The Ultimate Escape

It should come as no surprise to anyone when I make this statement: KATIE ADORES ESCAPE ROOMS. Since her first in-person escape room during a birthday celebration, Katie has gone on to design many awesome literary escape rooms, both in-person (see here, here, and here), and virtual (see here, here, and here)! So it makes total sense for her to test drive Finders Seekers, a mailed-right-to-your-door escape room company. Take it away, Katie!

Yes, I adore escape rooms, both participating in and creating them! Not being able to partake in a live escape room because of the pandemic, I eagerly started searching for a worthy “at-home” alternative. That’s when I found Finders Seekers.

Finders Seekers is a monthly subscription where you receive a box in the mail with an escape room mystery adventure inside. The rooms are based on the culture and history of a different city somewhere in the world. The cities have covered the entire globe, including Sydney, Australia; Athens, Greece; Petra, Jordan; and San Francisco, California. There are a couple options for purchasing: you can sign up for a month-to-month service for $30, or you can select up to 3 levels of prepay spanning a year. There’s a gift option for sending a box to an escape room fanatic as well. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

Your “Escape Room in a Box” literally comes in a Finders Seekers marked box, which tells you that “The Mystery Begins Inside.” When you open the box, you find a “Classified” envelope with all the materials you’ll need to solve the escape room, along with a letter of specific instructions from Lucy Calder, Chief Seer of the Society of Seekers. Chief Seer Calder provides a website with links to different locations within the city, along with supporting information to help you solve the clues and puzzles.

Our first Finders Seekers adventure took us up the East Coast to Boston, Massachusetts. From the deck in our backyard, my son and I raced along Boston’s Freedom Trail and visited 10 historical stops along the way. We were tested by 10 “patriots” at the sites and once we solved the riddle, we were given a token that helped us decipher the final mystery to the location of a stolen relic.

The descriptions and data provided within the website work hand-in-hand with the materials found inside the envelope. You definitely need both elements to figure out the solution. If you get stuck on a puzzle, never fear. The website provides additional hints (and even the final solution!) if you need help as you work through the escape room.

My 13 year-old son and I found some of the puzzles rather easy to figure out, whereas others required us to put in a bit more thought to figure out the solution. Some friends of ours did it with their daughter and her friends (ages 9-11) with success as well. Even though my son and I had decided to not use any of the extra hints, we did get help once because it was difficult to read part of the clue on our materials and the puzzle wasn’t terribly clear.

Otherwise we managed to solve the escape room entirely on our own. Together we traveled through the city, learned fun facts about one of the most historical places in the United States, and crossed the Boston Marathon Finish Line in a little over two hours!

Our other Finders Seekers adventures had us jetting off to Paris, France and making various stops along the Metro, including the Catacombs and Moulin Rouge. We also have a mystery in Beijing, China waiting for us to solve.

For families who like game nights, for couples searching for a fun date activity, or for anyone who simply loves escape rooms (including yours truly), Finders Seekers is ideal. You finish the escape room in one sitting, rather than having to solve one section and then wait another month for the next part of the mystery. You can also do it entirely on your own! It provides enough challenges to foster excitement and intrigue for several enjoyable hours and introduces the adventurers to new places and cultures. Finders Seekers receives my highest recommendation!

Say it with Chocolate

hello 1We’ve reviewed a lot of interesting word products on this blog (see this calligraphy kit, these spelling straws, these clay words, this bbq brander, this DIY neon letter kit, and this vanishing paper!). But today’s blog post has to be the sweetest test yet. Because Katie and her crew tested a chocolate pen. That’s right. A CHOCOLATE PEN. Take it away, Katie!

Candy Craft’s Chocolate Pen retails for around $30 and the suggested age range is 6+, though the instructions specifically say adult supervision and participation is required. I fully support this recommendation and want to add a personal observation. Children ages 10 and under will definitely need adult assistance, whereas kids 10+ should be able to do most on their own with one exception (more on this later).

The Chocolate Pen kit has everything you need to “draw & mold colorful chocolately treats.” There is ½ pounds of confectionary candy in different color pouches (white, red, blue and brown); four clamps; pen tips and caps; three mold trays; five gift bags and twist ties; and the chocolate pen itself (two AA batteries are not included). If you want to write out a word or make your own drawing, you will need to have sheets of either wax or parchment paper handy.

A quick note for those who have food allergies: the confectionery candy contains milk and soy. Please consult the nutrition facts for the full list of ingredients.

After thoroughly washing and drying the various pieces of the pen tip and the treat mold trays, I got to work putting the chocolate pen together. There are a lot of steps to follow, but the instructions describing how to prepare the confectionary candy pouches were clear and well written with informative drawings. However, the instructions did not prepare me for the frustration of attaching the candy pouch to the pen tip.

It took every ounce of my finger/hand strength to properly secure the clamp around the pen tip, which I had inserted into the open melted candy pouch. You have to leave at least 1/8” of excess pouch extending beyond the clamp for a good seal, which makes sense. It would be a disaster to have confectionery candy squirting out of the pouch and into the interior of the chocolate pen. But boy oh boy, it was a real challenge to close the clamp. It was messy, it was aggravating, and it cast serious doubt in my mind about the ability of any child being able to do it on their own (as I alluded to earlier). 

Once I was able to finally lock the clamp, I continued following the preparation instructions until I was ready to start drawing with the chocolate pen. I carefully wrote “Hello” and “Yum” in cursive on a piece of parchment paper. While it was relatively easy to write with the pen, I discovered that candy would continue to ooze out of the pen tip well after I had stopped pushing down the power button. Needless to say, I was left with a big blob of excess candy at the end of my word.

I called upon my son to lend his writing hand and give the pen a try. He wrote “Hola” and had the same problem with excess candy continue to push out of the pen tip after releasing the button. We carefully transported our words and placed them into the freezer to harden. After impatiently waiting the recommended five minutes, we took a bite of our chocolate words. The results were deliciously fantastic! The candy is quite sweet and tasty!

Next up was trying the mold trays. The mold shapes presented an unexpected challenge, due largely in part to the pen continuing to discharge candy after you stop pushing the power button. I found I had varying levels of success. I managed to create two- or three-color candies using the larger molds, but the smaller molds were very difficult. Even just pushing the power button for just 5-10 seconds caused extra candy to fill the molds too full or didn’t allow for a second color to be added. Under important information on the instructions, there is a statement that reads “results will vary from product images depending on age and skill level.” After testing this product, particularly the mold trays, I completely agree with that statement.

The Chocolate Pen is fantastic in concept, but I feel it falls very short of my excited expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed eating my chocolate creations, but the frustration of trying to figure out the perfect amount of time to use the pen without the inevitable stream of extra candy made the process less than fun. The smaller mold shapes are hard to use, and sometimes the finished product didn’t easily pop out of the mold tray, as was the case for the little white music note!

Final ranking: 2 out of 5 stars

It appears the manufacturer made a significant update to this product sometime in 2020 and now offers an automatic load feature on the pen. The chocolate candy is warmed in a separate tray and you simply dip the pen into the color chocolate you want to use, load it and start creating. I’m glad they listened to their customers and made this much needed improvement. However, I’m quite curious there was any change to prevent the extra candy ooze when the pen is in use.

Creating Words (Literally)!

Mix, pour, and paint…constructing words has never been so hands-on! Today, Katie and her intrepid assistant are test driving the “Perfect Craft” Alphabet Craft Kit by Skullduggery. Intended for children ages 8 and up, this kit allows you to make three-dimensional letters from scratch. Did our letter kit make the grade? Take it away, Katie!

The winner of several awards from Creative Child Magazine, this kit retails on for around $20. It contains 2 two bags of casting mixture, 1 silicone letter mold, 6 small containers of paint, 1 paintbrush, 1 paint sponge, and 1 square of sandpaper. The suggested age range for the kit is 8+, but I feel younger children should definitely have adult assistance, especially when pouring the casting material into the mold. Children who are 10 and older can work on this craft kit on their own.

The instructions tell you to pour ½ cup of water into one of the bags of casting material and mix it together with your hands until it is a “melted ice cream” consistency. The original cast color is white, but you can give it color if you add paint to the mixture. My son and I decided to try and color our casting material orange, so we dropped in some red and yellow paint. Sadly, it did not come out as strong orange as we had hoped.

We debated what word we should create, and finally decided to spell out “Princeton.” However, we soon discovered a problem – there are TWO letter N’s in Princeton! We were going to be one letter short! Happily, we realized we could spell “Cotsen” with the letters we had already poured, and we could spell “Tiger” if we added the letter G. We still had extra casting mixture, so we also poured the letters A, K and Z, which are my son’s and my initials.

One entire bag of casting mixture allowed us to make 13 letters, but be careful! The instructions suggest you fill the letter mold about ¾ full. However, due to the fast pour of the mixture, we sometimes overfilled. As you can see, the final letters E and Z were quite thick!

We waited an hour for the cast to harden and then peeled the letters from the silicone mold. The letters had some crumbly edges that were easily sanded down using the provided sandpaper, but otherwise the letters looked fantastic.

We let the letters to dry overnight before we painted them. The hefty red paintbrush pictured on the front of the box? NOT the one that is included in the packaging! Ours was much much smaller!

The tiny brush really doesn’t provide adequate paint coverage, so I decided to try the kit’s paint sponge and multiple coats. In the photo below, you can see how I used the paint sponge and double coat on the C and S, the paintbrush and double coat for the T and E, and the paintbrush and one coat with the O and N. You can definitely see the color difference between the various methods.

As a final touch, I added a light coat of sparkle paint on all of the letters. Oddly, the sparkle paint removed some of the purple paint from the letter C, but not from any other paint color!

Perfect Craft’s Alphabet Craft Kit is ideal to keep children busy for a couple of hours. Creating and painting the letters was quite entertaining, and clean up was a snap. Once the letters are created, however, there’s not much more to do with the letters. I suppose you can use the letters to practice spelling different words? Or use them for a game of Boggle? Another thought I had would be to mount them onto a wood sign to hang on a child’s bedroom door, or create a family announcement board. Also, once you’re out of the casting mix, you are DONE! So think carefully about what you want to spell!

Final ranking: 3.5 out of 5 stars