Heather's Birthday 2022

October 30, 2022 11:52 am

Heather's birthday adventure this year was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild themed. A non-linear quest to find and restore a lost artifact to the Temple of Time. It was a blast.

The adventure began when she arrived home from school to receive a package and letter at the front step.

The letter was from Princess Zelda asking Heather to help her and Link find an ancient artifact that was lost during the Calamity. The artifact had been removed from the Temple of Time to protect it from Ganon, but the records of where it had been taken were destroyed. Purah was able to extract four images from the Sheikah Slate related to the artifact and Heather needed to travel to those locations and recover the memory related to that location. The artifact was protected by several measures ensuring that it could only be recovered when all the people of Hyrule were living in peace and cooperation. She included a map of Hyrule to help her find her way.

And, because it's dangerous to go alone, Zelda included a sword.

She then adventured around Hyrule fighting enemies, searching for clues, greeting friends, and have a grand old time. She met Hestu in Hyrule Field who asked her to find his last five missing Korok Seeds. She attempted the Zippy Zip Speed Test obstacle course, but needed to be a little faster. She traveled to Zora's Domain and got a free sample of Hasty Elixir which gave her enough zip to complete the obstacle course in time and win the bow and quiver. The jar of elixir is just water with food coloring, but the samples from the sake pitcher were blue Gatorade.

To support the adventure I threw together a simple website which had a timer on it. For the Zippy Zip Speed Test I ran the timer at normal speed and I added a check box that would make it run at 1/3 speed when she drank the Hasty Elixir.

The website also had a few sound effects on it so, for example, when she found a Korok I played the "Ya-ha-ha!" sound. When she obtained a key item I played the "Doo-doo-doo-doo!" sound.

Since this was a non-linear adventure Heather did a fair bit of wandering about exploring before getting down to business and searching for the memory locations. She had to find the Hateno Tech Lab, Mellifluous Falls in Zora's Domain, Death Mountain, and the Gate of Time.

At the Gate of Time entrance to the Lost Woods she learned that the artifact was hidden somewhere in the Lost Woods and the gate was locked with ancient Sheikah Technology. She would need a code to open it.

At the Hateno Tech Lab she recovered a memory indicating the the Sheikah marked the true path through the Lost Woods so that only the Blue Flame would reveal it. It included an encoded phrase indicating where a source of the Blue Flame was kept. Inside the Lab was a decoder ring, but only heat like Lava could reveal the information necessary to decode the location. She needed to heat the paper in Death Mountain (the volcano was located in the family room, but I didn't put the toaster oven in there for safety reasons). Once toasted, the paper revealed that the decoder ring needed to be aligned as 11 = H. With that Heather was able to learn that the Blue Flame (UV flashlight) was kept in a Rito's Roost.

At Mellifluous Falls in Zora's Domain she recovered a memory that the code to unlock the Gate of Time in the Lost Woods was hidden deep in Gerudo Desert using a Royal Zoran secret communication technique that allows them to pass messages using water. Upon finding the Hero's Symbol in the desert Heather needed to apply water and re-assemble the 4-digit code.

21, 17, 73 get condensed down to the 4-digit code to unlock the Gate of Time: 2173.

The final memory came from Death Mountain. The Goron Sages held the knowledge that the artifact was locked in a chest. The Sheikah hid the key somewhere in Kakariko Village, but only the Hero's Power of Magnesis could retrieve it. A scroll kept in the volcano itself held the location of the Magnesis power, but would only reveal its secret if taken to the Gerudo Ice House and frozen.

After letting the scroll chill for a while (in a cooler filled with ice) Heather learned that she would need to search the sandiest part of the Gerudo Desert (a.k.a the sandbox) to find Magnesis. With the power recovered, she could return to Kakariko Village and use her new power to lift the key out of the Sheikah Monument.

Along the way she found the five Koroks: a stone circle in Hyrule Field, a set of offering bowls in Akkala Highlands, a suspicious rock in Faron Woods, a rock in a tree near Hateno Tech Lab, and three balloons in Kakariko Village she needed to shoot after obtaining the bow and quiver from the Zippy Zip Speed Test. Upon returning those to Hestu she received his prize: a shield!

Now she was ready to dare enter the Lost Woods and retrieve the artifact. After entering the code to the Gate of Time she found herself in a spooky land of darkness and confusion. The Lost Woods were filled with a dense fog and lit only by eerie jack-o-lanterns floating in the sky. Obstacles abounded and a path of arrows on the floor would only lead you in circles--unless you had the Blue Flame which revealed the true path (written in UV-fluorescent marker). I took a picture later after the fog had cleared so you can see what it was like.

Heather successfully navigated the Lost Woods, while Corinne followed the false path and got stuck in a corner. She recovered the chest and we took it back to Zora's Domain to open. Inside she found the Ocarina of Time and needed to play the opening to "The Song of Time" to unlock the Temple of Time and return the ocarina to its altar. In reward she collected her presents that were kept under the altar.

With the artifact recovered and restored to the temple, and presents in hand, it was time to rest from the adventure and open gifts.

By then pizza was ready to pick up for dinner and after pizza, cake! Heather asked for a cheesecake cut into a square to be Minecrafty. Jess frosted it with whipped-cream frosting.

And then it was time to head off to "Trunk or Treat" at school. Which was crazy crowded, but the girls had fun.

Jess' Birthday 2022

September 22, 2022 6:34 pm

Jess got to enjoy her first birthday adventure this year. Trying to squeeze an adventure in to the evening while still leaving time to have dinner and eat cake is tough but we got it done.

The adventure started by reading a slightly modified version of "Let's go for a Drive" by Mo Willems:

Elephant and Piggy collected Jess, the family, and a cake. But when Piggy went to get the presents they had gone missing! Jess had to find Sherlock Holmes to investigate.

She found Sherlock lounging on the book shelf next to Hercule Poirot. Sherlock was called away on urgent business but directed Jess to a person of interest, but she'd need to collect a few clues to identify the right one from the lineup (of characters from Dinosaur Tea Party).

She visited the friendly moose (a carving we bought in Canada), the glowing jellyfish (a glass sculpture we got at an aquarium that glows in the dark), the grey dragon (a figurine on a shelf in our room), she who fell through the looking glass (Alice as found in "Through the Looking Glass"), and he whose house has legs ("Howl's Moving Castle"). Using the clues they provided she was able to identify the person of interest, Lloyd, and question him regarding his knowledge of the missing presents (by using the identifying features on his character sheet to determine the code for a lock on a mini chest).

Lloyd admitted to being present at the time, but swore he was only trying to get a taste of the cake in the fridge. He tried to follow the suspect but couldn't keep up. However, he ran across "a frog that fancies himself a prince" who might know more.

In the frog's mouth was a cryptex dropped by the suspect. The frog said he didn't know what it is, but she should visit Madame Roo, a psychic, who could probably help.

Corinne helped by presenting the cryptex to Madame Roo while Jess read the clue. Madame Roo was able to divine an image out of the mind of the suspect, but it was confused and difficult to make sense of. Jess would need to piece it together to find the password to open the cryptex (by completing a small puzzle with an "I Spy" style image of a jumble of stuff from Corinne's room. In the image were Scrabble tiles which could be used to spell "FAIRY").

Inside the cryptex was a secret message sent from one of Heather's stuffed animals to one of Corinne's stuffed animals instructing them to wait until the coast was clear and grab the purloined presents from under the chair in the living room.

So the presents had been found and could now be opened.

The girls picked out novelty socks from a store at the mall. Cats in boxes and a tuxedo cat running for president:

She also unwrapped an invitation to tea for two at a tea house in the next town over. And after tea, a special showing of "Howl's Moving Castle" at the theater (which very conveniently lined up with her birthday, I found out about it and bought tickets months ago)

Then it was off to dinner at First Street Ale House before returning home for cake. I made my signature caramel-cheesecake on a blondie crust with a layer of salted caramel on top.

And by then it was past the girls' bedtime and the day was over.

2022 Trip: Part 3 - Erin's 40th Birthday Adventure

July 2, 2022 12:09 pm

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:

Background is a still from a home video of Erin stuck in a hamper.

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!

The Secrets

  1. I designed the slides myself using GIMP. And ordered them printed and mounted from Slides From Digital.
  2. Larger chest from Amazon.
  3. Antiquey lock from Amazon.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The cold-revealed writing is a Frixion pen, first made to disappear by heating it up (see below).
  7. UV flashlight from Amazon.
  8. 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.
  9. With more time I would have fancied up the webpage a little more, but I burned all my extra time on the stencils.
    1. Chumbawamba - Tubthumping
    2. Dexter Freebish - Leaving Town
    3. Dixie Chicks - Goodbye Earl
    4. Bare Naked Ladies - One Week
    5. Semisonic - Closing Time
  10. 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.
  11. Fake rock from Amazon.
  12. 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.
  13. Ink that disappears is accomplished via the Frixion pens previously mentioned. When heated they become invisible.

Corinne's 7th Birthday

March 20, 2022 9:42 am

Corinne's birthday was a smashing success this year. School was an early-release day because they're doing parent-teacher conferences this week. When she got home from school her treasure hunt was ready and waiting.

First she needed to find which cone was hiding the next clue.

But when she did reveal it, she didn't see it (in the blue).

But she eventually noticed and moved on to the Chasm of Chaos!

The clue collected from the chasm of chaos directed her to the shooting gallery.

Which was a bit more difficult than intended and we all took turns helping out.

The four clues indicated they would need to be assembled.

Upon assembly their bread-shape was clear and the clues said that to reveal the next secret the bread would need to be toasted (toast is one of Corinne's most favorite foods).

Interesting photography note: The photo was apparently captured between LED refreshes on the toaster oven display which appears blank.

After a thorough toasting a message written in invisible ink (lemon juice) was revealed. The paintbrush I used was a bit too big and the juice spread a bit too much, but they managed to decipher about 90% of it without help.

She then found the elephant that was sitting on a blanket that was hiding her presents in the family room.

A chicken, from Heather. It looks like the chickens they're raising in their co-op game of Stardew Valley.

Corinne's teacher read the book Slugs in Love at school on Valentine's Day and Corinne was absolutely in love with it. So we gave her a copy for her birthday and Grandma made the two slugs as stuffed animals. Corinne just about popped when she unwrapped them.

The slugs smooching.
The just-released, 9th "Princess in Black" book.

London didn't want to miss out on the family excitement, but was less enthused.

After presents I had to go back to my closet and do more work and before dinner the girls had gymnastics class. But once they got home it was Corinne's favorite dinner: spaghetti! And then cake!

On Saturday we went to the zoo with the Spencers because that's what Corinne wanted to do to celebrate. So she got to be in charge of where we went. We had lunch of chicken strips, hamburgers, and corn dogs at the zoo. Afterwards we stopped at the Ghirardelli factory store for ice cream.

Heather's Birthday 2021

October 30, 2021 10:00 am

A busy, busy day for Heather's birthday. School for the girls, of course. And work for me. Last year Heather had been a little disappointed at my treasure hunt. It was all very mental and she prefers to have some physical tasks as well. So this year was a mix of physical and mental challenges.

Once I was home from work (meaning I wrapped up my last meeting and could leave my closet) we let the games begin. Her presents had been locked up by some mischievous minion and only by completing her challenges and assembling clues could she possibly discover the code to unlock the box.

She started with the Strings of Despair! 7 strings criss-crossed the front yard connecting the numbers 1-7 to letters on the other side. Some went through the leaf pile that Corinne made last weekend.

With the mapping of numbers to letters in hand, she next had to cross the Chasm of Chaos! She must cross the bottomless pit via the rickety ladder, while collecting clues along the way. The rung wrapped in blue has broken off and fallen into the abyss and she must cross without it.

Aside: We got some great color on our tree this fall. Just look at it in the background there!

The clues from the Chasm of Chaos connected colors to numbers. Next she needed to use her assembled information to determine how to safely cross the Mines of Mystery!

Using the letter/number pairs from the Strings of Despair she was able to determine the safe path through the minefield and collect the color of the dud mines along the way. Next she needed to decode the colors of the mines into numbers using the information from the Chasm of Chaos. The decoded colors revealed the combination to the lock.

After presents it was time to go to gymnastics. After gymnastics we were going to pick up dinner from First Street Ale House to eat before cake. But Heather came stumbling back into the house in tears less than halfway through class. She had apparently injured her neck while doing a somersault and was in considerable pain. So we postponed our birthday dinner plans until the next night and grabbed McDonald's. After some ibuprofen, food, and rest she was up for cake.

Per Heather's request, Jess made a vanilla cake with chocolate-cream filling, chocolate frosting, and some crumbled Andes mints on top.