Childhood. The old-fashioned way.
When our daughter defied the parent-time continuum once again and turned 12 this summer (so very soon after she was just a toddler;) she asked if she could have a Sherlock Holmes Mystery Party and Treasure Hunt for her birthday party. We agreed immediately, thinking that it was an excellent idea.
A few weeks slipped by and before we knew it, the day of the party (and treasure hunt) was upon us.
Suddenly, we realized that this excellent idea actually required some planning, organizing and effort.
So, with an empathetic, parental nod to others who agreed, like us, decided to host a treasure hunt and are now realizing that time isn’t on your side; here is how I structured the treasure hunt mystery game for our daughter’s party.
To get the children in the mood for mystery, I included a cryptogram and a paragraph in pig-latin containing some information about the party along with the invitation. Can you figure them out?
Because we were short on time, I emailed the invitations so we could get R.S.V.P.s in time. I modified the From: name associated with my email address so that the email was sent from Uncle Sherlock rather than Tom O’Leary (just make sure you remember to change it back after you send the invitations! I received some strange responses after the party from people who received email from “Uncle Sherlock” rather than Tom O’Leary. I can just imagine the conversations, “Honey, do you have an Uncle Sherlock?”
One problem with treasure hunts that I have observed personally in the past is that some children tend to run ahead of others so they can solve the clues before others have a chance. This creates a competitive, survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere and often causes some children to become frustrated and even upset.
To control the pace of our treasure hunt and to ensure that all children taking part would be active participants, I decided to:
1. group children into several, small groups and create a set of clues for each group;
2. create clues that require the children to sit down together to solve;
3. have clues lead each team to one piece of the final clue (i.e. one-quarter of a note written by Uncle Sherlock which reveals the treasure’s location.) This meant that they had to come together as a larger group to reveal the final location of the treasure.
When the teams sat to dinner after the treasure hunt, they pieced their sections of the final letter which almost revealed the final clue. To control when the final clue was revealed even more, the last quarter of the note (which was needed to figure it out) was hidden on the bottom of the birthday cake platter, which was presented in a way so the birthday girl would find it!
Below, I will share the treasure hunt clues for one of the three teams I arranged.
To avoid the confusion and chaos normally associated with deciding who is on what team, the first clue was revealed in the form of a Western Union telegram that [purportedly] arrived for each child that morning. The Western Union telegram was presented to each child as they arrived.
So, our daughter Meadbh and the three other children we put on her treasure hunt team received a similar Western Union Telegram with these same instructions. The children on this team would meet each other later at the first location (which was a gazebo in our back garden.) In all of the telegrams, I also let the children know that they could ask me if they weren’t sure where to go.
Adding an element of mystery
To add an element of mystery, I whispered “This arrived here for you this morning. I was given instructions to advise you to find a quiet place to read this, and not to share the contents with anyone. You never know who is listening.” when I handed each guest their Western Union Telegram as they arrived.
When to start?
To make it clear when they should start the treasure hunt, I put “go there after the pre-dinner reception” on each telegram. When guests arrived, I let them know that there would be a pre-dinner reception and we served punch while the guests mingled after arriving. When the time was right for them to begin, I made an announcement that the pre-dinner reception was over and that the guests were free to enjoy the grounds of the estate until dinner would be served later in the evening, at 6:00pm. This was the cue for everyone to start the treasure hunt.
Children on other teams each received similar telegrams with clues that would take them to a different place. They would meet their sleuthing partners there.
Before the guests arrived, on the floor of the gazebo, I wrote a math equation clue in chalk that would lead them to the third clue.
Where did I leave my coffee cup?
Try 100 x 20 + 640
This second treasure hunt clue was revealed when the team followed the instructions from their Western Union Telegram and swept the gazebo floor with the broom that I left nearby.
This clue lead the team to a neighbor’s porch (their house number was 2640)
Inside a coffee cup that was left on my neighbor’s porch steps, there was the following cryptogram:
The actual cryptogram clue this team found did not have the vowels filled in yet. Remember, each member of this team received a secondary clue in their initial telegram with the solution for one letter of the puzzle. To solve this clue, they each had to contribute a letter/number substitution that was provided in their initial telegram.
(this clue directed the team to the orchard on the property.)
Before guests arrived to the party, I hung a clue from a branch on one of the apple trees in the orchard.
As you can see in the above picture, there was a clue hanging from one of the apple trees in the orchard.
This clue read:
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. So we had better keep these trees alive.
You can find some information about recommended apple cultivars in
“The Complete Gardener” I think I saw a copy in the Common House.
(This clue lead them to the Common House of our Co-housing property; where they had to look for a book.)
When they found the book, The Complete Gardener in the Common House and used the glossary to find the section about Apple Cultivars, they found a clue that contains the following word scramble.
When solved, this word scramble clue read has anyone checked Meadbh’s mailbox today?
In the mailbox, there was a sealed envelope which contained a piece of paper with a tiny note that required a magnifying glass to read.
Note: A member from each team was given a magnifying glass prior to leaving the pre-dinner reception and told that they might need it at some stage in the day. To get a very small font, create a note in regular MS Sans Serif and then change it to font size 4 (6 is the lowest, but you can type 4 in and press Enter.) Then, highlight the small text and change the text character formatting to include “Superscript”
For those of you without a magnifying glass, this clue read:
Well done. You’re sliding right along.
As a matter of fact, if you keep sliding,
you just might find another clue where your feet land.
Earlier in the day, I buried this team’s final clue under the wood chips at the bottom of the slide in the park bordering the property. This clue was in a sealed envelope and said. “Do not open. Please bring this envelope with you to dinner this evening.”
Here some more examples of treasure hunt clues that I used for the other teams.
Mirror Writing Clue
Crossword Puzzle Clue