When I was working down in Devon years ago, I learned of a long-established game played by hikers on Dartmoor, who used compass and map to identify one of a set of letterboxes in remote locations on the moor, such as Cranmere Pool. If you found one, you left a message in a book in the box to prove you had been there. In recent decades, this has been updated to a form of orienteering called letterboxing, to the extent that the five boxes I knew about in the early 1970s have now grown to many times that number.
Geocaching (a conflation of geo, “earth”, plus cache) is a recently invented high-tech equivalent. Someone hides a box with treasure in it, treasure being defined very loosely to include items like maps, books, software, videos, pictures, money, tickets, antiques, tools, and the like. The hider publicises the Global Positioning System (GPS) co-ordinates for it (on a Web site, where else?), inviting others to find it.
Though the GPS system is accurate to within a few metres, finding the cache can still require a lot of hard work, especially in an urban area, or if the evil-minded concealer has placed it under water, halfway up a cliff, or in some especially remote spot. You are supposed to record your success in a logbook in the cache, take out only one bit of treasure, and add something else in its place.
Geocaching is a new Web-based fad that could have Alaskans flying to Finland to find treasure hidden under fallen trees. Players stash the goods — anything from native art to sunglasses — and leave directions at www.geocaching.com.
Time, Oct. 2000
Rather than keeping the booty for themselves, successful geocachers are meant to keep the game going by taking just one item and replacing it with a new treasure, adding their details to the logbook for posterity.
New Scientist, Jan. 2001