When my son first joined Cub Scouts, the Pack was just emerging from COVID and the pandemic had certainly taken its toll. There were maybe 12 kids actively involved. Everyone was doing their best to make it work and keep the Pack going. Meetings were small and simple. Since then, we have seen so much growth. Last year we had around 35 cubs and this year we are up to around 60 cubs.
Engaging Pack Meetings
It’s been delightful to see the Pack grow and to welcome new families to scouting. But with all the growth, it’s time for our meetings to change and evolve. Over the past few meetings, we have moved away from focusing on announcements, awards, and speakers designed to check off requirements for Adventures. Instead, meetings are all about fun. Sure, we still do flag ceremony, awards, and a few quick announcements, but then we dive right into fun and games.
Last spring I started this idea with a space themed meeting where cubs learned about NASA’s DART (double asteroid redirection test) program, designed Moon bases, programmed a rover, and designed their own constellation. Next up was an Expedition Experience where kids panned for gems and arrowheads, dug up and identified dinosaur bones, made fossils with clay, and cooked and ate MREs. After that, I knew there was no going back. I spent the next few months brainstorming topics for an entire year of fun Pack Meetings.
I knew very early on I wanted to do a mystery/escape room themed meeting, but it took me a long time to decide exactly what that would look like. The biggest considerations being staying within a reasonable budget and planning the activity in a way that would allow all the cubs to actively participate in solving the crime. In the end, it all came together beautifully. I’m excited to share our cubs were able to crack the clues, solve the crime, and had a blast doing it.
Admire and Acquire
I’ve had quite a few Den Leaders and Cubmasters ask if they could have the files to do this meeting plan with their cubs. I am a firm believer that we should all support each other and other Packs to help deliver the best possible scouting experience for our cubs. If you use this activity with your den, pack, or other youth group, I’d love it if you shared in the comments where your unit is located to see how far this reaches. And yes, an enthusiastic comment or treating me to a cup of coffee goes a long way, if you feel so inclined. But I wanted to make this activity available to anyone who might want to use it, so it is 100% free to anyone who wants it!
These instructions and materials list are to equip you with a starting point. There are many ways you can successfully run a “Who Done it?” Pack meeting. It can be more elaborate or use almost no supplies. Everything included here is how to run the meeting the exact way I did. I hope it works for your Cub Scout Pack as well as it did for me. I also hope you have a lot of fun finding ways to put your own unique twist on it to be even bigger or better for your cubs.
4 Black Markers (make sure they are all different brands and not permanent)
White Coffee Filters
Spray bottle filled with water
Coated paper plates
Before the meeting, you will want to get everything printed and the clues sorted into folders. If you want to use generic suspect files, you can download the Who Done It packet and you are ready to go. If you would prefer to have the suspects to be parents and adult leaders in the pack, you can use the editable template on Canva.
This link will NOT allow you to edit the original file. You can view the template and make a copy, which will save to your own Canva account. This will allow you to insert photos for your suspects, edit names and descriptions, and update the file number. For us, I used our three digit pack number followed by one additional number, but you could get as creative as you like.
Be aware the guilty one is suspect four, or File No. 4844. Please note that changing any clue could change the outcome. Be careful to ensure that any adjustments allow the crime to still be solved.
Prepare the Clues
I chose to print everything on cardstock to make it a little more durable as the cubs passed things around and worked through the clues. If you would like to save on costs or colored ink, be aware that the second page for Clue 2 (or page 8 in the PDF) is the only page that MUST be printed in color. I personally think it is more fun if the suspect files are also in color, but the “crime” can still be solved without color photos.
You will need one full set of suspects and clues for each group. We broke the Pack into their dens for the meeting, so I prepared six sets of files. Each group will need five folders. One holds the suspects and is labeled “Suspects.” Each clue also gets its own folder and the folders are labeled “Clue 1” through “Clue 4.”
For Clue 1, you will also need to decide what your four digit code will be and write it out using Pigpen Code. For example, your code could be: eight six five four. This would be written as:
You will write this on large index card using one of the UV pens so the clue is invisible without the special light. To make this clue easier or harder based on the den age, you can write it so each number is spelt out on its own line or have them run together (like the example above) so the cubs have to figure out where one word ends and the next begins.
Be sure you write at least one word on the page so they can tell which is the top and bottom. For us, I wrote the den at the top so I could keep track of which clues were the easiest and which ones were written to be a little more difficult. Be aware that if the cubs do not know which edge is the top, they will not be able to decipher the code correctly. Include this sheet in the Clue 1 folder.
Do NOT place the plot twist in these kits. You only need one copy of this letter. Fold it up and set it aside in a separate folder. Along with one coffee filter.
Kits, Prizes and More
You will also want to prepare your detective packets for your cubs. You will want one envelope with a clasp for each cub. Inside it, place one UV pen, one notebook, and one mini map. You can make it even more fun by adding Junior Detective stickers or printing “Confidential!” labels to stick on each envelope.
Prepare your prizes. Since the thief stole candy, I made goody bags for every cub stuffed with candy. We held the meeting the week after our Trunk or Treat, so this was a great way to use up some leftover candy.
Lastly, place your rubber chicken in your treasure chest.
Hype the Meeting
Be sure to share with your Pack families that something fun is coming. We had the “Who Done It?” theme on the Pack calendar since the start of the year. Leading up to the meetings, we posted to the group and shared information in the Pack newsletter. As you prepare, be sure to invite your parents to participate. Here is an example post for 2 or 3 weeks ahead of the meeting:
“Parents! There has been a catastrophic crime and we need your cubs help to solve it! Thankfully, there is a trail of clues to help them catch the culprit. Join us for Pack Meeting on [Meeting date, time, location] to help unravel the mystery!
Suspects wanted! I am looking for a few suspicious characters to participate in this cub caper. You don’t need to do much, just agree to play along, have fun, and send me a fun mug shot for your suspect profile. Feel free to message me for more details.”
I posted this one with a gif of detective Pikachu just for fun.
The morning of the meeting, we gave families an update:
“I am happy to report we have identified five suspects in the infamous Trailer Heist. Unfortunately, the detective has not been able to determine which of the suspects committed the crime. We need our cub scouts help. Join us tonight at [meeting location and time] to help solve this mystery.”
Be sure to share your suspect profiles along with the update. I can’t tell you how many comments and laughing emojis I got before we even had the meeting.
Leading the Meeting
Before anyone arrives, use one white coffee filter scribble in the middle with one of the black markers. As families arrive, choose four adults to participate. Give each one a different marker. Tell them they get no further information but they should keep the market at them at all times and they will know when it is time to do something.
Conduct opening flag ceremony, Scout Oath, and Scout Law as usual. Give awards and recognitions followed by brief announcements. For your final announcement, tell the cubs you have terrible news and a crime has been committed. Ask the cubs if they know what happened this past week, let them raise their hands, and see what kind of crazy kid answers they give. If none of them know, tell them.
Kickoff the Mystery
“Someone broke into the pack trailer and stole something. The good news is, detectives have identified five suspects. The bad news is, they are not sure which of the five committed the crime or what they took. Your job is to review the clues to determine which suspect committed the crime, what they stole, where they hid it, and the combination to the lock to open the chest holding the stolen items.
The suspect profiles have all been provided. Make sure you review all five files before getting started. The clues are numbered. Work your way from Clue 1 to Clue 4. Be warned! The clues get more complicated as you go. You will be dismissed in groups with your den. Please come up to the front to pick up one detective kit for each person and your group’s set of clues.”
Solve the Who Done It Mystery
Send each den to a different area so they can work through their clues as a group. The first group solved all four clues in about 15 minutes. The next group was closer to 25. We allowed about 30 minutes before gathering back together as a group.
When the group has settled down, share which group solved the mystery first. For us, it was the 4th grader/Webelos. We also shared who solved it second, because it was the Tigers who successfully solved the clues before the other dens. Ask them what the code was and tell them it is okay to shout out the answer. What was stolen? Who stole it? Where did they hide it? After each question and loud, chaotic response, confirm the correct answer. We did have one den that has a wrong answer to one of the clues and they were shocked to hear the correct answer.
Next, I called Ranger Mike to the front of the meeting. Look at them with disappointment, annoyance, frustration, etc. Whatever you do, be super over the top dramatic about it. Ask if he has something he needs to return to you. When he hands you the chest, as the cubs if they remember the code. Pretend to put the code in (bonus if you have a lock on the box and can actually use the code to unlock it). Open it slowly and peek inside, then quickly and loudly snap it shut. Look at Ranger Mike with deep annoyance. Open the chest again and pull out the rubber chicken and give it a good squeeze. At this point, the cubs got all kinds of worked up and we had to take a minute to get them all to settle back down again.
Announce that upon further inspection, Ranger Mike was found to have a note on his persons. Proceed to read the note aloud.
Look at Ranger Mike and say “I am so disappointed in you, but we have more work to do! Get out of here and head straight to the kitchen. You’re on dish duty for the next 3 months!”
“The note has clearly been written in black marker. Thankfully our team of scientists were able to extract an ink sample. (hold up the coffee filter with black marker scribbled on it). I know for a fact that there are four adults in this room carrying a black marker. You know who you are! Please come up here so we can take a closer look at your marker.”
“Now, the mastermind may think they can get away with this, because all black markers look the same. But that is not entirely true! Every black ink is made with a slightly different formula. I need each of you to take a coffee filter and plate. Place the filter on top of the plate and generously scribble on the filter with your black marker. Please hold up your ink sample so our cubs can see you have complied.”
“I will now spray the ink sample from the note as well as each of your ink samples.” Have each of the four place their sample in front of them on the table. Try to make sure your mastermind is at one end so they will be revealed last. With the plates and filters still on the table, say “As you can see, when we add water, the ink changes. Some may be more blue, others green or brown.”
Hold up the ink sample from the note then ask each suspected mastermind to hold their up one at a time. Hold the clue sample and the suspect sample side by side for the cubs to see. When you get to the last person, it should match and hopefully in an obvious way. At this point, all the cubs started shouting and yelling with excitement from identifying the mastermind.
Ask your mastermind if they have anything to say for themselves. Now… you can let your mastermind know in advance they are guilty, or you can make them wing it. Either way is sure to be tons of fun.
We told our cubs now that the mystery has been solved, we will close out the meeting. Since they were able to safely return the candy, they can each take a bag of candy home with them as a reward for their hard work.
We ended the meeting with flag and then had the mastermind hand out candy to the Pack. The kids were thrilled and excited to also keep their UV pens.
Hopefully your families and cubs have as much fun as we did. I know I am still getting messages from parents with pictures of their kids writing in their mini notebook or using their UV pen. Just be warned! With this meeting, you have set the bar pretty high and they will all be wondering what you might have in store for the next meeting!
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