We find it’s the rare person who does not enjoy going on a treasure hunt – somehow, they manage to bring out the child in all of us! Over the years, we’ve created a few for friends and loved ones, with a gift waiting for them at the end of the trail of clues. Usually, it’s a birthday gift at the end of the line, but we’ve also used treasure hunts for Christmas gifts and engagement presents too.
Gifts are special on their own of course, but prolonging the suspense by turning it into a bit of a game and by making your recipient “work for it” can be a way of transforming the whole thing into a truly memorable event. An added bonus? Treasure hunts are a great way to give gifts in absentia. If you have to be away for a loved one’s special day, set up the hunt and hide your present prior to departure and either pop the first clue in the post or leave a card (containing their first clue) for them to open on the big day!
We’ve had a lot of fun organizing treasure hunts in the past and, today, thought we’d share some tips, ideas and suggestions gleaned from our experiences – along with a few ideas on changing up how you craft clues:
Try to pitch to the correct difficulty level to your recipient (or recipients). You don’t want it to be a walk in the park (boring!) but, on the other hand, you don’t want to make clues so difficult that they are tearing their hair out – or, even worse, makes them feel like they’re not up to the challenge. That’s exactly the opposite of the fun, memorable kind of experience we’re aiming to create! If you are dealing with a mix of ages (for example, a group of children), try to offer a range of difficulty levels and see if you can’t get the older children to hold off on the easier clues to give the younger ones a go too.
If you are laying your clues in advance, and particularly if you’re setting up a treasure hunt in a space where other people might be working or operating, be mindful of the fact that folks might alter or move things about. So, for example, if you create a large-scale treasure hunt that takes the recipient to neighborhood spots and you want to hide a clue in a book at the public library, whatever you do, don’t choose something like Harry Potter. Chances are someone will check that out between when you tuck the clue in and when your recipient gets there. Choose something like How to Format Your Floppy Disk. Ok, so we just made that one up, but you get the idea - tuck your clue into a book that’s not likely to be checked out before the hunt gets underway. The same holds true for other locations and spaces. If you are affixing a clue to something, what are the chances it will be moved? If the likelihood is moderate to high, you may wish to consider another location.
Consider the weather. Will your treasure hunt be ruined (or not-so-fun to do) if it’s pouring outside? Or, is it entirely indoors? This one may seem obvious, but particularly in the summer months, it’s easy to fall into the trap of not checking the weather forecast.
If you are doing a “roaming” treasure hunt (i.e. outdoors or in the neighborhood), are any of the stops en route day- or hour-dependent? Using the public library again as an example, is it closed on Sunday, or does it have shorter hours that day? If so, you may need to be fairly specific about when your recipient sets out on their quest.
For indoor treasure hunts and for a solo recipient, we’ve found that roughly 4-6 clues seems to be a good number. It depends what your time constraints are and how far your recipient has to walk between clues - a home, for example, is generally a much more compact location for a treasure hunt than a workplace or neighborhood. If more than one recipient is involved (for example, a newly engaged couple), then maybe add one or two more clues. If it’s for a group and your recipients are primed for a treasure hunt, you might even make it slightly longer. All that said, you know your recipients best - perhaps you are organizing your hunt for a puzzle fiend who would happily work through fifty clues. Or, perhaps they are an impatient sort who will enjoy maybe two or three, but wouldn’t appreciate a lengthier hunt. Either way, do have a think about the stamina and temperament of your recipient – and the likely weather conditions (as applicable) as you go about crafting your clues.
With apologies to all the poets involved, we’ve often found that pinching lines from great works of poetry and bastardizing them for our purposes, has worked wonderfully when it comes to clue crafting. Perhaps this is because poems already have a tendency to be bit oblique in their meaning, so it seems an appropriate medium for clue-giving. So, for example, the first four lines of the following are William Cowper’s while the last two are ours (in this case we’d hidden a clue in a fig tree):
“For ‘tis truth well known to most,
That whatsoever thing is lost,
We seek it, ere it come to light,
In every cranny but the right.
You, sir, shall more successful be,
If you take yourself straight to a fruiting tree.”
Or, we have taken John Donne’s saucy lines:
“License my moving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.”
And, tweaked them slightly, adding a few additional lines of our own:
“License your roving eyes, and let them go,
Before, behind, above, between, below,
Hie yourself to the library and there you’ll find,
A clue and a chance to expand your mind,
Somewhere near the newspapers, I bet,
Your next instruction will be met.”
A final note on this subject, that children’s classics may also be mined for rich material - think of the rhymes of Dr. Seuss, for instance!
Another idea for clues is to use party crackers – either just for the first clue or throughout your treasure hunt. A quick Google search for “custom party crackers” brought up a host of results for both DIY kits – or, if you’re short on time or not particularly crafty, there seem to be a host of vendors on Etsy and elsewhere that would be able to make custom “clue crackers” for you. We haven’t personally ordered from them ourselves, but vendors that caught our eye as ones we’d consider down the road, include: SpanglePop, Souvenir Suitcase, Make Merry, or Old English Crackers. DIY cracker kits/supplies are also readily available and, in addition to avoiding any issues of order minimums, these also offer a great way to incorporate your own photos or artwork - an opportunity for some fun or humorous personalization of your treasure hunt. If it’s a group hunt, perhaps a picture of the two people supposed to pull that cracker? Or, if it’s a treasure hunt for your child’s birthday, pictures from past birthdays or, if you’re handy with a pen, cartoon character sketches?
Another idea for clue presentation – a custom jigsaw puzzle that your hunter (or hunters) have to complete in order to get their next (or first clue). We don’t suggest doing this for every clue, but it’s yet another way you can make more “obstacles” for your recipient. Economy jigsaws can easily be made by printing out your clue, sticking it to a piece of cardboard and then having at it with either a pair of scissors or an X-Acto knife. Or, if you’ve allocated a bit of money to spend on your treasure hunt, there are also several online outfits that will print out a more “professional” style puzzle for you. We haven’t tried any ourselves so can’t recommend a particular outfit, but try searching for “custom jigsaw puzzle” and a host of options pop up. A thought too – you might also consider making your puzzle two-sided – a photo on one side and the clue on the other. Although, if your puzzle has many pieces, it might be best to do this only if you have a glass table top to hand - otherwise, if your recipient completes the picture part, flipping the puzzle over to get the clue will be tricky. With a glass table, they can just peep up at the bottom from underneath.
If you created a treasure hunt because you will be absent on your loved one’s special day, it might be fun to stipulate that your recipient to take a photo of themselves and text it along whenever they find a new clue. Dress-up options or silly hats are optional! This might work especially well if the recipient in question is your child, spouse or significant other. It’s best to only do this though if you are sure you can be immediately responsive to the texts in question. Some folks might feel a bit silly texting pictures of themselves (even to a loved one) and getting no response. If you can be “present” for the hunt, even if it’s just via text, it can connect you and your recipient even more. Plus, isn’t it fun to see your hard work plays out!? (Added bonus to this: you’ll have photo memories of the experience for the rest of your lives!)
Appropriately for our last bit of advice, we recommend starting your planning at the end. In other words, first figure out where you would like your recipient to end up. Will the location be a restaurant where you are waiting with friends? Will it be a hollow in a tree in your backyard? Will it be your locker at work? Once you have settled on the end point, it will be easier to work backwards clue-wise to the starting point.
Good luck crafting a fun time for your friends and loved ones! We hope you have as much fun making treasure hunts as we have – and, if you have any treasure hunt tips of your own, please do share them here. We’re always looking for creative ways to increase the fun-factor – and, we imagine, others are too!
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