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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Riddle Me This: Answer Edition

[Image courtesy of Nyafuu Archive.]

Last week, we shared a sampling of riddles from Raging Swan Press’s series of riddle-filled handbooks, “So What’s the Riddle Like, Anyway?”

And today, we’ve got the answers ready for you. So let’s see how you did!


1. What always runs but never walks,
Often murmurs, never talks,
has a bed but never sleeps,
Has a mouth but never eats?

Answer: a river.

2. What has a head and a tail, but no body?

Answer: a coin.

3. I can be cracked, I can be made.
I can be told, I can be played.

Answer: a joke.

4. What should the tenth number in this series be? 3, 3, 5, 4, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4

Answer: 3. (Each number is the number of letters in the digits one through nine, so ten would be “3.”)

5. A carpenter was in a terrible hurry. He had to work as quickly as possible to cut a very heavy ten‐foot plank into ten equal sections. If it takes one minute per cut, how long will it take him to get the ten equal pieces?

Answer: 9 minutes. (The first 8 minutes yield 8 pieces, but the ninth minute will yield pieces 9 and 10.)

6. Can you find a four‐digit number in which:
The first digit is one‐third the second digit,
The third is the sum of the first and second and
The last is three times the second?

Answer: 1349.

7. I am always hungry, I must always be fed.
The finger I lick will soon turn red.

Answer: fire.

8. A precious stone, as clear as diamond.
That shuns the sun’s bright fire.
Though you can walk on water with its power,
Try to keep it, and it’ll vanish ere an hour.

Answer: ice.

9. I am sometimes strong
And sometimes weak,
But I am nobody’s fool.
For there is no language that I can’t speak,
Though I never went to school.

Answer: An echo.


How did you do on these riddles, fellow puzzler? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Riddle Me This!

[Image courtesy of Forbidden Planet.]

A PuzzleNationer reached out to me recently and asked about riddles. Specifically, he was asking about wordplay riddles, the ones that can take you a bit of time to mentally unravel, rather than the jokey riddles found in most children’s puzzle books.

You see, he’s a Dungeon Master, the man runs a Dungeons & Dragons game, shaping the story for the other players. He was about to lead his players into a lost catacomb left behind by a crafty wizard known for his love of wordplay, and he needed ideas for riddles that might challenge his players.

Thankfully, I had the perfect resource for him.

[No, not that guy… (Image courtesy of Nyafuu Archive.)]

The puzzly crew at Raging Swan Press foresaw the need for something like this, and years ago, they assembled three handbooks about riddles for anyone who might need them. This series is called “So What’s the Riddle Like, Anyway?” Downloadable PDFs of the books can be found on DriveThruRPG.com.

From the book’s introduction, where the authors present possible scenarios:

Your PCs are deep in the dungeon and have just encountered a terrifying monster which they have no chance of defeating. Luckily, the monster is bored and challenges the party to a riddling contest instead of simply just killing them. Alternatively, the party have encountered a sentient statue that will not let them past until they have answered three riddles correctly.

I am a huge fan of Raging Swan, because they’re all about providing additional content for roleplaying games in order to make the games more varied and interesting, and they price these expansions and idea-boosters very affordably.

For instance, each of the three editions of “So What’s the Riddle Like, Anyway?” are only $1.99 apiece.

And I figured, why not pit the puzzly minds of the PuzzleNation readership against the crafty campaign creators of Raging Swan Press.

Enjoy!


Volume I of the series not only walks the reader through the process of designing and choosing riddles for your game, but also instructs you on how best to use the riddles to advance your story. Volume I also offers some examples to get you started.

1. What always runs but never walks,
Often murmurs, never talks,
has a bed but never sleeps,
Has a mouth but never eats?

2. What has a head and a tail, but no body?

3. I can be cracked, I can be made.
I can be told, I can be played.


Volume II delves deeper into the puzzlier aspect of riddles, employing pattern identification, word problems, and brain teasers to offer another possible challenge for your players.

4. What should the tenth number in this series be? 3, 3, 5, 4, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4

5. A carpenter was in a terrible hurry. He had to work as quickly as possible to cut a very heavy ten‐foot plank into ten equal sections. If it takes one minute per cut, how long will it take him to get the ten equal pieces?

6. Can you find a four‐digit number in which:
The first digit is one‐third the second digit,
The third is the sum of the first and second and
The last is three times the second?


Volume III rounds out the trilogy with numerous traditional riddles about various aspects of the standard medieval roleplaying setting. Riddles about elements, dragons, weapons, creatures, and more await you inside this slim tome.

7. I am always hungry, I must always be fed.
The finger I lick will soon turn red.

8. A precious stone, as clear as diamond.
That shuns the sun’s bright fire.
Though you can walk on water with its power,
Try to keep it, and it’ll vanish ere an hour.

9. I am sometimes strong
And sometimes weak,
But I am nobody’s fool.
For there is no language that I can’t speak,
Though I never went to school.


How did you do on these riddles, fellow puzzler? Let us know in the comments section below!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

The Labyrinth? Why, you must be mythtaken!

Oh yes, it’s that time again! It’s to unleash our puzzly and punny imaginations and engage in a bit of sparkling wordplay!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleMyth, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with anything and everything mythological! Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, Norse, whatever!

Examples include: Helen of Troy-Angles, Odin and Around, and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Heads and Tails (because it’s a hydra).

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Greek Puzzle Myths!

Homer Runs

Odyssey It Again

Odysseycret Word

Letter Illiaddition / Iliadd One

Midas Touch Tank

Crostyx

Dionysuspended sentence / Pegasuspended Centaurence

Dionysus Fill-In

Places, Pleiades

Hera and Theras / Hera & Thor

Roll of the Diana

Kraken-jacks

Krak-uro

Animal Krakens

Seven-Up Against Thebes

Roll of the Eurydice

Psycheword

Minotaur-Crosswords

Muse Calling

Nemean Lion ‘Em Up

Pandora’s Boxes

Janus Face to Face

Square Nine Muses

Cerberus in the Square

Face to Face to Stone

Math Maze/Labyrinth: Plus and Minotaurus

Apollo to Zeus Maze

Minotaur’s-Eye Spiral

Hecuba Match


Norse Puzzle Myths!

Bricks and Thor-tor

Thor ‘n’ Aft

Freya Know the Odds

Frigg-erits!

Frigg-zag

Frigg-saw Squares

Mimir Mimir

Mimir Image

Annar-gram Magic Square

Tyr-Angles

Tyr-amid Words

Buri Treasure

Loki Score

Loki Star

Lokiword

Loki Double Cross

Exchange Borr

Quo-Dagr-ams

Fulla Circle


Egyptian Puzzle Myths!

Sphinx’s Riddle Me This

Picking up Osiris Piece by Piece

Horus and There

Shu-doku

Khepri It Moving

Pyramiddle of the Road

Hierocryptics


Crypto Puzzle Myths!

Mega Sudoku

Nessie Solitaire

Mathsquatch

Anagram Mongolian Death Word

Chupacommon Combos


There were a few submissions that deserve their own section, as several of our intrepid puzzlers went above and beyond.

Grand Minotaur (obviously in the Labyrinth, son of the Cretan Bull’s-eye Spiral and killed by Theseus Three)

Siren Says “Come down from that Mast-to-hear-our-words” You know the Odysseus… facing yet another Dilemma. Sailors have him Family Tied and only bind him tighter. I’m sure he has A Few Choice Words for them. 😉

Roll the Dionysus before he Looses his Tiles! He had Two at a Time all night!

Riddle Me This in the Middle of the Road: “Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?” asks the Sphinx guarding the route to the city of Thebe.

Spell and Score: In retribution for Minos the King of Crete’s failure to sacrifice a white bull Poseidon sent him, Poseidon ordered Aphrodite to cast a spell on Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the Cretan bull; they mated, and their offspring was Minotaur.


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Myths entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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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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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Gotham

[Image courtesy of Comic Book Movie.]

Fox’s comic book crime drama Gotham returns from its winter break on Monday, January 16th, kickstarting the second half of its third season. For the uninitiated, Gotham is set before the days of Batman’s adventures; Bruce Wayne is a young man, James Gordon is a detective, the city is rife with corruption, and most of Batman’s rogue’s gallery of enemies have yet to appear in the city.

Given that the show features one of the most infamous puzzly villains in history — The Riddler, aka Edward Nygma — I thought I would look back on the episode where the show’s version of the villain truly took shape.

So, in today’s blog post, we look back on season two’s “Mad Grey Dawn,” the episode that took the character beyond occasional riddles and into true Batman-style puzzly evil. (It’s worth noting that Edward Nygma’s day job is forensic scientist working for the Gotham City Police Department.)

We open in an art gallery, where a sculpture shaped like a bomb — that, curiously enough, is labeled “this is a real bomb” — rests in the center of the room. Nygma lights the fuse, chasing everyone out, then steals a painting, leaving behind a green question mark spray-painted in its place.

Detective Jim Gordon and his partner, detective Harvey Bullock, are assigned to the case. Before they go investigate, Gordon is held back by his captain, Nathaniel Barnes, who tells him an anonymous tip implicates him in a closed murder case, and Internal Affairs will be investigating.

At the art museum, they learn about the stolen painting, Mad Grey Dawn, which details a railway explosion. They discover two other, more valuable paintings were vandalized with spray-painted question marks, one by Gerard Marché and another by Henri Larue. Gordon believes the thief is trying to send a message, not trying to strike it rich.

And we have our first question: what’s the message?

[Image courtesy of EW.]

The viewer isn’t given much time to ponder it before Gordon realizes the artists ARE the clue. Marché is French for “market” and Larue is French for “the road.” They deduce that the thief is targeting the railway station on Market Street.

We then see Nygma removing a bomb in a bag from his car.

At the train station, Nygma is waiting. But Bullock and Gordon arrive as an order goes out to evacuate the building. Gordon spots a question mark spray-painted on a locker, and as soon as he does, Nygma remotely activates the timer on the bomb.

Gordon uses a crowbar to pry open the locker and get ahold of the bomb. Bullock and the other officers clear out the station and Gordon tosses the bomb before it explodes.

[Image courtesy of TV Line.]

As they investigate the bombing, they find no clues or riddles waiting for them. But Nygma is there, and he has an officer named Pinkney sign an evidence form for him. He then talks to Gordon, feeling him out on what Gordon knows about the bomber, and Gordon makes him the lead on forensics for the case.

Gordon is at a loss as to who the thief/bomber is or what he wants. But the viewer is presented with a different puzzle. We know who the bomber is, and we know he wants to destroy Jim Gordon. But how? How do these pieces we’ve seen fit together?

If you’re an attentive viewer, you’ve already spotted two big clues to Nygma’s trap.

Later, Nygma visits Officer Pinkney at home. He then asks him what you call a tavern of blackbirds, before hitting him with a crowbar.

Gordon looks over evidence photos when Bullock calls with info. They find a payphone the bomber used to trigger the bomb. Gordon heads off to check it out, discovering Pinkney’s murdered body in the apartment next door.

As he checks on the fallen officer, Captain Barnes walks in. Barnes reveals that Pinkney sent him a message, wanting to talk about Gordon. Gordon tries to explain that he was following up on a lead in the bomber case and stumbled upon Pinkney’s body, but Barnes takes him into custody.

[Image courtesy of Villains Wiki.]

Down at the station, Gordon talks to Barnes. Barnes reveals a crowbar was found with Gordon’s fingerprints. Gordon realizes it’s the crowbar from the train station. (Clue #1 from earlier.) He mentions the forensics report and Bullock’s call, but Barnes found nothing about that in the report when he checked it.

Barnes then reveals that Pinkney was the anonymous tip that reopened the murder case mentioned earlier, and he has a signed form to prove it. Amidst all these accusations, we see flashbacks of Nygma taking the crowbar, Nygma securing Pinkney’s signature at the bank (Clue #2 from earlier), and Nygma swapping out forensic reports in Bullock’s file.

Gordon has been thoroughly trapped in The Riddler’s web, and Barnes takes him in. Gordon is charged with the murder and sent to prison.

[Image courtesy of Comic Vine.]

Now, there aren’t the usual riddles to solve like you might expect (though there are plenty of riddles in earlier episodes). For puzzle fans, this episode is more about trying to unravel Nygma’s plan to stop Gordon while it unfolds. Did you manage it?

And the clues are all there, with the camera lingering on the crowbar in the bucket at the train station, and the scene of Pinkney signing the form for Nygma. It’s both a well-orchestrated frame-up and a well-constructed how-dun-it for the viewer.

And with an episode looming entitled “How the Riddler Got His Name,” I expect we’ll see more strong moments from this puzzly villain in the future.


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