Club Drosselmeyer 1941 [Review]

We can do it!

Location:  Cambridge (Boston), Massachusetts

Date Played: December 16, 2018

Team size: we recommend 2-8 depending on the experience you’re looking for

Duration: 2.5 hours

Price: $49-85 per ticket

Ticketing: Public event

REA Reaction

Club Drosselmeyer was a magnificent mirage. For a few hours, an idyllic night club filled with swing dancers, jazz musicians, histrionic characters, and challenging puzzles appeared out of the cold Boston air to host a distorted World War II rendition of The Nutcracker… and disappeared just as clock struck 11pm. 

There is no event in the puzzle or immersive theatre world that I eagerly anticipate more than this annual confluence of puzzles, swing dancing, music, and theatrics. It’s all of the entertainment that I love wrapped up for Christmas and tied with a bow.

Club Drosselmeyer banner and microphone.

Each year it has been a little different and a bit improved, but still Club Drosselmeyer. This time around, it was noticeably harder to earn our win (there will be less one puzzle for the rest of the run). Old villains turned into allies and new foes emerged. Above all, they’d streamlined the flow of the experience.

Club Drosselmeyer was glorious because there were so many ways to savor it. For those of us who wished to devour everything it had to offer, the one drawback was the bittersweetness of realizing that just wasn’t possible. There’s something real and immersive about that as well.

As our time at Club Drosselmeyer concluded once again, one of our teammates (an avid escape room player) who was attending for the first time remarked, “I feel high…” That’s certainly how I felt.

Tickets for Club Drosselmeyer are nearly soldout. If you can get your hands on one for this Wednesday or Thursday night, I’d strongly urge you to do so immediately… otherwise you’ll have to wait until 1942. 

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Jazz fans
  • Swing dancers
  • Immersive theater fans
  • People who are fine with crowds
  • People who don’t need to be part of every interaction
  • Any experience level … for puzzlers or dancers

Why play?

  • Puzzle hunt-style puzzles
  • Spectacle
  • Dance, acrobatic, and magical performances
  • An amazing jazz band
  • Roleplaying
  • 1941-themed party

Story

It was Christmas in 1941. We’d been attending Herr Drosselmeyer’s annual Christmas since 1939. With each passing year the threat of war loomed larger. With the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor, the war had finally found us. It was time for all Americans to put aside their differences and fight the good fight. 

As in the previous years, we’d heard that Drosselmeyer Industries would reveal the latest work from Project Nutcracker: version Delta. We had a feeling that Herr Drosselmeyer was going to find himself in another pickle and need our help. 

This year we were hunting for a mole. 

Club Drosselmeyer band

Setting

We returned to the glamorous 1941 night club of Club Drosselmeyer. The bandstands were back along with their musicians. The dancers tore up the floor and the singers belted tunes. Everything felt the same, with a couple of improvements:

First, Herr Drosselmeyer had moved from his second floor perch overlooking the festivities to a large table at stage right. This remedied one of the bottlenecks of past years. 

Second, the massive Army and Navy banners looked great. I found them catching my eye multiple times throughout the evening… which is saying something because there was a lot to see. 

Our team puzzling hard.
(Left to right) Lisa’s parents Alan & Eva, Lisa, Theresa

Gameplay

Each year Club Drosselmeyer’s creators put a new spin on their gameplay. 

The core of the event remains the same: participants could puzzle, swing dance, drink, socialize, interact, or simply watch everything play out. 

The shift in 1941 came from the overall structure of the puzzle game. This year there were three distinct paths to follow and an assortment of side quests. This shift maintained the overall feel of Club Drosselmeyer, while streamlining the flow of the gameplay. 

Analysis

➕ The singing, dancing, music, and vibe of Club Drosselmeyer was as wonderful as it had ever been. 

➕ The puzzles played well, resolved cleanly, and presented a challenging puzzle hunt-style game that made us earn whatever intel we received. 

❓ This year’s puzzle game was considerably more challenging than those of previous years. The upcoming performances run will drop one of the more difficult puzzles to make the game more competitive. This is the right call, in my opinion. 

➕ Club Drosselmeyer’s unique and wide-open “take in the experience however you wish” approach is a beautiful thing. There’s something for just about anyone.

➕/➖ The acting was greatly improved from the previous years. There were still moments that didn’t land quite right, but the hit/miss ratio was shifted significantly since last year. 

➕ The new structure simplified the story and gameflow, and shrunk wait times for interactions to a more than acceptable minimum. 

➕/➖ For your own good, I’m blurting out a vague spoiler here for anyone who has played in past years: Just as the structure was different, so was the alignment of one major character who I had no desire to work with due to his past behavior. I didn’t fully appreciate how significantly his character had changed until the end of the experience. Someone deserves a second third chance. I disliked the guy so much in past years that I couldn’t see his character development happening until hindsight had kicked in. 

❓ In actor-driven games, we frequently feel conflicted between paying attention to a performer and solving puzzles. That struggle was more present this year because we had more to solve. As much as I love the challenge of Club Drosselmeyer, there’s a part of me that wishes that I could spend a little more time dancing and taking in the show while playing competitively. 

➕ The expansion of side quests added an additional lower-stakes, lower-difficulty series of challenges. 

➖ I couldn’t tell the difference between side quests and main quests until I was deep in the game. 

➕ The introduction of the Boston Police Commissioner as a character was fantastic. He opened up a whole new gameplay thread for less-puzzley players who wanted to focus on actor interactions. 

➕ I really enjoyed the concluding sequence. It felt right for the story and was well acted. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: I encourage taking mass transit, taxi, or ride sharing.
  • Food: There are ample food options in the neighborhood.

Grab one of the few remaining tickets to this week’s Club Drosselmeyer 1941, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mission Escape Games – Operation End of Days [Review]

Operation End of Days

A new beginning.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 6, 2018

Team size: up to 8 (note that they have two copies of the game, so you could have twice that many and play head to head); we recommend 2-3 per copy

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Operation End of Days looked great and played wonderfully. As the first game in Mission Escape Games’ new Midtown location, it set a high bar.

Mission Escape Games has developed a keen skill for silky smooth gameflow.

Operation End of Days was designed specifically to onboard new players. While the beginning and the ending could be further refined, it was the right amount of not-too-hard. As the current record holder in this game, I can comfortably declare that it was wonderfully fun even when flying through it.

Whether you like escape games, are escape room-curious, or you’re on the fence about them… give Operation End of Days a try. 

In-game: a corner of Operation End of Days.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (and a great beginner game!)
  • Players who are comfortable playing in low lighting

Why play?

  • Great puzzle flow
  • Sound design
  • Immersive environment

Story

Humanity was facing the end of the world. All previous attempts to end the calamity had failed. We were the last plan, the last hope. We had to create the “final element” to succeed.

In-game: A a series of switches, and a large control panel.

Setting

We entered a detailed, weathered, and beautiful, yet grim bunker. It was filled with machinery and piping. 

Mission Escape Games’ set design has come a long way since the early days of the IKEA-furnished Art Studio, 4 years ago. Operation End of Days ranks among Manhattan’s most elegant escape room sets. 

In-game: a metal box connected by pipes.

Gameplay

Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: a series of switches. One of them is green, the other 9 are blue.

Analysis

➕ It was intensely atmospheric. The gamespace was dramatically lit, albeit dimly. The sound effects brought the space to life. (Note, it was not scary.) Operation End of Days had a drab (by design) end-of-the-world atmosphere with flairs of color.

➖ The monitor was excessively bright against the dim gamespace. The font choice was particularly hard to read against the bright background. Softening the screen aesthetics may be a nitpick, but it would significantly improve this escape room by making it easier to read the game clock and clues. 

➕  Operation End of Days was hearty and solidly constructed.

➕ In building Operation End of Days, Mission Escape Games accommodated the oddities of the building, working these into their apocalyptic environment. We never felt that the confines of a New York City office building location compromised the game’s design.

➕ Mission Escape Games used inexpensive components elegantly. They may not have cost a lot, but they looked polished. The construction and design came together wonderfully and supported the puzzle play well.

In-game: A series of pipes connection boxes.

➖ The starting place likely won’t be obvious to new players who don’t know the standard mechanics of an escape room gamespace. Since this game was designed specifically to engage muggles, augmenting this beginning so that it unambiguously called out “start here” to newbies would help get the fun rolling.

Operation End of Days flowed beautifully. The largely linear puzzle design made it accessible for newer players, but no less fun for those with experience. 

➖ One puzzle felt unrefined and bottlenecked. With larger teams, this would likely become immensely frustrating.

➕ We particularly enjoyed a layered puzzle that combined typical escape room inputs in atypical ways.

➖We would have appreciated a meatier final puzzle. There was a distinct final interaction, but it felt a little anemic for a finale. 

➕ We regularly tell creators that a great game designed for newbies can still be immensely satisfying for experienced players. Operation End of Days was one of those games. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Mission Escape Games has moved! They are now located in midtown. Take the A/C/E subway to Penn Station or Port Authority.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger for a post-game meal.

Book your hour with Mission Escape Games’ Operation End of Days, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mission Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Download Free, Famous, & High Resolution Art

The Art Institute of Chicago’s website now offers an online gallery of downloadable art… and a ton of it is easily recognizable.

Rustic blue walled bedroom painted in van Gogh's signature impressionistic style.

Use In Escape Rooms

Whether you’re looking to create an art heist, hide a message in a painting, or simply add art to the space, there are plenty of uses for this gallery in escape room design.

Notable Works

There are a lot of iconic works in this gallery including:

Copyright

Much of the work is in the public domain, so you’re completely free to print, edit, or do anything you like, even for commercial purposes. That said, not all of it has crossed the public domain threshold, so check the copyright notice on each work of art.

To make things easier, I applied the “Public Domain” search filter to this link.

Or you can view the full gallery; it is lovely.

Via Lifehacker

Listen Online: Talking Escape Rooms on Cincinnati Public Radio, WVXU

Cincinnati Edition

We’re heading to Cincinnati at the end of the month to visit family and play escape rooms (in that order). 

91.7 WVXU Cincinnati logo

On The Air

In advance of the trip, we had the opportunity to record an interview with Dan Hurley of Cincinnati Public Radio, WVXU. We teased the interview before it aired. Here is the link to listen.

This conversation opened up with the basics, but ended up covering some serious subjects.

Escape Rooms: Why All The Hype?

Interview

We’ve been giving our new audio recording rig a serious workout by putting out a bunch more podcast-y content. To make it easier to take it in, we’ve provided timestamp breakdowns of the discussion. 

We hope you enjoy.

00:00 – Dan Hurley’s introduction

00:51 – What’s an escape room? 

01:48 – Escape room history and evolution  

02:35 – Escape room tourism 

03:28 – US escape room industry scale 

04:15 – Escape rooms are about playing. Can you learn through them?

04:44 – Corporate and family groups… what do these group dynamics reveal?

07:35 – How often do we lose and why do we lose?

08:47 – What makes for a good game?

10:02 –  One of Lisa’s favorite escape room experiences (Escape My Room, New Orleans, LA)

11:23 – What is a puzzle in an escape room context?

13:15 – The importance of diversity of thought in escape room success

14:50 – One of David’s favorite escape room experiences (Strange Bird Immersive, Houston, TX)

16:30 – How does local culture effect escape room design?

18:50 – Are there escape rooms that pull from history and explore concepts like slavery? 

22:00 – Who is the audience for escape rooms?

From the Same Episode

The same episode of the Cincinnati Edition also included a piece on Twilight Zone creator, Rod Serling, as well as a new book about him: 

Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination

I adore Serling’s work, so I’m pretty interested in this book. 

Lisa & David Visit the REDivas Podcast

It’s become a holiday tradition that we visit the Room Escape Divas podcast in December. In today’s episode we talk about our latest news, tease some upcoming awesomeness, and discuss many other things (all relating to escape rooms!). This is a conversation among friends, with some deep musings on game design in the mix.

Room Escape Divas Episode 80 – The Escape Room Scene with Room Escape Artist

Thank you, Errol and Manda, for the lovely discussion. It’s always a pleasure!

Room Escape Divas Present "The Escape Romm Scene with Room Escape Artist." Image features us with Manda wearing yellow raincoats on a fishing boat.
Amazing post-game photo via Escape Room Zandvoort

New Microphone Setup

In related news, we have greatly improved our microphone setup… So listening to us should be a more pleasurable experience. 

Conversation Cheatsheet

00:01:45Patreon, expansion, and publication schedules

00:04:30 – Kickstarter & crowdfunding 

00:06:00 – 4 years of REA and the process of making our first video

00:06:45 – Children in escape rooms. David misremembers how he first met Errol… and Errol corrects him.

00:10:00 – Project management with Trello & our stash of content ideas

00:11:40 – Bringing on new writers (Steve Ewing & Sarah Willson), paying them, and the REA Style Guide 

00:14:30 – Our new monthly News Bulletin

00:16:30 – Patreon perks, why ours are set up as they are, and planning for success in crowdfunding

00:22:21 – Errol tells a story about how he’s dumb.

00:24:00 – 2018 Holiday Buyers Guide and some of our favorite gifts for it

00:31:45 – Announcing the 2018 Golden Lock-In Awards live, the best post-game photos ever, and how David saved Manda in Amsterdam

00:36:50 – Suspension of disbelief

00:41:15 – Our wild experience at Escape Woods

00:46:55 – Puzzle complexity, immersion, and pacing

00:52:10 – Establishing expectations, “the curve of judgment,” and horror vs “horror”

 00:56:38 – Designing for what you can build well

00:59:00 – Being picky or forgiving about the limitations of what a company can legally do within their physical space

01:00:10 Taking phones and charging phones… and why forced surrender of mobile devices still angers David

01:04:40 – Do any escape rooms still lock players in?

01:06:48 – Do not touch stickers

01:13:22 – What it’s like playing with Errol

01:18:45 – Teasing the next Escape Immerse Explore Tour

01:19:26 – 2019 conferences that we’re attending, meetups, real life community interaction, and escape room travel

01:23:40 – Where is the escape room industry going in 2019?

01:31:00 – The importance of community in the industry

01:32:00 – The notion of first- and second-wave escape room enthusiasts

01:36:20 – We all torment Manda while she tries to deliver the conclusion of the podcast.

Listen to the Conversation

Room Escape Divas Episode 80 – The Escape Room Scene with Room Escape Artist

Tune in for the a Livestream of the 4th Annual Golden Lock-In Awards

On January 2, 2019 we will publish the 2018 Golden Lock-In Award winners.

But we won’t publish this at 10:01am Eastern.

This year, we will be livestreaming the Golden Lock-In Award announcement in the evening. Tune in at 8:30pm Eastern to hear us talk a bit about the games that are winning this award.

The official posting of the winners will publish on January 2, 2019, immediately following the live broadcast.

2018 Golden Lock-In Award features an open REA padlock with a golden ring around it.

What to Expect

  • Time: 8:30pm Eastern
  • Duration: Less than 30 minutes
  • We’ll publish a link in advance of the broadcast and share it all over

Should I Tune in?

Yes. We’ll be highlighting some incredible escape rooms.

We’ll be telling the story of our favorite escape rooms we played in 2018. In the broadcast, we’ll give you a bit more context around the list of winners.

The Golden Lock-In awards won’t be the only announcement that day… We have other news to share. 

Wait, what are you talking about?

This will be the fourth year we announce the winners of the Golden Lock-In Award. For more information about the award, check out our announcements of the past winners:

Exit Escape Room NYC – Operation Dive [Review]

Dive into the deep end.

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: November 27, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $38 per player

Ticketing: Public & Private options

REA Reaction

Exit Escape Room NYC’s third game, Operation Dive, had a small yet detailed set, and strong challenging puzzles. 

We had access to almost all of the game’s mechanisms from the first moment. We enjoyed unraveling the mystery that was how to operate the submarine, but the incredible level of access also came at a price: this new game showed a lot of wear. I hope that Exit Escape Room NYC is up to the challenge of maintaining it. It’s a lovely game. 

Operation Dive is a wonderful game to play if you feel comfortable playing escape rooms. If you’re a newbie, this one will be a bit bewildering; play High Speed NYC first. Both are high quality games, but the earlier one is quite a bit more forgiving. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A sonar station and periscope are in view.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Puzzles that reveal themselves as you play
  • Satisfying physical interactions
  • Fun submarine environment

Story

With a hostile submarine attempting to attack New York City, the Pentagon had called upon us to fire up a decommissioned World War II-era submarine, identify the target, and destroy it. 

In-game: Main electrical panel, disabled.

Setting

We entered a small submarine set filled with pipes, gauges, maps, and bunks.  The set was compact, but detailed. Some parts looked great. 

In-game: The bridge of the submarine. A map glows green.

Gameplay

Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

The challenge stemmed from a nonlinear design where the puzzle components were mounted into the set and available from the opening moments of play.

In-game: Ballast Tank gauge.

Analysis

➕ The set looked nifty. It was detailed. It had a submarine vibe, complete with gadgets that were interactive, but not overwhelming.

➕ Exit Escape Room NYC hid the puzzles in plain sight. Once we discovered how items intertwined, the level of difficulty dropped a bit. The challenge was largely in understanding how to interact with the game, which we enjoyed.

➖ We couldn’t always tell whether we’d completed an interaction. The addition of more puzzle feedback, to help players understand whether or not they’ve completely solved a puzzle, would significantly improve for Operation Dive.

➖ The set and props showed too much wear. This included some finicky tech and disappointing prop breakage. I suspect that giving players immediate access to a lot of interactions and no knowledge of how to approach the puzzles means that a lot of players are hard on this escape room. Operation Dive hadn’t been open very long when we visited and we couldn’t help but think it was really banged up.

 Operation Dive was well themed. The set and puzzles were submarine-esque.

➕ The small and narrow set worked because it was a submarine. This was a smart setting selection given Exit Escape Room NYC’s spatial constraints. 

➕ There were some lovely thematic puzzles in this Operation Dive. They were tangible, satisfying solves.

➕/➖  Operation Dive attempted to tell a story. This delivered some fun and thematic moments. While some of the nuance of the story came through clearly as we were playing, the most interesting bits only became apparent when we were analyzing the game after we’d escaped. Operation Dive felt more like a thematic adventure than a story-driven experience. Overall, the narrative was of mixed quality, but generally better than most. 

➕ With timed use of tech, Exit Escape Room NYC trigged great moments. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Exit Escape Room NYC is easily accessible on public transportation.
  • We recommend Black Iron Burger (across the street).

Book your hour with Exit Escape Room NYC’s Operation Dive, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Exit Escape Room NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Cabin [Review]

Murder on a film set of a murder. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 11, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $22.50 per month

REA Reaction

From the installment that we’ve played from Deadbolt Mystery Society, it seems they are delivering on the subscription model better than most. It’s tough to crank out subscription puzzle games. It takes a lot of thought and effort to pull together gameplay, narrative, and production on a rapid and constantly looping deadline. 

That doesn’t mean that The Cabin was refined. The Cabin had a sprawling story with a ton of forgettable characters and no gating. It was a bit of a free-for-all at the onset. After we got over the initial surprise, we settled in and honestly enjoyed the puzzles.

I can’t speak to Deadbolt Mystery Society’s larger subscription program at this point, but this was a solid episode from a subscription. If you’re a puzzle-focused player who wants regular tabletop puzzle play, this one might be worth a try. 

In-game: The open box, an assortment of puzzle documents and a pin.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  •  Solid puzzles
  • Regular publication

Story

Decades ago a series of gruesome murders had been committed at Camp Echo. Now a horror movie was being shot at the site of the killings. During filming, the murders started happening again. 

Had the murderer returned? Or was this a copycat? We needed to examine the evidence and solve the mystery before more people died.

The box of The Cabin.

Setup

We cracked open the box that we had received in the mail and found a great many documents pertaining to the past and more recent murders at Camp Echo. We needed to parse through all of the papers, match up the items that belonged together, and then puzzle through their meanings. 

There wasn’t any gating within this game. We started with access to everything that we would have at the conclusion of the game. 

In-game: an assortment of puzzle papers.

Gameplay

Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was an atypical subscription-based play-at-home escape game with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around reading, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ The Cabin contained a lot of great puzzle content.

➖ The puzzles were buried within tons of papers, all of which were immediately accessible. Without gating, The Cabin felt initially overwhelming with no clear starting place or direction. We played The Cabin on a pretty large table, but constantly left like we were drowning in papers.

➕ Once we got past the initial volume of content, Deadbolt Mystery Society clued which in-play elements needed to go together. This worked well and gave us a way to approach the mystery.

➖ There was a lot of reading material. It felt like a chore rather than a way to connect with the characters and their stories. With so many characters, it was hard to keep them straight and impossible to be invested in their situation. We wanted to solve the mystery because it was a puzzle, but we didn’t care who lived or died.

➕/➖  Deadbolt Mystery Society had an excellent concept. Although The Cabin needed gating and focus, with a bit more direction, it could definitely have created meaningful character/ mystery connections for the players.

❓ The price is a value judgment. The product isn’t refined or fancy. You’re paying for the rapid production and fulfillment. I can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing; it’s individual choice. 

❓ Subscription games are tough to fulfill. We commend Deadbolt Mystery Society for delivering a monthly subscription with quality puzzles and interesting concepts. Because of the pace of production, subscription games easily devolve into mounds of paper and Deadbolt Mystery Society had a bit of that going on too. From what we’ve seen thus far, it’s the nature of the beast.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: We recommend a larger table or floor space.
  • Required Gear: Fixion pens, Boogie Boards, or more generic writing supplies.

Subscribe to Deadbolt Mystery Society, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was a previous month’s episode and it is now sold out. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Deadbolt Mystery Society provided us a free reviewer’s copy of The Cabin.

(If you purchase via our Cratejoy links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Reminder: Meet us in Boston

We will be in Boston this weekend. If you live in or around Boston, or you’re also traveling to Boston, we’d love to meet you!

Stylized ariel photo of Boston.

Details

  • Sunday, December 16
  • 10:30am – 1:00pm (yes this is in the morning)
  • Talk at 11:00am
  • Room Escapers (3 School St, Boston, MA 02108 inside The Old Corner Bookstore)
  • Please bring a food or beverage to share (no alcohol)
  • Note that there is no elevator at this location.

For additional details, see the Boston Escape Room Fan Shingdig announcement.

RSVP

Please RSVP on Facebook or by contacting us.

Escape Rooms & Events

If you can’t make the meetup, you might still see us around. We’ve booked a number of escape rooms in and around Boston during this brief weekend trip. Also, we’ll be attending Club Drosselmeyer on Sunday evening.

Do Not Touch: Why These Stickers Are Flawed

I stumbled up on a video that explored the creation of the radiation and biohazard symbols.

In addition to some compelling history, this video posed an interesting question: 

Can we create a universal warning symbol that will last forever?

Personally I think that the answer is no… but that’s besides the point. 

All of this got me thinking about danger symbols in escape rooms and the common “do not touch” sticker.

Common Danger Symbols

Context is everything… and universality isn’t a thing with symbols. 

In an escape room, symbols for radiation, biohazard, high voltage, or the classic Jolly Roger communicate nothing but setting.

If someone were to put actually hazardous materials in an escape room and label them appropriately… everyone who played the game would die. There is an assumed safety. It’s normal to assume that anything threatening is there for immersion’s sake…

Unless that symbol is a “do not touch” symbol. 

A mixing board that is messily labeled, "DO NOT TOUCH OR SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN TO YOU."
I’ve been hanging onto this photo for years.

Do Not Touch!

Do not touch stickers are a fairly common escape room mechanic where a sticker applied to a prop signifies that the item is in one way or another out of play.

These stickers come in different varieties including colored dot stickers, the company’s logo, the classic hand in a circle icon, and tape that has the words “Do Not Touch” on it. 

Since these stickers first started appearing in early escape rooms, these symbols have been fraught with problems.

An electrical outlet with a blue do not touch sticker.

Fuzzy Meaning

Does “do not touch” mean, this item is completely out of play? Or does it contain visual information, but I do not need to touch it to find that information?

After playing some 700 escape rooms, I still ask to clarify the meaning of a “do not touch symbol” in an escape room. The meaning changes from company to company and sometimes even from game to game within one location. 

For those of us who actively try to follow the rules, sometimes this is difficult to do. 

A sharp torture implement hanging from a wooden wall, with blood painted onto the edge.
In this game, “the blood means ‘do not touch.'”

Visual Identification 

Sometimes these symbols are easy to miss. Maybe they are a tiny blip on a large object. Maybe I’m thoroughly in the zone and I don’t see it. 

On multiple occasions, I’ve been guilty of not seeing a “do not touch” symbol until after I’ve already touched. (I always feel bad.)

Similarly, I’ve been in rooms where most of the wall hangings have “do not touch” stickers on them, but one or two don’t (because they are in play)… but I looked at the ones that I could interact with first and then assumed that all of the wall hangings were in play. 

One thing to remember when gamemastering for “do not touch” violations is tone and word choice. It sucks when a gamemaster assumes that the player touching something with a “do not touch” sticker is dumb or deliberately breaking the rules. There’s a difference between a player deliberately prying something open and player confusion.

A prop with a with a blue do not touch sticker.
The sticker almost gets lost among the screws.

Immersive Damage

On the flip side, if the “do not touch” symbols are too big, too numerous, or too ugly, they can damage the aesthetic appeal of the game. 

Sure, there’s no excuse for missing the symbol… but at what cost? 

Inconsistency

I’ve been in games where a red dot sticker signified do not touch, but once I started playing, I saw an entire rainbow of dot stickers. Did they all mean “do not touch” or was it just the red ones? Is this a puzzle? A test? Or shoddy craftsmanship? 

The answer is almost always the latter… but nevertheless it’s confusing and it undermines the intent behind the symbol. 

Suggested Solutions

I have a few suggestions to mitigate these problems: 

Build Stronger

It’s easy to say, but hard to do. Build it better… especially if it is a core piece of game functionality. 

It’s baffling when the most interesting and important interactions are also the ones that we’re not supposed to handle. Escape rooms are a tactile adventure… or at least they are supposed to be. 

Hide the wires and anything else that we might be able to unplug, disconnect, or break. 

If your local code will allow you to cover outlets, do it. 

Draw Attention Deliberately

A lot of the “do not touch” stickers that we find are on props that are only in the game for ambiance. 

One sure sign of a weak game is useless decor that looks more interesting than the actual game mechanisms. It’s games like these that are usually overflowing with “do not touch” symbols because the things that we players want to touch and fiddle with are useless… and it’s easier to accidentally break a curious object that has no purpose than one that clearly has intent. 

Be Clear

If you need to use a “do not touch” symbol, use it sparingly and clearly. Define specifically what it means.

I personally prefer these symbols to mean that the flagged item is completely out of play because it means that players aren’t forced to parse meaning at all. 

Red Master Lock 410 beside its brass key and a quarter for size reference.

If you’re going to use a lock for reset or gamemaster access purposes, consider a lock that looks nothing like anything else in play. I am a fan of these Master Lock 410s.

I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with flagging something, but do it smartly, do it cleanly, and make sure that it’s effective.

As a thank you to our Patreon backers, we shared this post with them early and asked for their input! Please consider supporting us on Patreon.