Locked-Up Escape Games – Escape The Serial Killer [Review]

Killer game.

Location: Cheektowaga, NY

Date played: January 21, 2017

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

Captured by a psychopath and locked up, we had to survive his death trap.

Locked-Up is the escape room section of House of Horrors & Haunted Catacombs. They are a haunt company and that background influenced their escape room design. Escape The Serial Killer was intense, disturbing, and dark in tone as well as lighting.

For those who had visited THE BASEMENT in Los Angeles, it was clear that Locked-Up took inspiration from that game for look, tone, and approach. (Note, however, that Escape The Serial Killer did not have any actors in the room.) This was a murder house.

In-game: A man with a bag over his head at a grimy desk.


Escape The Serial Killer worked puzzle content and puzzle flow into the terror-based setting. They pulled off both aspects of the experience.

The puzzling was grounded in the props and set, occasionally dipping into more task-based interactions to keep the game flowing.


Escape The Serial Killer’s set was badass. Gritty, grimy, and occasionally grotesque, it was an intense horror experience done right. Locked-Up clearly put substantial time and effort into the design and buildout. Locked-Up minded the details; the escape room environment frequently felt real.

There were a couple of solo moments for the bold. These  varied in intensity. They were certainly cool experiences.

The puzzling and interaction design enforced teamwork and fostered a superb player dynamic.


Beware of loud moments. Noises over 85 decibels are considered harmful to the human ear. My ears physically hurt at one point, so, whatever the exact volume, it was too loud. Locked-Up should consider adjusting the loud moments so that they are within a safe and comfortable range. The pain took me out of the experience.

Mind the splinters. Because many surfaces needed a good sanding, a few of us left with teeny-tiny bits of the game in our fingers. Additionally, a few surfaces ought to be cleaned. There’s a different between dirty and dirty-looking.

The early game was frustratingly choppy. This was augmented by challenging lighting that didn’t work well with the puzzle design. All of this conspired to slow the beginning of Escape The Serial Killer a little too much. I suspect that this prevents some teams from seeing the room escape’s excellent mid- and late-game moments.

Should I play Locked-Up Escape Games’ Escape The Serial Killer?

Escape The Serial Killer was the closest thing I’ve seen to THE BASEMENTit’s impossible to have played both companies without making comparisons. The set design was on par with THE BASEMENT, while the puzzles and game flow were stronger than what I saw from the famous Los Angeles company. Where Locked-Up fell short was in the fine-tuning. Additionally, two iconic moments from THE BASEMENT’s games show up in lesser implementations than the originals.

Escape The Serial Killer was an awesome game that would hold up in the most competitive of markets. So long as you and your team are excited to experience the frights, then it’s a must-play.

If you’re afraid of the idea of an escape room, then this is not the game for you.

If you don’t want to feel fear, then this is not the game for you.

If you don’t cooperate well with your friends, then this is not the game for you.

Escape room first timers will enjoy this room, but likely will not fully appreciate this experience. I would strongly suggest playing at least one more typical escape room before diving into the adrenalin-filled deep end.

Those bold enough to play ought to do so.

Book your hour with Locked-Up Escape Games’ Escape The Serial Killer, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Locked-Up Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.


5 Rules For Actors in Room Escapes [Design Tips]

There are dos and don’ts for playing an escape room with a live actor.

Actors also need to be mindful of how they interact with escape room players.

1: We don’t know you or your character

You look great. Your costume looks great. You’ve clearly committed to your character… but who the hell are you? And why are you suddenly in control of my life?

Even for an experienced room escaper, actors can be off-putting. At this point, they aren’t common in room escapes and each interaction with an actor is different.

You have to build trust.

To do that, you have to build your character for us and you have to do that quickly. We have to learn that you aren’t harmful.

Detailed zombie makeup on a male actor. He looks very undead.
Photo from Seth A. Wolfson, Make-Up FX artist and escape room owner (not an actual escape room actor)

2: Most of us aren’t actors

You’re good at what you do. You probably studied acting… we haven’t. Most of us have never acted in something scripted, let alone attempted improv. We don’t know about “yes and.”

You’re going to have to play to us because most of us can’t play to you.

3: Be mindful of all of us

Every team has loud individuals who stand out and grab your attention. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the team isn’t looking to interact with you. Others may simply be more shy about it.

On the flip side, some of us might not want anything to do with you. You have to read your audience. In order to do that, you have to pay attention to every single person.

4: Don’t devour our time

When we’re on the clock, your monologues become painful to listen to.

We can see that you’re acting your ass off, but we’re having a hard time paying attention to you because we can see a puzzle over your shoulder and all we want to do is solve it.

Tell your story. Do your thing. But please, for the love of puzzles, do it quickly.

5: You have the ability to make or break our game

You are completely in charge of our game. If you don’t want us to win, then you can almost certainly prevent us from winning. If you don’t want us to have a good time, then we are likely in for a pretty miserable hour.

This power is in your hands and there are times when it’s completely acceptable to exercise it.

  • A belligerent group of drunks? Mess with them.
  • A player harasses you? Kick him out.

Most people like us are just looking for a good time. If our team plays a little loose with the rules at first, that doesn’t mean we automatically deserve punishment.

Be especially mindful of individually ticketed mixed teams. If a couple of people are misbehaving that doesn’t mean that all of us should suffer your wrath.

Games with actors can be a wonderful thing, but they can become demeaning for the players when the actor goes out of their way to mock or hinder the team.

Use your power wisely and with restraint.

Puzzle Out – Architect’s Studio [Review]

Make it big. Bigger. Bigger still. Ok that will do.

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Date played: January 16, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25-34 per ticket

Story & setting

We were hired by an architect attempting to build the largest skyscraper in the world. We were dispatched to sneak into a rival’s office and determine the height of the skyscraper he was creating. If we were successful, our client’s tower would surely be taller.

Points for originality.

The set was an architect’s studio. It looked like it was going for the minimalist Apple Store aesthetic, but didn’t quite get there.

In-game: A drafting table.

There were 5 building models set atop filing cabinets. Each model presented a unique set of puzzling challenges.

The setup, while relevant to completing the final puzzles, was ultimately more theme than story.


Most of the puzzling in the Architect’s Studio centered on the aforementioned building models. While none of them were simple, they ranged broadly in complexity, and each employed smart counter brute-force elements.

All puzzles ultimately led to a lock and key, but it didn’t matter because the building puzzles that led to the combinations were all compelling, tangible or mechanical interactions.

In-game: A series of filing cabinet pedestals, each with a different building model puzzle atop it.


The building puzzles felt heavily inspired by The Room video game series, and they pulled it off well. Everything had weight to it, and solving the individual puzzles felt immensely satisfying.

The puzzles fostered a ton of teamwork and collaboration. Every puzzle had at least two people work on it together.

The overall collection of puzzles was superb.


There were a few instances where the puzzle construction could have benefited from refinement. One of the buildings had some exposed screw tips that should be ground down, and generally didn’t function as smoothly as it could have. A different puzzle would have benefited from better magnets. Another puzzle had pieces that fit together a little too snugly. I shouldn’t have had to use as much force as I did to make it work.

The layout of the room led to some serious cramping. The puzzle stations all looked good in a row, but moving them around a little could open up the space and allow for more players to get involved with them.

Aesthetically, the space didn’t feel on par with the level of puzzle quality. While the filing cabinets thematically fit with the space, they didn’t add to the experience.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s Architect’s Studio?

Architect’s Studio was Puzzle Out’s sophomore game, and it has come a long way. They shed the throwaway puzzles, and presented an original, unified concept. The puzzles were great, and I had a smile on my face the whole time.

Architect’s Studio should be enjoyable for both experienced and novice players. It was both approachable and had depth to it.

Where Puzzle Out left room for improvement was in aesthetic execution and narrative. The gameplay and flow were excellent. Our team had a ton of fun while playing Architect’s Studio. When Puzzle Out nails the look and construction of their games, they will be one hell of a competitor.

Book your hour with Puzzle Out’s Architect’s Studio, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Puzzle Out comped our tickets for this game.

Out of the Box – The Seventh Room [Review]

Truth in advertising: It was honestly out of the box.

Location: Austin, TX

Date played: January 8, 2017

Team size: up to 8 for online booking; we recommend 2 – ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

There’s no shortage of escape room companies that claim that they are different. Usually, “we’re different, you’ve never seen anything like this,” means that it’s a standard escape room with a small twist.

Out of the Box was legitimately different.

On their website they claim, “The Seventh Room is the most unique escape room concept in Austin.” I’ll endorse that claim, and add that The Seventh Room as unique an escape room concept as I have encountered to date.

But was it fun?

Story & setting

Here’s how Out of the Box describes their own game:

The Seventh Room mixes room escape games, choose-your-own-adventure stories and interactive theater to create a real-life puzzle solving experience for attendees. To make the experience even more memorable, a cast of improv-trained actors are armed with riddles, back-stories and cryptic clues to help guide participants through the puzzles. During the challenge, participants explore several theatrically-designed rooms to look for clues where they will encounter lock boxes, riddles, hidden compartments and colorful characters.”

I would describe it as an eclectic house of puzzles, curiosities, and intrigue.

The game began with a self-administered puzzle in the lobby. Upon completion, we were led into the first space where an actor in the character of a librarian explained the rules and structure for us.

Essentially, we experienced 4 quarter-hour segments in different rooms within Out of the Box’s facility. The librarian ushered us around, chose the rooms in which we would play, and provided a curated experience.

Whimsically designed, yet detailed, the various rooms were created to identify our comfort zones and then give us a gentle shove out of them.

In-game: An actor standing at a mysterious bar.
Image via Out of the Box

If there was a story embedded in The Seventh Room, we never caught so much as a whiff of it, which was fine.

We saw a lot of the facility but played in only about half of the spaces. Each individual space had a distinctive look and feel. While each looked great, some were more compelling and polished than others.

Rather than escape or stop some calamity within 60 minutes, we aimed to maximize our points. In that regard The Seventh Room was like Epic Team Adventures’ Volcano God, but it didn’t take place in a single room or allow individual players to lean on their strengths to maximize the score, because at the end of a 15-minute segment our guide chose the next set of challenges.

The Seventh Room was a points-driven room escape with 5 very different games (counting the lobby), broken out into exceedingly different spaces, all guided by an actor.


Your experience will vary, but we enjoyed many tavern puzzles, riddles, and wordplay, as  bit of well as some decipherment and problem solving.

We also had a few non-puzzley interpersonal challenges to tackle.

We succeeded in a big way in The Seventh Room. So much of this game and our success in it depended on collaboration, team dynamic, and a no-ego approach to the game. It was clear in each section which teammates had the right skills to thrive. Once that was established, the rest of the team shifted to support those players.

In our case, we experienced a high puzzle density game because we solved things so rapidly that our dear librarian was at times falling behind our solve rate. Note that we brought an incredibly puzzle-experienced team.


The adaptive experience worked well and kept us busy throughout our hour with Out of the Box.

Our guide/actor was exceptional. She was in character throughout our time in the facility and she was great fun to play with.

Each room had its own set of rules. Those rules were delivered upon entry to the space and without the clock running. It made it easy to take them in and abide by them.

In-game: an actress sitting in a window surrounded by a variety of brightly colored symbols.
Image via Out of the Box

There was continual mystery as we never knew where we were going next, or what would be demanded of us.

This led to some moments that really did force some of our teammates out of the comfort zone.

The Library set was awesome, brilliant, and so impressive.

The Seventh Room was honestly replayable, for at least a few playthroughs. When I am next in Austin, I will, without hesitation, return to play again.


Not all rooms within The Seventh Room were created equal. We found ourselves in one space that wasn’t particularly compelling. Once we had solved the puzzle in the room, we found ourselves stuck completing the same task over and over for additional points until the end of the segment.

More than with most escape rooms, I would not want to play The Seventh Room with strangers.

In the optimal presentation of The Seventh Room, each individual room has a different actor who presides over it. We had the librarian lead us through the entire hour on her own. She was superb, but a fraction of what we imagine Out of the Box could deliver under the best of circumstances. I imagine the full experience would be costly, but the website and marketing promised more than it delivered.

Should I play Out of the Box’s The Seventh Room?


If you’re a newbie, the actors can help make the experience more approachable.

If you’re a seasoned puzzler and escaper, Out of the Box is truly different and will fill your hour with puzzles. For those of us who are accustomed to playing through an average game in roughly half of the allotted time, that’s a pretty big deal.

If you’re a serious puzzler, give Out of the Box a heads up before you book and ask them to put together a tougher game for you. The librarian told us that they will accommodate that request.

The only folks who might not be keen on The Seventh Room are those who are seeking a cohesive narrative. If that’s the case, Out of the Box likely won’t be your thing.

Our team size recommendation was: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. This is a first for us, but we’re fairly certain that the game would be adapted to accommodate as few as 2 and many more than 8 without sacrificing the experience in anyway. Out of the Box allows for custom bookings over the phone for parties larger than 8.

Out of the Box’s sets were great, the actor we saw was wonderful, and the puzzles were non-stop.

Book your hour with Out of the Box’s The Seventh Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Out of the Box comped our tickets for this game.


The Crux Escape – Dead Air [Review]

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

Location: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Date played: January 22, 2017

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: 21-26 CAD per ticket

Story & setting

The rock n’ roll zombie apocalypse had arrived. Most of humanity had been transformed into herds of mindless brain eaters. A local radio station had become the last stronghold of humanity. To earn our safety, we needed to prove that the zombie virus hadn’t impaired our cognitive abilities by solving puzzles.

Our gamemaster accurately described the game as more Scooby Doo than Walking Dead. The playful take on zombies was devoid of frights and filled with playfulness and impeccable worldbuilding. We were playing a rock n’ roll room escape with the idea of zombies functioning as the game timer.

In-game: Door art of a zombie at a turntable. It reads "DEAD AIR"

The radio station set looked awesome. Loaded with posters for bands, concerts, and promotions, every little component of the escape room had been custom made for the game world. The album art and band names were particularly memorable. The room escape’s rock n’ roll soundtrack made sure that we never forgot where we were.

In-game: Album art shows 4 zombies and read's "Assist! Please Dearest"
The album cover we had to hold up to call for a hint.


There was a little something for everyone in Dead Air. There were plenty of puzzles available in largely open spaces with minimal searching required.

While each puzzle offered its own challenge, Dead Air went out of its way to make sure that we could easily identify puzzles and related puzzle components. This allowed us to keep our focus on the overall experience without having to constantly search for obscure connections.


Everything made sense. And I mean everything. The story built a world. The set was the embodiment of that world. The hints were delivered by the radio announcer over the radio station. When the hints weren’t coming in, the station was playing music or plugging upcoming events. Above all, it actually made sense to be trapped in a radio station solving puzzles in the midst of Armageddon.

In-game: A studio with an "On Air" sign illuminated. Band art hangs on the walls.
Image provided by The Crux

The set was fun and compelling.

The game was legitimately funny.

The puzzling was satisfying.

The custom album art was fantastic. The custom art and bands kept our focus on the game world. Had there been album art from real bands, the game would still have been wonderful, but this added detail kept our minds from drifting back to the real world.


The name Dead Air, while brilliant, implied that the game was frightening. The Crux’s description of the game on their website doesn’t do much to dissuade anyone of that judgment:

“The dead have risen up and are roaming the streets. You and your small band of survivors discover that the local radio station is still broadcasting, so you brave your way down to the studios to investigate. Will you find shelter or will the zombies overtake you? Test your wits in a rock’n’roll apocalypse!”

I am willing to bet that they are losing customers who think that this game will be scary.

Dead Air was missing a satisfying climax. It had so many great little moments, but I wish that it had that climactic moment that no player would ever forget.

Should I play The Crux Escape’s Dead Air?


If you’re a newbie, Dead Air would make a fine first game. If you’ve played a few hundred escape rooms, Dead Air feels fresh, fun, and grounded.

Game design professor and escape room community celebrity Scott Nicholson put out a paper titled Ask Why: Creating a Better Player Experience through Environmental Storytelling and Consistency in Escape Room DesignDead Air was the living embodiment of “ask why.” Everything was grounded in the fiction of the game. Mix that with some great puzzles and the result was a phenomenal experience from start to finish.

Book your game with The Crux Escape’s Dead Air, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.


Escape Haus -Egyptian Mysteries [Review]

The name “Isis” has been seriously ruined.

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Date played: January 7, 2017

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 2-8 (depending upon experience level)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket, $20 per ticket if booking for 5 or more players

Story & setting

A renowned egyptologist had made a key discovery and was promptly abducted by individuals who wanted to keep his discovery a secret. We had an hour to piece his work back together in order to learn his discovery before those who had captured him reached his office and destroyed his work.

If the Egypt section of a children’s history museum had a baby with a Franklin Mint store, it would be Egyptian Mysteries. Made up of display cases of artifacts, a massive wall mural, and a Sphinx that was larger than the smallest escape room I’ve ever played, Egyptian Mysteries was vibrant, inviting, and academic yet playful.

In-game, the walls are painted in hieroglyphics, small locked boxes lay about, and a massive sphinx statue sits in the middle of the room.


Egyptian Mysteries was a large game that was designed for player friendliness. There were a ton of straightforward puzzles to solve. None of them were particularly challenging nor did they overstay their welcome.

This was Escape Haus’ style for their large games: Everything was eminently solvable, so long as we observed the room carefully and kept organized.


The mural and sphinx were pretty damn cool.

The puzzling was fun and uncomplicated.

Everything was thoughtfully designed.

The Escape Haus facilities and staff were caring and friendly.


Egyptian Mysteries felt a little heavy on boxes. It would have been great to see more of the game built into the set.

Similarly, a lot of the puzzles felt small and disconnected. A few more puzzle interactions involving the large set pieces would have gone a long way.

The story lacked gravity and had nearly no impact on the game.

Should I play Escape Haus’ Egyptian Mysteries?

Escape Haus was located between Austin and San Antonio, Texas. We had to go out of our way to visit them, 50 minutes in each direction from Austin. Amanda Harris (who played her 400th escape room on this trip to Texas) and I did it twice because we wanted to go back to Escape Haus for more.

Egyptian Mysteries was simple, but we left the game feeling joyful and energized. Everything from the waiting room, to their games, to the staff felt welcoming.

I am legitimately not sure how many people would make an ideal team size for Egyptian Mysteries. Amanda and I plowed through everything in approximately 40 minutes, but this wasn’t a company designed to accommodate seasoned room escapers.

It was, however, an exceptional game for newbies. On the drive back to Austin, I told Amanda, “It wasn’t hard, and I wouldn’t recommend someone fly across the country to play it… but I would be happy if that was everyone’s first game. It would be good for the industry.” New Braunfels, Texas. Who knew?

Book your hour with Escape Haus’ Egyptian Mysteries, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Haus comped our tickets for this game.

Meet us at “Up The Game” in The Netherlands

May 9, 2017, we’ll have the honor of speaking to the audience at Up The Game, the International Escape Room & Real life Gaming conference in Breda, The Netherlands.

Up The Game 2017

Hosted in The Prison Dome Breda, an actual former prison, I can’t really think of a more interesting conference venue. Plus… it looks awesome. I will be bringing my good camera.

We’ll be speaking on The Player Experience (a greatly updated version of our talk from the 2016 Room Escape Conference in Chicago), and likely participating in a panel discussion.

The exciting speaker list for Up The Game includes Scott Nicholson and the folks from Punchdrunk (Sleep No More). I am particularly excited to hear Nataša Potočnik’s talk on historical escape rooms, among so many others.

Come meet us!

It will be a long flight, but it looks worth it. Grab your passport and join us across the ocean for some international escapes and an exchange of ideas.

Keen observers will also note that Up The Game is taking place one week after the Buffalo / Niagara Room Escape Conference. We will be attending both and delivering completely different talks at each. If a prison in The Netherlands is a bit too extreme, we certainly hope to meet in my former home of Buffalo, New York.

See you in prison.

Reality Rooms Niagara – Wine Cellar [Review]

A rare vintage.

Location: Lewiston, NY

Date played: January 22, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 per ticket

Story & setting

In the wine cellar of an eccentric collector, we had to search for the legendary million dollar bottle of wine.

While the story was simple, the set was not. We were in a beautiful wine cellar. There were faux stone walls, barrels, crates, and large racks with bottles. The Wine Cellar looked authentic.

In-game: A wine cellar with stone walls, barrels, and large racks of wine behind an iron gate.

We were mentally prepared for the Wine Cellar to turn into a vaguely horror game with organs in the wine or whatever… but Reality Rooms Niagara resisted that trope and played their adventure clean. It was refreshing.


There was a solid mix of puzzles in the Wine Cellar. We ran into some trouble with the puzzling due to a need for outside knowledge to draw a few key conclusions.

Throughout the game, the environment, props, and embedded technology played a regular part in the puzzling experience, which helped to keep our attention on the excellent set.


The set was pretty fantastic. It looked and felt like a wine cellar.

I had seen an image of a wine cellar in Reality Rooms Niagara’s brochure at a local restaurant prior to our visit. I cynically thought that it was a photo of a real wine cellar and not the game. (A fair number of companies pull that kind of move in creating the marketing materials.) I was dead wrong. That was an in-game photo and I could not be happier about it.

The use of the various props was clever and felt natural in the game’s environment.

The conclusion of the game was entertaining.


While the puzzles themselves were plenty sound, a few of them required outside knowledge due to weak clue structure. We were pretty caught off guard by this and thought we were missing information within the room. The requirement of outside knowledge is a cardinal sin in escape room design and was by far the biggest opportunity for improvement in the Wine Cellar.

There was a puzzle that triggered technologically before we had completed the interaction. We were utterly baffled by this. In fact, we thought we had broken something or that it happened by accident. As a result, we spun our wheels for a while not sure what to do. It turned out that everything behaved as expected, suggesting that the tech in the room could benefit from a little bit of iteration.

Should I play Reality Rooms Niagara’s Wine Cellar?

The Wine Cellar was a wonderfully low-key adventure. It never attempted to add hefty stakes or turn dark. It was simply a beautiful environment in which to puzzle through to an incredibly sensible conclusion.

It had its flaws in the form of outside knowledge and a finicky technological implementation, but both of these flaws are fixable. I hope that Reality Rooms Niagara addresses them because while the Wine Cellar was a lot of fun, it could be pretty magnificent with a little bit of adjustment.

I recommend experienced players stop by to enjoy the atmosphere and puzzling.

Beginners could take on the Wine Cellar, but I suspect that they would need to use hint liberally to make progress because the clue structure got a bit tenuous at times. It was a good game, but its more confusing elements could sour the experience for less unseasoned players.

On my next trip to Buffalo, I am eager to return to Reality Rooms Niagara. Cheers!

Book your hour with Reality Rooms Niagara’s Wine Cellar, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Reality Rooms Niagara comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.


Handling Counting Puzzles [Room Design & Player Tip]

It turns out that I’ve been counting wrong my whole life… and the odds are good that you have been too.

On a few occasions I’ve encountered escape rooms that include high counting “puzzles.” I am referring to challenges that required our team to count a large volume of items and input those numbers into a combination lock.

While I’ve encountered poorly-clued, high-volume counting puzzles in some of my worst escape room experiences, counting as a challenge isn’t all that uncommon. Here’s how to better handle counting challenges as both a player and a designer.

The Count from Sesame Street kneeling and holding up 4 fingers.

Counting puzzles done well

Counting as a reasonable escape room puzzle usually looks something like this:

You’re in a music studio room and there are instruments all over the place. Most are obvious; a few are well hidden. There are 5 guitars, a keyboard, 2 basses, and 9 drums. Somewhere else in the room you find production notes that say, “when putting together the mix, I started with the bass, then added in the drums, the guitars, and finished with the keyboard.” Your combination is 2-9-5-1.

Counting isn’t fun

Every experienced escape room player eventually finds puzzle types that they simply cannot stand. For example, black lights catch a lot of flack. (I don’t think they deserve all of it.) Counting disappoints me every time I encounter it, even when it’s done well.

It’s a lazy puzzle. It’s patronizing to ask anyone older than 10 to mindlessly count, especially when they are paying for the privilege.

How to count better

While I may not like counting, I will do it when the game demands it. So I was pretty happy to learn that TED-Ed put out a video showing a number of better ways to count large numbers… with your fingers.

I wish I had known this when I was a kid because whenever I had to count anything my brother would love to shout a string of random numbers to throw me off.

Image via Wikipedia.

Video via Lifehacker.

Solve this crossword in less than 12 minutes and you could have been a WWII codebreaker

The famed British codebreakers of Bletchley Park placed a challenging crossword puzzle in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on January 13, 1942. Anyone (man or woman) who could solve it in under 12 minutes was asked to write in.

Those who claimed they succeeded were brought in and given a second one to solve in person.

The few who accomplished the task were recruited to serve King and Country.

This story and many more incredible tales of code making and breaking are told in Simon Singh’s The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. It’s an exceptional read that I highly recommend.

Give the infamous crossword a try

Remember, you have only 12 minutes and you may not use the internet or any other cheats.

I couldn’t even come close to solving it. Godspeed.


(Via the Daily Telegraph)

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale).