March 14, 2013

So You Are Planning a Scavenger Hunt....

A few days ago this little box arrived at our doorstep.

Top Secret Scavenger Treasure Hunt at the Art Museum

Inside, a letter: "We need your help! Greedy Art Collector wants to snatch precious art works for his personal collection. We require a clever art detective to help find each masterpiece and confirm that all are still hanging on the walls of the museum."

Each numbered envelope contains a clue
A wild chase led us through the art museum following the clues left by greedy about his heinous plans. Some three hours and many detours later we tracked down six works of art - Da Vinci (the one and only work in US!), Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Warhol, Rothko, a healthy dose of art history. As instructed, we took a photo of each as proof. Hooray, Greedy did not steal the precious treasures! Great fun, awesome one-on-one bonding, and a memory to treasure.

So, if you are planning a scavenger or treasure hunt of your own (and as a wise man said, if you never have, you should, these things are FUN and fun is good), here are a few lessons learned from the trenches of scavenger hunt planning:

Choosing Treasures. For a museum adventure, it was critical to choose artworks that we could count on being displayed. The choices were also well-known works that museum staff would readily point us to and represented different types of works (a portrait and a landscape, from Renaissance to modern). The order of clues was organized so we would not find ourselves zigging and zagging but also so the works would not be in a single gallery making adventure all too short. We set our adventure at the art museum but these principals apply no matter where you go.

It's all about the mystery. Packaging matters. Theatrics made the day more exciting: the early morning doorbell, the box on the doorstep, the rolled up mysterious letter, the tale of Greedy. It is also very hard not to spill the beans ahead of time so be warned!

Plan ahead. Yes, planning a scavenger hunt takes time. More than one might expect. It is also far easier to have this sort of adventure on a weekday, when the museums are not as crowded.

Make it personal. Sure, there are downloadable templates but making the clues personalized to books we've read and artists we knew made it more accessible and more fun. Again, takes time, but pays off in spades.

Clues. Clues should not be too difficult but also not too obvious. Just enough of a challenge, but not so tricky that one gives up. You could stick with a single format or vary between different types of puzzles.
  • Secret Code. I am a fan of hieroglyphics but Morse code or really any symbols can be used. Each symbol represents a letter and one deciphers the message using the key. We liked this one and will probably keep coming back to the ciphers! I recently discovered this hieroglyphics typewriter and it is pretty awesome, just don't forget to include the key!
  • Crossword. Create your own crossword to spell out the clue (I used numbered letter boxes to flag the letters that spelled the answer). This one was really fun, it also took up a good bit of time to create.
  • Reverse writing, that can be read with the help of a mirror, is remarkably easy to accomplish (MSWord WordArt). Of course that was an obvious choice for our Da Vinci clue since he often used mirror writing.
  • Rebus (pictures representing words or parts of words) is a forgotten art. Thanks to technology these are much easier to create (just Google a rebus generator).
  • Puzzle. Puzzle pieces when put together spell out a clue. I used just a cut up photo of a painting that led us to the artist. 
  • Invisible Ink. My last attempt at invisible ink was a bust but it is something that we'll try again!


This post was incredibly helpful in writing the clues! If you can't tell, we are hooked and anticipate new adventures soon!





If you and your tots like a good mystery but don't have the time and inclination to plan your own, try this Top Secret subscription from Highlights Magazine. It's a 'whodunit' kit set in different countries around the world. 



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