Join us at the Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference

We’re giving Tuesday’s only free seminar at the Transworld Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference. And that’s not all…

Transworld Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference Logo

There are going to be a ton of great speakers including:

  • Matthew DuPlessie, 5Wits
  • Dave Ferrier, Trapped PHL
  • Shawn Fischtein, Escape Games Canada
  • Elisabeth Garson, Steel Owl Productions
  • Nate Martin, Puzzle Break
  • Anthony Purzycki, Trap Door
  • Room Escape Divas

There are many more whom I haven’t heard speak, but I think will have something interesting to say, including:

  • Nicole Ginsburg, Escape The Estate
  • Marty Parker, Room Escape Adventures
  • Brian Warner, Evilusions

Buffalo / Niagara reviews

If you’re planning to attend, check out our in depth coverage of the Buffalo / Niagara region escape rooms.

A reminder to all: You need a passport or enhanced license (if you aren’t sure if you have one, you don’t) to cross the border into Canada (or the US). This is worth noting because the escape rooms in Niagara Falls, Canada are very close to the conference.

Our talk

Goldi-lock-ing Your Escape Room Business: Learn the Difference between Magnificent, Average, and Tragic Escape Room Design

We want to help you understand the tangible differences in execution between escape rooms.

We’re going to do this by looking at common interactions in escape room design and walk you through some of the differences that set apart the best and worst that we’ve seen in our approximately 300 games as reviewers.

We’re going to talk about all of the greatest hits:

  • Locks
  • Blacklights
  • Gamemastering
  • Books
  • Trap doors
  • Customer service
  • … and more

Bring your questions and an open mind. We’re here to help.

The panel we’re moderating

Co-Working, Co-Existing… and THRIVING!


  • Mindy & Davy Plaisance, Rise Escape Rooms
  • Dwayne Sanburn, 13th Gate Escape
  • Megan Mouton, Clue Carre
  • Moderators: David & Lisa Spira

A panel of top room escape companies talk about co-existing, working together and operating nationally-renowned escape room games.

This panel will cost $50 per person if you pre-register or $55 per person if you register at the conference.

Our booth

We don’t yet have the details, but we’ll have a booth.

Come find us, we’d love to chat.

Get your tickets for the Niagara Room Escape Conference, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Interview with Cory Goerke about his Escape Room dark comedy sketch

Cory Goerke, Writer/Director and Bejan Faramarzi, Producer, created this wonderfully dark comedy sketch.

Cory is a Game Guide at The Escape Game Austin. This video is not in any way affiliated with The Escape Game. However, we wondered how much of this video came out of his experience working in the escape room industry. Here’s a little more background on this piece.

Room Escape Artist: Your video hilariously captures the common reaction from people who are knee-jerk turned off to the idea of escape rooms. What made you decide to film such a literal interpretation of that reaction?

Cory: Well I don’t know about you, but I find these reactions hilarious. I wanted to play off those assumptions and fears of escape rooms to show just how ridiculous these reactions are.

Escape rooms are still commonly misunderstood. They are definitely the new kid on the block in terms of entertainment medium.

People have been watching movies since the late 1800s. When The Lumiere Brothers released Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, it was simply a shot of a train pulling into the station and coming directly towards the camera. No sound. No color. However, it was freaking people out. They had never seen a moving picture before and suddenly they’re seeing a giant train barreling towards them. There are even stories of people running out of the theater, afraid that the train was going to break through the screen.

People have these reactions to things they don’t fully understand yet. It’s usually the people who have the knee-jerk reactions who end up having the most fun when they eventually play an escape room.

You’re a game guide with The Escape Game Austin. What parts of the video were inspired by your observations of real life teams?

Coming from a background in film, I quickly realized that our escape rooms are playable movie sets. The players that come through are actors in their own little movies. It’s a unique experience each time a team plays one of our escape rooms.

As a game guide, I watch who, in each team, will display certain character tropes. I definitely took note of these when writing the sketch.

Screengrab from the video: A female escape room player in a dark room with a flashlight. She is inspecting an item on a high shelf.

I chose to focus the sketch around couples rather than a random group of people playing together because it’s always exciting to put couples in escape rooms. If you get a couple that is really competitive, things can get pretty heated. It’s fun seeing them work through the ups and downs of their experiences in the escape rooms. I definitely wanted to amplify this group dynamic in the sketch.

The Escape Game is one of the most family-friendly companies out there and your video is hilariously dark in contrast. Discuss?

Well, the sketch is not affiliated with The Escape Game. However, you’re absolutely right; this sketch is pretty much the exact opposite experience from The Escape Game.

When creating this sketch, I asked myself what it would be like to put specific groups of famous people in an escape room. I ended up being influenced by The Donner Party. They seemed like the worst group of people to play an escape room, hands down. This is what takes the sketch to a dark place. I ran with that to up the horror aspect.

I worked with Bejan Faramarzi, the producer of this project, and he managed to find an abandoned bar in Austin that had a similar feel to the original Saw movies. I loved the location.

These aspects, paired with the comedy bits, created the humor in this dark scenario. I was lucky to have actors that could deliver this crazy dialogue in a hilarious manner. They capture that frantic feeling that you would expect from an escape room if you’ve never played one before. It’s hard not to laugh at it when you watch.

Can we expect more?

Absolutely. I have some very exciting projects coming out this year, highlighted by directing my first feature film at the end of the year. I’ll be directing a hilarious new show called Drunk Therapy, which I developed with the insanely talented Rebecca Dunagan.

This escape room sketch has received an amazing response. There’s a lot of material I would love to explore when it comes to escape room culture and working at an escape room. I’ve been working with some incredible writers to develop this escape room concept into a TV show format. We will probably have a pilot ready to go a little later this year.

Escape Room Trade Shows, Conferences, & Unconferences

With the growth of the escape room industry, conferences have emerged in North America and Europe. These gatherings primarily exist to facilitate the sharing of ideas. There is a lot to learn whether you are already active in escape rooms or interested in getting involved.

Here is a rundown of this year’s gatherings:

Trade Shows

TransWorld, Escape Room City

  • March 23-27, 2017
  • America’s Center, St. Louis, MO, USA
  • from $50

Escape Room City is a section of TransWorld’s Halloween & Attraction show in St. Louis.

The massive, decades-old show is for anyone who owns a haunted attraction, corn maze, farm, pumpkin patch, paintball field, family fun center, amusement park, zoo, aquarium, Halloween retail store or anything Halloween-related. As haunters have recently taken an interest in escape room design and construction, TransWorld expanded the show to include escape rooms as well.

We haven’t yet made it to St. Louis for the show, but we hear that it’s quite the sight to behold.

TransWorld’s Room Escape Conference

  • May 1-5, 2017
  • Niagara Falls Conference & Event Center, Niagara Falls, NY, USA
  • from $25

This conference is a dedicated escape room trade show. It is organized by the same folks who put together the Halloween & Attraction show, but it is a separate, escape room-focused  trade show.

Hosted for the first time in Chicago in August of 2016, it drew in a crowd of over 1,700 people. Most attendees were active escape room owners or prospective owners. There were also a few escape room enthusiasts in attendance.

This year’s conference is promising to be larger, including seminars, networking events, and a post-show escape room tour. We’ll be delivering a free seminar on the second day of the conference, as well as moderating a panel.

Stay tuned for more details as we prepare for our trip to Niagara Falls.

A panoramic photo of a room packed with 400 people listening to Lisa & David deliver their talk.
400 people came to see our talk at 8am last year!


Up The Game

  • May 9th, 2017
  • Prison Dome, Breda, The Netherlands
  • from €169

Created in a collaboration between two escape room companies in The Netherlands, Logic Locks and Real Life Gaming, Up The Game is a real life gaming and escape room conference.

Hosted for the first time in Amsterdam in 2016, this year’s conference will meet in Breda. It focuses on in-depth talks and opportunities for attendees to meet, interact, and learn from one another.

We are very excited to speak at Up The Game on May 9, 2017.


Unconferences are more low-key and community-driven than trade shows and conferences. Their structures can vary from event to event, but they typically cost little money and don’t have much (or any) sponsorship. They frequently allow participants to organize discussion topics on the fly.

Ontario Escape Room Unconference (Canada)

Chaired by Scott Nicholson, Professor of Game Design and Development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario, this one day Unconference focuses on an attendee-created agenda and peer discussions instead of speaker-focused sessions.

It is an irregularly scheduled conference, having run in the fall of 2015 and the winter of 2017. The cost is approximately $25 CAD per day, generally drawing about 60 attendees.

The Great Escape Unconference (United Kingdom)

  • April 25, 2017
  • Summerhall, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Approximately £33

Organized by Liz Cable, with assistance from others in the community, this single-day event typically breaks the day up into four consecutive sessions with 4-6 different groups per session. Sessions are chosen by consensus at the start of the day and are peer discussions with one or two more formal presentations.

The Great Escape Unconference is a quarterly event that has been going on for the past year. Thus far the group has met in London twice and Leeds twice. The upcoming April event will take place in Edinburgh.

The first UK Unconference hosted around 30 people, but it has grown steadily, with the most recent bringing in approximately 80 people. The audience is primarily owners with roughly a quarter of attendees being escape room enthusiasts or prospective owners.

We haven’t yet had the pleasure of attending any unconferences.

Escape the Planet: An Educational Program at the American Museum of Natural History

There is no single place more emblematic of my childhood than the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

It brought my fascination with dinosaurs to life. There are few memories that can compare to the first time I looked up at the towering skeletons of these beasts so alien, yet so real.

When I received an email from American Museum of Natural History asking if I could help them evaluate a children’s escape room educational program, the only answer was “yes.”

A tyrannosaurus rex skeleton standing tall in the American Museum of Natural History.

Escape The Planet

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I walked into the iconic New York Museum. All I knew was that I was to “evaluate” a children’s STEM program called Escape The Planet and that had something to do with escape rooms.

It was a 20-minute escape room game designed by a group of approximately 2 dozen teens over the course of a week, as part of a STEM program. As an evaluator, I played the game with a handful of other evaluators and provided feedback to the teenage designers.

In the game, we were astronauts who had experienced a system failure on Mars. We had to identify our location and determine a course back to Earth. If we aimed ourselves incorrectly, we would either launch ourselves into the sun or float about the vacuum of space indefinitely. It was a great setup.

The puzzling centered on two interaction types:

  • Searching
  • Augmented reality using a Microsoft HoloLens

The outcome

The teens who designed this room escape had less than a week to conceive of the game and get it ready for us to test it. They had a couple of faculty advisors, one of whom coded like crazy to get the HoloLens applications (there were 2 of them) working.

Given the time constraints and lack of background in escape room design, I was amazed by how cohesive Escape The Planet was. It told a story, taught us science, and integrated technology that most people hadn’t handled. We had fun.

It needed improvement in many of the areas where so many escape room businesses need refinement: extensive written instructions and choppy clue structure. That said, we were literally the first beta testers playing the game.

I was a little nervous providing feedback because I wanted to be encouraging. However, these teenage designers wanted to know the flaws! They asked more questions and sought more pointed feedback than most escape room businesses; they took the feedback like professionals.

I was so damn impressed with both the participants in this program and the advisors.

Learning Programs at the American Museum of Natural History

Through volunteering to evaluate Escape the Planet, I learned that my favorite Museum employs a ton of educators and runs lots of programs for people of all ages.

Check out what they have to offer.

Escape rooms as an education medium

Breakout EDU and all of the educators who have created educational escape games for their students have proven that the escape room medium can be an effective teaching tool.

I love that the folks behind Escape the Planet flipped the model so that the kids learned through designing the game. It was a brilliant twist on the educational escape room concept. I hope that they continue to run programs like this and that others follow suit.

If you’d like to learn more about this particular program, check out this blog post by one of the people who ran it.

Image via The American Museum of Natural History.

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.

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).

Room Escape Artist talks about hype on the REDivas Podcast!

REDivas (Room Escape Divas), hosted by Torontonian enthusiasts Mike, Ruby, Manda, and Errol, is a weekly escape room podcast.

Enthusiasts love to talk about escape rooms… and the more we talk about specific ones, the more we build up these games for each other. In this podcast episode, we chatted with the Divas about hyped games.

Room Escape Divas Logo, a cartoon representation of the four hosts.

Escape room hype

Our conversation covers both specific companies and general concepts.

Thank you

We thank the Divas for the opportunity to continue to converse on their podcast. It’s always a blast.

We also thank my aunt, Naomi Lewin, for her superb editing skills that make us sound so much better than we do in real life.

Give it a listen!

Genocides, Serial Killers, Tragedies, & Edgy Escape Room PR Nightmares

This week a Czech escape room company made international news when they opened – and then had to shut down – their Auschwitz-themed escape room due to relentless bad press.

Similarly, a company opened and promptly closed an Anne Frank-themed escape room in the Netherlands back in March of 2016.

And a Turkish company briefly operated a concentration camp-themed game in July of 2015.

A star of David built into a gate that looks like it is made of barbed wire.
Gates of the Jewish Memorial at Dachau

With so many edgy, dark, and disturbing escape rooms, I can understand why some companies occasionally find themselves in a public relations disaster.

These are a few loose theming guidelines to avoid a PR catastrophe:


An escape room themed on a recent tragedy will cause a problem.

For example, Columbine happened in 1999. That is still recent. So are the other mass shootings that have happened since. Escape from the school shooter is a horrible idea. It hits too close to home.

Similarly, don’t theme an escape room on disasters such as 9/11, the London Tube bombings, or refugees trying to escape the TSA.

These might seem like extreme examples, but that’s the point.

A serial killer from a hundred years ago like H.H. Holmes or Jack the Ripper feels almost fictional. If you read what those guys actually did… they were living, breathing, nightmares. Had this form of entertainment been around in 1890-something, I am betting that a lot of folks would have been horrified at a Jack the Ripper escape room.

Political relevance

Some events happened long ago, but their relevance hasn’t faded. Genocides and enslavement are the kinds of things that aren’t quickly forgotten.

It’s not a good idea to build a game around the German concentration camps, Japanese internment, the Armenian genocide, the Japanese occupation of China, the current situation in the Sudan, or any of the countless crimes against humanity of past or present.

Striving for meaningful art

There are a few escape room designers striving to use the medium to tell a deeper story about humanity and to educate their players about the world that they live in. These designers desperately believe that with enough research, attention to detail, and respect for the subject matter, they can make a game that will shine a light on an atrocity and help people better understand it.

I haven’t seen anyone pull this off yet, but I believe that someone will accomplish it. As this medium of entertainment grows, evolves, and expands, someone will start making games that move people to tears, and to action.

However, I bet that these designers will find their early success in topics that have far less political relevance.

Someone, someday will make a masterpiece Schindler’s List of escape rooms. I am certain that there is a brilliant, educational, and compelling escape room in the Underground Railroad. These concepts are ripe for storytelling, but escape rooms aren’t there yet. Our ability to tell stories isn’t strong enough and the medium hasn’t grown enough in the public’s eye to be anything more than a game designed to amuse.

If enough designers continue to push themselves, we will get there. But we are not even close at this moment.

Ask yourself these questions

To steer clear of trouble, reflect on these questions before investing in a buildout for an especially dark game:

  • Is it based on something that really happened?
  • Did it happen recently?
  • Is it politically relevant?
  • Did a lot of people die?
  • Are the victims still alive?
  • Are the children of the victims still alive?
  • Are there people or governments actively denying that the event happened?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these, think long and hard about what you’re building before you commit your blood, sweat, tears, and cash to the concept.

When in doubt, feel free to drop us a message. We’ll happily talk it out with you. You wouldn’t be the first.

(Image via BoingBoing)

President Obama Escapes: Interview with Breakout Waikiki

President Obama and his family escaped a room at Breakout Waikiki during their winter vacation to Hawaii. We recently interviewed MacGregor Greenlee, General Manager of Hawaiian Operations at Breakout Waikiki about his experience hosting the Obamas.

Manoa Market in game image of the game played by the Obama's.

Room Escape Artist: When did you first find out that President Obama and his family were coming to play one of your room escapes?

Greenlee: We didn’t find out about the impending visit from POTUS until about an hour before he arrived. Initially it was only the Secret Service who showed up to sweep the place, do background checks on the employees, and open every single door, drawer, nook and cranny within all of our escape rooms to make sure it was safe. As you can imagine, that part took the longest.

How did the Obamas’ visit come about? What’s the backstory?

I can’t speak with any certainty how they came to visit us, but it may have something to do with a one year old tweet that was sent from the Breakout account. A year prior to President Obama’s actual visit, I found out that he and his family were coming to Hawaii for Christmas and I quickly wrote up a tweet and sent it out, assuming nothing would come of it. At the time, nothing did come of it, no response, no retweet, nothing. But fast forward a year and President Obama walks in our door to do an escape room at our facility. Whether he saw the tweet or his vacation planner did, something caught their eye and drew them to Breakout. Of course, I think it goes without saying that the Breakout ownership has set up a top class business which is reflected in our reviews online. I’m happy to think that some of our customers’ experiences helped inform the President’s decision to drop by.

What was it like interacting with the Secret Service? Did they make you change anything about your operations or your game?

The Secret Service were all about taking care of business just like you would imagine, but they were also very patient and understanding with the employees at Breakout who were no doubt shaking at the thought of running a room for the President. It wasn’t clear which room President Obama was going to do because they had a party of about 30 people who split into four different rooms. His daughters chose our Mission Manoa room which is based on a room at our original location (Breakout Kansas City) and features a hand cuffing component. As you can imagine, the Secret Service was not going to allow anyone in the room to be handcuffed, especially the President!

Was everything else business as usual? Were there other paying customers visiting that day?

There were paying customers that day and everything was running normally up until about 2:30pm. That’s when the secret service came in and started their sweep which definitely alerted the other customers to something going on. We unfortunately couldn’t tell them, for security reasons, so we had to do our best to explain in vague terms that we needed to escort them out after their game was done.

Which game did the Obamas play? Is that the game you would have recommended for them?

The Obamas, specifically President Obama and his two daughters as well as some other family, played Mission Manoa. This was one of our original games at Breakout Kansas City, one of my personal favorites and a perfect one for them to take on. It’s a challenging room, currently with an 18% success rate, that mixes a variety of different puzzle types and incorporates among the most locks in any game we offer.

What was it like to tell the President the rules of your game?

I didn’t run the room personally, but having heard first hand from our employee Janelle who operated the room for them, she was more than a little stressed out. Every room has its stresses, but put the experience of the President in with everything else definitely takes it to a new level. Full credit to her for keeping her cool and taking care of them as she would with any other group. Her and the rest of the staff did an exemplary job under extremely high pressure.

We hear that the Obamas escaped with only 12 seconds to spare. How intense were those last few minutes? Were you nervous that they weren’t going to make it out?

The tension could not have been higher in those last few moments! We knew we had to let them set their own pace and attack the puzzles as they saw them, which was very hard because with a high profile guest it’s hard to resist the urge to take control. However, as anyone who has done an escape room knows, you have to experience for yourself or it’s just not very fun. Fortunately in the end, they had what it took to escape the room just before time expired. They did use all three clues, but they used them wisely and that can always make the difference!

How aggressive were they (or you?) with the hints?

They were fairly average in the way they took clues, never waiting too long to request a hint or asking too early before they were stuck. As with most groups, there were some things they understood immediately and others that they struggled with before overcoming.

Who was the all-star?

Word is that Malia was key to their breakout, doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to solving the larger puzzles!

Did they take a post-game photo with their time?

They did, but we weren’t allowed to take it with our own camera. Instead their Photographer took the photo but it’s licensed for personal use only.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Everything went about as close to perfectly as you can hope. Three of the groups broke out, one did not, everyone had a great time and there were no major issues. All in all, near perfect!

How has business been since their visit? Any notable uptick in escape room players?

We have absolutely experienced a bump in business since the President dropped by. Starting with the night he came in, we had quite a few groups book the same room he did just so they could give it a shot. Since then we have continued to enjoy a little bit of buzz that has carried over.

Do you expect a visit from President-Elect Trump?

Time will only tell, but we are certainly ready to have him drop by! If President-Elect Trump is up for the challenge, he is more than welcome to drop by and take on the Obama’s time whenever he would like to.

A Quick History of Escape Rooms

“Where did escape rooms come from?”

This is a common question that isn’t particularly easy to answer. Escape rooms didn’t simply emerge as a concept; they are part of an evolutionary chain.

Painting of an ancient lockbox with a very old and large padlock.

This is a quick, US-centric, reverse history of escape rooms.

Late 2016 – Heavy proliferation

We are aware of approximately 1,500 escape room facilities in the United States and countless more worldwide. New escape room businesses are opening on a daily basis.

July 2015 – MarketWatch article

MarketWatch pushes an article titled, The unbelievably lucrative business of escape rooms, in which they take a lot of good information and paint an erroneous picture of endless profits for every escape room business.

Suddenly many people believe that opening an escape room business will bring them riches.

Late 2013 – US expansion begins

Puzzle Break & Escape the Room NYC opened their doors, initiating the first wave of US expansion.

Co-founder of Puzzle Break Nate Martin calls his organization “the first contemporary American escape room company.” You can debate the subject with him if you’d like.

2012 – SCRAP opened in the United States

SCRAP, also known as Real Escape Game, also known as REG, opened up in San Francisco, California. This was decidedly the first company in the Americas calling itself an “escape room.”

2007 – SCRAP opened in Japan

SCRAP opened the first documented “escape room” in Kyoto, Japan.

This was the escape room world’s origin moment, its radioactive spider bite, if you will.

Budapest, Hungary is also frequently cited as the birthplace of escape rooms, but I cannot find anything solid to back up that claim. However, it cannot be disputed that Hungary was an early hotbed of escape room proliferation and innovation.

2004 – 5 Wits opened in Massachusetts

Inspired by Indiana Jones, 5 Wits became the early purveyor of real life puzzle adventure. It never branded itself an “escape room” and still doesn’t. Despite this labeling choice, there are a number of striking similarities.

Early 2000s – Escape the room video games

The “escape the room” genre was given a style and name in the early 2000s in the form of Flash point-and-click puzzle games. MOTAS (2001) and Crimson Room (2004), among many others, have kept players pixel hunting for well over a decade.

There are still tons of free Flash-based escape the room games of variable quality being released on a regular basis. Both players and producers of these games fear the inevitable death of Flash.

Early 1990s – Adventure puzzle video games

Some of the earliest hit 3D video games were escape room-esque puzzle games.

Myst (1993) & The 7th Guest (1993) remain classic games and key moments in the progression towards real life escape games (and my childhood).

1980s & 1990s – UK game shows

In the 1980s and 1990s, television stations in the UK ran The Adventure Game (1980) and The Crystal Maze (1990). These shows offered challenges that looked a lot like escape rooms.

The Crystal Maze has since been reborn as an actual, open-to-the-public escape game.

Other branches

Escape rooms have close evolutionary ties to interactive theater, haunted houses, live-action roleplaying, puzzle hunts, scavenger hunts, and a variety of television shows, books, video games, and movies.

The history of this form of entertainment is inseparable from most other forms of entertainment.

For more information

The history of escape rooms is convoluted and not particularly well documented.

If you’d like to learn more, Scott Nicholson’s 2015 paper Peeking Behind the Locked Door: A Survey of Escape Room Facilities offers a more detailed look into the historical origins of escape rooms.

Thank you to Errol of the Room Escape Divas Podcast for lending his eyes and brain to this post.