… or if they are, the puzzles are dumb.
When you enter an escape room, suddenly every object in the environment carries more weight. There are layers of meaning that the “real world” doesn’t generally have.
Is that a clue? Or is that background noise?
Every game is different, but these 7 things are never ever clues:
1 – Book ISBN numbers
“We need, like, a combination, right? Well there are like 50 books here and they all have these weird numbers on them.”
“No… that’s not a clue.”
“Well I’m going to try each one in every lock, just, like, in case, ya know?”
ISBN are not the numbers you’re looking for. Move along.
2 – Highlighter & margin scribble in books
When an escape room includes a ton of books, these are usually purchased in bulk from used bookstores or yard sales. Secondhand books frequently have all sorts of highlighter marks and scribbles in the margins.
It’s not always fun to pick up each book to confirm that it is, in fact, a book and skim the pages to see if anything is hidden within, but it’s not a bad idea. However, I wouldn’t bother doing this if there are more than a dozen books.
It’s also not fun to stop on every page and analyze what some random dude scribbled in the margin of his psych 101 book. This is a bad idea.
It’s possible that the game includes a book with something written in it. Fine. Wait until you’ve found the clues that lead to the particular book and page.
3 – Price tags on books
“Again… used bookstore stuff. Ignore it.”
“Yeah, but it’s like 3 digits and we need to open a 3-digit lock! Can we try it?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“Ok, it didn’t work, but now we know!”
The price tags are never the answer.
4 – Warehouse notes on furniture
Before playing an insane volume of escape rooms, I had no idea that warehouses frequently pencil numbers on the bottoms of drawers and other furniture components.
When you’re new to this stuff it looks super suspicious. Just ignore it.
5 – Anything to do with drop ceilings
Even the dumbest, worst-designed game isn’t operated by a masochist who wants their players to destroy the drop ceiling in their rented space.
Don’t waste your time pushing the tiles up or attempting to reenact Mission Impossible by climbing through the ceiling. At best, this will earn you nothing. At worst, your game will end in tears.
Also, if there is a tiny bit of paper dangling from between the ceiling tiles, just ignore it. I’m not sure how that stuff gets there, but it’s pretty common and never a clue.
6 – Wearing clothes found in the room
You found a stash of clothing in your escape room. Absolutely check the pockets.
You don’t have to put the stuff on. Trust me. Gross.
7 – Electrical outlets
Electrical outlets are out of bounds.
There are a small minority of escape rooms that use electrical outlet safes or have modified outlets to turn them into puzzles where you have to stick stuff in them. These companies shouldn’t be in business. If these companies keep doing this, someone will get severely hurt in an escape room and it will harm the entire industry.
As a player, just avoid the outlets. If you play a game that violates this design, rip them for it on every review site you can find. They don’t deserve their customers.
“But I’ve seen these as puzzles a couple times!”
Yes, there are occasionally companies who think it’s a “great puzzle” to require players to randomly input book prices into locks without any hints pointing towards a particular book’s price. They are wrong.
In the event that one of these non-puzzle elements ends up being a legitimate puzzle, it should be very well-clued in the game. If not, the puzzle is lame.
If the puzzle requires something dangerous, it needs to be exceptionally well-clued. Even then, I would ask your gamemaster to confirm that you aren’t about to put yourself in the hospital by sticking a fork in an electrical socket or some other dangerous nonsense.
Remember that escape rooms are generally designed to provide stimulating challenge and fun. Skip these 7 not-very-fun “solutions” because they aren’t going to be the right answer.
Re #7–electrical outlets–this was actually part of an escape room in a major city in the southeast! I was part of a group of 7 people, and we were in a closet-sized room that we barely had space to turn around in. We had exhausted everything we thought could get us further (I was no expert, but a veteran of half a dozen escape rooms). We finally called for a clue, and the hint led to a normal-looking but removable fake electrical outlet that held a key that led us into another room.
The company’s sets, room designs and puzzles were generally high quality, but at the time, I remember thinking that the outlet was a cheap shot.
Yeah they pop up front time to time and they are never a good idea.