After visiting the Spy Museum in DC, my daughter Ana announced she wanted a “spy party” for her 9th birthday celebration. I did some research online but didn’t find much. So, we brainstormed the kinds of activities she saw at the museum and together, came up with a plan. Our mission accomplished, here’s how it went down:
The Cake and Decor. First, I didn’t decorate the house at all this year. It was hard “letting go” of the need to put out the coordinated tableclothes, plates, napkins, a birthday banner (bought or homemade), balloons, and so on. But for this party, it didn’t seem fitting. Ana made her cake with her friend Bea under the supervision of Bea’s Mom, the super talented pastry baker of P.S. Cakes. Like last year, Ana designed the cake, made the spy-themed fondant accents (moustache and footprints), iced it, and put the piping around the sides.
The prologue. Ana was expecting seven friends total to come to her party and she wanted everyone to be on the same spy “team.” She wrote a story that would explain their mission:
Act 1. The phone call. When everyone arrived, I sat them down and read Ana’s mission statement out loud. Then, I pretended that the phone rang (our vintage rotary phone). I said it was one of their undercover agents in enemy territory calling to give them important clues, through an encrypted fax.
I told Ana to run upstairs and get the message, which I had waiting in the printer tray.
Act 2. The cryptographic puzzle. I had created two “encrypted messages” for smaller teams to complete. I chose who would be on which team, so I could put the youngest kids on separate teams. Basically, the puzzles are like hangman or Wheel of Fortune. I filled in some of the letters and then put the clues in for the others.
Using magazines, the kids had to look up a letter by finding the page number, then counting down from the top to a specific line, and then counting over to a specific letter. So, the clue might be “14, 5, 2.” They were extremely eager to solve the puzzle.
I told them it wasn’t a competition between teams, but time was of the essence in order to save the planet! The solved puzzles said:
Go to the gate, in door, down steps, watch for the lasers! Look for the white safe. The code is 111503!
Act 3. Getting into disguise. Once they had their mission clearly spelled out, they put on their disguises to hide their identities. I had laid out an assortment of accessories in piles for them to choose from — wigs, hats, glasses, jackets, fake moustaches, and props like crutches and a broken arm sling.
As you can see, they took no time at all in changing their identities completely and then disappearing into the crowd.
Act 4. Pursuing the hidden chip. I sent the team outside to run around in their disguises and act the part of undercover agent. Then, I gave them some help finding the “gate” from the encrypted message.
From there, they were able to make their way to our basement where we rigged up a laser obstacle course. We tied red yarn with jingle bells hung from the yarn here and there across the room.
The string criss-crossed at places and we strung it at different heights. Ana’s sister Nadja happened to put demo music on her keyboard that was perfect for the game — a ticking clock. We had it on at full volume to heighten the suspense. One by one, the kids navigated their way through the lasers using many different techniques.
When they all made it to the other side, they followed the last clue to find the “white safe.” I had hidden the computer chip in the dryer and taped the combination on the outside. They kids had to press the numbers in the correct order to “open” the safe. Once they had the chip in hand, I told them to bring it up to their manager (me). Quickly since LMA Salamander (the enemy), was surely in hot pursuit!
Act 5. Deactivating the chip and saving the planet. The kids rushed the chip to me and I used the flashlight on a keychain to “deactivate” the chip, thereby saving the planet. For now.
I congratulated everyone on a job well done, mission accomplished — high fives all around! Their spy mission gave them huge appetites for cake!
Epilogue. Final observation game and party favors.
A successful spy needs a keen sense of observation. To practice our skills, we played the classic memorization and observation party game where the kids have 30 seconds or so to memorize the objects on a tray. Then, you switch a few things and they have to guess what changes you made. Fortunately, these well-trained spies solved the puzzle in no time at all.
As a party favor, I made each party-goer a “spy book safe” to take home. I bought old hardbound books at our public library book sale (3 for $1) and cut a rectangle in the center of each book using a utility knife. The kids can “hide” something in the book and keep it on their shelves, where no one will be any the wiser.
I’m glad Ana wanted to have a small party this year because the spy theme worked really well with 7 kids in our small house. The cryptographic puzzle was the perfect intellectual challenge for the age 8 and 9 year-old set. And they all loved the story line and suspense of the spy game, as well as the dress-up activity. We provided light snacks (frozen pizza, fish sticks, pigs-in-a-blanket, and yogurt-covered pretzels), in addition to the cake. But the ultimate fun spy activity was the laser obstacle course. In fact, after the kids left, Ana, her sister, and Katie’s boys rushed back downstairs to try it again and again.