I’m skipping ahead a little bit here, but I need to open off with one quick comment- the “Sweet Murder” Murder Mystery Weekend is the most fun I’ve had in quite a while. And there’s no shortage of competition, given the number of puzzle contests, escape rooms, and other projects I’ve been involved in.
Now that I have that out of the way, I’ll start at the beginning. What is a “virtual murder mystery weekend”? About one month ago, I didn’t know the answer to that question myself. I was searching online for an online puzzle game to give to a friend as a Christmas present, and I initially had envisioned finding some kind of augmented reality game.
When I stumbled across Tall Tales Mysteries, the concept of a virtual murder mystery weekend struck me immediately. I’ve researched, but never participated in, murder mystery weekends, in which players interact with actors over the course of a weekend to unravel an elaborate crime. I had pegged this as something I’d like to try, but I had never imagined there would be a virtual option that I would be able to participate in on such short notice.
The virtual murder mystery weekend, occurring over the course of a Friday to Sunday, included a complete lineup of treats for mystery-lovers. In addition to the main event, the mystery itself, the schedule included a panel with crime writers, a magic show (and tell, as we learned a few amazing tricks!), and a workshop with two leading forensic experts.
But wait, there’s more! Participants receive kits in the mail with items used in both the magic show and the forensics workshop. It’s a really nice addition, so that the event can have tactile elements even if all participants are apart from one another.
And I’m still not done! First come, first serve, Tall Tales Mysteries offers “mini character” tickets, in which participants play out the role of a unique character written into the murder mystery. It’s more than just one line here or there, as well. Mini characters have valuable information for solving the case, so it’s critical that in addition to interviewing the roster of suspects, you also connect with each of the mini characters and try to learn what they know. It’s a brilliant touch that lets participants be as active or as quiet as they prefer. We had several participants that integrated into the story so seamlessly that a few of us thought they were secretly working with Tall Tales as a bigger part of the story!
I signed both my friend and myself up for mini characters. My friend became Professor Guy Glum, a professor of toxicology from Johns Hopkins University who had worked with the murder victim in the past. I played the role of Des Gruntled, an American private investigator the victim hired to search the world for his long-lost son.
I put together an outfit I was quite proud of, evoking Magnum PI (Hawaiian shirt, bold mustache) and a few other private eye tropes (cigarette, distinctive hat). I had to keep stroking my mustache, not as a character habit, but as a means to keep it attached as the glue weakened over the course of the weekend.
I was thrilled when I learned that my mini character would also be making a few appearances in the main plot of the mystery, in the scenes typically reserved for the professional actors. I hope I lived up to their expectations- I certainly had fun!
I’ve been gushing at length about the murder mystery weekend, and I’ve yet to describe the main event itself! I’ll let Tall Tales Mysteries’ introductory video set the tone.
If you’ve solved a murder mystery dinner before, you get the gist- someone gets killed, and between a combination of pre-scripted scenes and breaks in which you can engage and interview the suspects, you are tasked with determining the identity of the killer.
The virtual murder mystery dinner has two very noteworthy modifications that you’ve likely never encountered before. Because the event is spread over the course of a full weekend, Tall Tales creates additional developments between days, or even between scenes, that players can research, react to, and ask about. This keeps the game quite fresh, as even a character you’ve grilled at length might have more to reveal as the story develops. The other chief modification is that each suspect resides in his or her own breakout room, meaning you can travel from suspect to suspect seamlessly, taking notes as quietly or loudly as you wish. You can even grab mini characters to meet you privately on the patio to interrogate them.
The murder mystery itself was a joy. A chocolate tycoon passes away, and the chief suspects are his immediate family members, all dependent on the family business to support their lavish lifestyles. In case you’re wondering, no – it does not play out just like Knives Out, though that film did inspire a few of my lines of inquiry over the course of the weekend.
Day one, Friday, started with the guests getting settled in and interacting with each other and the mini characters. Soon after, we started the event in earnest, meeting the principal characters and suspects and diving into interrogation.
Though the event was on Greenwich Mean Time and I’m in US Central (GMT -6) the time offset was not particularly challenging. Saturday the schedule of events ran from 8 to 3:30 in Chicago time, which worked very well for my schedule.
The actors were wonderful. I can only imagine how much practice it must take to be able to handle literally any questions the sleuths can think of. At one point one of the participants grilled one of the suspects on what type of vehicle she drove and what safety features the car has. And I could barely handle coming up with my character’s age when someone asked me!
I was thrilled with the amount of time we got to spend interacting with the suspects. The murder mystery alternated between scripted events and breakout sessions, and the breakouts were the perfect length to allow investigators to get answers to all their burning questions, plus a little more. I really felt like I got to know the characters- having plenty of time to interact with each and every one of them helped a lot.
On day two, I joined both the magic show and the writer’s panel. These occurred toward the middle of the weekend, serving to add a little variety to the weekend’s events, and both captured my imagination.
The writer’s panel, featuring John Dean, Jackie Baldwin, and Ian Patrick, was inspiring. I have no serious aspirations to shift career paths and become a writer, but I’m interested in writing as a hobby and it was very neat hearing stories from professional crime writers. My favorite part was hearing about where each of the writers draws inspiration from, and how they each take different approaches for starting points in where the story ultimately comes from.
I wont go into extreme detail, but I’ll share one detail I thought was extremely cool about each author.
Ian Patrick- Despite having a long police career, Ian refuses to use any details from his real life experience in his crime stories out of respect for the people involved in the real crimes. It makes sense when you think about it, but it was still neat seeing how someone who knows the material so well adapts to tell the right story.
Jackie Baldwin- Jackie’s method of building a story around the characters, which involved building the characters into almost-real people in her mind, was a very different way of looking at storytelling than I had ever imagined. Very cool.
John Dean- I was captivated when John told the story about how he parlayed a real-life observation into his novel The Secrets Man. It was a neat illustration of finding inspiration by keeping your eyes open and observing the world around you.
Next up, Andy Larmouth’s magic show enchanted my wife and me. Andy designed the show to be interactive and tactile; he kept the audience engaged and involved, and he even built in a few acts the audience could participate in using elements Tall Tales Mysteries mailed to all the attendees.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think my favorite act was one of Andy’s slight-of-hand tricks, tossing away card after card and revealing he still had the same total count of cards in his hand. I’m assuming it was slight-of-hand, but I was watching Andy’s hands the whole time and still have no idea how he pulled it off.
I was also blown away by the part of the show in which Andy showed the audience two simple tricks we can use to dazzle an audience. Both tricks are simple in execution but provide a SERIOUS wow factor, and I’d love to pull either of them out when I really need to wow a crowd. I’m sworn to secrecy in how they work and will be reserving my use of them for only the most critical of circumstances.
Day two wrapped with the final rounds of the murder mystery. The story added a few more twists and turns and we had additional opportunities to engage the suspects before calling it a day. All the amateur sleuths then had to submit their answers online – whodunit, and why.
I ended up staying up far too late on the phone with Guy Glum, going over the nuts and bolts of our different theories. We pegged different suspects as the killer, and both of us presented strong cases for why we thought we were correct. When all was said and done, I feel like I wrote a novella for what must have happened during the murder of Walter Worth and who was behind it.
Sunday morning, the final day, I signed on bright and early at 5AM to join the forensics lab exploration, featuring Sue Procter and Leisa Nichols-Drew from Think Forensic. I was already aware that forensics isn’t as simple as television makes it look, but I learned a LOT during this session.
I thought I knew a fair amount about fingerprints, but I was wrong- I didn’t even know the basics of when and where you might find fingerprints, or how to use them. The technique they shared that I found the most fascinating was one in which they evaporate glue into the air which settles and hardens on surfaces with fingerprints, essentially ruining the surfaces but making it much easier to find any/all evidence. I also really appreciated the tour of the forensics lab and seeing the kinds of environments they set up to rebuild what may have happened at a crime scene.
The final event of the day was the reveal of the top detective- the investigator who came the closest to the truth when making an accusation. Drum roll… I was way off! Both Guy Glum and I had put our finger on most of the core pieces but each of us missed just the tiniest details and set on the trails of the wrong suspects. But even getting it wrong, we were enraptured and felt incredibly satisfied.
Sara did a wonderful job crafting the story and making a setting that felt believable and engaging. All in all she wrote stories for about twenty different characters, and each was memorable enough that I could rattle off every suspect and mini character right now if asked. The materials and clues were well-designed and revealed at just the right interval to keep the investigators thinking and theorizing every moment from start to finish.
I mentioned them before, but the talented roster of actors deserve repeated praise for their performances. They made it easy to get totally immersed, to feel like I was truly part of an investigation and talking to a group of people desperately grabbing at a share of the Worth estate.
That just about sums up the virtual murder mystery weekend! We had a final Q&A (and it was really fun to hear that a few investigators thought my friend “Guy Glum” was an actor planted among the investigators) before calling it a day.
I will definitely be looking to join more events with Tall Tales Mysteries, whether they be full weekend events, one night virtual events, or hopefully even visiting one of their real-life events in Darlington someday. I saw that Tall Tales currently offers a self-paced online mystery using video-recorded footage of the actors, and we’ll be giving that one a try sometime soon.
All in all, I was delighted by every step of the virtual murder mystery weekend. Tall Tales Mysteries set a high bar for me at the start of 2021, and I can only hope the rest of the year is half as much fun as this weekend was.