This past Yule (Winter Solstice), I created an epic quest for Kyeli full of limericks, mysteries, and riddles to solve.
This is a complete writeup of the entire quest, including the motivation behind the quest and all my behind-the-scenes plotting to make it happen.
I hate giving gifts.
Kyeli’s primary love language is gift-giving. It’s very stressful for me to give gifts. This has been a challenge in our relationship. After trying several compromises with mixed success, we figured out a win/win – the quest!
I love creating riddles and writing limericks.
So this year, I combined the two! I wrote limericks with blanks in them, and Kyeli had to fill in the missing words to figure out how to get her next clue.
Strung together, it makes a fun quest that leads Kyeli to one or more presents. Kyeli provides me with a wish list to pick the presents from. This time I guessed instead of picking from the wish list, but it takes the pressure off to know that the wish list exists and that Kyeli will be satisfied with any of the presents on it. The wish list is Kyeli’s end of the bargain.
Delight on a $50 budget
This year, I decided to give Kyeli experiences that would delight her. I googled “Fun things to do in Portland” and found several websites with tons of recommendations. I sifted through them, looking for things that would delight Kyeli, with preference for the ones that were cheap or free. I decided on:
- A pop surrealist art exhibit (because Kyeli loves pop surrealism)
- Last Thursday art fair (because Kyeli loves those kind of art fairs)
- A People’s Choir (a bunch of people singing along to melodramatic pop songs at a queer bar)
- A ghost hunting tour around downtown Portland
The first three were free and the ghost hunting tickets were $22 apiece.
And I decided that, for maximum mystery, I wouldn’t even tell Kyeli what her presents were on Yule – she would only be told “Go to this location at this time on this date,” and not know what to expect.
Building anticipation with vague hints
One of the most fun things about quests like these is building anticipation. On the three days leading up to Yule, I gave Kyeli one hint each day:
- You will receive zero physical items.
- You will receive zero non-physical items. (for example, videogames.)
- Once you get it, you still won’t know what it is.
Since I’m giving her experiences instead of items, the first two are true, and since the experiences remain a mystery until the actual date and time, the third hint is true too! These hints totally boggled Kyeli and it was delightful to watch her squirm.
Putting it all together behind the scenes
I totally crammed for this quest. I didn’t start planning or preparing anything until about one week beforehand. Creating this quest took about 15 hours total:
- Researching the events and making the plans took about 5 hours,
- writing the limerick riddles took about 8 hours,
- setting up and coordinating the team took about 2 hours.
Most of it was super fun, so the time flew!
I sent this email to several of Kyeli’s friends to see if they would be willing to participate in the quest.
Greetings, friends of Kyeli! I am preparing a Solstice Surprise for Kyeli and I would love for you to be part of it! DON'T TELL KYELI! It's a surprise! She has no idea what's coming. WHEN: This Saturday, 12/21, between 10am and 1pm Pacific Time (that's noon to 3 Central, 1 to 4 Eastern) WHAT: All you need to do is be available to receive a phone call from Kyeli so you can read Kyeli her next clue. I'll send you the clue, you just have to be around and near your phone so you can respond when she calls you. If you're available in that time range, just let me know and I'll give you a clue! Thank you, and Joyous Yule, and Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays, and all sorts of festive blessings to you! Love, Pace
I waited to hear back from them because I needed to work their names into the clues.
I sent a second email to a smaller group of Kyeli’s close, local friends:
Hi there, close friends of Kyeli who live in Portland or near... or kinda sorta near! I am preparing a Solstice Surprise for Kyeli and I would love for you to enjoy it with us! Instead of material gifts, I'm giving Kyeli some shared fun experiences. Come join us for one or all of them! DON'T TELL KYELI! Right now she doesn't know anything at all, and on Solstice (this Saturday), all she's going to get is a list of addresses and times. So even if you see her at the appointed place, don't say, "I'm so excited about this group sing-along!" because she won't even know why she's there! Thu 12/26 7:00-10pm Last Thursday (art festival) http://www.lastthursdayonalberta.com/ NE Alberta St Fri 12/27 9pm A People's Choir (group sing-along) https://www.facebook.com/APeoplesChoir Crush 1412 SE Morrison St, Portland, Oregon 97214-2646 Sat 12/28 10pm Beyond Bizarre (ghost tour) http://www.portlandwalkingtours.com/tours/beyond-bizarre-ghost-tour/ Big Red Arrow Concierge Commons in the Merchant Hotel Building 202 NW Davis St. (between 2nd & 3rd Aves) $22 Thank you! I would love to see you at any or all of these events, and I know Kyeli would too! Much love, Pace
Most of the preparation was done via email. I called the art gallery to check their hours. I wrote the clues on index cards beforehand, and hid them. I delivered a clue to the Fat Straw cashier the day before Yule. There were only a few I had to hide at the last minute, so I made notes of those. I woke up early on Yule morning and went for a walk to place the appropriate clue near the big wooden fish.
Without further ado, I give you… the quest! It worked out to a total of 20 limericks.
(The answers are in white; highlight to see them, or play along and see if you can guess! Some of them are impossible-to-guess in-jokes and references to people you don’t know, but others are guessable!)
I wish you a marvelous Yule!
And now you must quest like a fool.
Your next clue’s inside
A thing used to guide;
A deep question-answering tool.
ANSWER: the Morgan-Greer Tarot deck (the one with The Fool)
Your next clue requires you to speak
To someone who makes hats look chic.
If that’s not enough,
I’ll make it less tough:
Her hiccups inspire me to squeak.
ANSWER: our friend Amanda
If rainy, get out your umbrella.
Get ready to flex your patella.
(That means your knees.)
Now pick up your keys;
Your next clue’s inside _________.
ANSWER: Izzabella (the name of our car)
She’s killer at giving a sermon.
Her last name’s misleadingly German.
She cried on a horse
As a matter of course.
Go and call ______ _______.
ANSWER: Julica Hermann
Her work is about liberation…
And also about masturbation.
She discarded hate
To make a game great.
Call her for more information.
I hope that more walking’s your wish.
But luckily, this one’s near…ish.
This time, the theme
Is swimming upstream.
Your clue’s by a big wooden ____.
ANSWER: big wooden fish on Salmon Street
His fridge contains something that’s milky.
His closet has something that’s silky.
Those clues are lame,
But that’s all his name
Would rhyme with. Now call ______ ______.
ANSWER: Charlie Gilkey
Your next clue’s more selfish than most.
Proceed to a place that is close,
And buy Pace a drink
Filled with what you might think
Are eyeballs, or something else gross.
And then, when you buy Pace that goo,
There’s still one more thing you must do.
Proceed without fear
And ask the cashier
To give you your next Solstice Clue.
ANSWER: Fat Straw
She lives in a garden of flowers.
Call her; don’t wait a few hours.
She left her abode
To walk a long road,
And now she has magical powers.
ANSWER: Jen Hofmann
Go home, if I may be so brash.
And go to the place where you stash
The things that smell bad.
And you will be glad
Once you look under the _____.
ANSWER: under the trash can
And now for your very next clue:
To get it, you’ll call someone who
Made metal that’s light
To open what’s right.
I’m speaking of ___ ________.
ANSWER: Liz Lamoreux
You wrote this, but not with a pen.
You started it in 2010,
Wrapped up this July
And kissed it goodbye.
Look inside __________.
ANSWER: Time & Again
On Monday, I won’t be a grouch.
I’ll prove it and give you a smooch.
We’ll stroll, nonchalant,
For an afternoon jaunt
At 23 West 5th and _____.
ANSWER: Couch. Portlanders pronounce this oddly.
There’s more! Make a call if you can.
She recently went to _____.
You watched her be wed,
And lately, she said,
“I’d love to be part of this plan!”
ANSWER: Mika. She recently went to Japan.
At home, eat a dinner-ish feast.
Next, your fun will be increased
On Thursday at 7.
Enjoy ’til 11.
Begin at Alberta, northeast.
Your next contact lives out of state.
To call her is surely your fate.
She teaches, she dreams,
She goes to extremes,
And here’s one more hint: she’s an 8.
ANSWER: Dyana Valentine
On Friday night, sing out in chorus
While crushing a sad stegosaurus.
Arrive sharp at nine
And all will be fine.
The place: 1412, son of Morris.
You certainly know Albert Einstein.
And also Elizabeth Weinstein.
But now you must phone
A “doctor” you’ve known.
He goes by the name “Dr. _________.”
ANSWER: Zeinstein, the alias of our friend Ira when he helped out via phone for my murder mystery surprise birthday party that Kyeli arranged
Saturday endeth your quest.
The last one is also the best.
At 10 on the dot,
Arrive at this spot:
202 Davis, northwest.
It took Kyeli a little over 3 hours to complete the quest. She figured out all the clues; she only had trouble with about 3 of them. She enjoyed walking around Portland and she enjoyed calling a bunch of her friends.
The Adventures of Dino Steve
I wrote the line “while crushing a sad stegosaurus” because there aren’t a lot of rhymes for “morris”, and I needed “morris” for “son of Morris”, which was my poetic way of saying “Morrison”, the street where A People’s Choir took place. “chorus” was a fortuitous rhyme, and “stegosaurus” was a total non sequitur. Later (after it was too late) I thought of “So loud that they cannot ignore us”, but that would have curtailed the following awesomeness.
Serendipitously, Photojojo included a little stegosaurus in their package containing Kyeli’s waterproof camera bag, and she received it between Yule and the mystery event! Kyeli named him Steve and carried him everywhere. Many of her Instagram followers were very concerned about his prophecied fate.
You can see how Dino Steve’s story turned out at #StegosaurusSteveAdventures on Instagram (read from bottom up for maximum dramatic effect)
Karaoke, reassurance, and creepy dolls
Another line from that same limerick, “On Friday, you’ll sing out in chorus,” gave Kyeli performance anxiety. The mystery turned into anxiety because she didn’t know if she would be singing on stage. The mystery gave her fear plenty of fodder to make up stories.
I tried to figure out a way that I could reassure her without giving away the surprise, but I wasn’t sure! I didn’t know whether singing as part of a group of people would trigger her anxiety in the same way as singing on stage.
So I said, “Okay, I’m going to give you 10 imaginary scenarios, most of which will be red herrings. Imagine each one and tell me what your anxiety level would be.”
The first 5 were all about different kinds of singing events. Karaoke in different settings with friends and/or strangers, and participating in a choir singing Christmas carols.
The next 5 were various creepy scenarios, like watching the demolition of an abandoned toy store containing lots of creepy dolls. I wanted to use my extra scenarios to make sure Kyeli would enjoy the ghost hunting tour – to make sure it wasn’t on the wrong side of creepy.
The karaoke and the Christmas choir gave me enough information to effectively reassure Kyeli that she would be fine at Friday’s mystery event, and the creepy dolls gave me enough information to silently be sure that she would enjoy the ghost tour.
The 4 Mystery Experiences
…and then Kyeli had to wait several days to actually find out what the mystery events actually were!
The pop surrealism exhibit was not bad. It was pretty cool but small.
The Last Thursday event was a total bust! Apparently it doesn’t happen during the winter, despite what the Internet told me. But we made the most of it and enjoyed a walk up and down Alberta Street, and we stopped into Vita Cafe for dessert. Red Velvet cake for Kyeli and Biscuits and Gravy for me. Kyeli is sweet and I’m savory. Also, I gave her a raincheck and told her that we’d come back for Last Thursday in the spring, and I’d buy her something from one of the vendors. So that actually turned out pretty well.
A People’s Choir was a blast, but then Kyeli got overstimulated by the loudness and rowdiness. Perfect in theory, not so great in practice.
Luckily, the ghost hunting tour was fantastic. We got to see a really creepy service elevator, the Parking Lot of the Damned, and an underground tunnel. It was amazing and Kyeli loved it!
The best way to receive delight is to give delight
I used to dread present-giving occasions. Now I look forward to them. The best way to receive delight is to give delight; there’s nothing more delightful than delighting someone you love.
Here’s to many more epic quests!