So far we have blogged all about a number of our expeditions to search for caches. Whilst doing all this we have also been planning a bit of an epic series of puzzles to place around Milton Keynes.
In total we had 14 to place as part of our MK Schooldays. We reached mid-December and finally, finally, we had 14 puzzles, 14 target locations (ish) and 14 little tupperware boxes wrapped in duck tape and containing a book, a pencil, a pen, a geocaching note, and an FTF certificate. Each box had been duly labelled up using Kas’s newly acquired Dymo-tape thingy, which is now a mini hand-held inkjet printer taking all kinds of cunning different types of tape. We chose waterproof white strips.
So, all we had to do was to set aside enough time to go and physically places 14 boxes and then release them all. Oh, if only it were that simple.
Anyways up, 14 boxes is not something you can do reliably in the evenings and we didn’t fancy trying it on a weekend because of “The Daughter Factor”. So Kev took a day off work (a Thursday, as it happens), and Kas arranged her day to suit, and thus began the most driving-around-a-lot-ish day I have ever had in Milton Keynes. I am surprised the cache-mobile made it round. It got started and stopped about 30 times during the day but none of the journeys was longer than about 10 minutes.
First up we dropped of Izzy. Then we drove back to Tattenhoe to take Ami to school, and now we were child free for around 6 hours. Which obviously leaves enough time to go to Costa before beginning the cache dropping. Good job we haven’t got a busy day in prospect.
If you haven’t done them yet, then it might be a good idea for me to talk about the series a little bit so you get the idea.
MK Schooldays is a series of 14 puzzle caches in Milton Keynes based (very loosely) around GCSEs. As parts of the national curriculum are optional then so are some of the caches. There are 13 caches divided into 9 subject groups. To graduate (and find the 14th cache) you have to complete at least one cache from each of the 9 subject areas – lost yet ? Good ! Each cache contains one of 9 bonus codes. These give you the starting grid of a Sudoku puzzle which you must then solve and use to extract the final coords for the graduation cache.
Why are there 13 caches instead of 9, or 25 ? Well, not all subjects are mandatory at GCSE, so we have provided some optional courses. Mainly, however, we believe there are 13 secondary schools in Milton Keynes, so each subject cache is (loosely) associated with one of those schools. Each puzzle icon is shown in the car park of one of the schools and the associated cache is within a mile or so of the school too.
It is also worth saying at this point that this day was the culmination of a couple of months effort in divising puzzles, identifying locations, reverse engineering puzzles to fit the answers, adjusting, and generally farting about. And even after all this effort, 4 of the caches were not placed in the location planned, 1 got moved the day after because we didn’t like where we’d put it, and a further 3 had to be moved after release because the reviewer didn’t like where we’d put them. So we had to reverse engineer 7 of the 14 puzzles to fit the new answers even after we had placed the boxes. More of that later. What about all that driving ? And all those puzzles ?
First of all was the statistics puzzle, MK Schooldays: Statistics at Leon School in Bletchley. The planned location was supposed to be the Blue Lagoon Nature Reserve in Bletchley. Silly us – can’t put it there, but we didn’t know at the time. It was a fanatastic location to leave one, to be honest, but we should have been suspicious about the fact that there aren’t any other caches in the Blue Lagoon. Must try reading the instructions next time. Anyway, that’s where we left it on the day. Check later down for an emergency relocation update.
Next was European Languages, MK Schooldays: European Languages at Lord Grey School in Bletchley. This is a simple puzzle. The coords are given in plain text, just in several different official languages of the European Union, and no hint as to which language is which. I had found an excellent location a couple of weeks before on the same afternoon that I had wandered over a load of muddy fields with Ami looking for Kitey’s Magiovinium. By “muddy”, I mean six inches taller when we got back to the car. Good job we took spare shoes.
Back to the plot, and next up was MK Schooldays: English Literature at Walton High School in Walnut Tree. This one is a poem cipher. You know – a string of numbers relating to words in a poem – take the first letter of each word. The twist is that I don’t say which poem. Crack that, and you’re away. At the time of writing this though, most people have solved it with substitution cryptanalysis rather than finding the poem. Which is a bit disappointing given that I deliberately used more than one word for each letter, but then I guess some of the “pros” have a whole host of weapons in their puzzle-solving arsenal.
Next up was MK Schooldays: English Language at Oakgrove School in Middleton. Can’t say what this puzzle is about because so far people have found this more difficult than the others, so I don’t want to give it away. We found a parking spot on a street in Monkston which we would definitely not have parked on in the evening. It isn’t dodgy, but it is where some other people live, and at night they would want to park their cars, so it would feel inappropriate to park ours there unless invited by a local. Middle of the morning though, fair game. No one at home.
So far then, we have spent a little over an hour and have placed 4 of the 14. Much quicker than expected and starting to believe that finishing in one day would be possible.
And so on to MK Schooldays: Geography at Ousedale School in Newport Pagnell. It was originally placed under a pile of logs. It didn’t get to stay there though. It was apparently too close to the physical stage of a multi-cache around Tongwell Lake that has been inactive for 18 months. I know. I tried to find it on the day I sussed out the pile of logs, and it wasn’t there. Definitely not, no Sir-ee. So it was a bit disappointing, that one. See below for the Monday morning relocation event.
While we were up North we popped over to Stantonbury Campus for the next couple. It was about time for turning our bikes round as well, which proved very troublesome for a public sports centre. Apparently you can’t go into the place to check the football scores unless you are using the sporting facilities. Kev managed to slip unnoticed into the gents but Kas was cut off at the pass and (strangely) got told she could use the staff facility in the entrance hall but couldn’t go into the changing rooms. Eh ! How does that work then ? Anyway, once we had both successfully collected our printout we hiked along the nearby redway to drop off MK Schooldays: History at Bury Lawn School in Stantonbury. Again, I can’t really describe the puzzle because that would be a spoiler. The original drop off point was behind one of the pillars under the expansion joints of a footbridge. This one also had to be moved on Monday – it was too close to another cache which I had simply not noticed or checked for. Put that one down to experience. In the process of dropping this one off my skiing jacket picked up some black marks on the sleeves which won’t wash off, so that one is now the caching jacket. Don’t care how dirty it gets or how ripped. By the way, it is worth saying at this point that a skiing jacket is a very good caching jacket. They don’t weigh much, they keep you warm, they have thousands of pockets and they are not prone to being ripped by spiky vegetation, which was to prove most useful at the next site. Back to this one – a couple of muggle delays, don’t these people know we are trying to run to a schedule, and a couple of repositionings because we could see the hide. We were very happy with the final place until the reviewer asked us to move it.
So on the way back to Stantonbury Campus is the location for MK Schooldays: Music at Stantonbury Campus. This too was supposed to be placed under a bridge, but when we got there we discovered there was no way we would ever hide the actual box where I had planned. You simply couldn’t get it out of sight. So we were a bit stumped until Kas looked around and said “what about in there ?” “What, there ? OK, lets have a shufty.” The thing in question is very obvious when you are there, but it is also very well concealed because you just would not pay it any attention, and it contains a plant that definitely discourages any form of investigation. Should be safe in there, but it requires a bit of a warning in the hint to make sure people are aware. To place it I was shoulder deep in a burberis plant, wearing a ski jacket and ski gloves, but still getting stabbed. Some of the people who have found it have managed to find a less spiky way in, but I still like this site the best of all. It is in the highest traffic area of any of the 14 and yet it is the least likely to be found by a muggle. You just wouldn’t stick your hands in there.
It was now rapidly approaching midday, but on the bright side we had dropped half of the 14. The obvious next one was MK Schooldays: Physics at The Radcliffe School in Wolverton. It’s actually not that close to the school, as I couldn’t find anywhere I liked anywhere near there, so it is maybe a mile and a half away, but in a very low traffic area and only a short walk from a handy car park. So we went over there and had a quick walk through the trees. Kas liked the location, and the box fitted into the hole better than I thought it might. It didn’t seem necessary to have brilliant hide here though, because it is just not somewhere people are likely to walk.
Hmm ! 8 down, 6 to go, and lunchtime. We decided on The Shoulder of Mutton in Calverton, site of an event some months ago in August. Which meant we had time to look for Gorrick’s Spring, Calverton on the way by. This has been a previous failure for Kev but this time was quite easy. OK, only because we cheated and grabbed a PAF from someone at another event. How did I miss that last time ? A combination of wandering coordinates and altitude issues, I think. Anyway, back to the plot. Lunch was good. Sandwiches, chips, drinks, and far too full. Mmmmm ! Just the thing after 4 hours outside in the freezing cold.
Where to next then ? Well MK Schooldays: Electronics was supposed to be near Denbigh School in Shenley Church End, straight down the V4, so that seemed best. This proved to be the ultimate quick cache and dash from the drop-off point of view. No cars around, no muggles around, and the location was, if anything, better than I had remembered from the “sussing” trip. No more than 5 minutes were spent between parking up and setting off again. It’s was beginning to look like planting all 14 in a day would be feasible after all.
And so to MK Schooldays: Leisure, Travel and Tourism at Hazeley School. This was made more difficult by the fact that the nearby car park was full and we had to park on the road in Oakhill, or whatever that estate is called. Some of the cars in the park were empty but more than half seemed to be either cabbies having a rest, or schoolteachers have a sneaky off-site ciggy. Anyway, it was a bit busy and we had to wait for an opportunity to dash off the path and into the trees without being seen. Once there, it was a simple-ish job to place the box and cover it. It involves a tree, a hole, and some covering pieces of stick and bark. Not a bad spot.
We had some ideas in mind for the final cache but it seemed a shame to not do MK Schooldays: 10km Race at Shenley Brook End School on the way there. However, if you have done that one, you will note that there is a road nearby, but not any convenient parking, so we decided on a “drive-by” caching. Kas dropped Kev off by the roadside and then scooted up to the front of the school to turn around while Kev went for a rummage, and a “mark” on the GPS to prove we had the location right. Wouldn’t ya just know it, just as Kas parked up roadside to pick Kev up again a bus appeared round the corner and made us look like right chimps for parking just there. Bum! There’s none for hours and then just when you don’t want one……
MK Schooldays: Graduation Day had originally been planned for Campbell Park, but after some thought the night before I had decided that the planned location was going to be too public, so we gawped at the maps a bit to find somewhere better. Close to the Open University looked a good idea for a graduation ceremony but there are a few around there already so the location needed a little bit of thought. In fact, we hadn’t actually decided, we just rolled up into a little car park near Simpson Village and started walking. A couple of sites near the car park were discarded, partly because of a woman in a little car who was obviously “out to lunch” and was giving us the evil eye as we were examining the undergrowth. So we moved on. A couple of hundred yards away and Kas’s eyes were drawn to an absolutely fantastic looking feature that was just crying out to host a cache, so it got one. It is another tree, hole, bark arrangement, but none the worse for it. We liked that site too.
Which left nearly an hour before needing to fetch Ami and only two left to place. MK Schooldays: Algebra at Sir Frank Markham School in Leadenhall was one where I had sussed a site on the very first day of looking for them, maybe seven weeks earlier. However, when we got back there, I really couldn’t remember which particular tree I had tried to mark. It just didn’t look right. Anyway, we found yet another tree within spitting distance of the original plan, but then decided on Friday night that we didn’t like it after all.
Only one left. MK Schooldays: Ancient Greek at St Pauls RC School in Leadenhall. Kev had planned a couple of locations but one of those was a stand-out. Parking was a bit tricky because the closest streets are distinctly residential and not really suitable for evenings or weekends when the inhabitants are at home. Middle of the afternoon was OK but it still felt like there were a few twitching curtains. Hopefully OK though, although several finders have commented on the parking situation.
So that was 14 placed in one day with enough time left to pop home to wash the mongoose again before fetching Ami. Cool. A handful of puzzles placed at locations different from the plan, and therefore a handful to re-jig, but otherwise long day, job done.
Or so we thought…………..
The puzzles were re-jigged on Thursday and Friday night, but on Saturday we decided we didn’t like where we’d put MK Schooldays: Algebra – too close to the back of someone’s house, so we all biked over there on Saturday morning and moved it a bit. Another puzzle to update but then finally 14 puzzles to release on Saturday night with the expectation that they might take a week to get reviewed because we had asked they all get released at the same time.
So imagine our surprise when we got a pile of emails on Sunday evening. That would have been great except that the reviewer had asked that we move 3 because they were in a disallowed place, or too close to something else. That affected MK Schooldays: Statistics, MK Schooldays: Geography and MK Schooldays: History. Because of the possibility of this taking a while to do Kev therefore asked that the other 11 be released anyway. Which meant 11 went live on Monday evening but with no cache in the Humanities category at all, so it was not technically possible to get to the graduation cache unless you could brute-force the Sudoku.
Which meant some work to do on Monday. Kas let Kev set off nice and early (in fact, straight after getting up, while it was still dark). So first down to the Blue Lagoon to collect, and a quick trip over to Water Eaton for a new location. Found one quite quickly. Quickly enough to tempt me into doing another one. It wasn’t a wonderful idea trying to drive from Water Eaton to Tongwell at 8:30 in the morning but to be honest I reached a point where I might as well do the job, because I was going to be late for work anyway. Off I went then. I retrieved MK Schooldays: Geography and then went in search of somewhere better. Again, thankfully, I found somewhere quite quickly. Not an ideal spot but perfectly adequate for the job, and handily close to a redway and suitably miles from any other caches. It’s starting to look good. Which just left MK Schooldays: History. I did this one on a lunchtime dash, and while I was at it I bagged the cache that was the source of my location problem. It wasn’t a brilliant one.
And so Monday night at home and three more puzzles to re-jig and re-release, which meant that all 14 were up and running by Tuesday night, just in time for an event round the other side of Tring on Wednesday, where there was much talk of all these puzzles which had magically appeared all over MK in the last couple of days. Funny that, I wonder where they came from ?