We threw a Mystery Party for Jenna earlier in the summer.
Although it could have also been renamed Detection, Whodunnit, Spy, Secret, or Crimebusting Shindig.
Jenna adores mysteries. Her favorite board game is Clue (the version of which I played as a child was Cluedo). She loves Enid Blyton's The Five Find-Outers (and Dog), and the A to Z Mysteries and Capitol Mysteries. And games like Guess Who. And logic puzzles of all kinds. So it wasn't a surprise, really, when she asked for a party theme that involved solving a crime.
There had to be plenty of clues, she said. In fact, she had grand plans for a clue tunnel which, she explained, was dark and mysterious and replete with all kinds of Things To Find By Flashlight. Fingerprints! Footprints! Cigarette ends! Scraps of clothing! Handwriting! And it was very important that this treasure trove of clues be the main highlight of the party, never mind that the clues themselves were staged, or completely out of context; it only mattered that they would be there waiting to be dramatically uncovered and exclaimed over.
Clearly, these were fabulous ideas which had to be harnessed. So, sprawled on deckchairs at the water park, which is the best place in the world to plan parties, we brainstormed and sketched and scribbled and conceptualized her party. Let me tell you, it was loads of fun. And Jenna was thrilled to be in the director's chair, setting up cliffhangers left, right and center.
Nail-bitingly suspenseful though the premise was, this was, ultimately, a party for eight-year-olds (and a couple of kindergarteners), not an Agatha Christie novel. We had to make it kid-friendly, time-sensitive and, most of all, feasible. It had to make sense, there had to not be death, and it had to be manageable in a group setting. Practical, in other words.
"But exciting!" Jenna reminded me. "Don't forget Exciting!"
We did our best.
We started with Background Checks-cum-Training: Emily ran a filler activity in which everyone got to make their own fingerprint card. She printed out the blank strips and organized the station all by herself. Hurrah!
Then we had exciting food.
(which are always exciting),
also exciting cookies - thumbprints
and magnifying glasses.
After lunch, the kids were herded to the Recruiting Station,
where they were supplied with ID tags,
and Detection Kits,
which they personalized
Then everyone was ushered to the crime scene,
and briefed on the Facts Of The Case: two mysteriously missing cars and four suspects - the Highly-Strung Husband, his Exhausted Wife, the Helpful Mother-in-Law and the Intrepid Garage Repairman.
We raised the portcullis... er, I mean, the garage door,
and invited the detectives in to search for clues. This Garage Of Incriminatory Wonders, we felt, was a happy compromise: it kept the essence of Jenna's Clue Tunnel, while staying relevant to the context of the crime (missing cars). Plus, it was nice not to have to hunt in the dark with torches.
There was a ludicrous amount of clues,
which we enthusiastically gathered before returning to Headquarters to analyze.
The kids were split into two teams (because even Sherlock Holmes had his Dr. Watson) and they worked those clues
with the contents of their kits,
using a combination of applied forensics,
and criminal profiling.
The goal was to deduce which of the four suspects Did The Deed.
Three of the envelopes were decoys.
But if they guessed right, they got a letter, a photo of the vehicle they had to find, and a jigsaw puzzle photo of the neighbor's house outside which we'd hidden the car (the lovely neighbors were in on the game).
The race was on!
We sent everyone home with their kits and other detective paraphernalia,
along with a mystery gift -
fun detection activity kits we found at the dollar store.
Some weeks later, we sent out our thank-you cards.
We'll be sharing all the various party elements in individual posts - stay tuned!