September 2012
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Spy Party

Parker’s birthday is later this month, but we had his party a few weeks early to take advantage of the late-summer warm weather given that he had his heart set on a sleepover party at our cabin.

We invited four of his buddies for a “spy training” party, and it was a blast!

I was so grateful for all the wonderful, detailed ideas I found on a blog called Birthday Blueprint. You’ll see that I followed many of them very, very closely!

First, the invitations:

I cut regular file folders into mini-folders, with the invitations tucked inside:


I also made each boy a spy/adventure bag, using a free pattern for a nature explorer bag at Chez Beeper Bebe. I simplified the pattern a bit by making fewer pockets and flaps, and skipping the bias binding around the top. Instead of that, I just made the linings about an inch taller, and then folded them over the top of the exterior and topstitched. Not the most refined finish, but these were for 8-year-old boys. I also added another D-ring to make the bags actually close. I used leftover fabric from my living room slipcovers for the bag exteriors, and random leftover fabric for the interiors. So each bag cost less than $2 for the straps and D-rings.

One boy asked me if they could keep their bags, and when I said yes, he hugged me. Another one kept saying “Do we have to bring them home? Do we?” Sigh.

In each bag was tucked a pencil,notebook, ID badge, fingerprint card and one item related to the “secret mission” game we played later. I have plenty of reporter’s notebooks given my day job, so I just glued black cardstock to the fronts and added the “top secret” stickers.

Here’s our screened-in porch set up for the party (I bought this pack of balloons at Target thinking it would be all primary/rainbow colors. It turned out to be an odd assortment of white, black,orange, yellow and teal. Oh well).

When the boys arrived, we did their fingerprints and picked their code names. To figure out the names, I asked each of them to call out two adjectives and two nouns. I wrote them down on slips of paper and had them pick one of each for their names. We ended up with: Blue Missile, Red Gun, Massive Ejector Seats, Weak Bullet and …

(For the party, I wrote their names on their badges. I then took headshots of each kid, and used those to make photo ID badges that we will mail to them with their thank-you notes)

We also did “laser training” _ they had to get through this maze of yarn without touching it. I hung some tiny jingle-bells on the yarn as “alarms,” though I think the boys had removed them by the time I took this picture.

 The boys then headed out onto the pond for a rousing game of “Push off the Raft” aka “Spy Agility Training” with my husband, while I set up the secret mission/clue hunt.

The clue hunt worked very well. I gave them an envelope with the first clue, and they had to figure out who had the cipher to solve it. Each kid got to feel special when it was his turn to use his special cipher, but they all worked together to solve the clues.

You’ll see my first clue is very similar to the Birthday Blueprint clue, though I constructed it a bit differently. I typed up the message, making sure the letters for the coded message were in the right order within the words, and then used my Silhouette machine to cut out the cipher _ a piece of cardstock with boxes cut out, so when it was laid over the note, the message appeared. (“The next clue is in the shed.”)

Clue #2 used a mason cipher to spell out “ON THE TRAIL” and led them to a trail in the woods on our property. (I used a free font called FAM-Code)

 Clue #3 spelled out “Dock, Dock, Goose” to send them down to the dock. This was a simple graph/substitution code.

From there, the went to the bunkhouse, using a piece of red plastic to read the clue “I found your  bunkhouse headquarters. Look out below!” (Clue was hidden under a bed). For this clue, I downloaded the red sqiggle design from the Martha Stewart website.

Finally, the last clue involved a cipher device called a Scytale (directions can be found on the NSA’s kid’s page, under “games and activities” and “make it at home,” but basically you wrap a thin strip of paper around a paper towel tube or similar item, write your message and then un-wind it. One of the kids had a paper towel tube in his bag, and had to figure out that he should wrap the paper around it to reveal the message: “ALL HANDS ON DECK”)

This led them back to the porch/deck, where the cake was waiting. We had planned to make a bomb-shaped cake, with a sparkler/candle that had to be “de-fused” but my husband saw this idea in a magazine and Parker loved it. This actually the leftovers… it was arranged nicely on a big platter with candles. It had nothing to do with the theme, but no one cared!


16 comments to Spy Party

  • Dana TM

    Looks like an awesome party! I will have to follow all the links, as this year I managed my 7 y.o’s bday ok, but by the time the second bday came around at the end of the summer, I was out of ideas. This looks great!

    What is the “sushi” made out of?

  • Holly

    Thanks Dana! The sushi is made out of pound cake, cut into shapes with a little cookie cutter. We couldn’t find fruit leather in a dark color, so the “nori” wrapping is fondant, tinted with black food coloring. Each piece had white frosting and white sprinkles, and the toppings are all various candies.

  • Elizabeth

    Awesome party!Thanks for the great photos and clues–I like the idea of giving each boy a cipher.

    I had to laugh remembering last year when we tried the laser yarn for my sons’ party–my husband thought they had left a mess outside, so dutifully cleaned it all out with scissors–when we came out to run through the course, the yarn had “disappeared”–oh well! The boys came back later and thought it was great fun. (I had hidden the clues in the middle–those were still there:)

    My boys have decided we need another spy party this year, so I needed extra ideas.

  • My husband and I are just sitting here with our jaws dropped in awe at such a thoughtful and well executed birthday party! Amazing!

  • This is a seriously awesome boy party. I love the bags. I find boy parties much more challenging than girl parties – and I need to start planning Johnny’s fifth!

  • Estela

    ohhhh! that looks like so much fun, I wish we had parties like that growing up. Amazing! thanks for sharing.

  • Lauren

    This is fabulous! I was never a froufrou girl growing up; I would have LOVED something like this! I’m a newlywed and just spent a couple hours writing out a ciphered message to my husband in the D’Ni language from the computer game/book Myst. 😛 Several weeks ago, I had spent a day and a half planning and constructing an Indiana Jones themed scavenger hunt for him when he came home from his half day of work. It was a huge hit, but he solved all my riddles in half the time I estimated it would take! So now I know I need to make things waaay more complex the next time around! I’m really looking forward to adapting all of your fabulous ideas here for his next “mission”. I love all the different code ideas! (And if I had been at that party and gotten to keep my explorer bag, I would’ve hugged you, too! Those rock!)

  • Sue

    This is awesome! The party looks great….! Would like to try this out, thanks for the wonderful ideas!

  • Leigh Ann

    LOVE THIS!!!! Definitely using this for my daughter’s next birthday party. She is into CSI crimes and this year we put together a CSI kit for her and we let her solve a murder mystery. I may also use these codes for the letters my girls send to their pen pals. I don’t really understand the mason cipher though.

  • Rachel McCall

    I just love this! I’m working on a nature detective party for my almost nine year old. One question – where did you get the red plastic piece to decode the red squiggly message?

  • Thanks for some great ideas! I’m not planning a party, however I am planning a family reunion treasure hunt while we are camping. This has been very difficult because most clues don’t work since we are in the woods. But I finally stumbled onto this and can use three or four clues for my smart nieces, nephews, and cousins.

  • Michelle

    Hi! Great party! But where did you find the decoder image for the mason cipher? I can’t find it anywhere like you have it…on the green card! Help!

  • Erica

    I’m trying to find the template for the invitations can you help me please?

  • Thanks so much for adding the link to my blog! It’s very much appreciated, and I’m glad you were able to use my ideas for your own party, plus you came up with some great ideas too! That’s what sharing is all about.

  • Waoo great collection, thanks for sharing.

  • love love love. dont understand mason chipper. im going to use these ideas for my 14 year olds- DIY escape room.

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