It’s that time of year! Since my daughter has been 7 years-old, I make an elaborate puzzle-based scavenger hunt for her birthday party.
It’s still covid-19 times, so everything was planned to be outdoors. Due to this, I had fewer hiding places than I normally would, so I used a number of small wooden chests and locks – very escape room style. Also, she’s 13 years old and I have to up the difficulty of the puzzles. Stumping a bunch of smart, teen girls isn’t going to be easy.
I bought a number of small hinged boxes, a set of multiple colored locks, a couple 3-digit locks, and a couple letter-based locks. I also borrowed my girlfriend’s 3D printer. I saw a printable cryptex last year and I knew I wanted to make one as the final puzzle for this year.
Now I have a 3D Printer. Ho-ho-ho.
If you are not familiar with “Dream SMP“, it’s a streaming uh… show(?) involving multiple popular YouTube/Twitch personalities playing out a story on a Minecraft survival multiplayer (SMP) server. It’s like a soap opera, improv, and Dungeons & Dragons was all mixed together.
The setup is that the kids were trapped in the jail of the server, Pandora’s Vault, and had to solve puzzles to escape. I hid the locked boxes, keys, and puzzles around the yard. They only had 3 hearts (i.e. hints) to escape.
There was also a Creeper area blocked of as part of the game. You couldn’t get close unless the Creepers were dead! But how to defeat them from far away? The Nerf gun was empty.
The First Puzzle
There is a chicken coup in the backyard and I could not resist a little Lord of the Rings homage.
The Labyrinth Box
Hidden in the chicken coup egg area was a Labyrinth Box – a 3D printed tube with a little node that had to be guided through a maze to open. Inside was a classic logic puzzle for a 3-number code.
I had a little maze hint prepared in case it was too difficult but they didn’t need it.
I wanted to implement a Minecraft compass, so the first unlocked box contained a real compass that guided players to the North point of the yard’s fence, where a red key was hidden behind some ivy.
The Ender Puzzle
My daughter is very proud of her mastery of the Ender language, so I put it to the test. The code reads:
“You have just one but the yard has two
You can’t see yours because it’s inside you“
There are two large skull-shaped planters in the yard, and a colored key was hidden in each – orange and pink. I also had a hint prepared in case they got stuck,
“Keep it in your head, or you’ll be dead.” (I am pretty sure you can’t live without a skull?)
Due to some logistical issues, I had to ask for some suspension of disbelief and going with the spirit of the game. The yellow key was in this vase “bolted” to the table. Inside this box was a small magnet on a string that the players could use to fish out the yellow key.
Inside the yellow chest was a bunch of Nerf darts. Chaos ensued as the girls ran around shooting each other and not worrying about the game for a bit. Eventually, they turned their attention to the Creepers (printed out faces glued to floral foam blocks from Michaels) and were able to approach them without them “blowing up.” Arranging the fallen Creepers correctly revealed a 4-letter code.
I always like to add some destruction to my games and this time was no exception. There is a well-known “Welcome Home Theseus” monologue in the Dream SMP world. I took this and added some extra letters here and here. Picking out the extra letters reveal the next clue.
POP THE BALLOONS
The Final Puzzle
A small key was hidden in one of the many Minecraft balloons decorating the yard. The girls had a blast running around and popping balloons. The key was a bit too small because it flew about 20 feet and almost got lost.
Inside the 6th and final puzzle box was this:
Clearly a cipher of some kind, but what to decipher? A more careful inspection of the 5 previous boxes revealed individual letters tapped to the inner front – E, M, D, A, and R. Which, of course, rearranges to:
The 6th box had a message hidden in a similar place that had 3 arrows pointing to the right ” -> -> ->”. It was a 3-shift Caesar Cipher, something a number of the girls were familiar with. The cracked code opened the 3D printed cyptex, which gave them freedom and access to cake! The cake was a reference to the “Disc Wars Saga” of the Dream SMP story.
That was the end! Now I have a whole year to think about a new set of puzzles!