Mystery on 5th Avenue - real life puzzle ideas?
June 17, 2008 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Please help me make a cheap but kick ass version of the amazing Mystery on 5th Avenue apartment for a friend. (recently on Mefi).

If you don't know the link it will be best if you read it, or go through the slideshow.
Supershort summary: lots of puzzles elegantly integrated into an apartment, sending the owners on a very extravagant adventure game.

So I want to create something similar for my friend, who loves puzzles & games.

My limitations are pretty substantial:
- I (obviously) have a tiny fraction of the money
- I currently have no access to the house. I have enrolled her mum's help but will need to do all planning & preparing while in a different country.
- no irreversible alterations to the actual house / furniture etc.
- they already live there so changes shouldn't be too obvious, or if they are there should be a logical explanation mum can provide.
- ideally I'd carry all props with me when I fly there (in my suitcase, since unsuspecting friend will collect me!), tho larger items could be mailed to mum.
- I know friend's part of the house pretty well but changes will be easier to explain in mum's part so I'm pretty much working with a blank / generic canvas.

I will do lots of googling and researching, but I'm not much of a puzzler/gamer/cypherer myself so please lend me your wisdom & cleverness to make this a really cool experience for my friend. (she currently doesn't have Internet access so this was the perfect time to ask)
posted by ClarissaWAM to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Those are pretty substantive restrictions. The only thing I can think of is to incorporate self-made labels into the puzzles. Everybody has a multitude of products - toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, windex, etc - in their house. It's problematic because those things will get thrown out when they are empty, but since it's such a fertile ground for things you could do, and you want it to be reversible/non-permanent, I thought I'd mention it. The labels would probably be obvious as hell for you, but for people who use things every day often you can look right past something that has been changed.
posted by cashman at 12:19 PM on June 17, 2008

I think one of the keys to the Mystery on 5th Ave. was that there was a guiding story behind it all (like in ARGs or modern computer games, not coincidentally.) I think that'd be the first thing to think about -- some reason behind it all that will give meaning to the puzzles. What strange thing (supposedly) happened in the apartment? Was it host to a love triangle? The hide-out of a group of thieves who perpetrated a heist gone wrong? The home of the founder of a secret society who disappeared under mysterious circumstances?

With a good story and good puzzles, it would still be compelling with everything else done cheaply -- hidden notes and journals, maybe a puzzle box (containing a key to another box somewhere else...)

A scytale is one potentially cheap way to incorporate a physical artifact in a puzzle.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:24 PM on June 17, 2008

Write clues on painted walls using paint that is only visible under blacklight

Use magnetic or stick on trinkets/objects, that can be hidden in places where people don't usually look (underneath shelves or tabletops, behind picture-frames etc).

Some kind of electronic doohickey that beeps or plays a message when another doohickey is brought within range. Eg doohickey A is stuck to the underneath of a dining chair. If you happen to carry that dining chair into a neighbouring room from its usual location, it might come within proximity of doohickey B, which beeps to reveal its location. Once found, you can open it up to reveal a written clue.

A clue in the garden, encased in something that degrades over time, so the clue will be revealed one day, or you can speed it up by wetting it/smashing it if you figure out what it is.

Sneak clues in by buying her decorative gifts (paintings in frames, bird-feeders for the garden, a nice blanket etc) that have clues hidden in them somewhere. The blanket could have a message on the label, or it could be embroidered into the blanket design using a code.

A clue in plain view that is backwards, and only becomes clear when viewed through a mirror would be super-cool. Esp if her mum hung it up somewhere on a wall, just so, that someone walking in the right place would see the clue through a hall/bathroom mirror.

Clues written in tiny lettering that must be examined with a magnifying glass, could hide on objects in everyday view.

Does your friend collect anything? Perhaps she has an interest that would allow you to send her various items on a regular basis, and each item could have a clue hidden in/on it. She would ideally keep these objects (since they fit with her interest!) and like them for what they appear to offer on the surface. Then once you have sent all the clues but the first - you mail her the first clue in a plain envelope, ready for the treasure hunt to start.

Oh, and you have to bury something in the garden to be dug up later!

That reminds me, I have heard of these seeds which you can get custom inscribed. When the plant grows, the message shows up on the leaf. A v.quick google for "message seeds" got me too many results to find the website where I saw them originally, but here's a I did findphoto I did find.

Good luck, its an awesome project, and I am jealous, your friend is very lucky! :)
posted by Joh at 2:11 PM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this is what you're looking for but how about:

Objects/clues embedded into a candle? Or baked into a cake/pie?
Messages sewn into clothing, or tucked into hems
Buy copies of books she already owns, hollow them out and hide things inside, or highlight letters/words/passages that can be used as clues
Subtly change her computer wallpaper to contain clues
CDs or MP3s that contain messages when played backwards
Mailing a mysterious and anonymous notes to get her started, or back on track if needed

What do you want the end result or reward of this game to be? I think that'll be helpful in creating your trail of clues.
posted by Rora at 7:12 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks all, some really good ideas here!!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:44 PM on June 18, 2008

Do you knit? Shadow Knitting
Grand Illusions might be a good site to wander around in for inspiration. I've made the little dragon illusion, he's wonderful.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:10 AM on June 27, 2008

Watch the video on this page of Grand Illusions. The magic mirror seems like it would lend itself to this sort of idea. I've no idea if you could make one up on your own but it might be worth some research.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:22 AM on June 27, 2008

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