Author Topic: Puzzle cache difficulty rating  (Read 1640 times)

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Puzzle cache difficulty rating
« on: January 16, 2015, 01:10:07 »
Hello all,

There was a time when I was nuts about solving any new puzzle out there regardless of how hard it was to solve (partially in our quest to fill our Fizzy grids), but lately I tend to like a lot more the ones that are both easy and/or fun and/or educational, and shelve anything that resists me after just a few minutes. Some will simply ask the CO for help, but unless I have spent weeks/months/years on it, I feel like I am cheating the puzzle by doing so.
Ideally I would like to rely on the difficulty rating to tell which ones to tackle, but the ratings seem to vary so widely that they seem completely unreliable (and I am not talking about liar caches).
Over the years I have had mixed feelings about how the caches are rated. For the longest time I have felt like the older caches were somewhat under-rated, and the more recent ones over-rated, but in the past few months I feel like most new postings in the area are overly under-rated.

So, I was wondering what is the general consensus about how puzzle caches should be rated (i.e. the difficulty rating).
Obviously difficulty ratings are always subjective, but I am wondering what it should be based on.
a) should it be based on adding the puzzle difficulty+the hide difficulty?
b) should it be the highest of puzzle difficulty+the hide difficulty?
c) how should you rate a super easy puzzle - that is, only once you get that super-hard-to-find AHA moment?
d) how should you rate a puzzle that is super hard unless the cacher contacts the cache owner in which case it is really a giveaway?
e) how should you rate a puzzle that is easy to solve but requires you to solve a number of other caches? Should it be equivalent to the highest difficulty of the required caches, or a notch above the highest difficulty to adjust for the extra work needed, or very high because of the sheer number of required caches, or very low because once you have solved all the required caches the remaining work is super easy?
f) how should you rate a puzzle that is very hard to solve but which has a number of other examples in the community, making it super easy to anyone who has already solved another similar one?
g) how should you rate a puzzle that is easy and obvious to solve, but requires you to spend a significant amount of time in order to reveal the solution?
h) should you rate a puzzle differently based on whether it has a geochecker available or not?
i) any other guidelines that would be useful to follow? Maybe a puzzle cache difficulty rating tool out on the web?

Please share your opinion.



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Re: Puzzle cache difficulty rating
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2015, 11:24:25 »
This is a fertile field for debate!

Yes Difficulty ratings are very subjective. One star if you recognize the cryptology, have PhotoShop installed, or speak classical Latin but four stars if you've never seen the puzzle before, don't have the software available or don't have the skills it requires. How should they be rated? I'd prefer that they be rated pessimistically; it's about managing expectations. If it's rated two stars, but most people find it to be four stars in difficulty they are peeved and feel they've been misled. If it's rated four stars but people solve it they aren't disappointed in the same way.

I also use the Difficulty rating on a puzzle cache to decide if I should bother with it. If it's rated low then I take that to mean it's doable in a reasonable amount of time and will take it on. If it's rated high I will take a look at the puzzle, but if it's not clear to me how to proceed within a few minutes I will put the cache aside. There are so many caches out there that I can't justify spending hours trying to solve some bizarre contrived puzzle, there are much better ways to spend my time. I want the Difficulty rating to accurately reflect the time and effort required to solve it. There were some recent 'GOOGLE' search caches that promised to be fairly simple to solve, but unless you found the precise internet source used by the cacheowner you would find all kinds of alternative answers! Impossible to solve without some luck, or alternative means.

Which brings us to another matter. There's always more than one way to solve a puzzle. Perhaps it's a high Difficulty puzzle to solve, but easy to find another way. The geoMob ran the table on the Canada Loon series by Ernie35 and Badminton1597 in large part because they were all closely spaced along a trail. We solved most, then used proximity circles to determine where the remainder had to be located. Easy peasy, despite the difficulty ratings. I have found high difficulty puzzles by looking at the photo gallery with an EXIF viewer; you'd be surprised how many people deliberately leave the geo-tag on the image. You can also study the day's logs by a recent finder. The logs are often in sequential order, often with time stamps, so you can plot out the finder's route and time spent. Some cache owners are aghast by this, you must solve their puzzle in the way they intended, but once you've signed the log there's not much they can do, is there? 

Tricky puzzle? Then a geochecker is recommended. That way if someone can solve for most of the puzzle they can brute force the remaining digit or two. The Evince checker that only allows one attempt every ten minutes is a guaranteed way to get me to ignore your cache.

Puzzle Caches are about the puzzle. After spending a long time 'solving' a puzzle I get really annoyed when I arrive at the GZ and must spend another hour searching for the 'clever' hide! With binthair's caches if you could get within twenty meters of the GZ you would find the cache. Nowadays I'm combing through roadside ditches hunting down 'tricky' micros.....*sigh*....very annoying.

In conclusion I think the Difficulty ratings are very subjective, but you get to learn which cacheowners use them properly and which are wasting your time with puzzles designed to be found only by the same small group of people. Vote with your feet, ignore the caches that don't do a good job of managing your expectations.

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Re: Puzzle cache difficulty rating
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2015, 13:23:55 »
Funny that you mention up the Canada Loon series. When I read the initial post, this series was the first thing that sprung to mind.
Most of those puzzle were given lower difficulty ratings, mostly 2* or 2.5*. However, out group consensus was that the amount of time and effort required for those caches was highly disproportionate to the ratings. This is why we chose to solve the puzzles as a group rather than individually.
The puzzles were quite labour-intensive, but the hides are all fairly easy to the extent that if you're looking for more than five minutes, either your co-ordinates are incorrect or the cache is missing. To me, 1-1.5* should have been added to the difficulty levels of the majority of that series.

For me, the difficulty portion of a puzzle's rating is more about the puzzle than the hide, as the rating should be proportional to the feeling of accomplishment after solving it. With a tricky hide combined with a relatively simplistic puzzle, it is appreciated when the owner states as much on the page. Again, the Binthairs are prime examples of this. Some of his puzzles were quite difficult, but, with a few exceptions,  once you were within 15m of GZ, you knew where the cache was. Challenge caches are a whole other story, as the difficulty rating is more about the actual challenge that the hide, or the puzzle involved.
GC3H6VJ is a good example of the difficulty rating being more about the hide than the puzzle. The puzzle was dead easy, but the hide was a magnetic nano attached to a fire hydrant. For the record, the hide really wasn't all that difficult.

Given the variety of puzzle types out there, and the variety of local caching cultures, there will never be any consensus on how to properly rate the difficulty of a puzzle. In my opinion, a 4* puzzle in Oakville is roughly analogous to a 2.5* puzzle in Ottawa. That's not a comment degrading Oakville's caches compared to ours, it just is what it is.