I stumbled upon r/ConstructedAdventures on Reddit a few months ago and I was excited to find an entire community of people who enjoy building treasure hunts. The main person behind the subreddit actually makes a living professionally building and running personalized treasure hunts / adventures for people.
I've been building small treasure hunts for the girls' birthdays, but I became inspired to try something grander using some of the techniques discussed in that group.
It just so happened that, after Mollie's wedding, Erin and I would both be back home during our birthdays for the first time probably since high school and this year was Erin's 40th birthday. So I thought it would be fun to build a birthday adventure for Erin which would take her around our hometown. So I spent the intervening months planning, designing, building, testing, and redesigning a nostalgia tour for her and her children to revisit her childhood and let her tell her kids why the places on the adventure mattered.
It all began with a slideshow. When visiting Mom & Dad a slideshow of our childhood is always a hit with the grandchildren. At the end of the slideshow I inserted 3 custom-made slides1:
It was fun seeing a room full of people watching the slides process what they were seeing and realize something unusual was afoot. And then they were off to find the items. To the attic to find the chest and to the chimney cleanout in the basement to find the key for the lock2,3:
Inside the chest were a map of the town and three small chests, each locked4. One with a letter-combination lock, one with a number-combination lock, and one with a key lock.
After toasting the recipe and chilling the map the path to the public library was revealed5,6:
In the library a worn copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone contained a bookmark, which led to Anne of Green Gables with a bookmark leading to Watership Down with a bookmark leading to To Kill a Mockingbird. A final bookmark in To Kill a Mockingbird instructed her to look under the shelf and find a UV flashlight7.
When played over the bookmarks the flashlight revealed a message: "Report-card dinners and post-concert treats. Search the railings for that which you seek." And on the map it revealed a path leading from the library to the now-closed Friendly's restaurant at which our family regularly celebrated events.
Three clues were taped to the railings around the building (labeled "x of 3," so they would know how many to find)8. One was an Ottendorf Cipher for future use. The second was a QR code of a URL which took her to a website I made with 5 songs to be played. These were songs which I believed were known to Erin and were popular during her high-school years.
She needed to identify the artist and title of each song and fill in the answer sheet (the third clue) to reveal her next destination9: "WWI Memorial Green Plaque"10
The WWI Memorial Green was the location where the marching band would meet for the town's annual Memorial Day parade before it moved to the WWII Memorial Green up the street.
She was directed to the plaque and here used the Ottendorf cipher to reveal the combination to one of her locked chests (the combination was "BAND").
Inside the chest was her next clue:
At one point an old train car on an abandoned set of tracks was turned into an ice-cream shop and Erin worked there. Now she needed to return to those tracks and find the fake rock which was apparently rather convincing tucked under a small plant11.
Inside the fake rock was the key to the second small chest. Inside that chest was the next clue:
Included with the clue was some cash to buy lunch at the Cromwell Diner. The only place in town open 24/7 where you might grab a late night meal while hanging out with friends. Also included was the cipher for the last chest that could only be solved by using the Cromwell Diner menu.
In the final chest was the next clue which led to an ice cream shop we both worked at which was known at the time as "Johnny Cool Ice Cream," but is now known as "Scoops and Sprinkles." Some cash for ice cream was also provided as well as a clue sheet requiring the menu board to solve12.
The menu board clue revealed the word "SANDBOX" which was a classic treasure-hunt location in our yard for the treasure hunts Mom made for some of our birthdays when we were kids.
The final event was hidden in the sandbox in a Zip-Loc bag (with the edge exposed so that it didn't turn into a massive excavation project). This bag contained the final clue and some maps of the house. On the maps several Xs had been marked, but only some of them actually contained presents. The red herrings could be eliminated by applying a flame causing them to disappear13:
Once the false marks had been removed all that was left was to collect the presents!
- I designed the slides myself using GIMP. And ordered them printed and mounted from Slides From Digital.
- Larger chest from Amazon.
- Antiquey lock from Amazon.
- The chests inside were small, unfinished wood chests from which I removed the useless little clasps and screwed in bent eye-screws that would allow a lock to be attached. Not very polished looking, but functional.
- The heat-revealed writing is lemon juice, my own preparation: 1 tablespoon heated in the microwave for 90 seconds at 20% power, which makes it a little less runny and causes the writing to reveal faster when toasted. Written using a #0 brush using a light table.
- The cold-revealed writing is a Frixion pen, first made to disappear by heating it up (see below).
- UV flashlight from Amazon.
- I really, really wanted this location to reveal just a QR code by pouring water out onto the concrete using a hydrophobic spray. But I couldn't get a stencil to give me a sharp enough result and I had to abandon the idea due to time constraints.
I tried a cardboard stencil (cut with an Xacto knife) but it immediately began to warp when the spray hit it, so it didn't stay flat even with tape.
Then I tried an acrylic sheet (drilled and cut with a coping saw). but it was too brittle and thick and I couldn't get clean enough cuts and the spray couldn't effectively settle into the holes. A thin, non-brittle plastic sheet might work though.
- With more time I would have fancied up the webpage a little more, but I burned all my extra time on the stencils.
- Chumbawamba - Tubthumping
- Dexter Freebish - Leaving Town
- Dixie Chicks - Goodbye Earl
- Bare Naked Ladies - One Week
- Semisonic - Closing Time
- I intended to pre-fill space 20 with a 'q' since I had no Qs in the song titles, but I apparently forgot. The group, however, was smart enough to figure out the missing letter.
- Fake rock from Amazon.
- I made a last minute font and styling change to this clue sheet and didn't review it enough times and messed up two of the letters. But she figured it out all the same. The image here has been corrected.
- Ink that disappears is accomplished via the Frixion pens previously mentioned. When heated they become invisible.