“Hi Sherlock, Jessica Fletcher here. I’m going to need your help….” So read the text message from my wife, simultaneously stroking my ego, piquing my curiosity and awakening a fetish for Angela Lansbury I was unaware lay dormant within me.
She was texting to tell me we’d just received our first box from Hunt a Killer, which is, according to the company’s description of itself, “a first-of-its-kind thriller membership delivering monthly experiences straight to your doorstep.”
The experience starts when you receive a package containing a whole host of ephemera (personal letters, interoffice memoranda, newspaper clippings, photocopies of well-known but perhaps purposefully mislabeled artwork and more) as well as physical artifacts referenced within the paperwork. Your task, or so you’re told in one of the letters you receive, is to review the material for any irregularities. As you start to discover ciphers and hidden messages, a story begins to manifest itself in bits of paper and connected dots; a story that, as you might have already guessed, involves murder — murder most foul.
As my wife and I sorted through all the material we’d received, it became clear we’d either made the right call in subscribing to a six box program with Hunt a Killer, or we’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. My wife is incredible at puzzles, I enjoy problem-solving, and both of us found great enjoyment in carefully examining everything in the box for signs of which direction to take in our quest to “Hunt a Killer.”
And it was. We were collaborating, rapidly talking about something other than trouble at work and bonding over an active, collaborative experience — as opposed to a passive one, like binge-watching yet another prestige television series in silence then comparing notes afterward. The look of joy on my wife’s face as she cracked one of the box’s numerous codes put immediately in mind one of the many reasons I fell in love with her nearly a decade ago. I was able to offer hard proof that I still have a good head on my shoulders. We laughed. We drank wine. We flirted over the case file, just like some of our favorite fake detectives. The pros seemed innumerable.
The con, however — at least for us — was that it’s not immediately clear which direction you should go once you start deciphering some of the messages hidden within the pile of paper you receive each month. If anything can be a clue, then anything can be a clue — and the box is packed with stuff. That’s a lot of possible leads, and separating the useful threads from the stray pieces of string was both a lesson in patience and a helpful window into the exhaustive process actual detectives must go through any time there’s a real crime to solve.
Sufficed to say, we spent quite a bit of time Googling things that left us no further along in our quest, and missed a series of clues hiding in plain sight because we were too busy fussing over whether or not we should extract meaning out of the author’s handwriting style (for the curious: no, we should not). And while we no doubt bonded over the experience, when we came to the unfortunate conclusion that we’d spent nearly an hour erroneously deciphering what we were certain was a hidden message using a typo-riddled codex of my own design, there was very nearly a non-fictional murder in our own home.
But we persevered. We worked together. And we determined that at least one person named amid the paper trail mailed to our house was both a cold-blooded killer and a victim of his own flowery prose. We felt that sense of smug satisfaction that comes from having built something complicated without consulting the instruction manual (in this case, the Hunt a Killer forum, where you can find helpful hints as well as collaborate with other members who might be stuck on the same set of clues). We were less successful with our second box (it featured some basic but long-forgotten math equations and we agreed that it didn’t matter if real lives were at stake—we didn’t pay money to do math), but even in our failure we had a good time. The short of it: Hunt a Killer is a killer date night idea.