Gather the usual suspects and follow these clues for a cloak-and-dagger birthday caper worthy of any "double-O" preteener.
Invitations and thank-you notes
* Make a two-sided puzzle invitation. Draw and photocopy a map of your neighborhood. Mark the path from each guest's house to your own. On another piece of paper, cut out letters from magazines to "write" the party details and photocopy that, too. Glue the map to one side of a piece of oak tag, the invitation to the other. Cut each piece into puzzle shapes and mail them in envelopes marked "Top Secret." Or write the message backward on premade puzzle pieces. Guests read the invitation in the mirror.
* Tie thank-you notes to small magnifying glasses and mail in padded envelopes.
* Hang magnifying glasses from fishing wire from the ceiling.
* Gather photos of your guests, and have them blown-up and photocopied so you can make "wanted" posters to hang around the party room. Make other headlines using their names.
Play Celebrity Sleuths. Tape a picture to each guest's back so that everyone but him can see it. Each guest takes a turn asking yes or no questions to uncover his star identity.
* For the Murder Mystery, each child draws a piece of paper from a hat. One slip has a picture of a dagger; another, a detective. All others are blank. The detective identifies herself; the dagger-holding murderer stays a secret. Turn off the lights. Everyone scatters throughout the house. The murderer then sneaks around and whispers, "You're dead" to a victim, who screams as he falls "dead." The lights are turned on, and everyone checks the crime scene for clues. Without asking, "Are you the murderer?" the detective questions everyone to find out whodunit. Everyone except the murderer must answer truthfully. If the detective can't deduce who the murderer is, the lights go out, and the murderer strikes again and again until his identity is revealed.
* Make a sound tape -- of a pencil sharpening, a door slamming; as each child arrives, have him disguise his voice and speak into the recorder. Play Name That Sound by listening to the tape and identifying sounds and voices in a notebook. Whoever identifies the most sounds wins.
* The Bomb Squad -- all of your guests -- goes into another room while you hide a ticking alarm clock. (You must be able to hear the ticking.) The squad comes back to look for the bomb before it goes off.
* Fingerprint each guest using an ink pad and an index card with his name on it. Then each guest holds a different clean glass that can be dusted for prints: Sprinkle the glasses with baby powder, carefully brush off the excess powder with a clean paintbrush, and fingerprints will appear. Try to match the prints to the index cards.
? More sleuthing games
Goody bags: Guests go home with magnifying glasses; Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, or other detective novels; a fake mustache or sunglasses; and their fingerprints.