Looking for something to do for a rainy day? Here’s an idea for a spy hunt you can play at home straight from one of our Special Agents at Vancouver Mysteries Mission Control. Hide a series of secret messages around your home using scytales.

How to send a secret message using a scytale

What is a scytale you ask? Don’t worry, it’s not a deadly species of hornet. It is an ancient tool that was used by the Greeks and Spartans to deliver secret messages. It consisted of a cylindrical object with a strip of parchment wrapped around it.  This strip of parchment had a message inscribed on it. You could only read the message when the strip was wrapped around the cylinder. But, when the strip of parchment was unwrapped from the cylinder, all you would have is a strip of parchment with a list of randomly placed letters. Are you ready to  create your very own scytale for your indoor spy game?

What You Need

It’s quite easy and while there is no mystery to making a scytale, it is quite fun. I’m not kidding. I made the one shown in the pictures below and I am not that crafty.

You should be able to find everything you need…indoors. I used a pencil  for the cylinder, but you can use any type of cylinder shaped object. You can try making one with a plastic tube or toilet paper roll.

To make one with a toilet paper roll, you will first need to find toilet paper, which is a whole other indoor game of mystery.


  • 2 pencils

  • scissors

  • paper

  • ruler

  • sticky tape

How To Do It

  • The first step of creating my scytale

    Draw a rectangle on a piece of paper about a ¼ of an inch in width and 6 inches in length.  Next, I cut that rectangular strip out. But you can adjust the length and width of the strip to match the size of your cylinder.

  • The second step, or how I secured my place as a spy master:

    I attached one end of the strip of paper to the pencil with a piece of scotch tape. Then I carefully wound the strip around the pencil making sure that the edges were flush. Then I attached the other end of the strip of paper to the pencil with tape as well.

  • Now…the fun part… writing the message that will begin your indoor spy game:

    I wrote a message along the length of the pencil. I began with writing the first word of my message across the length of the pencil. Then, I rotated the pencil and wrote the next word underneath the other as shown below. I did this until I completed my message.

How it Works

After I completed writing my message, I unwound the strip of paper from the pencil.

What I was left with was random letters written vertically on the strip of paper as shown here.

This is what your secret agents will find on their spy hunt. They will then wind the message strips around the cylinder you gave them.

Spy Game – Instructions

How to plan your own spy game at home

  • Create several coded messages and hide them around your home. The first message should contain the location of the next message, and so on.

  • Leave a mysterious note for your agent asking them to meet you in a room of your indoor location.

  • Once you have met them. Tell them as head agent you are sending them out on a mission.

  • Present the first message strip to your spy recruit (kids/partner/roommate). Wait for a moment to allow some time for the mystery to sink in. Watch them try to decipher the meaning of the strip of paper.

  • Next present the cylinder to them and see if they can use their spy skills to decode the secret message! If not, show them how to wrap the message around the cylinder to read its contents.

If this spy hunt is for a special occasion, your messages could eventually lead to a hidden prize or gift somewhere in your home!

Have fun agent… this message will not self destruct… If you enjoyed this activity you might try your spy skills at our outdoor game Secret Mission.