Level Up Your Tally Marks

I remember learning tally marks in elementary school. It never crossed my mind that there might be different ways to tally.

About a year ago this image showed up in one of my feeds and I saved it:

3 different ways to tally up to 5 from around the world.
I’m not sure of the origin of this image, if you know, please contact me.

Since saving this, I’ve tried the other two methods of tallying (mostly while puzzling) and I have some opinions and conclusions to share.

I love the “box” method

After trying all of these out, I’ve found what I’ll call the “box” method is considerably better for me.

Drawing

Drawing the box feels better because I can do it without looking, and without picking up my pen.

With the other two methods, I have to at least be aware of what my pen is doing and where it’s placed.

Viewing

At a quick glance, the box method has a visual distinctiveness that I find easier to process than the other two.

With the vertical tallies that I grew up with, sometimes I have a hard time visually processing whether there are 3 or 4 lines.

Intricacy

According to Dig Mandarin, “Chinese tally marks add up to make the shape of the Chinese character 正 (pronounced zhèng), which means “correct” or ‘true/right.'”

I think it’s really cool that there is a tally method that has meaning in addition to function, but I couldn’t comfortably make this work for me. However, I imagine it would feel a lot more natural if I grew up drawing Chinese characters.

There’s No Right Or Wrong Way

There’s no right or wrong way to tally. Speaking for myself, I’m glad that I found a new way to accomplish this task.

I would have been fine using the method that I grew up on for the rest of my life, but I am happier with this new one. I always find it cool when I learn a better or different way to do a thing that I had assumed was only done one way.

10 Escape Room Misconceptions [Video]

Joel with blue hair leaning over a table covered in locks, puzzles, and boxes. Labeled, "10 Escape Room Misconceptions."

REA Hivemind Reviewer Joel Smileypeacefun created this video, ESCAPE ROOMS: 10 Common Mistakes And Misconceptions. In it he explores and acts out 10 different ways that newbies tend to misunderstand the escape room medium.

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 00:30 No. 1: Mr. Know-it-all
  • 03:25 No. 2: Kids in Escape Rooms
  • 06:06 No. 3: Not listening to the gamemaster…
  • 08:32 No. 4: Being way too intense!
  • 10:25 No. 5: Communication is key
  • 11:52 No. 6: Giving up without actually trying
  • 13:23 No. 7: Cheating?
  • 15:04 No. 8: Know how to operate the most common locks
  • 17:37 No. 9: Chaotic people
  • 18:54 No. 10: Playing the same Escape Room twice in a row
  • 20:40 Outro

Give it a watch. He did a great job:

Yes those are Joel’s Guinness World Records. They are for domino chain reactions… something that I’d never have the patience for.

EGOlympics: International Online Escape Game Tournament

Update 7/6/21: If you’re interested in competitive escape gaming, we hope you’ll check out season 2, episode 4 of The Reality Escape Pod where we dig into this more with Ken Hoang, The King of Smash.

We recently participated in the International Online Escape Game Tournament (EGOlympics), hosted by Escape Roomers DE, a review website for live escape games in Germany and Europe, and for remote escape games worldwide.

What are the EGOlympics?

It is a friendly competition with teams from all over the world.

Each week, every team plays the same remote escape game, ideally at the same time (usually on Sunday at 8pm CET / 2pm Eastern).

Given that this time is not convenient in some time zones (especially Australia and New Zealand), players can complete any time during the 24 hours before the actual start of the tournament.

EGOlympics banner

Industry Support

We love that the EGOlympics brings business to escape room operators worldwide in a challenging time. Every team books and purchases the game themselves. That’s a lot of extra revenue for the company of the week.

Community Building

The EGOlympics creates a sense of camaraderie for the global community of escape room enthusiasts. It’s amazing to be doing something together with like-minded people from all over the world.

You can share thoughts or questions about the game too, after you play, and find a whole bunch of people happy to converse. If you’ve been feeling isolated playing remote escape games, here’s an international community to share them with, practically in real time.

That said, Facebook comment threads don’t really capture that post-game debrief in the same way as getting together in a bar or cafe.

Decision Fatigue

Even if you’re not a competitor, you might like the EGOlympics simply because through it, Escape Roomers DE is essentially choosing a game for you to play each week. You don’t have to do the research yourself. Just sign up, book the game, and play!

Our Experience

We participated in our first EGOlympics on April 25, 2021 with REA Hivemind writers Theresa W and Matthew Stein. This was the 37th EGOlympics event and the game of the week was The Warp Core – Part 3: The Witches of Salem.

We joined for this one mainly because it worked with everyone’s schedule (and our schedule can be a challenge!), but also because we were interested in the game.

Warp Core – Part 3 was a truly impressive Telescape implementation with collaborative puzzle solving and video cutscenes.

We had a ton of fun challenging ourselves (and my computer/ internet connection!) to solve as quickly as possible. This isn’t how we usually play games, and the added intensity was exciting!

That said, speeding through a game isn’t really our style. We prefer to take in every aspect of the experience, enjoy the interface design, and see how our teammates solved things we missed. We prefer to relax and enjoy escape games for the time spent with friends, as much as for the puzzles solves.

We finished the game in a respectable 44:02 minutes without hints, which was just 2 minutes shy of the podium, I believe.

Advice For Better Competition

A bit of unsolicited advice for EGOlympics. When looking at the podium, second place finished at 41:56, while Team Squared finished in first with a time of 26:30.

We know Team Squared well. They are experienced, talented, and speedy puzzlers. We also suspect that to achieve that time they had to be skipping videos… because there were a lot of them in The Warp Core 3 and they consumed a lot of game-clock time. We only just learned that you can skip videos in Telescape when we were trying to figure out how a time of 26:30 was even possible.

Since the games being played aren’t truly designed for competition, the community itself needs to decide what the norms are. While we wouldn’t skip videos, because we are interested in taking in the whole experience, there’s nothing wrong with that being a tool in the players’ toolbox. Still, it should be explicitly allowed, and the methods of doing so explained.

Different competitive communities handle the creation of norms in different ways. Super Smash Bros. was never designed as a competitive game, but it was made competitive with specific rules and norms. Road Rallies and other precision driving competitions set minimum times based on the course’s speed limits, so no one is breaking the law.

All is fair when the norms are established, and the players can go in knowing what is and isn’t in the spirit of the game.

We offer this knowing full well that we are not going to top a podium in an escape room competition, and it isn’t our goal. Our goal is community.

To form community, the specifics of the norms matter less than the fact that they are there.

How to Join the EGOlympics

Join the Facebook Group Escape Roomers DE and look at the upcoming events. Click on the event you’re interested in, and you can read all about that week’s game, how to book it, and which teams have already signed up to participate.

To sign up, post on the Facebook page with your country’s flag, your team name, and the names of the players. You can include a photo or logo.

You’ll need to book/ purchase the game yourself, and organize your team to play at the start time (or earlier in the 24 hour window).

When you finish, post a photo with your time and see how your time compares to all the others!

How to Get the Most out of the TERPECA 2020 Results

The 2020 TERPECA results are live.

Last year we did a fairly deep dive into the data. I think that piece still holds up, so this year, we are offering some advice about how to get the most out of the TERPECA list as a player.

Before diving in, I’ll remind you that Lisa and I share a vote on the TERPECA board. This isn’t our project, but we do contribute to it and do our best to help guide it.

Top Room Escape Project Enthusiasts' Choice Awards 2020 logo.

Top Tip For Using TERPECA Results

In my opinion, the absolute ranking of TERPECA is a bit of a distraction from the project’s true value.

Numbered lists are eye-catching. The internet loves them. People love to see their opinions validated… or they love being righteously angry over what is clearly a wrong list. Lists spark conversation and they are good for marketing. For us, however, that’s not the point.

This list will never be perfect because these experiences are subjective.

For Lisa and me, the real action is the easily overlooked “Phase 2 Room Results” data. This is a listing of 279 really great escape games that are geographically dispersed. Let me explain why.

Figure Out Your TERPECA Use Case

Think about your own personal use case. Here are what I surmise are the two most common ones:

  • Selecting a travel destination
  • Picking games within a region you are in or will travel to

Let’s look at these individually.

Selecting a Travel Destination

If you are an escape room tourist looking to pick a place to visit based purely on density of amazing games, the top 50 list ain’t a bad place to look.

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that you’ll enjoy visiting Greece, Spain, or the Netherlands. Having visited 2 of those 3 destinations, I can say with confidence that they are amazing places to play escape rooms.

Is The Dome truly the best escape room in the world? Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Is The Bookstore the second best escape room in the world? Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Will you have a good time playing in the Amsterdam or Athens regions? I’d be shocked if an escape room fan walked away from either destination disappointed.

Picking Games Within a Region

Most of our travel is determined by happenstance. Work and friends’ weddings tend to select where we visit. We truly choose our long-distance travel destinations infrequently.

Instead, we use TERPECA’s Phase 2 Room Results because it is a big list with few duds. If you exclude a few quality-dense regions, most of this list is massively dispersed. Most cities and regions have but a few games on the list.

For example, our home state of New Jersey has only 1 game on the entire TERPECA Phase 2 Room Results. It’s The Grand Parlor at 13th Hour Escape Rooms. If you’re visiting New Jersey, go play this game. It doesn’t matter that it ranked 75th on the list. It’s a phenomenal game. And while it didn’t win TERPECA in 2020, it received a Golden Lock Award from us in 2018.

The bottom of TERPECA Phase 2 Room Results contains so many gems… even only judging by the ones that I’ve personally played.

If you live near one of these games, or you’ll be traveling near one, you should probably just check it out.

About TERPECA

You can find the winners and more information about the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiast Choice Awards on the TERPECA website. It’s impressive in so many ways. Not just the games, but also the broad participation, the checks in the process, and, of course, the math.

If you’re a community outsider, TERPECA is a novelty, and rightly so. If you’re a habitual escape room player, however, TERPECA is a useful tool. You just need to know how to use it.

Trust Thresholds in Escape Room Play [Player Tip]

There is an art to taking hints that even experienced escape room players struggle to balance.

Lisa and I find that the art to taking hints is built around trust.

A sign with a person walking, a sign over its face reads, "Trust." The symbol is encircled in red.

How do you trust a game?

When we start playing an escape room, we don’t just solve the first few puzzles, we silently evaluate how cleanly they resolve. Was the solve fair?

Escape games can build trust quickly by presenting good “on-ramp puzzles.” Obvious, eye-catching challenges that solve quickly and cleanly establish how the room wants to be played.

Trust breaks easily when an escape room lacks an on-ramp and the players are unable to gain momentum. Trust also breaks if the players spin in circles for long stretches of time without a clear sense of direction.

We’re pretty good at escape rooms at this point, so we are capable of solving a fair number of puzzles that we don’t necessarily think are well crafted or fair. As we play, we are mindful of the flow of the gameplay.

Subconscious Evaluation

When we play an escape room, we usually just play. We don’t like to think as reviewers while we play. At the outset of a game we rarely begin writing in our heads or meta gaming. We prefer to simply exist in the moment and enjoy the game.

That said, for us, this mental state comes to an abrupt halt if the game breaks our trust.

When The Trust Breaks

If the gameplay seems to require leaps of logic, then this has a couple of effects on the way that we approach the escape game:

First, we try “bad ideas” more readily.

An extreme example (that we’ve seen more than once): if we derived the code “1234” and for no good reason we needed to input it in reverse as “4321,” then we’re going to encourage our team to try all manner of silly bullshit ideas. We do this because the game has broken our trust. All bets are off.

We would never do this in a game where the puzzles had clean, elegant, and clued solutions.

Second, and more important, we’ll take hints more quickly if we don’t trust the game.

This method isn’t foolproof. We’ve seen a bullshit puzzle show up in a game made by someone who had otherwise designed a great escape room. It happens.

If you’re aware and keeping a mental trend line of fair/ unfair puzzles, this will help you and your team adjust your approach.

Trust is like a shower.

A stylized image of a showerhead spraying water.

When the water is the right temperature, you’re simply immersed. If the temperature spikes or plummets momentarily, it’s annoying, but fine. If the temperature starts shifting up and down haphazardly, it not only yanks you out of the moment, but it changes your entire approach to even touching the water.