The First Engagement

Two couples unknowingly race to get engaged with a puzzle box.

Seattle, USA: Justin’s Story

Hailee's engagement ring(NB: At the time I wrote the original version of this article back in early 2011, no one had yet proposed with a puzzle box.)

Some pretty exciting puzzle box news came my way last September. My friends at Groundspeak, the international geocaching organization, wrote that their company Quest Box had recently facilitated a young coworker’s wedding engagement!

So how does a puzzle “facilitate” an engagement? It’s a marvelous idea that goes something like this:

How to Get Engaged

The presumptive groom acquires an engagement ring and hides it in a Quest Box. He configures this box to open at a secret location he knows to be meaningful to his admired one, preferably a place with some deep significance to the couple. This might be the tree outside her dormitory where they first kissed, the cafe they visited on their first date—these are real examples!—or perhaps a dreamy five-star hotel in the Seychelles.

Without any extraneous explanation, he casually presents his beloved the sealed box. Through a series of distance clues, its trademark blue display gently coaxes her towards the magic destination. If all goes as planned, her beau steps from the shadows, bouquet in hand, just as the ring is revealed, compounding her amazement and affirming exactly what that dazzling ring implies. Tears flow, and a lifelong memory has just been created.

Justin’s Story

Justin, the aspiring groom in our story, decided to borrow his company’s Quest Box for his proposal adventure. Right off the bat, things didn’t go well.  He reports that when he casually handed her the box, Hailee resisted and complained that they were far too busy to engage in “some frivolous hide-and-seek” game.  It took a few days to overcome her reluctance, but happy tears did ultimately flow. “The box was open, and I actually had the ring in my hand,” he wrote, “but only after I asked ‘Hailee, my best friend and sweet darling girl, will you marry me?!’ did she really grasp what had just happened.”

A tantalizing question

Justin’s happy note concluded with an interesting and curious question. “Are we,” he asked hopefully, “the first couple ever to get engaged with a Reverse Geocache?”.

Sydney, Australia: Adrian’s Story

Adrian's proposal boxThis turned out to be surprisingly difficult to answer. Just two weeks prior, I had shipped an Engagement Ring box to a young man in Sydney with a similar nuptial plans.  Adrian, the aspiring Aussie groom, conceived the idea that sending his Susan on a short puzzle box quest near her home in Cootamundra might make his forthcoming proposal that much more irresistible. (For those of you not familiar with Australian topography, Cootamundra is about 90km northeast of Wagga Wagga.)

Following up with him afterwards, I learned that this adventure had also turned out happily. In the shadow of a famous local monument, Susan had opened her box and responded with an emphatic and delighted “Yes!” (Could anyone say no?) But the question still remained—when did the actual engagement take place? Was it earlier than Justin’s? I had to grill both grooms for details, and the results are surprisingly close:

Adrian (Australia): “…just before 1:00pm Sydney time on the afternoon of August 20th“.
Justin (Seattle): “…at about 8:05pm Pacific Daylight Time on August 19th“.

Justin wins?

At first glance, it appears Justin’s engagement wish came true. But of course New South Wales is not in the same time zone as Washington.  Not by a long shot.  In August, it’s 17 big hours ahead, and factoring that in yields a tasty little surprise:

The first two couples ever to become engaged with a Quest Box did so within ten minutes of each other—more than 7500 miles apart!

Adrian wins?

This amazed and delighted me.  I did a double- and then a triple-check. It seemed too good to be true, but it was. The two engagements really did occur perhaps even as little as five minutes apart, though sadly not in the order that Justin had hoped.  I wrote to tell him that he and Hailee had missed being first by not much more than five minutes.

And that’s when things got really interesting.

Digital Forensics

Justin wrote back:

Well since it was that close…you forced me to sync my iPhone up to my computer so I could substantiate my claim with a digital timestamp. When I said 8:05pm in my previous email, I was actually reading Hailee’s analog watch in one of the first few photos I took of the ring.

Attached you’ll find that I have a photo of the final button press at 7:56, and the first photo I have of her with the ring on is 8:01pm.

Amateur forensics: the iPhone timestampThis brilliant bit of digital forensics pushes Justin’s estimate back between four and nine minutes, meaning… what?  Well, Justin and Hailee got engaged sometime between 7:56 and 8:01, and the best guess for Adrian and Susan is “a little before 8:00″ [Seattle time].  Can we call it anything but a tie?  I think not.  And, as Justin so nicely puts it…

…either way, it’s pretty cool that we were probably down on a knee at the exact same moment on the other side of the globe!