How to Host a Spy Party




Introduction: How to Host a Spy Party


For her 8th birthday, my daughter hinted that she would really like a "Secret Agent, Nancy Drew-ish, Super Sleuth, Spy Party". You know the one? No? Well, neither did I. So after a quick search for ideas (fantastic ones found here) and coming up with a few of my own, here is a step by step guide on how to host your own spy party. The party itself was a great success, with all the children really getting into it!

Overview: Guests are invited to attend agency training to help foil General Tantrum's (the birthday bandit) plans to ruin yet another birthday party, namely, this one. Guests are welcomed and equipped with the necessary spy gear. They attend agency training (games etc) and graduate just as Tantrum strikes, the cake and presents are missing! They then team together to complete a clue hunt to solve the mystery of the missing presents.

Of course, you may require to personalize quite a lot (depending on age, guest count etc), but hopefully this instructable will encourage you to host your very own Secret Agent, Nancy Drew-ish, Super Sleuth, Spy Party.

Step 1: Making the Invitations

Top Secret Letter Transcript:Intelligence sources indicate that Gen. Tantrum (aka the birthday bandit) plans to ruin another party. We believe his intended target is the 8th birthday party of ... Your Mission: Attend fast track agent training and foil Tantrum's plans. Training will commence ..., Completion ... RSVP... CONTACT DETAILS (possibly spread over the letter and elsewhere on the invitation).

Don't have a printer? Simply design photo sized invitations and have them printed cheaply as 6x4 photos at the store. I used Photoshop to design the invitations but there are free alternatives out there, such as the gimp. Working with photoshop type applications really requires instructables of their own. So, I'm going to just step you through the creative side of the design.

1. First I found a rough gungy background (adds a touch of reality). 2. Then I added a dossier folder. 3. A few sheets of paper, one for a typed message (the invitation or mission) - I used 1942 as my typewriter font, but there are many out there to download. 4. I found polaroids rather spy-ish, so by downloading a polaroid template and inserting relevant images you can gather your 'intelligence', as it were. 5. I also added a written note with additional information - and a magnifying glass. 6. Finally, I added bits and pieces (to catch the eye) - Paper clips, a pencil, coffee stain, tickets and a piece of torn paper with a clue on it (each guest has their own clue to contribute along the way). Other eye catching ideas might be passports, coins or stamps.

A quick note on image size: A 6x4 photo is typically printed at 300dpi (dots per inch), so if you want to design a suitable image for printing at this size, you want to work with an image of 1800x1200 pixels (that is 6 inches x 300 dots/inch = 1800 dots or pixels and 4 inches x 300 dots/inch = 1200 dots or pixels).

Step 2: Preparing the Sleuth Kit Party Packs

Sleuth kits are very handy in fighting crime, holding clues, storing treats and transporting party cake. Here is a list of standard issue secret agent sleuth kit stuff;

1 x Black Agent Hat (I found the fedoras at the dollar shop)
1 x Agent ID Card (I used the ID for labeling the bags and also clue envelopes for the clue hunt)
1 x Magnifying Glass (again from the dollar shop 2 for 1)
1 x Treat (to keep the wolf from the door)
1 x Invitation (copy of their invitations as they contain vital clues)
1 x Only known photo of General Tantrum
1 x Sleuth Notebook (for clues and codes - this also had a thumb print to help pair them up for training games)
1 x Pencil (I broke one in two and sharpened both pieces)
1 x Gift Bag (dollar shop again)

While making the notebook labels (with paired up thumb prints), I also made graduation certificates for the completion of agency training. I also printed their agent names out for agency mugshots as they arrive (these are used to make thank you cards after the party). My 5 year old son's job was to greet guests by teaching them a secret knock to gain access to the agency entrance. Standard issue spy gear was distributed and photos were taken (for thank you cards later). Children placed their gifts on a table with the birthday cake and snacked while all the guests arrived and were 'processed'.

Step 3: Agency Training Activities

Training began with a bit of a briefing on General Tantrum and why he seeks to ruin birthday parties (you'll have to improvise here).  I did apologize for the absence of Senior Agent Alpha Zulu, he had been heading up the case to foil Tantrum and was to run the training sessions, but he had seemingly disappeared (this comes into play after training).

Next, we familiarized ourselves with the sleuth kit and their first task of finding their partner for the next training exercise (notebook thumb prints were to be examined with their magnifying glasses and the matching thumb print would belong to their partner).

The spot the difference task was completed in pairs with those finding the most differences being able to describe to the others to help them complete it as well.  I found some spot the difference games online and just printed again as photos.

Next, within the same teams, we played the 'restricted elbows' game.  As a team they were asked to eat 3 strawberries or 3 marshmallows each, while wearing a stiff piece of card around their elbow.  They would attempt to drop the strawberry or marshmallow from above (while I timed their attempts) and if they couldn't achieve this within a set time, they were allowed to take off the restricting card and eat the one in their hand.  Some of the children quickly realized that they could feed each other to speed things up.  A lesson in team work.

Remember to throw around spy ideas throughout the games like; "At a crime scene, remember to touch nothing as you may destroy evidence" or "Keep all evidence (and clues) as you may require them along the way" or "You each have a unique agent number " (all important for later).

Finally, we discussed the fact that Tantrum only travels by airship (hot air balloons, blimps and the like) so that we must keep an eye out for his airship.  As it turned out, we had a replica of Tantrum's hot air balloon to practice grounding it if we were to see it.  This is where the hot air balloon piñata comes in.

Step 4: Making the Pinata

I have made piñatas before, parrots, monkeys, octopuses and the like, but I've decided that it's a little disturbing seeing children take to an animal with sticks. So this time I went with an inanimate object, a hot air balloon. One good thing about a hot air balloon is that it looks strangely like a balloon (the core element of the piñata).

Firstly, take an inflated (largish) balloon. Make up some papier-mâché paste (I used 2 heaped table spoons of corn starch, made into a thick paste with cold water, then added 1 liter of boiling water). Before adding newsprint I taped half a tissue roll at the bottom of the balloon to make it look a little more like a hot air balloon.  

Take strips of newsprint, wet with paste and apply a thin layer to the balloon until covered. Note: leave a small opening to pop balloon and fill with treats.  

You will need to apply maybe three layers, allowing each layer to dry. Pop balloon, 1/3 fill the piñata with treats and then cover hole with last layer of newsprint. You can cover a yogurt pottle with paper to act as its basket (however, I used a small plastic flower pot).

Taking a marker pen, mark out your design for painting, paint and allow to dry. You don't want your piñata to fall down so tie three rings of string around its base, middle (just below the mid point) and just above (you can use tape to hold this string in place). Take six strings tying these rings together, tying the six together at the top and attaching them to the basket at the bottom. I used this string to make little loops at the top of the basket.

We filled the basket with chocolate coins to keep the children happy at the beginning. If you are worried that it will be destroyed too quickly, blindfold the children and have them only have one hit each first. Then increase the number of hits for each turn. We used a rounded wooden spoon for hitting at first then went to the flatter wooden spoon as it had a sharper edge.

Tip: Make sure the children are kept from harms way while someone is flailing about as it is all too easy to get a spoon in the face. You could also include a clue inside the piñata as we had planned but we forgot to include this when filling it. Oops!

Step 5: Decorating the Spy Cake

I decided to bake an apple and cinnamon birthday cake with lemon cream cheese icing (see below). I am not the greatest at decorating cakes, as the icing colors never seem to work out or the image morphs to look more like modern art! This year I decided to use a stencil to aid the cake design. I first found a Nancy Drew silhouette online and zoomed in until it was the size I wanted. Since I didn't have a printer, I placed a piece of paper on the computer screen and traced it (you could of course just resize and print it out). Then, taking a craft knife, I carefully cut out the design. I placed the silhouette on the cake and dusted the design with drinking chocolate powder, however, I think cinnamon would have worked better, both taste-wise and it would be a finer finish (I found the drinking chocolate too heavy and so I re-dusted with icing sugar using the inversed silhouette to help define the outline).

Cream Cheese Icing: Beat 1/4 cup cream cheese with 2Tbs soft butter until creamy, mix in 1 cup of icing sugar and a lemon's grated rind.

Step 6: Crime Scene Clues

So the children have graduated from agency training, the cake and presents are missing and all that remains in their place are some random objects, the crime scene! The crime scene is made up of 10 objects (there were 10 children) needed to solve 10 hidden clues and so solving the mystery. There were also a number of random objects (rubik's cube, sun glasses, and other odds and ends).

After being told that the presents and cake are missing, the children rush in to see the table covered with clues. They are told that they cannot touch any item until Alpha Zulu gives the order (Alpha Zulu, the head of the agency's birthday department has yet to make contact), however, they have been given a minute to make notes or draw the crime scene. After a minute has passed, the crime scene is sealed (and covered) and together the children discuss what they noted. Hopefully, they will together be able to identify the 10 objects that are required along the way to solve the mystery.  Since we haven't heard from our agency's head we seem to have come to a dead end. Time for a drink and a snack.

I decided that at my daughter's age it would be important that each child have a turn during the hunt. This was achieved by having the clues in envelopes and each guest's agent name was on one envelope. I also put a little treat in each envelope to keep them going.

Overview of the clue hunt and related objects (a full description of clues are given later);

A piece of paper with holes cut out of it is used to mask off CLUE1, a letter from Tantrum himself. this is used to reveal the position of CLUE2. An Arabic to English transliteration table is used to read CLUE2 (a note written in Arabic script, but in English) to reveal the location of CLUE3. Some sticky tape is used to stick CLUE3 (a torn map/message) together. A piece of the map/message, which was at the scene of the crime, is also required. The message points to the position of CLUE4. CLUE4 is a set of photos, showing a person placing CLUE5 into a hole in a tree. CLUE5 is a tape to be played on the Dictaphone to learn the position of CLUE6. CLUE 6 suggests there is more to Tantrum's letter and so the invisible ink pen is used to reveal the message that has been written between the lines and so the location of CLUE7.CLUE7 is a coded message, decoded by the code key found at the crime scene, revealing the location of CLUE8.CLUE8 requires a sentence to be made by connecting clips to terminals (requiring the clips found at the crime scene) once connected, the laser turns on displaying a symbol that is on the message/map of CLUE3 revealing the position of CLUE9.CLUE9 is a message telling the person with the GPS device to follow a favourite to find CLUE10.CLUE10 finally is a letter to Tantrum giving directions to call on the Walkie-Talkie with a code phrase to supply an address for the presents to be delivered to. The children rush home to find the presents and cake returned.

Step 7: Drinks (contact From Alpha Zulu)

The children had cups labeled with their agent names (practical as they can keep their cup for entire party) and some healthy snacks. As they finish their drinks they discover that each cup has a letter written on the base. I ended up prompting them to place the letters in the same order as their agent numbers (on agent IDs). They wrote each letter in their notebooks as each agent called out their number and letter. It spelled out "fireplace".

They raced to the fireplace and found a letter from senior agent Alpha Zulu!

Step 8: Burnt Message

As the message from Alpha Zulu was found in the fireplace, I had burnt it round the edges and screwed it up into a ball.

Transcript of the letter from Alpha Zulu:

Newly Recruited Agents:

I am senior agent Alpha Zulu. I have been on the trail of General Tantrum and was close to capturing him but his men tracked me down. I have left you clues but beware Tantrum may have tried to destroy or hide them. You will each need an object from the table, if you are to solve the mystery of the birthday bandit and retrieve the presents.

Alpha Kilo - you'll need to play mini sounds
Echo Golf - stick together but don't get stuck [scotch tape]
Juliet Golf - TomTom knows where to go[our GPS navigator is a TomTom]
Juliet Hotel - blank with nothings in between [holey paper]
Romeo Bravo - a pen will light your way[invisible ink pen with light to read it]
Alpha Alpha - ripped or torn yet crucial[a part of the ripped message/map]
Echo Lima - connections to clip, words to read[alligator clips connected by wire]
November Bravo - expert in Arabic [Arabic to English transliteration chart]
Charlie Lima - symbols turn to words[key code chart]
Zulu Golf - walk and talk afar but don't shout [walkie-talkie]

Start here [then coded message spelling oak tree with symbols]

I just used wingdings font, with six of the invitations including a letter = symbol key to help decode the message. The first envelope clue was placed on our oak tree. As the letter was read out each agent would go and pick up the object that they were responsible to use (ie Alpha Kilo went in and picked up the Dictaphone).

Step 9: Masked Message From Tantrum

CLUE1: The first envelope clue was addressed to Juliet Hotel (the agent with the holey paper). I wrote a letter from Tantrum, that contained the letters of the next message. I typed the letter and printed it (at work) and then I placed black boxes over the relevant letters (of the hidden message) and changed the text color to white and printed it out once again. Taking a craft knife, I cut out the black boxes so that if you placed the holey sheet over the orginal message, it would mask out the unwanted letters, revealing the new message.

Transcript of Tantrum's message;

So, you think you can follow me but I have ruined many birthdays & xmas celebrations. I steal candles, party hats, cups & presents whenever I wish. I will continue to fight every dreadful attempt of yours to have fun. The children should not have parties and so I will ruin every birthday and you can not stop me. - General Tantrum

...the next clue is on the door of the shed...

CLUE2: The envelope on the shed door was addressed to November Bravo (the agent with the Arabic to English transliteration chart). The message "Go to Zara's room" was written in Arabic letters from right to left.

Step 10: Green Message and Map

CLUE3: Having arrived at my daughter's bedroom, the children find a letter addressed to Echo Golf (the agent with the scotch tape). "Oh no! It looks like Tantrum has tried to destroy another clue! Use teamwork to piece this one together". There are torn up pieces of the message/map to be found and taped back together. Alpha Alpha also has an important piece from the crime scene.

The message reads:

"Zara's parents have not been using the fire in the lounge. It has been putting out smoke. There could be a blockage in the chimney". The next envelope addressed to Alpha Alpha, was placed up in the lounge chimney just above the fireplace.

The map (on the reverse side) will be used later.

Step 11: Photo Clue and Voice Message

CLUE4: Depending on the age of the children, it may be good to have a few clues that require less reading. Alpha Alpha's envelope is found up in the lounge chimney. This clue is simply a number of 'Polaroids' showing someone placing the next clue at its location (in this case, placing a package in the knot of a tree). I made the 'Polaroids' by firstly taking a few pictures of a sinister someone placing the package. I also applied a sepia filter, to give the photos a different look (I used the free photo software Picasa to do this). Then using a Polaroid template, I inserted these images (zooming in for close ups etc). I fit two small 'Polaroids' on one 6x4, had them printed and cut them out.

CLUE5: The next envelope was addressed to Alpha Kilo (the agent with the Dictaphone) and again this didn't require reading. The envelope was wrapped in a white cloth containing a toy revolver and bullets. Inside the envelope was a cassette for the Dictaphone. Listening to this revealed the location of the next clue.

Transcript of voice recording;

V1: "General Tantrum... General Tantrum..."
V2: "Yes, Vislik"
V1: "Concerning the shipment"
V2: "Yes, Vislik... Concerning the shipment?"
V1: "Concerning the shipment... I have flagged the ship that does not sail"
V2: "You are speaking in code... I do not understand"
V1: "Yes... I have flagged the ship that does not sail"
V2: "I still don't understand... stop talking in code... go into secure mode"
V1: "Ok... going into secure mode" - [message becomes garbled and encrypted - I made this effect by recording it on a computer and adding an echo effect and then reversing the track - then I recorded the message with the Dictaphone]

The next clue was up the flag pole on the pirate ship (maybe a future instructable).

Step 12: Read Between the Lines

CLUE6: The envelope addressed to Romeo Bravo (the agent with the invisible ink pen) contains a note stating "General Tantrum's letter said more than it appeared. Maybe one of you could shine some light on the true meaning. Sometimes you need to read between the lines to solve a mystery". Shining the invisible ink light on the letter from Tantrum reveals the next message "It's rather sunny today... you may need to... put up the sun umbrella"

CLUE7: On the underside of the sun umbrella an envelope addressed to Charlie Lima (the agent with the key code chart) contains a coded message (basically written in a character font like webdings/wingdings). The message states "Go to the spare room to turn on the laser"

Step 13: Laser Message and Symbol

CLUE8: The agents find the laser room, where there is an envelope addressed to Echo Lima (the agent with the alligator clips). The message in the envelope reads "Read the four sentences, find the fifth to continue on".  

I thought having a laser would be kind of spy-ish, so I bought a laser pointer from the dollar shop. I made a matrix of terminals from 16 nails. Each nail was labeled with a word. The words made up sentences to help solve this clue;


Four agents had a word on their invitations as their clue. The words were Find, Symbol, On, Map.

I basically unscrewed the bottom of the laser pointer, breaking the connection between batteries and device. I drilled a hole in the piece of wood, the same diameter of the laser pointer and inserted it (this forced the push button to always be pressed). I then connected the 'battery' side to a wire with an alligator clip on it and the 'ground' side to another wire with an alligator clip on it - see laser circuit (you could also just bypass the switch if you don't mind playing with electronics).

I had joined the nails 'FIND' and 'SYMBOL' and 'ON' and 'MAP' with wires underneath. This basically meant that when the first clip was connected to 'FIND' and the clips from the crime scene were connected from 'SYMBOL' to 'ON' and finally, the last clip is connected to 'MAP' the laser would switch on, displaying the symbol you decided to use. This symbol is marked on the green map revealing the position of the next envelope. This was just outside of our property, stuck with duct tape to a power pole.

CLUE9: This envelope was addressed to Juliet Golf (the agent with the GPS navigator). A message enclosed suggested to navigate to Tantrum's favorite location. This took them to a local foot bridge over a river.

CLUE10: Finally, Zulu Golf's (agent with the walkie-talkie) envelope contained a message for Tantrum "Dear Tantrum, We have your 'packages'. All we need is a delivery address. Contact us with the code phrase - The Squirrel is nuts - and give us the address for delivery". Zulu Golf used the walkie-talkie, giving the code phrase and the delivery address (her home).

They rushed back to find the presents and cake returned. One additional present was from General Tantrum, attached was a card stating that he'd met his match and that he was giving up his life of crime. The presents were opened and the cake was at last eaten.

Step 14: Making Thank You Cards

Using the mug shots taken as guests arrived, you can construct a criminal line up. I arranged the mug shots on a single 6x4 photo, with the words "You have been found guilty..." at the bottom. The idea is to write "for giving a fantastic gift to ... ...Thanks!" on the reverse side. I used Picasa again to apply a black, white with color focus effect. I also circled the guilty suspect in red. You can stick the photo to a folded piece of card or just write on the reverse side.

I hope this instructable has given you some ideas to try out on your own spy party!

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    31 Discussions


    1 year ago

    This is fantastic! What a fab party! Thank you so much for sharing!


    8 years ago on Step 14

    So much planning, but brilliant!


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 14

    Thank you teapot. We had lots of fun and we even managed it for my son as he turned eight, with new and improved clues, including wireless smartphone IP webcam, computer hacking and mysterious emails, mp3 player musical clues and movement sensing pass the explosive device. Fun! Thanks again!


    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi Rocketsurgery, I know it has been years since your posting, but I would love to do this for my son who will be turning 7. I'd be super interested to hear about the new improved clues you used and how you made them. Any files you have, or tips on how you adapted it for boys would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Sorry I missed your comment. It's been a while but I'll ramble just in case you haven't already had your son's 7th birthday. Little technical addons seemed to help update the clues. For one person's clue, they had a password on their invitation. I added a user to an old laptop for the agent "Cervello Nuvola", the child types it in and the computer was found displaying a webpage of a live ipcam (you can get a free app on your iphone/android or use another laptop as the webcam stream). You could even "hack" their emails and perhaps find a link to the webcam stream or perhaps have the emails another stage to unlock a different location. I had my smart phone hidden somewhere streaming its camera of the next clue location. For their training... instead of pass the parcel, we played pass the explosive (bomb disposal training). I bought a cheap bike/bag alarm (one that would go off when moved or jolted)... so they would very slowly pass the parcel to each other... if they were being too careful you simply insist they speed up... when the alarm goes off the person opens a layer of the parcel (normally include a lolly/candy in each layer so everyone wins). I used free audio software (audacity) to make a spooky coded message announcing the location of another clue... this was just a riddle that they solved "Slide the door it's on the floor" repeating with "V U U" playing through at the end (they next clue was on the floor of our old VW Kombi van). You could also have the message reversed and have a "audio lab" decode the message... play it backwards? For the cake I simply had my son's name with the cake as a magnifying glass enlarging the text. I think I might still have some files floating about so let me know if you still need them and see if I can find them for you.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Dear Rocketsurgery
    Thank you for your reply - the party is in June so I have plenty of time to plan it, and your response is very timely indeed. I think I understand everything you have said and I have a Canary security cam that will work with the first clue.
    I have started looking for fingerprint images, spot the difference pics etc, but if you have ANY files floating about in relation to the parties then I would reeeeeaaaaally appreciate them! Cheers.
    [I did try replying to your comment, but for some reason it wouldn't work, have tried the mailing option as well]


    2 years ago

    Thanks to your ideas, our spy party for our 8 year old was a huge hit. We found out that regular yellow highlighter pens work extremely well as UV light pens, if you have nothing else handy. We added a "Villians Lair/laboratory" concept out of our laser pen clue in our attic with a plasma globe, a lava lamp and other techie stuff. Thanks a million.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for your kind words. Parenting is lots of fun, although I guess you don't need to be a parent to throw a party. Thanks again!


    8 years ago on Step 14

    This is fantastic. I love the originality and (obvious) labor of love you put into this party. I can't wait for my grandson to be old enough to do something like this for him.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 14

    Thanks for the encouragement! We really had fun during the party and I really enjoyed all the preparations too.


    My son is having a Spy-Themed Party this month. Can you tell me how you made the fingerprint ID cards & Spy Certificates? I'm pretty technologically challenged, but I'd like to try! They look so fabulous! Definitely the best I've found on the web!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi there... To make the ID cards with their paired thumb prints I used Photoshop (the GIMP is a free alternative but you can use any drawing application really)... find a textured (or grimy) background... find enough thumbprints off the internet so you can pair the guests up... Added a barcode (with agent number)... Top Secret stamp is a must... for the graduation certificate, I just put the CIA emblem in the background and some official sounding words...

    Cardholder agrees that the user of this card is subject to all applicable Agency rules and regulations and terms of the Secret Agent Code of Conduct. This card may be revoked by the Agency at any time and must be returned upon request. This card contains details regarding your secret identity and occupation as an undercover agent. If this card is lost, stolen, or found, your undercover status will be considered compromised and you will be relieved of duty and relocated under the provision of the witness protection program.

    I still have the Photoshop files if you think they would help... Hope your son's party goes swimmingly...

    9 years ago on Introduction

    This is just brilliant. The guests must have been absolutely rapt... all those fancy commercial parties could never match up to this!

    I just wish my son was still little enough to do this party for him. We had some fun parties but this one is in a class of its own! Well done!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Very Creative and well done.

    GREAT JOB! The mug shots are the bomb...


    9 years ago on Introduction

    That's so cool! How everything lines up in a simplised setting to track down the baddie is so well done, nice job! 5*


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Kryptonite!!! Gen. Tantrum finally admits defeat by giving his gift (a constructable drinking straw... the last straw) and suggesting in his note that he was leaving his life of crime to become a party planner instead... :S Thanks again!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Brilliant ending to another dastardly plot.