Nico's Monster Hunt

I guess I'm going a little crazy for my son Nico's first birthday party, which is under a month away. They only turn one once, from what I hear.

I'd previously posted an entry about the monster invitation I created (my wife came up with the theme, believe it or not) and since then I've printed the invitations, along with a directions card, and sent them out (purple envelope with monster-face sealer sticker) to about 55 families.

Besides the invitation, I've printed more monster face stickers on Zazzle (as part of the giveaway), and a custom shirt for Nico to wear to the party featuring this design.:

I've also printed banners with the five monsters wishing Nico a happy birthday (each including a corny joke), and a series of signs with each monster offering Nico birthday advice. I put together a 14-song CD with rockin' versions of Monster Mash, I Put a Spell On You, Purple People Eater and similar monster-themed songs, designed and printed labels for the CDs, burned 70 copies, bought purple clamshell cases and assembled them all - another party giveaway.

And we have purple and green balloons, streamers, pom poms, monster cups (the main giveaway), paper plates - even Frankenstein's Monster and Wolfman piñatas (the Monster is, fortuitously, mostly purple and green) - it's become quite a project. My wife, who is designing a Mad Hatter-style cake featuring all five monsters (she's a pastry chef) has already suggested that his second birthday party be a quiet, intimate affair - I'm in agreement.

So, besides all of the above, we're working on activities - all monster-themed as well. You can't have a theme party without constantly reinforcing the theme, I always say. We're counting the piñatas as one activity, and we're going to play Hot Potato with a Frankenstein's Monster head for a second game. For the third activity, I'm developing a fairly elaborate game - Nico's Monster Hunt.

I want the kids (there are sixty kids invited - and about ninety adults - that's why we're having the party in a huge park) to have a little adventure, and a monster adventure at that. So I've created something kind of like a scavenger hunt, but instead of having the kids collect things (I didn't want to buy sixty of five items), it's a clue-based adventure.

The kids will get a flyer (I've pieced the elements together below) with instructions, a map of the park that I illustrated, and a spot for the answers to be filled in. Here's the setup:

The kids will use the map to walk around the park (probably with their parents, unless they're brave) using the five numbers to locate five semi-hidden signs. Each sign will have a clue that they'll have to figure out, filling it in above. And here are those clues:

The monster made by Frankenstein
Beyond this hill made his decline
And as he stumbled past this spot
He feared a stick t'was flaming hot

What did Frankenstein's Monster see here?

The Wolfman running in the night
Silhouetted in moonlight
Suddenly he howled in fear
From a bullet he found here
What kind of bullet did The Wolfman find?

Dracula, the king of dread
As a bat flew overhead
But when he landed in this tree
He lost his best accessory

What did Dracula drop here?

The Mummy, wrapped in dust and gloom
Walked here from his ancient tomb
He fled as soon as he could see
An insect just as old as he
What scared the Mummy off?

The Creature From the Black Lagoon
Swimming here one afternoon
Found beneath his scaly fin
A mesh of strings to reel him in

What made The Creature From the Black Lagoon swim away?

I'm not giving away the secret word, sorry - you'll have to work it out on your own.

Developing the puzzle was more challenging than I anticipated. The rhyming of the clues came fairly quickly, but I had to make some adjustments once I'd worked them all out. I gave no forethought to what the final answer to the whole puzzle would be as I was developing the clues - I just figured I'd make a five-letter word out of the answers, which I did - but the words I was coming up with had no connection to the theme. "Ropes" was one I kept arriving at - but how do I make "Ropes" the big answer? I couldn't make it work.

Then, when I figured out a word I liked for the final answer, it required one of the clues to be adjusted. Initially, The Wolfman saw his reflection in the moon (a nice, iconic image - I'm trying to give the kids the impression that the monsters were all recently in the park - I want them to have that warm, spooky feeling, which is hard to pull off in a beautiful outdoor environment, mid-day) - but "moon" didn't have the "r" I needed, so adjusted it to be... well, the final answer. All things considered, it wasn't too big a change to make, but I did feel a little sad that I had to lose the moon for The Wolfman. I hope the kids understand.

For the park illustration, I used Google Earth as a reference - but as you would imagine, it gave me too much detail. So after reviewing the satellite image, I grabbed a letter-sized piece of paper, folded it in half, and using a thick brush-tip marker, sketched it out from memory. Then, I compared it to the aerial view and made some adjustments.

I kept the view a bit distorted - not straight above, but down a bit, yet distorting some of the views of the objects so they're more easily recognizable. And I tried to include just enough landmarks so that the kids (and the parents) would be able to find the 8.5x11" signs on a stake in a sand pit (The Mummy = sand), nailed to a tree (for Dracula), by the edge of the lake or wherever they wind up being placed.

I originally considered making the map in full color, or even two color (tints of purple and green), but then just went with tints of the green. Besides being the fastest option, I think it works best this way - giving the kids just enough detail to get their bearings in the park.

Map detail. Click for full, larger view...
you amateur detective, you.

I used the same technique for the map illustration that I did for the invitation - hand sketching and inking with brush-tip markers, scanning, Live Trace in Illustrator, recoloring and final layout in Freehand. Someday I'll break myself of using Freehand, but probably not any time soon. It's the best.

I'm going to head out to the park next week for a test-run, and to make sure my sign/clue locations will work, and that the map is accurate and workable. I don't want the kids getting mad a me for a misplaced bush or something similar - that could get ugly.

I enjoyed making this whole puzzle - it gave me new respect for designer/illustrators who develop these kinds of pieces for publications like Nickelodeon Magazine and Highlights (who gave me the worst rejection of my life in the early 90's - "We don't use material of this style - please do not ever resubmit your work again in the future." - yes, seriously - it gave me a horrible impression of them after loving their magazine throughout my childhood, and every time I see a copy in my dentist's office I recoil).

Maybe puzzle-making is something I'll pursue in the future - in the meantime, I hope the kids and parents at the party appreciate it - and Nico, once he's old enough for it. I'll have to take him back in a few years and recreate it for him, once he has the word "scarab" in his vocabulary, I know he'll be ready (there's your freebie clue).


  1. A small intimate affair, huh? Doesn't sound too bad after imagining the sheer hours of work the first birthday reqires. I have to wonder how much Nico will remember of this, since you typically have to top yourself when you're dealing with parties. Maybe he won't mind, though.

    I'm 80% sure the final answer is treat, but as embarassing as it may sound, Riddle No. 3 leaves me clueless. Maybe it's just too early in the afternoon for me, or the most recent vampire books and movies have washed away my traditional knowledge of Dracula, but I'm troubled. Worse, I know the answer is going to be simple...

  2. Yeah, we know he won't remember it - they say babies/kids only really start to retain memories at 3 - but hopefully he'll at least be impressed at what we did for him. Besides that, though, it's a celebration for him, and it should be a fun event for the many other kids attending.

    You got the final answer right, but you may indeed kick yourself - Dracula's best accessory (in my opinion) is his: CAPE. Nice job anyway - thanks for playing.