Monday, January 27, 2014

Mall Adventures!

Back in March 2012, I wanted something to do with my kids that didn't cost much and wasn't outdoors (because it was rainy and then became cold and rainy). I started thinking that we'd go to the zoo, but again, cold and rainy. And besides which, my daughter didn't get out of school at 3:30 and the zoo was only open until five.

I like playing with my kids, so I figured we'd have a little game. I knew Teagan wanted to go to Wendy's for dinner, so I had Michelle call my cell and leave a message using her awesome German accent as the evil Dr. Twistybread, claiming to have kidnapped Wendy in order to obtain the secret of delicious Frostys. Teagan was appropriately horrified. Cael decided he could use his super punching power on the evil Dr. Twistybread.

We talked about where to start looking for clues, and I told Teagan to think about "twisty bread." That suggested pretzels, so we headed to the mall, since that's where you can get big pretzels (Auntie Anne's, y'see). I slipped my GameStop card into the pretzel bag when Teagan wasn't looking, and from there just kind of winged clues, sometimes with the help of mall store staff, until we wound up at the arcade. We needed at least 20 tickets to free Wendy from Dr. Twistybread's clutches, but we managed it, and then headed to Wendy's for a celebratory dinner.

Since then, I've made up a number of these "Mall Adventures" for the kids. They've gotten more elaborate every time, but it's always just been a matter of making up a narrative - some mission that they have to complete. The puzzles have gotten harder as they've gotten older and better able to think abstractly. I want to share the most recent one that we did.

I picked the kids up from school and handed them a note made with an online ransom note generator. It was from a character called "Patchwork." He promised a prize if Teagan and Cael could solve his puzzle (which involved finding a series of objects or other things at the mall, five each). If they failed, he promised something unspeakable, but was non-specific as to what (but assured them it was scary!).

Needless to say, the kids got to work. We got their capes (from Amazing Capes!) and headed over to our local mall.

Teagan needed to find "a place to buy a hot drink," which was easy enough.

One down. 
Cael, likewise, needed to find "a woman drinking coffee." As it happens, Teagan's success spurred his.
Don't worry, he always smiles like that. 

From there, Teagan needed to find "where she would go if she were lost." This was one I was interested to see how she'd approach - the mall has a security office, of course, but one of the other things on her list was "a security guard or police officer." She initially said that if she were lost, she'd find the security guard or police officer, but I reminded her that "where" indicates a place. She used the directory and found the security office, and somewhere in there found a cop as well (but I don't have a picture handy).

Cael needed to find a "candle that smells sweet," but wasn't sure where to look. He went into Teavana, which is (as the name suggests) a store that sells tea, but they don't sell candles. He asked the ladies who worked there, though, where he might find such a thing (explaining that he was on a mission), and they were very helpful.

Social interaction, you see.
From there, we headed to Yankee Candle, and Cael found what he needed.

See? Smiling.
The next thing was "a dark store for dark teens," which I thought would be harder than it turned out to be:
They showed no interest in going in. 
And that just left a couple for Teagan: "A movie about a horse" and "a place to buy a furry friend."

The movie theater had no horse movies at present, so we wandered a bit, looking for a store that sold DVDs. We found one, and Teagan looked around for a moment and found War Horse.

Not my favorite Oscar nom that year, but it's about a horse, all right.
She puzzled over the "furry friend" a bit, and Cael went in search of his last challenge: "The name of an employee at Earthbound Trading Company." This challenge is twofold; he had to find the place, and then talk to someone and ask their name. He used the directory to find it (with some help), and then approached a very nice lady there and explained his mission.

His mission completed, Teagan realized that one could buy a furry friend at Build-a-Bear.

Of course!
We weren't buying together, but the kids knew that going in. And with that, their mission was completed and they learned their prize - tobogganing the next day!

This is how Mall Adventures works, more or less - craft the narrative, design the puzzles, and then sit back and let the sleuths solve the problems, helping as necessary. We're going to be running a Kickstarter to publish Mall Adventures so that parents, babysitters, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and big brothers and sisters can make up awesome missions for the kids in their lives.

More details to follow!