Book safe for Super Spies

What: A book safe, used as part of the secret agent mission for Kid 7’s birthday.

How: I found a book with very specific qualities. It had to be hardback, quite thick, quite large, and something we never wanted to read again and didn’t care if it was cut up. The last bit was the hardest. Though after I showed my husband the final product, he said “Hey, you should have asked me” and handed me a book he’d won as a quiz night prize that would also have been perfect. I’ve kept that one in case the kids want to make one of their own – because I made this one in secret, as part of the party preparations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
It took ages to make that hole. I was disappointed at how small it turned out to be when I put the magnifying glasses in it.

The basic method is that you leave a block of pages untouched at the front to make the book appear normal. Then you use a Stanley trimmer or similar cutting knife to cut your hole, working your way down through the layers of pages until you have a hole of sufficient size. Once you have your hole, smear glue carefully around the outside of the book over all the pages that are part of the hole but not the “lid” pages. I didn’t think that would be enough, but once the glue dried the safe part held together quite well and you can still flick the first few chapters normally.

I kept the bits I cut out to make the clue for this activity. Several of the bits I’d cut out were chapter titles with numbers on them – “One”, “Eight”, “Eleven” etc. I used as many of those as I could find and wrote one letter on them each that would make a message when the pieces were laid out in number order. The messages were “In A Book” and the author’s surname (visible in Really Big Letters on the book’s spine).

When party time came, the kids earnt the envelopes with the clue messages by completing the disguise relay. Then they had to work out what the message was.  I had to help a little here as not all kids were solid readers. I also had to somewhat lay out the things that were obvious – such as these were pieces of a book, they should look where books are, maybe start with the books that are full of words like these pieces rather than the books that are mostly pictures, is there a book with “Douglass” on it? I was trying to get them to do as much of that process themselves as they could, but books that are full of nothing but words are a little new to this age group (as is that kind of logical processing of the obvious, though kids 9 and 11 were making the leaps themselves).

Eventually they saw the book they were looking for. Then I made them stop, think, work out if there was a way to get the book down safely without climbing up the bookshelves to grab it immediately (excitement is such a rush). They had to flop around dramatically because thinking was so hard and they couldn’t work out what to do, but eventually they realised that they were flopping on a handily-placed stepladder and used it. When they got the book down, they discovered that it was a book safe. Inside the book safe they found magnifying glasses (cheapies from an online party store), and a new clue page. I couldn’t fit quite enough magnifying glasses into the book, so I was standing ready with a bag to hand out the extras or make sure people got the colour they wanted if that was an issue (it mostly wasn’t, but I couldn’t be sure beforehand).

The Spy Party

This week my posts are all about the spy-themed birthday party we did for Kid 7. Today’s post is the overview, then I’ll have a couple of posts on some specific activities, and then the all-important cake post.

Kid 7 has been certain they wanted a spy-themed party for several months. Turns out spy stuff is Not In Fashion at the moment, so I ended up having to source a lot of things randomly. The party also coincided with my not working for six weeks, which was great for having time to do it and crap for having the money to pay for it. I still probably spent a bit – some things I planned for and bought well ahead of time, and some I could have saved more on if I’d planned them well ahead of time too! The other thing that we HAD to have at the party was a treasure hunt. So – the party ended up being a Super Spy Mission for all our budding secret agents. I have this thing about party bags – I hate them. I’ve managed to mostly avoid having them until now, despite there being a strong cultural expectation around them. But this year they were necessary. So I made them an integral part of the mission, and the kids earnt and then used Every Darn Thing that went in their bag. Including the bag itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The disguise relay that kicked off the active part of the mission.

Here’s how the mission went down:

  1. The kids needed a Secret Bag. So they were given little baby singlets with the bottoms pre-cut, that they had to tie knots in to make the bags. The kid 5-to-7s did struggle a little with this – many of them haven’t had much practice with knots, and even with the singlets being small there’s still a lot of knots to tie. Thankfully I had a kid 11 and kid 9 who were pretty on top of it and helped a lot. In hindsight another bag method would have been more practical. But this was knots and “things that don’t look like bags”.
  2. The Disguise Relay. I assembled three piles of clothing – each with an adult button-up-shirt, a pair of pants, a tie, a hat and a pair of shoes. The kids got in teams, split in two for the relay back and forth. The first kid has to get dressed in the clothes, then run to where the other half of their team is, take the clothes off and the next person has to get dressed and run back. This was totally hilarious. I encouraged teams to help their team-mates with the dressing and undressing, and the team that did this best (turning clothes right side out, untangling pants etc) ended up winning. If you try this, I recommend using adult shorts rather than adult pants, as we had some issues with the pant legs just being too long for safe running with kids of this height. Also funny to see how many kids would put on the shoes first and then try and get the pants on. The winning team got an envelope of clue papers, and the team that came second got another envelope of clue papers.
  3. The envelope messages, when solved, led them to a book-safe with magnifying glasses for everyone (cheapies from an online party store), and a clue page. The clue page was written in “First Letter Of The Word” code. A random piece of weird text, but if you take the first letter of each word it makes a message. Most of the kids didn’t have the reading skills to be able to do that in their heads, so I gave them highlighters so that they could mark off the first letter and then try and read it. That meant about half of them could get it. This clue led them to…
  4. a briefcase in the dining room. Which was locked. I pointed out that they’d need two three-digit numbers to open the briefcase, and asked them if they still had the previous code sheet. Someone found it, and eventually they worked out that written very very small in the corners were some numbers. So they read the numbers with their magnifying glasses and opened the briefcase.
  5. Inside the briefcase was everything they needed to make rotary code wheels. They sat down peacefully together and made them, and after a few hiccups the group of us all worked out that the message said “Towel Up!” and ran for the bathroom.
  6. In the bathroom they found a box of rear view glasses, and a message in mirror writing (actually on the mirror!) that they had to read with the glasses. That sent them to…
  7. the barbeque outside, where they found a bag of little carabiner-keychain compasses, and a message in chalk: 12mE, 5mN. Some of them knew enough about abbreviations to work out what this meant, and as a group they managed to get the ideas of metres, east and North. They then tried implementing it as a group, which meant kids wandering across a wide range of positions. I encouraged the ones that were closest so that they mostly got into the right spot, next to…
  8. the clothes dryer. Where I’d hidden the birthday cake. The original plan had been to have the cake fully visible inside the dryer (unplugged to avoid accidents!), but the cake tray didn’t fit so it was hidden under a box on top of the dryer instead. Kid 9 was definitely better at looking for possibilities like that than the Kid 6s.

Overall, I think the mission worked. It was a bit of a juggle to guess how hard to make it, and this was definitely too hard for a couple of the kids (particularly the ones who are very behind in their reading ability) but it was about right for the birthday child and almost trivial for the Kid 9 and Kid 11, so I’m going to call it well-enough-aimed.

Total loot for each kid: spy bag with code wheel, scissors, compass, magnifying glass and rear-view glasses.