Sprinkle Some Fairy Dust! How To Write Great Clues

People love Treasure Trails because they are so much more than just a walk. They are a walk with an adventure which takes the ‘Trailer’ to places they wouldn’t normally go to and makes them find clues that will help solve an ultimate mystery.

Sprinkle Some Fairy Dust! How To Write Great Clues - I-Spy with my disproportionately magnified eye...

Fun, intriguing, compulsive, clever and ultimately satisfying, a great Trail requires a good route with clear concise directions and a good range of clues too. Writing a great Trail is a mix of art and science and is harder than it looks! I can’t reveal to you the secret recipe of a Treasure Trail (only our Licensed Trail Writers know this) but I can give you a little help with creating memorable clues.

Remember, a Trail is essentially a clever game of ‘hide and seek’. I hide an answer to a question and you solve my instructions (delivered in the form of clues) to seek the answer. Great clues require no prior knowledge, no high IQ, and no awareness of the laws of cryptic crosswords! The answers to clues should be located on interesting things, but what makes a great clue is clever wording that gets people thinking, looking around, and wondering where they can find the answer.

So, the wording of a clue requires a ‘Hook’ and an ‘Instruction’. The Hook gets the solver in the area of where the answer can be found. The Hook should be an intriguing and fun hint of where to look. An example of a good Hook would be – ‘In the area of the large cross find the big black W and then ...’

The second part of the clue is the Instruction, which tells the finder what they have to do next to come up with the answer. Variety is the spice of life and so it is for our clues too. Good Instructions get the participants to do all sorts of things with the various clues they find during a Trail – solve anagrams, decipher codes, convert letters to numbers. Instructions have to be accurate and leave no room for debate over what the answer could be. An example of a good Instruction would be ‘….and then take the last letters of every word on the last line and rearrange these letters to form the name of a famous person’.

Hook and Instruction combine to create the whole clue. They must balance too: A tricky Hook with an easier Instruction, and a complicated Instruction with an easier Hook. I did say it was harder than it looks!

By the way, don’t forget to sprinkle some fairy dust on your clues every now and then. Fairy dust is that bit of magic that raises a great clue to a brilliant clue. Difficult to define but you know it when it happens. Fairy dust is about putting a smile on the face of the solver once they have completed your task. It is about making the solver do something they weren’t expecting, and giving them a ‘wow’ or buzz at the end. A simple example of what I mean by fairy dust is instead of creating a clue where the answer is just a number, add some further instructions that make the person then walk that number of paces in a certain direction to where the answer to that clue lies. You can’t put too many fairy dust clues in a Trail otherwise they would no longer be special!  Two or three is plenty.

Hope this helps.  I look forward to seeing some of your clues.  I will be choosing 5 favourites to go into my commemorative 1,000th Trail.

Keep on Trailing and bring on 5,000 Trails!

Author: Steve, Director and Trail Meister, Treasure Trails Ltd.