Order Preservation in Escape Room Puzzles

We regularly answer questions that readers submit through our contact from. We’re trying something new and turning the answer into a post:

From Sarah W.

“I’ve been wondering this for a while: How often do you run into puzzles that can no longer be solved if you move certain items from their original state? This happened to me once, and I’ve been paranoid about it ever since, even though I don’t think I’ve run into that problem again. Do you think my paranoia is warranted??”

Order preservation paranoia

Sarah, I am all too familiar with that paranoia.

A couple years ago, puzzles that required players to preserve the order of objects were reasonably common.

If you were to rearrange the books on a shelf, pull out the drawers in a cabinet, or mix up some tarot cards, you could totally screw up your game.

In my case, this led me to stop other players from rearranging things, painstakingly memorize the order of objects, and on occasion, photograph objects with my phone in case I needed to recall the order of something particularly complex.

This behavior wasn’t fun for me and it wasn’t fun for my teammates.

Fortunately, order preservation puzzles have fallen out of fashion.

Watercolor of 13 playing cards fanned out on a table. They are all diamonds, and ordered from ace to king. The king depicts Will Wheaton.
Yeah that king is Wil Wheaton.

Order preservation puzzles suck for players

If players have to worry about maintaining the order of everything they find, it greatly diminishes their fun.

Whether you’re the person riding your team to keep things orderly, or the person being scolded for mucking up the order, no one is having fun.

Escape rooms are supposed to be about adventure and fun, not anal retentive organization.

Fortunately, escape room designers have figured this out.

Order preservation puzzles suck for escape room operators

Order preservation puzzles increase the burden of resetting a room.

Operators can’t just put books back on the shelf or lay the tarot cards on the table. If order matters, they need to get it right. If they don’t, they screw up the game for their players.

Let it go

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an order preservation puzzle without fail-safes.

Now these puzzles come permanently mounted in the right order or include a mechanism for determining order. Either way, the puzzle is always solvable.

At this point, if I encounter an order preservation puzzle, I’ll just burn a hint to get the order. I’m not going to let the threat of an order preservation puzzle get in the way of enjoying the game.


  1. I *loathe* order preservation puzzles.

    I once played a game where you found a handful of symbols around the room. One of them was inside a box, so we pulled it out to place it on the table with our other symbols.

    Only later in the game, when we encountered the second half of the puzzle, did we realize that this symbol represented two different things, depending on which way you oriented it.

    In regards to both this AND another puzzle element in the room that we unwittingly moved from its original location (LOOSE in the pages of a book), the game master smugly said, “I guess you should’ve paid attention when you found it.”


    You’re not making a better puzzle. You’re obfuscating the solution and making the entire game less fun. Buy some freaking super glue.

    1. I fully agree. I also hate the smug gamemasters. The ones who seem like they don’t want the players to succeed, and seem like they derive a weird sadistic pleasure from watching people lose.

  2. Ugh yeah, I’ve done several escape rooms and we always assume that unless something is glued down, order doesn’t matter. That’s generally the case. I’ve been paranoid during the first few that order would matter in a deck of scattered cards or a ticking clock (that obviously continues to change times while you play), but fortunately it hasn’t been a problem yet for me. A+ to those companies and F- to the ones you described, Summer!

  3. I did a room recently where a hint plainly said that if we mess up the order of the objects the hint was pointing to, then we’d be screwed—or something like that. Luckily we didn’t, and that even if we had, it would only be a three digit combo we’d have to go through to figure out the correct one, but I can only imagine how frustrating it’d be if there were more elements to it!

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