Indiana Jones Adventure

A few months before my husband's last birthday, I asked him what kind of party he wanted. He said an Indiana Jones party since he'd always liked Indiana Jones growing up, and the fourth movie was coming out the week after his birthday. Perfect! (What's funny is that I decided on using a Mayan theme for the activities before I found out that the movie was about the Mayans, so that was fabulous too!) I thought it all sounded like an awesome idea and started brainstorming and looking up ideas online. When he found out I was actually going through with it, he laughed and said "I was just joking! I'm not nine years old!" But, alas, it was too late, I was too excited about it. It was so much fun that my mom requested that we do it all over again at their house in Las Vegas as a homecoming party for my brother Bryan who got home from a mission in August. That one went much smoother since we'd already had a trial run... There are pictures here from both parties, but the description is mainly focused on the Vegas one since that one rocked harder. My main online resource for this was, a great site by a professional party planner, which was really the only site I could find with ideas for this theme at the time. Oh, also, I later submitted this party idea on which does a monthly ideas contest, and won the grand prize of 50 bucks! :) That's me, Rachel of Lehi, UT, the August 2008 winner. I highly recommend that website for party ideas, there are some amazingly creative people out there!

To start with, everyone received an invitation that included this letter...

"April 30, 1941
Dear Doctors So-and-So,

As you may be aware, my team and I have been laboring in the jungle of Guatemala for several months in search of the tomb of the legendary Mayan Prince Yaxkin Zotz (Yash-keen Zohts). I am very pleased to report that our search has met with success! We uncovered the tomb entrance last week, proving that the Prince was indeed more than just legend. It is a marvelous discovery, surpassing our fondest hopes! According to local legend, the Prince was buried with a ceremonial jade mask over his face. This is a much sought after priceless artifact, and it is finally within our grasp. The Smithsonian foundation funded our efforts in this area in exchange for our promise to donate the mask into their keeping upon finding it, so that it may be proudly displayed in their museum. We suffered great anxiety at the beginning of our excavations over the possibility of not finding the mask to repay our debt, but now our fears may be put to rest!

Given the history of your own research, I am certain you will be as interested in this discovery as we are. Therefore, we would like to cordially invite you to see the tomb for yourself and celebrate with us as we open the sarcophagus of Prince Yaxkin Zotz and extract the jade mask. We will be holding the celebration at 6:30 pm on Saturday, August 2, and will provide a sampling of local cuisine. We have invited the notorious Dr. Indiana Jones to the site to be the forerunning explorer. You can guess by his reputation that he has been instrumental in paving our way through various ancient booby traps set by the Mayans to protect the burial place of their Prince. We can now assure your safety while you attend, with 78% certainty! However, we ask that you do not bring any small children with you, as the indigenous tribes of this area will attempt to snatch any children for use in their sacrificial rituals!
I have enclosed an airline ticket for you. If you are unable to attend, please send word. Otherwise, we look forward to sharing our excitement with you!

Dr. Rachel M. Tafoya
Head of Field Research
Princeton University- Department of Archaeology
Ps> Dressing in period costume or character is strictly optional, but if you do feel like adding to the atmosphere, here are a few examples to spark your creative juices:
*The Adventurer – the classic Indiana Jones type, or one of his competitors
*The Researcher – such as Evie from The Mummy, well kempt and knowledgeable
*Foreign Agents – emissaries from other countries, i.e. government liaison to a sultan, or a foreign Prime Minister. Perhaps a vigilante soldier or member of a secret society responsible for guarding hidden treasure from grave robbers."

The invitation also included a map of Guatemala with our streets superimposed over it to give directions to our house, a newspaper article I'd made about the opening of the tomb, and a plane ticket to the dig site. Since I'd had a couple of months to plan, a TON of detail went into this party. For example, I'd researched other events happening during this time period and created a page of other newspaper articles to print onto the back of the tomb article to make it look like an actual newspaper clipping. The airline tickets had the name of an actual 1940's airline (or close to it) and a picture of an antique plane. Everything was printed on appropriate paper, either parchment for the letter or newsprint for the article, and it was all sent out in a manila envelope.

Most of our guests did indeed show up in costume, and played along with the theme beautifully! I was Dr. Carmelita Josefina Esperanza, Curator of the Peten Mayan Museum (an actual Guatemalan museum I'd found online) and Mike was Jefe (based on The Three Amigos) for the Vegas party. Obviously, he was Indiana Jones for his birthday party in Utah, wearing a hat we'd bought at Disneyland's Indiana Jones shop for my dad years ago.
My sister's costume was the most hilarious... she came dressed as the Boulder that chases Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark! I put her in charge of the Priest Races.

Aaaand... the boulder finally did get Indy! My brother got to be Indy this time since it was his homecoming party.

The Vegas party was held after the fourth movie had come out, so my adorable sister-in-law came dressed as a mysterious alien mind-reader..?? Everyone was very creative! Some showed up as reporters or photographers, some were dressed as explorers, some dressed in more Guatemalan garb, some were foreign nobility, and some were characters from the movies. We had a young Indy in boy scout uniform, and a lovely Elsa von Schneider.

The living room was decked out like an archaeologist base camp. We'd moved out all the furniture and set up a canopy with 40's style camping gear decorating each corner- crates and trunks, bedrolls, lanterns and candles, mess kits, a washbasin and pitcher, and some glass jars with labels I'd made of 1940s products, like GoldBond powder and tooth powder (flour or powdered sugar), etc. There was a research desk set up with books and maps where everyone picked up a name tag to write the name of their character onto and hang from their neck with twine. Plus there was a sheet of Indiana Jones trivia for everyone to try their hand at while waiting for others to arrive. There were also fake trees and vines blocking off other rooms, to give the illusion of the camp being surrounded by jungle, and a blue fringe curtain representing a waterfall covering the entrance to a stairway leading up. Where the waterfall fell we laid blue cloth bordered by river rocks and fake frogs. Everywhere else was also strewn with plastic bugs and spiders.
My mom had most of the decor set up for the Vegas version since we were traveling there the day before the party and wouldn't have much time to do it ourselves. She made a huge volcano hanging from their banister next to the waterfall. It was Guatemala, after all, so this really set the atmosphere as you walked in.

At the bottom left of the volcano was the entrance to the tomb of Prince Yaxkin Zotz. I was stationed here giving periodic tours of the tomb to groups of guests in my best Nacho Libre style spanish accent, allowing everyone to check everything out before we actually did the "opening of the sarcophagus" presentation. This also allowed me to address everyone to ask if they'd seen a certain artifact I'd been looking for to place in my museum. In Utah this role was played by my mother-in-law who made inquiries as she mingled with other guests during the party. I'd pull out a photo-sketch of it (a garden stepping stone I'd found at the dollar store with a moon on it) and tell them that if they ever found it I'd be willing to make a trade with them for it. This would play a role in the treasure hunt later. Making this entryway was one of Mike's projects, and I think he did awesome! Nearby we had some dirty, well-used digging tools (shovels, pick-axe, and a worn little box of fake dynamite made wrapping wooden dowel pieces with red tissue paper and glueing on a wick).

Along this hallway, we hung rafia "vines" from the ceiling and had three staffs leaning against the wall with skull heads on top (from Halloween) and poisoned darts (tips of wooden skewers) stuck into the opposite wall to look like they'd shot out of the skulls mouths. Just one of the booby traps Indiana Jones narrowly escaped as he prepared the way for us to excavate! As I led people through, I gave an improv'd schpiel about the excavation efforts and some historical background about the Mayans and their prince. Then I took everyone through the laundry room, which was made to look like a narrow cavern with a wooden bridge over a pit of snakes. (The cool thing about the Utah one at our house was that the entrance tunnel led down a narrow stairway into our basement, so it was more like you were really climbing down into a burial pit). From there we ended up in the garage where my parents had set up an awesome little maze of tunnels by hanging butcher paper from rope strung overhead. There were bones littering the floor, large bugs stuck to the walls, and vines and moss hanging down. After turning a few corners and some more touristy schpiel, we ended up in the sarcophagus room. This was a large section of the garage lined with butcher paper with a big gold-lined box in the middle as the sarcophagus. My mom had printed out a picture of the carvings on an actual mayan sarcophagus lid from the internet and stuck it on our lid. There were vertical strips of glyphs painted on the wall as well as a print out of a mayan mural. I'd also found a big golden table cloth at Deseret Industries and had Mike draw the mayan calendar on it to hang on the wall. On the floor were several vases I'd found at DI and spray painted gold as artifacts. I let everyone look around, then told them we'd be opening the sarcophagus and extracting the jade mask later.
Another activity to keep people busy before the sarcophagus presentation was a Priest Race game. We have a piano that we didn't want to move out of the living room, so I draped it with a gray-dyed table cloth and made it look like a mayan temple. Then I painted six goofy looking Mayan shamans on wood squares, glued a support on the back so they'd stand up, and named and numbered them. We had "Sham Solo", "Shaman Noodle", "Jaguar Bait", "Chaac-o-lot", "Shamamasofat", and "Kevin". Everyone would choose one to 'bet' on, and we gave them a chip with their priest's number on it. Then we'd roll two giant dice and whichever numbers popped up, those two priests would each move up one step. We kept going until one reached the top, and whoever bet on that one got some chocolate gold coins.
We also had Jaguar Hunting, where we stuck downloaded pictures of jaguar faces onto a cork board with targets drawn on them. Then guests could throw darts at the targets and get gold coins for "slaying" a jaguar. The darts represented the atl atl spear throwers Mayans used to hunt.
Another very important activity was eating! We set out a buffet of typical Guatemalan foods, like empanadas, roast quetzal bird (fried chicken bites), tropical fruit sorbets inside real fruit shells (found at Costco, to my delight), banana slush punch, and horchata. Along with all of that, there were some Temple of Doom style dishes, such as candied beetles and marshmallow brains (Oriental Trading Company), gummy worms as "Snake Surprise", and chewy edible rats from a party store (I hear they tasted horrible, but they set the mood well). Oh, and the punch had floating eyeballs in it!

The tables were decorated Guatemala-style, colorful blankets and such.
Once everyone had eaten and played some games, it was time to open the sarcophagus.

I led everyone into the tomb and made a little presentation, thanking my dig-site colleagues and such, and reminding everyone how important this jade mask is. Then I had a couple of big guys "heft" the heavy stone lid off, and we all peered inside to see that the mask was missing (in the Utah version) or that there were two false masks along with a real one (in Vegas)! I expressed my dismay loudly!

Then my colleague, Professor of Ancient Languages at Cambridge University (played by my dad), draws everyone's attention to three strips of mayan glyphs hanging on the wall. He "translated" them, saying that they were three clues. For the Utah version, he informed everyone that what probably happened was that Yaxkin Zotz followers may have feared that the mask would be stolen by their enemies overtaking their city, so they took it out of the tomb and hid it, leaving clues to its whereabouts. In Vegas, the clues were to help us figure out which of the three masks was the real one, because if we tried to take either of the false ones we would be zapped to death! (I thought about having someone do just that and fall to the floor dead in order to make that point, but I didn't want someone to have to play dead on the hot garage floor for the rest of the party).
At this point, I enlist the help of all of our guests. The name badges they grabbed at the beginning of the party each had one of three symbols on them, a sun, a moon, or water (wavy lines). They were to divide into teams according to their symbol. Then I handed out a booklet to each team full of our "research notes" to aid them on their quest. I also handed each team a gold medallion (made from salt dough and gold spray paint) which we told them was a replica of a medallion typically worn by the prince. They were also given a few sheets of tissue paper and a crayon to make rubbings of any clues they found.

On the first page of each booklet was a 'translation' of one of the three clues. From there, the three teams cycled through six different sites. At each site, they had to solve some sort of puzzle to find out where to go next, and each site had one of six pieces of a tablet with the mayan calendar carved into it which they had to get a rubbing of to eventually assemble (I made the tablet with drywall plaster and carved the mayan calendar into it before it dried). Within their research journals were instructions and hints about each site to help them. At the Utah party, I made the booklets look like a random collection of research notes and the teams had to really search the pages for which information applied to the site they were at. This made things alot more difficult and time-consuming. Plus for that party the sites were spread all over our neighborhood and required a lot of trekking to get to while battling mosquitos (hey, Indy had snakes and rats, these guys had mosquitos... it added to the realism!). Only one of the three teams were able to find and complete all of the sites in the correct order, and that was with help from me via cell phone. So, with the Vegas party, I arranged the info in the booklets to match the order of the sites for each team, and since it was broiling hot outside even after sundown, we kept most of the sites indoors just around the house. This also allowed us, the dig team, to be on hand to help if needed, and it was needed several times even with more clear instructions. One thing that was fun is that explorers could die along the way! I enlisted a younger guest at each party to stand at a certain spot along the route and hand a scroll to one member of each team as they came by. The scrolls each had a death sentence on them. One guest read that a local shaman had cursed her/him for trying to steal artifacts that he himself wanted to profit from, another was told they'd stepped into a den of snakes and fell dead after 8.2 seconds of writhing agony, and another was hit by the poisoned dart of a local tribesman who wanted to prove his machismo to his buddies by killing one of the strange white outsiders. If something happened to someone, they had to surrender their name badge to the bearer of the travesty scroll and they were considered dead, although I still allowed them to continue the quest with their team rather than have them sit around doing nothing. Initially, the idea was that the winner would be based on a point system, and the team would lose a lot of points if their teammates died, but in the end we just awarded the first team to finish and let the death thing be just for fun.
SITE 1: Waterfall Cavern
For this site the clue was to find a secret cavern behind a "cascade of tears", which led them to the stairway behind the waterfall. At the top of the stairs were five doors, each with a painting of a different mayan deity on it. On the wall was a large (paper) "carving" with a clue on it reading
"Consider now your life at stake
Of these stones an offering make
At the foot of each god place
The proper gem or else death face
All five gods you must placate
But pass through only one god's gate"

Below that sign was a stool with a bowl holding five rocks I'd painted five different colors, Jade (green), Obsidian (black), Gold, Sapphire (blue), and Amythest (purple). There were clues hung on the walls to help them deduce which stone must be placed at which god's door, then in the journal they were told which stone would end up at the right door. If they opened a wrong door, they'd find a sign saying "You have chosen poorly! You have opened a chamber filled with toxic fumes and you are now dead!"

Behind the correct door, they found a volcanic chamber complete with boiling lava. In this chamber they found an artifact... the very artifact I had asked them about during the tomb tour. This led them to me.

SITE 2: Crooked Curator
My site was back at the base camp in the living room. The team would come and find Jefe and I there and show us the artifact, offering to trade it for information about the jade mask. I politely agreed to help them, and told Jefe to pour drinks for our famished explorers. He passed around small cups of sparkling cider, and as soon as everyone took a sip (which they all did), I laughed deviously and told them they'd just drunk poison! I offered them an antidote in exchange for the artifact, or else they would all be dead within ten seconds. They handed it over and I passed out antidote pills (m&ms). Turned out I was secretly a crooked treasure hunter and Jefe was my body guard (he brandished his pistol if anyone got rough). With their bargaining chip gone, their only choice was to agree to help us solve a riddle to figure out what happened to one of our colleagues. If they solve this riddle (adapted from a riddle on, I would give them their next clue. I told them that one of our colleagues went missing last week while searching nearby villages for artifacts. Each day, Monday through Thursday, he was led by a different guide to a different village. The only guides available that week were Mario, Selvin, Cesar, and Hector. The villages he went to search were El Zotz, Xutilha, San Marcos, and Zacapa. I told them that if they could figure out which village he visited on Thursday, we could ask someone in that village where he might've gone next. We had questioned locals in our area and been told a few pieces of information: Two days after returning from San Marcos he set out with Mario. Cesar talked all day about his trip to El Zotz. Hector went with him on Wednesday. On Thursday a river flooding would not have allowed a trip to Zacapa. Using these four clues, the team had to deduce which village our colleague had gone to on Thursday, and then we handed them a small rolled scroll with their next clue.

SITE 3: The Map Room
The next site was a large floor map (this one being a map of our neighborhood streets for the Utah version). Along each side were holes labeled by mayan bar-and-dot numerals, and nearby was a pile of bamboo staffs of different lengths which were also labeled with mayan numerals. In the journals, the team found another riddle they had to solve in order to figure out which staff to place in which hole on the map. Then they were instructed to stick the peg of the golden medallion into the top of the bamboo staff (similiar to Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy is in the Map Room at the Nazi dig site). The medallion had red string tied around the inner post which they could unwind and stretch tight toward the map. Wherever the end of the string hit the ground was their next destination. This was the riddle, but in place of the # sign were mayan numeral glyphs that didn't copy over. Then the journal had pages which told the team which numerals meant which numbers:
"Inscription translated from cavern in central Guatemala-

# brave warriors with faces painted red went to hunt the mighty jaguar. Each wore # feathers of the sacred Quetzal bird to signify their prowess in the hunt. Along the way they were joined by # warriors from a friendly neighboring village, faces painted green, and each wearing # sacred Quetzal feathers. Suddenly stealthy jaguars attacked the party from the trees. # was slain, but the other jaguars each disappeared into the thick underbrush with a warrior, # red faced and green faced. The red faced warriors claimed the slain jaguar and assigned # of their own the honor of carrying the carcass back to their village priest. The sound of the fray drew a band of hunters from another friendly village who joined the clan. Their faces were painted blue, but they were all young and as yet bore # Quetzal feathers. With spears ready, the group stalked through the jungle, watching for signs of their elusive prey. Suddenly they were ambushed by a group of yellow painted warriors who were guarding their village territory. Before the hunters could retreat, # blue faced warriors and # green faced were pierced with warning spears. All # rushed back to their villages to be treated by the priest. The remaining warriors trudged on until at last they came upon the tracks of a jaguar. They followed the trail cautiously through the trees until eventually the beast was spotted and slain.

How many warriors participated in this final kill?
(This number indicates the correct staff to use.)
How many Quetzal feathers did they bear among them?
(This number indicates which hole to place the staff into.)"
SITE 4: Sign Post
The next site was a tall sign post with several signs pointing in all directions each labeled with the name of an actual mayan city. In the journal the team was given clues to eliminate cities until only one was left, and that one was the prince's favorite city to do commerce with back during his reign and thus was a possible hiding place for the jade mask. Once they figured out the city name, they followed a key in the journal that told them where to go next based on their answer.
SITE 5: Countdown Puzzle

Next, they came upon what looked like a long string of random letters posted on wooden skewers and stuck into the ground. They were instructed to count the letters by a certain multiple which they had to figure out, skipping letters that had been used, until each letter had been used, and the letters would be rearranged into a phrase. So, the letters they saw (Vegas version) were WRLEYSOAUOANNIUEIKORCARTCNO. They had to count them by fives, crossing off each fifth letter and copying that letter into the journal, to form the phrase "Your clue awaits in a corner nook." This led them to my parents' breakfast nook.

SITE 6: Mayan Math Grid
On the table in the nook was this large grid of boxes, each with a symbol and a mayan numeral in it. The walls were strewn with dozens of math problems written in mayan numerals, each with a symbol next to it. Their instructions were "The Mayans had a skill for math, use this skill to find a path, Help this poor lost Mayan home, each symbol's match will lead you on." On the star space at the bottom of the grid was an obsidian figurine I'd gotten in Cozumel, Mexico years ago. Using the figurine as a marker, they had to find the math problem with the symbol that matched the space they were on, the big star to start, and solve the problem. One of the adjacent spaces would have the answer in it, so they'd move the figurine there and find the next corresponding math problem. They kept doing this until the Mayan reached his village at the other end of the grid. They would then find the final symbol they landed on in a key in the journal, and be told where to go next.

Once each team had solved all six sites and taken a rubbing of all six pieces of the mayan calendar tablet, they were instructed to take the rubbings back to the Professor for translation. When the rubbings were assembled, they would see the mayan calendar plus some glyphs surrounding it which were a message either leading to the jade mask or explaining which of the three masks was the correct one. The team could then retrieve the mask and bring it back to win a prize (big bag of "Treasures" chocolates).
All in all, this party lasted around 3-4 hours, but could've been shortened by beginning the quest part sooner. We just let everyone mingle before and after. This took months of preparation, but required a lot more creativity than money. The biggest expense was the food, and the craft supplies to make all of the puzzles and decor. But everyone had a fabulous time, including me planning it, so it was all worth it!
*When a lot of decorating is involved, set up as much as possible BEFORE the day of the party! Allow PLENTY of time the day of the party for finalizing set up and preparing food. Ideally, have a written plan of exactly what needs to happen so that nothing is forgotten.
*Set up for ACTIVITES is far more important than decoration. Decor can be basic and still provide atmosphere, if a few streamers are forgotten no one will be the wiser. But if the activities are unorganized or not thought out well enough, it reeeally detracts from the party. Pay attention to details!
*DELEGATE!! Assign close friends or family members to help prepare food and drink and keep it all stocked during the party. Assign someone to run each activity if there are several happening at once, and make sure those in charge know exactly what they are supposed to do. Keep yourself, the host, as free as possible to oversee everything, mingle with guests, and handle any crisis that may occur.
*Have a basic time schedule beforehand and pay attention to your guests to avoid dragging things out. As the host it's easy to feel frantic and constantly occupied while guests might start to feel ready for another activity.
*Being in a character makes for more fun! But being unprepared and frantic does not allow for good character development... Again, emphasis on allowing plenty of time for party preparations! Be set-up with time to spare so that your guests will arrive to find you in a relaxed party-ready mood!


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  2. Our District is planning an Indiana Jones themed camp and I would LOVE to use your party template for our camp. Could you please email me any and all resources you made for this camp in PDF or other file format so that I am able to run it as awesomely as you did! Things like the journal and pages, the explicit directions for the map room game and the drawings used to make the rubbings, etc. would be greatly appreciated. You can send them to: Thanks for posting this amazing party!!