I recently published an analysis on the Master Lock 4 letter combination locks. They have an unusual letter distribution and I was curious how many English words could be generated with those locks. It turned out that those Master Locks could create a lot more words than I had anticipated.
Absolutely everything about this analysis and its outputs conforms to the same information presented in the last letter lock analysis, so I won’t rehash it. It’s on the Master Lock post if you’re interested.
Odd Letter Distribution Hypothesis
After publishing the last analysis some members of the room escape community proposed a hypothesis about the odd letter distribution on those Master Locks:
It seemed like Master Lock may have been trying to make it impossible to spell curse words.
This seems like a valid answer for both Master Lock and WordLock’s letter selection. I cannot prove this one way or another, but you cannot generate the most popular American English swear words with these locks… so that’s probably not a coincidence.
Nevertheless, sifting through the wordlist revealed a few “vulgar” or degrading words… and I’m including them because my inner 10 year-old thinks this list is hilarious:
On the far side of Brooklyn we found a strong SAW-esque horror escape room. This is an often-attempted theme that doesn’t usually hit the mark. While some of the experience was unevenly executed, Element Quest made it work. This is an escape room for people who can handle uncomfortable situations.
Who is this for?
Players who want to escape serial killers
Any experience level
Players with at least basic agility
One freaky, in-your-face interaction
A serial killer with a preference for elaborate torture machines decided to make us his “apprentices” to instill in us a greater appreciation for life, if he didn’t kill us first.
Split up and restrained, we were given a brief window of time in which to prove ourselves worthy of life.
Half of our team began in a bloody murder bathroom, the other half in dim, furnace-lit space. We were all handcuffed to the floor in a crouching or sitting position.
The detailed spaces were compelling and made our more squeamish teammates feel a bit on edge.
Element Quest delivered the kind of puzzles and challenges that we’ve come to expect from both split-team and Saw-esque escape rooms.
We were put in situations where we had to overcome fears, discover, communicate, and solve puzzles. The Taken played well.
The split-team, handcuffed beginning added dramatic tension to an already dark and foreboding environment.
The Taken startled us, in a good way.
We were impressed with one shockingly pointed, tech-driven interaction. It was nifty and freaky.
The set was well padded, as appropriate for a required action.
The Taken provided a good variety of puzzles and fostered collaboration.
While there was a lot of crawling, most of it was well-padded.
The set was neither polished nor clean. Given the starting positions on the floor and the lack of player mobility early on, we couldn’t help but zero in on this.
One prop was constantly in the way. We recommend Element Quest modify this so that players stop bumping into it before someone gets hurt (or the prop gets destroyed).
We struggled with a weak handheld light.
One puzzle necessitated unclued trial and error.
The Taken was unbalanced. One group of players solved along, triggering opens for everyone, while the other group solved nothing. They couldn’t; they had no inputs for much of the first act. Furthermore, given the distribution of key props, The Taken required backtracking, toward only one starting area. The players who started there felt inadequate, but they hadn’t had the tools or knowledge earlier to have played the game any differently.
We communicated over walky-talkies. These crackled the entire game, which added unnecessary challenge and annoyance to the experience.
Tips for Visiting
Element Quest is two short blocks from the Kings Highway Station on the Q subway train. (From Times Square, it is about an hour subway ride on the Q to Element Quest.)
Many shops in this neighborhood are closed on Saturdays, but the Starbucks and the Chipotle are open.
Much of The Taken is played in low light with limited flashlight access.
The Taken requires a lot of sitting, kneeling, and crawling. If that doesn’t sound like something your body can handle, you should consider a different game.
Mine Trap started off strongly and escalated to an explosive conclusion. While it dragged in the middle, the beautiful set design kept us engaged.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
The final act
We were on a tour of Park City’s old silver mines when a tunnel collapse sealed us in. Could we find the tools and information necessary to find daylight before running out of air?
We entered a surprisingly detailed mine shaft filled with wood, stone, and tools. With the notable exception of some carpeting, the set looked phenomenal.
I wish that I could show you a photo or two, but they were forbidden. Don’t let the logo fool you… Escape Park City’s Mine Trap had a set worth seeing.
Mine Trap had three acts to it.
The first act was a basic search-and-puzzle beginner’s on-ramp. It was smooth, well designed, and approachable.
The second act was pure puzzles and combination locks. Escape Room Park City played with interesting concepts, but due to some design decisions, the Mine Trap dragged here.
The final act brought in a little physicality and a ton of innovation. Come for the set, but stay for the third act.
Mine Trap opened gently with a puzzle on-ramp. While it was more challenging than Escape Room Park City’s other game, Travel Room (review to follow), the approachable start opened it to players of all experience levels.
With Mine Trap, Escape Room Park City leveled up their set design. This set would look great in any US escape room market. It’s especially impressive in a city without competition.
We enjoyed the final act. The puzzles were inventive, thematically appropriate, and well clued.
The conclusion blew us away.
I cannot overstate how much I respect Escape Room Park City’s approach to pricing. Mine Trap cost twice as much as their other game, Travel Room. It was worth it. Mine Trap was twice as interesting, twice as complex, twice the size, and more than twice as detailed.
At any given moment, we confronted a lot of locks, primarily of the same digit structure. While it eventually became apparent why certain codes went to certain locks, for much of Mine Trap we felt like a solution could go anywhere. Dropping 4-digit numbers into half a dozen locks quickly became boring.
We found one common escape room prop far too early. We had to use it senselessly from that point onward. Escape Room Park City’s band-aid for this problem was a rule that they declared before the game, “Don’t turn off the lights, it won’t help you.” We still lost a lot of time and fun on this prop. A better solution for their gameplay problem could be MacGyvered using some of the existing items in the room.
A few of the puzzles involved pixel hunting. We had to find nit-picky details with minimal clueing to derive solutions. While these puzzles were fine, when mixed with the aforementioned digit structure and prop, the game simply dragged when it could have roared.
There was carpeting in the middle of our silver mine, which was confusing.
Tips for Visiting
Mine Trap costs almost twice as much as Travel Room, but it offers twice the value.
The building has a parking garage.
Enter the building through the elevator in the parking garage. (This was confusing.)
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” -Sherlock Holmes
Location: at home (in our case, a hotel) in Salt Lake City, UT
Date Played: January 5, 2018
Team size: 1-8; we recommend 2-4
Duration: 60-90 minutes
Price: $45 per crate for a 24-hour rental; plus a $50.00 fully refundable deposit (per crate)
Lockbox Mysteries crammed a ton of gameplay into a crate and briefcase. We’re always a little cautious when approaching a new game format, and Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade made us believers. While we wished that the props felt just a little more of the era, Lockbox Mysteries delivered excellent puzzle content. We loved playing this game from the comfort of our own home hotel room and the price could not be beat.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
You can play from the comfort of your own home
A lot of puzzling content
A smart final puzzle sequence
It was 1910 and Scotland Yard was stumped. With a dead woman and no leads, they hired the greatest detective in history, Sherlock Holmes, to crack the case. Wearing the hat of Mr. Holmes, we explored evidence and interrogated the behavior of a number of suspects, puzzling and deducing our way to a conclusion.
We drove out to a Salt Lake City suburb and retrieved a large box and a briefcase and brought them back to our hotel room.
When we opened the box we were greeted by a binder that explained the game in careful detail. This included everything from what an escape game is, to the hint system, to basic lock functionality.
We started the included timer and investigated the initially available evidence. From there on it was all puzzles and locks.
Our Lockbox Mysteries experience essentially played like a low-tech escape room without the set. There were lots of locks sealing all sorts of boxes and bags shut. There were even more puzzles.
We needed to deduce the particulars of the murder case before us and rule out suspects. Each suspect had their own branch of puzzles that provided a piece of the overall picture.
All of this culminated in a final deduction puzzle that emphatically punctuated the game with a challenging, creative, and elegant conclusion.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade played like an escape room. It was less immersive than (most) on-site escape rooms, but more physically interactive than (most) at-home escape rooms that come in the mail. It straddled these subgenres. More importantly, it played well.
Lockbox Mysteries surprised us. With each open, we uncovered substantial game pieces… and more puzzles.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade had a lot of puzzle content and the puzzles flowed well. They also broke into parallel plot threads. There was a lot of game and it branched such that it could keep a large group entertained.
The hint system worked. It didn’t give away too much, unless we wanted to get to the solution. Then we could see the solution.
We understood the characters, story, and mystery without working at it. We took it in by way of solving the puzzles. Consequently, the puzzles felt purposeful and the sleuthing felt natural.
The mystery wanted to be solved. It didn’t resolve to some crazy unforeseeable twist. We could play along like detectives, making hypotheses and working towards a conclusion.
Everything was self-contained. We didn’t need an internet-connected device to facilitate the game.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade leaned heavily on decipherments. A few of these overstayed their welcome. Long after the aha moment, we were still deciphering the information.
While we appreciated the many tangible locks in this play-at-home escape room, we would have liked more varied digit structure. At times we’d derive a code that could have unlocked any one of a number of locked items.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade was aesthetically uneven. Some props felt of the era, while others felt far too modern or geographically incorrect.
Tips for Playing
You do not need a computer, phone, internet connection, or any outside tools for this play-at-home escape room.
You will need to pick up the game near Salt Lake City, and return it the next day. Mass transit will not be an option for the travel.
If you can, cook up a meal and really make an evening of the game.
In the post we look into one company’s claim that they have filed a patent for mobile escape games and examine the legitimacy of such a move.
J Cameron Cooper added:
“Prior to patent issuance, a third party (“3rd party”) can anonymously (1) submit prior art in the form of a preissuance submission, (2) file a protest of an application, or (3) request a public use proceeding.” http://www.bskb.com/news/articles/documents/MAA_ETP_JPAAArticle-AttackingaUSPatentorApplicatio.pdf
While whatever claims one is likely to make in such an application are likely laughable, the Patent Office is in a pretty laughable state and has approved stupider things. Anyone with an interest in this should look carefully at a Preissuance Third Party Submission (37 C.F.R. § 1.290) to inform the examiner of prior art. Even that should be done carefully, however.
I have searched published US pending applications and there is no such thing among them. You can go directly to the USPTO (http://appft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html), but https://patents.google.com/ is pretty handy. Since it isn’t yet published, anyone interested should set up an alert at https://www.uspatentappalerts.com/index.php
It’s not particularly my business, but I’ve set up an alert for this one just because I hate patent trolls.
Oh, and if anyone else is interested, “Die Hard” is a 20th Century Fox property, “Twilight Zone” appears to be CBS, and “Da Vinci Code” is Dan Brown. Large properties don’t seem to care much for enforcing their rights against escape rooms (I think they’re too small) but perhaps one of them would like to hear of this company.
This was a fantastic addition to what we wrote. Thank you, J Cameron Cooper.
In the future, we’ll continue to feature comments on our posts that spread knowledge and drive discussion.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures was the finest tabletop mystery game we’ve played to date. It was easy to get into, but an intellectual commitment to complete. It was seriously challenging, but still lighthearted and humorous. We wished the scoring system felt more sensible, but it didn’t really matter as we could judge our own improvement. If you’re seeking a difficult tabletop mystery series, this is the game to play.
Who is this for?
People who enjoy reading
Any experience level
Easy to learn
Easy to setup
Challenging yet fair
Each chapter cast us as members of the Baker Street Irregulars, child informants working for and learning from Sherlock Holmes. We would team up with a familiar character from Holmes’ canon like Wiggins (the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars) or Dr. Watson.
Each episode presented us with a case. We followed the leads wherever they took us in order to solve the case… and any other mysteries that arose along the way.
The game components were impressively simple and streamlined. They included:
Rulebook / Informant Information
The rulebook was especially lean and the game easy to learn. Once we knew how to play, there wasn’t any reason to return to the rules. The rules weren’t nuanced.
The back of the rulebook listed recurring informants whom we could visit during gameplay for records, investigative details, rumors, and the like. These characters were important for solving cases and added continuity to the world.
10 Case Books
(4 Books for the Jack the Ripper campaign and 6 Individual Cases)
Each case book provided:
Narratives for all relevant locations in London (tied to location codes)
Pompous Sherlock Holmes monologue explaining the case
The 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign had a unique game map, special informants, and a connected narrative.
Every other episode stood alone.
Each case had a corresponding newspaper filled with assorted information including obviously relevant tidbits, well-hidden details, and plenty of color.
The map of London was divided into districts with each building and block numbered. The map allowed us to understand the proximity of places. It also occasionally allowed us to make deductions regarding leads as well.
The directory was the interface. It listed every citizen and legal business in London with corresponding codes to look them up in the case books.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was a prose-based mystery adventure. With the exception of the map, all components were written… and well written at that.
One player would read the introduction, while another would take notes on people, places, and evidence.
From there, we took turns deciding where we’d visit next. We’d look the location up on the map and in the directory, find the corresponding passage in the case book, and read what happened upon our arrival, taking notes all along the way.
We repeated this process until we either felt confident in what happened with the case or the trail went cold and we decided to see how much of the mystery we had solved.
After answering the questions at the back of the book, we’d read the Holmes’ monologue to determine what had happened and how he solved the case.
The stories were interesting and unexpected. They twisted in odd directions, but the twists felt grounded.
The cases didn’t feel like a mediocre version of Sherlock Holmes, or a kids’ edition, or dumbed down deduction. The mysteries were smart, challenging, and well written.
By casting us as the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective spared us one of the common storytelling problems in many Holmes-themed escape rooms: who the hell are we supposed to be? Are we collectively Holmes, or Watson, or some random friend? This character choice allowed us to be us and not some hive-mind Watson.
We were allowed to use any information in the game or in our own heads to solve puzzles. Our knowledge of the world was relevant. My favorite example of this was in the Seventh Case, A Question of Identity. At the start of the game, Lisa was reading the newspaper and mentioned to me that there was a column of personals. Without having seen that newspaper I asked, “Is one of them enciphered?” She looked up at me surprised and asked, “How did you know?” It was a little fact that I had picked up about communication in the 1890s from having read The Code Book.
The more we played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and inhabited that London, the more the world felt natural and real. We got a handle on who the informants were and when we should go to them.
The materials felt great. The paper stock was varied and of high quality.
The game was easy to learn and quick to setup. When we decided that we want to play a case of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, setting up the game took one of us roughly the same amount of time that the other needed to pour a couple of glasses of port.
While the individual cases were not replayable, the box contained 10 different cases and absolutely no reason to write on or otherwise destroy any of the materials. You’re free to share them with friends.
There’s a massive 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was challenging but fair. This game pushed us harder intellectually than any escape game (real life or tabletop). When we nailed the facts of a case we felt incredibly accomplished. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective had no gimmes.
The cases weren’t of equal quality. Some of them left us feeling unfulfilled, like they weren’t quite complete.
The scoring system was kind of a joke. We mostly ignored it. We acquired points for correctly answering questions about the case. We lost points for each additional lead we followed beyond the laughably low number that Holmes needed. We disliked this scoring system because it discouraged exploring the world and thoroughly investigating the crimes… which just felt wrong.
We found the limited amount of information Holmes ultimately worked with dubious at best. This contributed to our dislike of the scoring system. I worked for a prosecutor’s office for a couple of years and I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking Holmes’ lack of evidence to court. I know he’s essentially a superhero, but when we read Holmes’ deduction process at the conclusion of each case, it felt like a weak and silly conclusion that’s best acknowledged, but not taken to heart.
Tips for Playing
Reserve a couple of hours for gameplay.
Be ready to tackle a lot of reading, and out-loud reading if you’re playing as a group.
Have snacks, drinks, and whatever else that will add to the vibe of the mystery.
Dracula’s Castle was a search-and-puzzle escape room with a narrative twist: from introduction to conclusion, our gamemaster was an off-stage character in our experience. Mystery Escape Room had some shaky execution, but their inventive and humorous game delivery was impressive.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
Who knew Abraham Van Helsing wasn’t a closer? He thought he had slain Count Dracula, but the legendary vampire continued to draw blood. We were asked to invade Dracula’s castle under cover of sunlight to finish what Van Helsing couldn’t.
Dracula’s Castle was dimly lit and lined with stone walls. Most of the light entered from a couple of stained glass window and our lanterns. Count Dracula’s coffin rested in the middle of the space.
Dracula’s Castle had a standard search-and-puzzle escape room structure with an emphasis on narrative and magical happenings.
All of the gameplay was overseen by our incredibly attentive and hilarious in-character but out-of-room gamemaster. He remained a regular audible presence throughout the experience.
Our introduction to Dracula’s Castle was phenomenal. It was informative, engaging, and humorous.
Our gamemaster was a character in our experience. Although offstage for the duration of the game clock, his verbal interactions were helpful and amusing. He was an integral part of Dracula’s Castle.
The puzzles flowed well.
The dark set was appropriately ominous and felt castle-y.
The conclusion balanced intensity and humor. It worked well.
The set was too dark. The perpetually inadequate lighting turned otherwise fun puzzles frustrating.
When we solved a puzzle, we couldn’t always find the resulting open. Especially given the darkness, Mystery Escape Room could build more feedback into tech-driven opens, in the form of lighting, sound, or movement.
We had to stop and read a lot. We would have preferred more variety in clue structure and more clueing born of the environment.
One involved puzzle overstayed its welcome.
Tips for Visiting
Mystery Escape Room is located in The Gateway. There are a few restaurant options in the complex.
There is a paid parking garage in The Gateway complex.
The Lost Soul was a search-heavy, locked-compartment, older-style escape room with a rundown set, tenuous connections, and uncomfortable 3D renderings. Lok’d! Room Escape did present quite a charming twist at the end… but it was not enough to make this a recommendable escape room.
Who is this for?
Diehard M. Night Shyamalan fans
The ghost of old Alistair Winthrop locked us in his study. He would not let us leave until we brought his soul peace by uncovering the truth about his wife Margaret’s mysterious disappearance.
The Lost Soul was set in a study with old furniture and a laptop. There was one corner of the room partitioned off and rendered “out of play.”
Aesthetically, this escape room was uninspiring and drab.
The Lost Soul was an old-school search-and-puzzle escape room.
The gameplay largely revolved around searching for hidden items and solving puzzles loosely connected to the story in order to pop combination locks.
The Lost Soul included a strange and amusing twist. We never saw it coming.
Some of puzzle solutions and materials foreshadowed the plot twist.
Our gamemaster was attentive and helpful.
For the most part, the puzzles didn’t have any reason to exist in that gamespace. They were random and disconnected. This was particularly true of the Sudoku and the crossword… which were literally from a newspaper.
At two points we didn’t know whether we had found a clue or trash… They were clues.
The Lost Soul flowed such that we could unlock ciphered material before finding the keys. Given that Lok’d! Room Escape used common ciphers, we could have easily skipped over things and lost the thread of gameplay. I’ve written about this issue in the past.
While lovely and attentive, our gamemaster lacked sufficient camera coverage. The cameras weren’t pointed at the things we struggled with. Her hints led us astray because she couldn’t tell what had been solved.
The Lost Soul included some weird and creepy animation that persisted throughout the experience. This guy presided over haunted our entire game. Fun fact: if you look into his eyes you can see the bottom of the uncanny valley.
The Lost Soul was dated and rundown.
Disclosure: Lok’d! Room Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.
Prison Bus Escape put a refreshing twist on the prison escape theme by setting it on a bus. While this was an old school game with a lot of recognizable tropes, it still felt exciting because of the actor / gamemaster, strong puzzle flow, and entertaining environment.
Who is this for?
People who are mobile
Best for any experience level
It was on a bus
The actor / gamemaster
Our crew and some other notorious gangsters were being transferred to another prison. With the bus disabled, we had a brief opportunity to free ourselves.
Alcatraz Escape Games had a bus parked beside their building. This was Prison Bus Escape. It was an old school bus turned into an escape room. The concept was clever and the space was fun.
Prison Bus Escape was a fairly standard escape room with solid puzzles and good flow. The key twist (in addition to the setting) was an in-room actor gamemaster who added a lot of flavor.
Prison Bus Escape took place on an actual school bus. This setting enhanced the story. It came together nicely.
The bus was partitioned such that even on this confined set, the escape room had different scenes. This built dramatic tension.
We weren’t alone on the bus. Our prisoner-gamemaster was helpful and amusing.
The majority of the gameplay took place in a heated area of the bus. Given that we visited Alcatraz Escape Games in January, this was really important.
We moved through the puzzles and the bus with ease, not because they were easy, but because Alcatraz Escape Games built clue structure into the bus. It played well, progressed the story, and delivered a finale.
We were confused how to approach the prisoner on the bus. In the introduction, we were told that if anyone touched the prisoner, our game would end. In a tight space, we exerted a lot of energy trying to avoid any contact with him. In truth, this rule only meant that we shouldn’t harm the actor… or his stuff… which was in an area that was in play… and not marked as out of play… This was also confusing.
Prison Bus Escape suffered from expansive search combined with weak search tools. In two instances, the tool we received could barely uncover the information or trigger the response.
Prison Bus Escape included a serious red herring. While likely not intended as such, the puzzle affixed to this prop didn’t look intentional enough to usurp the distraction of the item. This prop will likely be a time sink for many less experienced teams.
There were some exposed wires and out-of-game components that should have been hidden away.
There is no way to generate a single answer to the question “how many English words can this lock create?” English is a constantly evolving language. Words are created, usage shifts, and words fall into disuse.
Column A is the common English word list. This is by far the most useful column. It has 695 words.
Column B is the “ENABLE” word list. These are still words, but they are obscure or old English.
The next three columns are decreasing useful, with the fifth column being words from Wikipedia (which includes acronyms, initialisms and the like).
Each list omits the words found in the previous lists.
I’ve included all of the columns in the spreadsheet because even the less useful columns have some interesting entries… They are just few and far between.
Bragg used TEA Crossword Helper, which is anagramming software on steroids. This is the kind of software that you use if you’re really serious about winning a major puzzle hunt.
From the TEA website:
“TEA comes with a database of over 6 million words and phrases including the title index for the English version of Wikipedia. These answers are classified by their familiarity, so you always see the most likely ones first. You can look up the meanings in the integrated dictionary/thesaurus or on the Internet. TEA is faster and more convenient than word lists in book form such as crossword completers, crossword dictionaries and crossword keys.”
Is There A Better Distribution?
The letters on each disk are pretty curious, especially when you notice oddities like the “J” in the first disk or the “Y” in the second disk.
From a letter frequency standpoint, these are not great letters to drop in those positions.
I reached out to Master Lock to ask how they chose this letter distribution, but they could not be reached for comment.
I suspect that there are more effective letter distributions possible that would generate even more words, but after a quick attempt at doing better, I fell a bit short. If you find one, I’d be curious to see it.
However, whether or not there is a better distribution, this is the one we have on these locks. It’s a lot of options. Feel free to use this list as a tool.