Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas is coming - and so is the Puzzle Elf's Treasure Hunt!

Christmas day in the Emmett household always begins with a treasure hunt. It started when the kids were little and has since become a family tradition. It’s not one of those treasure hunts where clues or riddles lead you to particular objects (although we love doing those too) - it’s more like a quiz with an element of Hunt the Thimble. I thought I’d write a post about it in case anyone fancied doing something similar.

Every Christmas morning the family come downstairs to find all of the presents have been taken from under the Christmas tree and moved into a locked "Treasure Room" at the back of the house. This is the work of the Puzzle Elf, one of Santa's lesser known little helpers with a propensity for tricksy questions.

A rare photo of the original Puzzle Elf, caught shortly after he hid his letter in our Christmas Tree.

Hidden somewhere on the Christmas tree is a letter from the Elf, along with a gridded map showing both floors of the house and a piece of paper with two questions written on it.

The Puzzle Elf’s treasure map.

The questions always come in pairs with five multiple choice answers for each. Each question is for a particular member of the family. For some reason the Puzzle Elf never sets me any questions — I assume it's because she thinks I’m either far too clever or far too stupid. One set of answers in each pair of questions is accompanied by a set of letters, the other by a set of numbers. The correct answers to both questions will give a grid reference on the map (e.g. E-5) where another pair of questions is hidden. There are always 12 questions in all (6 pairs), the topics are always books, movies, science and history with each family member getting a question on each topic.

Here are some of the Puzzle Elf’s questions from last Christmas

The last pair of questions reveals the location of the key to the Treasure Room. When the key has been found and the Treasure Room has been unlocked, the family can open their presents.

The key is wrapped in a piece of paper. 

It usually takes about an hour to find the key but both our kids insist that the Puzzle Elf keeps coming each year.


If you think your family might enjoy doing a similar treasure hunt (you don’t have to do it at Christmas), here are a few tips.

  • It’s nice to find a key, but If you don’t have a room, cupboard or wardrobe you can lock the presents in, the final piece of paper could simply reveal where the presents are hidden (e.g. In the garden shed or under mum and dad's bed).
  • The map of the house doesn’t need to be as neatly drawn as the one shown above (I suspect that the Puzzle Elf, like me, used to be an architect). A hand drawn map on squared paper will do just as well, but make sure each grid square only covers a small area of the floor plan as the larger the grid square, the larger the area of house that will need to be searched.
  • Try to pick questions that only the family member they're addressed to will know the answer to so that everyone will feel they have played a part in finding the treasure. The Puzzle Elf usually sets questions on books and films that family members have read or watched in the last year or topics they’ve been studying at school. If your family is especially bookish, all of the questions could be about books. 
  • Clues can be held in place with sticky tape or Blu-Tack, but should be in plain sight, so that searchers don’t have to move or open anything to find them, although they may have to look underneath or around the back of an object. 

The Puzzle Elf rolls the clues up into tight scrolls to make them more difficult to spot.

In our house, the first clue and map are always accompanied by a letter from the Puzzle Elf. The Puzzle Elf's job has changed hands over the years. The original Puzzle Elf went on paternity leave a few years back and that year the Easter Bunny had to cover for him. However he was back at work the next year and was training up his daughter, Flummox, as an apprentice. The original elf has now retired and Flummox has taken over from him.

If your family are the doing the treasure hunt for the first time, it’s a good idea to include some sort of letter with instructions. Here’s some instructions from one of the original Puzzle Elf’s letters that you can adapt for your own use:
Santa has put all your presents in the Treasure Room at the back of the house. He has locked the room and hidden the key somewhere safe. To make sure that you - and only you - can find the key, he has set a treasure hunt that only the three of you, working together, can solve. 
There are 6 pairs of multiple-choice questions. 
The two answers to each pair will give you a grid reference on the house plan provided. 
The next pair of questions can be found somewhere in that location. 
The questions are divided into three groups and each of you will have to answer 4 questions each. 
The final pair of questions will give you the location of the key. 
Good luck and happy hunting!
If the Puzzle Elf has inspired you to do your own treasure hunt, do let me know - and I'll pass the message on to her! And if you already have your own Christmas treasure hunt, I’d love to hear about that too.
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