A Knight of Murder

This was our first in-person murder party in two years, and I was almost afraid to look forward to it in case it didn’t actually happen (we postponed it a couple weeks so people could have a chance to get their boosters, plus we had everyone take an antigen test the day of the party…if anyone had come up positive, we would’ve been screwed!)

But it all worked out in the end. I went all-in on decorations, as usual, which this year meant getting Justin to spend three hours helping me put up stone walls. The overall effect was so amazing that I’m seriously considering painting that whole room a darker colour.

I managed to repurpose some items, too. The long table with the burgundy tablecloth, greenery, and candles is exactly what we used for both the Roman party in 2018 and the farytale party in 2013 (yes, we’ve been doing these parties for that long!) The wall banners with the shields were originally from the Roman party, too; the opposite sides feature a gold laurel wreath design.

Food was great: chicken drumsticks, cabbage, beef bourguignon, bread, and a delicious apple-cinnamon type dessert. No one seemed to mind that we didn’t have forks (in true medieval style). We got by OK with just knives and spoons.

Over the years we’ve set a pretty high bar for costumes, and this year was another showcase of awesomeness. One of the knights teaches at a high school that has an actual medieval armoury class, and he was able to scam some authentic armour. It was impressive, but seriously heavy, and he could only get out of it with the help of two people. Guess that’s why knights had squires.

Such a fun night!

Totally Rad 80s Prom Gone Bad

A couple months ago, with Chris’s birthday approaching and the pandemic still making life difficult, I decided to plan another virtual murder mystery party.

And since this year is the XX anniversary of his high school graduation (face it dear, you’re old)…I chose the 80s prom theme.

Zoom-based parties will never be as good as the real deal, but we still got to dress up, act silly, and figure out whodunnit!

A Zoom Murder Mystery

With no one allowed to share breathing space with other human beings, I knew there was no way I could have my traditional murder mystery birthday party. And that was seriously depressing, since the party is often the one bright spot in what otherwise tends to be a very bleak month. But hope was restored when a friend of mine told me about some companies that offer virtual parties led by professional actors. The concept was intriguing and the price was reasonable, so we gave it a go.

We didn’t really have much of a theme; I was just told it was a modern-day twist on the movie Clue. So a bunch of characters were being blackmailed by an unknown individual. Finnish-American relations played a surprisingly large role.

I gotta say, it was nothing like an in-person experience. A few technical glitches got in the way, and to be honest I’m usually more interested in the theme and decor than the details of the mystery. But it was still fun to dress up and have a few laughs. Certainly better than yet another night of Netflix.

Here’s hoping we’ll be back to normal next year!

Trailer Park Tragedy

We had an awesome evening of murder and mystery in the trailer park! With this theme, the distinction between parody and real life gets a bit blurry…

Back in Time for Murder

It was a bit tough to get a handle on the storyline for this year’s murder mystery party: it was set in the year 2099, with a retro steampunk (?) theme, and featured historical characters pulled from different time periods. I knew zilch about steampunk when I chose this one, but the notion of having characters like Einstein, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, and Ivan the Terrible in the same room intrigued me. So we gave it a go.

People really outdid themselves with costumes this year! The mystery itself was well thought out and a few people managed to follow the logic to the correct conclusion. I even threw in a trivia challenge to keep things interesting, so that was pretty cool.

Another successful party!

Terror in a Toga

We had a most excellent evening in ancient Rome at this year’s murder mystery party. Battles and betrayal (not to mention bedsheets) abounded. Who could have guessed that bringing senators, merchants, and slaves together for a celebratory exhibition of gladiator warfare would lead to someone’s untimely death? Oh…right.

Decorating for this one was fairly easy. I rented some columns, bought lots of fake greenery, made a few paper torches, and turned a shower curtain into three wall banners that a friend of mine very kindly painted for me. I even used my wood burner and some styrofoam to make signs that looked like chiseled marble (did you know melted styrofoam gives off some seriously toxic fumes? Whew.)

We’ve done these parties for six years now (click here to see past posts) but it never ceases to amaze me how creative and innovative people get with their costumes. The charioteer arrived on a broomstick-chariot, the grand champion gladiator created a suit of armor that was 80 percent duct tape, and the lanista’s wife packed a teddy bear under her skirts to simulate pregnancy, thus inspiring a never-ending stream of bear jokes.

An awesome party!

Murder at the Grand Gatsby

We had ourselves a Roaring 20’s evening of mobsters and murder at my house last night. When two rival crime bosses meet at a speakeasy to talk about bootlegging practices, and bring their heavily armed henchmen, and mingle with an assortment of molls, film stars, singers and reporters…what could go wrong?

After clearing almost all the furniture out of our living room, we set about creating our speakeasy. We turned a couple walls into brick, added some bullet holes, and hung autographed pictures of famous gangsters. We even rented round tables and lit them with table lamps for ambience. I was worried that the lighting would make it hard to take photos, but it all seemed to work out pretty well.

Since I’m a history nerd, I printed out a bunch of newspapers from the 1920s and made a collage over the buffet table. I just did it for fun, but some of them actually came into play when part of the mystery involved figuring out what year certain events occurred.

We had a bit of everything: waitresses who wanted to be singers, singers who wanted to be molls, a pilot who couldn’t find north and a murder victim who drunk-texted his wife from the bathroom (long story). We even ended up with three murders instead of one, which was a pretty cool twist.

A great way to celebrate turning 40!

Murder Among the Mateys

Buccaneers, booty and bloodshed were the order of the day at my annual murder mystery birthday party last night. After plundering their way around the Caribbean, the pirate crew of the Jaded Jewel celebrated their return to Port Royal at the Salty Sea Dog Tavern, where a colorful group of nobles, sailors and townspeople had also gathered. Trouble was sure to transpire. Shiver me timbers!

I can’t see how we’ll ever top this one. Seriously, what’s cooler than building a 10-foot pirate ship in your living room and turning the rest of your house into a seaside tavern from 1688?

I really went all out this year, starting with the invitations. I created a card that looked like old parchment and stuck it in an envelope sealed with red wax. I also used the wax seal on each person’s character description and clues for the game. I printed some other documents on tan-colored paper, soaked them in coffee, and burned the edges. All that work really set the tone for the party.

When guests arrived, they were greeted with the skeleton of Toothless Willie hanging in our stairwell with a sign around his neck that read: “Pirates ye be warned.” I also used the directional signs that came with the mystery — they pointed guests to Port Royal, the Salty Sea Dog, and a few other sinister-sounding locations.

I had pirate music playing (everything from “Drunken Sailor” to “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate”…the play list was a big hit) as guests came up the stairs to the main party area. Here they entered the Salty Sea Dog. The walls were adorned with various signs as well as an actual map of the Caribbean circa 1720 that I found online and enlarged at Costco.

My china cabinet was filled with beer bottles labelled as Davy Jones’ Lager (get it?), an actual wine cask I found at Value Village, and some old growlers. For the tables, I had pirate tablecloths, candles, and BBQ sauce bottles labelled like growlers.

Also in the tavern was our storage-bench-turned-treasure-chest stuffed with pirate coins and assorted booty. Part of the game involves trying to acquire as many coins as you can, by any means necessary — so I helped myself to a bunch of coins from the treasure chest. A few other people tried that too, until the governor put a stop to it by closing the chest and parking his ass on top. (I stole the gallow master’s coin purse right out of her cleavage, but she chased me with a noose and threatened to hang me if I didn’t return them, so I had to give those up. It probably wasn’t wise to steal from the executioner. My bad.)

We served grog (rum with brown sugar, lime juice and water), though I forgot to label it as such, and some people had a whole lot of it thinking it was iced tea. Oops.

To keep things authentic, I used tin pie plates and no cutlery. We ate things like hardtack (cheese and crackers), salted meat (cold cuts), arr-tichoke dip, cannon balls (meatballs on sword picks) and scurvy savers (fresh veggies). I made a ship wheel with the tavern name to hang over the buffet table; I covered the actual table with a brown tablecloth and some fish netting.

But the coolest attraction was definitely the pirate ship. Complete with crow’s nest, sails and cannons, it made an amazing focal point in our living room. My brother, who was kind enough to build it based on plans I gave him, even went so far as to router the name of the ship into the wood. AWESOME.

Next to the ship was the dockside area with a huge British flag and a sign proclaiming this to be Port Royal, Jamaica. I made a large barrel by putting two planters together; I bought two smaller barrels on eBay. With some cardboard boxes and fish netting, it all looked pretty impressive.

The costumes were beyond amazing. I was especially impressed that my husband rented full colonial attire for his role as Governor Napier — this is the same guy who only reluctantly wore a king’s robe a couple years ago for Once Upon a Murder. The first mate took some liberties with his outfit and showed up with an eye patch, a peg leg, and a codpiece that was making its way down his leg by the end of the night. There’s no end of laughs when that guy is around.

Prizes this time included gold chocolate coins and a bunch of magnets I made with sayings like “I wanted to be a pirate, but I couldn’t get my ship together” and “Work is for people who don’t know how to plunder.” Once we solved the murder and handed out the awards, we just kept drinking rum and partying like pirates for another couple hours.

How will we ever top this for my 40th next year?

Murder at the Deadwood Saloon

We had us a rootin’ tootin’ good time at my annual murder mystery birthday party last night. This time it was a night of mystery and mayhem in the Old West — at last, a theme that even the guys could get excited about!

Turning the house into a 1870s saloon was a ton of fun. I got checkered tablecloths, red plastic plates, mason jar glasses, and even bandanas and ropes for napkin settings. I also tracked down some old tin pails to hold peanuts and pretzels. There was just enough space in the living room to place two folding tables parallel to each other — last year we had one long banquet table for Once Upon a Murder, but this time I thought two separate tables would give more of a saloon look. The two-table setup also made it easy to move around and chat with everybody, so that was a huge bonus.

I even managed to get my brother and my husband (neither of whom are big on costume parties) to craft real saloon doors to place at the entrance to the kitchen. This was no easy feat, but they pulled it off, and the effect was amazing. People were wandering into the kitchen for no real reason just so they could go through those doors.

The guys were more than happy to undertake one other project, too: drinking enough booze that I could fill my china cabinet with old bottles. The murder mystery came with vintage liquor labels that were totally awesome.

I used a Michaels coupon to get a cheap woodburning kit just so I could burn the “Saloon” sign, but it turned out so well that I decided to use the kit for the “Saloon Rules” sign too. It was a really slow process to burn all those letters (good thing I started early!) but it really added to the Old West ambience.

The premise of the mystery was that we were all gathered at the saloon to celebrate the end of a poker tournament, so I tried to carry the Wild West-poker theme through the names of the food: Full House Nachos, Chuckwagon Chili, Ace-High Apple Pie and so on. (I briefly considered using the woodburner for the menu sign too, but had to pass when I realized I had neither the patience nor the fine motor skills to burn letters that small.) I made pulled pork for the first time ever — thankfully it turned out all right.

Kudos to everyone for really getting into character! The costumes were outstanding and there was some seriously funny ad libbing going on (something about Jesse Wales’ unnatural relationship with her horse…I never did get the full story on that one.) We voted on best actor (Montgomery Money) and best costume (Gambling Jack), plus there were prizes for who ended up with the most money (Holly Hickok) and who correctly guessed the murderer (I was the only one who got it right and no, I didn’t know beforehand…really.)

It was a blast!

Once Upon a Murder

I’m so thankful to have friends who are willing to indulge my passion for games. Once again we gathered for a night of murder and mayhem to celebrate my birthday. This time it was a tale of treachery and treason in a kingdom far, far away.

The official intro:

After the mysterious disappearance of Cinderella, Prince Charming is throwing a ball to find a new wife. Some of the kingdom residents question how the prince could move on so quickly, while others are jumping at the chance to become the next princess in the palace. As the evening escalates, a killing occurs…leaving you to write the final chapter.

I’d been planning this party for months, so I had lots of time to come up with costumes and decorations. (The secret: get the details sorted out in October, when Halloween stuff is everywhere.) This theme was especially fun, since we were all well-known fairy tale characters. That made it a lot easier to ad lib and go with the flow.

I was Rapunzel, which makes lots of people laugh, since I have the shortest hair of any woman I know. Chris was Prince Charming and got to spend most of the evening fending off romantic advances from three different maidens. (“Not enough touching,” he commented when I asked how he’d enjoyed that. Eww.)

Good times!