Sunday, January 22, 2012
Hosting a Roaring 20s Murder Mystery Party
In April, I made a blog post about our Old West-themed murder mystery party. Last night, we hosted a Roaring 20s-themed murder mystery party and dinner. It was a super fun evening!!! Here’s a run-down on the party:
We used a commerical murder mystery kit for the evening. I actually found two companies that have excellent roaring 20s-themed murder mystery kits. One was “Murder at the Juice Joint,” (http://www.nightofmystery.com/shop/category/mysteries/all/view/Murder-at-the-Juice-Joint-p4/) which was created by Night of Mystery, the same company I bought my “Murder at the Deadwood Saloon” kit from last year; and “Murder at the Four Deuces,” which is available from the company, Dinner and a Murder Mystery Games (http://www.dinnerandamurder.com/games/4deuces.htm ). Since I already tried a game from Night of Mystery, I decided to go for the “Murder at the Four Deuces” kit this time.
I thought this kit was just as good as the one I bought last year. Some differences: with the Night of Mystery kits, you get a lot of ideas for decorations, including a lot of downloadable items like labels for booze bottles and crates and the templates for making your own name cards. But with the Dinner and a Murder Mystery games, you can buy a boxed kit—which arrives in the mail. That’s what I did. I liked that, rather than having to print everything up from my own printer. With this kit, you also get some extra activities for the evening, like a scavenger hunt activity, and an online party invitation and management system, which the other company doesn’t offer. But…the name cards included in the “Murder at the Four Deuces” kit were just the plain ol’ stick-on on kind, and they didn’t stick on too well. And there weren’t any templates for décor like you get with the Night of Mystery kits. I also found A LOT of typos in the character descriptions and other materials they sent me (I can’t help it…I’m an editor.). I also reworded and retyped up some of the scripts they gave me for key characters like the host and inspectors, which I think made the evening much more clear for our guests. But all in all, I thought the kit was a good value. It really just depends what you want. If you have a lot of time for making invitations, name cards, decorations, etc., go with a Night of Mystery kit. (This kind of “creating” can be loads of fun!). If you want all this printed up for you—without the same creative/artistic touch—go with the Dinner and Murder Mystery kit.
Decorating for this event was a bit of a challenge. The setting for this house was a speakeasy. I thought a lot of the speakeasy and roaring 20s decorations that were available from online party suppliers were a bit hokey. Every company out there basically sells the same the same old hokey, cheap-looking speakeasy decorations. And honestly, I thought it would have been a bit of a challenge trying to make our dining room, kitchen area and family room into a speakeasy with tables and a dark, smoky atmosphere. We have large windows throughout and big, Texas-sized furniture that I wasn’t going to try to move to make room for folding card tables. I did find a design online for a mock bar table we could have made out of plywood, but again, where would we find room to put it? Not only that, I didn’t want to spend money on making a bar. Now I thought it would have been fun to make some old booze bottles with old fashioned labels on them, and put those bottles around the house for decorations. But then my very logical son brought up the fact that during Prohibition, companies probably didn’t want to identify themselves too clearly as bootleggers, so they probably didn’t put labels on their liquor back then. Besides, I didn’t have a bunch of empty bottles on hand to put labels on. I also didn’t have big boxes to put fake booze labels on, which I had thought about doing.
So…I decided to just go with a more general 1920s style of décor. Black and white was a popular color scheme back then, along with anything sparkly and glitzy, so I went with that as my theme. I decorated with strings of pearls, black and white feather boas, black and white streamers, and black and white bandanas which I used for table coverings, which I found for good prices at Party City and Hobby Lobby. I also found some really elegant crystal candle holders from Hobby Lobby—during their ½ price sale week—which I put black candles in. I put candles all over the family room, kitchen, dining room and front office (which we used as our wine room), and dimmed all the main house lights, which created kind of a night club atmosphere. I also hung posters of Al Capone and other 1920s gangsters (which I bought online from poster companies), and found some black crystal confetti to scatter on the tables. I did have several sets of crystal candle holders for the dining tables, which actually were my grandmother’s, which she got for her wedding in the late 1920s. Anything crystal (as long as it’s clear crystal; the colored “Depression glass” didn’t come along until the 1930s) is ideal to decorate with for a 1920s-themed party.
Here’s a sampling of some of the decorating I did for the party, such as “The Four Deuces” sign I made out of glitter…
Wine glasses with black and white ribbons…
A couple of the tables…
I wrapped plastic cutlery around black and white napkins and tied them with black and white ribbons…
The right music also adds to an evening like this. For music, I bought a three CD pack of 1920s classics called, “I’d Rather Charleston,” which was a collection by various artists, and an online music download, “Charleston: The Dance of the Roaring Twenties,” by Walter Weeman’s Brass and Singers. We played these all evening, and it really added a lot to the fun, upbeat atmosphere of the evening (even with murders going on!). I bought the music from Amazon.com, which incidentally has a great selection of music from that era.
We had 22 characters join in the fun last night. (We were supposed to have 24 but one couple got sick and couldn’t make it). Plus, we also had 12 teenagers and younger children (sons and daughters of characters) over; they just observed and didn’t take on roles (actually, for most of the evening, they were upstairs in the game room playing ping pong and video games!).
I already included a lot of tips about how to host a murder mystery party in my April 3 post. If you haven’t read that and are interested in planning a murder mystery party, you might want to check out that post.
Some other useful tips:
**Give your guests a detailed outline of what-would-happen-and-when during the evening. Now most murder mystery kits will include a handout for what you give to your guests to explain the setting, etc., for the party. In addition to sending out that to my guests, I typed out a very detailed outline for my guests that explained specifically what we’d be doing at our party (which may be particular for us): when to arrive (I stressed that for this party, timeliness was very important), where to park, which door to use, when we would be eating, when we would be having the scavenger hunt, how the investigation would progress, which guests were playing which roles, what awards we would be presenting at the end of the party, etc. If you try to explain all this after you’ve already got a crowd gathering inside your house, it’s going to be too hard to do. It’s better to let your guests know these details ahead of time. Email this information to your guests in advance of your party (about 2-3 weeks before the event). Also stress that they should be studying up on their characters before they arrive.
**Have information envelopes available for each of your guests to pick up when they arrive. I had a wrought iron basket setting out, with two envelopes for each guest: an “A” envelope with their nametags, character descriptions (an extra copy of what they already were given before the party), play money for the game, and certain documents for particular guests. The “B” envelopes had character objectives for after the murder, voting cards (for best acting, best costume, etc.), and other documents and instructions that certain guests needed. The “A” envelopes were opened upon arrival; the “B” envelopes were opened after the murder. Organizing all the materials this way ensured that guests would receive the materials they needed, when they needed them…and as the host, I didn’t have to scramble around trying to find certain guests to hand them particular documents at various points during the evening.
**Make sure your evening’s “victim” knows exactly what he’s supposed to be doing during the evening. Last night’s victim had a lot of very detailed information in his “A” envelope about where to be standing when he saw his demise, and how to signal to the host (my husband) that he was ready to fall on the floor (and my sons would need to turn off the lights and make a loud bang sound by popping a balloon). You want this part of the evening to go very precisely. It sets the tone for the rest of the party.
**Have back-up cast members available for key characters. Last night several people were sick and couldn’t make the party. Another gal had a “family emergency” two days earlier and almost wasn’t able to make it. You have to be ready to “move characters around” or find replacements for key characters—just in case you need to. Something always seems to happen last-minute, especially if you’re planning one of these parties during the winter months, when a lot of cold and flu bugs are spreading. That’s not a reason to fret though. In any murder mystery kit you buy, there will be a list of “core” characters as well as supporting roles (that are not essential to the storyline, but do add to the evening if you have people to play them). On Friday—the day before the party—I had to find replacements for three key roles. One couple was sick, along with their kids, and they weren’t going to make it. Another couple had a very contagious little boy; the husband would have to stay home and watch his kids while the wife could still go. Friday afternoon, when I got the news, I was scrambling around to find replacements. I moved one couple who were playing less essential characters, to playing the more pivotal roles of the couple who got sick. I was able to talk my 18-year-old son into playing the part of the husband with the contagious little boy (so he could stay home with his kids)…which meant my son had two “older women” hanging on him during the murder mystery party. (Check out this pic. It says it all!)
**Assign character roles very carefully. If you’ve got introverted or shy friends, they’ll probably enjoy themselves more if you assign them supportive roles. What some people enjoy most about these kinds of parties is just dressing up, observing and trying to figure out “Whodunnit.” Usually the main character roles are best played by extroverts—people who naturally like to “ham it up.” My husband is a good example. He’s a classic introvert (married to a super extrovert who plans nonstop parties…well, we balance each other out!). Last year, he had the main male role, and the minute the party started, he was besieged by about 20 other guests who had character assignments to harass him or question him about something. By the end of the evening…well, probably 15 minutes into the evening…he was totally wiped out.
**Serve food that fits in with the theme for the evening, and requires absolutely NO last minute food prep or cooking on your part. For me, I was the hostess last night, and I was also one of the main characters. If you are going to be eating the main meal sometime after the party starts, have appetizers to eat beforehand. This is what we did last night. Our guests arrived somewhere between 6 and 6:45 pm. We had appetizers to munch on during this time. I asked a couple of the guests to bring cheese and cracker trays for appetizers. I also made an easy appetizer for the evening—cheese, sausage and olive kabobs. This was a popular snack in the 1920s, and the kabob sticks fit with the black and white theme:
The party “officially” started at 6:45, once everyone had arrived. The victim had about a half hour to complete a list of objectives (basically he had to say and do certain things to get other characters upset with him).
Here’s a photo of the evening’s victim, Jim Ravioli, telling his daughter, Rebecca Ravioli, she couldn’t marry Rhett Bumbler:
Here’s the victim lying on our front staircase:
After the victim was dragged away by the inspector and my husband (owner of The Four Dueces), dinner was served. This was about 7:15. Dinner was ready right then, and I didn’t have to do anything ahead of time to prepare it. Everything had been done ahead of time. I made a large tray of lasagna, which I put in the oven at 6 pm, right before our first guests arrived. I made crock pot chicken cacciatore, which I got going about noon. All I had to do at serving time was take off the lids of the crock pots. I made herbed spaghetti to with the chicken cacciatore and garlic bread loaves. Both of these were prepared in advance, and just needed to be heated in the oven about a half hour before serving. Being that the theme for the party was 1920s Chicago gangsters, and most of the characters were Italian, Italian food a perfect choice for the meal. It was a really good choice for me, because I didn’t have to do any last-minute food prep. Here are the recipes:
CROCK POT CHICKEN CACCIATORE
3 ½ lbs. chicken pieces (thighs and/or breasts)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. lemon pepper
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
¼ cup rose wine
1 T. granulated sugar
1 green pepper, sliced thinly
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) can mushrooms
Put all of the above ingredients in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Serve with pasta.
PASTA WITH OLIVE OIL AND SPICES
1 lb spaghetti ( good quality)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 T. dried oregano
1 T. dried parsley
salt and pepper--to taste
Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to manufacturer directions. Drain, and add oil and the rest of the ingredients. Put in an oiled casserole dish. Refrigerate until serving time. About a half hour before serving time, put spaghetti in covered casserole dish in 350 oven. Bake for 30 minutes—or until heated through.
DO-AHEAD GARLIC BREAD LOAF (I made 5 of these for the party)
1 loaf French or Italian bread
½ cup butter
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried parsley
Optional: ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Slice loaf into 1 inch slices; make your cuts 90 percent into the loaf, but not all the way (without cutting into the bottom of the loaf, so that the slices stay held together in the loaf). Melt butter. Add garlic powder, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Spread each side of each slice of bread with the butter mixture (a pastry brush works well to do this). If desired, lightly brush a little butter on the outside of the entire loaf as well. Wrap loaf in heavy-duty aluminum foil and freeze. Bake in 350 degree oven (straight from freezer; you do not need to defrost loaf) for 30 minutes before serving.
I asked guests to bring accompaniments for the meal: Caesar or other tossed salads, veggies and dip trays, bottles of wine and desserts. I also had chocolate, raspberry and peanut butter mousse cups in the freezer, which I brought out of the freezer to thaw at room temperature about 30-40 minutes before mealtime. Everything was on my kitchen countertops and center island and was served buffet style. The meal went very smoothly!
**One last tip: buy some small gifts that you can hand out with the award certificates at the end of the evening. Last night’s guest with the most game money at the end of the evening got a set of black and white gangster shot glasses (which fit in nicely with 1920s speakeasy theme). The guest who won “best actor” got a bottle of champagne in a black and silver velvet bag. The guest who won “best costume “got a large box of dark and white chocolates. The guests who correctly guessed the killer got chocolates too. Having the gifts to hand out ended the party on a special note.
Here’s a photo of our group which we took at the end of the evening:
I can’t lie to you…this isn’t an event that’s going to be totally stress-free for you, no matter how good of an advance planner you are. You’re hosting a large meal AND you’re organizing what’s basically an Improv performance. It’s going to take a certain amount of work. A lot is on your shoulders. But it all can go very smoothly if you plan things in advance… and the stress will be kept to a minimum. Keep in mind the work you put into the evening is well worth it!!! I sure had a lot of fun last night. My guests said they did too. These are the kinds of events that make for great memories down the road.
That’s all for now! If you’re planning a murder mystery party and you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note!