The Faulhaber Fab Lab is in the business of answering questions.
Most of those questions typically revolve around science, engineering, chemistry, math and more. Children at their summer camp series get into the nitty gritty of those elements and discover what composes the world around us.
But for the week of July 11-15, though, Fab Lab campers had a new question to solve: Who killed Alfred Pasta?
That dramatic — and a bit silly — question was the driving force of the Fab Lab’s Murder Mystery week, something of a departure from the camp’s typical STEAM and STEM-focused projects each year.
The scene is set: A wedding party has gone terribly wrong, and the groom, Alfred Pasta (volunteer Sebastian Cuellar), has been poisoned and dies right at his table. Detective Monty Jack leads campers through an investigation where they inspect clues, collect evidence and interview a number of shifty suspects including the maid of honor herself. And that’s where the fun begins.
“This is a little more outside the box,” said Jenn Sams Scott, the Fab Lab's marketing and communications director who also supervises the campers throughout the week. “It’s more encouraging creativity, innovation and problem solving.”
That isn’t to say science and discovery isn’t a large portion of the process. Campers start the week learning about fingerprinting, reading pH levels and learning about acids and bases — all important elements of crime scene investigation (in the abstract).
The kids discover there’s been a murder at the midpoint of the week and use their new skills to investigate the crime and see what clues they can find and what red herrings the murderer has placed to through them off the track.
Camp counselors Alison Whiteside, Diego Morales and Hannah Silva led the workshop with the help of several volunteers. The camp had hosted a forensics camp in the past but this year the counselors thought it could have extra effect if it had a murder mystery theme this year.
The counselors are part of Fab Lab’s SPEC program, a 15-person group of high school student instructors who develop and run the summer classes themselves. They’re provided training and support at the start but then go out and think up the summer’s themed classes themselves.
Wrangling more than 20 campers takes effort enough, but the counselors had to go the extra mile this year by constructing a murder mystery narrative that’s meant to stretch out for an entire week.
“We brainstormed everything, we had a list of themes,” Whiteside said. “We settled on a wedding and kept throwing out ideas."
Morales plays Detective Monty Jack, while Silva and Whiteside play photographer Honye Lemon and Maid of Honor Rye Do respectively. The trio went all in on the theme, wearing outlandish costumes including a 1920s gumshoe-inspired gumshoe outfit for Morales that he borrowed from a friend.
“The costumes were new,” Whiteside said. “We’d never done all this with costumes and names and every character needed to have an alibi. But the kids love it and they really get into it.”
“I’ve responded to my character Monty Jack that I’ve forgotten my real name,” Morales said. “Playing the role is really fun, it feels very fluid.”
Eventually the campers learn that Silva’s Honye Lemon character committed the murder after being blackmailed by Whiteside’s maid of honor. But when they go to make an arrest, they find their suspect has been murdered, too.
The week ended with a trial investigation with a judge where campers bring up clues and connections to accuse Whiteside’s Rye Do of the murder, and it ends with her making a run for it and finally being arrested.
Whiteside’s punishment? Being the first to have a bucket of water dunked on her head — Silva and Morales also got dunked, just for the fun of it — and the day ended with a water balloon fight.
The mystery concluded satisfyingly, but Silva concedes it was hectic getting there.
“We had to make sure the story fit and the activities were engaging,” Silva said. “We didn’t have references in previous years to see what worked best and what didn’t, it was a test run.”
The evidence that it went well, of course, was the children’s reactions at the end of the week.
“The kids learned something new, and that’s the most rewarding part,” Silva said. “They were engaged with the story and what we came up with. Next year we’ll run it even better.”