When I invited my friends over for a party last winter, they thought they were coming for dinner. They never guessed they would become detectives and spend the evening solving puzzles and examining a crime scene in my guest bedroom.
While I’m counting the days until spring, planning and hosting a fabulous party is an instant mood-lifter for me, and it is also a treat for my friends. Last year, my solution was to throw a murder mystery dinner party. This type of party is an interactive way to have a blast instead of being blasted by winter. Here are some steps to help you create a memorable party.
Because I could not find a premade mystery that appealed to me, I decided to write my own. This allowed me to include one-of-a-kind details, unlike a prewritten mystery. Joseph Franco’s book, How to Create Your Own Murder Mystery Party gave me some valuable guidance and ideas that I tailored to fit my personality. Also, if you plan on producing your own murder mystery, be sure to give yourself adequate time; I prepared over a period of five months.
For a murder mystery dinner party, determining the size of your guest list is an essential first step. If you have a crowd that is too large, not everyone will be able to participate in the game. With too few people it could be a flop. My party included fourteen people.
Using hometown history is one way I made my party unique. My hometown is known for Early American patterned glass that was produced in the early 1900s until a fire destroyed the factory. The fire’s cause was never determined. When I added this mysterious element to the secret formulas glass chemists used to create unique colors, I had a perfect situation through which to weave a mystery.
To tie this history to my party, I created fictional characters and scenarios and established a way for one of my guests to be the “murderer.” Since I was writing fiction, I had to create a secret life for the perpetrator.
I designed the party so each guest had time to investigate a crime scene in my guest bedroom with hidden clues that helped guests determine the motive for the murder. For example, each guest had to find a hidden tape and play it in the mini-tape player. The tape recording revealed pivotal information needed for solving the mystery. Other clues included journal entries, letters, and pictures. I hid these clues in pockets, drawers, and behind photos in picture frames. Since my fictional victim was packing when she was murdered, I used a suitcase and scattered clothes for props. A tape outline of a body on the floor added to the crime scene feel.
While guests awaited their turn to examine the crime scene, they ate dinner and searched for additional clues hidden throughout my living and dining rooms. In order to identify the guilty guest, they had to solve the puzzles on each of the clues. The answer to the puzzle would provide them with one letter of the guilty party’s first name.
For example, one puzzle listed a series of twelve letters with one missing letter. Each of the letters represented the last letter in the twelve months of the year. Guests had to determine that the letter “L” (April) was missing from the series. Once they solved the puzzle, they were one step closer to figuring out the name of the murderer.
In addition to creating an interactive mystery, I wanted my guests to enjoy dinner. Timing was vital, so I planned the menu and schedule simultaneously. I chose foods that I could prepare in advance, serve in different courses, and keep warm as guests took their turns searching the crime scene. I selected various appetizers for mingling time then served subsequent courses of salad, lasagna, and dessert.
The night began with appetizers. While guests ate, I welcomed them, read a letter from the fictional victim who had feared for her life prior to the murder, then spoke with each guest privately. These secret conferences allowed me to provide guests with their first clues (journal entries) and inform the guest who was playing the murderer that she was indeed the murderer. As I served the salad course, my guests discussed the journal entries. They worked together to place them in the proper order, and this established the mystery’s storyline.
Next, I informed the guests that there were clues hidden in the dining and living rooms, and I allowed the first guest to enter the crime scene. From this point, guests took turns entering the room in ten-minute intervals. Sticking to ten-minute periods was crucial because I wanted the party to conclude at a decent hour. When they were not examining the crime scene, guests ate and solved the puzzles on the clues.
When I began to observe the guests were close to determining the solution, I asked everyone to write down who they believed the murderer was and why he or she committed the crime. I had prizes ready for those who gave the correct solution. In the case of a tiebreaker, I was prepared to give gift cards to the people who provided the most detailed solutions.
In addition to planning the menu and schedule, I included decorations, but I did not have to spend a great deal of money. Because I used the glass factory as the theme of the mystery, I used my antique glass for center pieces. Over a period of a couple of months, I combed clearance racks at craft stores for sale items. Surprisingly, I was able to find many great deals on paper and other supplies that kept the cost of my party low.
Another decorative touch I included was the booklet I created to guide the guests through the mystery. It contained general information about the mystery and murder victim, keys for solving puzzles, historical facts about the glass factory, blank pages for notes, and a menu. I put a booklet at each place setting along with a party favor of chocolate mints.
Though this party took several months of planning, it was well worth the effort. My friends had a wonderful time solving the mystery and interacting with each other during the process. This mid-winter party lifted everyone’s spirits. Even though you don’t have to wait until winter sets in to have a murder mystery dinner party, it is an opportune time to host a party your friends will remember for years to come.