Case in Escape Room Tech

CaSE, iT MAttErs.

We live in a civilized society with rules. Respecting case is one of them. The utility of letter case is rarely discussed… and we’re not going to get into any of that today.

We are going to dig into how case regularly breaks puzzle inputs in stupid, avoidable ways.

Close up stylized image of the shift and caps lock keys on a Mac keyboard.

What Escape Room Designers Must Know About Case

Everyone knows that there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, right?

Well to a computer, there are not 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are 52. Unless a computer is told otherwise, it will treat upper case letters and lower case letters as different entities.

When, as players, we find ourselves inputting a puzzle solution into a digital interface, case frequently presents a silly, easily avoidable, joy-killing barrier.

Solutions & Case Sensitivity

My team just solved a puzzle. The solution is “sherlock.” We are confident that we have to input this solution into a computer… so we type it in… and it’s rejected.

In most instances where a password is typed into a digital interface, there are 3 different options for case:

  • sherlock
  • Sherlock
  • SHERLOCK

As a player I can confidently tell you that I don’t give a $#!% which one works. I do care, however, when my right answer fails because I used a lower case “s” when I needed an upper case “S” or vice versa.

This problem is magnified when a team doesn’t stop to think about the implications of case. They might just walk away from a correct answer and dive down some useless rabbit hole. It happens. I’ve seen it.

Keyboards, Shift, & Caps Lock

These problems are often exacerbated by the shift and caps lock keys on a keyboard. Often, when a password is inputted into a computer, the display looks like this:

******** or ●●●●●●●●

UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES I MIGHT NOT NOTICE THAT MY TEAMMATE POKED AT THE CAPS LOCK BUTTON EARLIER… AND NOW I AM SHOUTING MY SOLUTION AT THE COMPUTER LIKE A CRAZY UNCLE FORWARDING A 10-YEAR-OLD POLITICAL CHAIN EMAIL!!!!!!!!

Solutions

There are a few easy solutions to these problems. The right combination of solutions will change based on the game’s individual circumstances.

Program Different Cases

If you’ve custom built the software that accepts your password, you can likely code it to accept multiple responses.

Allowing your software to accept “sherlock” OR “Sherlock” OR “SHERLOCK” nullifies the problem.

Normalize or Ignore Case

Again, if we’re talking custom software, you can usually drop a line of code into the program that either normalizes case or ignores it entirely.

Normalization is probably my favorite solution because when you start typing, it always types in the case that the system wants. I type in “Sherlock” but what displays is “SHERLOCK” and there is zero room for confusion on my part or the computer’s.

Ignoring case is useful as well because I can type “ShErLoCk” or any other permutation of case and the computer accepts it. It’s not limited to the pre-programmed solutions.

Programmatically Disable Shift & Caps Lock

Depending upon the computer you have and software you’re running, you may be able to programmatically disable the shift and caps lock keys so that they do not function.

This could be useful under circumstances where you have full control over the computer, but not the software that needs to accept the password.

Physically Disable Shift & Caps Lock

Finally, if all else fails, you can go nuclear and crack open the keyboard and break the shift and caps lock keys so that they cannot function on a mechanical level.

The Bottom Line

Whichever route you go, the net benefit is that you’ll eliminate a point of needless confusion and friction for your players.

This will also eliminate an entire category of hints and completely streamline a segment of your game that really isn’t supposed to be a challenge in the first place.

Everybody wins.

6 thoughts on “Case in Escape Room Tech

  1. It’s sad that this article even needs to exist given how laughably easy it is to standardize case in text inputs. Saying you can code a custom text entry screen but don’t know how to standardize case is like saying you can drive a car but don’t know how to use the turn signals.

    1. I hear you.

      I don’t think it’s a function of can’t so much as its about realizing that you should.

      My hope here is to draw attention to this so that the owner/ designer/ engineer escape room communities will fix it be default because it’s easy.

  2. I’ve seen all these failure modes and more – whether to include spaces or not is another common one.

    This is really part of a more general class of problem. Once I’ve solved the puzzle don’t frustrates me via a finnicky input mechanism. Whether that’s RFID readers double registering, date format, ambiguous ordering of numbers or capitalization. Maximise fun, minimize admin.

    In general, the fun is the solution not the inputting. Inputting the answer should be something that you barely register.

    1. I fully agree with you. I wrote this and the double inputting post in the same session because this kind of thing has really been frustrating me lately.

    2. ARGH! Date format! This is one that I HATE! I don’t know if you want June 5th, 1978 to be 06051978 or 060578 or 6578 or 050678 (if you bought your game from someone in Europe) or 05061978… CRAP! Lockout… wait 5 minutes and grumble about the game design while you all sit around and try to remember what you already tried for the door exit code! I encountered this one time and it was infuriating!

  3. Sometimes when the designer has no control over (or doesn’t know how) whether the input will be treated as case sensitive (eg, using password validation on WordPress or similar) they will just instruct the player to use all lowercase or uppercase. It’s not ideal and prone to error, but it’s another alternative.

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