Tips for running treasure hunts and similar live events

September 2009

Here are some tips for somebody that I wrote on running treasure hunts that I am sharing in case they of more general use. I leave the question of how much of this transfers to education as an exercise for the reader. 

  1. Make sure you have got somebody to help you on the day. You can plan something by yourself, but however simple what you're running is, you'll need somebody else on hand to help you out on the day.
  2. Even with experience, it's hard to judge how long things will take people to do, so have some mechanism by which it's flexible (e.g. the team to have got the most points by a particular time wins) or some mechanic for giving out clues if people are slower than you expect them to be. You also want to design things so that there is a bit of redundancy e.g. if a team manages to solve two out of three puzzles they get the next puzzle, not if they have to solve all three. You want to avoid people being 'stuck' for too long.
  3. Make sure teams won't be treading on eachother's toes to much. It's boring to find something because you've just followed another team to find it rather than because you've found it yourself. 
  4. Especially if you haven't done this sort of thing much before, I'd recommend keeping things reasonably simple. It'll also take much more time to prepare than you expect. 
  5. You want to try and have puzzles that teams can discuss or work on together rather than ones which one person has to sit down and think about by themselves (e.g a set of anagrams works better than a code as everybody can contribute), either that or you want to give teams a set of puzzles to complete that they can divide up. 
  6. People care a lot about fairness so make sure that you've tried to think about anything that might be considered unfair in some way, whether it's how points are awarded or the type of activities that you're giving people to do. 
  7. It's good to make people do things that are silly or that they wouldn't usually have the excuse to do. You want people to go away thinking 'I did such and such a cool thing'. It's also good to get people doing thing that they never thought they were capable of doing. A variety of types of activities also means that different people can shine at what they are good at. 
  8. Don't make the rules too complicated for real-life events and pass them by somebody beforehand to check they make sense. Hand out a printout of the rules as well as explaining them orally.
  9. If you have puzzles of any sort, playtest them on some people first, even if you don't playtest the whole event. However careful you are, there will always be things that you miss.
  10. It's good to have some sort of climax to the event at the end - this could be something that's a race against time of some sort and maybe a slightly different format from the rest of the event. It could involve everybody cooperating for instance instead of teams competing against eachother. 
  11. Try to have a format that doesn't involve having to sit down and mark everybody's answers at the end. It's a bit of an anti-climax if players have to wait for twenty minutes to find out how they have done.
  12. Even if there's not really a proper story as such, it's fun to have some sort of fictional context for the event to add a bit of flavour and drama. It can also help with coming up with ideas for puzzles.