Auckland Museum: Catching the culprit

By Danielle Wright

A poisoner is on the loose at the Auckland Museum. Danielle Wright plays detective to solve the mystery of who murdered Professor Felix Splicer.

Detective Dick Sharp helps children work out whodunnit at Auckland Museum's The Poisoners. Photo / Supplied
Detective Dick Sharp helps children work out whodunnit at Auckland Museum's The Poisoners. Photo / Supplied

The first room we enter in the search for clues is that of Toxica Fay Tully, an adventurer and collector of poisonous plants. Her baroque-styled boudoir has walls covered in stuffed birds imprisoned in gaudy picture frames. A chandelier hangs near a fireplace and a vase is full of the blackest long-stemmed roses.

It reeks of doomed romance and we discover Toxica was in love with Professor Splicer, but it was unrequited. My daughter opens a side-table drawer and finds a single red rose next to a book titled Poisonous Plants of New Zealand.

"Nasty Nettles" are dried and framed next to Toxica's rather dramatic wooden four-poster bed covered in satin sheets. Classical music rings through the air and a wolf howls from inside a wardrobe.

Overwhelmed by the room, we forget to find any of the six red bear stickers we're meant to and the kids are too excited to see what's around the next corner to slow down. For now, Toxica is off the hook.

The next room is Alain "Sharky" Coasteau's submarine. Coasteau is a marine biologist and friend of the victim and was upset that the name of a new fish he and Splicer discovered was named after only Splicer.

A remarkable-looking giant squid is ignored by my children as they excitedly find two out of a possible five little blue penguin stickers. We also see jars of pickled octopus and squid next to a tattered copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

An inquisitive turn of a wheel reveals a shark cruising past the porthole while that distinctive shark-signalling sound from the movie Jaws plays.

The next room is a lab belonging to Dr Helix Splicer, the victim's twin brother. His motive is the $100 million inheritance due to be split between them.

We're welcomed by a stuffed rabbit with vampire teeth and bloodshot eyes and it's now that we spot some yellow sparrow stickers. We're getting the hang of it by the third room and almost reach our target.

A button under a quarantined stuffed silky fowl begs to be pushed and a hazard sound rings out as we read about bird flu and killer bees before heading to the next room, that of Anastasia "Nastie" Van Abs.

Nastie is an international wildlife expert and suspected head of an international poaching ring. The question is, did Splicer uncover this, making him her target?

A wooden shed with corrugated iron roofing contains boxes filled with bugs and butterflies next to vintage luggage cases. The kids get into their stride and find almost all of the nine green butterfly stickers.

And then, all too soon, the exhibition is over and we're back in the foyer. I'm wonder if we shouldn't have done it twice, letting the kids know about finding the stickers after they had looked at all the exhibits.

For older children and adults, a more complicated code-breaking sheet is available, with the chance to win a prize by completing a form online. For less-patient parents, Detective Dick Sharp will be on hand until February 5, 10am-12pm and 1pm-3pm to help you.

Although we didn't crack the code and find out who did it, the exhibition made a big impression on my children, who woke the next day asking "Please can we go back to solve the mystery?" Which we did.

Solve the mystery

The Poisoners is open from 10am-5pm at the Exhibition Hall, Auckland Museum. Entry $5 (children under 15 years can return for free). Kids under three and members free. Clues change at the end of February so you can visit more than once. Runs until May 6.

Make a night of it

Mondays to Thursdays from Jan 16-26, take a picnic to the Domain from 5pm, then go on a Summer Nights at the Museum tour ($20, $15 members, under three free, includes entry to The Poisoners). Medieval duels and martial arts experts will start the adventure.

- NZ Herald

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