A scavenger hunt party can take many forms: a nature scavenger hunt, a pirate-style treasure hunt, a trail of puzzles and clues to solve, a simulated robbery or murder mystery, or more contemporary themes, like Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues and Scooby-Doo Mysteries for the younger set, and hero's quest, Mall Parties or The Amazing Race for older partiers.
For all of these parties, there is a basic structure that stays the same: participants must hunt for various elements and report back when these are found or accomplished.
Some things you will need to decide before starting: how many people will be invited, whether the participants will work alone or in teams, the ages and abilities of those involved, the location and boundaries of the hunt, and whether you will provide assistance should anyone become truly stumped.
For most situations, working in teams will work best as it forces guests to interact, provides more spirit, and can help you adjust for different ages and abilities. Teams can be pre-assigned or random; if you have a mix of ages and abilities, it may be best to pre-assign teams to ensure that the teams are fairly even.
If you are doing a basic list search, for example: find the following items: a pinecone, a feather, three red leaves, etc., then the set up will be very straightforward. You will need a list for each person or team, a pencil for the team to mark off items, and a bag for the team to carry their items. If photos are to be used, provide inexpensive digital cameras (key-ring style cameras or similar). You can use these as prizes at the end as well. Alternatively, you can ask guests to bring along their own cameras.
For a clue-driven party, you will need to supply tricks for each item. Some ideas we've had success with include:
Use your imagination to make the search more or less challenging as needed.
- a simple riddle
- write a short verse to describe the next destination
- connect one clue to the next using a string or ribbon (this works best with very young kids)
- hiding clues in plastic easter eggs that need to be found and collected
- alphabet substitution codes
- doing a "hot/cold" search in a given area (people say "hot" when the person gets close and "cold" when they move away from the item or area chosen)
- inflate a balloon but do not tie it off; write the clue on it then let it deflate again
- alternatively, hide the clue inside a tied-off inflated balloon and have the guests sit on it to pop it and read the clue
- invisible ink (use lemon juice and let dry; heat to reveal)
- a message written on a blank puzzle or a series of popsicle sticks lined up and taped together with the clue written on them; untape and scramble or hide the sticks
- a set of compass directions or map co-ordinates
- a cryptic clue that describes an item or location
- giving a store name, aisle number and barcode to be found and the item exchanged for another clue
- hiding a clue in a library book and providing the call# or trickier, the ISBN#
- have the guests sing or otherwise perform in exchange for the item or next clue
- have the guests construct an item or complete a craft before receiving the next clue
- hide a clue inside a pinata
- inflate a small wading pool and float toy ducks in it; write the clue on the bottom of only one of the ducks
- use the pool to make a fish pond: make fish poles from pieces of dowelling with fish line tied to one end, fasten a small magnet to the line, and another magnet to the top of several film cannisters, one of which holds the next clue
- place the clue in a tiny plastic container (like from a gum machine or a Kinderegg), then freeze it in a chunk of ice the guests will need to melt to reveal the clue
- have the guests listen for clues in the lyrics of popular songs
- have the kids collect a part of a later clue (such as a puzzle piece, or a word that forms part of a sentence) at each station or activity, then put it all together at the end (to find the cake, loot bags, or other surprise)
- try hiding the clue in a bucket of cooked pasta, or freeze it in a block of ice
- you can also make dragon eggs in which to hide clues
- or try hiding the clue in a small plastic container (like those used in candy machines or Kinder Eggs) then combine equal parts of sand and plaster of paris, add water according to plaster package directions, pour into a mould (an old cottage shees container works well), insert the container with the clue in it and let set--provide wooden tools for chipping out the clue (trimmed craft sticks and/or bamboo skewers work well)
- for egg hunts, try putting candy or toys in some eggs hidden in caches, and clues to the caches in other eggs that are in more obvious places, or follow some of the other suggestions here but use plastic eggs to store the clues
For Teens and Adults
Creating a scavenger hunt for teens and adults requires more elaborate clues. Some ideas we've used with success include:
When using more challenging clues, it is a good idea to have guests form teams, and also to provide backup clues if they truly get stuck. Always keep a backup copy of the clues and solutions "just in case".
- finding waypoints to be discovered via a GPS
- taking a photo from an odd angle of a given location at which a clue can be found
- giving lattitude and longitude readings
- providing a compass and directions
- giving the guests a barcode and an aisle in a store from which they are to discern a clue (example: the barcode is for a specific kind of tomato soup; guests need the second, third and fifth letter in the brand name to help form a word that is part of the next clue)
- reverse barcode: guests are given the product and must find a number clue from the barcode
- riddle clues to find street names and/or intersections
- book clues in which guests must identify a clue (possibly a quote) from a book, then find a word or phrase from a specific page and paragraph in the book; this can also be done with newspapers, magazines etc.
- number clues can lead to phone numbers that must be called in order to find the next clue, lattitude/longitude readings, waypoints, etc.
- letter clues can be scrambed words or phrases or passwords to documents, chemistry symbols, etc.
- combinations can be acces codes or passwords for websites etc.
- number clues can also come from or create transit routes, addresses, birthdays, manhole cover #s, ISBN numbers, dates, times, train schedules, etc.
- combination clues of letters and numbers can also come from or lead to license plates or numbered parking spots
Putting it all Together
Try and gauge the number and difficulty of tasks to make it manageable and achievable for all of the guests. Younger children will do well with the rule of three, such as usually happens in Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer; older kids can handle a little more challenge. Tweens and teens will appreciate more independent tasks and wider boundaries. Also consider how much time you have for the hunt, and try and make alternate plans for quicker and slower races by adding or removing a task. If the hunt is a longer one, provide a break in the middle for rest and refreshments.
It is a good idea to keep a master list of all the clues and solutions in the order in which they appear throughout the party.
If your party will visit various venues, be sure to discuss your plans ahead with the people who will be working there on the day of the party. Also plan for travel--who will drive if driving is necessary, who will supervise, what time should everyone be back at the start, etc.