May 10, 2011

Spy Party

My son's spy party last year was a TON of work, but so much fun to put together.  I knew that I wanted the party to include clues to figure out and solve a mystery, but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it.  Some of my earliest ideas were so complicated that my family just stared at me like I was crazy when I tried to explain it to them.  I was getting myself confused!  So I will skip those ideas, and just tell you about what we did - because it worked.

THEME:
Our plan was to make our house a Top Secret Spy training center, which we named the NSA (National Spy Academy).  The Evil Dr. Chaos became our villain trying to ruin our party and blow up the loot (treat bags) if we didn't solve the clues to stop him in time.

INVITATIONS:
My parties always start with inspiration from other creative party planners out there on the internet.  I found an invitation that was a mini file folder, and that's what I duplicated, with my own twist of course.
I got the pattern for the mini file folders from here and sized them to be about 1/2 sheet when folded to fit into a 6"x9" envelope.  The font I used for the 'TOP SECRET' is Reprise Title found here. They all had another tag on them that read "For ____'s eyes only" so my son would know who to give them to.  The invitation included a mason cipher to solve the secret code which was "I love cake and ice cream". The font I used for the cipher was Fam-Code found here.



*I have a copy of the spy seal I used in the invites and for the front cover of the handbooks that I can email you.  Or get a blank one here. I also have versions of it for Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom that I have made upon request.
Click on the links above to download the Spy Seals from Box.com
ACTIVITIES:
So MANY activities!!!  I'll just go in the order we did them.

First we had the boys complete a background check.  We asked them the secret password and then they were fingerprinted and received their security passes.  These were really fun to make with my NSA symbol on them and their names, code name, and name in bar code.  I bought plastic badge holders and clips at Walmart.

The fonts I used to make the badges and the training manual cover sheets were: Reprise Stamp, Due Date, and Free 3 of 9 (bar code font).  The bar codes actually spelled out everyone's names, so they were all different.  The kids got the 'Agent in Training' badges, my older kid helpers got the 'Top Secret Agent' badges and I was the 'Chief Operating Officer'.  You can see on these what I did with the Great Seal of the USA.  I added the rings and text, the key, the bomb and NSA on the shield and the sunglasses on the eagle to make him cool.
I took individual photos of each trainee at the party (in sunglasses), and my plan was to put their photo onto a new Top Secret Agent badge for completion of the program.  Unfortunately, my oldest son had his appendix rupture a couple of days after the party and I never got around to it.  The most important things must come first.  BUT, for all you UK readers, awesome reader Wendy created one for your use.  Download it here.  Thank you Wendy!  If you are from another country and need to change the badges with the above seals, here is the file for you.  For all US readers, the badges are contained in the Spy Handbook link below.

Fingerprinting:
I saw some fingerprinting sheets kind of like these on a website for child safety and made my own version on cards for each guest.  I just bought a cheap black ink pad at the dollar store and had my daughter fingerprint the boys and wipe off their fingers on a wet washcloth.


While waiting for everyone to get fingerprinted I had them do some stretching exercises to prepare for training, then we went into the back yard where their spy training manuals were set up on a table.  I bought big clips to hold in all of the papers, which was very important for an outdoor party with possible wind.

Download the Spy Handbook pages here!
The first page included the activities that we would be doing for the rest of the party and what skills they would develop.  Having a plan is SO important for a party with so much happening to keep you on schedule and make sure you remember to do everything.

#1  Spy Words.  This was a word search that I printed off from a website that creates word searches.  There are tons of them out there, you just type in the words and tell it what size you want your puzzle.  Since it took me quite a while to come up with the words for the word search, I will include them here since the whole purpose of this blog is to make party planning easier for everyone.  If you don't want to know them, just skip down to #2.  Intelligence, explosives, character, bribery, security, headquarters, cipher, objective, mystery, academy, training, double agent, combat, laser beam, concealment, escape, evidence, mission, spying, eyewitness, fingerprints, clearance, informants, ammunition, secret, culprits, binoculars, rescue, fugitives, mastermind, observation, cover, badge, operative, disguise, incident, bugging, electronics, climbing, top secret, demolitions, warrant, bomb, footprints, target, investigation, villain, microchips, keys transmission, agency, magnify, undetectable, criminals.

We only spent a few minutes working on these and then moved on.  They could finish them at home.

#2  Code Breaking.  There are so many different codes, that I had a hard time deciding what ones to do.  I must have been really tired coming up with these, because they totally made me crack up (well, the second one did).  I got the Morse code photo last year on here, a site for kids run by the real NSA, but I can't find it on there anymore.

If you want to decipher them yourself, then don't read this part because here are the solutions:
'The blue moose left the party'
 'That thief is wearing a cheap suit.  Wait, that's my suit!' (that one was my favorite)
and 'The safe is in the outhouse'.  I know, they're stupid, but I was trying to make it fun for 9-year old boys, if I get a kick out of it, it's just an added bonus. :)

#3  Memory Training.  We've all played this game before.  Bring out a tray of items, view them for 1 minute, write down all you can remember that was on the tray.  Went great with this party theme!  These are the items on our tray: digital camera, binoculars, cassette tape, air-mail envelope, $10.00 bill, measuring tape, pencil, flashlight, combination lock, Scotch tape, sunglasses, walkie-talkie, cell phone, pen, remote control, post-it notes, and it was all laying on top of the obituaries from the newspaper (nobody got that one).   At the bottom of this page is a little spot-the-difference puzzle I got from here.

#4  Pass the Dynamite.  This was fun to play, and fun to make the dynamite!  I love creating props.  I found the dynamite idea here, and made mine just using cardboard tubes stuffed with newspaper and wrapped with red tissue paper.  The colored wires were from the inside of a piece of electrical wire and they are just hot-glued into the tops.  I wrapped them together with black electrical tape.  If you want your dynamite to last for more that one party, then I suggest you Mod-Podge over the tissue paper because it tore from being handled so much.  I made 5 sticks, and I recommend a digital timer.

To play the game, you just set the timer and start passing the dynamite around a big circle like a hot potato.  When the timer goes off, whoever is holding it - blows up!  They are then out of the game until it gets down to the last person.
#5  Gum Shoe Detective.  The boys all traced their shoe on a piece of paper and then we mixed them up and gave everybody a tracing.  They had to try and find out who the shoe print belonged to.  It wasn't that exciting, so I don't recommend it.  If nobody seems interested, I quickly move to the next activity.  I think it would have been more fun to make a shoe print on a piece of tinfoil and they could have checked the tread pattern on the bottom of everyone's shoes.

#6  Target Practice.  This activity failed due to Nerf gun failure.  I had printed out a target that they were going to take turns shooting at with Nerf guns, but apparently my son's had killed their guns and didn't let me know about it until we tried using them at the party.  If I would have known that I would have done something like shooting Dixie cups off of a board with a squirt gun or something.  Luckily we had plenty of other activities to fill the time.

#7  Laser-beam Avoidance.  I got two wooden poles and hooked a red piece of yarn between them.  If they got under it, we lowered the string.  You know, it was like Limbo, but the boys could go under the yarn any way they wanted to as long as they didn't touch the laser-beam.  We got it down to about 6" off the ground and some of those boys could still scoot on their bellies under it.  They had a lot of fun with this game.

#8  Bomb Squad.  We had to move indoors to do this activity since balloons don't agree with grass.  We blew up tons of small black water balloons before the party and placed them on the carpet.  Each boy had about 30 seconds to pop as many bombs as they could while everyone else counted.  Some boys could only do a few and some did a lot.  It made a big mess, but boys love making messes (and noise).

FOOD:
#9  Evidence Destroying.  We told them that they had to get rid of any evidence that we had a party by eating all of the food.  We had pizza and root beer for the food, nothing fancy, and cupcakes and ice cream cups.  The cupcake toppers were just made with clip-art punched into circles and placed on wooden skewers.

As they finished eating, the doorbell rang and there was an envelope on the doorstep with an MP3 player in it and a cipher for a secret code.  We hooked the MP3 player up to a speaker and it played this message:

"Welcome new recruits, I am the NSA President.  We are aware that you are here for spy training, but an urgent situation has arisen.
The Evil Dr. Chaos has been trying to disrupt this school for years.  We have just been informed that he has stolen your loot bags and set a bomb to blow them up!  You are the only available agents in the area, and all will be lost if you can't unravel the clues and diffuse the bomb before it goes off.
If you complete this assignment you will automatically be promoted and receive your official spy certification.  The secret message we discovered is hidden in the mailbox.
Be careful - and good luck!"

I wanted it to be in my husband's voice, but he was out of town (in the middle of the dessert) with no cell phone service or I would have had him call and say the message over the phone.  I had my oldest son record it for me.

This photo shows all of the different clues and the ciphers for each one.  I thought they would make more sense if you could see them in a photo.  Some are also included in the Spy Handbook files.
Clue #1 in the mailbox.  I wrote the message to include all of the letters I needed to spell out my clue, then those letters were changed to italics.  It's hard the tell in this font which is called Ghostwriter.  Then I drew little boxes around all of the correct clue letters and changed the font to white and printed it so only the boxes showed up.  With an exacto knife I cut out the little boxes, and when you lay it over the message the next clue is revealed.  It says 'The next clue is on the door of the shed'.
Clue #2 tied to the door of the shed.  This one used a code that was in their training handbooks which they had just used, so they recognized it and rushed over to figure out the code.  We tried to make sure that different boys got to work on deciphering one of the codes if they wanted a turn.  This clue said, "The hen is in the nest."

Clue #3 was in the nesting boxes for our chickens.  This clue used the Mason cipher which had come with their birthday invitation and included two ciphers.  There is actually a font for this code called FAM-Code so you don't have to draw little pictures, you can just type in what you want it to read.  The clue spelled out, "They lay eggs in sand, but in this one you dig!"

Clue #4 was in our turtle sandbox.  The clue was in a plastic bag which contained a small mirror.  I printed out the clue in reverse so they had to use the reflection in the mirror to read it.  It read, "So you think you're on my heels?  Well, this final clue is on wheels.  It doesn't drive you anywhere, but pulls your stuff in there.  In a chest shut up tight, but don't search in the back yard or it will take all night.  You'll have to stop me soon, because if you're too late then....BOOM!!!"

Before the party I lit this paper on fire to try and make it look like someone tried to burn it.  Well, I almost had to start over because I barely got the flames put out in time!

The bomb and treat bags were hidden in a tool chest on our trailer.  The kids all grabbed their loot and the bomb and after getting a photo of them all, I told them that their final task was to de-fuse the bomb by destroying it.  They happily tore it to shreds and it was full of candy.  It would be fun to do a pinata for the bomb, but we were out of time anyway.

The bomb was made out of a cardboard dishwasher tablet canister.  You could also use a round oatmeal container.

TREAT BAGS:
I wanted to get cloth bags made for the loot bags, but it didn't happen.  I used white paper sacks instead, and I think they turned out just as cute!  The $ labels are in the Spy Handbook.
They included: A notebook, magnifying glass, Mentos (if you've seen the Agent Cody Banks movies you know why), 100 Grand candybar, Smarties, Atomic Warhead jawbreakers, a squirt gun, and play money.  They also got to take home their training folders, badges and pencils.

WHEW!  That was exhausting just blogging about the party, you can only imagine how I felt after planning it.  It was really a lot of fun though, and now completely ready for you to copy.  All you need to do is come up with clues to fit your party, make some cupcakes and go shopping for loot!  Yeah, I know there's a little more to it than that, but hopefully I got some good spy party vibes heading your way.  Happy party planning! 

*New Update: Instead of emailing me for the files, the links are all in the post above to download them free from Box.com!  Everything I have to share is there, so enjoy!

February 14, 2011

Valentine's Boxes

It's projects like this that I can't make up my mind about.  Do I love them, or do I hate them?  I guess it's a little of both.  Certain projects take up a lot of time even though you know it's going to be something that's temporary.  But once it's done, you love the end results and it was worth it.

Over the past few years my kids haven't really had to make many Valentine's boxes because they have usually done them as an art project at school.  But this year both of my Elementary age boys had to make one. And they were for a contest.  I think the contest part was what got me going, because I knew we could come up with awesome designs.

First comes motivation.  We happened to have a yellow shoe box sitting on the floor next to our Minion goggles that came with our Despicable Me movie, and wala!  The goggles fit the box and the idea was born.  My youngest son LOVES the movie Despicable Me, so he was all for the idea.

Evan is in second grade, and this wasn't exactly the easiest project for him, but after I drew all of the patterns on the paper he did as much punching, cutting, and gluing as he could (except for those darn overall straps which weren't very easy.)  And a MINION was born!

He was named Evan, after my son, and turned out so cute!  His mouth is where you put in the Valentine's cards.  The eyes are circle punches, the arms are rolled up newspaper covered in yellow construction paper, and the boots are toilet paper tubes and black craft foam.


Noah's box was inspired from the Family Fun website, and the fact that I had some chrome spray paint in the garage.   His dad hooked in a piece of wire for the lock to hang on and the opening is at the top.  He wanted it completely taped shut so that no one could get into it.
Noah was able to do most of this himself and it turned out great.  No, he's not that big of a Steeler's fan, but his teacher is, and most of his classmates, so he was going for the popular vote.


Despite taking up an entire afternoon, we have two very happy boys, determined to win today, and proud to show off their Valentine's boxes.  Although the minion may have just joined the family because they boys keep hugging it and said he's staying forever.