Escape rooms can be a lot to take in if you’ve never played one before. Upon entering the room you’re often faced with a plethora of locked and hidden items, and rarely are you given a specific starting point. It’s daunting. A thousand thoughts run through your head. Where do I start? Am I allowed to touch this? Is this thing supposed to look like this? Should I turn the furniture upside down? What’s my goal? Well, stress no longer. Consider this blog post your guide to the world of escape rooms, your own personal puzzle guru.
First question: Where do we start?
You’ve entered your assigned room. Your Clue master has closed the door, and the timer on the wall has started to tick down. You can see several locks, and many set pieces scattered around the room. What now? First, remain calm. A good escape room company will have run their rooms through extensive testing and unless it’s a brand new room, hundreds upon hundreds of people have played the room before you came along. An hour is enough time to complete all the necessary puzzles, so long as you are up to the task. Don’t let the clock psych you out, especially not when you’re first starting. Second, look for conspicuous objects or writing. Did you find a table covered in strange and distinctive markings? It’s probably important, maybe you can find those same markings elsewhere in the room. Did you find a letter or a newspaper article with many oddly placed typos? Do the typos follow a pattern? If you see a lock that’s got four separate colors on it consider that you are likely looking for numbers that are those specific colors. Escape rooms are centered around pattern recognition and putting two and two together. Frequently puzzles will consist of just one or two pieces that, when found, will be connected in some way. If you can make that connection they will give you a code or some other information that will allow you to progress through the room. Remain calm, communicate with your teammates when you find something, and listen to your teammates when they talk. It’s likely that you will find half of something that one of your teammates has the other half of. If you aren’t talking, you can’t know that you’ve each got one half of a whole. Communicate.
Second question: Can I move this thing?
Short answer – probably yes. Escape rooms are sets, and much like a film or TV set, nothing is there by accident. The rooms are built to be explored, and that does mean through physical interaction, not just with your eyes. There are of course some exceptions that you should be aware of. It’s generally a safe bet that if something is very large, heavy, or screwed in place that it isn’t meant to be moved. Sometimes things will be labeled with “Not part of the game” or “Do not tamper” – these markings aren’t there to misdirect you as that would be, well, unfair. Those usually indicate something that contains batteries, sensitive wiring, or just something that you shouldn’t get distracted by as it is not relevant to any part of the room. Electrical sockets can be assumed to be real, and if an escape game company elects to hide things in fake outlets they’re also electing to potentially endanger their customers, don’t give them your patronage.
Generally it’s safe to assume that no puzzle elements will be hidden in the ceiling, or in any areas that cannot be practically reached by a normal size human. If you see something in a room that isn’t distinctly labeled “Don’t touch me” or glued/nailed/screwed down, you can go ahead and move that object around in whatever way you feel is necessary to achieve success. That being said, it’s probably not necessary to pull drawers completely out of desks, or to flip tables and chairs upside down. Consider that puzzle pieces are meant to be found so that you can get to the real challenge, solving the puzzle. The finding of puzzle pieces is fun, but shouldn’t be the most difficult aspect of the room. Furthermore, if an item looks strange or out of place, it definitely is. Trust your eyes, pay attention to your environment. Share discoveries with teammates. I’ll reiterate this a few more times, communication within a group is the difference between a successful escape and a tragic loss.
Question the third: What’s my goal?
While rooms will frequently have many smaller “sub-goals” that must be completed before the room reaches its ultimate conclusion, your overall goal is always to complete the escape route. Think of the puzzles within a room as a pyramid. When you begin the room there will likely be several different puzzles that you can tackle in any order. This is the base of the pyramid. These puzzles will in turn lead you to opening up a few locked drawers, or maybe even another room entirely. These drawers will in turn each contain the pieces to another puzzle – but each drawer only has one piece, rather than an entire separate puzzle for each drawer. So you can see that as you progress through the room and solve puzzles they begin to narrow down until finally you are left with just one final puzzle that all your previous work has narrowed down to. This final puzzle, once solved, will complete the narrative of the room (If it is a story based mission) and will also reveal your escape route to you. In a less literal sense, your goal is to have fun and to build bonds with your teammates through strong use of communication and good sportsmanship. Win or lose, the game is the fun, the ending of the game is just the end.