Designing Your Own Escape Room Event!

One of the most interactive puzzly challenges available to modern solvers is the escape room.

Although themes and scenarios vary greatly, the basic idea is this: a group of people are locked in a room, and tasked with escaping from it within a certain time frame (usually an hour).

They do so by searching for clues, completing tasks, unraveling riddles, and finally, unlocking the door to escape. Some rooms employ riddles. Others use word puzzles. Others still involve working together to overcome obstacles. (For instance, I hear about one escape room where the group was split in two and separated, and they had to work together to unlock the door that separated them.)

There are endless variations available to the intrepid puzzler. And a week or so ago, I had a go at creating my own and running it for a friend’s birthday. I’d never run an escape room per se, but having run roleplaying events before — as well as murder mystery dinners — I was excited to pit my dastardly puzzly mind against a worthy group of heroes and miscreants.

And so, I thought I’d offer a few tips on creating your own puzzly escape experience.


1.) Know your audience.

If your players aren’t engaged, the event is pointless. So you have to make sure that whatever obstacles you lay before them will interest them. If they aren’t partial to brain teasers, mechanical puzzles, or physical challenges, they’ll quickly lose any investment in completing the game.

In my case, I tried to use every puzzly tool at my disposal. There were riddles, puzzle boxes, combination locks to crack, door locks to “pick”, and tricky clues to unravel.

[I drafted two puzzle boxes from my collection into the game.]

2.) Give everyone something to do.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to things like this. So use that to your advantage. Let the hardcore puzzlers tackle the puzzles, while the less puzzly people complete tasks like uncovering backstory, hunting for hidden items, or even doing battle with threats to the players.

Adding a live-action roleplay element like combat can not only add flavor to your game, but it allows players to contribute without having to struggle with puzzles that might not be their strong suit.

If everyone feels like they’re contributing, all successes feel shared. And shared successes are the best ones.

3.) Let imagination drive the game.

When tackling an event like this, it can be easy to splash out on locks, puzzle boxes, and all sorts of trappings for the game. After all, you want it to be an immersive experience, but that sort of immersion can grow expensive very quickly. And you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to create a great solving adventure.

[A 5-digit combination lock that lets you spell words (or mix letters and numbers), a directional combination lock, and two standard four-digit locks]

I had a small budget, so I bought a few combination locks, four small briefcases (so there was something to unlock and open), and some other bits and bobs. Locks run between $6 and $12, but there are few things more satisfying than cracking a puzzle, dialing in your answer, and feeling the lock open in your hand. The sign of a job well done.

But you can build one without spending much money at all. Get creative with it! You can replicate practically anything with a piece of paper — locks, puzzles, riddles — and a little imagination. Any box can become a treasure chest or a lockbox. Any room can become a laboratory or a dungeon or a high-security vault.

[I picked up this little lock for cheap on Amazon, drew the various characters in the combination on little slips of paper, and hid them around the room. It was up to the players to find them, put them in the correct order, and open the lock.]

The low-budget solutions are often the most satisfying. For instance, I mentioned above that, in my escape room, there were door locks to “pick.” I used quotation marks because I didn’t buy door locks to actually pick. Instead, I swapped in another, simpler method for testing someone’s digital dexterity: Jenga.

I stacked up a Jenga tower, removed 8 or 9 pieces, and then challenged the group’s lockpick to remove two or three pieces per door they “picked.” This simulated both the tension of the act and the level of skillful manipulation necessary, and for a fraction of the possible cost.

4.) Tell a story.

I’m a roleplaying fan. I love telling stories in my gameplay. And, to me, nothing adds flavor and depth to an escape room like a story. My favorite escape room experience was a Houdini-themed room that was loaded with the famous magician’s history and trappings — shackles, a straitjacket, and more — and all those little touches added so much to the atmosphere and the tension of the game itself.

So craft a story! Why are the players there? Why do they need to escape? Is there a villain? A curse? An evil artificial intelligence to battle? A diabolical millionaire or a mad scientist with an axe to grind?

All those elements can add to the experience. The escape room I designed and ran centered around a evil wizard and the aftermath of his reign of terror. My players warded off ghosts, avoided automated traps, and even held a Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired seance — since the wizard had turned several of his staff into furniture — as they moved from place to place.

[The remains of a room well-escaped.]

With a little ingenuity, forethought, and creativity, you can craft a one-of-a-kind puzzle experience.


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Kickstarter Roundup!

I’ve covered a lot of puzzle-centric Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns here at PuzzleNation Blog, because I think it’s fascinating how many puzzle variants there are, and how many creators are enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to add their own delightful gaming and puzzling twists to the market.

In previous posts, we’ve seen Baffledazzle‘s jigsaws with a twistCompletely Puzzled‘s community-building outreach, and 64 Oz. Games‘ campaign to adapt popular board games and card games for vision-impaired players. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest!


For any game enthusiasts out there who have problems organizing or transporting their collection, the crew at Init Gear have you covered with The Gamefolio System 2.0.

A line of binders, inserts, and duffles designed for all types of card games and board games, this system is all about helping you get the most out of your game collection while keeping it mobile and easy to tote along with you to game nights! You won’t be hefting a bunch of boxes with wasted space. Instead, you can condense your collection into something far more portable.

Plus, this project has already surpassed its initial funding goal, so there’s an excellent chance you’ll see your pledges fulfilled in a satisfying and timely fashion.

With only a week or so to go to get in on this one, time is of the essence.

And speaking of games, if you’re looking for a party game that mixes strategy and socializing, Death of the Party might be right up your alley.

A mix of Clue, Mafia, and bluffing games like The Resistance, Death of the Party is all about uncovering the identity of the murderer(s) before you get killed. It cleverly melds several established types of gameplay into a card game with a few other bits and bangles.

I must admit my bias on this one, since the premise is straight out of one of my all-time favorite movies, the comedic mystery film Murder By Death. Just like in the movie, every character plays a parody of a famous detective, trying to unravel the mystery without getting killed.

With almost two weeks left to fund, this one has a good chance of exceeding expectations.

If you’re looking for something a bit more puzzly, check out Puzzle Card.

This is an escape room/brain teaser contained entirely within a greeting card. It’s a fascinating concept, but given that there are only a few days left to fund the project — and they only ship to the UK, which hurts interest from puzzlers in other countries — it’s dubious whether this one will fund.

Still, it’s a very cool idea.

Turning from a puzzly challenge for adults to one for kids, we’ve got Tree Top Hop.

A spelling game for younger solvers, Tree Top Hop has players maneuvering through an elaborate network of trees connected by rope bridges in order to spell out different words.

It’s a nice intermediate step for kids to move them beyond simpler board games and into more strategic ones, all while encouraging spelling and other puzzly skills.

I had a chance to try out this game at this year’s New York Toy Fair, and I was impressed by the adaptive design and how quickly kids could get into the game play.

With nearly a month before its closing date, I suspect this offering from Befuddled Games will do well.

Finally, from the wholly unexpected idea pile, we have Plan 9 From Outer Space: The Deckbuilding Game.

Yes, someone has devised a card game based on one of the most infamously awful films in history, Ed Wood’s classic Z-grade alien invasion film.

Loaded with screenshots from the film — as well as references to both the plot itself and various in-jokes that have emerged among B-movie fans over the decades — this game puts you in the role of one of the movie’s heroic protagonists. Can you thwart the devious aliens and their undead minions as they try (for the 9th time) to conquer the Earth?

With three weeks left to fund, I think this one will squeak across the finish line, depending on the level of fan interest and crossover appeal to gamers. On the puzzly side, there does seem to be a fair amount of strategy to the gameplay itself, though luck will no doubt also play a big role in the cards you draw.


Let us know if you end up contributing to any of these campaigns, fellow puzzlers! We’re always interested in what interests you!

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A New Puzzly Escape Room Is Coming! It’s The Maze of Games!

Escape rooms are some of the most interactive puzzling experiences available to solvers today. You get to immerse yourself in an environment and a story while flexing your puzzly muscles and your ability to thrive as part of a team.

In the past, we’ve covered Legend of Zelda-themed rooms, Houdini-themed rooms, and more, but I can honestly tell you that I’ve never been more excited to discuss an upcoming escape room.

Because Mike Selinker and the crew at Lone Shark Games just announced there will be an escape room based on The Maze of Games.

The Maze of Games is an interactive puzzle novel, combining the long-form narrative of a novel with a topnotch puzzle book and a strong element of choose-your-own-adventure flavoring on top. This is not a mystery with a few crosswords tossed in; this is a novel where the puzzle-solving is integral to the reading experience.

In the novel, Samuel and Colleen are swept into the realm of the Gatekeeper — a dapper, witty, and unforgiving skeletal game master who delights in challenging the unsuspecting to fiendish puzzle challenges — and they’re left to navigate the first of the book’s mazes: the Castle Maze.

As you roam the labyrinth with Colleen and Samuel, you encounter puzzles to be solved, each of which provides you with a keyword you’ll need for later. From word searches and crosswords to logic puzzles and code-breaking challenges, your puzzly chops will be put to the test and then some by the Gatekeeper’s many mind-bending obstacles.

It’s the perfect inspiration for an escape room.

And Lone Shark Games is teaming up with the crew at Epic Team Adventures, a Seattle-based company renowned for topnotch escape room experiences.

From the announcement:

It’s a really deep and impressive room, and it’s actually just the first in a series of Maze of Games escape rooms that function out of the same space. The first adventure in the series, The Maze of Games: A Curiouser Heart, will launch at Geek Girl Con on September 30.

And for attendees of PAX West this past weekend, there was a sampling to whet the appetite. A 10-minute escape room experience, The Gatekeeper’s Challenge, was launched at the ETA booth at PAX West, and those who completed the challenge were entered into a drawing to win a free ticket to the full Maze of Games escape room when it launches in late September.

So, puzzlers in the Pacific Northwest, mark your calendars. As for everyone else, we can sit back and be envious. (Or hope they take it on the road!)

Good luck to ETA, Lone Shark Games, and all the players who take on The Gatekeeper’s many tricks, traps, and puzzles. In the meantime, there’s always The Maze of Games to keep us busy.


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The Great Escape (Room)!

room

For years now, Headless Horseman in Ulster Park, New York, has been one of the premiere haunted houses in the country, complete with hayrides, a corn maze, and hundreds of employees working to surprise and spook you. Celebrated for their immersive storytelling, as well as scares designed to delight and terrify all at once, it’s a Halloween tradition in the Northeast.

But recently, they’ve turned their creative energies toward a more puzzly experience: escape rooms.

This weekend, my siblings and I (plus some friends) tackled one of Headless Horseman’s escape rooms, Houdini’s Workshop, and it was an absolute blast.

houdinis-workshop

Here’s the story behind Houdini’s Workshop, courtesy of the Headless Horseman website:

Houdini, the world’s greatest escape artist and famous magician, made a pact with his wife Bess to try and make contact from beyond the grave upon his death. They also set a deadline by which they would give up and Bess was to move on with her life.

As the hour approaches for the deadline, you and your friends are their last hope. You have one hour to discover the final item so that Bess may make one last attempt to contact her beloved husband.

And so, the ten of us piled into Houdini’s parlor and set out to explore… and there was plenty to explore! Hidden panels, riddles, brain teasers, and red herrings galore, not to mention a plethora of locks that would take cleverness, deduction, and teamwork to crack open.

How did we do? Well, I’m proud to announce that we escaped with 4 minutes, 30 seconds left on the clock. Everyone contributed to the solve, and everyone had a fantastic time.

Now, I can’t give you details on specific puzzles or anything like that, because that would ruin the experience for others who might accept the challenge of Houdini’s Workshop.

But it occurred to me that I could give you suggestions for other ways to exercise your puzzly mind and flex your mental muscles in the real world.

1.) Puzzle Hunts

fantasticrace

[Game Master Bob Glouberman instructs a batch of competitors
in the Fantastic Race. Image courtesy of The LA Times.]

Puzzle hunts are interactive solving experiences that often have you wandering around a certain area as you crack codes, unravel riddles, and conquer puzzles. Some only run at certain times each year as annual events, while others (like the Fantastic Race or the Great Puzzle Pursuit) run for a longer time before being retired.

2.) Murder Mystery Dinners

[Image courtesy of Vancouver Presents.com.]

Murder mystery dinners thrive on the theatricality of the event. Attendees can overhear arguments, catch snippets of banter and exposition as they walk around, and engage characters in conversation to learn more. The more you interact with the story, the better chance you have of solving the mystery, but even passive players will get the big picture.

Some restaurants and nightly cruises run murder mysteries, but there’s a growing trend of people running their own as party events. I ran two in the office last year for fellow puzzlers!

3.) LARPing

LARPing, or Live-Action RolePlaying, takes the fun and imagination of a tabletop roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or Legend of the Five Rings, and puts it into the real world.

It might sound a bit bizarre if you’ve never done it, but as a longtime D&D fan, some of my favorite puzzles I’ve ever solved were physical puzzles I encountered during a LARP session.

Whether it’s reassembling a shattered piece of tablet to read the message on it or a mechanical puzzle where a door will only open after I’ve pulled a series of levers in the correct sequence, a tangible puzzle-solving experience gains another dimension of fun and challenge when it’s part of a greater narrative.

In fact, engaging in some of these activities gave me a lot of confidence going into the Houdini’s Workshop escape room. I’d never done an escape room before, but as a veteran of both murder mystery dinners and dungeon romps in Dungeons & Dragons, I was optimistic that my puzzly chops would prove useful.

And I hope my fellow puzzlers get a chance to do the same in the very near future.


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Kubrick’s Game Continues!

kg

Back in September of last year, I reviewed the novel Kubrick’s Game by Derek Taylor Kent, a puzzly adventure/thriller that incorporated elements of Da Vinci Code-style mysteries, film history, conspiracy theories, and a cracking whodunit.

I also announced that a tie-in game was created for readers and puzzlers to tackle. Known as The Game or Kubrick’s Game, this months-long puzzle hunt started quite innocuously, with a poem introducing solvers to the game, and then the following text:

From Ai to the shiNing, from Two thousAnd and one to dr. Strangelove, from sparTacus to lolIta, from Clockwork oRange to pAths of glory, no director in history has given the Cinema more Enigmatic masterpieces than Director stanley kubrick. Over his Turbulent Career, kubrick produced an Oeuvre that gained him the nickname of the Maestro. So what if this Legendary Artist hid a priceless treasure away Somewhere and left clues to the location within his movies, Hidden away in plain sight? KUBRICKS GAME asks this very question and the answer will blow you away.

Once you’ve found the hidden message, it leads you to an encrypted message that directs you to complete a task that will lead you further into the game.

Each puzzle you solve, as well as each additional side task, riddle, and challenge you complete, is worth points (plus bonuses for being among the first to crack each puzzle). A leaderboard tracks the individuals or teams with the top scores as the game progresses.

puzzle4

The players are currently tackling Puzzle #4, and unlike earlier puzzles, instead of getting bonus points for solving the puzzle faster, points will be determined by how few hints the competitors need in order to crack the puzzle.

Only four players have cracked the puzzle thus far, and impressively, several managed to do so without any clues.

I reached out to several of the players for their insights into the puzzle hunt. For one of the players, Rey, this is a particularly intriguing challenge:

This is my first experience doing it as a contest, which really puts the pressure on and actually makes it more satisfying when I solve one of the puzzles. I started off by getting interested in Escape Room attractions and found that it really piqued my interest trying to figure out how all the little clues connect.

So far the last puzzle (#4) has been the most challenging. Definitely took me the longest to figure out. They have all had their own little bits of difficulty that make them different. The Game Masters really know their stuff and are making this a very interesting contest.

fantasticrace

[Game Master Bob Glouberman instructs a batch of competitors
in the Fantastic Race. Image courtesy of The LA Times.]

And speaking of the Game Masters, I had the opportunity to chat with mastermind Bob Glouberman about creating the hunt featured in the book.

I have been obsessed with Kubrick since I first saw The Shining in 1980 when it was released. The idea of a Da Vinci Code with Kubrick’s films at its center was enticing to me. Derek wanted to know if I could invent an elaborate puzzle that went through all of Kubrick’s films and I was so eager to jump in, I said, “no sweat.” Of course it was lots of sweat….but fun sweat.

As for how he actually constructed the puzzles for the novel, well…

I watched all of Kubrick’s films (I had seen them all before multiple times) over again. I bought a white board and I started noticing all of the similarities and tie ins that exist between the films. I then wrote in different colored dry erase marker depending on the film, the connection, and the possibility for a puzzle. I connected all the tie ins with lines which was very reminiscent of Dexter Morgan’s blood spatter strings.

I then watched all the movies a second time and added all of the strange symbols in all of Kubrick’s movies that I didn’t quite understand. I figured those symbols would be ripe for clues. Perhaps if they had meaning for the film, they might also have a subsequent meaning for a puzzle.

I then watched them a third time and added all the scenes that didn’t make sense. Random scribbles on a wall. Scenes that faded out for no apparent reason. Lines of dialogue that appeared clunky. Characters that seemed to go nowhere. These seemingly random elements might have been added for coherence to a puzzle.

And the end result, I believe, is a very satisfying series of puzzles that works well with the films. Naturally, Kubrick didn’t intentionally create a series of puzzles… but he might have. And they may have looked like the puzzle system Derek outlined in Kubrick’s Game.

hqdefault4

There’s still time to get in on the hunt for Kubrick’s ultimate prize! Organizers are keeping registration open until March 1st!

You can click here for all the details on the Game and to get started. For more info on author Derek Taylor Kent, click here.

And be sure to check out Bob Glouberman’s other diabolical projects: a treasure hunt company called Fantastic Race and an escape-room company called Get the F Out.

Happy hunting, everyone!


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International Puzzle Day is almost here!

 

photo-743384

This Sunday, January 29th, is International Puzzle Day (aka National Puzzle Day), a day dedicated to all things puzzly — be it crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, riddles, or other brain teasers — and there are plenty of fun ways you could celebrate.

For instance, last year, we commemorated the day by building a puzzle fort!

puzzlefort

Now, if you don’t have dozens of puzzle books handy, don’t despair! You could bust out an old jigsaw puzzle (or a new one!), try your hand at a Rubik’s cube, or tackle a puzzle you’ve never tried before!

If you’re looking for more of a group activity, you’ve got the Internet at your fingertips. You could find your nearest hobby shop and try out a new puzzle, or track down an Escape Room or Puzzle Hunt event near you!

For instance, I stumbled upon this link for a National Puzzle Day Jigsaw Competition in Mobile, Alabama this Sunday! Race to see who can solve a 1,000 piece jigsaw the fastest!

And that’s just one of dozens of events happening around the country this Sunday.

3127

Need a place to start? Check the event calendar for your local library! Many libraries host events open to public on days like International Puzzle Day, and you might meet fellow puzzlers in your area!

And if there’s not an event in your area, why not host one? You could host a team puzzle-solving challenge, a scavenger hunt, a crossword contest, or a night of trivia!

This year, we opted to do something a little different, whipping up some puzzly bouquets of Daisy, Flower Power, and other floral puzzles, and handing them out to friends! Just a little way to brighten someone’s day! (This excellent suggestion came from puzzler and friend of the blog Jen Cunningham.)

puzzleflowers

And, hey, if you need something a bit more extreme, you could celebrate like this guy and solve a Rubik’s cube while skydiving!

Now, I won’t be doing that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.

So, how are you celebrating International Puzzle Day? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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