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Wartburg professor creates geo-art in shape of Knight’s helmet | Education News

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WAVERLY — A Wartburg College professor has installed a giant new piece of “art” on a large plot of land between Waverly, Readlyn, Plainfield and Frederika.

Brian Birgen, a math professor and avid geocacher, completed the installation – called geo-art – earlier this year. Geocaching is a treasure-hunt-like activity that uses GPS to aid individuals in hiding and seeking containers called geocaches. Geo-art is a collection of geocaches that have their posted coordinates arranged in a way that creates an image or spells out a word. In Birgen’s case, that image is a Knight’s helmet, a logo used on many Wartburg athletic items.

“A lot of the credit for this idea goes to Joe Turner (who geocaches under the alias Nascar Joe). He created a 150-cache geo-art of an Independence Mustang south of the town,” said Birgen, who has been geocaching for more than a dozen years. “He inspired me to try one, but you need a big empty space on the geocaching map.”

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Using city- and county-owned rights-of-way and a nearby wilderness area, Birgen placed 133 caches this spring. The catch: None of them are actually where they appear on the map. To locate each physical geocache, one must first solve a puzzle.

“Some are easy. Some are hard, but if you want to complete the entire geo-art, it will definitely take some work,” Birgen said.

Stacey Snyder, a Wartburg graduate and teacher at Orange Elementary School in Waterloo, is up for the challenge. A longtime geocacher, she was excited when Birgen mentioned that he was going to be placing new caches in the area. But he never mentioned just how many or that they would be a work of art.

“After I realized what he was doing, I tried to figure out what he was creating since he released the caches in different waves. I knew it wasn’t the Wartburg W, and then I saw the Knight head,” she said. “Cachers like to be the ‘first to find,’ and I knew right away I wanted to be first on at least a couple. One of the puzzles was a SET game puzzle, and I was first on that.”

The puzzles include everything from linear algebra and Diophantine equations to Candy Crush screenshots and Wartburg professors.

“I’m pretty proud of some of these puzzles. And every one has been found by someone, though there isn’t a single person who has found all of the caches yet,” Birgen said. “There’s even a guy in Chicago who has solved all the puzzles, but he hasn’t been here to find any of them yet. He just likes solving them.”

Birgen, who has found caches in more than 800 counties in 47 states, isn’t planning any new geo-art installations any time soon. The Knight head took about a year from conception to final implementation. Ever the mathematician, Birgen used an Excel spreadsheet to track the creation. Each of the 133 caches needed dummy coordinates (what is seen on the map), real coordinates (which had to be within two miles of the dummy coordinates) and a unique puzzle to solve. Then, Birgen had to manually hide each of the microcontainers and create their webpage at geocaching.com.

PHOTOS: Final Round of the 89th Waterloo Open

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-7-brady calkins

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-7-brady calkins

Brady Calkins of Chehalis, Wash. chips onto the first green Sunday during the final round of the 89th Waterloo Open at Irv Warren Memorial Golf Course. Calkins entered the final day as the 36-hole leader. 

JIM NELSON, Regional Sports Editor

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-6-Will Dickson

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-6-Will Dickson

Will Dickson of Atlanta, Ga. hits an approach shot to the second green Sunday during the final round of the 89th Waterloo Open at Irv Warren Memorial Golf Course. 

JIM NELSON, Regional Sports Editor

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-9-Jonathan Yoshihiro

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-9-Jonathan Yoshihiro

Jonathan Yoshihiro of Yorba Linda, Calif. sinks a short put on the first green Sunday during the final round of the 89th Waterloo Open at Irv Warren Memorial Golf Course. 

JIM NELSON, Regional Sports Editor

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-4-carson schaake

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-4-carson schaake

Carson Schaake of Omaha, Neb. lines up a put on the fifth green Sunday during the final round of the 89th Waterloo Open at Irv Warren Memorial Golf Course. 

JIM NELSON, Regional Sports Editor

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-8-Will Dickson

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-8-Will Dickson

Will Dickson of Atlanta, Ga. hits an approach shot to the first green Sunday during the final round of the 89th Waterloo Open at Irv Warren Memorial Golf Course. 

JIM NELSON, Regional Sports Editor

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-5-carson schaake

071722-spt-wat-open-sunday-5-carson schaake

Carson Schaake of Omaha, Neb. hits from under a tree on the fifth hole Sunday during the final round of the 89th Annual Waterloo Open at Irv Warren Memorial Golf Course. 

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