Welp, @Conifers has come up with a great idea: Google Earth Challenge.

It received pretty good feedback, and therefore the OP went on to post more of them.

@athin went on to post a puzzle with seven of them, with a slight twist.

@Randal'Thor then posted his puzzle, and it was that question that I was finally able to get a taste on it (due to the time zone :))

My Confession

@Randal'Thor asked how I got the answer, and the answer is:

Google image search

It turns out that plugging the image in, I was able to get the answer rather quick. I don't want to spoil all those innovative puzzles here, but I felt like I have the responsibility to tell you all and shed some light on it.

The Problem

So, should we keep them?

Why not:

  • You can choose any coordinate, take a screenshot, and make a puzzle out of it. Copy, and Paste. Done. (Does this question shows effort?)

  • The solver does not need any techniques. He/She just need to plug it into the search, and "Eureka!", it's DONE.

  • Newcomers may see this, and say, "Oh! That's a puzzle. Let me post tons of them, and get millions of rep!!!"

The Solution

Keep the existing ones, since they are the pioneers and should receive some degree of credit/ recognition. But please, don't post more of them.

After seeing answer from @R a'T: add to those questions, and state clearly that no Google Images Search is allowed. Answerers should also explain clues that lead to their conclusions.


Only my opinion. Feel free to comment :)

  • $\begingroup$ I solved one of @Conifers originals without using image search. But I did look on on Google Maps to determine if my hunch was correct. Isn't that using the computer? Seeing it there confirmed it for me 100%, but if I didn't have that resource available, I don't think there is any way for me to confirm. $\endgroup$
    – SteveV
    Sep 15, 2019 at 14:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The original puzzle did tell that no google image search should be done.. And yeah it's partially my mistake to not clearly stated that requirement on my puzzle. Based on the original too, it is required to find the location based on the given "clues". I was also afraid the puzzle tend to be a "trivia" where you can't solve without any prior knowledge but the solvers for original puzzle proves otherwise (which is a good sign of a good puzzle). In particular for my puzzle, the clue is given and does play a role so got to admit it's not just a twist but a way to tackle the issues of "off-topic". $\endgroup$
    – athin
    Sep 15, 2019 at 14:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @SteveV The [no-computers] tag doesn't literally mean "don't use a computer, for anything" - often it means the OP is simply disallowing one particular technology-assisted means of solution. (After all, you need to use a computer to post the answer!) $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2019 at 15:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think there's something aesthetically pleasing about using a "search the earth" theme as a part of a puzzle, but I think it probably works best if (1) you check google image search first, and (2) the image itself is really just a way to check whether you've solved the puzzle itself. I would argue that this kind of thing works best with locations that aren't famous, but can be deduced from a bona fide puzzle. If someone comes along and recognizes the location, well, it's not unheard of for solvers to find shortcuts to the solution before they find the reasoning. $\endgroup$
    – hdsdv
    Sep 15, 2019 at 16:00

4 Answers 4


Without commenting on any of the specific examples you've included, I don't think a simple satellite photo with "where is this place?" constitutes a puzzle.

This type of thing has much more in common with trivia questions than with puzzles (and community consensus has already found trivia questions to be off topic). That is, you either know the location or you don't, with very little opportunity to apply logic or reasoning. Yes, if you didn't straight up know, you could conceivably see certain characteristics and make a guess at country or region, but then what? Randomly scrolling through maps trying to spot it, googling various wordings of unique feature descriptions?

That's not to say that images from Google Earth couldn't be part of a puzzle... In the same way that you can turn trivia into a riddle by way of metaphor, word play and other misdirection, you could conceivably do the same with satellite imagery. However, posting a photo and saying "guess where this is", isn't really a puzzle on its own.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "than with puzzles, which are already agreed by consensus to be off topic" - might wanna reword that sentence ;-) $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2019 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ Is that more satisfactory, @Rand? $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Sep 16, 2019 at 0:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree - by itself, this likely isn't a puzzle, in the same way that "I am a character from a book who lives in a cupboard and discovers he's a wizard - who am I?" isn't. If there's some sort of clever misdirection involved, or some clever way to arrive at the answer (like the questions from Tom Scott's Lateral), then it might be one. But if it's pure "recognize this location", it's likely not. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Sep 16, 2019 at 1:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Deusovi Pure "recognise this location" isn't a good puzzle, agreed. But I think that to call these puzzles (the ones already posted by Conifers et al) such would be a misrepresentation. Check, for instance, this answer and this one. In each case, there's both logical deduction and, admittedly, a step of inspiration - similar to a riddle, where we're given a lot of clues pointing to something, and we need to figure out what they mean and what answer could possibly fit them all. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2019 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor True! I think most of the ones that have been posted are perfectly fine, because there's an element of cleverness to the identification (though the Pearl Harbor one might've been a bit questionable). I wouldn't say either of the ones you linked are "not puzzle enough" to be close- or delete-worthy -- they seem like perfectly fine puzzles to me. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Sep 16, 2019 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Deusovi But this answer is saying "these aren't puzzles", meaning (AIUI) the ones already posted/solved as well as potential future "recognise this location" ones. That's why I downvoted it, although I do agree we should avoid the genre becoming purely "Google reverse image search" or "recognise this location". $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2019 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor Hm, alright - you make a good point. I was thinking of "these" being the "identify-the-location" genre in general, and that the genre had the extra bits of cleverness as additions rather than an inherent part of it. It seems like you're thinking about it the other way around, that questions with the intentional "hooks" are the norm, not an exception. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Sep 16, 2019 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @deus - my intention was "these" = "this class of challenge", since that was my interpretation of the question itself (just providing examples). Hence my closing paragraph, which agrees with what you've said. $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Sep 16, 2019 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Deusovi Yes for Puzzle 1 & 2 seems like a trial version I admit. Should be better for the later puzzles: trying to capture the image with "unique but not too unique and common but not so common" concept :D $\endgroup$
    – Conifers
    Sep 16, 2019 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Alconja In the interest of clarity for the future, would you mind adding a preface to this answer that notes you're answering not about the specific puzzles that have been posted (which, as I think most of the folks here have agreed, are good examples of how to do this type of thing well), but rather refer to hypothetical future puzzles in the same vein that lack the additional aspects to elevate them above the trivial "identify this picture" genre. In particular, the "I don't think these are puzzles" in your first sentence seems to be about these examples rather than this generic genre. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Sep 27, 2019 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Rubio - does that edit sound ok? I'm not 100% convinced on all the examples posted, but A) I don't like calling out individual puzzles as "bad" when it's not clear cut, and B) I strongly believe in people experimenting and pushing boundaries, which is why I had (meant to) keep focused on the general case, but clearly my initial off the cuff post was ambiguous... Hopefully the edit has clarified my intentions without moving the answer too far from prior voters' interpretations. $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Sep 29, 2019 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Alconja Looks perfect to me; thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Sep 30, 2019 at 0:06

OP is here :P

I have to say that before I posted the first puzzle, I have tried many images(like Tokyo Station or Mt. Fuji) from Google Earth and checked with the Search by Image function, however always got bingo... I posted the first puzzle without bingo by Image Search cost me about at least 1 hour :(

This is why I add the Note below the question to avoid this(And I always ensure that no obvious search result exists before the question posted.). Besides the reasons to the answer are required. Just like you prove a mathematics equation or property in exercise, you can't jump too far and finally said "It's trivial, Q.E.D.", and it usually counts as wrong answer by your teacher.

Start after first puzzle posted, I adjust my image chosen strategy, let the image is something unique but not too unique and common but not so common(believe me, it not easy at all), and I also have scheduled what next several zoom-out hints will be given, based on possible derivation context(But you guys are really smart to solve without hints :D). Finally checked with the Google Image Search. If result exists, just abandon the image and repeat above process again.

To the conclusion, the image chosen is not random but some contexts included. Will the spirit be abused by another OP(image is so obvious like capturing the whole boundary of one country or just randomly capturing a field or a forest)? Might yes, but you could downvote the puzzle that it's truly the core functionality of the Stack Exchange community.

I believe this should be the real puzzle if the image is chosen great. You can imagine that the traditional puzzle is always composed by some words, numbers or color grids. But this time the puzzle is composed with enormous pixels, and everyone has his different interpretation. I really got shocked in puzzle 2 because Rand al'Thor is trying to seek all the water-dancing locations from WET! This derivation is not my default but it's truly great!

Finally response to the OP's why not section of this discussion:

  • You can choose any coordinate, take a screenshot, and make a puzzle out of it. Copy, and Paste. Done. (Does this question shows effort?)

Effort = (search & pick a great spot + plan next several zoom-off hints in context + take screenshot + check with Image Search) * (check failed times - 1). It's not just simply "take screenshot at all". Some sudokus, mensa IQ problems, matchstick puzzles are also screenshots, retrieved from somewhere and allowed post, why not Google Earth based originated puzzles?

  • The solver does not need any techniques. He/She just need to plug it into the search, and "Eureka!", it's DONE.

The solver needs to identify any feature and turn it into searchable words. Solver also need some internalized knowledge to seek possible answer candidates or lists (To comprehend & integrate knowledge together should be the hardest technique, doesn't it? :P). Search in Google Earth should be the final step while you have some certainty about the answer and do validation, Brute-force finding answer in Google Earth is not a feasible way of course!

  • Newcomers may see this, and say, "Oh! That's a puzzle. Let me post tons of them, and get millions of rep!!!"

Just leverage Stack Exchange functionalities to comment, downvote or flag it if the question is far biased of the original spirit.

Anyway, open discussion or comment for it. I am glad that I could inspire you some different thoughts or brainstorming :D

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe I'll pause to post new puzzles for this series. Wait some conclusions come out from this discussion. $\endgroup$
    – Conifers
    Sep 15, 2019 at 17:06

In the first of these puzzles, the OP said:

Note: It's not recommended to use Google Search by Image function(I'll try my best to avoid that when selecting the screenshot). Try to use any feature on pixels or your geography knowledge to derive the location.

With this restriction (similar to restrictions that OPs may add with the tag), it becomes a very good and interesting type of puzzle: one can start from an interesting picture and spot enough clues to be able to figure out first what type of geographical feature it is and then exactly where it is. Deduction from geographic details is something we haven't seen much on this site.

In the recent one that I posted, it was my mistake not to include this in the question. (I'd actually like to add it now, but not sure if that would invalidate your answer.) With the caveat that simple image searches are not an allowed solution method, I think these are valuable puzzles.

And yes, it is possible to post lots of Google Earth screenshots without much effort. But good ones? The locations used by @Conifers in their puzzles were all very distinctive and recognisable with solutions that could be deduced using some details, and similarly (I think) with the location I used. The locations used by @athin didn't look distinctive, and at first I wondered if the puzzle might be bad, but there was a different type of clue which made it neatly and confirmably solvable. None of these have been just "find a random field to make a nigh unsolvable puzzle", and if people start solving those, we can downvote them into the cellar.


If anyone disagrees with my points, please point it out, because I think we're stepping into dangerous territory in which it is difficult to distinguish between what is a "puzzle" and what is not. Also, I think I'm being quite harsh to this genre of puzzles, so I'd like to see where precisely any disagreements may be. Anyways, here are my own two cents:

Suppose we manage to disallow the use of a reverse image search. Then the "puzzle" is using clues in the image to deduce the location, as it is intended. From this point of view, this may not be a strict "trivia" question.

However, I think it is still problematic as it may be extremely difficult to deduce anything unless some trivia is applied, making it a trivia question anyway.

Allow me to examine all the existing puzzles to make my case. Take the first one, which turned out to be the Pearl Harbor Memorial:

Where is it? - The Google Earth Challenge Ep. 1

There were really no clues involved, unfortunately. Either you recognized the memorial or you didn't.

Now let's consider the second:

Where is it? - The Google Earth Challenge Ep. 2

This was slightly better, as you had to recognize that this was some sort of water attraction. Though, I'd venture that this is closer to a blind hopeful guess than a deduction, and to be truly certain that it was some sort of water attraction, you had to have seen something similar. IMO, this leads toward "trivia" than "puzzle". (What, I believe, supports my assertion here is the claim that "this was obvious" in Belhenix's answer) Even after this "deduction", what are you supposed to do? Look through random fountains or lakes that do cool stuff until you magically get it? How was I supposed to deduce that this was outside a palace, or in Macau?

Now let's look at Panama Canal:

Where is it? - The Google Earth Challenge Ep. 3

The answerer literally just guessed that it was Panama Canal, and then looked through Google Earth to confirm the guess. How is this a puzzle?

As for Athin's septuple puzzle (Seven Places at Once - Another Google Earth Challenge?), there really was nothing remarkable about this locations that could allow for any nice "deductions". Really, the only remarkable thing was the names of the locations.

As for Rand al'Thor's puzzle (Not Seven This Time - another Google Earth challenge), I think it was a good attempt at a location that could be found using some legitimate research. I'm unsure if this balanced out the amount of guesswork that may be needed.

A Suggestion

Instead of a Google Earth puzzle where you have to deduce a location based on a satellite image, I suggest a puzzle that takes some screenshots (or just one, depending on the puzzle) from the Google Street View (or even combine them with the satellites) that have a significant amount of information within that one can use to deduce the location. Sort of like GeoGuessr, except the location is fixed and handpicked to be interesting.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ To me, it becomes a puzzle (and not trivia) if the image (satellite or streetView doesn't make a difference) allows some deductive way of finding the location. If it is merely a "recognizing landmarks" thing, it is a quizz and not a puzzle to me. I do believe, however, that if a puzzle has additional (deductive, not trivia) clues to lead you, and the image is the final "check" to verify validity, then it is a very nice type of puzzle. $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Sep 23, 2019 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ As I said in my answer, I don't expect that one could guess the answer by only single screenshot(And I don't encourage to brute-force on Google Map), some zoom-out images have been arranged in the following hints. Yes I admit that if the spot is so well-known, then the puzzle becomes quiz, However if the spot is too arbitrary, then the puzzle become meaningless. $\endgroup$
    – Conifers
    Sep 25, 2019 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ For Ep 2. may a few people could identify it's the water-dancing artifact, and she/he might think the artifact should exist in some amusement park or some casino. And casino may make some misleading due to well-known casino city is LasVegas, but the answer is not located on it. So yes there has some hint, also some intended misleading in the puzzle. $\endgroup$
    – Conifers
    Sep 25, 2019 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ For Ep 3. you may found the river is east-west direction, and the shores seems grown with many tropical/subtropical plants, and with a big ship. Someone may begin to find the river which is east-west direction in East-south Asia or central-south America. However the spot seems so well-known that you could do guess-and-verify on Google map and got it, may be the mistake on spot choosing. $\endgroup$
    – Conifers
    Sep 25, 2019 at 9:02

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