Introduction: Personalized Postage Puzzle - a Mystery Quest by Mail
What is a Personalized Peculiar Postage Puzzle?
Welcome to my makers adventure in creating a one of a kind puzzle quest, the Peculiar Postage Puzzle. Its some kind of escape room where puzzles are stacked to get to the final solution, but then a little different. You're not in a room and you don't have to escape. Puzzles don't have to be solved to get to the new puzzles, you receive them by mail every once in a while. You do however need solutions from puzzles to solve other ones. In the end you had a great experience going on a quest and of course there are also some quest props that come with it you can keep.
Why did I make it?
The idea for the Personalized Peculiar Postage Package came after reading Anita Morrison's 'Make a Dragon Eye, Secret Compartment Book'-Instructable. My enthusiasm couldn't be stopped even though I had no idea how to tackle this. I asked Anita Morrison for some tips and maybe an Instructable, but unfortunately she wasn't able to help me. That couldn't stop me and in the end I was quite pleased with the result.
What can you find in this Instructable?
This Instructable is all about creating your own Monthly Mystery Mail. When I started I had no idea what to do, but by just doing it I found a lot of solutions on how to build a Daily Dazzling Delivery. So in this Instructable I provide ways on how to start your Crazy Communication Concoction, where to find certain parts of the Weekly Written Wonderment and all kind of other things which get you started. Finally I will show you my puzzle and many considerations I've gone through. So go and have fun creating you're very own Peculiar Postage Puzzle or whatever Awesome Alliteration you can come up with.
If you are a little less creative or you just don't feel like creating something like this, I've added the last step. In that step you can win the digital version of the quest. Be quick, I only give away 5 of these digital versions.
Step 1: Questions Before You Start
Before you start you should ask yourself some question, questions mainly focused on the receivers of the Quality Quest. It's not necessary to answer them all before you start, but some of these question will guide you later on through the creative process. I've divided possible questions in sections, not all have to apply to you, dependent on your story, kind of puzzle, etc.
- Who is it for?
- What do/are they like?
- What kind of puzzles do they like? Do they like puzzles, games, riddles or something else?
- What is the end goal?
- How will the pieces be provided to the receivers?
- What level of difficulty should be used?
Step 2: Things to Consider During the Build
Once you've gone through the previous step you should have a nice starting point to start working on your Peculiar Puzzle. You know who you will be creating for, and what will be appropriate kind of puzzles and more important, you know what you want to achieve. Next up, think about the actual build.
In this step I've summed many of the things you can think about.
Let's start with the story. A good puzzle or game tells a story, in Monopoly you work with hotels, in Risk you need to win the war and jigsaw puzzles from Anne Geddes are all about cute babies. This Grandiose Game will not be any different, so start creating your Stunning Story. Let's start with some questions.
- What is your theme?
- Is there something available around your theme? An existing mystery, objects, obscurities, etc.
- What kind of mystery will there be around your theme/object?
Of course there are a lot more questions which can be asked. But again, that is up to you. Make it as elaborate as you like: write a small story; work around a theme; or develop the theme / story along the way dependent on the progress of your recipients.
Depending on your puzzle specifics, planning may take an important role, especially when you decide to provide the player with multiple packages over time. Again, here are some questions which may arise.
- How many mails / items do you want to send?
- At what interval do you want to send?
- Do you plan to have conversations, if so, how and when?
Puzzles and Riddles:
By definition, you will need a lot of puzzles and / or riddles. Probably you know where to search for them. But here are some suggestions:
- Search the internet
- Instructables / Etsy
- Puzzle books
- Code writing
Of course there are a lot more sources for great parts. But an important source will be you, the creator. Adapt for example what you find to better fit the theme or build the actual part found in an Instructable or other tutorial.
How to Contact:
This part of this step is all about how the communication with the lucky receiver is going to happen. Will you have conversations, if so, how? Are you delivering one big package, or multiple packages? How much secrecy will there be? Like all other considerations I've added some suggestion below on things you can think off, in this case they all are things I've considered while creating mine.
- Digital mail - E-mail
- Normal mail
- Wooden box
- Padded envelope
- Meeting a person
- Place ad in newspaper
Last part of this step, props. In my opinion the more 'real' the post items are, the better the puzzle. That's why I like to suggest to spend most of the time creating the items and less time on the story, riddles and puzzles itself. When you have nice items this really brings the story to life, no matter how absurd the story may be.
- Spend time on the looks of the envelopes, do they have the correct stamp?
- Should a letter be handwritten and how would you imagine the handwriting of your character looks?
- Do you want to hide a solution in one of the props?
A nice touch could be when one or maybe two of the items / props can be used for decoration. They can remind the Fellowship of the Quest about their journey. Maybe add something which can be framed to go on the wall. Think big, but keep in mind what the receiver will like.
Step 3: About My Peculiar Postage Puzzle
Who is it for?
This Mystery Mania was made for my sister in law and her boyfriend. Before I chose them me and my wife had some thought about who it should be for. First it should be for someone who liked puzzling. Since I didn't want to tell I was the maker, it should also be someone who would get excited anyway and started the quest. And finally my wife and I liked to challenge the person(s) to do something similar in return. My sister in law and her boyfriend were the perfect couple. (Hello sister in law and boyfriend, consider this a hint :D)
The character and theme are both based on my sister in law and her boyfriend. Most names have a heritage and thereby have a meaning of some sort. So the name of the character was a combination of names with similar meaning as the names of my sister in law and her boyfriend. Samuel Kealy, or Sam Kealy for short, was born. I made him from Ireland, since his name is/sounds Irish. He studied Biomedical Engineering in Edinburgh, a study similar to that of my sister in law. For a hobby he collects curiosities, particularly death related, since he works as an undertaker.
When I was making a list with possible themes I liked to work with, my wife told me her sister always liked ancient Egypt when she was little. So I abandoned my list of possible themes and went with ancient Egypt. I quickly found some nice starting points, for example one of the most famous riddles in history is the riddle of the sphinx. And off course a lot of riddles and puzzles can be build around the hidden chambers in the pyramids.
Before I started I had some general ideas about the quest which would guide me through the build. I've put the most important ones here:
- Don't tell we made it, act such that we're not suspected.
- We send a hint/clue/puzzle every few weeks. My mother in law helped me get the items to my sister in law and her boyfriend. I gave everything to her, and send her a message with the instructions when she could 'deliver' a package. Reading the conversations between mother and daughter were quite amusing.
- Two main events, somewhere half way and in the end.
- Many different styles of packages/mails.
- Keep it somewhat believable, so try to support everything with facts.
Step 4: All My Postage Items
Up to this point I've stated many things which can be considered during the process. I also gave an example on how I used it all to came up with the Mystery Mania for my sister in law and her boyfriend. But here on Instructables we want to see the project result, so in this step I'll show many of the postage items and give some info on how I made them. In order to make this puzzle yourself for someone in your life, go to the next step in order to be able to win one of 5 digital copies I will give away.
Regular postage items:
- Envelopes - I tried to use multiple sizes and shapes dependent on the location it was send from and what was send with it. For example, I reused an old FedEx envelope which is made for reuse, and I made sure no traces of my address were still visible on an old package label. (Thank you Instructables for the envelope :D )
- Guide letters - All postage items came with some sort of accompanying letter to explain some things. How was the puzzle obtained, where was it found, how to contact the sender, what could be expected in the near future, etc. Some were handwritten, always on different paper with a different pen or pencil, others were printed.
- Postcard - Sometimes the best letter to hide a clue is a postcard. Everything is a hint.
- Coaster - What do you do in a pub when not drinking? You write things onto a coaster, why waste that coaster when you can just send it by mail.
Postage stamps & Stamps:
Postage items don't mail themselves, the delivery company does this and you pay for it. So I went all in and made stamps, labels, etc.
- Postage stamps - I needed postage stamps so my items look legit. I searched the internet for postage stamps of this year for all countries from where mail is send and printed them in different sizes.
- Stamps - When the mailing company receives a letter, the postage stamps are stamped by the company. So I hand carved some stamp (mirrored) and stamped all postage stamps.
- Package labels - Packages don't have postage stamps, but they have package labels. So I searched for an empty package label and filled it in.
Ancient games puzzle:
One puzzle was all about kids toys used in Ancient Egypt, so I recreated several pieces for that
- Three hand carved game pieces
- Several hand drawn game boards - Drawn on fabric aged with tea and coffee.
- Tape labels - All game pieces needed to be labeled with hieroglyph birds, so I draw the birds on tape and just taped it to the game pieces.
A riddle carved in stone, but the cave was collapsing when the main character was there. How to get a copy fast? Trace it with a pencil on a random piece of paper.
- Traced relief - This one was fun to make, I 'engraved' the riddle in wood, made a small notebook supposedly from a fake book store and traced the engraving on pieces of the notebook.
- Riddle - The riddle is a word riddle I found online which was quite hard to solve. Using an algorithm I tried to solve it, but it appeared to have multiple solutions, which was not good. So I remade the riddle, adapted it for the Egypt theme and turned it into hieroglyphs. However, my Egypt version also had multiple solutions, so by removing one of the letters of the riddle (supposedly not traced well due to the hurry during the collapse) this could be solved while even aiding in the story.
The cryptex was one of two main props. A challenge to make, but therefore the best fun.
- Cryptex - The cryptex I made should be able to house two pieces of fabric rolled up, so my cryptex turned up quite large. It is made from two pvc pipes which closely fit together as mechanism. Wooden pieces make up the entire outside. More elaborate instruction (especially technical drawings) on how to make this cryptex will be in the digital copy. Otherwise just search here on Instructables, already a couple of nice tutorials exist.
- Spells - The spells are created from a piece of fabric which are aged similar to the game boards before adding text and color. They supposedly come from multiple sources, so the type of text (hieroglyphs) and the use of color is chosen different for both spells. Both are designed on the computer first and traced onto the fabric using tracing paper.
- Wooden shipping crate - The shipping crate was a nice touch for sending the package. I had some wood shaving laying around, so that was perfect to fill the empty space. My sister in law and her boyfriend had a hard time figuring out how such a package could be delivered to their door.
At some point in the quest, they solved the main part of the mystery and they could join an ancient order. A certificate was the proof of their great results and membership. Of course everything is a hint, so also on the certificate was a hint for a follow up puzzle.
Second part of the certificate puzzle, just a transparent piece of paper which should be aligned with the certificate to get a clue.
In the final puzzle they had to find a place where they would meet us. Therefore they had to solve a puzzle which most students from my old university took several days to solve. The puzzle gave some town names. Coupling these towns with the provided sticks provided the town where we live.
- Sticks - Just used some bamboo skewers for this.
- Old map - To stay in the flow of the story I wanted to use an old map, like it is used by many generations of members before. Just print an old map and age it with tea and coffee.
- Puzzle - Made by hardboard, fabric and some markers.
Book of the dead:
Together with the cryptex this is the main prop. In it is all the information there is about the entire quest + extras.
- The cover is plain black with a silver drawing.
- I learned bookbinding, in particular Coptic bookbinding for this book. The fun thing is that Coptic bookbinding is named after the Copts, the early Christians in Egypt, which is a perfect support for the story. Officially the organisation is older than the book, so the book doesn't contain all information on the history of the organisation. This is off course explained in the book. For more information on Coptic bookbinding as used for this book, please go to my other Instructable about Coptic Letter Binding.
- All pages are aged by the use of tea.
- All members write their name in this book, so using many handwriting's, we wrote down approximately 100 fake names in this book. Many of these names are real people or have a background story made up by me which are used somewhere else in the book, for example for support on new hints for when I ever make a Second Super Story.
- An introduction by the founder of the organisation is also added. Here all information on the organisation is incorporated, such as why the organisation exists in the first place.
- All information about the quest from beginning to end is written down here, like it is the standard initiation ritual for new members. Sometimes written down wrongly on purpose so it appears like it evolved over time. Therefore notes are written down in the white spaces on some locations, always in the handwriting of some of the previous members. In some way the digital version of the quest will also be this book when printed.
- Pages appear in hieroglyphs, but often the text used really has a meaning of some sort. Sometimes it's 'Walk like an Egyptian' from the Bangles, sometimes a new hint.
- Several (parts of the) pages of the book are ripped out. I think some of the members felt like the info on those pages was to dangerous and they removed it. Were these pages burned or did they survive, do you think I still have them for the follow-up?
Step 5: Get a Digital Copy
Here is part of the my Puzzle Quest. If you have the answer, send me a private message and I will make sure you will get a digital copy of the entire quest.
"Hey there, found this at the next clue. Managed to translate this poem, but can’t quite figure out its meaning. Found another engraving as well, tried to copy it as fast and good as possible, but one word started to retract while I was copying it. It was surrounded by sort of a ring which I drew on the back. Hope you can find the meaning of it all.
Each letter is represented by a hieroglify
So you can solve this puzzle in a jiffy
For a storage vault you need to know
Part of it is the five letter word in the row
Take a quick last look with your eye
The puzzle disappears soon, as time flies by"