Monday, February 11, 2013

Spy Birthday Party for a ten year old

For Austin's 10th birthday this year, we had a spy themed party. It was sort of elaborate and we didn't take a whole ton of photos on all aspects, so I thought I'd try to document it here, in part for our memories and in part because we got some good ideas from other blogs and I thought it would be good to "give back" to the espionage birthday party reference that is the internet.

So, first off, my wife and I dressed up in evening wear (tux and evening gown) and introduced ourselves to the guests with our aliases, Natasha and Agent X. Natasha explained that they were not here for a birthday party, but instead they were here to train to be spies, and if successful, they would be sent on a mission.

We've found it's good to start with an open-ended craft as guests arrive at staggered times, so our first task was to have each boy make himself a passport with an invented alias. I made a template that asked for (false) given and family names, nationality, date of birth, a photo and had a space for a thumbprint.

(Here's a link to my fake passport.pdf you can print. Add another folded blank sheet, cover with dark blue construction paper and then staple together into booklets.)

I had already printed correctly sized pictures of the boys from class photos from the last few years. The photos were on regular paper, not photographic, which made the portraits a little fuzzy and allowed them to draw whatever glasses, moustaches, or any other "disguise" on their picture that they wanted. We also left out a book of flags of the world and told them to draw flags on their passport pages to illustrate where they've travelled.
Making passports
The boys were pretty creative with this, as we had aliases from Germany, Afghanistan, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands. They had also traveled all over, including South Korea, Ireland, France, and Sudan.

Also on the table for kids who finished early were some books about spying that I had gotten from the library. I think my favorite was Spyology, and it has a section on the Caesar code which would come into play later.

Natasha recorded all the names on a piece of paper for reference (and for future Thank You notes) and I pocketed the passports.

Their next task was also a creative one: invent spy devices from an ordinary object. Natasha passed around a bowl with pens, flashlights, a pin and other common objects and we gave them paper to spend time listing all the things their invention would be able to do. They had a lot of fun sharing their ideas with each other.

Then came marksmanship training. Natasha had set up targets (balloons) as well as taped off lines for a "shooting range." They took turns with Nerf guns hitting their targets.
Practicing firing Nerf guns
Meanwhile, I was making a pasta dinner (our original plan of ordering pizza was foiled by the blizzard -- no pizzerias were open).

After shooting training, we had etiquette class. Although spies needed to get down and dirty, they also have to be able to associate with billionaires and royalty, so these trainees needed to know their table settings. I showed them a few glasses and had them identify them. They learned to identify white and red wine glasses, as well as a champagne flute and a martini glass.
"Martinis are always shaken, never stirred."
I showed them what a place setting should properly look like (two forks, knife and a spoon) and then instructed them to set proper places for themselves. They were each given a martini glass and Natasha poured them a kid-friendly cocktail from a shaker -- Yoda Soda from the Star Wars Cookbook.

During and after the meal, we played a game of Mafia, slightly altering the context (rules here). We explained that this was a training exercise to determine if they could lie and see through others' lies. Instead of Mafia agents in a village, they were told that there were enemy agents among our spy agency. We had 9 kids with 2 enemy agents among them, which gave an advantage to the "good guys," and in fact, the closest the enemies came to winning was having an agent survive to the final 3. The first game, as is usual with Mafia, was a bit random and confused, but once they got the hang of it, they had a lot of fun and we played two more rounds.
"Morning and another agent lays dead. Who do you think is a mole?"
After dinner, we decided that they were ready for a mission. They needed to find a missing computer chip with nuclear arming codes before it fell into the wrong hands. But first: Passport control. I took out their passports and quizzed them on their names, nationality, dates of birth and their previous travels.

"How was China, Mr. Maines?" "I've never been -- that's the flag of Japan!"

"How old are you, Mr. Hunt?" "21." "What year were you born?" "1992."

Because a lot of their answers were so silly, this was a lot of fun for all of them.

"Mr. Buttock, you say you were born in 10 BC -- how old does that make you?"

The kids lined up at the entrance to our basement. Natasha explained that they would need to get through a laser field (which she had constructed using bells strung on yarn, criss-crossed on chairs) and then shoot a guard (a big stuffed teddy bear). The birthday boy chose a laser team and a shooting team (although they all eventually tried both).
Getting through the laser field
After taking out the guard, they found a classified file that led to the first clue in a short treasure hunt.
Taking out the guard, "Big Ted" aka "One-Sock."
The treasure hunt included a little bit of geography, knowing the name of the spider plant, a Caesar code and eventually popping a balloon that held an SD card.
Classified file from the trunk One-Sock was protecting
"The Spider, not the Snake!" (Snake plant not pictured)
Decoding the message.
The missing computer chip!
Mission completed, they headed back upstairs for cake. I encouraged the boys to look to see what was on the SD card and they found a file suggesting that one of their spymasters, Natasha or Agent X, was actually a double agent.
Never trust anyone over 30.

How would they know which of us was a real spy?

The cake was going to be the giveaway.

Well, I ate my piece of cake with my hands which showed I didn't have proper spy etiquette. Clearly, I was the double agent!

They passed their final test! For that, we handed out some goodie bag prizes, including invisible ink black light pens.

After cake, we watched a James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. (Originally, this was going to be a movie party, then we decided on For Your Eyes Only because Austin has been skiing and there's a great ski chase, and then it became a spy birthday party. The evolution of party planning.)

All in all, it was a successful party, and we all had a lot of fun. The boys set and cleared their own dinner settings, learned a few flags of the world, got to be creative and cooperative, and made their own take-home gift (the passports). Who could ask for more?

Toasting the birthday boy