Escape rooms are a worldwide phenomenon, and although Australia is a bit behind, the craze is starting to catch on in a big way. As an escape room owner and avid fan, I’ve noticed which teams and techniques work best. Here they are.
Escape rooms often involve locking you in a room for an hour, forcing you to solve its puzzles and mysteries before you can get out. They’re a lot of fun, and a much cooler way to spend an hour than anything else I can think of, other than wine. (Which mine has in the escape room).
People often ask me to give them tips for when they’re going into the room or inside the room, and while I’m quite strict about giving too much away, there are some more broad techniques that seem to work well for escape room puzzles. The best puzzles will require you to think outside the box, and those are hard to prepare for. But just like video games, there’s a bit of a language to escape games, and certain elements do repeat themselves or the theory behind them, is the same.
What absolutely does correlate positively is a fun, enthusiastic attitude. Teams that get excited, into the game, always finish faster (and have more fun). They feel a rush every time a mini puzzle is solved, and run to the next one with joy.
Explore, explore, explore. The first thing you should do in every room is search for clues. Look behind things. Under things. Inside things. Good escape room teams are like a tornado that quickly unearths every clue before they can get down to the business of contemplation. By contrast, first-time teams are often unsure about what they’re allowed to touch. The answer is everything you weren’t told not to touch in the briefing! They will each perform a role in the group and have clear job roles.
Psychologists and business managers are keenly interested in how people communicate in these types of environments. It’s like a multi-stage test of who listens to whom. The loud know-it-all tends to be followed, but that’s not always a great idea. Sometimes you get the quiet person with the right idea who just isn’t being listened to, and unfortunately the puzzle will not be solved unless people listen.
It’s important that everyone knows about all the clues, so you should be shouting out what you find. Often one person has the Yin and isn’t aware the other person has the Yang, so time is wasted before the two are put together.
Larger groups have the advantage of being able to split up work. A few can work on one puzzle, while a couple work on another puzzle, and it even helps to just have someone standing back and looking at things from a different perspective. If there are three puzzles in a room, it’s wasteful to have a team of six all finishing one before moving on to the next.
A very common trope is finding numbers around the room, and being given clues on how to order them. Perhaps the numbers are tied to something else, and the other objects themselves have a particular order. Perhaps there's another level to it -- Objects that correspond to objects that correspond to numbers.
It helps to identify what type of input each lock has. For a particular lock, are you looking for letters? Numbers? Something else? If there aren't any clues that directly apply to that kind of input, is there any connection at all? Any way to convert those clues into different data?
At every roadblock, successful teams are methodical -- they check to see if every known clue has been used yet, they quickly explore some more to see if they’ve missed any clues, and they take a step back and analyse if their current thought process is a bit like overthink. And if there are still no ideas, they ask for a clue.
Most of all, have fun and observe the group dynamics in your team. It will help you with peoples personalities and their behaviour. This is the best thing about escape rooms, as its not just people trying to escape but more a behavioural test that is interactive and fun!