Keys are typically little pieces of brass. While this alloy of zinc and copper has many virtues, one of the drawbacks is that it will fatigue and tear with over- or mis-use.
When a key breaks, it almost always breaks inside of a lock.
In this situation, you can call a locksmith and have them extract the broken key. This, however, is usually like calling a plumber to pump a plunger in your toilet for a few seconds. Key extractors are inexpensive and simple to operate.
Broken keys will still work (probably)
If a key breaks in a lock, you can usually push the broken piece into the lock with whatever remains in your hand and turn the lock. Yes, broken keys will frequently work.
The problem then becomes getting the broken bit out. Pushing that broken piece deeper into the lock to open it only makes it harder to reach.
Even if the lock still works with a segment of broken key in it, you’re going to need to remove it. That broken piece might not continue to work and if it does work, it is compromising your security.
Key extractors come in all sorts of shapes, but there are two common forms: harpoons and hooks. Both are tiny and sharp.
Both forms of extractors have their virtues and can get the job done. Most locks found in residences and escape rooms within the United States have wide-open keyways, so the shape of your extractor doesn’t matter so much. It only matters that it’s tiny and sharp.
To operate a key extractor, stick it into the keyway, push all of the pins up as high as they’ll go with the extractor. Try to get one of the sharp prongs to hook a key bit, Then pull it out.
For a visual lesson, the incredibly knowledgable and talented Bosnianbill explained and demonstrated this in a video:
Damn near every other thing that you’d call a locksmith for requires some level of skill (and frequently a lot of skill). Extracting keys is usually a simple process… unless it isn’t and things are all messed up… Then call a professional.
Good extractor options
Most people probably do not need a key extractor, but escape rooms should absolutely have them handy. Key extraction is better than bolt cutting a padlock or disassembling a door lock.
Key extractors are like screwdrivers. You can buy them in sets and then grab the one that best fits the lock at hand.
I keep a set of Peterson Saw-Tooth Extractors in my pick kit. The set cost $20, was manufactured in the United States, and works well. Incidentally these key extractors also work well for removing micro sim cards from micro SD ports.
If you’re dealing with narrow keyways particularly common of European locks, or you want additional options, a German-made Multipick Extractor-Set 4 pieces ELITE set would be a great option. This will run you €28.
Whatever you do, do not buy a key extractor or any other locksmithing tools on Amazon. For reasons that are not particularly clear to me, basically all of the lockpicks and related tools sold on Amazon are garbage.
kill mess with Hitler’s things!
Location: Edina, Minnesota
Date played: August 21, 2017
Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $30 per ticket
Story & setting
It was the closing days of the World War II’s European Campaign and we were given one last mission: break into Adolph Hitler’s bunker and escape with his plans.
The WW2 Bunker’s set looked 1940s bunker-esque with a decisively Nazi flair. There was a historically accurate world map along with a portrait of Hitler and a red Nazi flag. There was a fair amount of attention to detail, but it was clear to us that this escape room was absolutely NOT celebrating Hitler or Nazi Germany. (I feel like it’s important to definitively state this.)
IRL committed to producing a room escape that explored history through puzzling and they largely achieved that. The puzzles were challenging and deeply tied to both the environment and historical facts.
In The WW2 Bunker, IRL Escape paid close attention to the historical accuracy of many of their props and puzzles. This included maps from the era as well as reasonably accurate means of communication and cryptography for the time.
I kind of respect IRL Escape’s boldness in designing a game around Hitler’s bunker and not visually sugarcoating it. Literally the first thing that I saw upon entering was a swastika. It wasn’t welcoming, but in a strange way, I greatly preferred this to being in a generic and sterilized “dictator’s bunker.”
This section is long. It isn’t because The WW2 Bunker was horrible so much as because its flaws were interesting.
Parts of the set needed more upkeep and maintenance. A hot maglock that was attached with an adhesive literally ejected from its housing when a door popped.
This is also revealed by imagery on IRL Escape’s website: The WW2 Bunker used a functionally accurate recreation of the German Enigma machine. This beautiful piece was one of Mark Tessier’s Enigma replicas. He let me borrow one for an evening last year at the Room Escape Conference in Chicago and I saw firsthand how incredible they are. This device was not ideal for an escape room environment. It was complicated. While I think that IRL Escape implemented it almost as simply as they possibly could have, it still came with a lot of written instructions which we misinterpreted… probably because I knew how the thing worked going in. The other issue here was that in simplifying it down so much, the device also lost what made it special in the first place. If you didn’t know how it worked going in, it was just a cool-looking and finicky keyboard cypher tool.
It’s time to address the Reich in the room. I’ve written previously on the subject of politically sensitive topics in general and concluded that if an escape room creator was committed to conveying history, I think that it would be possible to create something special with the escape room medium. The WW2 Bunker got halfway there. IRL Escape built a lot of accurate history into this escape room’s story, but they fixated on incredibly strange minutia about people like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, as well as Hitler’s bunker itself. All of those factoids about their personality quirks were strangely humanizing, but I am 99% certain that this was an accident. All of these nitpicked details were carefully conveyed at the expense of the larger historical context. We were spies seeking to learn Hitler’s plans, which in the game were of global domination… but by the time he was battening down the hatches of the bunker in which he eventually killed himself, he had no global plans. He had already lost war, was under the influence of heavy narcotics, and was giving orders to armed forces that no longer existed.
This is all to say that IRL Escape had and still does have an opportunity to use The WW2 Bunker to show the scale of the damage that the Third Reich did to their own people as well as enemy forces in the final death throes of the war.
Additionally, a number of the puzzles for The WW2 Bunker were buried deep in historical minutia. There were many times where we absolutely could not tell whether we were looking at facts for facts’ sake or in-game puzzles.
Should I play IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker?
Neither Lisa nor I found The WW2 Bunker offensive. It was clear to us that IRL Escape created this escape room with devotion to conveying history. There was nothing malicious about it whatsoever and it has potential. It needs a ton of editing and a little rethinking about the larger historical context of Hitler’s bunker at the end of the War. I believe that IRL could get there. There is value in using gameplay to explore dark periods in history.
In its current state, The WW2 Bunker is an interesting game for experienced players who are not turned off by the subject matter. This was an escape room loaded with unique design decisions, some of which worked and some of which could use some work.
The puzzle flow, subject matter, and quirks of the game are a little too rough to recommend that new players visit The WW2 Bunker.
Choose your team carefully, as there are people in our lives that we know for certain would not be thrilled to play a game in the shadow of Hitler and a swastika.
Book your hour with IRL Escape’s The WW2 Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: IRL Escape comped our tickets for this game.
The power of an endearing hint system.
Location: New York City, New York
Date played: August 2, 2017 (David) & September 14, 2017 (Lisa)
Team size: 6-12; we recommend 4-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $29 per ticket
Story & setting
It was the year 2053 and we were making first contact with alien life. They had beamed us aboard a ship and had presented us with a series of challenges to prove humanity’s worth.
The set of Alien Encounter was interesting. Designed as a spaceship, it was large by Midtown Manhattan standards. Upon initial reveal it looked impressive, but with up-close interaction, many of the set pieces looked cobbled together and unrefined.
Clue Chase creates puzzle-dense escape rooms and Alien Encounter was no exception. There were a lot of puzzles and many of them had a few layers of complexity. Each puzzle was connected to an early pivotal puzzle.
Clue Chase created a really smart hint system for Alien Encounter. It brought personality to the gameplay. It also enabled the gamemaster to subtly focus us on critical steps, which was important in the large gamespace.
I truly enjoyed the way that Clue Chase tied nearly all of their puzzles together. The room may have been a collection of largely unrelated puzzles, but this one act made them feel cohesive.
The finale was fun.
The initial feeling that I had when stepping onto the set was otherworldly.
I wish that the otherworldly feeling that the set instilled had continued throughout the escape room. It fell apart when I started to touch things and could easily identify the hacked together hardware that Clue Chase used to built the set.
While many of the puzzles played well, one of them could easily be interpreted in multiple different ways. We found ourselves having to systematically yet blindly try different approaches… and when we stumbled upon the correct solution we weren’t even sure why it worked. The explanation that we received post-game was that we had to use “non-human logic.” This could have been ok with adequate clue structure. Plus, there were plenty of puzzles that did use typical human logic.
Alien Encounter cannot accommodate 12 people. While there was physical space for 12 and then some, there wasn’t enough gameplay. At multiple points, Alien Encounter was entirely linear. The hint system exacerbated this design decision. While newer teams will likely want a larger group, 12 is a few too many.
Should I play Clue Chase’s Alien Encounter?
Of the 4 escape rooms currently available at Clue Chase, Alien Encounter was the most interesting. It had personality and fun game mechanics that I haven’t seen before… and they worked.
It was not a perfect game, but with some set design improvements as well as refinements in puzzle flow, this could be a truly fantastic game.
Experienced puzzlers will find Alien Encounter a challenging opponent. Regardless of your level of experience, don’t be afraid to experiment or take a hint. Not everything was thoroughly clued.
One last note on team size and booking: You physically need 4 people at one point in the game and Clue Chase advertises the minimum at 6 people. I call this out because a few people have written in mentioning that Clue Chase cancelled their reservations near the last minute. This happened to us twice when booking Alien Encounter, even though we always met the minimum number of people. In over 400 games, this is the only company that has ever canceled on us multiple times.
If you’re looking for a challenging game with interesting design decisions, Alien Encounter is a solid choice. I hope that if you choose to book with Clue Chase, they will choose to honor your booking.
Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Alien Encounter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Howdy, if you are thinking about attending our NYC tour, Escape, Immerse, Explore, today is your final day to purchase tickets.
We have to close sales so that we can solve the big optimization puzzle of team building and scheduling.
Attendees of the tour get a whole lot of games that guarantee far smaller teams than you’ll typically get in New York City games.
We hope to see you there.
If you are a wealthy eccentric who wants to hide your fortune in an escape room… please call us. Seriously.
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date played: August 20, 2017
Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-5
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $26 per ticket
Story & setting
Wealthy Mr. Abernathy hated his lazy children, so he willed his fortune to the first people smart enough to solve the mystery he had left in his home.
Inheritance looked like an elegant but stuffy Victorian home. The dark wood surroundings felt compelling and matched the condescension that oozed from Mr. Abernathy in his video will.
The puzzling in Inheritance required keen observation and attention to detail. We needed to closely examine everything within the set and determine how to draw meaningful connections between objects.
The set of Inheritance felt like a mansion in which some distinguished old guy could have hidden his fortune. The space had a presence.
We especially liked the more layered puzzling later in this escape room.
Throughout Inheritance, we were surrounded by multiple locks of similar digit structure. Especially early on, as we worked to determine which details might be relevant, this led to a lot of time spent inputting possible solutions around the room, rather than forward progress.
In some instances, a little more cluing would have been helpful to avoid the search and re-search that can become frustrating. Inheritance would be a more engaging room escape with an extra puzzle or two and less scavenging.
Should I play Mission Manor’s Inheritance?
For Inheritance, we stepped into the Mission Manor’s manor. We enjoyed the gamespace and the gameplay as we puzzled our way to a hidden fortune.
Inheritance relied on many common escape room tropes and game mechanics. We observed, searched, connected, and unlocked our way through.
We recommend Inheritance primarily to newer players who will likely find a few delightful surprises. It will be challenging, but approachable.
Mission Manor scores each team, win or lose, so you can see how well you did at different aspects of the escape room gameplay.
Considering the more traditional escape room structure and the scoring opportunity, more seasoned players might enjoy attempting an Inheritance speedrun.
Book your hour with Mission Manor’s Inheritance, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Mission Manor provided media discounted tickets for this game.
He’s a famous archeologist, but not *that* famous archeologist.
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date played: August 21, 2017
Team size: 6-8; we recommend 4-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $25 per ticket
Story & setting
Professor Jones had gone missing and we went on a treasure hunt of our own in his artifact- and puzzle-laden office.
Professor Jones’ Office was a study/ trophy collection. The set was filled with many familiar and unfamiliar relics from the past work of Professor Jones. Parts of the set were detailed while others were fairly bland or bare.
The puzzles were both big and small, some used more robust set pieces while others relied on finding minute details. In either case, the puzzles worked though the objects at hand.
We enjoyed multiple exciting actions and reveals. This included one cinematic callback and continued throughout the game in unexpected ways. We particularly enjoyed the final act.
Lock and Key Escape Rooms co-opted familiar tropes of the adventure-archeology genre and made these their own. What could easily have been a straight homage was instead a new adventure.
Professor Jones’ Office included a few larger interactive set pieces that gave the space character.
Professor Jones occupied a huge office and with few exceptions, he furnished it with unassuming pieces and a multitude of knickknacks. Because of this, the scale of the experience felt off.
While thematically relevant, Professor Jones’ notebook hampered game flow. It was yet another small object, and in this case one in rough shape, for dedicated individuals to pore over, one person at a time. We would have rather seen a creative nod to the archeologist’s journal and more integrated clueing.
Looks can be deceiving. There’s an interaction that could be dangerous to tall players, especially those focused on the gameplay.
Should I play Lock and Key Escape Rooms’s Professor Jones’ Office?
There was an adventure to uncover in Professor Jones’ Office. We experienced quite a few unusual and exciting moments in and around these artifacts.
We recommend this escape room to both newer players and more experienced players alike. Professor Jones’ Office flows well; newer players will likely find it challenging but approachable. More experienced players may have encountered more remarkable gamespaces of the adventure-archeology variety, but not always the same excitement in interactions.
Book your hour with Lock and Key Escape Rooms’s Professor Jones’ Office, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Lock and Key Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.
A charming lab of death.
Location: Williston, Vermont
Date played: August 6, 2017
Team size: 3-7; we recommend 4-5
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $25 per ticket
Story & setting
An evil doctor released a humanity-ending plague upon the world. It was up to our team of agents to break into his lab and secure the cure before time ran out.
The set had a fairly typical escape room lab aesthetic: off-white walls, bright fluorescent lights, scientific equipment, and lab coats. It wasn’t an intimidating or inspiring space, but it conveyed “lab” and presented the puzzles well.
The puzzles in Outbreak became increasingly involved as the game progressed. Many puzzles had unexpected – and welcome – layers of complexity.
Outbreak’s puzzles were well-themed and complex. The puzzles flowed well and created a few terrific moments.
Outbreak included both standard locks with different designs and digit structures and more advanced technology. This variety made each unlock exciting and usually helped us identify which lock would accept a solution.
Two particular puzzles were implemented beautifully. These moments really stood out to our team.
Escape Room 60 didn’t take itself too seriously. The audio introduction to the game was humorous and occasional in-game props included unobtrusive and amusing pop culture references. Our gamemaster was hilarious and witty; she was fantastic. “Feel free to laugh at our rules video… it gives me hope.”
Escape Room 60 had a hygienic, safe, and branded approach to blindfolds.
Given that the strength of Outbreak was in the puzzles and not the set design, the blindfolds seemed unnecessary. They didn’t add much to the experience because when we took them off, we hadn’t been transported to another world.
While the puzzles were on theme, they didn’t convey narrative or the urgency of our situation.
A couple of moments needed a bit more in-game cluing.
There was an auditory clue that we wished could have been replayed or looped. Thankfully our gamemaster promptly displayed the relevant information on the hint monitor.
Should I play Escape Room 60’s Outbreak?
Outbreak was a fun puzzle game. The puzzles were complex and flowed well. The puzzles created the memorable moments in this escape room.
Outbreak would be a challenging escape room for new players, but doable. More experienced players will have an easier time and will likely find a few of the puzzle implementations enjoyable.
Puzzles are the root of an escape room and Escape Room 60 has got that down. We hope they can take their escape rooms to the next level, integrating more set design and narrative elements into their solid puzzle game. They’re certainly on the right track.
Book your hour with Escape Room 60’s Outbreak, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Escape Room 60 comped our tickets for this game.
Puzzle Hard with a Vengeance
Location: Jersey City, NJ
Date played: August 11, 2017
Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-3
Duration: 120 minutes
Price: $32 per ticket
Story & setting
Downtown Countdown took us on a 2.5 mile walk through downtown Jersey City on a quest to disarm a bomb. Downtown Countdown was part scavenger hunt and part puzzle game.
Puzzle Out’s neighborhood of Jersey City was a fun area for a walking tour. We visited historic buildings, passed numerous restaurants and shops, and of course, took in the gorgeous waterfront view of New York City.
Downtown Countdown relied on the ClueKeeper smartphone app, designed for location-based clue hunts, to track our progress. While much of game was tracked in the app, Puzzle Out also provided us with a binder of useful information that was also integral to the gameplay. Downtown Countdown culminated in a physical escape room-esque finale.
Downtown Countdown started as a scavenger hunt where we simply had to puzzle out our next location. As the game progressed, the puzzles became increasingly complex. In addition to location, we solved for answers that earned us points in the app.
The puzzles relied heavily on observation as well as basic word and number skills.
Puzzle Out’s neighborhood was ideal for an outdoor puzzle hunt. We learned quite a bit about historic Jersey City. We played on a beautiful summer evening and the view of the city was spectacular.
We enjoyed how the later puzzles combined observation and calculation.
ClueKeeper was a great choice. It’s a well-designed and time-tested app created exactly for this type of game.
Downtown Countdown culminated in a tangible escape room-like series of activities that required teamwork and communication. It was well designed to instill a sense of urgency. This was an exciting way to end the game.
The difficulty curve of the puzzling seemed off. At first there were barely any puzzles. Then without warning, around the midpoint, the puzzles became pretty involved. In one instance, we thought additional clue structure would have been helpful.
At times, ClueKeeper was a little finicky about exact location. We couldn’t get it to register that we’d arrived at the final puzzle.
We would have loved to visit more of the businesses in downtown Jersey City. The almost entirely outdoor game seems like a missed opportunity for community building and cross marketing.
Some of ClueKeeper’s most interesting functionality was not used at all in Downtown Countdown. The app’s augmented reality feature works really well and could have improved this game.
Should I play Puzzle Out’s Downtown Countdown?
We enjoyed how Downtown Countdown merged a walking tour with a puzzle game. The puzzles weren’t too challenging, but they were enjoyable. It was a fun way to look at and learn about Jersey City.
We played Downtown Countdown on a warm evening with clear skies. Downtown Countdown took place almost entirely outdoors. If it had been cold or rainy, I don’t think this experience would have been quite as enjoyable. That said, I suppose we might have moved more quickly and thereby scored higher.
Over the course of Downtown Countdown, we walked 2.5 miles through city streets in a busy area. We needed to move swiftly, but also pay attention to traffic.
You don’t need to be a local to enjoy the game. You do, however, need to know how to read a map or follow instructions in the app.
It might appear that you could play Downtown Countdown entirely on the app, but take notes in the binder. Trust us, you’ll want the notes.
Happy puzzling and take a moment to enjoy the view along the waterfront.
Book your session with Puzzle Out’s Downtown Countdown, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Puzzle Out comped our tickets for this game.
ClueKeeper is an iOS & Android app for building and playing puzzle hunts.
ClueKeeper is best known as the interface for the annual international puzzle hunt, DASH (Different Area, Same Hunt) since its 6th event in 2014. It is also used by companies such as Shinteki, Palantir, and about 30-40 others to host public and private puzzle events.
Escape room puzzle hunts
Over the past few years a few escape room companies have begun using ClueKeeper as a way to create outdoor walking puzzle hunts.
2015 Golden Lock-in winner Locurio has a ClueKeeper-based puzzle hunt in Seattle. So do San Francisco’s incredibly popular Palace Games and Jersey City’s Puzzle Out, among a few other escape room companies all over the world.
A wide-area puzzle game is a fantastic idea, especially for escape room companies in walking cities in temperate climates. They are fun, engaging, and don’t require an elaborate set build; your beautiful city is the set.
ClueKeeper can facilitate a wide variety of puzzles and it works well at scale. The largest annual puzzle hunt in the world has relied on it for years… so they are clearly doing something right.
ClueKeeper can be used to create wide-area location-specific puzzle games that require walking about or location-non-specific games that can be played within the confines of a player’s own home.
Games can be created within the app. It was designed for testing and rapid iteration by incredibly talented puzzlers.
A puzzle hunt creator can build a game within ClueKeeper and then sell/distribute that game through the ClueKeeper puzzle hunt store.
ClueKeeper’s augmented reality capabilities are pretty damn cool. Gnome Invasion is a free tech demo of ClueKeeper’s augmented reality functionality available for download in-app. (Note that if you do not have access to the items that it is looking for, the app will respond to photographs.)
ClueKeeper essentially administers itself. Once the team has started a well-designed puzzle hunt, there isn’t much – if any – gamemaster support required.
The ClueKeeper team has produced a lot of documentation to help you get started and is available to provide support.
When you’re using ClueKeeper, you’re using ClueKeeper. The app cannot be re-skinned or themed in any way. If you’re striving for a deeply immersive experience, you’ll have to achieve this through the environments, game flow, and storytelling. The app will not visually change.
ClueKeeper’s GPS interpretation is subject to both physics and the limitations of an individual phone’s technology. If you’re in a bunker of a building or you’re experiencing some variance, it might have a hard time placing your exact position, which could cause problems with location-specific puzzles.
Should I use ClueKeeper?
If you love puzzles, you should absolutely download ClueKeeper. Try out some of the puzzle hunts that can be played in your own home. If there’s a location-based one near you, give it a shot. Your mileage will vary from hunt to hunt.
If you’re an escape room owner with a facility in a walkable area, you should try out a few puzzle hunts and see if this is the kind of thing that would appeal to you and your clientele. We love puzzle hunts and welcome the opportunity to play creative games on the platform.
If you’re going to create a puzzle hunt on ClueKeeper, I encourage you to be creative. Make sure that no two puzzles feel the same. Edit your writing down. Make use of as much of the functionality of the app as possible.
If you want to hire someone to professionally produce a puzzle hunt for you, the folks from ClueKeeper can make recommendations.
There are only 5 days remaining to purchase tickets for your NYC Escape Room Tour!
Join us November 3-4, 2017 for Escape Immerse Explore: NYC 2017, a tailored tour through many of New York City’s best escape rooms. Tickets are on sale now.
Ticket sales close on this Friday, September 22.
David will be speaking at WroEscape, the escape room conference in Wrocław, Poland from October 27-29th.
Featured escape rooms
If you’ve enjoyed reading about a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry, or watching movies about one, you’ll probably have fun in Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Very Potter Escape.
Riddle Room’s Utopia takes a concept that seemed boring at first and then truly surprised.
We do not recommend the haunted experience This is Real, now running in New York City.
Read our response to the Washington Post article Escape rooms: Either they are dumb, or I am that published earlier this week.
This week we reviewed Operation Escape, the second of three games for children available from Spy Code, and a lightweight inexpensive way to introduce kids to adventure puzzling.
From the community
Interested in a 33,600 piece jigsaw puzzle? It’s crazy to see someone assemble 35 lbs of puzzle into a 19 x 5 ft finished product.