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I'm looking for guidelines on how to organize a good (IRL) treasure hunt.

Are there steps to follow to ensure the available locations are used to the fullest? Good practices to organize my research ? Methods to write the clues ?

I'm quite lost here and I want to do my best. If possible, I'd prefer a step-by-step guide.

Edit :

I first wrote a generic question so the answer could be useful to someone else but it ended up being too broad.

The treasure hunt in question is for a group of children composed of eight eleven-ish years old and a few younger ones. I don't think they'll have smartphones, but if one of them do they won't be able to use it since the coverage is terrible here. Most of them know the location relatively well.

The settings is my grandmother's home, a three stories house with a large garden, in a village in the south of France (Aveyron to be precise).

The house is full of old/interesting furniture (grandfather clock, massive 60's TV set, fireplace, bookshelves filled with history or decorative books, a gross stuffed owl, a collection of Murano glass fishes, my uncles and aunts' things from when they were teenagers, wardrobes with mirrors, etc.).

It has an attic, a cellar, two kitchens, two bathrooms, a corridor that used to be a bathroom, six bedrooms, an office, what was a store ten years ago (now a TV room but still has a shop-window overlooking the street and a one-way mirror allowing people in the kitchen to see what's going on inside), a dinning room, a sewing room, a garage, a room used only when killing rabbits and making preserves and my grandfather's workshops (which we won't use since they're full of scrap metal parts and rusty cars).
The garden has a willow tree, chestnut trees, hedges, rabbits cages in a corner, a small stone table and lots of good hiding spots, but not many flowers. There's also a vegetable garden two streets away.

The village itself is not very interesting, there's a church (old and always open), a small market place, a few shops, and that's it.

Most of the clues should be in the house and garden, but since there's not many cars, and the kids are old enough, they can leave the house and search for a couple of clues in the village.

I thought there would be enough materials to organize an interesting treasure hunt for my cousin's birthday (apparently she loves this kind of activity), but I'm afraid the path will be too short or the clues too obvious (something like "Yay! You found the 6th clue, now go to the attic to find the 7th!").

PS : I'm not a fluent English speaker, please tell me if you see grammar mistakes or badly translated expressions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Isn't this a meta question? meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com I have taken part in many treasure hunts in my college. And yes, since i'm in final year, am conducting puzzling events which include treasure hunt. $\endgroup$ – ABcDexter Sep 29 '15 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ I saw this question : puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/5761/… and thought question about writing puzzle were on scope. I'll ask on the meta. $\endgroup$ – PinkGoeland Sep 29 '15 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ Can you provide more info on the parameters of your planned treasure hunt. Who will be participating in the treasure hunt? Adults, Children, Families? Will they be on foot or driving? Is it taking place within the limits of a garden, a street, a village, a county? Will the participants already have good knowledge of the search locations or is this somewhere that they will be unfamiliar with (or is it mixed)? What's the aim of the treasure hunt - showing people things they might not normally notice, entertaining them, encouraging teamwork? Will they ALL have smartphones (with a good signal)? $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Sep 29 '15 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ @GordonK I added as much details as I could. Is the question ok? Should I change something else? $\endgroup$ – PinkGoeland Sep 29 '15 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome the site @LookingForAName and let me know if you manage to find a name! I sure could use one... $\endgroup$ – NeedAName Sep 30 '15 at 17:36
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Here is my view on arranging treasure hunts:-

Types of Treasure Hunt:

Treasure Hunt Trail

A chain of clues where each clue must be solved to find the location of the next clue, ultimately leading to the location of the 'treasure'. All participants are working together to try to find each of the locations and they move en-masse from one location to the next. This type of treasure hunt favours younger participants and smaller groups.

Pros

  • There is an instant reward after solving each clue - positive feedback when you find the next clue.
  • There is an element of suspense as you are never sure if this next location will be where the treasure is.
  • You can plan the route that the hunt takes to maximise the distance between successive clues.

Cons

  • Some participants can feel left out if they are slow getting to a location and/or miss hearing a clue, so they only know where to go by following the pack. The larger the group, the more likely this will happen.
  • Every clue has to be solved, so the hunt-setter has to be on-hand to provide prompts and clues.
  • It can be difficult to pitch the clues so that they are not all too hard or all too easy.
  • If someone spots a clue out-of-sequence, they can short-cut the search.
  • Often the biggest/fastest participants will 'win'.
  • The clues need to be hidden well enough so that they are not spotted inadvertantly before the preceeding clue has been solved, but not hidden so well that they cannot be found even with the information from the solved clue.

Scatter Event

Each small team of participants (or each individual if you want people to work alone) is given a sheet with clues to information that they need to find on their search. They can tackle the clues in any order and the 'winner' is the team back first with the most correct answers. Alternatively you can provide loads of clues and set a time limit, making it clear at the start that no-one will finish all of them. This type of hunt works better with older participants and larger groups.

Pros

  • You can have a range of clue difficulties so every team is likely to find some of the answers and feel more involved.
  • It's not just a case of fastest team wins.
  • Each team can feel that they are in with a chance until the result is announced.
  • You don't need to worry about clues being spotted too early.
  • Encourages competition between teams and cooperation within a team.

Cons

  • A longer attention span needed.
  • Some people might spend too long on one clue and run out of time.
  • You've got to mark the results.
  • You need to work harder to come up with the locations and clues and you'll need more of them.

Your Case:

With around a dozen children, mostly around 11, you could probably take either approach. If the 11-year-olds know the younger children well and would actively try to get them involved, I would be tempted to divide them into 3 teams and go with a Scatter Event so that there's a bit of competition. If there is a chance that they wouldn't work well with or involve the younger ones on their team, go with the Treasure Hunt Trail.

For a Trail

  1. I would stick to the house and garden for this one. Any clues hidden in the village might get moved by someone.
  2. Choose a good location where the trail will end. This has got to be somewhere that they won't stumble across accidentally in the search for the other clues. Perhaps the treasure is in a locked chest or cupboard that you point out to them at the start and they have to follow the clues to find the key. This has the advantage that everyone knows where the trail will end, so any younger kids who get bored can be there at the end to see the treasure uncovered.
  3. Choose good hiding locations for the other clues. These need to be fairly specific so that they are easily found if the children know what they're looking for (e.g. on the underside of the rabbit hutch), but not so obvious or similar that children running around looking randomly for clues will find them.
  4. Order the locations in such a way as to maximise the travelling distance. If one clue is in the attic, the next should be in the garden or the cellar. The next one upstairs.
  5. Once you have established the order of the locations, come up with clues. Generally they should start easy and get harder. In this way the random searching is more likely to happen only once the early clues are solved and there are fewer clues left hidden to stumble upon. 11-year olds can handle a variety of different problems: anagrams, simple alphabet ciphers, logic problems. Include some clues that are based on observation rather than just deduction to allow the younger children to participate. For example you could have a clue that (once it's decoded) directs them to a location "near the grey horse", referring to a painting of a grey horse somewhere in the property that many of them may not have noticed.
  6. Make sure the children know where you are if they are struggling with a clue so they come to you, rather than you having to follow them up to the attic and to the far ends of the garden. It might be worth making the clues at these extreme locations a bit easier to solve.

For a Scatter Event

  1. The locations can be more widespread here as the participants are only collecting information. This could be the date on a gravestone, the colour of a front door, the number of plantpots outside a front door.
  2. You don't need to hide anything and the locations of the answers don't have to be places that they can get to, just things that they can see.
  3. Provide a variety of fairly straightforward clues and more cryptic ones. If you are feeling really adventurous, then make them all rhyming couplets.(Fragile creatures from the sea, how many of us can you see?)
  4. Mix up the order of the locations and the difficulties.
  5. Check with the teams now and again and drop hints with those that are struggling.


I hope this is of some help to get you started.

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