It's a classic case of "whodunnit" that involves picking a them, assigning roles to everyone in the family, and preparing a decadent spread. And you can do it safely at home right now.

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If you've never played part in a murder mystery dinner, then it's time to get familiar with the incredibly fun (and maybe a little bit spooky) concept. "A murder mystery dinner is a themed event where the unexpected happens," explains Keith O'Leary, co-creator of Keith and Margo's Murder Mystery USA. It involves players "who knowingly commit themselves to the art of solving a crime—and keeping them guessing right up to the end."

floral arrangement in a skull and anatomical hands
Credit: Addie Juell

Of course, social distancing dictates all of our hosted gatherings this year but the main idea is the same: To successfully host such a dinner, you'll have to pick a theme and plot that keeps everyone engaged and entertained. "Soon after mix and mingle time, guests will be explained the rules of the game while assigned a suspect role or table team," says Samantha Luken of the Murder Mystery Company. "They will learn then that, in fact, a murder may or may not occur, and it is their goal to exchange clues with other teams and suspects in order to solve the mystery that's about to unfold."

To enjoy your own murder mystery dinner at home with immediate family or your quarantine pod, we asked a few professional murder mystery event hosts to share their advice, and here's what they had to say.

Determine your players.

The first step to organizing a murder mystery dinner is to determine a group size and the people who will be participating. "Think about the size of your space," says Meredith Wood, co-executive producer of The Dinner Detective. "Is it taking place in a living room or backyard? Do your players already know one another? Considering these items might help determine the appropriate group size." If you're hosting the dinner with immediate family, gauge the age-appropriateness of the plot and theme for any participants including youngsters.

Be sure to give attendees enough space to roam comfortably. If you're hosting outdoors, set up stations by family that are at least six feet apart. Inside, consider giving each family in your quarantine pod their own table.

Pick a theme.

Once you've determined who is going to participate, O'Leary says it's time to choose a theme for the dinner. "If you have a bunch of casual, outgoing players, choose a theme that will engage them, such as a decade theme, Wild West, or maybe a costume ball," he says. "If you are going to invite a majority of reserved professionals, stick to the traditional old manor theme. There are online companies, such as My Mystery Party, that have numerous themes to choose from, and you can purchase instant downloads of the game, or boxed sets that are ready to go for your dinner."

Prepare a mystery plot.

O'Leary says the key to pulling off a good murder mystery dinner is to pick a plot that will keep players guessing the entire time. "There are many murder mystery stories already drafted that you can find online, which can help you cut back on preparation time," he says. "However, if you want to save money and be more creative, writing your own story is perfectly fine and fun, just remember that no matter what details you include, they must all be connected and point towards the solution of 'whodunnit?'”

Assign character roles.

After you've selected a theme and plot for your murder mystery dinner, you'll need to assign each player with a character role to play at the party. "You can either elect to match personalities or occupations as closely as possible, or try to give your players a character that is polar opposite to challenge them for the night," O' Leary says. "Either way, the host is the one that decides which character that each person will play." He also suggests notifying your players of their character role (and costume suggestions) ahead of time.

Play by the rules.

According to O'Leary the success of your murder mystery dinner depends on how well everyone follows the rules. "Always stay in character, because it immerses all participants in the game," he advises. "As the host, you can encourage this by giving players a relevant prop (like a wand, cigar, or shoulder parrot), and referring to them by their character names." He also says it's crucial that everyone at your murder mystery closely follow the script. "Please impress upon your players the critical nature of only revealing confidential information when the time is right," he explains.

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