I decided to make my son a birthday present. This present would take the form of a Dragon Eye, secret compartment book. As I was making the book, our family participated in a local escape room event. My son, in particular, loved the puzzles that needed to be solved to escape from the room. At this point, I decided to expand my original present to include a variety of puzzles that he would need to solve to eventually receive an additional present.
My first step was to research the different kinds of puzzles that could be incorporated into the overall gift. There were lots of ideas online to explore. I then chose the ones that I felt I could make or purchase fairly reasonably like a codex, cryptex, crossword, invisible mirror message, snotes, hidden clues in a variety of forms, word puzzles, stick puzzle, crystal skull puzzle, puzzle lock and more. Most of the items for the whole thing were purchased at a dollar store, craft store or thrift store, although the crystal skull and chinese lock were purchased online.
This instructable will guide you through the process of making the dragon eye and book but provide only an overview of the other puzzles used as part of the gift. You will find the results of my efforts below.
I highly recommend reading through the whole process to ensure you pick up on all of the optional and additional notes throughout the instructable so that you will be prepared for any changes you might like to incorporate into your project.
Step 1: Supplies
· Hard covered book, preferably with a fabric cover that will hold paint better, in a size that you would like to make - mine was about a 9x11inch book.
· Cleaned & dried egg shells
· Cheesecloth (on the left), paper towels or tissue paper (e.g. old pattern tissue pieces – on the right) - picture one.
· Modge Podge and Modge Podge Dimensional Medium - picture two
· Clear drying glue (glue gun optional)
· Black, red, green, and gold or bronze/copper acrylic paints - picture three
· Decorative buttons, chains, etc.
· Variety of paint brushes/sponges
· Glass Cabochon (plastic is usable but glass produces a more pleasing result). I used the smaller fishtank glass bead to make a book mark for a convention craft demonstration which worked well but took more work in painting on such a small surface. So there are other applications for the techniques described here in this instructable. - picture four and five
· Some bright, nail polishes (depending on your desired eye color) and a black one (but not pearly for this color – choose a deep, solid black for this) - pearly ones produce the sparkly results. Choose at least one gold, sparkly/pearlescent one. - picture six
· Sharp needle or pointed metal item (e.g. a small awl) for scratching - picture seven
· Exacto knife (with lots of blades)- picture seven
· Ruler (preferably a metal one with cork on the bottom to help keep it from moving)
· Paper at least the size of your book pages to make a pattern to cut out your compartment shape. If you choose a basic square/rectangle shape, pattern paper is not necessary.
Step 2: Order of Production
1. Make the dragon eye.
2. Make the secret compartment.
3. Make the book cover.
4. Mystery Puzzle Gift
Step 3: PART 1 - MAKING THE DRAGON EYE - Intro
I used a video on Youtube by Yvonne Williams that provided excellent step-by-step instructions on how to make the eye. You should take advantage of watching the video before starting this step.
- Use glass cabochons - (resin ones can melt and discolor over age and fishtank glass is not smooth on the back side and are usually very small)
- Paint in reverse - (paint the pupil first, then the edges and work from the center to the outer edges when scratching the polish)
- Tools - use pointed and sharp tools like an awl and a square tip ended tool for scratching.
- Nail Polish - use nail polish instead of acrylic paints - they give a better finish and accept the scratching better.
Step 4: PART 1 - MAKING THE DRAGON EYE - Pupil and Outer Edge
- Paint the pupil of the eye first and make a straight line in the centre of the eye with the polish if you are using a larger glass piece. (If using small fishtank glass, you can opt to use a sharpie.) - picture one
- Using the sharp, pointed tool (like the awl, needle etc), make small scratching marks from the center of the pupil pulling out towards the glass edge (make only small scratches on this section). Pull the ends into a point. - picture two
- Now go around the outer edge of the glass piece and brush on some black around the rim - before it dries, scratch this edge as well, again pulling from the centre to the outer edge. - picture two
- Don't worry about some small black marks that occur, this is ok. However, remember to wipe the excess paint on a paper towel when it builds up a bit on your scratching tool.
Step 5: PART 1 - MAKING THE DRAGON EYE - Adding the Iris Colors
- Using a red color paint, paint around the edges over the black and make this edge color wider painting from closer to the pupil and out towards the edge. - picture one and two
- Scratch this layer like the black one, pulling from the center to the outer edge. - picture one and two
- Using the next color of gold/copper, paint another layer going closer to the pupil and all the way to the outer edge. - picture three and four
- Scratch this layer like the previous one.
- Using a bright orange like hot tomale, repeat the same process over the gold layer - coming very close to the pupil or lightly covering it. - picture five and six
Step 6: PART 1 - MAKING THE DRAGON EYE - Final Layer and Backing
While the Youtube video uses many more layers of color and scratching, you can produce a lovely dragon eye with only four or five colors.
- I added a metallic/pearly gold paint over the whole back and scratched one more time but using a thicker scratching tool like a square ended tool, but you could continue to use the pointed tool if that is all you have on hand. - picture one
- The last layer I added was the solid, black polish with one layer covering the whole back. DO NOT SCRATCH THIS LAYER. - picture two
- Let the eye dry over night to cure the polish.
- Voila - a pretty, sparkly dragon eye ready to add to your book. - picture three and four
NOTE: If you need your eye to have a little more protection, you could add a layer of Modge Podge to protect it from scratches. Let it dry overnight to cure it as well.
Step 7: PART 2 - THE SECRET COMPARTMENT - Design
After searching online for “altered books,” I chose a style and design that appealed to me and my project concept. I decided to make my book more elaborate than a simple shape like a rectangle, which you can choose as well. - picture one
Once I decided, I needed to make the template for the different layers. It is best to make your compartment a good one inch or more if you can from the outer edges of your book pages to give it more stability. Using this size, I made the templates fit inside this dimension and traced my pattern for each level. - picture two, three, and four
Step 8: PART 2 - THE SECRET COMPARTMENT - Cutting the Templates
I started with the top layer template and decided how deep I wanted to make this layer. I placed a piece of heavy cardboard under the pages at the deepest place I wanted the layer to go so that I would not cut the pages any further into the next layer. I didn’t want to make each layer too deep as the cutting would be tedious. Since my secret compartment was to conceal three keys for part of the bigger puzzle, I made each layer just deep enough to cover the key.
I took the template and cut out the inside design then laid it on the page and traced it to make the top layer. To make the second layer, and keep the key hidden a bit, I cut out the second template (making sure to match up the outside edges of the template with the one above) but left the hole for the key uncut for a couple of pages, then I started cutting the hole out for the key after the first few pages and continuing with the rest of the way for as deep as I wanted to make this layer. Once that was done, I did the same thing for the final layer. - picture one and two
I used an exacto knife and changed the blades frequently, this made cutting much easier and better for making the points and turns as neat as possible. When cutting, try to keep the pages as flat as possible and the outside edges as straight as possible. It takes a bit of patience but is not too difficult. You can opt for a much simpler pattern, e.g. a simple rectangle.
At the end, I put a clock piece in the book pointing to the key he would need for the final puzzle in the gift. - picture three Note: Eventually, however, he brought all three keys with him as he did not notice this clue in the mystery puzzle gift.
Step 9: PART 3 - THE BOOK COVER
The first five pictures are of the original book for the project. However, I did not have step-by-step images of this book, so I made a variation demonstration book for this instructable to be able to include images for the writeup.
In preparation for making the book cover, I kept some egg shells that I used and rinsed thoroughly and dried. You should try to remove the eggshell lining as well, so the shells will stick to the book cover better. I let them dry for about a day or two.
Once the shells were dried, I was able to begin the book cover. I started by painting the cover with black paint for the base and let it dry. I used general acrylic paints that worked fine.
After the paint dries, I cut up some cheesecloth, tissue paper, and paper towel to make texture on the cover. I found the cheesecloth gave me the most “skin” like texture so used that on the base. I laid the cheesecloth on the cover to get the basic shape I wanted before gluing . Once I liked the shape, I applied a bit of modge podge to the area and then laid the cheesecloth on top and then applied a good amount of modge podge on top of that to adhere it to the book. That was left to dry completely (can vary depending on the amount of modge podge you apply and the thickness of your cheesecloth).
Once this is dry, I painted it with the red/green mixture of paint to make a brownish color and let it dry.
Next, I spotted on with a sponge some black and wiped it off before it dried with a paper towel so that it would stick to some of the cheesecloth texture to give it depth and contour.
I then took my dragon eye and decided on the placement on the cheesecloth and glued it in place with a glue gun.
As you can see from my pictures (three and four), I found an old metal chain necklace from a thrift store and was able to use part of it for the inner eyelid. However, for the outer lid of the eye, I used a piece of twisted paper towel to make the upper and lower lid (This can be used to make the inside lid as well, just make it a bit smaller or use molding clay to make something more like the necklace I used.) I glued the inner and outer lids in place and then used modge podge on the outer lid only to harden it in place. The twisted paper towel gave a nice effect to the outer lid. On the demonstration book, I did not use metal or tissue paper; I discovered other products like fancy lace, plastic gold doily cloth and even fabric could make great textures for other books. I chose to use gold/black fabric and was able to layer it over the eye to make the top and bottom eyelid instead of using tissue paper to form these parts. I cut two pieces of fabric, folded them in half and placed them with the folded edges together and glued the eye entered where the two pieces joined. This allowed me to fold down each top layer to make eyelids on the top and bottom. I added a bit of cheesecloth under the upper lid to give it some depth and trimmed the excess fabric off underneath both the upper and lower lids to reduce the bulk before gluing it to the book.
Once the modge podge dried, I painted it with the same black and red/green brown mix color as the book base.
Optional: You can add some Modge Podge Dimensional medium to the inner eye corners to give them a finished look and fill in the space not filled with the paper towel outer lid if you did not bring the corners of your twisted paper towell right into the edges of the eye piece. The Modge Podge Dimensional dries clear, so any other glue that dries clear will probably work as well. I did not need to do this on the demonstration book.
Once you have painted over the eyelid pieces the same as the book base, you are ready to adhere your dragon scale skin. AKA egg shells. I broke up the egg shells into smaller pieces and varied the sizes. You then lay them on the book starting with the eye piece area (bring them very close to the eye piece) and then work outwards from there. You can lay them all first and then glue them or lay and glue as you go. I originally used the modge podge underneath so they would lay flat and stay put when placed then added another layer of modge podge on top for added security. I let them dry for a day before painting. On the demonstration book, I just glued them with hot glue to the fabric, which will work better than the modge podge on the fabric. Don't despair, I know it doesn't look so awesome just yet but wait until you add the paint. Especially the copper and gold. Keep going.
After they dried, I added the same paint base colors as the book base - a light layer of black, then red/green mix for brown. I wanted my dragon to have a bit more reddish to it, so added a little bit of red on top of the base in small areas with a light sponge. Once that all dried, I used copper and gold paint over the entire cover, except for the glass eye and inner eye lid, since that was already metal looking. I brushed this on fairly lightly first and then a little bit more on the scale area so that some of the red/brown would show through. You can add as much or as little as you want until you achieve the look that pleases you.
I repeated this process for the back, minus the eyepiece.
Finally, along with the necklace, I found an old bracelet with large stones and metal and broke the two end pieces off to make a clasp that I just glued onto the front and back covers. - picture five
The pictures show the overall, finished book and a closeup of the eye and clasp. As you can see from the instructions, you can apply this technique to a variety of items with very interesting results each time. I was pleased with the results for all three samples, two books and a bookmark. Be creative and use what you have about the house to make different effects; these are just a few options you can try.
Step 10: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT - Intro
When the book was finished, I began creating the other puzzles for the whole package. This took a good bit of time, since I incorporated a lot of different puzzles. I will give a brief description of how I created the other puzzles.
I started with an introduction letter to my son, so he would understand the premise for his gift. The story was basically that a friend of his had lost his father recently. When he went to the house to sort out his father’s affairs, he found a large number of unopened packages sent to him from one of his longest, closest friends who travelled throughout the world collecting interesting artifacts. His friend was trying to send him his most prized possessions under the guise of normal objects that only his friend would be able to decipher.
So, my son had to figure out not only the puzzles themselves but in what order to open the packages – clues were hidden inside and outside on each package that would lead to the next package and so on until he got to the last one - which, incidentally, was over at the neighbors so he couldn’t accidentally open the final puzzle and get the prize without doing the puzzles.
Step 11: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
This was the basic intro letter – All of the letters were hand written (you could type them) on plain brown paper from a notebook purchased at the Dollar store.
The first puzzle was the Dragon Book – he did not know what the keys were for or if he would need them to solve a puzzle later. It included a letter and a map – I made the map on plain brown paper and put code around the edges from the Artemis Fowl book series that my son enjoyed when he was younger…..you could just write a message on it or use another code. This message explained that the friend was really sending secret messages to the father for him to solve and protect his treasures until he returned.
Step 12: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
The clue in this puzzle was in the address – as it was the same for the next puzzle. This puzzle included a red monacle to be used in another puzzle package and a handmade cryptex (made from a lamp base and painted with a little bit of gold paint) and some snotes with the numbers for the next package to open. The snote says “Go To 27,“ which is the address on the next puzzle card. Keep in mind not to use the number "27" on any of the other packages - the same for any clues, only use them once on or in a package.
Step 13: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
The next puzzle is a post card from Paris that I created. It has holes in it, presumably where the mice have chewed, that when folded over, spells out the clue to the next puzzle from letters in the message on the card. The clue is "Egypt" for the next package. I took the time to look up real addresses in the countries, along with printing some stamps on sticky labels that I used for the packages.
Step 14: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
This puzzle contained some dates with the small papers rolled up and stuffed inside of them that are used on the cryptex provided in a previous puzzle that spell out the clue for the next puzzle. This is a reference for Indiana Jones - as this series is one of my and my son's favorites.
Step 15: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
The papers, when opened and wrapped around the cryptex from a previous package and in the correct order (according to the pin dots on them), spell out the word “KENT” that will guide him to the page in the magazine with the crossword on it. My intention was not for my son to do the crossword (although that is what he tried, lol), but he was to use the small dots placed over letters in the puzzle clues to spell out the clue for the next package.
Step 16: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
In the next puzzle, he needed to use the red monacle provided in a previous puzzle to read the words on the cards. The cards told him what was in the box – which included a dinosaur poop fossil (that he would need for the final puzzle). There was also a clue on one of the cards that leads to the next puzzle to be opened. Note: The fossils are real and were purchased at a local store that sells a variety of fossils - you could use another representative for this.
Step 17: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
The clue on the card led to the next puzzle in China, which was a “crystal” (aka plastic) skull puzzle that he had to put together – while he did not need the completed skull to continue the game – he was going to need the completed skull to access the final puzzle package, so he could skip the step now but eventually would have to put the skull together. There was a clue written on the final key piece for the skull that led to the next puzzle.
Step 18: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
Since the friend was now in China – a chopstick puzzle seemed to fit here. He had to set up the chopsticks in the order on the letter and then move one stick to make the fish appear to move in the other direction from moving left to moving right. This would then give him the number he needed for the next puzzle package
Step 19: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
Continuing in China – I found a maze puzzle that was incredibly freaky and difficult – again my intention was not for him to do the puzzle (no picture and a maze without the solution - so not going to torture him to finish this). Fortunately, he did not do the puzzle and noticed the number written on the back of one of the pieces, which was the clue needed to figure out what to do with the three colored water filled bottles. He needed to know that bottle number 3 (blue) plus bottle number 2 (yellow) equals the color green. He did figure it out but poured the colors together, and since there wasn’t enough yellow to turn the blue green, he got a bit stumped for a while but figured it out in the end to know to go to Greenland.
Step 20: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
It was a coincidence that I joined him to check up on his progress at this point, as the clue was written in alcohol on the mirror front, and he was about to clean the mirror without realizing there was a clue on the glass. Lol The clue sent him to Peru – the next package.
Step 21: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
The friend was off to Peru where he found some “Fool’s Gold,” which was again purchased from the fossil place – you can use anything that resembles gold for the clue. The clue for the next puzzle was in the small number 33 made out of wire and hidden on the outside of the package under the wax seal.
Step 22: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
The number 33 took him to the package from Mexico. Here he was provided with the cypher disc. I picked up two wooden discs at the craft store that were different in size (one slightly smaller than the other) and printed off two code sheets and glued them on the discs. Drilled a hole in the centre of each one and put a screw in it. Should have probably put a washer in between. The clue was in the letter that had a riddle – "What occurs in every minute, twice in every moment, but never in a thousand years – the letter “m.” He needed to use the magnifying glass to see the symbol clue on the letter “m” to go to the next package.
Step 23: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
The next puzzle lands him back in North America where he has a story about Archimedes and an individual who lives in Boston to go with the Archimedes fossil. This will lead him to the next puzzle in Boston.
Step 24: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
In Boston, he must read the story about how pencils were made and used at the turn of the 20th century and find the clue hidden in the end of the pencil. A pencil bought at the craft store that I drilled a hole in the end and stuffed the note inside that told him to go to the neighbors for the final puzzle.
Step 25: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
If he had discovered this puzzle earlier, the note indicated he would need three items in order to access the final puzzle: the secret key, the dinosaur poop and the completed crystal skull - but if he followed all of the puzzles in order, he would have the three items ready to go to the neighbors. When he went there, my neighbors asked him if he had the three items and then gave him the container with the small box inside – I purchased a small Chinese puzzle lock for the box to which one of the three keys in the first dragon, secret compartment book contained that he would need to unlock the box (remember he didn't know which key to take so took all three from the book) It was not difficult to figure out which key would work though. Inside was a gift card to his favorite restaurant for him to enjoy a fine dining experience.
I intervened only twice during the process – once when he was about to clean the glass for the Greenland clue and once at the very beginning when he was about to start opening all of the packages without realizing there was an order to them. Here he is opening the book package.
Step 26: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT
Here he is with all of the packages set out on the table and ready to start the journey.
Step 27: PART 4 - MYSTERY PUZZLE GIFT - Conclusion
In conclusion, I think I enjoyed making the gift as much as he enjoyed opening it.
However, if you were wondering, I believe it took me a lot longer to make it than he did solving all of the puzzles – which he did in about a day. Lol. I probably took about a month and a half to make all of the pieces, not including some of the shopping to pick up a piece here and there. Anyway, I had a lot of fun doing it, and he has some really neat pieces to keep. His favs being the book, the crystal skull, and the small lock – and he did enjoy several meals at his favorite restaurant. I hope my project will give you some ideas to create your own secret compartment book and perhaps your own mystery puzzle gift for someone you know who would love the journey of discovery for their gift.
First Prize in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2017