Diane Buchwalder

Nancy Drew Interactive Mystery

Themed entertainment, 2013

The assignment for this project was to take an existing intellectual property and develop a "dark" attraction. My group developed a live-action interactive experience based on the young adult novel Nancy Drew and the Invisible Intruder. Guests take Nancy's place in a series of supposedly haunted settings to investigate what is actually going on. In addition to the group design and storytelling decisions, my personal roles in the project were to design the necessary technology for our effects, and to design the floor plan.

Project logo

Project logo - Concept illustration by Julia Carusillo, graphics by Delfin Gomez


Flashlight tech

The flashlight, the key tool for investigative guests

Nancy's signature flashlight became the vehicle for guests to navigate the experience and discover clues. Flashlights could have a detachable Discovery Relay Emitter Widget (or D.R.E.W.) that keeps track of the uncovered clues and allows guests to get help from Nancy. D.R.E.W.s are distributed and collected for the duration of the mystery experience, while flashlights become a souvenir and gift-shop collectible.

1 - Guest view: The flashlight beam illuminates a possible clue.

2 - Guest view: The clue responds with an action, and the D.R.E.W. records the discovery.

3 - Technical view: The D.R.E.W. is an RFID (radio frequency identification) transmitter and reciever on a parallel circuit to the flashlight; thus when the beam is powered on, the D.R.E.W. emits a low-frequency signal.

4 - Technical view: The clue in range of the radio signal recieves it via a hidden antenna.

5 - Technical view: The antenna communicates with the circuit on the clue to trigger the response action and emit a response signal.

6 - Technical view: The D.R.E.W. recieves the clue's signal and alerts the aspiring detective to their success via its screen.

The use of low-frequency RFID allows limited transmission of the signal in order to prevent confusion between clues and guests, as it degrades over a certain distance. RFID also has the advantage over other sensors such as infrared or lasers to have hidden recievers and eliminate the need for a specific target point, allowing guests to investigate clues with their own solving skills rather than strictly point-and-shoot action.

Clue effects

Example clue effects

Significant plot clues respond to their discovery by flashlight with actions or other effects. These are a few examples:

A - A cabin door blown open by a bellows: a small air cannon

B - A ghostly horse: a three-dimensional fog projection

C - A haunted manta ray: hidden lighting and speakers

D - A creepy octopus: animatronics


Ghost effect diagram

Fog projection diagram

This plan view diagram displays the arrangement of the projectors and fog in relation to the guests as they are used to create the ghostly horse clue.


Attraction plan

Attraction floor plan

The floor plan of the attraction building has 13,816 square feet of explorable arena space. Each group of guests recieves a ticket time to enter the attraction, and in the meantime can explore the gift shop and purchase and customize a flashlight. The groups of 20 people are ushered into each of the main spaces by character actors who are also able to assist guests who are having difficulty. There are five main spaces that each group spends ten minutes in (each), and two transition spaces. The story begins by entering the Drew household (leftmost room on the floorplan) who introduces the situation and sends the freshly minted investigators on their way. The guests then search for clues in three arenas (lake cabinhouses, a bed and breakfast, and a strange collector's mansion) and catch the perpetrators. They are then escorted into Nancy's local police station (topmost room on the plan) where they can view information about their achievements and are awarded an honorary detective rank. With 20 guests per ticket time and a group dispatch interval of 10 minutes, this attraction has a THRC of 120.