Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Help me create an ARG for my daughter.
September 26, 2011 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I am constructing an ARG for my 10-year-old daughter, and I'd like some help coming up with puzzles.

Ideally the puzzles (I'm hoping for at least 5 or 6 good ones) will involve a range of different ways of thinking. I'd love at least one math-based puzzle, one language-based one, one "spatial" puzzle (something she has to explore around our neighborhood and the surrounding woods to solve), and something to do with the Internet/Web. The difficulty I'm finding is how to design a puzzle with a solution that leads her on to the next puzzle.

I have got a few bucks to throw at this for materials and what not (say $50-100) and a little knowledge about how to create a website (in 1999, not much of a clue about the state of the art).

The ARG's plot centers around her cat and his place in the line of succession in the Royal Cat Family of Catrolina, so extra points for puzzles that involve cats or royalty. Thanks!
posted by Rock Steady to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
have her decode something into a 10 digit number, and have her realize that it is a phone number on her own, have her call the number. Ahead of time, provide the person with a script to read or a clue to give her. Make sure it's not a number she would recognize, calling Uncle Tony really ruins the fun.

Calling random numbers is really fun.

You can also create a bunch of email addresses and create a bunch of characters that she can interact with over email. Someone on the phone could pretend to be one of these characters.

Have a clue at the animal shelter?

If you have a GPS she can use the puzzles to get her the coordinates and lead to the next clue.
posted by JimmyJames at 11:57 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Something I've considered in the past is getting local businesses in on the act. Local (no-kill!) shelters, her vet, hell if you REALLY want to get fancy, try talking to your local news station. Maybe the local museum, library, or historical society, considering those folks often have resources to determine lineage?

Clues could be given to friendly employees/volunteers at said establishments. What fun would it be to go 'Why don't we ask this nice person about it?' and have them give your daughter an info-dump on the history of the RCF?

Bonus points for directing her toward children's books for cats (perhaps the cat in the book is a relative!), or such being one of the rewards for completing it. Kids can NEVER have enough books.

(You are also neglecting to post a picture of said cat, I'll point out...)

... This would also potentially be an awesome childrens' book.
posted by Heretical at 11:58 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


A really easy substitution cipher should be okay. Just make sure that you come up with a sentence that makes it easy to figure out the whole phrase. Make sure that you have a couple of common two letter words and that the only three letter word is 'the' and it should be solvable for a 10 year old (with maybe a nudge in the right direction).

Geocaching something with GPS would be a good one, too, even if it's only in the local park.
posted by empath at 12:01 PM on September 26, 2011


have her decode something into a 10 digit number, and have her realize that it is a phone number on her own, have her call the number. Ahead of time, provide the person with a script to read or a clue to give her. Make sure it's not a number she would recognize, calling Uncle Tony really ruins the fun.

Better yet, just get a google voice number and leave the message in voicemail.
posted by empath at 12:02 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another fun cypher for kids is a scytale where you have a strip of seemingly random letters that spells a word out when you wrap it around the appropriate item.

Writing in lemon juice that shows up when you heat it, and doing a pencil rubbing over a page to show what was written on the page above it.

And rebuses.
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the local museum, library, or historical society, considering those folks often have resources to determine lineage?

I like that idea.

Another fun cypher for kids is a scytale where you have a strip of seemingly random letters that spells a word out when you wrap it around the appropriate item.

Like the Royal Scepter. Perfect.

Better yet, just get a google voice number and leave the message in voicemail.

This is very good. I'd love other ideas for "force multipliers" as it were -- things that make it seem like more than just my wife and I are running this thing.

(You are also neglecting to post a picture of said cat, I'll point out...)

Oh, right. Here is the putative Crown Prince of Catrolina, in case you need inspiration. His ruling style would presumably be rather laissez faire.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:31 PM on September 26, 2011


Hi! Professional ARG designer and all-around transmedia kinda girl here.

If you're making an ARG and not just a puzzle trail, the trick is to come up with a fun story in which she is the main character. I'd suggest something in the kid-detective milieu, kicking it off with ex. a letter from someone who needs her help -- maybe the Cat Queen, looking for an heir who has run away from home . Actually send it in the mail. Make sure it's not your handwriting, she'd recognize it.

There are tons of entirely free resources you can use -- look for free Tumblrs, Gmail addresses, etc. I wouldn't bother buying a domain name unless you're planning on putting the whole thing on a single domain.

For puzzle design, you need to start with the solution and work backwards from there. That is, decide what you want her to find or know, and then frame the puzzle so that's the only possible solution. Be careful of ambiguity -- maybe try your puzzles on a few grownups ahead of time to make sure there is only one legit solve.

Some age-appropriate puzzles might include:
* A visual puzzle: Hide an object such as a cat collar with a special charm on it, and then take a photograph of the location; she has to find it based on the photo. (I'm thinking outside, between a couple of distinctive trees; something like that.)
* As above, cryptograms are solvable at that age by a clever child, especially if you give them some of the key.
* Find some obscure cat-related information on Wikipedia, and then require that she find that information and tell it to a character in exchange for information she needs.
* Give her a piece of text in a foreign language, if she's learning one; or if she's not, some time before, casually show her Google Translate. In general, you can do all kinds of things using new skills or tools; but make sure you show how to do them a little while before she'd need them, so she can feel clever about thinking up applying them herself.

Don't underestimate your power to give her an amazing experience by fabricating coincidences as she goes through the story -- a phone call at just the right moment, etc. And with the voice of bitter experience: Give yourself a bunch of failsafes -- ways to keep her moving along even if she doesn't get what you intended her to.

Have a great time, she's a lucky girl to have such a devoted parent. ^_^
posted by Andrhia at 12:32 PM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you're making an ARG and not just a puzzle trail, the trick is to come up with a fun story in which she is the main character.

Oh, story I've got. Her cat has been tapped to succeed the ailing king, but there is a usurper who is also angling for the crown. She must become her cat's "Factotum" -- a human assistant all royal felines have -- and help him thwart the usurper and gain the throne. My inspiration is coming from the vampire royalty of True Blood and the devious machinations of Game of Thrones. You know, kid-friendly stuff.

A visual puzzle: Hide an object such as a cat collar with a special charm on it, and then take a photograph of the location; she has to find it based on the photo.

This is great, and I will definitely use that, but I guess my question is how to make the charm lead on to the next thing. That's where I get a bit stuck. We are taking a trip in the near future, and I am going to arrange for her to find a little "relic" while we are there, but I don't know how to go from "clay figurine" to "next thing to do", if you know what I mean.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:45 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ahhh, what you're missing is a guide. That's a character she reports to when she's figured out each solution, who confirms she's right and sends her on to the next step in the story. in ARGdom, this is typicall an attractive brunette who needs your help; in this case, it might be the ailing king's Factotum (or the Factotum of the king's niece) who suspects something is up and wants to, ex., prevent an assassination attempt on your cat's life.

So in the photo example, it might be an email: "I found this photograph in Usurper's chambers, does it look familiar to you?" to "Maybe there's a clue there" if she needs a nudge, to "Ah-hah! That's the sigil of the house of Ratsbane! I'm friendly with one of their assistants, but she won't help unless I first help her translate this letter from her old beau..."

The puzzles don't necessarily need to chain directly one to the other -- you have the narrative layer acting as cartilage in between the bones of the challenges. ^_^
posted by Andrhia at 1:01 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Create a puzzle in which the solution is the URL to a youtube video, or print the URL on an item she finds. The video can provide backstory - it can appear to be a video message left for someone else, which she's intercepting, and which compels her to take action on behalf of her cat - and provide clues for the next puzzle. Obviously you'll have to use confederates for things like voiceover, people your daughter won't recognize.
posted by itstheclamsname at 1:03 PM on September 26, 2011


Another element I find intriguing in games and mysteries is the seemingly-useless item that becomes important later in the story. If she's going to get some sort of totem, maybe there's something hidden inside she's led to discover after having carried it through most of the game, or it forms a surprising and improbable part of the solution to the final puzzle.

I went on tvtropes looking for a name for this phenomenon, but couldn't find it.
posted by itstheclamsname at 1:15 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always found it interesting when the "prize" of that leg of the adventure it itself a cryptic puzzle. Like:

The Charm has latitude and longitude designations on the back.

The figurine has a phone number written in the bottom, or alphabet-number substitutions.

The letter from Archduke Fuzzybottom contains some wordplay involving heat, the sun, or whatever, and (whoah!) a second half of the letter is written in invisible ink.

Yes it's contrived, but it's also an easy way to keep the plot moving.

Could you include (to steal from Andrhia) "Lifeline"-style helps, say three hints she can get from a family member (supplied by you) when things get tough to keep her on the right track?

p.s. What a fun idea. Good luck!
posted by Poppa Bear at 1:18 PM on September 26, 2011


I really like websites that connect together to make it seem as if the world of the ARG is a Real Thing full of Real People. If you sat down for a weekend you could make some fake Facebook accounts, flickrs, tumblrs, blogspots etc for characters in the game -- then fill them with posts, friends, and the like over a month or so, and link your daughter to them in the clues. Being able to interact with more than one "person" will make the game seem much more real, and it'll give you more than one way to provide clues and move the story forward if she gets stuck.

Your "guide" character (I agree that this is a very, very good idea!) could have one of these, too -- talking to him or her via facebook, tumblr, or tinychat might seem much more real to a 10 year old than doing it over email, especially if you can contrive it so that someone else can make the guide chat with her while you're sitting next to her. Kids often lose interest in this kind of game if it's obvious that Mom and Dad are making everything happen, but when it's obvious that they couldn't be? Magic!
posted by vorfeed at 1:19 PM on September 26, 2011


Thank you all, this is great. If anyone is still following this thread, I have a specific follow-up. The final puzzle is going to involve a series of gylphs or icons, one of which is included in in each previous puzzle. What is a good puzzle involving combining or interpreting a small number of glyphs? Best if it has a geo-spatial solution, so it can lead her directly to the reward.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2011


Oh, I should add, there will only be 5 or 6 previous puzzles, so not enough glyphs for a code or cipher, really.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:23 PM on September 28, 2011


What is a good puzzle involving combining or interpreting a small number of glyphs?

One obvious option would be a rebus in the classic style. If you present the glyphs out of order and provide a "sentence" to place them in (which leads to the solution when the glyphs are combined correctly and the sentence is read aloud), this could be just right for a 10 year old.
posted by vorfeed at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older How do I get back into a more ...   |  Anyone have experience with re... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.