How NOT to do Airport Security

March 27th, 2013

Long distance Quests can be thrilling, but one has to admit that trying to get through airport security with an active box is a perilous endeavor. Consider that you are presenting yourself to a law enforcement official carrying a device (a) you cannot open, (b) whose contents you cannot identify, and (c) which creates a pretty suspicious image on the X-Ray. Um, yeah.

Let me tell you about a rather spicy run-in I had recently with the US Transportation Security.

Though I normally check my luggage, on the short flight from Portland (ME) to New York I brought a small puzzle box in my carry-on. Even though it had been completely deactivated and its lid unlocked and “treasure” removed, as I placed it on the conveyor I suddenly I felt a little uneasy.


My apprehension was justified. While I stood politely by, the security official glared for a full 60 seconds at the monitor, never once making eye contact. Suddenly, he jumped up from his stool, strode deliberately to a spot about six inches in front of my face, and staring me directly in the eye exclaimed, “WHAT AM I LOOKING AT?”

It turns out it’s hard to explain what a “Reverse Geocache” is to an irritated official in the five seconds you feel you are allotted, but I eventually my stammerings convinced him that I wasn’t a threat, and he softened a bit.

“… shut this place down.”

“Let me tell you what you’re going to do next time,” he said. “You’re going to place it by itself on the belt, empty and with the lid OPEN, and you’re going to alert one of us that you have something weird coming through BEFORE it goes through. We are trained to be on the alert for EXACTLY this kind of stuff.”

And then, just to remind me how great my transgression was, as I walked away he casually added one more zinger. “Oh, and it’s a good thing I didn’t detect any ‘mass’ in that box. That would have shut this place down.”

Richard Garriott

Of course, that was in Portland, ME. Richard Garriott took his (armed!) box around the world (Texas – Paris – Madagascar – Botswana) without the slightest hint of trouble. It helped that we built him a secret magnetic latch that allowed him to temporarily open the box (presumably while his wife wasn’t looking) whenever needed.


  • Don’t take armed Quest Boxes in your carry-on.
  • Place the box on the belt open and by itself.
  • Alert an official that you have something unusual coming through.
  • In my experience, active boxes seem to do ok in checked luggage, although I always take the time to write a note explaining what the thing is, along with a URL to this website.

Have fun!

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