How to Throw a Spy or Mystery Party for Kids

Decorations, games, snacks, cake designs and other details for a mystery theme

boy with sunglasses and fake mustache
Jordan Parks Photography/Getty Images/Flickr RF

For decades, the secret world of spies has intrigued adults and kids alike. Movies--from the James Bond franchise to The Spy Next Door--deserve much of the credit for fueling that interest, and mystery books certainly play their part, too.

It's no surprise, then, that many kids ask for a mystery party when their birthdays roll around.

Here are some fun ways to carry out a spy or mystery theme and give your birthday kid a day he won't forget.

Invitations

The invitations should hint that there's a mysterious day ahead. Ask the guests to come wearing black T-shirts, trench coats, sunglasses, suits with ties or other spy gear. (Or you could buy some of those items from secondhand stores or a party supply store and have them available for the kids to wear when they arrive.)

To make your own mystery party invitations, roll your child's thumb in black ink and then press it on a piece of white paper. Scan the fingerprint into your computer, enlarge it and then use it as the image on the fronts of cards with a message like, "Make your mark at Sam's spy birthday party." Insert the cards in manila envelopes with the words "top secret" or "confidential" stamped on the back.

Decorations

For a color scheme, think about the hues of the night, like black, gray, brown and silver. Instead of streamers, you could hang crime-scene investigation tape.

Place an open briefcase on the food table and fill it with jars holding snacks or paper plates and napkins.

Looking for a budget-friendly, do-it-yourself decoration? Place black butcher paper on a wall, have your child stand against the paper in a running position, trace around her with chalk, and then cut it out.

Make several of these silhouettes and hang them around the house.

As the kids arrive, have spy-themed music playing, like the songs from Mission Impossible, James Bond, and Secret Agent Man.

Games and Activities

As the guests arrive, dress them in their spy gear if they aren't already wearing costumes. You could provide each child with a black plastic fedora-style hat and a fake mustache.

Now it's time to have some fun. Here are some activities you could organize:

  • Buy a large poster, such as a movie poster for The Spy Next Door or Spy Kids. Cut the poster into puzzle-like pieces and give each child one or more pieces. As a group, they must put the poster back together again. Cut bigger pieces for younger children and smaller pieces for older kids.
  • Hang a curtain in a doorway. On the hidden side, place a table and set up several bowls with mystery objects inside. On the side where everyone else is sitting, have the kids take turns putting their hand through the curtain, touching the mystery objects and writing down their guesses for what they actually were.

    You will need an adult on the hidden side holding out the bowls for the player to feel in the correct order. Once everyone has had a turn, find out which child had the most correct answers.

    Some particularly creepy objects you could use include cold, oily, cooked spaghetti (to mimic worms); peeled grapes (eyeballs); silk from some ears of corn (hair); dried apricot (tongue or ear); peeled whole tomato (heart); cauliflower steamed until soft and covered with oil (brain).

  • Put your spies' physical skills to the test with an obstacle course. Set up a race that might include walking on balance beams; carrying an egg across a certain distance on a spoon; holding a baseball bat to the forehead, pressing the bat into the ground and spinning around it three times; or crawling under a mini trampoline.
  • Diffuse a bomb! Cover the floor of a room with black balloons that you've filled with regular air, not helium. Inside one balloon, insert lots of red confetti before you blow it up. Tell the kids they must pop all the "bombs" and the player who happens to pop the "real bomb"--the one filled with confetti--wins.
  • Lie Detector. Each child must tell the group two truths and one lie about himself. The rest of the kids have to guess which information was true and which was false. Give the kids some time to think up truths that seem impossible and lies that don't. The player who's able to fool the most friends wins.

Send Them on a Mission

Don't just let them have their cake and eat it, too. This is a spy party, after all. Make them think about it.

Hide the cake before the party begins. Soon enough, kids will start asking where it might be.

Send them on a secret mission deciphering secret clues that lead to the cake. Seal the clues in manila envelopes stamped "Top Secret" or "Confidential."

The first clue could read:

"You've played some games and had some fun,

Now it's time for cake, young ones.

But where is the cake, you might ask.

You must find it, find it fast.

There is a clue in a room with a bed,

the room where the birthday boy (or girl) rests his (or her) head."

The kids then scramble to the birthday kid's bedroom and find the next clue.

You could hide the envelope and make them find it, but be warned that that might lead to a rowdy ransacking of the room. If you want them to find it quickly, the envelope could be tied to a helium-filled balloon.

Here's an example of what the second clue could be:

"Nice work, young spies. You found this clue.

I'm sure you know the next thing to do.

The third clue is hidden in a place with fresh air,

a place where, during summer, there isn't a care.

To narrow things down just one tiny bit,

This clue is hidden in a place where we sit."

The kids then rush outside to the lawn chairs and find the next clue. The clues continue as long as you'd like.

Just before they reach the final one, take the cake out of hiding and place it in plain sight in the dining room. It might be tempting to hide it under a box or in some other sneaky spot, but consider how rowdy the kids might be by now. You don't want a group of kids rushing to uncover the cake--and perhaps sliding into it.

The last clue could read:

"You've all worked hard, you've put up a good fight.

Let's get to that cake now. Let's all take a bite.

Please proceed with caution and get ready to bellow

"Happy Birthday to You" to our birthday fellow

(or, if the party is for a girl, use this rhyme for lines three and four: Please proceed with caution after playing this game, and be ready to sing to today's birthday dame)

The cake is now sitting in a room where we eat.

No, not the kitchen, the room with the seats.

Note: Mystery missions are fun to coordinate, but if you'd rather have someone else do the prep work consider buying a pre-packaged mystery party kit, like the ones sold by companies such as American Girl.

The Cake

So what should that cake look like?

It could be shaped like a trench coat, magnifying glass, a question mark or a large fingerprint with swirled icing on top.

You could also make crime-scene investigation tape out of yellow and black fondant and drape it across a cake.

Or have a bakery airbrush the silhouette of a shadowy figure carrying a briefcase. To get the same look at home, cut the shape out from black rolled fondant. That same spy could creep across a book-shaped cake to emphasize spy books rather than movies.

If the birthday kid is a James Bond fan, you could top the cake with a "007" or "009" or "010" or whatever age the child is turning.

Your child's spy birthday party might be focused on a particular movie or book. In those cases, go with a cake that depicts a character or symbol from the story, like a cake celebrating Disney's action-hero dog, Bolt.

Other Food

If you also plan to serve savory snacks, give regular food spy-related names, like Agent Apples, Fingerprinted Fish Sticks, Undercover Onion Rings, Double Agent Dogs (two hot dogs in one bun) and Top Secret Sandwiches.

Party Favors

Instead of generic goodie bags, make each child a spy kit complete with a small notepad, a pencil, dark sunglasses, Groucho-style disguise glasses, a magnifying glass and lie detector cards that supposedly determine if you're telling the truth based on the temperature of your thumb.

You could add trick candy, such as Pop Rocks, to the bag, too.

Real Spy Parties

Want to see how a real spy party turned out for one 9-year-old girl? Blogger Amy J. of Cazier Corner threw a spy party for her daughter Sydney, complete with crime-scene tape for decorations and invitations printed backward so guests had to hold them up to a mirror to read them.

The kids went on a treasure hunt during the party but had to fingerprint their clipboards before beginning.

Amy's idea for a cake decoration was clever and simple: Write the words "I spy" in large frosting letters, then place a plastic magnifying glass over the top of them.

Another mom, Lisa Moore in Colorado, threw a spy party for her 9-year-old son, Cameron. Lisa, who writes the blog Moore Minutes, decorated with bright, cheerful colors to make the party look fun and youthful. She drew chalk footprints leading to the front door for guests to see as they arrived.

Along with lots of treats, the guests were given water bottles labeled "Secret Agent 007," "Secret Agent 008" and so on.

The cake was shaped like a round bomb with a Fourth of July sparkler sticking out of it.

The kids were sent on a scavenger hunt that led to a tree where Cameron's big present--a new bicycle--was hanging.

Whether you plan an all-out party filled with spy-related activities or just want to put up a few decorations and pop in a movie, enjoy your mystery-minded birthday kid's big day.