How to Host a Murder: 1880’s Western

I am glad to report the success of another great How to Host a Murder party with friends. The theme for this murder was the 1880s in a western town called Roadkill. You can purchase this boxed set on Amazon. My hubs chose the theme – I guess he had long dormant dreams of being a cowboy. Anyhow, I have to say that once I started to get into the theme, I really enjoyed getting creative and planning some fun ideas. As with my other How to Host a Murder posts, there are 6 key components to making these parties a success. In this instance, I’ve combined 1 and 2.

  • Choose your guest list and pick your game. Since I already knew we were going to have a Western theme, I chose my guest list based on who I thought would be interested in the theme (or who in general loves parties and would be down for whatever). For this party, we invited three male/female couples and it worked out nicely.
  • Plan your food. For this theme, I wanted to keep the food relatively simple. Since the murder is set in the 1880s, I figured I should try to at least honor the period. For this party, I went with fried chicken (which I ordered from a local supermarket – this is a great low-stress option for your main), baked beans which I warmed in the oven, steamer broccoli (which I presented in a crock over a flame) and cast-iron skillet cornbread (which lent a nice touch to the theme). For dessert, I had a combination of mini pies (I only made the apple and pecan) and maple-candied pecans. Everything actually turned out pretty amazingly and we enjoyed a delicious meal.
  • Set the mood. I sort of had a lot going on decoration-wise for this party. Maybe that’s because my house doesn’t really look like an old west town, or maybe I just found more quick, easy ideas and spent the time to get them all done. Either way, this was a CHEAP party to put together. Okay, here we go. For the beginning of the night, I direct guests down to the Saloon (which was in my basement). At the doorway downstairs, I put up cardboard Saloon doors. To make the doors, I bought a tri-fold board from the Dollar Tree and cut the center section into two saloon doors. I then taped off the sides that I would attach to my doorjamb and spray painted the white side of the door part with brown spray paint (images below with another craft).  I put them up with extra command strips I had laying around – I never seem to use all the strips they give you in a pack so I save them up in my junk drawer. I actually ended up using probably 10 command strips for this party, so thank goodness for junk drawers. Saloondoors For the main saloon area, I made a sign out of foam board and brown permanent marker. I ended up drawing and coloring this by hand and while it took FOREVER and the marker kept drying up, I found the activity to be quite soothing. When I finished drawing and coloring, I then used some black tea to stain the white background and give it a worn feel. I also hung this up with command strips behind a hand-me-down bar that has come in handy for several parties now! For appetizers, I decided to get some whole shell peanuts. To keep things tidy, I made a cardboard ‘barrel’ table with a trash bag inside. The table was a real pain in the butt to make round, but I think it ended up okay after some finessing. To assemble the table, I taped together a few old Amazon boxes and then used hot glue to attach the foam board circle top which I had spray painted brown. I cut a hole in the middle and attached a trash bag before putting onto the cardboard base. I then added tape around the middle, top and bottom to attempt a barrel look. I put the peanuts on top in little silver barrels.SaloonpicsFor the main floor of my house, where the majority of the game was played, I kept lighting super low and used a TON of candles to create the ‘no electricity’ atmosphere. My table setting consisted of tin pie plates, red and blue bandannas, mason jars as glasses and tin can candles. I also made a longhorn skull out of foam board, marker, and burlap ribbon. First, I drew (in pencil) and cut out the basic skull shape. Then I added details with the marker and loosely wrapped the horns in burlap ribbon from the Dollar Tree. I put this up with a command strip as well. Above the table, I put up some borrowed lanterns to cast light over the whole table. The tin cans in the middle were saved from previous dinners I’d made. I pounded holes into them with a mallet and pokey tool thing that the hubs gave me. You could just as easily use a nail.  TablesettingwesternMy final major decoration in the main space was a directional sign. I used cardboard from what I cut off the tri-fold, cut it into equal size rectangular sections and then taped out different old west places in block letters. After taping out with blue painter’s tape, I spray painted them brown (you can see the saloon doors here too). Once I removed the tape, I had clean block letters in white text. I wanted to put this up at a corner by my breakfast bar. Thankfully, the hubs had a corner cardboard piece that I spray painted brown and attached the mini signs to. Before putting them up, I used an exacto to shape one end of each as a point. Then, I staggered them and made them point different directions by using hot glue to affix different parts of the sign to the corner piece. I put this up with (you guessed it!) command strips and I was pretty darn happy with how it came out. Directionalsign
  • Prepare for the game. On one of my counters, I set out the game materials (name tags, clues, booklets, crime scene map) along with notebooks and pens and some decorative elements. The TNT was made by using old toilet paper roles, cut in half and rolled together and taped up with red duct tape from the Dollar Tree. I then used some white string to act as the fuse. A little black marker and black tape to hold them together and I was done! The other thing I recommend when preparing for the game is to get a few small prizes for the winner(s). A go-to I love for adult parties is a bottle of alcohol with a mixer. For this party (sorry, no pictures), I paired coke with whiskey, vodka and Sprite, lemonade, and orange sparkling water, and Baileys with coffee. Gamesetup
  • Get your costumes. My character was a saloon girl, so I went with a corset, black dress, stockings and a garter. The hubs was a cowboy and wore fitted black jeans, a flannel shirt, cowboy hat and boots. He wanted a big belt buckle, so I took some scrap foam board and drew a longhorn skull in black marker and filled around in gold. I attached some plastic to the back that his belt could run through and voila!WesternCostumes

Even if you don’t want to go all out for parties like I do, I still highly encourage you to try out a How to Host a Murder game set. They are such a great time!

How to Host a Murder: 1920’s Mediterranean Cruise

As you might imagine, I like to write. For my 17th birthday, I decided to write my own murder mystery party by creating all the different characters, clues, and ultimately, the premise of the murder. I then sent out packets and prepared for the day. The party itself went well and was a lot of fun, but I was sad I couldn’t really ‘participate’ – since I wrote everything, I knew who the killer was and therefore didn’t get the experience of using the clues to solve the case. So, I went online to do a bit of googling and came across boxed murder mystery party sets by How to Host a Murder (I usually order from Amazon). I’ve now played two of these (and have two more on deck to be played), so I feel I can say with confidence that these games are legit and a great time. I don’t have many photos from the first one (How to Host a Murder: 1969 Hippie Party), so hopefully you find this post a little more informative.

  • Choose your guest list. I’ve had one friends party and one family party thus far and both have gone well. It was important for me to think about who would actually get into costume and character to make the evening fun. It’s okay if some of the participants aren’t completely all out for it – you just need them to be willing to dress up and play their roles. If you have an SO, you’ll need to invite 6 guests. I’ve done a mix of all couples and couples + singles. Both of the games I’ve played haven’t had couple alignments in the characters, so it doesn’t matter if you have couples or not, BUT you will likely need 4 guys and 4 gals, unless someone is willing to cross dress (which is always good for photos). Also, one super critical factor in putting together your guest list is reliability. If someone doesn’t show for the party, you won’t be able to play (unless you have someone play two roles). Pick people that you can count on to show up. Finally – plan a date that works for your guests to make things easy. The hubs and I will pick out a few dates that work for us and then shop them around to our selected friends. Once we find a date that works for everyone, we lock it in asap.
  • Pick your game. I like to go on Amazon and browse all my options, which includes reading as much as possible about each game (through both the product description and product information). There are a variety of different time periods and themes – I would encourage you to think about your guest list when picking the period/theme. You’ll want to make sure it’s something you think they will get excited for so they are more likely to put effort into their costumes and the game play. Once you receive your game, be sure check for all pieces (usually 1 host guide, set of clues, set of name tags, cassette tape or cd, invitations and envelopes, map of the crime scene, 8 character booklets) and then read the host guide. This will walk you through how the game is played and will even give you suggestions for food. The invitations will give you a description of each character and costume suggestions so you can assign each guest a role that fits him or her and also make sure they have ideas for what to wear.
  • Plan your food. While the menu suggestions in the host guide are very helpful and usually pretty decent options, I like to do some research and craft my own menu from scratch. In planning my menu, I’ll think about any dietary restrictions of my group (we have a friend who is no dairy, for example) and also my time period / theme. For this party, I did a lot of research on Mediterranean cuisine. Generally, this type of cuisine can include influences from a couple of countries – Italy, Greece, Croatia and sometimes even France. For an appetizer, we decided to go with a charcuterie board, which came out absolutely amazing. My sister put this together and she did a fantastic job. We used two wooden cutting boards to give them a rustic feel. The boards included a selection of sliced and spreadable cheese, grapes, olives, sliced salami, rolled prosciutto, tomatoes and peppers. We also included little ‘bread crackers’ to pair with the meats and cheeses. Our second appetizer was Bruschetta which was super easy to prepare and was a hit. For the main, we went with a Mediterranean Chicken and Pasta Bake, which make food prep super easy because we just had to pull it out of the oven at the right time. My other sister made this and it was delicious! We also paired this with a sliced Italian loaf (are you sensing a theme with bread…). For dessert, we served Homemade Cream Puffs and chocolate dipped strawberries dusted with edible gold. My sisters and I all like to cook, so we went homemade for everything. You could easily buy the cream puffs and charcuterie tray, or even get takeout from somewhere if you don’t like to cook.MM-MCFood

  • Set the mood. Since this mystery is set on a yacht, I thought it might be fun to set up the outside of the house as a gangway for my guests to walk down to ‘board the ship.’ I did this by grabbing a few logs from my backyard that were each about 3ft tall and then wrapped some sisal rope around them and draped it between. I made a very simple white sign that I placed in my front window with the name of the ship (The Gilded Vessel) to further set the stage. As you can see from the above photo, I went all out on my table setting to make it feel luxurious, like dinner on a yacht. I used recycled glass bottles filled with water to create a more fancy experience (filled these up from my fridge!). I also used cloth napkins and place mats, along with silver chargers to complete the look. All in all, I probably spent about $30 on the cloth and decor for the table, which isn’t bad considering I’ve reused all the pieces multiple times (you may recognize the table setting from my Globe Trotter Bridal Shower). I would encourage you to look on Amazon, at local discount or dollar stores, or even at thrift stores for your table setting components. You never know what you’ll find and if you buy simple pieces, there’s a good chance you won’t just use them once. The last component to my decor was the huge bar I placed in the middle of my living room. My husband’s grandfather recently gave this to us and I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. However, it has come in handy for many parties I’ve had thus far, so I’m glad I kept it / didn’t refuse to accept it. I set the bar with the components for making cocktails, but also used an extra silver tray to stack champagne glasses on for my guests to have a toast to commence the party. These glasses were a snag from my local thrift store at $0.50/glass. What I love about them is that they also help set the mood for the time period since they are more old school looking than the normal flutes you see nowadays. If you have non-drinkers at your party, you can easily sub in sparkling grape juice.MM-MCDecor

  • Prepare for the game. If you don’t do anything else, you must do this step. Pull out all the materials from the game box and set them up for easy game play. From left to right, I’ve laid out all 8 character booklets, a copy of the invitation (for character description referencing), the crime scene map, name tags and the clues for each round. I also decided to purchase mini notebooks and pens from the Dollar Tree for everyone to use to note any information revealed throughout the game that might help them with solving the murder. This ensures my guests don’t write in the character booklet so I can resell or share the game with a friend so it’s used more than once. (If you happen to have a game and want to swap, leave me a comment to let me know!)MM-MCGameSetup

  • Make a playlist. I did a little bit of research on music from the time period to build a playlist that would help set the ambiance for the evening. I pay for a Spotify Premium account (which I LOVE, since I don’t regularly buy new music), so I was able to find a lot of songs and build a playlist that I could bluetooth through a speaker for easy listening and control. You can look me up on Spotify by n.neiger.MM-MCPlaylist

  • Plan your costume. This is a critical step you can’t forget – if you expect your guests to come in costume, you better be ready too! Use pinterest and google to find the appropriate period clothing. Also, definitely use the costume suggestion provided in the invitation. I found almost everything in either a thrift store, my closet, or on Amazon.

MM-MCCostumes

Dead Tree Centerpiece with Candles

I’ve got to give credit where credit is due – I saw this on Pinterest and thought it was a perfect centerpiece for my Thanksgiving table. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I have a heavily wooded area as part of my property, so finding the materials was a cinch. If you don’t have a forest behind you, any fallen or dead branch you might have would work perfectly. My husband did all the work on this one, so this post is by him.

Materials:

  • Dead tree or branch that isn’t rotten (if it has a nice arc, that will help)
  • Candles that are 1½” diameter (well, just under)
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Two small dowels (about ¼” by 3″)

Tools:

  • Hand saw to cut the tree/branch
  • Miter saw to cut the final size
  • Forstner bit (I used 1 ½”)

First, I found a nice dead, but not rotten, tree in my backyard. I eye-balled approximately how long it should be and cut it with a handsaw so that there would be a nice arc in the middle. This was pure luck. After I made clean cuts on the ends with my miter saw, I took it over to my drill press and used my Forstner bit to drill out holes for the candles. I roughly spaced out 6 holes for my candles (it’s a rustic project, after all) and started from the center of the tree/branch and worked my way to the ends. I drilled about ½” deep – this project required very little measuring, but basically, you just want the candles to rest in securely.

Once I was done with the drilling, I noticed it was a bit wobbly and added dowel feet where needed (part of my tree/branch had a knot, so use your judgment when adding dowel feet to make sure it’s stable since it will be holding fire). You can do this by drilling a small hole in the underside and inserting a dowel. I finished up by coating the whole thing in boiled linseed oil to seal the wood and prevent warping and cracking. I did put boiled linseed oil on the bark despite the recommendations I read to the contrary. It has worked out fine for us so far.Centerpiece2

Thanksgiving Crafts (for Hosting)

This past year my husband and I were drafted to host Thanksgiving, which was coincidentally our first Thanksgiving in our new house. With a guest list of about 20 and having never prepared a turkey, I started to feel a little anxious. But, rather than freaking out, I decided to calm my nerves by planning some crafts for the big day to make things fun!

Invitations. Although my guest list was pre-defined by the ‘regular crew’ for Thanksgiving each year, I decided this would still be a nice way to set the mood for the day. I used 5 simple materials: plain yellow and orange printer paper, dark brown card stock, silk leaves (I bought mine at the Dollar Tree for $1), some string or ribbon, and some permanent markers. First, I cut the brown card stock in half so that each invitation would be 5.5″ x 8″. I used my paper cutter, but you can easily fold in half to cut a nice edge. Then I cut the yellow and orange sheets to be a little bit smaller than the card stock. If you don’t have a paper cutter and aren’t good at cutting straight edges, try using some wavy scissors. These are a lot more cost effective than a paper cutter and will hide the fact that you’re edges aren’t perfectly straight. Finally, I hole punched two holes at the top of each invitation. With a little glue between the card stock and paper and paper and leaves, plus the string or ribbon tied through the holes, the whole thing comes together very quickly. After mocking up what I wanted to write on a scrap piece of paper (event, date, time, address, R.S.V.P.), I proceeded to knock out all the invitations by hand. I did use a straight edge to keep my dots in a (relatively) straight line. See below for the finished product:

YellowandOrangeInvites
Place Settings. Because of my guest list, I needed to have more than one table in a not huge area. So, I decided to dress them up to add to the cozy and inviting dining area. For the ‘adults’ table (aka, our parents and grandparents), I used a white table cloth I bought on Amazon for $10. This was a great find for me because I have a 5′ square wood table that is pretty challenging to find linens for. Anyhow, I also picked up some silk fall flowers from the Dollar Tree (at the same time as the leaves above) for around $4 and made a little arrangement in a glass jar I had. (Jars also available at the Dollar Tree for…you guessed it…$1).  Sorry, this picture came out a little blurry 😦 I’ll do better next time.adultstable

To identify the seating assignments, I grabbed some twigs from my backyard (well, my husband did), cut them down and hot glued them together with some small name slips to make super cute place cards. Simple, yet charming.Place cards

For the ‘kids’ table, I was contending with a 6′ folding table, so I decided to get a little funky. I have a huge roll of brown paper that I found in the attic of my old house (it’s a long story) so decided to use that to make a brown paper table cloth like they used to (and maybe still) do at Macaroni Grill. To spice it up, I used a paper plate to trace circles in front of each chair and wrote the seat assignments in the center of each ‘plate.’ The great thing about using the brown paper as a table cloth was that it made cleanup a cinch! Finally, I finished both tables off with cutlery wrapped in fall napkins and tied with string.kidstable

Banner. Since I had all my supplies out for the invitations and place cards, I decided to also make a nice banner to hang over my fireplace. We don’t have a mantle over it (yet – hopefully I will have a post on this in the not too distant future) so I couldn’t put up candles or a swag of some kind, but I figured a banner would do quite nicely. Using the brown card stock, yellow and orange plain printer paper, and my permanent markers, I cut my paper, drew my letters, punched my holes and added some leaves. This one took a little longer because I tried pretty hard, and I think it came out just fine. Once I finished with the paper crafts, I took some 1/2″ white ribbon and strung through the holes to make a cheap, easy, and pretty banner.

banner.jpg

To learn more about the centerpiece from the photo above, read Dead Tree Centerpiece with Candles.

[Updated 11/21/18] For more Thanksgiving ideas, read Thanksgiving Crafts for All and Thanksgiving Food Fun. Or, check out how to gear up for Black Friday with my Black Friday Shopping Team Shirts post.