ERban Dictionary: Escape Room Glossary

For our 1,000th Room Escape Artist post, we present the ERban Dictionary: Escape Room Glossary.

We consider this a living document. We welcome suggested edits, submissions, examples, and other enhancements through our contact form or in the comments below.

A book titled, "The New English Dictionary" that is actually a combination locked safe.

Escape Room Glossary

Actor – (noun, singular) a person with a character, commitment, and costume, designed to enhance immersion. They may or may not double as your gamemaster.

Aha Puzzle – (noun, singular) a type of puzzle where you can suddenly understand a previously incomprehensible concept and at that moment you have the entire solution to the puzzle.

Alternative Solution – (noun, singular) a perfectly rational solution that wasn’t the one that the puzzle designer had intended.

Anagram – (noun, singular) a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another.

Backseat Solve – (verb) to stand behind someone and tell them what to do because you’re frustrated your hands aren’t on the puzzle. This is generally discouraged.

Backsolve – (verb) to reverse engineer a puzzle solution.

Blacklight – (noun, singular) a handheld or stationary light that emits ultraviolet radiation that is invisible to the human eye. This is a common prop in escape rooms.

Blind Choice – (noun, singular) an interaction where players have to make a decision (frequently an ethical decision) without enough information or context to make an informed decision.

Bonus Content – (noun, plural) puzzles that offer something to the players in addition to escaping or completing the room escape’s main objective. These side quests can take place alongside the main objective or the completion of the main objective can trigger new objectives.

Bottleneck – (noun, singular) a point at which only one puzzle is available to the entire team that usually results in the entire team crowding around that puzzle.

Braille – (noun, singular) a form of written language for blind people, in which letters and numbers are represented by different configurations of a 2 by 3 grid of raised dots.

A visual braille alphabetic guide.
Created by Kosuke Takahashi

Breakage – (noun, singular) any prop that no longer functions as intended due to malfunction, poor design, wear, reckless players, or vandalism.

Brute-Force / Guess – (verb) the act of plugging numbers into a lock until it pops. This term can be confusing in escape rooms as it is sometimes used to mean “excessive physical force.”

Bypass / Circumvent – (verb) to skip over a game element. This can be intentional or unintentional. It can result from hints, guesswork, lock exploitation, game design flaws, or faulty game resets.

Caesar Cipher / Caesarian Shift – (noun, singular) an encryption technique made famous by Julius Caesar, using a substitution cipher in which each letter in the plaintext is replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions down the alphabet.

Cipher / Cryptogram – (noun, singular) a text written in code.

Clue – (noun, singular) a detail or component within the game that the players should interpret, combine, and solve in order to escape. This term can be confusing as it is sometimes also used to refer to a hint (see below).

Combination Lock – (noun, singular) a lock that opens when the correct numeric, alphabetic, or symbolic password is input.

A 5 letter WordLock closed, the word "Spell" appearing.

Communication Puzzle – (noun, singular) a type of escape room challenge that requires at least two parties to exchange information.

Cryptex – (noun, singular) a tube with a combination letter lock built in as a self-locking mechanism. The concept originated in the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code and was turned into a tangible product by Justin Nevins.

Nevins Cryptex / Real Cryptex / Good Cryptex – (noun, singular) a high quality Cryptex handmade by Justin Nevins.

Locked cryptex beside a $10 bill for size reference, it's a few inches longer and a little wider.

Dark Room – (noun, singular) an escape room played in complete darkness. This is not to be confused with dimly lit rooms.

Decor – (noun, singular) the furnishing and decoration of a room to provide ambiance. This is not to be confused with red herrings.

Destructible Puzzle – (noun, singular) a puzzle that requires the players to irreparably break a prop to achieve the solution.

Difficulty by Darkness – (noun, singular) a type of escape room made intentionally more challenging (and frustrating) by dim lighting. This is not to be confused with a dark room (see above.)

Drag – (verb) to feed a team so many hints as a gamemaster that the team no longer feels they were responsible for the win. This tends to be the result of an incompetent team and/or an incompetent game.

Easter Egg – (noun, singular) an unexpected or undocumented feature in an escape room included as a joke or a bonus.

Errol – (verb) to take off one’s shoes in an escape room for both comfort and attention.

Escake – (noun, singular) a celebratory delicacy used to mark the completion of a milestone escape room, traditionally cake. The concept of escake originates with the prolific UK-based “S2” escape room duo of Sera Dodd and Sharan Gill.

Escape Rate – (noun, singular)

For players: the win/loss percentage of an individual escape room player or team out of their total games played.

For rooms: the percentage of teams that escape the room in the time allotted. This is often ballparked or blatantly misreported.

Escape Room Logic – (noun, singular) a puzzle solution that makes sense in the context of solving puzzles within the game, but not within a game’s narrative. E.g. You’re a fugitive on the run from the police hunting for the information that will clear your name. Why are you counting the cups in a cabinet to get a lock combination?

Filler / Junk / Noise / Fluff – (noun, plural) subpar escape room content (puzzles, interactions, props, or story content) that is included for the purpose of lengthening the experience.

Frontsolve / Forward Solve– (verb) to solve a puzzle as the designer intended.

Game Clock – (noun, singular) the official countdown timer. This is frequently displayed within the game.

Game Flow – (noun, singular) the connective tissue between puzzles or game elements. Game flow describes the whole experience, how one puzzle branches out into others or funnels into a meta-puzzle. Game flow be mapped as a visual representation of the escape room.

Gamemaster / Host / Guide / Game Guide / Cluemaster – (noun, singular) the person responsible for overseeing the in-game experience, providing hints, and delivering and enforcing rules.

Gamespace / Set – (noun, singular) the gaming environment.

Generation / Gen – (adjective) refers to a taxonomy for differentiating games according to their technology usage.  e.g. Gen 1, Gen 2, etc. Note that technology is not inherently good or bad in escape rooms. It is one of many tools for creating experiences.

Ghost Puzzle – (noun, singular) remnants of a previous iteration of a puzzle that has since become irrelevant to the game, but is still lingering among the clues and confusing the hell out of the players.

Glyph – (noun, singular) a symbol that (should) mean something.

Head to Head / Competitive Games – (adjective) describes two identical escape rooms that can be played simultaneously as a race. Teams competing in head to head escape rooms to can sometimes interact during the game.

Hint – (noun, singular) an additional piece of information from outside of regular gameplay delivered by the gamemaster to assist a team in forward progress. This concept can sometimes be referred to as a clue (see above).

Hint Penalty / Clue Penalty – (noun, singular) The punishment for needing an additional piece of information from outside of regular gameplay. It is commonly extra “time” added to the escape time whereby if a team escapes in 55 minutes but used a hint, it’s counted as if they escaped in 58 minutes. It can also be an in-game action, such as dancing, that the team must do to receive the necessary outside information.

Hint System – (noun, singular) the method by which hints are delivered.

Human Circuit – (adjective) describes a puzzle that requires players to form a human chain between metal props to complete a circuit to trigger an event.

Immersive – (adjectives) describes an escape room that creates such a compelling fiction that as a player, you feel that you are a part of it and forget the world outside the escape room.

Individual Role / Individual Goal – (noun, singular) a type of escape room where players are each assigned characters and/or objectives outside of the team objective. This can put the players in competition with one another, but it doesn’t have to.

Inescapable Room with a Margin of Error – (noun, singular) an escape room with a less than 5% escape rate.

Informed Choice – (noun, singular) an interaction where players have to make a decision (frequently an ethical decision) based on enough information that they can understand the context of their choice

Interaction – (noun, singular) a designed action within the game.

Jump Scare – (noun, singular) a technique often used in horror escape rooms (and horror films) intended to scare the players by surprising them with an abrupt change to their environment.

Key – (noun, singular) a small piece of shaped metal with incisions cut to fit the wards of a particular lock that can be inserted into the lock and turned to open or close the lock.

Key for Key – (noun, singular) a key locked up behind a key lock.

Kimmy Schmidt Crank – (noun, singular) a crank that must be regularly turned to keep the power on.

Linear – (adjective) describes a game that follows a rigid puzzle structure wherein each puzzle leads to the next. All escape rooms have some degree of linearity.

Live – (adjective) describes an element that you know will move or open in the future.

Lock Guy / Lock Girl / Locksmith – (noun, singular) the one teammate who always wants to input the combination or open the lock. This is sometimes a player who doesn’t feel they can contribute to actually solving the puzzles and opening things makes them feel like the hero.

Lockout Safe – (noun, singular) a box or cabinet with a combination locking mechanism that will shut down for a period of time if multiple incorrect combinations are input. Lockout safes are generally frowned upon by escape room players.

Image of a safe with a digital keypad on the front.

Lock Picking / Lock Exploiting – (verb) Using a design flaw within a locking mechanism to open the lock without solving the corresponding puzzle.

Logic Leap – (noun, singular) a tenuous connection between a clue and a puzzle solution.

Mag Lock / Magnetic Lock / Sensor-driven Lock – (noun, singular) an electromagnet used to secure a door or compartment. These locks are opened when they receive a signal from a button, sensor, or other controlling electronics.

Magnet Maze – (noun, singular) a common escape room prop where a small object (frequently a key) is behind a barrier and must be navigated out with a magnet.

Meta Puzzle – (noun, singular) a puzzle that unites several puzzles that feed into it. A meta puzzle is usually set late in the game and players must complete a series of other puzzles before they can tackle the meta puzzle.

Morse Code – (noun, singular) a code in which letters are represented by combinations of long and short signals of light or sound. Morse Code was originally designed for long-distance communication rather than obscuring messages.

A morse code visualization that shows the layout of the alphabet in a branching tree structure.

Muggles / Rookies / Newbies / First-time Players – (noun, plural) the previously uninitiated.

Non-Binary Win Condition – (noun, singular) a type of escape room that doesn’t result in simply win or lose; it has different degrees or types of winning.

Non-Linear – (adjective) describes a game that does not follow a rigid puzzle structure wherein each puzzle leads to the next. Multiple puzzles can be completed at one time. Different teams can tackle puzzles in different orders.

Number Soup – (noun, singular) an escape room with so many numbers and combination locks and lack of correlation between the numbers and the locks… that your brain feels like a soup.

One-time Use – (adjective) describes props that will only contribute to one puzzle solution.

On-ramp – (noun, singular) the first puzzle in the escape room. It should stand out and be easily approachable.

Order Preservation – (adjective) describes puzzles that can no longer be solved if players move certain items from their original state.

Outside Knowledge – (noun, singular) understanding derived from outside the gamespace that contributes to puzzle solving within the escape room. What exactly falls into this category is controversial. e.g. Roman numerals (especially large numbers).

Over-locked / Lock Orgy – (adjective / noun) describes a single item that is shut with many (too many!) locks.

Padlock – (noun, singular) a portable key- or combination-activated lock.

Paper Puzzle / Homework Puzzle – (noun, singular) a puzzle that does not require the gamespace and could be solved anywhere.

Parallel Puzzle – (verb) to complete multiple puzzles at once with different teammates working on each concurrently. Some escape room design allows this. This can refer to teammates working in parallel in the same gamespace or in different gamespaces as part of the same escape room.

Physical Force – (noun, singular) physical strength used to open things. This is usually in violation of game rules and may result in breakage. Note that some escape rooms require physical force.

Pigpen / Masonic Cypher – (noun, singular) an 18th-century substitution cipher created by the freemasons that exchanges letters for geometric symbols that are fragments of a grid.

All 4 pieces of the Riddle Factory Freemason's Cipher key.

Pipeline / High Throughput Model – (noun, singular) a type of escape room where multiple teams are in the experience at the same time, but in separate rooms, always moving forward through the experience, never backtracking, and never running into other teams. This is the 5 Wits style.

Plaintext – (noun, singular) any text that is not encoded.

Play the Blame Game – (verb) to blame a failed escape on puzzles that make sense to 99% of players just because one is salty about not escaping.

Private (Ticketing) – (adjective) refers to a ticketing model where an entire group experience is purchased at once. This eliminates the possibility of strangers sharing the same experience. It is the most common ticketing model outside of the United States.

Process Puzzle / Taskwork  – (noun, singular) a type of puzzle where after you understand a previously incomprehensible concept, you must complete the work to derive the solution to the puzzle.

Prop – (noun, singular) an in-game item. It can be part of a puzzle or a red herring.

“Psychic” – (noun, singular) a player who stands or crouches in front of one lock for the entire game trying to guess the combination instead of playing the game. The psychic never actually guesses the combination.

Public (Ticketing) – (adjective) refers to a ticketing model where admission is purchased by each individual player, thus allowing for the possibility of strangers sharing the same experience. This is a common ticketing model in the United States.

Puppet – (verb) to act as an additional set of hands in an escape room you already know how to solve. This is a technique by which a solo player or small team can complete an experience designed for more people. Most often, a gamemaster puppets by coming into room and following the player’s instructions to help them complete the multiplayer challenge.

Puzzle – (noun, singular) anything that the team solves to advance through the escape room.

Puzzle Snatching / Puzzle Yanking – (verb) To take or steal a puzzle or component of a puzzle from another player, generally considered poor form.

Randoms – (noun, plural) strangers with whom you are teamed up in an escape room due to a public ticketing booking system (see above).

Recap / Thought Journey – (noun, singular) a mid-game or late-game explanation to teammates of how a puzzle or series of puzzles has resolved in order to get the entire team in sync again.

Red Herring – (noun, singular) an in-game item or piece of information that does not contribute to a puzzle solution, but could potentially lead players to waste time thinking it would be involved in the puzzle solving process. It may be intentional or unintentional. It may also be the result of wear, breakage, or vandalism. See Ghost Puzzle and Decor for additional information.

Reset

(verb) to revert an escape room to its starting position whereby a new team can begin. e.g. “I need to reset the room for the next team.”

(noun, singular) – the act of reverting the escape room to its starting position. e.g. “We experienced a faulty reset.”

Reset Fail – (noun, singular) an improper reset where not every aspect of the escape room is reverted back to the correct starting position thereby adversely affecting the room play.

Resting Puzzle Face – (noun, singular) a look of concentration while solving puzzles that is easily mistaken for discontent.

RFID – (noun, singular) an automatic identification technology that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to identify objects carrying tags when they come close to a reader. RFID is frequently used in escape rooms to release mag locks or trigger other events, often feeling magical.

Runbook – (noun, singular) a prop that outlines all or many of the steps that the team must complete in order to escape.

Safe – (noun, singular) a box or cabinet with a keyed or combination locking mechanism.

Sandbag – (verb) to hold back in an escape room as an experienced player to maximize the enjoyment of muggles or randoms.

Search / Hunt / Scavenge – (verb) to look for hidden clues within the gamespace.

Search Fail – (noun, singular) failure to find a hidden clue within the gamespace.

Seizure mode – (noun, singular) a handheld flashlight state where the light flashes incessantly. Some flashlight have this mode. This should not be confused with a weak and flickering flashlight.

Self-resetting / Automatically-resetting – (adjective) describes an escape room that is ready to play again immediately. Players do not have to wait for a gamemaster to reset the experience. This is usually associated with pipelines.

Semaphore – (noun, singular) – a system of sending messages by holding two arms or two flags in certain positions that correspond to an alphabetic code. Semaphore is used as a cipher in escape rooms.

Visual guide to the semaphore alphabet.

Set Piece – (noun, singular) a self-contained segment of the gamespace.

Signpost – (verb) to direct players to what they’re meant to be working on through subtle in-game cluing

Spin – (verb) to stall in an escape rooms and take the clues in all sorts of ridiculous directions instead of taking a hint.

Split Team – (adjective) a style of escape room where the team is separated into different gamespaces for some or all of the experience. Split team design is most commonly used as the starting situation, with the team coming together later in the experience.

Strategic Hint – (noun, singular) a hint used because of gamesmanship in order to speed up the team’s performance.

Sudden Death – (adjective) describes an escape room where you can take an action that results in losing before the game clock runs out. e.g. cutting the wrong wire on the bomb.

Surprise Satanism – (noun, singular) a genre of escape room where the initial gamespace is comfortable and welcoming, but a later gamespace reveals blood, guts, and pentagrams… or anything unexpectedly sinister.

Trap Door / Hidden Door/ Hatch – (noun, singular) a hidden or obscured doorway.

Used Pile / Done Pile / Discard Pile – (noun, singular) a pile of single use props that have already been used. Used piles are created by players to keep organized.

Vouched-for Randoms  – (noun, plural) randoms whom you haven’t actually met, but you are less wary about playing with due to their connections to the escape room community.

Walkthrough – (noun) a post-game overview of the puzzles and game flow delivered by the gamemaster after a team has completed the escape room (win or lose).

Wear – (noun, singular) marks or changes to a prop as a result of regular use or handling. Wear frequently exposes solutions. e.g. “There is wear on Boston on this map. It must be the answer.”

30 thoughts on “ERban Dictionary: Escape Room Glossary

  1. My favorite part of this post is that the photo is not of a dictionary, but of a small safe that’s made to look like one.

  2. I love it! I have some descriptions that need a term which should be in your glossary. #1 A term/label for an escape room/facility where the owner/game master is overly militant about rules – especially phones in a room. #2 A term that describes an ER policy that is overly onerous in order to obtain a hint. “Hint stingy” may be a candidate. #3 A term describing the “in one ear out the other” syndrome regarding player feedback to gamemasters post room play. #4 A term to describe an ER where several items are non-functioning (broken) and are included in the briefing by the game master.

    I’m sure there are many other terms we could define with respect to ER – I love a good slang glossary 🙂

    1. These are fantastic David.

      We don’t have words for them, but we’re floating them by the folks in the Escape Room Slack community to see if anyone else has good terms for them.

      We’re also going to keep pondering these.

  3. Love it – thanks! Especially the Errol 🙂

    Wonder if you should include “decor” to differentiate room decoration from red herrings. Sometimes a gray area between the two, but could help clarify for folks.

  4. As always, very entertaining post. Congratulations on your 1000th post! I kept thinking of things you should add (starting with Cryptex of course) but was delighted that every time I thought of something, you were way ahead of me and had already included it. Thank you for compiling this, it was a very fun read.

    1. We wouldn’t have forgotten the cryptex. However we did go back and add some additional historical context around “Cryptex.” We also added an entry for “Nevins Cryptex.”

      1. Personally when I run across one in the wild I just exclaim: “Its a Nevins!”

        There’s suspect the randos think I’m crazy.

      2. Yes! This even happens when we’re playing with serious players who aren’t active in Slack or familiar with the hierarchy of the cryptex world.

  5. Oh.. we need one called the “psychic”… it’s the person who has no idea what they’re doing so they stand (or crouch) in front of a lock for the whole game trying to guess it to look useful to their team mates. (Usually a word lock) They never actually guess it, tho.

    Also the “blame game”: people who are salty about not getting out and want to blame their failure on things that really make sense to 99% of the other people who play.

  6. Congrats on 1,000 pieces of content! That’s mind-boggling, and this is a great way to celebrate!

    Proposals… (mostly these are terms I use all the time, so why not ask to canonize them!)

    Actor: a person with a character, commitment, and costume, designed to enhance immersion. They may or may not double as your game master.

    Bottleneck: the point at which only one puzzle is available to the whole team, and so the whole team crowds around it. Nothing can advance until it is solved. Bottlenecks can be bad or good experiences, depending upon the design, although all games ultimately end with a bottleneck

    Ghost puzzle: remnants of a previous iteration of a puzzle that has since become irrelevant to the game, but is still lingering among the clues and confusing the hell out of everyone (Sometimes indicative of breakage)

    Meta puzzle: a puzzle that requires you to solve multiple puzzles before you can begin to solve it (e.g., solving many puzzles yields you puzzle pieces). Often a final or late-stage puzzle

    Number soup: a game with so many numbers and combination locks that your brain feels like a soup

    Pipeline: a game where multiple teams are in the experience at the same time but in separate rooms. Requires clever stalling and throttling tactics, such as bonus puzzles, to keep teams from running into each other. (Term derived from CPU architecture)

    Puzzle flow: the connective tissue between puzzles. Used to describe the whole experience, how one puzzle branches out into others or funnels into a meta-puzzle. Can be mapped as a visual representation of the game. (Actually, I have no idea if anyone else is mapping their flows…)

    Role-play: an imaginary role different from your normal self that you are given in the game and asked to enact. This role could be assigned individually or to the whole team.

    Self-resetting: a game that doesn’t require time set aside for reset but is ready to play again immediately. Required for a pipeline experience.

    1. Thanks! Just last Sunday, I encountered an insane “ghost puzzle” and decided it was common enough to need a name. It’s worse than a red herring, because it clearly presents itself as a puzzle—it’s just that the input has been removed.

  7. Awesome glossary!

    Suggestion #1: A term for when the correct combination has no justification for the order the numbers should go in, so players are expected to just try each possible order until the lock opens.
    (Does this happen to other people? This happened to us twice last weekend, and sadly wasn’t the first time. We had 5 different 3-digit locks and 3 numbers, but didn’t know what order to put them in. We asked for a hint and the GM told us we just had to try each different possible combination in each lock. It was so bad!)

    #2: Lock Guy/Lock Girl (or a different term): That one teammate who always wants to be the one to put in the combination/open the lock. Often, this is someone who doesn’t feel they can contribute much to actually solving the puzzles, and opening things makes them feel like the hero.

    #3 A term for us people who are obsessed with escape rooms and play them all the time. We use the term “Enthusiasts” but I know there are other terms floating around.

  8. I feel taskwork should be in there alongside Aha Puzzles:

    (n) part of a puzzle that involves a lot of work but not much thinking. Usually used to help more players be an active part of the game.

  9. Execellent set by Immersology. Love “Ghost Puzzle” – I’ve never heard the term but I’ve seen it often enough. Will be adding that to my vocabulary.

  10. A term I learned that from David, and which I find useful, is “live”: an element that you know will move or open in the future.

    Dunno if it’s current with anyone else, but I find “glyph” useful: a symbol that (should) mean something.

  11. Another candidate for the list – signposting. (n) providing clues within a room that tell players what they’re meant to be working on.

    I use it a lot when we’re in rooms and have no idea what they want us to do next so we end up working on partial puzzles. That’s a very different situation from, say, a bad puzzle where even if you know you’re meant to be working on it you might not be able to solve it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.