific letterbox. If you use others will have to take additional steps to find your clues. The URL should look something like

If your objective is to list your letterbox on both sites, another alternative is to host the clues on AQ and then link to AQ from LbNA. Post the clues on AQ first, and then go to the Box Details page for the box and copy the entire URL. Then go to LbNA, select Add Letterbox, type in the appropriate information, and paste the URL into the link field. You don't have to write anything in the clue field at all. You will need to know the county the box is in.

What features can I use to find boxes while travelling?

Here are some trip planning features on AQ that make box-hunting (near or far) easier:

  • Trip planner - saves you hours of time planning, searching, finding counties, etc.
  • Select multiple boxes and print them all together
  • Save multiple searches
  • Whenever you create a search, you can map the results through Google Maps.
  • Select a U.S. state for letterbox clues
  • Use the letterbox directory to do a broad country search. Example - selecting Canada gives you a further breakdown by province.
  • You can sort through boxes based on a multitude of factors including trail length, wheelchair accessibility, drive-bys, etc. You can even store your favorite searches and be e-mailed automatically when a new box is added that fits one your favorite searches!

How do I properly rehide a letterbox?

This is a thorny issue that causes a great amount of consternation among letterboxers. The general motto "please rehide better than you found it" sounds simple enough but has been misconstrued by people who take the box somewhere else to rehide it. In the interest of maximum clarity, some points made in excruciating detail:

  • If you found the box where it was supposed to be, obviously rehide it in the same place and in the same manner you found it. Do not leave any portion of the box visible, whether it was visible originally or not. Letterboxes are found by following directions, not by seeing a corner of the box sticking out of the hiding place. If there aren't enough leaves and sticks to completely obscure the box from view, please gather some more. Remember that sometimes boxes are planted in one season and end up being more visible than intended in other seasons, or perhaps because the cover has blown away or been scattered by critters; finders should try to correct this, not just send a note to the owner remarking that the box was easily visible.

  • Try not to make the pile over the letterbox too obvious. Knowing there's a letterbox there because of the pile of neatly-arranged sticks is almost as bad as the box itself being visible.

  • If, after some searching, you find a letterbox but not in the spot you expected to find it, the first thing to do is to go over the clues again and see if you misunderstood them. Is it possible the box was hidden where it was supposed to be but you just read the clues incorrectly? If it's possible, even remotely, rehide the box right back where you found it. You may, if you wish, contact the placer via e-mail and explain the trouble you had. He may chortle with evil delight because he intended the clues to be misleading, or he may alter the clues to make them clearer; that's his choice.

  • If you find a letterbox that was clearly not where it was supposed to be -- laying on open ground, open and scattered, animal tooth marks all over it, etc., etc. -- then rehide the box where you believe it should have been. And -- without fail -- contact the placer via e-mail and report on what you found and what you did.

  • Do not rely on children to properly rehide a letterbox without supervision while you pack up to leave. All too often, scores of lost and muggled boxes have been traced to a family that happily lets the kids replant, and nobody notices that the kids aren't replanting properly, they're just tossing the box towards the hiding spot and leaving.

How can I get clues from someone who gives out clues via e-mail but does not respond to their mail?

First, be patient. Not everyone is online every day, and people do take trips and vacations that may keep them from their e-mail, perhaps for months at a time. If they are a member on Atlas Quest, check their last login date on their profile. If they haven't replied within a couple of weeks, you might send a follow-up message or try to find some other manner of contacting the planter.

It's possible the planter does not want to give you clues, in which case they may deliberately choose not to reply. If they are giving clues via e-mail, there's probably a reason for it, and one reason is to help limit who can get the boxes.

If all else fails, you could try seeing if anyone else has the clues and can share them with you, but after that, you may have to chalk up the box as one you will never get the clues for.

What happens if a logbook is full?

If you find a letterbox and the logbook is full or nearly full, try to contact the owner and let them know. If you can replace the logbook, let them know, and ask what should be done with the original logbook. Some people prefer to keep old logbooks with the letterbox (room permitting) so new finders can see the old logbooks while other planters prefer to get the logbook back as a souvenir of sorts.

If the owner of the box does not reply or there is plenty of room, you can leave a new logbook with the old one (room permitting - if there's not much room, leave 1 or 2 sheets of blank paper) until a suitable replacement can be added.

How do you report on the website that you’ve found a letterbox?

Use the Record Find link, found under the Letterboxes menubar option. Type in the name of the box you found, and if Atlas Quest will display all matches it finds. Click the name of the box, fill out the blanks, and save.

If you found a letterbox that is not listed on Atlas Quest, you may not be able to record a find for it. You can read all the details about how to record finds for unlisted boxes in How do I add finds for unlisted boxes?

What is an F-Summary (Find Summary)?

Clue pages now include a summary of the finds (and attempted finds) of each letterbox which is called an F-summary for short. For instance, you might see a box with an F-summary of ffffFfffxxxffXx. These are the last 15 finds and attempts made on the letterbox. Each F represents a find while each x represents a failed find (i.e. an attempt). A capital letter means it was a planter who recorded the find or attempt, so those should hold more weight. Additionall, the attempts, marked with x's, grow as the attempter's confidence about the box being missing increases.

In this example, there were 8 finds, then 3 attempts, then 2 finds, then 2 more attempts. One of the finds and attempts was by the planter of the box. Perhaps the box went missing, then it was replaced, then it went missing again. Or maybe those 3 successive attempts were people who just couldn't find the box because it had been replaced in the wrong location and the 4th person who looked for it realized it was behind the wrong tree. Or maybe the 3 attempts were a single group of people looking for a box and failed to find it so they all marked it as an attempt.

The point is, there are a lot of ways to interpret this data, but sometimes it's useful just to see what sort of patterns they make. A lot of attempts interspersed with finds might suggest the box is particularly tricky to find. A long series of finds followed by a long series of attempts probably means the box is missing.

These help pages don't allow the use of colors or different-sized text, so the sample above isn't really complete without them. But you can see a better sample in the glossary, including colors and different confident levels of attempts.

If someone has chosen to hide the finds or attempts on one of their letterboxes, no F-summary will be displayed.

How to search for series boxes?

Premium members will have an option on the Advanced Search page to search based on the number of boxes within a series.

It is, however, a premium member perk. If you are not a premium member, there is no such option, although you can still run a search and scan through the results looking for the number in parenthesis after the box name which shows how many boxes in the series match your search.

It is not necessarily the number of boxes in the series—just the number of boxes in the series that match your search. If you want that number to show the number of boxes in the series, you can’t use any search options that would match some boxes in a series but not others.

For instance, a series might have some boxes missing, so a box for active boxes in a series would cause the number to show something smaller than the actual number of boxes in the entire series.