Kimberly’s 36th Birthday Skullduggery: Epic Awesome with a Side of Fail

[Ed Note: What follows a description of “Kimberly’s 36th Birthday Skullduggery” puzzle hunt.    This post is long, but much of it is just for me, or the *really* curious.  If you played, you might only be interested in the Complete Set of Answers & Clues.  That being said, to understand why I did it & what went right and wrong, I also recommend folks read the Introduction & Lessons Learned.  If you’re really really interested, you can read the Making of (Appendix A). The last part, the Specific Improvements for Next time (Appendix B) is really just for my benefit for next time I do one :-0 but feel free to read it if you’ve read everything else :-)]

#10a Display at Valencia Whole Foods
Chocolates for Clue #10 (see below for details)



This year, I realized that after just shy of a year of being married I was already at risk of being sent to “Lame Spouse Re-education Camp” due to the fact that the last 3 years we have done almost nothing for Kimberly’s birthday.  While I was preparing my defense (“We were traveling! And there was a MAJOR work push! And last year we were busy getting married!”) it became clear that I was doomed.  

Eventually, it dawned on me that my only hope was to go BIG: Do something EPIC for her birthday this time around. In thinking it through, I also realized that her birthday fell on Sunday Streets Mission and that it was the Sunday Streets closest to our wedding day.  Practically our anniversary. More reasons to go BIG!

After still more thinking, it came to me: I would do a SKULLDUGGERY!  

skullduggery (skʌlˈdʌɡərɪ)

— n informal underhand dealing; trickery

Related Words: hanky panky, hocus-pocus, jiggery-pokery, skulduggery, slickness

Back when I lived in North Carolina, my crew of friends put on hunt games they called Skullduggeries every few years.  These were not just treasure hunts (“here is a list of things, find it!”) or even just puzzle hunts (“here is a list of clues, figure them out & go and find the answers!”) – these were puzzle hunts with a lot of madcap activities thrown in: “here is a list of clues, figure them out & go and find the answers – along the way there will be zany things to do as well!”).  They were awesome.  Unfortunately, those friends aren’t here & I really do miss doing Skullduggeries.

The closest thing I have is the annual San Francisco Chinese New Year’s Treasure Hunt (SFCNYTH) by Jason Wechter. Being a straight-up puzzle hunt, it lacks the wacky activities & personalized themes, but luckily it is really well made & really fun & so it fills a lot of the gap.1 But still, it isn’t a skullduggery, which leaves me only the next best thing: I can make them myself.  I did one 10 years ago (along with my friend Amy, for her husband Pete’s birthday2) & it was really good & for the past few years I’ve vaguely considered doing another one.   I still miss participating in them, but making them is also super fun it turns out, though it is a different kind of fun…

That all brings us back to now: I had a plan to get me out of wedding jeopardy. I also knew I could do it really well!  K would have a blast and all the participants would have a blast & I would have tons of fun making it.  It turns out I hit 2 out of 3 out of the park, but the middle one was a mixed bag.



In the end, while I pulled off a remarkably ambitious hunt that I really loved, I blew past a few important basics which made it a lot harder for the inexperienced players.  And unfortunately, 95% of the players were inexperienced newbies. They got frustrated.  Numerous of them gave up. And several got cranky.  Dag. Several had a really good time nonetheless, but it should & could have been more. So while my first biggest goal was to have Kimberly have a great time, my second biggest goal was to have all the players have a great time.  It is that second part that didn’t quite happen. (Sorry y’all who played!)

The biggest mistake was that I simply did not think through the types of players I had well enough.  In hindsight it should have been obvious that most of my players would have been first timers & the game should have been geared towards them.  That being said, I would have recovered from that mistake if I had just a little more time. Under time pressure, I skipped my one “to do list item” that would have made it much easier for them: walk throughs.

This happened because I’m me.  I get enthusiastic & caught up in things & sometimes pragmatism suffers 🙂  At each stage of development of the hunt, I kept having additional ideas that I fell in love with and wanted to do. So I did MORE and more takes time! For example I added clues, because I keep coming up with ideas I really liked.  And then, when I was actually making the physical materials for the hunt, I kept going beyond the minimum to craft things I truly loved, all because I liked it so much. And so on and so on. I added everything to my to do list & marched on.

Making of Signage
I really fell in love with these little logos. They were a lot of work unfortunately 🙂

This would have been fine but that it kept me from finishing the game until about 45 minutes AFTER people started playing it (even with an all-nighter the night before!) And because of the late start, I didn’t have time to come up with a walkthrough clue or two, as I had intended.   There are some basic precepts about how all these games have to work that would been more apparent if had done this (“use the map!,” “look for awkward phrasings!”). When I ran out of time, I skipped it, not realizing how crucial this was for new folks.  I thought they would manage fine (they’re all plenty smart!)  Some did, but none of them had as much fun as they would have if I had done it. Dag!

In the end, luckily, many folks seemed to have had a good time, Kimberly had a fantastic time & I had an amazing time making the game & a pretty good time during the game itself. So, like my players, I had a really fun time, tinged with frustration…

The good news is that now that I’ve done this, I realize that I can do a hunt next year with MUCH less effort because I’ve made so many template type materials (map, answer bubbles, logo) & learned so much.   And if I allow myself to lower the production values a little (hopefully my marriage won’t again be in jeopardy!) I can probably come up with a hunt relatively fast and much easier!  Cross your fingers that we are headed towards an Annual Birthday Skullduggery for Kimberly! Woo woo! I promise the next one will be even more fun – so I hope y’all will come back!


Kimberly's 36th Skullduggery
The intrepid Skullduggerers!



[Ed. Note: If you would like to read it all through, WITHOUT seeing the answers, just go here: Player Handout.  Otherwise read on.]

Here are all the clues with explanations – note that at least 1 team got every clue except for the last.  No one got the last clue. 

1. After a loud clear, call to action, Kimberly ran out to find other vegans.  She ended up down a narrow lane with a vegetarian.  She looked about a foot to the vege’s right & found the answer.

The first thing to note is “a loud, clear call” – which is the definition of “clarion”, as in the phrase “a clarion call to action.”  Clarion Alley is marked on the map.
Walking down Clarion Alley (it isn’t very long), halfway down, players would find this striking mural on a wall that is full of almost entirely V words (there are some U words also – I’m pretty sure it is alphabetical). 

#1a Vegetarian
Note word “vegetarian” about 2 feet below the light…

Scanning it, one finds “vegetarian” & immediately to the right, “vege.” Looking about a foot to the right is around the corner of the wall, players would find:

#1b Answer
On the side of the mural wall…


EXTRA CLUES: Also there is only one street on the map that has the type of street written with it, i.e. Valencia Street and all others, are just “Valencia” on the map, whereas Clarion is “Clarion Alley.”

FUN FACT: Originally I wrote this clue as: “Kimberly’s favorite flower grows ally ear ’round. Every sighting of it is a loud, clear call for her to plant things watch up grow.  Poppies make her happy. Write down the phrase you find!” But late Saturday night after many many hours of production work, I decided I didn’t have the time to paint the poppy I had planed & returned to this earlier idea.

2. (see attached page) (an 8×11 page with this image was attached – click to enlarge)

Clue #2
This is the clue page given to players for #2

“Follow the instructions you find at the center.” The thing at the center of the image is a fire hydrant on the corner of Capp and 25th.  To find that particular hydrant, the players needed to find the images around the central image.  Looking at the page, it can be seen that the surrounding images are all stacked on top of each other.  The one on the top left is lowest in the stack & the rest of the images are stacked, fanning out in a circle from there.   The first one, (bottom most) is also the easiest to find without any context.  One can make out the tip of a BART Station sign, a letter B, and also Bernal Hill.  The most important is the BART sign.  Players who are familiar with the Mission BART stations are expected to guess that this must be 24th St from the view of Bernal Hill, and additionally the letter B from a Bank of the West sign.  Players NOT familiar with Mission BART Stations could note that the only BART Station marked on the game map is the 24th St station.

Once players reached the 24th Street station & stand at the right perspective to see the first image they are near the corner of 24th & Mission.   From that perspective, they can see across Mission to the second clue, and walking towards it will start them walking down 24th Street.  As they walk past the USA image, they will immediately come to a few street trees & can find the exact perspective Shot 3 is taken from. That tree is very close to Lilac St & 24th.  Looking around a bit they can find the next graffiti image, easily visible from 24th street, a few feet down Lilac St.  The next 6 images are all sequentially taken down Lilac St, each a little further down Lilac than the one before.  These will get you to the corner of 25th and Lilac.  25th is the map border.  Standing on the corner of Lilac & 25th one can see the pipes in the last stacked image, a few feet away.  From standing at the pipes, the hydrant at the center can bee seen.

#2a Hydrant
The Hydrant with Instructions

The instructions on the hydrant are as follows:

To find the answer for this clue: Find the nearest wedding mural by Xavi Panneton. Near the big pink spiral fronds with green teardrops, look down for your answer: a word in blue. 

From the corner of Capp and 25th, looking at the map, there is a Wedding Mural, marked only half a block away on Cypress street and the entrance to Cypress is easily visible a few dozen yards away. Walking down Cypress towards the marked Wedding Mural, one can see the signature of Xavi Pennington written on a large wall length mural.  At one end of the mural are a multiple pink spiral fronds with green teardrop shapes in their centers.    Looking down at your feet when facing the most obvious & largest frond, the word “wife” can be seen spray-painted on the pavement.

#2b Pink Frond & Answer
The Pink Frond with Green Teardrop shapes…


FUN FACTS: I did not spray paint the word “wife”, it was already there. Perfecto! Also, here is a wedding photo with us at this mural.  This and #12 were probably my favorite clues.

NOTES FOR ‘DEEP / IMPROVEMENTS: At the scale these images were reproduced, the BART sign is harder to make out than I intended.  Also the Bank of the West should be less obscured. The particular tree in shot 3 isn’t easy enough to distinguish when reproduced at this scale. I intended to add another image between the trees and Lilac & did not.  I could have mentioned the Ganesh in the wedding mural to make it easier.

3. Haiku time:
twenty four crosses
see two raggedy flags fly
underneath a sun

24th & Valencia is the big crossing on the L shaped Game Map.  From standing on that corner, there are 2 raggedy flags visible, down Valencia St. (these are the only 2 flags on Valencia street as far as I know.)  Immediately under these flags is a large mural wall.  Painted on the wall is the K-Sun treasure hunt logo, a big golden sun with a red K, and the word “Pelicans” (One of Kimberly’s favorite animals) below.

#3 K-Sun
The K-Sun logo painted on Mural Wall (the base one of the two flagpoles can also be seen above)

ANSWER: “Pelicans”

FUN FACT: I’ve always wanted to paint something on this mural wall 🙂 I was supposed to paint a pelican as well as the K-Sun logo, but then reality set in.

4. Within the first week of dating, Kimberly told ‘Deep, “I have a list of between 19 and 20 baby names all picked out!” “Well”, he said playfully, “as long as we are getting ahead of ourselves, I’m imagining our grounds for divorce.”  “Blah blah blah – I want 4!”, she insisted. Even though he liked kids,’Deep felt like running, but then again she was SUCH a babe.  Cornered. But 4? For reals? (Write down all 4 answers.)

Between 19th & 20th on Valencia is Mission Playground.  Walking to the four corners of the Playground, one would see four paper flowers, each with a name card attached.  Here is one of them:

#4a  1 of 4 Names
One of the flowers in the corners…

ANSWER: “Brunhilda”, “Cuthbert”, “Mathilda”, “Rupert”

FUN FACTS: The part about Kimberly telling ‘Deep she already had a list of baby names picked out is true, although she didn’t specify a number of names.  The part about saying she wanted 4 kids soon after they first met is also true. As is the part about her being a babe :-)  For some reason, people think the four names chosen are actually names from Kimberly’s list.  I assure you they are not. 🙂

NOTES FOR ‘DEEP / IMPROVEMENTS:  Don’t use answers that are easily removed or stolen, I spent way too much time worrying about the paper flowers and also got duplicate flowers & made another set of name cards . Though not strictly necessary, adding the playground to the map would have been nice.

5. As she biked to work downtown, K stopped for a fill up. As she perked up, she realized that she had the blues walking in, but she couldn’t remember why….. (Just write down your favorite solution)


From the terms “fill up”, & “perked up”, the players were expected to figure out that Kimberly got coffee.  There are 3 coffee shops marked on the map, but only one, on Valencia near 16th, is in the direction one would bike to downtown.  Players arriving at that location would find that the coffee shops name is “Muddy Waters,” also the name of a prominent blues artist, referred to by the term “blues” in the clue.  Immediately inside the shop is a noticeboard on which was a flyer with the K-Sun logo.  It said:


Got the Blues?
Don’t Know why?
Try one of these answers:

Clean up some litter
Help someone do something for free
Smile nicely at a stranger
Make a gift
Go pet a dog
Make some art (at least try!)
Watch kids play
Stroll around the park
Return something you borrowed
Find Chocolate
Forgive Someone
Smell a flower
Donate something
Compliment someone
Listen to some birds sing
Give someone some food

Just inside Muddy Waters cafe on Valencia at 16th

ANSWER: Any of the 16 answers listed.

FUN FACT: I left this one up because I think it is all very good advice.

6. Trixie, our triceratops, has learned how to not let life’s little annoyances get to her. For example, now when she hears “Look! A topiary rhino!”, instead of storming off like she used to, she just stares off into the distance & let’s her mind wander… two yellow tops…. and then her favorite flavor… until she can see the answer she seeks.

The game starts at our house where Trixie, our succulent sculpture triceratops, is prominent.  Standing in front of Trixie and carefully facing where she is facing, one can see where she is staring.  In that direction are 2 parking meters that have yellow tops, the only parking meters anywhere nearby that do. 

#6a Two Yellow Tops
The two yellow tops in Trixie’s line of sight

Just past the parking meters, still along the line of sight is, a saffron & vanilla importing business. Right in front of the shop & still within Trixie’s “eyeline” is a bike rack with the K-Sun logo & the answer “sing a song”:

#6b Answer
The answer in front of

ANSWER: “Sing a song”

FUN FACTS: We do often hear people walking by the parklet saying “look! a topiary rhino.”  ‘Deep tries not to punch them. It is also not technically topiary.

7. 2In one sense Kimberly didn’t Get it5 when they first met.  In another sense, they both did.5-6.  Certainly on their fir2st date, they were so close 5, if they only called for advice and then read the sign7!!!

The numbers in this clue stick out and if they are removed, they are 255-6257. Note that the dash is also in the text of the clue, thus suggesting that this is a phone number.  Also “called for advice” suggests phones.  Dialing the number would connect to our home number, and the voicemail message is the chorus from Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”   On the map, the site of Kimberly and ‘Deep’s first date is marked and nearby Lucky Street can be found, which is what “they were so close” refers to.  Walking the short distance from the marked spot & Lucky street, the players would come upon the Lucky St street sign & on it would find the K-Sun logo and the answer “Smooches.”

#7 get Lucky
Note K-Sun logo at base of street sign…

EXTRA CLUES: The capitalized “Get” also refers to the term “Get Lucky” 🙂

ANSWER: “Smooches”

FUN FACT: Smooches is one of K’s favorite words

NOTES FOR ‘DEEP / IMPROVEMENTS:  Putting the area code in the clue would also have been helpful.

8. ‘Deep knew he was in trouble when he realized that he loved hearing her sing, regardless of how off key.  He could have saved himself some time heading to a bling supply store & popping the question right then. 

From the term “popping the question” players were expected to be thinking of marriage, proposal, weddings etc.  From looking at the map, they would notice 4 marked “wedding suppliers” (which matches the term “supply store” in the clue).  Traveling to each of those supliers would reveal that only one was a jewelry shop which is what the term “bling” referred to.  In the window of Love & Luxe, a glitery sign with the K-Sun logo (and a wedding picture) says: “We are Proud to Carry KimberBling Answer: KimberBling!”

#8a Love & Luxe
The windows at Love & Luxe at Valencia & 23rd
#8b Answer
Closeup of Window Sign

ANSWER: “KimberBling!”

FUN FACT: Love & Luxe is where Kimberly & ‘Deep bought their wedding rings. Also the first sentence is very true 🙂

9. Kimberly has many “firsts” to her credit, but the first first was being Lyle & Patrick’s dear first born. Who knew that the stork would deposit her so close to the site where she’d meet her first husband?

On the map, the site of where Kimberly and ‘Deep’s first met is marked & is the corner of Dearborn & 18th. Dearborn is what the clue’s “dear” & “born” are referring to.  Looking on the map, players will notice that Bird street is nearby & a community garden is marked as a spot of interest.  The “stork” in this clue refers to Bird street.  Walking up from 18th, the players would come upon the Bird St street sign & on it would find the K-Sun logo and the answer “Cheep Cheep.”

#9 Dearborn & Bird
Street sign at the corner of Dearborn & Bird

ANSWER: “Cheep Cheep”

FUN FACT: K starts saying “Cheep Cheep” any time she see or hears small cute birds.

10. Her happiness at home comes from cooking, so she’s around the corner to do some looking.  She doesn’t yet know what she’ll make, but her health and mood is usually at stake. If it’s organic & veggie, she’ll buy, it I bet, but then again she always has room for ________________. 

The terms “cooking” & “what she’ll make” & “buy” are meant to imply that Kimberly is at her house looking to cook & then heads “around the corner” to buy groceries.  The fact that the whole clue rhymes leads to finding 3 syllables that rhyme with “bet” & the fact that it is being being contrasted (“but”) with healthy food suggests a dessert.  “Chocolate” is the word that goes into the blank.
From the map, the nearest grocery store is around the corner and is marked as “Excellent Grocery Store.” In the center of the small grocery store is all the chocolate. 

#10a Display at Valencia Whole Foods
The Chocolate area at Valencia Whole Foods

A brief inspection would reveal a handmade chocolate display featuring the K-Sun logo and 15 re-wrapped Scharrfenberger chocolate bars.

#10b Display
Closeup of Display Box

On each the answer is given as “He rolls by.”

#10c Chocolate Bar
Closeup of KimberChoc Bar

ANSWER: “He rolls by”

FUN FACT: I prepurchased all the chocolate bars & they were free to take by players. The store owner & the staff there were in on it & are SUPER great people!

11. As Board President of WalkSF, she’s not a “bang her fist on the table” type leader as much as she is a “hug the volunteer” type. Write down the word/phrase you find.

From the clue, the players were to find the WalkSF table at Sunday Streets & hug the volunteer who would give them the answer “14.”

#11 WalkSF table
The WalkSF Table at Valencia & 23rd

ANSWER: “14”

12.  There is a spot at the bottom of the Bay Area’s other saint, where you see SF’s great white & red sentinel regardless – even on foggy days.  Hell, on a good day you can see it twice at the same time at just the right spot!  If it’s a good day: if you look down after you look up, you’ll find what you seek.  Don’t let the proximity to trash curb your enthusiasm.  If it’s a not so good day, you can still find the spot, by putting a butterfly on your butt & looking for Italians.  And please, no dumping.

The phrase “bottom of the Bay’s other saint” refers to 0 San Jose Avenue (one of 2 saint streets on the map – also San Carlos).  Standing near 0 San Jose one can see Sutro Tower both for real & represented on a nearby parklet.  There is one spot where they can both be seen simultaneously if the day is clear.   Standing at that spot and looking down at the curb, one would see the K-sun logo and the answer: “Sutro is her favorite.”  If the day is not clear, walking across the street to the parklet’s representation of Sutro, one would see a large butterfly.  Standing with one’s back to the butterfly, the K-Sun logo and answer would be clearly visible in the direction of the large “Lucca’s Italian Grocery” sign.

#12a Answer
The answer attached to the curb

EXTRA CLUES: Proximity to trash refers to the trash can right near the spot as does “no dumping” which refers to a sign on the curb near the spot.  “Curb your enthusiasm” also refers to looking at the curb.

ANSWER: “Sutro is her favorite”

FUN FACT: The parklet at San Jose and 22nd is one of ‘Deep’s favorite parklets.  So far, it changes every year. This and #2 were probably my favorite clues. Sutro is Kimberly’s favorite piece of SF architecture.

#12b Parklet
The parklet (note small Sutro & butterflies)

NOTES FOR ‘DEEP / IMPROVEMENTS:  The fact that there are two “San” streets on the map adds ambiguity to this clue.  I had intended to write “the Bay Area’s other great saint”, but forgot.

13. Baozi, Kimberly’s sweet german shepherd mix pup, dreams the craziest dream: first off she’s related to another famous movie star canine from the ’20s. Secondly, somehow she was crossed with a giant San Francisco colored feline. Thirdly she was busking!  Write down the name of one of her songs! (And drop her some cash if you like!)

The most important parts of this clue are perhaps the last: “Busking” is when musicians play for tips.  Sunday Streets often has several bands busking.  Additionally, the instructions to “write down the name of one of her songs & drop her some cash” reinforce the fact that it is a band/musician playing songs for tips.  The famous german shephard movie star movie star canine from the 20s was “Rin Tin Tin.”  The colors of the San Francisco Giants are orange and black, so the next phrase refers to an orange and black feline which is a tiger.  The band “Rin Tin Tiger” plays at almost all Sunday Streets events and could be found at 24th & Valencia.

ANSWER: Any Rin Tin Tiger song name.

FUN FACT: I checked with the band to make sure they were coming & that they would be playing during game time. 

14. kimberly Takes her nIght time relaxatioN rituals seriouslY.  first she pUts on heR comfy pants, and maybe Lays down • in the tub, or grabs a Cup Of Mint tea / mmddyy (her birthdate)

The sentence is all lower case except for a few capital letters that do not obey any standard rules of capitalization.  Pulling the capitals out by themselves reveals TINYURLCOM, however there is a a “•” character before COM giving TINYURL.COM.  The clue ends with “/ mmddyy (her birthdate)” & since this is 07/28/13 & is her birthday, knowing that she is 36 (written all over the clue sheet) gives you 07/28/77 has her birthdate.  Combining this with the rest of the URL gives you: TINYURL.COM/072877.  Going to that URL in a web browser will redirect to our wedding website & specifically a modified version of our Wedding Playlist page.  In addition to some songs, the answer “Reptiles” is given.

#14a Screenshot
A Screenshot of the page that this url redirected to…


FUN FACT: Kimberly loves reptiles.

NOTES FOR ‘DEEP / IMPROVEMENTS:  In the rush to get everything ready I remembered that I needed to fix the website with the answer, but at the last minute decided I had run out of time.  This meant that players went to my website but there was no explicit answer, just our usual wedding playlist page.  Luckily one of the players called to ask (thanks Megan!) and I was able to fix it quickly. Also, I intended to put abbreviated lyrics for each song on the website, but ran out of time.

15. ___________(1) as _____________(10), and then  _____________(6) from the answer to

The phrase “from the answer to” followed by the blank refer to the answers to all the other Skullduggery questions.  Plugging in the answers from questions 1, 10, 6 & 11 then reveals: “STOP DEEP as HE ROLLS BY, and then SING A SONG from the answer to 14.”  

Players were to have picked a song from the abbreviated list given on the wedding playlist website,  found ‘Deep and sang it.  ‘Deep would have filmed it & the entertainment value of each rendition was to be used to determine a contest winner in the case of a tie.  No teams completed this clue unfortunately.

Answer: Players were to find ‘Deep & he would record them singing one of the listed songs.  

EXTRA CLUES:  Throughout the game the term “answer” is used to refer to the words need to write down on people’s score sheets.  Additionally the answer phrases “STOP DEEP” and “HE ROLLS BY” stand out from the rest of the answers already collected & they clearly refer to ‘Deep rolling through Sunday Streets on Trikeasaurus. 





Remains of the chocolate project
Discarded original wrappings for 15 chocolate bars

There are vaguely 4 phases to making a skullduggery. In reality they all bleed into each other & feedback upon each other, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll explain them as if it was a distinct linear progression :

  1. Imagining Clues & Puzzles
  2. Player Materials Production
  3. Artistic Production
  4. Physical Set Up
Imagining  Clues and Puzzles 

This went really well and was a lot of fun.  Starting about 3 weeks ago, I spent a few days roaming the neighborhood looking for fun or interesting things to base clues around.  After finding the elements you want people to find, the next step is imagining ways to have people get to those things. A fun side effect is that  you end up seeing your neighborhood in a different light. In addition to finding places, I spent time coming up with types of things I would like people to do: sing, go to a web page, walk certain places, etc etc.  

Once a good list of these items is developed, the process of translating these ideas into written clues begins.  The writing is also a good time to integrate the theme.   Also while writing,  it’s important to take things into account such as geographic distribution, timings,  number of players, difficulty level, possible transience of clues etc etc.  

While I was working on the first phase, the anticipation to have people actually try to figure out the clues grew and grew. It was a lot of fun!

Player Materials Production

Once the clues are written and the activities they involve are figured out, it was time to begin player materials production.  This involves making the packet of materials that players will need: an instruction sheet, a set of clues, and the game map.  Luckily, last year I made a K logo for our K+D wedding sign that I really liked, & I’ve been using the font Copperplate for everything for years, so I also had the beginnings of a visual language for the whole thing.  This is something that I’ve never seen on a puzzle hunt, but it is also the kind of thing that makes me happy.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the graphic design talent to back up my tastes, but I like to try3.  This is also fun work although super time-consuming, if you start to care about things like visual design.  I started this in earnest on Wednesday & by Friday night I was largely done except for actually printing the items.

Artistic Production

Artistic production involves  production of all the significant “artistic” elements of the hunt.  In this case, I could have just produced a few tangible objects: a grocery store chocolate display, some public art, and some tags here and there. But I got too excited by some of my ideas and took them too far which ended up making a) everything awesome & b) everything a LOT of work.  For example, I fell in love with the two piece handcut K-Sun logos I had made for one clue & then realized I should do the same for all the clues.  Also instead of simply using plastic stickers like the SFCNYTH, I made little answer bubbles for each answer. I also decided to paint 3 pieces of street art – with no actual drawing/painting talent.  Production took much of Friday night and all day and all night of Saturday.  Luckily, by about 10pm on Saturday night I cut the number of street art paintings down to 1 & rejiggered the clues to match 🙂

APPENDIX B: Specific Advice for Next Time:

  • Make sure you walk the players through at least one clue.
  • Always make the first one easy. Even though you tell people to do them in any order, the newbies, especially, will tend to focus on the 1st. Build their confidence.
  • No one reads the instructions page unless you give it to them by itself or in advance (post beforehand!?)
  • Emphasize this fact (I wrote it in the Game Instructions, but see above): Most clues involve establishing where you want to go & then finding or doing something at that location. If you’re skeptical something is the correct answer, it probably isn’t.
  • Make an “in case of frustration” set of additional hints for each clue.  When people are stuck they can open this sheet & enjoy more.  This will also functionally be the equivalent of having a regular hunt & and easy hunt – but people can switch from regular to easy on their own, whenever they want.
  • Here are some general clues for newbies that should make it into the orientation:
    • Explain why are the sentences awkwardly written
    • Emphasize clues and MAP – several players didn’t realize the importance of the map.
    • Let players know that they have everything they need between the clues, the map, & what they find at the sites.
  • It would be nice if you could get someone to play test the day before…

1. I’ve done it almost every year for the past 10-15 years! Jason’s hunt is awesome (& is the inspiration for more than a few of the clues above.) He does it every year on the night of the Chinese New Years Parade. If any of you are interested, you should come with us in February! SO. FUN.↩

2. Here is one of my favorite clues from the hunt we did for Peat in 2003: “Peat has tried his hand at many things in his many years, he picked oranges in Spain, he was in a Beach Boys video (many years before MTV even existed!), and yes, when he was 23, he even did a stint in Hollywood’s other big film industry – find us proof (a receipt would do nicely)…
The “oranges in Spain” refers to Valencia Street & the 23 refers to 23rd St.  The Beach Boys video refers to “Good Vibrations” which is also marked on the map (back when it was on Valencia at 23rd). Hollywood’s other big film industry refers to the porn industry 🙂 Players had to go into the video section of “Good Vibrations.” Looking under the P section, they would come across a DVD Box we made: Here is a small piece of the DVD Box. The rest is a bit racier so I just included a small part. It’s nothing gross or obscene, just amusingly scandalous – but still if it were me I wouldn’t want it on the inter webs. 🙂 It was hysterical though. ↩

3. I learned how to make text follow a path – I’m very proud. Unfortunately I had to do it in PowerPoint (see the top of the clue sheet), because that’s the only program I have that can. SUCH UGLY SOFWTARE.↩

6 thoughts on “Kimberly’s 36th Birthday Skullduggery: Epic Awesome with a Side of Fail

  1. I, too, am a fan of the SFCNYTH (I think I’ve attended for 21 years?) and enjoyed reading your post. My husband made a treasure hunt in the mode of SFCNYTH for Castro St. in Mtn View. It was an item people bid on to do with their families at our school auction and there were prizes. If you ever find yourself down here and would like to do it in your spare time I would be happy to send it to you. It’s really well written. Good clues, tested ahead of time, etc.

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