You might not have noticed, but a scavenger hunt has been going on all around you since January.
That neon sign you pass on your way to work. Your neighbor's tractor-shaped mailbox. The doughnut shop your kids love. Even your name. These are all among the more than 600 types of items people are looking for as they go waymarking, a new GPS game from Groundspeak, the Seattle company that popularized geocaching.
The goal is to find an interesting item in your neighborhood -- or anywhere in the world -- and post its location and a photo on the site so others can find it, too.
First, players choose a category -- like "funny mailboxes" -- at waymarking.com, then start looking for an object that fits that description.
Once they find one, they record its coordinates with their GPS handset and post the waypoint to the Web site.
It's a spinoff of the popular geocaching game, where players find hidden items using GPS coordinates then log their finds at geocaching.com.
The game has turned Janell Brown into a bit of a historian. The 38-year-old waymarks around Tacoma, Wash., on Saturday mornings while her seventh-grade son, Hunter, practices the cello with the Tacoma Youth Philharmonic.
She has posted nearly 400 waymarks, most of which are historical landmarks in the Tacoma area, such as Union Station and Albers Brothers Mill.
"To post a waymark you have to write up some history about the place," said Brown, who waymarks with her husband, Troy. "Waymarking has helped us discover Tacoma."
And because the game is played worldwide, Brown says her son even used the Web site to read about locations in Johannesburg when his class recently studied South Africa.
"Waymarking helps people explore," said Sean Boots, Groundspeak's lead waymarking developer. "Really, you can make waymarking into whatever you want it to be."
IT'S ABOUT TEAMWORK
Boots has been impressed by the creativity of the players.
One of the most popular waymarks goes beyond asking players to simply find a type of object. To get credit for finding the waymark called "Where's in a Name?" players need help.
Players convert their name into GPS coordinates by assigning each letter a number based on a telephone keypad. The player then must find another player who will go to that location and e-mail a photo of them with their GPS handset.
While this sometimes requires looking for a waymarking partner on the other side of the world, Janell Brown's name led her to Oregon, where a friend recorded her spot.
Creativity like this has led to what Brown calls good-natured snobbery.
Brown refuses to look for generic waymarks that ask you to find things like a restaurant from a fast-food chain.
Boots says there are two waymarking categories -- "useful," like logging a chain restaurant; and "unyellowpageable," like "Where's in a name?"
"The `unyellowpageable' ones tend be a lot more fun for people because they can't just look it up and drive out and find it," Boots said. "But the `useful' waymarks are good, too, because they are easy to find and give people a good way to learn how to do this."
Groundspeak founder and CEO Jeremy Irish thinks waymarking will be popular for the same reason geocaching caught on -- it's accessible to a wide range of people.
"It's something young people can do alone or as a family," said Irish, who says that, on average, players are in their late 30s. "And it's something retired people can do and have just as much fun.
"You can use it to meet people, or you can stay anonymous."
"Rose Red" is the online handle for one of those anonymous players. She is a 71-year-old from Vancouver, Wash., who spends up to 20 hours waymarking and geocaching each week. She says the activities dovetail into her other hobbies.
"I create geocaches and waymarks to share interesting places and history with others," she said via e-mail. "It is an outlet for my writing ... and digital photography."
There is no charge to use waymarking.com, although many regulars choose to pay $3 per month for a Groundspeak membership that comes with additional on-line tools and coordinates for members-only geocaches. The game is also convenient.
"You can do it whenever you want," Irish said. "You can do it on your lunch break or with the family on the weekend. Or both."
FUN IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Boots says he was drawn to help develop the waymarking site because it appealed to him more than the geocaching game that started in 2000. "I think there is more variety in waymarking," he said. "It's not just boxes hidden in the woods. It allows me to do it close to my home and in an urban area.
"Geocaching has a very big nature component to it. You are going to parks and the mountains. Personally, I'm not a hiker. With waymarking, I can tool around my neighborhood and find waymarks without being so adventurous."
This is one of the reasons Jon Graciano of Graham doesn't see himself getting into waymarking. The pastor says he enjoys the challenge of hunting for geocaches and trading coins via the caches.
"I have a geocaching mind-set," Graciano said. "I've only found two (waymarks), but I think it has its place."
Brown's husband also prefers geocaching, but the family does both. In addition to posting nearly 400 waymarks, the Browns have found more than 200 geocaches.
"You don't have to choose one or the other," said Boots, who says player profiles work on both Web sites. "Both waymarking and geocaching go together nicely, so it's easy to do both at the same time."