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Tuesday July 31, 2007 // By Sandy

Mystery of the Poisoned Picnic, part 1

Sorry it’s been quiet around here. We’ve been busy planning the latest incarnation of our clue hunt extravaganza. These things take a lot of energy out of us, leaving important things like blogging by the wayside. Last time, in November, I was sure to start the planning early so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Ha. In a complete surprise to no one, I let myself get overwhelmed anyway. This time I took a different tack: doing very little planning until three weeks out, and then using the remaining time to get done as much as possible. Constraints: a good thing.

I took a lot of lessons from last year’s event. Number one: no one is as crazy as I am. People enjoy puzzling, to a point. The trick is to find that point and not pass it. Lesson number two: either make it less complicated or give people more time. When it takes you three hours to set up the puzzle, don’t assume people will be able to solve it in two. Lesson three: driving is not fun, especially when one is under the gun, and it’s the weekend, and it’s sweltering out.

Those concepts helped us shape the format of this year’s game. We kept the boundaries to no more than a half-mile from our house. Instead of encrypting each successive destination, we spelled them out in plain text, and made the puzzles very straightforward. And the main construct was one of those matrix-y logic puzzles. By collecting all nine clues, a team could fill in all the spots in the puzzle, revealing the final answer.

Ah, but I forgot to mention the question. Being a summertime event (a much nicer time to walk around outside), we decided to couple the hunt with our annual BBQ. This influenced the theme for the game, which was, as the invitations screamed in big Bodoni type:

As in, there was this picnic… with five guests… each bringing a different dish… and each using a special ingredient. Which one of them used… POISON?!

Next up: the invitations, the characters, and maybe a clue or two.

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