Make a Team

Tip #1. Play with friends or coworkers (if possible)

Especially for large-group games, teams work better when there’s a common context for communication. It’s not fun for a group of 20-somethings to play with a family bringing their kids, the play styles may clash when teamwork is required. This clash is infrequent but can happen if you’re unlucky. This may be cost-prohibitive for public-booking rooms (but you can test your luck by booking last-minute or at unpopular time slots), but private rooms have this by the default.

Tip #2. Play at fewer than maximum team size

Playing at the maximum team size means 1) physical crowdedness 2) not enough things for everyone to work on 3) fewer “aha!” moments 4) additional overhead in getting everyone up to speed. We generally recommend approximately 50-75% of the maximum capacity although this can vary by game or group. Again, this may be cost-prohibitive for public-booking rooms (again, you can test your luck by booking last-minute or at unpopular time slots), but private rooms should allow the flexibility of choosing your ideal team size.

Work Together

Tip #3. Pass the baton

If you’ve been staring at a puzzle for too long and can’t figure out the solution, enlist a fellow team member to help or take over on the puzzle. This helps make sure that puzzles don’t get forgotten, and that there are enough eyes on each unsolved puzzle. This can continue until a few people can’t figure it out – that’s usually a sign that you don’t have all of the information yet (or that you need a hint!).

Tip #4. Listen to your teammates

Escape room teams function best when they try everything. So if your teammate has a crazy but somewhat reasonable idea, listen to them and try it with them! If you think it’s a bad idea, still encourage them to try it nevertheless. As long as the crazy idea is reversible, it might just move you closer to the final solution. At the very least, it will be fun!

Tip #5. Yell out loudly what you find

This tends to be fairly chaotic but very effective. Escape room games are won and lost based on how quickly two team members who found related items can match them together. This includes things like a code and a key, a key and a lock, or a pattern that appears the same way in two different places.

Tip #6. Work on what other people aren’t working on

This helps spread apart your team and have each team member be maximally effective. There’s a tendency to dismiss or skip over some puzzles that are “too hard” to do at first glance. This leaves some puzzles forgotten and undone until someone realizes that they’re needed.

Tip #7. Don’t “clump” around the same puzzle

Be a contributor to a puzzle and not a spectator. It’s too easy to be a spectator when interesting progress is being made on a puzzle, but people are more effective when they’re spread out and working on what needs to be done! If there’s only one puzzle open however, by all means let the whole team brainstorm!

Manage Puzzle Items

Too many keys… (Photo Credit: Robert Montalvo)

Tip #8. Keep used keys in their lock

A key is almost never used more than once. Leave it in the lock for your sanity! This will help prevent the key from being used again, prevent someone else from trying out another key on the lock, and prevent you from accidentally locking the object again. In very rare cases, a key may be used more than once, so keep that in mind too as a last resort option.

Tip #9. Make a “discard pile”

Separate objects in the game into a “used” pile and an “unused” pile. This helps prevent team members from examining the same object again and again. This also helps you connect certain “unused” items by placing them in physical proximity! Note that in some escape rooms, objects may be “used” more than once.

Tip #10. Organize objects neatly

This helps keep the room tidy, so you can find what you need. This also lets you keep together related objects, so you can find all of them right when you need them. Some examples:

  • Stack related books together
  • Spread apart an important piece of cloth
  • Place loose objects on the table on the room
  • Put all unused keys together in a central location

Be Comprehensive

If you see a bunch of books on a shelf, first check to see if any of them is actually a book safe. You might get a clue later to refer to a specific book (especially if you need a book cipher or you have a dictionary). As a low priority task, flip through some of the books (but please don’t waste too much time looking at random marks in them).

Tip #11. Search the room thoroughly

Be extremely thorough when looking and touching everywhere, as if you were painting the room rather than as if you were just looking for where you put your phone. Sometimes key objects can be in the most exotic (or non-exotic) of places, like:

  • nestled on the top of a bookshelf
  • hidden inside of a book
  • tucked in a coat pocket
  • behind the door of a cabinet
  • in a secret compartment of the floor, wall, or shelf unit
  • stuck on a ceiling-supporting pillar
  • placed on a ledge high on the wall

Tip #12. Divide and conquer to search

At the very beginning of each game, split the room into sections and assign different people to comb through each section, looking for objects of importance. This helps make sure that the room is thoroughly inspected, and helps prevent the case where certain areas are overlooked and certain other areas are repetitively combed over.

Tip #13. Listen to your host

Listen to the intro and rules by your game master – your game master might slip some helpful hints at the beginning that will save you a lot of time. This applies to the hints that they give in-game too, especially if they are live action actors. All of the staff in-game will try to nudge you in the right direction.

Tip #14. Ask for hints

There’s almost always a hint system in the game. You may have to wave into a camera, use a walkie-talkie, or pay attention to the in-game actor. Regardless of how hints are distributed, we recommend asking for hints whenever you feel overly stuck or have stopped having fun. Game masters are trained to push you in the right direction so you can start solving puzzles again.

Solve Puzzles Efficiently

Don’t look up here. (Photo Credit: Adamantios)

Tip #15. Know what to ignore

This is best gathered through experience, but here are some common things that new escape room players discover that are almost never important to the escape room.

  • Random numbers written in black marker on old books or furniture – This is usually just artifacts left over from when the game master purchased the item.
  • Power outlets – Don’t mess around with power outlets, unless its clear that you should. This is both a safety issue and a waste of time.
  • Drop ceiling tiles – Never try to look behind a drop ceiling tile or touch the ceiling. It’s a waste of time and also a safety issue.

Tip #16. Attempt combo solutions frequently

Unless the lock is some sort of “lockout” safe, attempting combination solutions whenever you have a plausible correct solution gives you quick feedback on if you’re doing the right thing. If you’re lucky, your first guess might even be right! This tip is combined well with the the next tip – if you have 3 out of 4 of the numbers on a combination lock, immediately input in the 3 digits and cycle through the last one.

Tip #17. Skip the last digit / letter

Some examples where you can skip some minor steps include:

  • Figuring out the last digit in a lock – If you know the first 3 digits in a 4-digit combination lock, you can just cycle through the last options for the 4th one.
  • Figuring out the last few letters in a wordlock – This is like solving a crossword. If you have a 5-letter word that starts with M and ends in C, try MAGIC!

Note that you should only do this if you’re ok with missing out on a puzzle. Usually you can ask a game master about the puzzle you skipped afterwards.

General Tips

Cabinets, drawers, and doors that are hard to open are likely supposed to stay that way. Please don’t try to force it open. (Photo Credit: Peter Dowley)

Tip #18. Don’t use excessive force

Breaking things is both bad for the escape games and the players – for everything including game functionality, player safety, and important game sequences. Avoid forcing open any doors or detaching anything from the walls that don’t easily come off. Avoid climbing on furniture, or touching the ceiling. The game masters will usually brief you beforehand on what things you shouldn’t do.

Tip #19. Don’t play drunk

Escape rooms are a lot more fun when played sober. Come in with a sober mind ready for some puzzle-solving, quick decision-making, and effective communication! Celebrate afterwards instead of before!

Tip #20. Look at the broader picture

Don’t get too stuck on any one individual puzzle. Have at least one member of your team keep track of the larger picture, which involves figuring out what smaller puzzles need to be done, what final objects need to be collected, or what final objective needs to be done. This sometimes allows you to just skip over the smaller steps.

Tip #21. Apply Occam’s Razor

Don’t overthink any of the puzzles. Escape games are meant to be fun for a larger audience, which means that they generally don’t require prior knowledge, prior experience, or a complicated explanation for anything. Go for the simpler solution. Usually escape room puzzles have a clear “aha!” when you discover the right approach.

Tip #22. Bring a wristwatch

A wristwatch is potentially the only thing you’re allowed to bring into an escape room and use during the game. A watch will let you keep an eye out for exactly how much time is left, which is very helpful when the game does not provide a clock, or only provides a clock in one of the rooms. A watch with a glow function can even provide a handy light to shine on a dimly-lit lock.

Tip #23. Don’t be afraid to lose

Some of our most satisfying escape rooms were ones where we didn’t escape. The game is a lot more fun when you solve puzzles genuinely and don’t rush chaotically to finish the game. These games can be hard, but are also simultaneously fun and immensely satisfying. Enjoy yourselves, and embrace the game and your friends, not the outcome, and you will have lots of fun!

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1 Comment

  • Philip James
    Posted November 21, 2017 at 1:54 pm

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