Lab caches aren’t entirely new. They were introduced at last year’s Block Party in Seattle. Immediately following the announcement, there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion about them. I ended up posting about it on the Pathtags forums asking others their opinions about it. A few, including myself were immediately reminded of the “Challenges” thing that was meant to replace virtuals caches a few years ago. Of course, as you’ll recall, that crashed and burned quite spectacularly.
Then in February, Groundspeak announced that Premium members could hide their own Lab caches. Unfortunately, this was when Michigan was still right in the middle of a second ice age, and I had no interest in getting out to cache. (I found 2 caches all month and one was an event) So again, I missed out on them. It seemed kind of silly though, anyone could hide one, but only one person could go and find it. The hider had to put a code word into the cache that the finder would then use to log the find. I decided to wait and reserve judgment until MOGA 2014 in Athens Ohio. It was advertised this new cache type would be there for everyone to try out.
So, I headed down to Athens Ohio with Team Geochef, Moldslug, kalkavekkian and The Wandering Wierdos as part of our annual MOGA trip tradition. We made sure to leave time in our schedule to attend the “Spies Like Us” event where we would finally get to experience these lab caches first hand. We got to the event just in time for the briefing on these strange new caches. We were handed a sheet that had the coordinates and hints for 10 caches on it. Seems pretty straight-forward so far right? You’ve probably done this at an event before. The sheet also contained a link to where you could log these new caches. (Lab caches don’t have typical cache pages) The sheet contained a short description with a hint contained within it. It also contained a blank spot for the individual cache “code word”
However, before we left, it was also mentioned that there was a final “Impossible” cache. (to go along with the Mission Impossible theme) There was a guy walking around dressed like a spy, with a briefcase that supposedly contained the coordinates to this cache. Now, I misunderstood this originally. I left the briefing under the impression that in order to get the lab icon (the only thing I really cared about) we would have to find all 10 caches on the sheet, AND solve the puzzle, give this guy the “code word” for him to open the briefcase to get the final coordinates, AND also find the final cache before we would be awarded the icon.
I’m not a puzzle guy, so it seemed like a lot of work for one cache. But, we loaded in the coordinates anyway for the 10 caches on the sheet. We had to at least see what was involved right? Well, when we did find our first Lab cache on the list, it cleared things up a little.
First off, each individual Lab cache is loggable. So we ended up getting 10 Lab caches. Each one had a specific code word in the lid. This code word was individual to that cache and that cache only. (We initially suspected the code meant nothing, and you could put anything in the code word field and log it. An experiment of just typing gibberish into that field showed we were wrong however.) They really did go to the trouble of coding specific code words for each cache, so kudos for that. Basically, to log the caches you went to the web address specified on the information sheet handed out with the cache and input the code in that part of the site. Bam! Lab cache found, and I had the icon.
On another note, kudos again to Groundspeak for making it possible to log these caches with a computer and not just a smart phone. I later heard that was a complaint at the Block Party, that they could only be done on smart phone there. It is nice to know they are listening sometimes.
As it turns out, the guy with the briefcase, and the additional puzzles they had talked about seemed to just be a bonus. Each cache had multiple small slips of paper with additional small puzzles on them. The one puzzle I DID solve simply asked for the frequencies that civilian GPS signal operates on. No one in this group was a real puzzle guy, so we never did finish the bonus part. I’m not sure if we missed something special or not with that. I have to imagine however that the bonus was just for fun. After all, lab caches are just temporary caches. They certainly could not base a permanent puzzle cache off them because the Lab caches would be gone a few days after the event.
So, since I don’t know anything more about the bonus puzzle, I’ll tell you what I can about the Lab caches themselves. since as far as I know, they were the only caches in relation to the lab caches you could earn a find on.
Sadly, I was a bit disappointed in the lab caches themselves. Not that they were horrible caches, (I’ve found way, way worse caches!) but they were simply ordinary. From the way Groundspeak talked them up in their blog posts and at the event itself, they made it sound like something new and refreshing. Ultimately though, these were just normal caches. The only difference was in the use of code words and the fact that you can’t add a log entry for them.
All of the Lab caches we found were simple lock and locks. Most were located at local businesses. A few were located near the old Athens “Lunatic” Asylum, one was at a library. But other than that, there wasn’t much special about them, location or container. They were easily forgettable, except for the fact that they give you a new icon.
Another interesting thing about this new cache type is the fact that logging them gives you credit for a find, but these caches don’t register on Groundspeak’s “Statistics” page. Likewise, they don’t register with Project-gc.com either. I would have to imagine they are a pain to get to appear on GSAK as well. I don’t use that program anymore, so I can’t say for sure. More than once since I’ve logged them though, I’ve looked at my stats page and have been thrown off by the discrepancy in finds. It honestly does not bother me too much, I heard they plan to fix this issue in the future. I just hope it doesn’t get thrown by the wayside like the addition of country-specific souvenirs and countless other promised features that haven’t been added yet.
I suppose only time will tell if Groundspeak branches this new cache type out some more so that it more closely fits the “Lab” icon and description as an experimental cache type. As of right now, they just appear to be a loggable type of temporary cache that can only be set up by Groundspeak. This could be interesting, I just hope they intend to see this project through. Don't let this become Challenges part 2!