X Marks the Spot

Updated: Feb 7

Search patterns help us find things. Choosing your pattern wisely will speed up the searching process and we discussed our basic six search patterns in a separate blog. Follow the link if you need a reminder about where or how to use them.


Finding something is often only the first stage - you have to be able to tell someone else where to find it, too. The person to whom you're giving the instructions will determine the type you give, from landmarks you might include "turn left at the Black Bull" versus "turn left at the school" to whether you use measurements in metric or imperial. There are also 'simple' instructions versus proper mathematical ones.


Having chosen the appropriate search pattern, you need to be able to tell someone where you found what you were looking for

Below you will find our suggestions for how to report something that you have found using the six basic search patterns.


Back and Forth

When you want to tell someone where to find the item, you would use Cartesian coordinates in the horizontal and vertical direction to move from where you started searching. The units you use can depend upon how best you want to describe the area you are searching:

  • if your eyes track a path roughly a metre or yard wide across a building from right to left, using metres or yards might be sensible

  • if the building you are looking at has a grid of windows, you might say something like three windows along and two down

  • alternatively, you might use bricks say eleven bricks from the right, eight rows down.


Up and Down

When describing to someone else where to locate something using this system, you need to keep a track of two numbers as you search. The number of unit squares up or down you have searched in the current column, and the number of columns you have searched. These are not strictly Cartesian as the counting up one column and down the next system means you are counting even- and odd-numbered columns in different directions. You would be reporting something like 'the third column along, two squares up' or 'the sixth column along, one square down'.


For those of a more mathematical bent, if you did want to give a Cartesian co-ordinate, you only need worry if you have found your target on an even column (when you would be counting downwards). You would have to subtract the unit square number from the number of unit squares per column and add one, to get the Cartesian coordinate.


Spiral In

When reporting back, in a situation where there are lots of identifiable features such as a garden, it is obviously easiest to say something along the lines of “it’s underneath the buddleia” or “just to the right of the barbeque”.


If you need to give proper coordinates, it is best to use a form of polar coordinates, centred at the middle of the area you are searching, with the principal radius going from the centre (origin) to your starting point. You would then take a note of how many units in towards the centre you were before you found the target, and then express the angle in degrees or using clock face co-ordinates away from the principal radius. That would give you something like: "it's 1.5 metres out at 15 degrees clockwise" or "it's 2 feet out at 30 degrees clockwise".


Spiral Out

Frequently, this is a pattern you would use for yourself rather than to report back on (i.e. it's an item that you lost, and you know roughly where you lost it).


However, if you do need coordinates for this pattern, then before you start you would decide on a principal radius from your initial position to some easily identifiable point on the edge (or beyond the edge) of your search area. You then spiral out clockwise. You then count how many times you cross the principal radius as you spiral out. You would combine this number with the number of degrees you have gone around from the primary radius to give you coordinates such as: " I found it at 90 degrees round and about 2 metres out" or "I found it at 45 degrees round and about 7 feet out". Alternatively, you could use clock face coordinates if you find working out the degrees is too fussy. That would give you something akin to "I found it at 3 o'clock, about 2 metres out" or "it was at 11 o'clock, about 4 feet out".


Up and Left

This search pattern has the most complicated coordinate system given the number of junctions and backtracking you have to do. Every time you come to a junction, you need to record the next branch you are going to walk down in terms of how many branches from the left, when viewed from the direction of the entrance. If you run out of branches at a junction you discount that fork and go back to the previous junction. You build up a list of numbers telling you where you must go at each junction you pass from the entrance to the place you found the target.


This will allow you to get from the target to the entrance by working back towards the start of your list taking the appropriate branch on your right. You can then get back to the target from the entrance by starting at the beginning of the list and taking the appropriate branch on the left at each junction.

If you have a pencil, paper and rubber, it is easy enough to record your list of numbers. If you want to go a bit more hardcore, you could use a memory palace and your peg images from your number shape system to remember your coordinates.


We have only talked about recording co-ordinates for the maze situation as we cannot see it being practical for use when recording positions in a tree in this way. You would have to look at the tree from exactly the same location and at exactly the same height for your two dimensional view of a tree to match that of the person who had recorded the coordinates. What might work better is to use polar coordinates. So, you might say “If you look at the tree from the gate over there, imagine the tree is a clock face and you will find the target is half way out from the centre at 11 o’clock”.


On the Diagonal

When it comes to reporting back on the location of the target, particularly if you are searching an image such as a painting or a photograph, you might well use Cartesian coordinates expressed in appropriate units, from the bottom left corner, so many centimetres or inches left and so many up.


If, however, you were searching a larger area, such as a garden that had a strong diagonal orientation, you should record how many turns you have made above or below the main diagonal and so many units along that diagonal path, remembering that you are working in the same direction as the main diagonal after an even number of turns and against the direction of the main diagonal after an odd number of turns. This is similar to the reporting we did for the Up and Down search pattern, except with the addition of the diagonal element.


You now know how you could look for something, and how to report where you've found whatever it was you were looking for. Time to put it into action!