Create a Puzzle-based Scavenger Hunt

For 15 years Christmas Eve has included a family treasure hunt. We have created many different types, including clues written in Spanish, virtual reality, longitude and latitude coordinates, riddles, audio files, videos and QR codes hidden around town. As my kids near legal drinking age the format and difficulty has morphed into a series of brainteasers, with clues that lead to the next puzzle.


What follows is a walk-through of this year’s treasure hunt. Including online resources for designing your own hunt and lessons learned from challenges that did not turn out as expected.


While this example is specific for the holidays, the format and clues can easily be adapted to any event. I have created them for birthdays, social events and even as a way to engage the family on a summer Saturday. Hopefully this will help you get started with your own treasure hunt. If you have questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact me at

The kids were wondering when the treasure hunt would start. They knew it would begin around 1:30, but they had seen very little preparation on my part. The first set of puzzles were hidden in the Monopoly box. To kick things off I found one of the least flattering photos I could, and Photoshopped the Top Hat on my head, saving it online.


The kids were scattered around the house when they all received a text message with the URL. It was fun to watch them emerge, talk with each other, and realize “The Game is On”.

Each of my four children have very different interests. In an effort to foster a spirit of collaboration for the entire treasure hunt I designed the clues for the word search where only one would know the answer to each clue. One daughter is getting ready to attend college in Chicago, one knew the new characters of Star Wars, one is an avid Ultimate Frisbee player and one is a very good Magic player. Numbers 16-18 are the names of our dogs. Why is number 2 Michigan and not Illinois? I don’t know, I messed up.


I leveraged Discovery Education’s online puzzle maker to create the word search.


The clue for finding the next installment of the treasure puzzle was a short video I created. Each year we do a formal family portrait. Ten years ago we took a family trip to Hong Kong and the kids were never fond of the matching shirts we purchased. Especially when we wore them for that year’s family photo. The video prompted them to find a packet of puzzles behind the photo.

Click to play video clue

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