Spy Mystery Party

This is the latest in an occasional series of posts (see last year) about kids’ birthday parties; I come up with ideas every year, some of them work and some of them don’t but few of them ever get used again (by us) so I reckon others might benefit from the lessons learned.

So this was M’s 9th birthday. We ended up with 12 kids at the party besides M & P. M was, as always, the oldest; most of them were from his class, so aged 8; the youngest who came is a neighbour who’s not yet 6. M was interested in a mystery party, so (not convinced of my ability to invent a mystery) I looked online for ideas and found www.kidsmysteryparties.co.uk. I bought their very reasonably priced online “spy party” pack, and am not going to give away for free here anything that they are selling – but I’ll give them some free advertising. What I took from them was a great concept, a clear idea of how to run the party, and some but not all of the clues – because I needed to modify it a lot for our use (and we don’t have some of the things it assumes everyone has – like a car…) I think it would work much more “as is” for smaller groups of slightly older kids.

Their “mystery parties” for primary school are basically very complicated treasure hunts with a strong plotline (in this case, catching a double agent and finding the “spy equipment” = party bags) and suggestions for invitations, etc. And you have to – or at least we had to – add in a few extra games and activities to fill the party time. (I think with fewer and quieter and older kids they’d spend longer on the secret writing and codebreaking stuff; and there are a lot of good paper-based puzzles in the “spy manual” supplied with the party. But these kids were many and loud. So we played to their strengths).

We also modified the cast of characters and became M and Q. Mainly because Gavin really wanted to be Q. When the kids needed pencils for a secret writing/codebreaking thing he did the introduction – “a stealth communication device that works in zero gravity” etc. Copernicus was Special Agent C, and didn’t put in an appearance himself but was featured in the mystery.

Here’s some of the stuff we did:
– Getting the kids to create codenames by drawing an adjective and a noun at random. (“Jumping Guitar” and “Invisible Torch” were two of the odder ones). They made badges, which worked ok until they lost them and got upset.

– Laser beam challenge with bits of wool criss-crossing a passageway – they all have to get through without breaking any of the lines, in a set time. Problem is that if someone breaks it it takes a lot of time to fix. So we never fixed it after the first round. They really liked the idea though.

– For a few minutes, the timebomb game (kitchen timer stuck to a box, set the timer for not very long, throw it around as a “hot potato”, if you’re holding it when the timer goes off you’re dead). High energy, high volume, abandoned when we realised we couldn’t hear the timer because everyone was shouting too loudly.

– Learning secret writing and code-breaking worked ok. They liked the white-wax-candle invisible-writing trick best.

– Disguise game. If I’d known how good this was going to be I’d have done it earlier in the party. Very simple – big box of random clothes, set of face paint sticks; divide kids into teams, they have 2 minutes to disguise one member of the team; then there’s a brief disguise demonstration/parade (including silly walks and voices if desired) and everyone gets prizes. Thought they’d think it was a little-kids-dressing-up thing but they got really into it – and it was a very good mixer and a way to keep the younger and smaller ones involved.

– The treasure hunt/spy mystery itself. Our key modification to how the original idea worked: because of the large numbers we split them into 3 groups, and gave each group a separate trail leading to part of the final answer (so, one group ended up finding a key, one the fact that it opened a cupboard, and one where the cupboard was). This was the bit that worked amazingly well; the excitement built as the groups arrived back at base, helped each other figure out the last bits of the clues (we had a couple of Caesar-code specialists by then) and headed off to find the lost spy equipment.

And they also had a food fight, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. And had a few rounds of wink murder, which is always ok. And played a hide-and-seek/ grandmother’s footsteps variant (“the police game”) which this group invented when they were six and have played every year at our house ever since.

I’m tired now.

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