I usually did a treasure hunt at my sons birthday parties. When they were little it was around the house and yard and later it was around the neighborhood. You have to give a clue to where the next paper clue is found. When they find the next clue,it tells where to look for the next, etc. Also it was a "clue", not an exact place so sometimes they had to try a few places for the next clue. My sons are grown up, but when I see their friends they always say how much they enjoyed the treasure hunts we had at my sons parties.
Using a puzzle that has to be put together first sounds interesting. I would try attaching a piece to each clue and then each group has to stay together and present the finished puzzle to you. The last clue could be a box or piece of cardboard to work the puzzle out on. (I had a "treasure" of a small toy, and when older a candy bar at the end of the trail.)
I would probably use 24 piece puzzles at the maximum since they have to hunt up each piece. I hope they enjoy it.
I also just realized that you are from NJ and I am from Southern CA so weather may not permit the outside hunting my sons did. Then I would suggest to have it inside limiting to certain rooms (2 or three rooms) and have the puzzles hidden all around the rooms. Then each team has to hunt for the correct pieces and then put together:)If they end up with a wrong piece they have to announce it and put it on the coffee table for another group to try. I would keep the puzzles to about 50 pieces at max and try to find puzzles that had predominantly different coloring and I think they would have fun. It would be like a big Easter egg hunt but hard enough for 12 year olds.
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