◂ Back to All Mysteries

Murder Under The Big Top

Enter a world of fabulous freaks & exotic acts!

Guest Info

Find out the Who’s Who of the Party and other info that will come in handy at this circus murder mystery game!

Circus Lingo

The carny vocabulary is traditionally part of carnival cant, a secret language, and is an ever-changing form of communication, in large part designed to be impossible to understand by an outsider Thus, as words are assimilated into the culture at large, they lose their function and are replaced by more obscure or insular terms. Most carnies no longer use cant, but many owners/operators and “old-timers” still use some of the classic terms.

Click here for your guide to circus slang

Close Tab

Who you will find at the Circus

The Ringmaster— The ringmaster is the most visible performer in the modern circus, and among the most important, since he stage-manages the performance, introduces the various acts, and guides the audience through the entertainment experience.

Performers— may include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists and other stunt-oriented artists.

Sideshow (or freak show) performers— An exhibition of biological rarities, referred to as “freaks of nature”. Typical features would be physically unusual humans, such as those uncommonly large or small, those with both male and female secondary sexual characteristics (ie, the bearded lady), people with other extraordinary diseases and conditions, and performances that are expected to be shocking to the viewers. Heavily tattooed or pierced people have sometimes been seen in freak shows, as have attention-getting physical performers such as fire-eating and sword-swallowing acts.

Carnies Carny or carnie is a slang term used in North America and, with showie, in Australia for a carnival (funfair) employee, and the language they use, who runs a “joint” (booth), “grab joint” (food stand), game, or ride at a carnival, boardwalk or amusement park.

Roustabouts— A non-performing circus laborer. Generally, these are the people who work behind the scenes to make the circus run by setting up/taking down tents, packing the circus train, etc.

RubesTownspeople who come to the circus!

Close Tab

Who you will find at the Hargrove Family Circus

Harold Hargrove—Boss man. As owner of the circus, Harold has been cleaning up his image and the circus to make it succeed. Whether his tactics are legal or lethal is the question.

Matilda Hargrove—Harold’s wife. Even though she is not in command, others may differ with that opinion. Even with her exquisite tastes, there is little this woman cannot get. Or that Harold will get for her.

Boomer Jackson—Ringmaster. The voice of the circus, Boomer is in charge of the performers and commanding the perfect show…his job depends on it.

Finley Fiscal—Ticket Taker. Being your first impression as you enter the show, Finley is one who has mastered their appearance… but what is hiding under the exterior?

Ariel Swinger—Trapeze Artist. Currently performing in the center ring, some believe Ariel got her position by luck, some by talent and still others by her connections.

Robert Flyer—Catcher. As Ariel’s sidekick, Robert gets little credit for the fame that she claims, but she would be nowhere without him.

Twisty Kristy—Acrobat. With her intense passion for being in the center ring, Kristy wants nothing more than to be in the spotlight and she will do anything to get there.

Nick Dagger—Knife Thrower. Heartbroken by Twisty Kristy, is Nick out to win Kristy’s heart back or to break it?

Skylar Toppolet—Tightrope Walker. After being injured, Skylar is convinced that it is only a matter of time before reclaiming a prominent, proper position in the spotlight!

Ruby—Clown. Making everyone laugh is Ruby’s position, but at what cost?

Pat Pachyderm—Animal Performer. Pat has a way with large, obtrusive temperaments but taming them is another story.

Cat Levens—Lion Tamer. With a few circus animals missing, Cat is on the prowl for finding the cause.

Ricky Mammal—Menagerie Worker. Working with the exotic animals, Ricky thrives on the thrill of danger and reward.

Rowan McGregor—Midway Director. Rowan will use their knowledge, wit and expertise to run a successful midway, all for the boss’ approval.

Casey Saber—Sword Swallower. The most loyal circus employee around, Casey will do anything to keep the circus operating at a profit.

DJ Ink—Tattooed Spectacle. With skin of ink, it is hard to know if DJ’s frightening appearance is for show or a tell-tale sign of their true demeanor.

Harley Bell—Strong Person. Harley’s physique has gotten them far in life. However, to get what Harley wants, they may have to use more than intimidation.

Mandy Small—Skinny Woman. The tiniest freak in the show, Mandy is out to prove she is a force to be reckoned with.

Payton Protection—Head of Security. Hired to end the corruption, Payton has more on their plate than they bargained for.

Agent Swift—FBI Agent. On assignment, this agent is secretive about the real purpose of their mission.

Close Tab


Wondering what to wear? Check out some of these costume resources!

Costume Gallery For This Circus Murder Mystery Game

Check out some of these costume resources!



Decoration Ideas

Come One, Come All! And see how to decorate for your OUTSTANDING circus!!!

Come One, Come All !!!

The Entrance

Create a balloon arch. Simply tie balloons to a string and then mount the strings to the ground on each side of the walkway.

Ticket Booth
Have a ticket booth at the entrance to your party. As your guests arrive, hand each an admission ticket. You can purchase rolls of admission tickets or make your own. If Finley Fiscal is coming to your party, you will want that guest to hand out the tickets!

You can use one of the designed signs for the Ticket Booth (included in mystery).

Directional sign
Create a very fun sign to point your guests in the right direction at the party! (Directions on how to make it, as well as the signs designs included in the mystery).

Close Tab

Step Right Up!

Around The Party Space

Included with the mystery, you will have three, full-color circus posters for the Hargrove Family Circus. Simply print and hang around your party space. If having the party for your office, church, etc. You can hang the posters ahead of time to create the buzz!!!!

Create your own circus posters. Find a circus coloring book or print off circus coloring pages here. Enlarge the pictures at your local office store. Paint in the pictures with colorful paint. Hang in your party area.
Here are a few online circus coloring pages:

Authentic Posters: We found this book of 48 vintage posters online for less than $10. At 48¢/poster, that is quite a deal!

Traditional Circus sayings you can have printed out and about:
“Welcome to the Greatest Show On Earth”
“Step right this way…”
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Girls and Boys! Children of ALLLLL Ages!”
“If you will direct your attention to the center ring…”
“Come one! Come all!”

Fill your party area with colored pennants. These are great for outside and in! You can make them easily with felt, colored/patterned card stock paper or purchase them from a hardware store or internet.


Hungry anyone?

Create a concession stand. Mount a concession sign (included with mystery), string some twine on a wall. Using clothespins, snap each of your concessions onto the twine for a self-serve concession stand!

Consider renting a vintage popcorn maker, a snow cone maker or a cotton candy maker. Not only would a popcorn maker look cool, but it provides food and smells that add to the ambiance of your party. OR, you can package your cotton candy in bags and hang them as a decoration as well. You can send each guest home with a bag or use them as prizes.

See also our food ideas for ways to dress-up and decorate your food!

Close Tab

Sometimes the best decorations can also be props:

Bring in the clowns: A child’s car can double as a clown car. Try seeing how many people you can fit in it!

Trapezes: Create flying trapezes by stringing rope though empty paper towel tubes or pvc pipe (can spray paint them black or silver) and hanging them throughout the party space. One host created their on silhouettes swinging from their trapezes!

Cannons for a Human Cannonball!

Strongman’s Barbell or Dumbells: Make a fake barbell or dumbells by gluing a plastic ball to each end of a wooden dowel or pvc pipe. Spray paint the whole thing black. For the barbell, add “500 lbs.” to each end with a white paint.

Don’t forget the animals!!! 

Have out ropes, bullwhips, tubs placed upside down, hula hoops, over-sized balls, etc. arranged in and around area for the animals.

You may consider making cages out of boxes and placing stuffed animals in them.

If you have access to hay, you can accent the animal area by placing hay in or around it.

Many guests have created their own animals and set them out among the party space.

Utilize the kid’s stuffed animals and have them decorate the party space.

Bullwhip: To make a bullwhip out of duct tape, follow this instructional video or this website.

The Midway is a MUST!

Well, not really, but if you want to go the extra mile, a midway would be a fun addition to set up to the party. You could run simple, yet traditional games.
Pictured below: Duck Pond, Balloon Darts and Bottle Toss.

One hostess noted how it was fun to have these additional games so some of the guests can play while waiting for other guests to finish their objectives.

Close Tab

Create a Photo Spot! 

Give your guests an unforgettable souvenir by setting up a photo area where they can capture a picture of themselves in character.

BACKDROP IDEAS for a circus and/or photo booth theme!

Use bright colors (red, blue, yellow) when creating your backdrop.

Balloons, balloons, balloons! (and polka dots).

Take some white banner paper and paint your own circus background.

Create some animals to pose with/alongside (see the tiger picture above).

Have additional props for posing in pictures – large/clown sunglasses, wigs, mustache on a stick, giant toothbrushes, clown noses, feather boas, silly glasses, etc.

A few suggestions:

Pick a place where there will be good lighting.

You can make it as elaborate or simple as you want.

Accessories and decorations can make a difference. Have some extra props on hand that your guests can pose with.

An easy way to create a background is to use a “scene setter”. These affordable rolls of images transform your room instantly and make for a good backdrop to your picture.

Make sure there is enough room to fit everyone into the frame.

For individual shots of guests, designate someone to be in charge of pictures as your guests arrive.
o Consider your character list and which character would fit the role of taking the picture. Ie, if you want mug shots, perhaps ask the investigator to be in charge of taking the pictures.

For a group picture, take one just before the introduction is read or right after the solution is read (before people may start heading out).
o These are two times when you can count on everyone being around and attentive.

Close Tab

Creating the Big Top Tent

• Use brightly-colored streamers to form a canopy over the center of your room, simulating a circus tent. The streamers should cascade from a point in the middle (i.e. the center of the ceiling or a chandelier), down and out to the sides of the room. You can also hang red, blue, and yellow plastic table covers or sheets from the ceiling down over the walls of the party room to make it look like the inside of a circus tent.

•  Cover the walls with red, yellow and blue plastic tablecloths on the walls to make it appear as if the guests are inside a tent.

• Create a 3-ring circus by adding three rings (or simply a “center ring”) in the middle of your party area. You may want to outline it with colorful duct tape.

Close Tab

Setting the Scene

Looking for decoration inspiration for your party? Here’s a video to help!
Click below to start!

Food & Music

Popcorn! Peanuts! Cotton Candy! Fun ideas on how to “circus up” your menu!!!


One of the wonderful things about the circus theme is that the food is SIMPLE and yummy to make.
Here are a few ideas of quick, easy food that screams “CIRCUS” all over them:

  • Corn dogs
  • Hot dogs
  • Corn on the cob
  • Soft pretzels
  • Peanuts
  • Popcorn
  • Lemonade
  • Candied or caramel apples
  • Cotton candy 
  • Cracker Jacks
  • Animal crackers
  • Giant lollipops

Included with the mystery are all the labels you need to “circus up” your food.

Condiments. You can find simple bottles almost anywhere (we found them at our local Dollar Tree). Included with the mystery are the designed labels above. Simply attach them to your bottles and voila! you’ve added a little circus to your condiments!

Get your fresh, hot peanuts!
Cut about 1/3 off of the top of a paper lunch sack. Roll down the edges (we did ours 3 times) and slap a label on it – labels included with the mystery!

Ways to enhance your popcorn:

•  Use scalloped scissors (can find at local craft or scrapbooking store) to cut the top of the bag.

• Put a label on it (included with mystery).

•  To make it look EXTRA buttery, you can add yellow spray on food coloring.
You may want to consider renting a popcorn machine for both decoration and to pop some good, homemade popcorn. Not only will this serve as good munching food for the party, but the smell will add to the ambiance of the party!

Don’t forget the dogs!

• We wrapped our corndogs in foil  to help keep them warm and add that extra circus-y feel. We also put a very thick piece of styrofoam in the bottom to help the corn dogs stand up. {Click here to find FREE circus fonts.}

• You can find hot dog liners for as little as 1¢ per liner!

Tray it up! We created trays using tops to boxes, spray painting them white and then adding prices (included with mystery) and/or labels. To the trays you can add a number of labels in any circus font you want. {Click here to find FREE circus fonts.}

Once made, your trays can serve for serving on the table or with vendors.

Also included with the mystery are editable labels that you can insert your own food choices in and label your food and drinks!

Hungry anyone?

Create a concession stand. Mount a concession sign (included with mystery), string some twine on a wall. Using clothespins, snap each of your concessions onto the twine for a self-serve concession stand!

Consider renting a vintage popcorn maker, a snow cone maker or a cotton candy maker. Not only would a popcorn maker look cool, but it provides food and smells that add to the ambiance of your party. OR, you can package your cotton candy in bags and hang them as a decoration as well. You can send each guest home with a bag or use them as prizes.

See also our food ideas for ways to dress-up and decorate your food!

Close Tab

Setting a Table

Use a dessert as a centerpiece for your table (see the cakes and cupcakes below).

Use red, blue, yellow, striped and/or polka dotted table clothes.

Have red, blue and/or yellow plasticware.

Label your food with circus-y titles – Animal crackers, Zebra Cakes, Clown Cupcakes, etc. Use table tents (design included in mystery) to label your items!

Make fun table decorations out of circus-y items: tickets, small plastic animals, popcorn boxes, bubble gum, large lollipops, etc.

Close Tab



Find directions to make these circus cupcakes here!!!

OR, create a circus themed cake for your party!

See this blog for more details!

Close Tab

Check out our playlist selections for this mystery!

Click on the image to get to our Spotify Playlist for this party!

Close Tab


All of the information regarding how to run your Murder Under The Big Top party can be found online at Night of Mystery. We highly suggest that you take time to look over our website and download the Murder Under The Big Top preview file. Upon reading the introduction file of this circus murder mystery game, it will give you a better understanding about how the parties are run and what to expect once you purchase a full mystery file.

If you still have question, the Frequently Asked Questions page at Night of Mystery is a great resource or you can contact us.

Since our games are custom written for the size of the party (ie, we don’t just create a mystery with 8 characters and then keep adding more characters to it), each mystery size is unique unto itself. That being said, going from 10-15 version to 15-20 version, will not only add in more characters, but it will change the storylines of the existing characters, and vice-versa in going from a larger version to a smaller one.

Because of this, WE STRONGLY SUGGEST you get a guest count before formally ordering. You can do so by downloading an invitation, inviting your guests and then purchasing your mystery once you have a more accurate number of people attending. Unfortunately, if you find yourself purchasing the wrong sized party, you will have to purchase another version of the mystery for the size you want unless you are moving from the 15-20 version to the 20+ version.

You can download an invitation here before ordering.

To help your guests ‘get into character’, have a box of fake mustaches, circus hats, clown hats, large sunglasses, clown noses, feather boas, sequined headbands, top hats, etc. It is sure to be a hit!
– Look above on this page in the Costumes, Decorations and Food & Music tabs.

– Be sure to check out our Murder Under The Big Top Pinterest Board that is filled with ideas for recipes, costumes, decorations, etc.

– All of the *Extras* that come with the mystery!!! (see below for more info!)
For even more party planning ideas, check out our Murder Under The Big Top Pinterest Board here. It is s filled with ideas for recipes, costumes, decorations, etc. for the perfect Murder Under The Big Top party!

Once you order, in your mystery packet you will receive directions and/or printables to make unique and original decorations specific to your party!

Included will be:
• CIRCUS POSTERS (3 designs)
• CIRCUS LABELS FOR FOOD (many designs)
• CIRCUS SIGNS (to direct your guests)

Each month we highlight one of our customers who has posted on our blog and award them a FREE party!

To get your $5 coupon AND be entered in the Party Of the Month contest for a chance to win a FREE party, please email nompartyofthemonth@gmail.com

Don’t forget to add all the important details and party highlights that made your party one to remember! We love to hear about all of the hard work you, as host, put into your party. From the decor, to the food, costumes, whatever. As well as how you and your guests acted (and reacted!) throughout the night! Everything that made your party one your guests will never forget — tell us about it! And be sure to attach some pictures!!!

Upon submitting, we will email you back a coupon to use for $5 off your next party AND enter you in our “Party of the Month” contest, where you could win a FREE party! One submitted, you will not have to resubmit, but will be entered EVERY MONTH until your party wins!

Check out some of our past winners here! Night of Mystery POM Blogs

Thanks again for hosting with Night of Mystery and we can’t wait to hear all about your party!!!

Are You Up for 
the Challenge?