Hey REA, Will You Sign My NDA?

We’ve had many variants of this conversation over the years. I’m hoping that sharing this will reduce the frequency of this dialog:

Hopeful Creator: “Hey Room Escape Artist! I have this super awesome game concept and I’d love to get your thoughts on it!”

Us: “Sure, we love talking about nifty things.”

Stylized image of a person reviewing a contract.

Over-protective Creator: “Huzzah! So… before I tell you about my super awesome thing, I need you to sign an non-disclosure agreement.”

Us: “Yeah… that’s not going to happen.”

Confounded Creator: “Wait… what?”

Us: “It’s nothing personal… we just don’t sign them. NDA’s are almost always painfully broad and we don’t have any idea what idea you’re going to tell us, so we don’t know how it would affect us. We’re not gaining anything besides interesting conversation and you’re asking us for our thoughts. Take a look at our site. We don’t publish gossip… and whatever you’re going to tell us, I can guarantee we’ve kept far more sensitive secrets that other creators have shared with us.”

Hopeful Creator: “I see… so you won’t write about it or tell anyone?”

Us: “Yup. We don’t trade in gossip. We sat on this story even though it was to our own financial detriment to do so. We’d love to hear what you’re working on, but if you can’t tell us, we totally understand.”

Creator: “Ok. So here’s what I’m working on…” 

We’re down to talk. We aren’t introducing legal entanglements to our conversations.

Ravensburger – Space Observatory Escape Puzzle [Review]

The Death Star

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

Space Observatory offered a slightly more challenging jigsaw than the other Ravensburger Escape Puzzles, but concluded with a softer series of “escape room” puzzles.

If you’re more of a jigsaw puzzler, Space Observatory is the smart place to start. It worked well from beginning to end. Its meta-puzzle was a little easier to grasp than those in the other Escape Puzzles.

Whether you’re new with the series, already a fan of these, Space Observatory put on a strong show for the Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzle series.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.

For a detailed explanation of the concept and mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Ravensburger Escape Puzzle Overview.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a beautiful telescope in a warm book-filled study.
Space Observatory


While exploring an observatory, we’d happened upon a letter from a professor warning us of an impending cataclysm. The professor had build a device capable of saving the world, but couldn’t activate it. It was up to us to save the world.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a map of the planets.


➕ When it all came together, the jigsaw puzzle’s art was delightful.

❓ While we were assembling the jigsaw puzzle, a whole lot of it felt really similar… especially the many shelved books. Whether this is wonderful or annoying really comes down to personal preference.

➕ One of the “escape room” puzzles featured a really clever twist that was a bit confounding for more experienced puzzlers.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a microscope and a quill pen.

❓ The concluding meta-puzzle was considerably easier than those in the other 3 Escape Puzzles. This would be great if Space Observatory was your first Escape Puzzle… and may be less interesting if it was your fourth.

Buy Now

Buy your copy of Ravensburger’s Space Observatory Escape Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ravensburger provided a sample for review.

(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. We appreciate the support.)

Ravensburger – Escape Puzzle [Overview]

Jigsaw puzzle mixed with a tabletop escape game.

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

We really liked this series of puzzle hybrids: famed jigsaw puzzle producer Ravensburger applied an escape room-esque twist to their core product.

The cover of Ravensburger Escape Puzzle, Witch's Kitchen.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we solved 3 of them while our friend, the wonderfully talented puzzler Tammy McLeod, spent a weekend visiting us.

In the first wave, Ravensburger has released 4 separate Escape Puzzles, each containing 759 puzzle pieces and incorporating 6 or 8 puzzles within the assembled image.

We love jigsaw puzzles. The Escape Puzzle twist was delightful because it added more purpose behind the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle.

An opened jigsaw puzzle box filled with pieces.

Not all of these puzzles were created equal. Some had more interesting art; others had better puzzles. We will discuss each in an individual review.

If this concept sounds like fun, begin with Witch’s Kitchen or Space Observatory for reasons that will become more clear in subsequent reviews.

Series Installments

Presented in order from our favorite to least favorite:

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a kettle over a fire surrounded by magical ingredients and books.
Witch’s Kitchen

Who is this for?

  • Jigsaw puzzlers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • They are good jigsaw puzzles
  • The added twist of an additional system of puzzles
  • The meta-puzzles

Setup & Gameplay

We’re going to publish short reviews of each puzzle in the series. For the sake of simplicity and repetition reduction, we’re covering the basics in this overview.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a beautiful telescope in a warm book-filled study.
Space Observatory

While the individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzles each offered a unique picture and puzzle set, they all followed the same structure:

1. Jigsaw Assembly

We began by assembling the 759-piece jigsaw puzzle. This progressed normally with only two deviations from traditional jigsaw puzzles:

First, we had to remove the extraneous rectangular pieces. These appeared to be a byproduct of Ravensburger’s production process. They were a minor annoyance.

A pile of junk rectangular pieces.
Not part of the puzzle… but included anyway.

Second, the edge of the Escape Puzzles was a bit strange. There were only 3 piece shapes and any of the pieces could interconnect with any other. Edge assembly relied completely upon the pieces’ colors, patterns, and textures.

Mismatched, but connected edge pieces.
All edges connect.

Additionally, many of the edge pieces had 2, 3, or 4 digit numbers printed on them. These became relevant later.

Edge pieces with numbers printed on them.

2. Puzzles Within the Puzzle

After assembling the jigsaw puzzle, we identified and solved the 6 or 8 puzzles within it. Some puzzles were obvious; some were more concealed. They were all embedded within the jigsaw puzzle image.

Each puzzle resolved to a number. Once we derived a correct answer, we’d find the piece with the corresponding number printed on it around the edge of the jigsaw puzzle. Then we removed that piece.

If we got stuck, we could reference a hint website for help. The hints were tiered, but usually only had two tiers.

3. The Meta-Puzzle

Each escape puzzle concluded with a meta-puzzle, or a puzzle made from the solutions of other puzzles.

We had to take our collection of numbered edge pieces from the previous step and determine what to do with them. I won’t say anything else about this, but it was our favorite part of these puzzles.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a shark, and fish swimming around a wreck.


➕ The “escape room” puzzles at the end were a delightful addition to the traditional jigsaw puzzle. It was exciting to finish the jigsaw and then receive an entirely new challenge to cap things off. This game component was a welcome dynamic.

➕ Ravensburger makes high quality jigsaw puzzles that are printed well and fit snugly. They also have a beautiful blue backing that doesn’t add much from a functional standpoint, but looks more elegant than the traditional grey or brown backings that are common on most cardboard jigsaw puzzles.

➕ 759 pieces was a good piece count. It was serious enough to present a challenge without being so large that we were reluctant to dive in.

➕ Ravensburger cleverly included differences between the box art and the puzzle art. These changes were part of the environment itself and felt logically grounded. They also ensured that we couldn’t solve the puzzles without first solving the jigsaw puzzle.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring suits of armor, and a burning candle.
Vampire’s Castle

➕ Ravensburger puzzles don’t have a crazy amount of puzzle dust. There’s still dust, but we’ve seen so much worse.

➖ Each Escape Puzzle’s box contained numerous square frame pieces that had nothing to do with the puzzle itself. They were garbage. These appeared to be an artifact of the production process. While it was not a big problem, it was a bit annoying to have to sift these junk pieces out of the box.

➕ Each Escape Puzzle had its own quirky story to set up the “escape.” The story was relevant to the final meta puzzle.

➕/➖ The “escape” puzzles were static print puzzles, akin to the kind of thing that one might find shared on social media or within a puzzle book. For the most part, these were executed well (detailed, non-spoiler analysis to follow in the individual puzzle reviews). While there is a limit to how much a designer can achieve with this format, Ravensburger did more with this structure than we were expecting.

❓ Some of these puzzles got a bit math-y. It never involved anything beyond basic computation, but I know that there are some escape room players who are allergic to mathematics in any form.

➕/➖ The web-based hint system was adequate. It did a great job of highlighting the individual puzzles… and an ok job of providing granular, incremental hints. This system could benefit from the inclusion of more dropdown menus to allow the player to better control the flow of hints.

❓ The edge pieces were unusual in that they all fit into one another. This made the edge considerably more difficult to assemble. It was completely doable, but required a lot more attention to detail and effort. For some, it may be easier to start from the middle.

➖The puzzles within the image all solved to a number that we’d find printed on an edge piece. This meant we could get most of the way to an answer and hack our way to the proper solution based on the available numbers.

❓We spent considerably more time solving the jigsaw puzzles than solving the “escape room” puzzles.

➕ Some of the numbered edge pieces ultimately culminated in a final meta-puzzle… and this mechanic was really cool. Ravensburger used it in clever ways in all instances. It was a delightful way to conclude the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: You’ll need a flat surface. The puzzles all measure 27 x 20 inches (70 x 50 cm).
  • Required Gear: None. We like to assemble our puzzles on a large piece of foam core in case we have to move them.

Buy Them now:

Disclosure: Ravensburger provided a sample for review.

(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. We appreciate the support.)

Perplexium – Incoming Transmission [Review]


Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played: February 2, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Incoming Transmission was a sprawling space epic in the vein of Star Trek.

We’ve learned to count on Austin’s 15 Locks/ Perplexium to produce creative and unusual escape games that tinker with the formula. They did just that with Incoming Transmission.

In-game: The bridge of a space ship with multiple control consoles and many glowing lights.
Image via Perplexium

This space-based escape game was less about discovering a physical space and puzzling through it. It was more about learning the ship’s systems and using them to traverse the universe, completing missions and solving the problems of alien species. This escape room felt more like a giant control panel than a puzzle room.

This structure meant that Perplexium was able to produce a replayable game with plenty of dynamic missions to tackle.

With gameplay that felt more like a hybrid of video gaming and some tabletop gaming, Incoming Transmission could be the perfect game for your team or it could fizzle. We enjoyed ourselves and could imagine going back for a second go at space travel if we’d finished playing out the other escape rooms that interest us in Austin.

If you’re a little intrigued by all of this and near Austin, Texas, then you should beam aboard Incoming Transmission. At the very least, you’ll be in for an novel ride.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Unusual, replayable game structure
  • Great set
  • A humorous script


As cadets in the fleet, we had been beamed aboard the SS Adventure. We had to get the ship running and then traverse the universe to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly solve intergalactic problems.

In-game: A series of large control toggles.
Image via Perplexium


We were beamed aboard a Star Trek-inspired spaceship with an angular, futuristic aesthetic, complete with dozens of blinking lights, buttons, switches, and dials… all of which were active game components.

In-game: A space ship control panel with multi-colored glowing buttons.
Image via Perplexium


Perplexium’s Incoming Transmission combined standard escape room gameplay with atypical elements. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Incoming Transmission could be played in “story mode,” which combined more typical escape room-style gameplay with video game-like elements. It could be replayed in “points mode” which opened up the star system and allowed crews to go off and have a real-life video game-like adventure without some of the more tangible escape room moments.

The gameplay was similar to something like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

Core gameplay revolved around figuring out how to interact with the environment, following instructions, and communicating.

In-game: A space ship control panel with glowing buttons.
Image via Perplexium


➕ The spaceship set was interesting and beautiful.

➕ As we brought this ship to life and completed missions it reacted with different effects. These upped our excitement about the missions and our feelings of triumph.

➕ There was a heavy video component that involved alien characters appearing on a large screen to ask for help, make demands, or threaten us. It was both Star Trek-y and funny… kind of like The Orville… but without dick jokes.

➕ We enjoyed the escape room-style gameplay of configuring the ship. We especially enjoyed operating the ship’s transporter.

➖ The gameplay often felt more like following instructions than exploring or solving puzzles.

❓ The second act of the game took place at consoles, much like a multiplayer video game. It was fun, but the novelty wore off quickly. We would have liked more puzzle variety or a quicker pace during this segment. Reactions to this segment will likely vary based on individual player preferences.

➖ Incoming Transmission lacked an intense boss flight. The gameplay felt one-note, even as our ship came under fire. We would have liked to build toward the climactic battle.

➕ The replayable “points mode” concept was interesting. There were so many console-based puzzles packed into the game that we could return again and again to play though the challenges from our consoles aboard this intergalactic ship.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This room involves crawling, ducking and tight spaces. At least one player will need to do this.
  • This room includes flashing lights, fog, and loud noises.

Book your hour with Perplexium’s Incoming Transmission, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Perplexium comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Room Notebook [Review]

This was my absolute dumbest Amazon purchase.

The cover of the navy blue journal reads, "Escape Room Notebook"

We take a lot of handwritten notes about the games that we play and the posts that we’re thinking up. As a result, we burn through a few notebooks per year. So when I was perusing Amazon at 3AM and happened upon the “Escape Room Notebook” I figured, why not? 

I’m not going to pretend that this deserves a full review.

A blank notebook with horizontal rules.

Quick Review

It’s a 6” x 9” inch notebook with 150 ruled pages. As a child, Lisa would have referred to this as an “empty book.”

The cover is flimsy. It’s filled with printer paper. The rules are laser printed. It has no bookmark. The corners aren’t rounded. It’s adequate as a notebook if it never leaves your desk.

The binding of the navy blue journal reads "Escape Room."

We made it our own, with our stickers for decoration, as we do with most of our notebooks. Its inaugural trip was our escape room marathon weekend in Austin and San Antonio. We took a lot a notes!

As we packed up for the journey home, however, we noticed it was already showing a lot of wear. It’s too easy to damage. This will likely be the first notebook that we retire before filling its pages. 

I have no idea why this product exists… but I’m still kind of amused by it. 

If for some reason you’ve read this far and actually want to be the confounded owner of this mediocre notebook, then by all means, get yourself one for $7 on Amazon.

(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. We appreciate the support.)

Escape Room Random Player Theory

You enter a publicly ticketed room and meet your new teammates. Setting aside questions of their puzzling skills, or how pleasant they are to play with (attitude, communication skills, odor)… there’s a bigger question to address.

Who’s the random in the room?

Two of Dr Seuss' Sneetches. The one with a green star on its belly is looking down on the one without a star.

There are four conflicting schools of thought on this subject. I will explore the various theories of player randomness and evaluate each theory based on its own merits.

They Are Randoms Assumption


“Anyone who isn’t me or a friend of mine is a random.”


The origins of the They Are Randoms Assumption are unknown and seem to have emerged around the same time that escape rooms emerged in the United States. Many different people came to the same egocentric conclusion.


While the They Are Randoms Assumption was the prevailing belief throughout the early years of escape rooms, it relied on the presumption that randomness was bestowed upon one group of players by another, ignoring the possibility that randomness might have roots deeper than a player’s group identity.

Smaller Group Concession


The smaller group of players are the randoms.


I first became aware of this hypothesis when escape room player Daniel Devoe Dilley proposed the idea over midnight pancakes on the night of January 19/20, 2019, in a small diner in Jersey City, New Jersey.

As a player who strives to almost exclusively play in a duo, Dilley came to the profound realization that sometimes he and his wife were the randoms.


Dilley’s hypothesis was a watershed moment in Escape Room Random Player Theory. His notion that randomness is not assigned but is an inherent state of being completely shifted the nature of the debate.

Late Booker Inference


The players that book into a partially reserved room are the randoms.


During the midnight pancakes of January 19/20, 2019, Lisa Spira, co-founder of Room Escape Artist, proposed an alternative notion of inherent player randomness to counter Dilley’s hypothesis.

Spira, one of the world’s most experienced and prolific bookers of escape rooms, argued that it’s not the smaller team, but rather the group of individuals who knowingly join another group are, in fact, the randoms.


Spira’s argument is rooted in the assumption that the original group to book actively selected an empty escape room for their group. The original bookers would be surprised by the arrival of additional players whereas any players who booked into a semi-filled game took this action knowingly and thereby assumed the random mantle.

Theory of Random Relativity


In any given random team escape game, all unaffiliated parties are in a perpetual state of randomness.


At the legendary midnight pancakes of January 19/20, 2019, the most important event in the rich history of Escape Room Random Player Theory, co-founder of Room Escape Artist David Spira proposed the Theory of Random Relativity in a predictable act of one-upmanship.


His argument was rooted in the notion that for every story that he has about “some random person in an escape room,” there’s another player who has a story about this time that they were in an escape room with “a pair of random, obsessive escape room bloggers.”

A Modest Proposal

We here at Room Escape Artist like to grapple with the big questions that the escape room world faces.

Escape Room Random Player Theory may be a problem that is limited to the United States, but endless and constant forum discussions about “public vs private” ticketing are an international issue.

The next time you see a public vs private debate, I ask that you shift the discussion to something more important like, “who’s really the random in a public game?”

Escape Immerse Explore

Now… what you should be doing is coming out to our escape room tours in San Francisco or New Orleans. We’ve got an amazing lineup of games and you’ll have a chance to meet tons of fellow escape room players.

… They may be sort of randoms, but they’re the best kind of randoms.

What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks [Review]

Unleash smell!

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 8, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-6

Duration: 10 – 15 minutes

Price: $13.00

Publisher: WowWee

REA Reaction

An ever-so-slightly-used copy of What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks was handed to me by my dear friends Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson in an oversized Ziploc bag. It was in the bag because they were smart. They gave it to me because it’s clear that they harbor some hidden ill will towards me. It was only slightly used because it was not that fun.

We managed a couple of rounds and found a few laughs before we stuffed everything back into the bag… and had more fun and more laughs making a gif.

Animation of David throwing away Whats That Smell.

When I was finished, my nose felt angry, like my smell receptors had just been subjected to an olfactory DDoS attack.

Who is this for?

  • Masochists
  • Sadomasochists
  • Drunk people
  • Children

Why play?

  • A shared and harmless yet mediocre experience among friends can be pretty funny.
  • Bad smells, like poop jokes, are funny.


WowWee’s What’s That Smell? was a scent mystery game where players competed to guess smells.

Core gameplay revolved around scratching, sniffing, guessing, writing funny memories, and questioning your life decisions that led to playing What’s That Smell?.

Whats That Smell's box in the bag.


The box contained 48 scratch & sniff scent cards. Everyone drew a card, scratched, and sniffed.

The outside of a smell card.

Then everyone proceeded to fill out three questions on a form:

  • Smell category? (chemical, floral, fruity, sweet, etc.)
  • Smell guess?
  • Smell association: Your funniest memory?
An answer sheet with multiple questions.

At the end of the round, points were scored based on getting the answers right/ wrong… and whoever had the funniest memory associated with the scent.

A smell card with instructions where to scratch.

We repeated this until it grew old.

At the end of the game, the person with the lowest score had to pull from 1 of 4 extra terrible punishment smells (old toe cheese, diaper blowout, hot chunky vomit, or smothered in B.O).

Whiff of shame cards featuring "Hot Chunky Vomit," "Extra Old Toe Cheese," "Smothered in B.O.," and "Diaper Blowout."
Living the dream.


➕ For better or for worse, What’s That Smell? was easy to set up, learn, and play.

What’s That Smell? included little cardboard pieces for you to scratch the smells. This prevented the scents from getting on and under your fingernails.

➕ The inclusion of a free-form, “What’s the funniest memory you associate with this smell?” added an element of creativity.

➖ A lot of these scents were unpleasant. Most weren’t vile… but as my nose was bombarded with more and more scents, the entire experience soured.

Whats That Smell's box out of the bag.

➖ It was really difficult to tell most of these scents apart. There wasn’t a lot of definition.

➖ After playing for about 10 minutes, my nose became utterly confused.

➖ I cannot see myself opening the box in my home. It reeks.

If you made it this far, here’s a nifty TED Ed video explaining how your sense of smell works (or at least a basic overview of what humans currently understand on the subject).

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Play in a room that you can easily air out and will not be eating in

Buy your copy of WowWee’s What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(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. We appreciate the support.)

Last Chance To Book Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace

It’s getting to be that time folks. We’re down to the last few tickets to our brand new tour Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace.

This trip to San Francisco is going to be amazing. We’d love to have you join us.

Escape Immerse Explore Palace logo, uses art deco design elements.

We have updates on a few topics:

  • Schedule Updates
  • Key Dates
  • Partial Tickets
  • Escape The Palace/ Talk Tickets

Tour Schedule Updates

We’ve made a few schedule updates:

The development of Palace Games’ 4th installment is running behind, so we had to pull it from the schedule. In its place, we will have EscapeSF’s Space Bus dock in Palace Games’ parking lot.

In-game: The Space Bus school bus with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background

Additionally, we will now be running Escape The Palace as a group event. This large-scale event requires a minimum of 30 people. We’re thrilled to include it on our tour. All ticket holders will play Escape the Palace together.

Key Dates

Booking Deadline

The absolute last day that we’ll be selling tickets is April 10th (if we don’t sell out first).

Hotel Deal Deadline

We have a group rate for a local hotel that ends on April 1st. If you’d like all the hotel information, book your tour tickets before April 1st.

Partial Tickets

If you’ve played some of the games on this tour already, but you still want to be a part of this event, this is the ticket for you.

With a partial ticket, you will play 2 escape rooms (instead of 4). You will participate in all the other parts of the tour including:

  • Lisa and David as escape room tour guides
  • Sunday Escape The Palace group event with all tour participants
  • A talk by Lisa and David
  • One group meal
  • Event t-shirt
  • Networking with other tour attendees
  • The option to play an escape room with Lisa or David
  • Teammates who are as excited about this trip as you are!
  • … and surprises!

To purchase a partial ticket, contact us. Please include a note with which game(s) you’ve ALREADY played. Please select Weekend ($499) or Weekday ($449).

Including partial tickets in the tour is a bit of a logistical complication on our end. To make this go smoothly, we’re skipping the order form and asking you to just contact us.

Escape The Palace/ Talk Tickets

This ticket type is geared toward San Francisco locals who have played all the games at Palace Games. It includes the Escape the Palace group event, a talk by Lisa and David, and a meal.

These activities will all take place on Sunday, June 2.

This ticket gives you the opportunity to meet all the wonderful folks coming to San Francisco for this event.

Ticket price is $84.

To purchase a ticket, fill out the order form and we’ll invoice you to complete the purchase.

Escape, Immerse, Explore: NOLA

We still have tickets available for our New Orleans tour. If you’ve never been, you really don’t want to miss this.

Buy these tickets before they sell out! It’s going to be another amazing weekend.