Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mystery Party

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.

And gifts

(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,

which they personalized

and decorated.

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,


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!

And we are happy to report that both teams solved the crime within minutes of each other and recovered the missing cars. There was much back-slapping and celebration after.

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. 

Case closed.

We'll be sharing all the various party elements in individual posts - stay tuned!

Updated 2017: Many readers have written to ask if the materials used in this party are available for sale. I am happy to say that they are, and you can find more information in this post.


  1. So. Totally. Awesome!!!

  2. Hi! You must be the coolest mom ever. If I was little again, I wouldn't be able to contain myself knowing my birthday was coming up soon. This party reminds me of when we went camping and my mom would make treasure maps with clues hidden that told us another clue to the next clue until finally we found the booty! You oughtta co-author a book with your girls about throwing the best parties:)

  3. Yowsers! What a fun party!! Jenna, I used to love to play Clue, too... I think we'd have a lot of fun together! :)

  4. Omg!! The theme! ;D how thrilling!

  5. Gosh that's amazing. If my girls asked for a detective party, I think I'd have drawn a complete blank.

  6. You always come up with the best parties, I love reading about them! I can't wait until my grandson is a little older so we can try this one! Thank you for sharing!

  7. I would love to know where you got the little cardboard suitcases. What an awesome party and incredible idea!

  8. You throw the best birthday parties! Can't wait to read more about the prep.

  9. Wow another great party, thanks for sharing.
    Jenna, i love you mystery party idea.

  10. Simplesmente GENIAL!!!!
    Como suas meninas tem a infância estimulada.Serão Muito criativas.Também com uma mamãe tão inteligente e criativa como você...
    Genial, Genial, Genial!!!!!
    Abraços e parabéns!!!

  11. It's so idyllic! The weather always seems to cooperate for your awesome parties!!

    1. Oh, Alana! The weather isn't always kind! Earlier this year, Kate's Bunny party was completely rained out. We had to have wet weather Plan Bs all over the place. Read about it here:

  12. Your parties are seriously, seriously amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. My son and I had fun making a blue bunny using the pom pom bunny tutorial from the last party posts :)

  13. This party sounds AMAZING. thanks for sharing. And I love the previous commenter's idea that you should co-author a party planning book with your girls!

  14. Ok, I hope I haven't left three comments here--I'm having technical challenges of my own making.

    ANYWAY I am trying again to tell you how much I love this post and all your party posts. Seriously awesome and I second the person's suggestion that you and your daughter should co-author a book of theme parties!

  15. Amazing, awesome.
    Thanks for sharing. I'll try it.

  16. Any time I look at your blog, I praise God for such talented people! Your creativity is so inspiring ! Just love looking at the things you make and such wonderful ideas to keep your girls entertained and meaningfully busy! Wow.


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