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How To Throw a Surprise Party

Overwhelm a loved one by pulling off the ultimate surprise party.


  • Step 1: Specify a dress code that matches what the honoree will be wearing that day, so they're not wearing sweats while everyone else is in black tie, or vice versa.
  • Step 2: Ask everyone to arrive half an hour before the guest of honor, and give chronically late friends a fake deadline of an hour before that.
  • Step 3: Don't be upset if the guest of honor is not surprised. Even with the most diligent planning, people slip up and word spreads. Just enjoy the party!
  • FACT: When John Travolta turned 50, his wife, Kelly Preston, pulled off a surprise party in Los Cabos, Mexico, with 280 of their nearest and dearest.
  • Step 4: Based on your budget, make a guest list, and figure out whether you have contact information for all the invitees. If you don't, scan your list to see which guests might provide you with phone numbers or e-mail addresses for your guest of honor's coworkers, relatives, weekend-sports teammates, and so on.
  • Step 5: Set a budget and stick to it. If you're sharing the cost, ask your co-planners how much they're willing to spend.
  • TIP: Don't entrust the gossip in your group of friends with any details, and, to keep the secret, wait as long as you can before you invite them.
  • Step 6: Pick a date. If you can stomach the person thinking that you aren't doing anything special for their big day, the best time to throw a surprise party is on, or after, their actual birthday.
  • Step 7: Decide on a ruse to get the person to the party location. Keep it simple or they'll smell a rat.
  • TIP: If you can't bring the person yourself, pick someone reliable to shepherd the honoree to the party.
  • Step 8: Be certain the person you're throwing the party for enjoys surprises. It would be awkward if the honoree burst into tears, punched a wall, or sulked all night.

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