Unclued Number “Puzzles” [Escape Room Design]

The “unclued number” is a subtle game-damaging puzzle that’s still a bit too common in escape rooms.

Unclued Number Puzzle

Players are supposed to find a number lying around somewhere in an escape room. It is the solution to a puzzle.

Unclued number puzzles have little or no clue structure and the players don’t have to do anything to earn the number other than realize that they need it. It’s assumed that the players will try the number simply because it’s there.

Spaceballs scene with President Skroob saying, "12345? Amazing. I have the same combination on my luggage."

What’s The Problem?

A new player’s instinct is to haphazardly try any and every random collection of numbers in the locks because “you never know what will work.” This includes solutions that have no clue structure like unclued number puzzles.

There are a few problems with puzzles like this:

New players will see unclued numbers working, which reinforces the belief that guessing random, thoughtless solutions in escape games is a viable tactic and a good use of time.

Experienced players will see unclued numbers working and stop trusting that the puzzles will have reasoned solutions, concluding instead that the designer is unskilled, thoughtless, or cruel.

Regardless of who’s playing, this is mediocre escape room design. It’s not game breaking, but it certainly damages the experience.

5 thoughts on “Unclued Number “Puzzles” [Escape Room Design]

  1. Yes!!! So on point with this. We see so many of our players trying any number they spot in locks instead of spending time to solve things. I chalk it up to bad “training” from other games.

    1. That’s on the player. Putting silly things like this into a room ultimately encourages more silly player behavior.

  2. Love this post soooo much. I would love even more if you added 20 examples of this sort of puzzle so that all designers can realize, oh…we DO have one of those… I rarely play a game that doesn’t involve some sort of insane guess.

    I can always tell when watching a team play “The Man From Beyond” when they’re experienced escape roomers because they have what we call “Escape Room Brain”—which unfortunately isn’t a super-power, but brain damage. They get overly obsessed with the one number lock and imagine numbers on candlestick shelves and other fascinating places, despite the fact that the game features hand-crafted curiosities available to explore. But they seem to have eyes only for the number lock.

    I don’t like guessing. It has no benefit for players. Who can be proud afterwards about their random guess being right?

  3. I just had a conversation about this with people last week with a room I just did. This is incredibly frustrating, even if, as in this particular case, it was a quick fix for a broken puzzle.

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