Idea No.


Mystery Sleepover Party -9yr- Mansion Mystery



June 2007


Josh in Eugene, OR USA

Special Mention

Mystery Party

This was a mystery sleepover party for nine girls. The goal was to create an experience that immersed the girls in the mystery and drama from the moment they arrived to the moment they left instead of just for the first few hours of the evening. The party was from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. Estimated cost: about $100. It required hardly any decorating aside from about 15 clues. We used seven adults. Sorry this is so long, but planning a mystery from scratch is tricky, so I'm including as many details as possible for anyone else who is undertaking this! 

THE PLOT: Ms. Oso Sweet, famed chocolate tycoon, went missing under suspicious circumstances while she was creating her last will and testament (supposedly two weeks before the party). Her relatives (party guests) and mansion staff (adults) were all suspects. Suspects were all invited out to her mansion to celebrate her grandniece's (birthday girl) birthday, but when Oso disappeared prior to the party, the visit turned into a quest for each of the girls to prove their innocence, find out what happened to Oso, and discover who she left her fortune to. 

THE INVITATION: Each guest received a letter from Oso's attorney and a fake newspaper clipping detailing Oso's disappearance (the article also featured a picture of her. She was really the birthday girl's dad dressed in old lady wig, dress, glasses and this picture created quite a buzz before the party). Each was addressed to the character that guest was to play, and was tied into her real-life interests (for example, one guest loves ghost stories, so she became Claire Voyant, host of her own Ghost Girl TV show; another loves acting, so she became Minnie Encores). The letter informed the guest about her relative's disappearance and that she is being summoned to the mansion to hear Oso's last will and testament. Because of the police investigation, she would be required to stay over, but that she would be well taken care of by the mansion staff.

The clipping gave clues about time and date of disappearance and cast suspicion on some of the mansion staff. Meanwhile, the maid was quoted as saying the relatives couldn't be trusted and went on to talk about a particular relative her characteristics, relation to Oso, and a possible motive. This quote was customized for each girl's clipping so she would be familiar with the character she was to play. Additionally, the attorney's letter made it clear that since he had never met the guest and only knew her by the description in the article  that is was imperative that she acted and dressed the part, so he could be sure she was a true relative and would qualify as a possible heir. An example of one of the character descriptions is Tippy Pirouette, award-winning dancer who received invitations from some of the finest ballet schools in the world.

Oso Sweet, her second cousin on her half-sister's side, never meant to offend her when she once referred to her ballet slippers as fancy socks, but Tippy never forgot. And every so often, she is heard plotting against Oso in her sleep.  To be absolutely clear about certain details, we also included a note to parents that spelled it out: yes, it's a sleepover; yes, it's dress-up; yes, you should be at the house promptly at 4:00.  

PREP: Mansion staff, including butler (Cornelius Peabody), maid (Alice Shortensnagel), two French chefs (Mimi Souffle and Sophia Buffet), groundskeeper (Horace Green), a bodyguard (Mac Armstrong), the attorney (Barnabus Hornblower), all had name tags with their character's name and title. There was a clue for each suspect so that the girls could figure out who is off the hook, who is still a suspect, and ultimately who did it. One clue always hinted at where the next was hidden in the house. By each clue, I put a chocolate chip (staying with chocolate theme) so that they would be sure that was the clue. All rooms used in the mystery were labeled with signs, such as Conservatory, Parlor, Library, Guest Suite, etc.) 

THE PARTY: The butler (in tux and white gloves) welcomed guests to the mansion, took their bags, and immediately introduced them to the attorney (in suit) who had a private word with each of them. He basically was checking to see who they are (per Oso's instruction that only true relatives could qualify as heirs to her fortune). He then gave them a pen and suspect sheet with descriptions of all the suspects and were told to mingle with the other guests and try to discover who they were supposed to be by observing them in character. When they guessed correctly, they would get the guest's signature. They used these sheets throughout the party to check off suspects who had alibis. During this introduction, the kitchen staff served champagne (sparkling cider) and appetizers to the sounds of classical music.   The attorney then called them down to the parlor to watch the Last Will and Testament (recorded to computer and then DVD using a web cam). Oso addressed her relatives on the DVD and expressed concern about someone she thought was out to get her. She felt sure it was someone in this very room. Onscreen we see her lock away an envelope with who she suspects into a safe. Seconds later, before she even names an heir, she is accosted by a phantom visitor. She is able to take a picture with her digital camera before the screen goes dark. With this, the attorney hands out floorplans to the mansion and flashlights. 

THE CLUES: Using the background in the DVD as their first clue, they head off to find where Oso recorded her will. There they find the locked safe and the digital camera she had taken a picture with. They find the photo still inside: a raised spatula. They head off to the kitchen and question the chef who is able to show them a movie stub as an alibi for the evening Oso disappeared. Yes, she says she is missing her spatula, as well as her favorite cookbook with a great recipe in it for Thousand Year-Old Eggs. They race to the library, find the cookbook, the recipe page and another clue.

Each time they find another clue, there is another hint or alibi for one of the suspects. I made sure that clues made them travel to opposite ends of the house each time and each clue related to their character. For example, the artist had painted a picture entitled Sunset on May 3rd the night of the disappearance. So that became her alibi. Other sample clues included a web site address where I set up a blog on behalf of one of the suspects. By looking at when she had written her entry, they could see she couldn't have been involved in the disappearance; a telephone number to a suspect's voicemail to hear her messages. It showed that one of the other suspects had called her at precisely the time of the disappearance from a pizza parlor, wondering why she hadn't showed up yet; an employee work schedule for mansion staff.

This showed that one employee was baking for a mansion party that night and couldn't have done it; a tow truck receipt showing that one suspect was stuck on the side of the road; a horse show stub that showed one suspect was away competing in a horse show; a telegram to one of the suspects noting that she had been away during that period; and a crossword puzzle (custom created free online). The final clue of the evening was communicated using a motion-activated digital recorder. When the girls walked into the room, it was Oso's voice telling them to check the next morning's paper. This kept suspense up overnight and the girls were raring to go first thing in the morning. After breakfast, they were told the paper had arrived.

They ran out to get it and discovered that certain letters on the front page had been circled. Reading these letters in order, they were led to the Servant's Quarters where they found a rope, the missing spatula, and a note from Oso on the bed that said she went for help and to find the groundskeeper. He was spotted out front and denied any wrongdoing, but said he found this key in the garden. They grabbed the key and ran to the study and opened the safe to find the letter and a package with a note that said don't open until the attorney is present. He arrived a little later that morning and gathered them all in the living room. They talked about who they thought did it, then opened the letter from Oso, who wrote she suspected the butler.

The package was filled with gifts from Oso: play money and ½ lb chocolate bars. Just then, there is a knock at the door and in walks a police officer and the legendary Oso Sweet! She explains that the butler was jealous of her chocolate success, as he had dreams of marketing his own line of chocolates. In fact, he had been working on a batch (with the spatula) the night Oso began making her will. Not wanting anyone to inherit her fortune and carry on her work, he kidnapped Oso and had her tied up in his room. During the scuffle, the safe key flew out the window, where the groundskeeper eventually found it in the garden. She escaped from the room that morning, went for help, and the rest is history. Oso gave out chocolate roses to her guests, thanked them again and left. You could hear a pin drop in that room! 

ACTIVITIES: To maintain suspense and break up the pace of rushing from here to there following clues, we inserted activities throughout the evening and blamed them on Oso's strict adherence to schedules. After the first round of clues, the girls were called to dinner (grilled cheese sandwiches). They were back on the hunt thanks to the crossword puzzle clue. The butler simply asked if anyone likes to do the puzzles like Oso used to after supper. The answers led them to their next clue. After another round of clues, they were called to play Thief, where one person is the detective, one is the thief, and the rest are suspects.

The detective leaves the room while the thief puts a marshmallow in her mouth. The suspects all act like they also have marshmallows. The detective then comes back in and tries to figure out who the real thief is. They absolutely loved this game. They also played Murderer, where one person is the victim and one person in the murderer. Everyone stands in the room and the lights go out (we also had them close their eyes). The murderer touches someone, who falls down with a scream. Then the lights go on and they have to figure out who the murderer is. They loved this game, too, and graduated to double and triple murders. By this time, it was time for dessert. Staying with the chocolate theme, we had gotten a chocolate fountain (eBay) and lots of dippables (mostly fruit) and let the girls have a blast. We started each of them off with a mini angel's food cupcake so that we could put a candle in each and sing happy birthday as if we had a cake.

We then opened presents and to get the game started again, the last present opened turned out to be the next clue. After the last clue of the evening, we had the girls get ready for bed, put out their sleeping bags, and we played a few other games. The first was the sleeping bag game, where the detective leaves the room and the rest of the girls get into a sleeping bag (not necessarily theirs). The detective then comes back in and tries to figure out who is in each bag by feeling, eliciting noises, etc.

The second game was using the flashlights they had gotten. They split up into pairs and each team figured out a specific code using their lights (like 2 short, one long flash). Then teams separated and the lights went out and the teams tried to reunite using their codes. This works best in a very large area, like a park or cul-de-sac. By about 10:00, we wanted the kids to start winding down for sleep, so we got them into their bags and read them a few short mysteries from an Encyclopedia Brown book. They were asleep by 10:30! Breakfast was chocolate waffles (made in advance and frozen) with lots of toppings.  

LAST NOTES: The timing was perfect for everything we planned. We were worried about having nine girls sleep over, as well as having that many running through the house in a pack looking for clues, but it was very manageable. We happened to have five relatives who wanted to help, but you could easily do it with just a couple of people. The hardest part was figuring out a storyline, motives, and clues that would provide alibis for each suspect and lead them to the next clue.

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