The first escape room I played was a room called “Code Red”. Going in, I had no idea what to expect. I only knew what my boyfriend had told me about the experience— that we were going to be disarming a bomb in Soviet Russia. What?! He also casually mentioned that for our first time we would be doing one of the most difficult rooms in the area. (Which in hindsight wasn’t the best decision).
When we arrived, I was surprised at how normal the lobby looked and how un-frightening the experience seemed like it was going to be. I was under the assumption that we would be dressed in full military gear, going under tunnels with fake guns and using spoons to dig a hole into some secret military Russian base. I did not know that most of the room was puzzles, and there was no physical component.
I think it is important to note that I knew very little of what I had signed up for. Now, after playing countless escape rooms since and designing rooms for my own escape room, I can reflect on what I wish I had known before I played my first game. I think if I had known these ten things, we may have disarmed the bomb and saved the day!
- Everything in the room is not a clue
When it is your first time, it is hard to distinguish between what is there because it is a room and what is there because it is a clue and relevant to the puzzles. For instance, underneath one of the folding chairs was a barcode from when the chair was originally purchased. We tried using the last four digits of the barcode for many of the locks in the room, but our efforts were for nothing. Sometimes items have barcodes, sometimes books have words, and most times things like that are simply unimportant.
The best way to work around this is to talk with your team! Ask them if something seems relevant and together you should have a better idea of what the room is wanting you to do.
- When you think you’ve checked everywhere, check again
We thought we had everything figured out and of course thought that we had looked in every possible hiding place. We were stuck. At a certain point in the room, I stopped searching and started working away at a puzzle that made no sense at the time. I thought we had everything we needed and just hadn’t figured it out yet. I was wrong. We had missed two important pieces of a puzzle simply by not finding them. Some key places to look are under chairs, underneath shelves, on top of tall cabinets, and underneath tables. We recommend acting like it is an active crime scene and look everywhere you possibly can!
3. Whenever a game master gives a clue, focus on that. Don’t get sidetracked.
When we asked for a clue, the game master would write out our clue and send it over. If we didn’t get the answer to the clue within five minutes, we were likely to forget about the clue and move on to other things. The problem with this is that the game master knows exactly what our next steps are and we don’t. By not focusing on the clue we were given, we may have been trying to solve a puzzle that we were not even ready to solve; or did not have all the pieces for. In addition, now that I have been a Gamemaster myself and made my own escape games, I cannot stress how much we are on your side. We are so happy when you win! We won’t try and trick you. Focus on the clues.
4. Don’t skip over things because time is ticking. Be thorough.
One of our biggest mistakes in the room was not being thorough enough. I remember finding a piece of paper with a large block of text. Because time was ticking and we only had about 20 minutes left, I skimmed the page and saw something about a password being linked to colors, so logically we spent the next 10 minutes trying to solve that puzzle. When it came time to input the correct password we had a hard time figuring out the username. If we had just read the paper rather than skimmed it, we would have realised that the username was written on the page, clear as day, bolded at the top.
5. Don’t forget the little things.
Sometimes you will get a small clue in the beginning of the room that really will not be relevant until the ending. This kind of puzzle operates on the assumption that you will forget the seemingly irrelevant clue by the time that it actually becomes relevant. If you are allowed to write on something in the room, I would recommend having a page where you keep clues. Cross them off when they are used to stay organized. You don’t want to suffer from information overload.
6. There may or may not be a really difficult math problem. Choose your best math person to solve it.
If you are bad at math, then don’t assign yourself to the math problem. Simple as that. In addition, it is always a good idea to have two or three people independently solving the math problem. This way if any mistakes are made, it becomes clear immediately. Otherwise, your group may continue to operate on the assumption that you have the correct answer but have not figured out where it goes in the room. This can be incredibly frustrating especially when the time is ticking!!
7. When all else fails, logic can help.
Using simple logic would have helped a few times in the room. For instance, there was a written clue that had three separate riddles that were all solved by a number. The first riddle was one digit, the second riddle was two digits, and the 3rd was one. Altogether it was a four digit code. We spent about 15 minutes trying to solve the first riddle after we had the correct answer to the other two. If we were smart, we could have just plugged in the last three digits that we knew were correct and tried all 10 digits for the first number to get the correct answer. Work smarter not harder.
*Note that some escape rooms do not prefer for you to solve puzzles by guessing. If this type of situation comes up the best course of action is just to ask before you do it! Your Gamemaster should be responsive and get back to you with an answer quickly.
8. Nothing that is a clue in the room should be able to get irreversibly messed up.
In the first room I played, the game of RISK was out on one of the tables. We were worried that if we moved the pieces of the board game, then we may be losing a potential clue. For instance, if one of the game pieces were placed on North America, we thought it had to stay on North America, and that North America had something to do with the puzzle. The problem with this thinking is that if the creators of the game made the placement of the pieces important, there would be a potential that the game could be broken every time someone moves the pieces. If this were the case, the pieces should be glued down. Otherwise, frankly it is just poor game design and by no way the player’s fault!
In the end, we found out all we had to do was count the number of pieces for each color, which makes a LOT more sense.
9. Don’t be the hero
Don’t be the hero, and give everyone a chance to figure something out. There was a person in my group who would hoard clues so that he would get all the glory when a puzzle was solved. He would eventually tell us if his original train of thought did not work, but those minutes where he kept the clues to himself were extremely detrimental. We could have used the lost time in the end when we were trying to figure out the code to disarm the bomb. Every second counts.
10. Lastly, I wish I had known about the 8 roles in an escape room.
Brantford Games details 8 roles a successful team fulfills in an escape room. Had I known more about the roles on my first try, I think we would have won that room triumphantly. You can read more about the roles here!