How-To Plan an Intimate Event: Spy Experience

I like to plan small-scale events because planning is in my nature. I decided to plan a small spy experience for my niece. As a birthday present, I put together a spy scavenger hunt because she has taken an interest in spying over the last year. Usually, I will plan Easter scavenger hunts for my immediate family, but I hadn’t yet planned a scavenger hunt with any other themes. I thought this was the perfect time to elevate my skills and to give a unique gift to my niece. Now, I’m sharing just how you can plan a spy experience for a young person in your family, should you choose to do so. You can also adapt the instructions below to your liking and modify it for adults, or change it to any theme you want for special occasions. 

To start this event, I decided that we would meet in the SCIF room for a briefing on the mission. I set up the kitchen table with a coffee and donuts station, put up a room divider, gave my niece a special chair and I let her use my cipher mug. We had our coffee and donuts, and then my niece read her CIA oath, explored her Access Denied toolkit, and read the details of her mission. 

#1: Theme 

First, you want to pick a theme for your intimate event. In this case, I chose to make the theme a spy experience. My niece is interested in the work that spies do, and this theme was an easy one to choose. When choosing a theme, always pick something that the guest of honor is interested in, a theme they will like and appreciate, and a theme that makes sense with what you are trying to accomplish for the event. The details that follow are for creating a spy experience!

#2: Spy Mission 

Second, choose the type of mission you want the spy (guest of honor) to complete during the scavenger hunt. The mission can be many things ranging from completing spy school training to thwarting an arms sale to finding a mole in the ranks. The mission can have as many objectives as you want or one main objective for simplicity. Really give the mission a lot of thought because it will affect the scavenger hunt. You don’t want your spy wandering around aimlessly just looking for clues without a purpose. My niece’s mission was to recover stolen currency that was to be used in a weapons sale and to identify the thief. 

#3: Spy Challenges 

Third, pick a few challenges that you want the spy to complete during the mission. In scavenger hunts, one clue leads to another, but a spy mission is more fun when the spy has to do more than just search for clues in different locations. Spies engage in mental and physical challenges, so give your spy different tasks at some of the clue locations. I decided to turn a few areas in my house into different cities (London and Paris) and my niece had to use the clues to get to those cities. In addition, I gave her challenges involving deciphering coordinates with a map, getting through a maze without “setting off alarms”, watching video surveillance, getting into a locked room, searching for standouts in plain sight, and changing her disguise in under 5 minutes. Make sure that the challenges you create are things that spies might actually do so that the guest of honor feels like a real spy. The challenges take the scavenger hunt to another level. 

#4: Clues 

Now, you can write out your clues. In my opinion, it was more important to decide the mission and spy challenges before writing the clues. There were certain things I knew that I wanted my niece to do, and it was easier to write the clues around those challenges. I found that when you start writing out clues and deciding where to place them, you then have to go back and add in the challenges or parts of the mission, but you might end up changing your clues multiple times in order for everything to flow. As I was planning this event, I knew that I needed to focus on the mission and challenges first and the clues afterward. This is also useful to know because you can write some of the clues using different cyphers, and it’s easier to integrate the coded clues into different challenge locations than the other way around. Remember that one clue should lead to the next, the second clue leads to the third, and so on. In a spy mission, make sure to include details about the mission in the clues and tie everything together. 

#5: Spy Tools 

I believe that a spy’s greatest tools are his/her mind, the ability to act with secrecy and discretion, and the ability to go unnoticed when it counts. Spies need to be resourceful, knowledgeable, and willing to complete the mission at all costs. With this in mind, I gave my niece a spy toolkit with some items she might have needed to use. In one challenge, she needed to pick the lock on a door, so I put a small bag with hair pins inside her toolkit. For her first clue she needed to decipher a message using the red reveal technique, so I put red film (thin red plastic/red cellophane) in her toolkit. One of the clues was made using a scytale cipher, so I put a picture of the decoding method in her toolkit, so that she would know how to use it when the time came. In addition, I made fake passports, fake badges for the FBI and Interpol, and more for her to keep in her toolkit. You can put anything in the toolkit that you think your spy might need based on the challenges you create. 

#6: Decor 

Choose your spy decor last! I know it seems strange to choose the decor last. With any event, the decor plays a huge part in making the event feel special. However, you don’t want to go out and just buy a ton of spy decor that you might not even use, depending on the mission and challenges you set up. A lot of spy decor is designed for general use, and when you plan your event, you will find that your challenges and clues will have very specific details and sub-themes that general spy decor might not fit. In addition, you might not want each part of the spy experience to look or feel the same. My niece “traveled” to different countries and various locations in those countries during her mission, so I wanted each section of the mission to look and feel different. It really enhances the experience. 

When you take a look at the pictures in this blog post, or when you watch the vlog on my YouTube channel (going live 1/30/22), you will see that I transformed our house into different themed sections for this spy scavenger hunt. Everything that I used for this spy experience, from decor to table setup/food to challenge items, I already had, with the exception of the birthday banner and napkins, duct tape, the ink for fingerprinting, and the donuts. I used tripods, white tulle and sheets, throw blankets, streamers, photo backgrounds, and various decorative items that I have used in the past for my blog posts and my Instagram photos. Some of the items I had previously purchased from the Spyscape NYC gift shop during a trip to NYC, such as the cipher mug, the black toolkit, and the passport cover. In addition, I had cards and pins from the State Department, various federal buildings, and the FBI training academy that I had acquired during visits when I was in Washington, DC for college. You can watch the Spyscape NYC vlog, here

In the Maps section, I used globes that I had as decoration in my office. In the London Surveillance section, I used my laptop and printed items for decor. In the Parisian Cafe section, I used my pillows, accent rug, coffee mugs, and birthday streamers for decoration. I made a fake bomb using toilet paper forms, red tissue paper (leftover from Christmas), and black duct tape. I was fortunate enough to not have to buy any decorations, and for the things that I did not have all I had to do was google different images and print them out using my laptop and printer. You can use your imagination and creativity to decorate for your spy experience. 

SPY EVENT TIPS AND IDEAS 

  • Top Secret/ Confidential Envelopes 
  • Fingerprint cards 
  • Various cyphers (red reveal/ hexahue, scytale, letter to number) 
  • Video surveillance (record yourself walking into/out of different frames) 
  • Mirror Clue (take picture of a written clue, flip the image in a document so it can only be read by using a mirror)
  • Lasers/Alarm challenge (use multicolored resistance bands on a staircase by wrapping and crossing them along the staircase spindles) 
  • Set an image upside down or sideways in a picture frame 
  • Print out images, words, and punctuation as decor (?, Top Secret, Confidential, various cities, spy glasses/binoculars, etc.) 
  • Fake IDs/Passports (use a template, paste guest of honor’s image onto template) 
  • Let the spy use one asset (person to help them) during each challenge 
  • Set up a disguise station using miscellaneous pieces of clothing, hair pieces, accessories, etc. 
  • Put a little pressure on the spy by timing some of the challenges 

We had so much fun with this event. My niece received a personalized spy experience for her birthday, and she was so happy. When it was all over, she said that she wants to be a real spy when she gets older. She is still young, so she’ll most likely change her mind by next year, or she might hold onto this memory and make it come true. Either way, it was nice to hear that after planning this intimate event for her.

I hope you have been inspired by this post and our experience to try something like this on your own. Don’t forget to watch the Spy Experience video on my YouTube channel, titled, Ky’s Spy Experience, starting next Sunday, 1/30/22.

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