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

Hypothesis

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

Origins

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.

Assessment

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

Hypothesis

The smaller group of players are the randoms.

Origins

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.

Assessment

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

Hypothesis

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

Origins

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.

Assessment

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

Hypothesis

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

Origins

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.

Assessment

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.

Post Escape Room Hyperawareness

You exit an escape room and walk down the street… and everything that you look at feels like it has hidden meaning. You’re hyperaware. It’s an oddly pleasurable feeling.

I suspect that any engaged escape room player knows what I’m talking about. Call it what you want; we call it post-escape room hyperawareness.

Closeup image of a blue eye.

After playing more than 700 escape games, we often get asked if we’re bored with escape rooms… and the answer’s still the same as the last time we wrote about it: The highs are higher, the lows are lower, and we really love novelty and thoughtful design.

One thing has changed: we don’t get that hyperaware feeling anymore… and we really miss it.

Where did it go?

I’m not really sure. I’d venture to guess that becoming really practiced at escape rooms, and having learned to parse the signal from the noise in any given room, has focused our awareness. I think in our earlier days of playing, escape rooms would kick our awareness into overdrive.

I also suspect that it might be adrenaline-related. After playing so many, an escape room has to do something really special (and frequently frightening) for us to trigger that particular neurological reward.

What about you?

What’s your escape room play count? Do escape rooms send you on your way in a state of hyperawareness?

The Split Team Regrouping Problem in Escape Rooms

The longer a player or a group of players works within a space in isolation, the harder it becomes for teams to fully reintegrate… and it’s often better for players to stick to the space that they intimately know.

The problem becomes more pronounced over time. It’s barely noticeable if the teams are only split up for a few minutes. When teams spend half of the game split, it becomes an annoyance. When teams spend more than 3 quarters of the game split, it can be downright irritating, even if no one has the language to vocalize it.

Stylized image of a woman's head splitting in two.

The Situation

When a player enters a space that has already been thoroughly searched and solved, that player has three options:

  1. Start playing normally and “find” a ton of stuff that’s already been found or solved. This usually leads to exchanges along the lines of, “hey… did y’all see this little trap door?” A teammate who has been in space from the beginning will have to stop and explain that it’s been found and used.
  2. Stop the entire game while teammates catch one another up on what’s been found, solved, and what still requires the team’s attention.
  3. Stay put. Nobody crosses the boundaries and everyone sticks with the content that they already know intimately.

We had been feeling this problem for years, and only started to put our finger on what was going on last year after playing The Order at I Survived The Room. Prior to identifying it, under circumstances like this, we would just say something like, “Hey… I think it’s easier for me to just solve this.” Which is a polite way of saying, “You don’t know what’s going on and you’re in the way.”

Stylized image of tomatoes and potatoes split up into separate piles.

Our Dominant Strategy

When faced with a challenge like this, if we’re choosing to play efficiently, we usually stick to the spaces that we have mastery over, even when free to roam. 

The pro is that we maintain efficiency. The con is that everyone kind of misses out. Another potential con is that we could really use person A’s skill set in space B and we’re avoiding that situation.

Regardless of what we choose to do, it usually feels like a bit of a wash because getting up to speed on someone else’s mostly solved section of a game is tedious.

Unevenness

It can be challenging to follow this strategy when the spaces are really different from one another. If the other space looks really inviting, as players, we have to go against our instincts to follow this efficiency strategy.

If we instead take the time to fully explore another teammate’s space, some players invariably feel like they drew the short straw, and they would have preferred to spend the majority of their time in the other space, the one the group deems more fun or more exciting.

Stylized image of a road splitting around a mountain.

Mitigating the Regrouping Problem

There are a few ways that we’ve thought of to prevent this problem from emerging: 

  • Limit the amount of time that teams spend split up. This is a problem that becomes increasingly pronounced with time.
  • Once the teams regroup, push them forward into a new space. If the previous spaces aren’t really relevant, then it’s a nonissue.
  • Make all of the puzzles within the split-team portion joint solves, so that seeing the other space feels more like seeing what you’ve already participated in, rather than something new that demands exploration.
  • Don’t bring the team together. If you want split-team gameplay, keep it split the entire time.

The regrouping problem isn’t a gamebreaker, but it can be a late-game momentum killer… which is less than ideal for both players and game designers. Teams should be excited to regroup. That momentum plays a crucial part in building the right vibe for any given moment of a game.

We the Enthusiasts Passports [Interview]

Earlier this winter, we were thrilled to learn that Audrey Pendleton-Chow, owner of Curious Escape Rooms in Fitchburg, MA and an escape room enthusiast herself, had launched escape room passports.

We loved the idea of collecting stamps at the end of each game in these beautiful passports. We recently caught up with Audrey to learn more about what these passports offer players and how owners can get involved!

Multiple passports opened to reveal the different pages, all surrounded by stamps, locks, keys, and puzzle pieces.

Tell us about your passport!

The We The Enthusiasts Global Escape Room Passport is a collectable to preserve your escape room escapades!

I’ve been archiving my escape room history in an Excel sheet. I know I’m not the only escape room enthusiast who does this. I thought it would be more fun to have something collectable! Why not stamps for every game from a participating event or escape room? That’s why we made a universal escape room passport.

The stamps for both of Curious Escape Rooms' games, the Doll House & The 90s Video Store.

I designed this small, durable booklet with a leatherette and gold foil cover, a profile page, and a unique ID. It provides 56 boxes for stamps and small spacing for notes and completion times. Stamp filler pages are available as well because, you know, 56 games could go by pretty quickly!

What makes for a great stamp?

It’s been amazing to see the different designs that escape room companies have created.

A great stamp is like an icon. It should be clear, one color, unique, and have thick lines.

Boxaroo's Conundrum Museum stamp.

The design should symbolize the theme of the game so when enthusiasts look back at it they remember their experience!

It’s nice to have the name of the game on the stamp too.

How do players buy a passport?

Players can buy our passports online at WeTheEnthusiasts.com. They are also available at many participating escape room businesses. Pricing and promotions may vary if you purchase from an individual participating business.

Audrey giving Rene his box of passports at Gate Escape.

Who are the participating companies?

We’ve got 187 games, 63 companies with stamps, and 25 locations selling passports. 🙂 So far we’re in USA and Australia.

The full list of companies and their games is available here. It’s growing every week!

A rack of passports.

How can a new company get involved?

See Become a Participating Business for more information. There, interested companies can read the FAQ, purchase passports wholesale to sell at their own business, and register.

It’s free to be listed on our website as long as the business agrees to stamp passport-holders with your special stamp for your participating game or event.

You get to choose and purchase your own stamp. You can even design the image that will represent each of your games!

Stamps resting on an open passport.

If we wanted to make a stamp for our Escape, Immerse, Explore tours, could we do that? 

Absolutely! This would be perfect for an escape room tour! We welcome any experiences related to puzzles or mystery solving. We’ve reached out to puzzle/ scavenger hunts, mobile escape rooms, and immersive plays, such as the annual immersive theater and puzzling eventClub Drosselmeyer.

When and how did you come up with this passport idea?

In 2015 my partner (now husband) Jeremy Pendleton-Chow and I visited Portland, Oregon. We went to a McMenamins, which revitalizes unexpected spaces to become different themed bars.

As we entered the 1960s elementary school building, passing the cigar bar “Detention,” a small bar “Honor’s Hall,” and the movie theater that used to be the school auditorium, we found that part of it had been turned into a hotel. The check-in desk had one sheet of novelty McMenamins passports, encouraging customers to visit all their locations and collect different stamps. I thought it was a great idea!

I was in the process of opening Curious Escape Rooms in Fitchburg, MA. I began talking to other escape room owners about the idea of a global passport.

After a failed attempt of making less-than-quality samples of passports last year (which lasted merely a month in my bag), I put the idea on the back burner until I discovered a way to create the durable and beautiful passports I had imagined. They had to be fully brag-worthy and long-lasting to be worth it.

In November 2018 we began selling We The Enthusiasts passports and rallying escape rooms to join us in creating stamps for each of their games. Every week, new businesses join us and we add them to our website.

Room Escape Problems Interviewed Lisa: Travel Tips, Tour Logics, and Best Cupcakes

Room Escape Problems launched an interview series this month as part of their mission of “connecting escape room players one problem at a time.”

Blue tinted images of Terry Pettigrew-Rolapp, Yolanda Chiu, Lisa Spira, & Nick Moran. Lisa and Yolanda are both holding ice cream cones.
Nick & Terry… where are your ice cream cones? Up your profile pic game.

David and I enjoy the Escape Room Problems’ memes.

Interview Topics

When they asked for an interview, I was happy to chat!

Life Before Escape Rooms

Escape rooms are a pretty recent phenomenon. Before escape rooms I solved other puzzles… like where to get the best cupcakes in New York City.

Escape Room Travel Tips

We discussed my top 5 escape room travel tips… accumulated by booking almost every one of our 700 escape rooms played to date and all the corresponding travel arrangements.

Planning Escape Room Tours

We also talked about planning escape room tours. David and I have made the ambitious choice to run Escape, Immerse, Explore twice this summer. We’ll bring a tour to Palace Games in San Francisco in June and another to New Orleans in July. That’s twice the logic puzzle… but twice the fun!

REP’s Other Interviews

We’re looking forward to reading your conversations with Terry Pettigrew-Rolapp of Hatch Escapes in Los Angeles, Yolanda Chiu of Asia Escape Game, and Nick Moran of Time Run and Sherlock: The Game is Now.

Thank you, Room Escape Problems. I’m honored to be part of your interview series.

From Quake to Fortnite to Escape Room: Learning From Your Players

I pretty much grew up with video games. I mean that in both senses of the phrase: 

  • I grew up playing video games
  • Video games grew up as I did

Obvious Controls

When I first started playing first person shooters (and suffering through them while they made me motion sick because they were choppy as hell), the arrow keys on the keyboard were the movement standard.

The arrow keys made sense. They were the obvious input mechanism for controlling motion. That was, until “WASD” came along. 

Close up of glowing WASD keys on an keyboard.

“Thresh” Hold

From Half Life and Counterstrike, to Portal and Fortnite, the movement control standard for first person games has been the “WASD” keys on the left side of the keyboard. This button mapping wasn’t obvious… and it didn’t come from a video game designer. It came from a player. 

Dennis “Thresh” Fong was the top Quake player back in game’s heyday of the mid 1990s. WASD was his button mapping; he went undefeated with it. Thersh was basically a folk hero among gamers back then. This layout caught on, partially because of his notoriety, but mostly because it worked. 

I remember being super skeptical of WASD as a button mapping, but it made everything more fluid and easier. Those keys were laid-out perfectly and the hand position gave access to plenty of other buttons, enabling complex actions that simply weren’t possible when your fingers were isolated over by the arrow keys. 

This story is beautifully told in this video: 

Why is this relevant to escape rooms?

Good escape rooms are built on top of decades of knowledge from other industries. Video games are certainly one of the biggest influences. 

I’ve encountered plenty of companies that learn from watching their players. Some learn from aggregate player behavior, using their games as large experiments and iterating on them based on player trends. 

I’ve heard of other designers taking inspiration for new puzzles or puzzle iterations by listening to the wrong ideas that players cook up while attempting to solve a challenge. 

As a player, I’ve adopted plenty of tactics from other players… and I’ve invented a few of my own. 

Two Questions

Players: What tactics have you learned from other players? 

Owners: What have you seen your players do that you think would make for great standards? 

I think that there is a lot to learn from great players, both in terms of improving one’s abilities to play, and as in the case with WASD, improving the way that games are designed. 

ERban Dictionary: Escape Room Glossary

For our 1,000th Room Escape Artist post, we present the ERban Dictionary: Escape Room Glossary.

We consider this a living document. We welcome suggested edits, submissions, examples, and other enhancements through our contact form or in the comments below.

A book titled, "The New English Dictionary" that is actually a combination locked safe.

Escape Room Glossary

Actor – (noun, singular) a person with a character, commitment, and costume, designed to enhance immersion. They may or may not double as your gamemaster.

Aha Puzzle – (noun, singular) a type of puzzle where you can suddenly understand a previously incomprehensible concept and at that moment you have the entire solution to the puzzle.

Alternative Solution – (noun, singular) a perfectly rational solution that wasn’t the one that the puzzle designer had intended.

Anagram – (noun, singular) a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another.

Backseat Solve – (verb) to stand behind someone and tell them what to do because you’re frustrated your hands aren’t on the puzzle. This is generally discouraged.

Backsolve – (verb) to reverse engineer a puzzle solution.

Blacklight – (noun, singular) a handheld or stationary light that emits ultraviolet radiation that is invisible to the human eye. This is a common prop in escape rooms.

Blind Choice – (noun, singular) an interaction where players have to make a decision (frequently an ethical decision) without enough information or context to make an informed decision.

Bonus Content – (noun, plural) puzzles that offer something to the players in addition to escaping or completing the room escape’s main objective. These side quests can take place alongside the main objective or the completion of the main objective can trigger new objectives.

Bottleneck – (noun, singular) a point at which only one puzzle is available to the entire team that usually results in the entire team crowding around that puzzle.

Braille – (noun, singular) a form of written language for blind people, in which letters and numbers are represented by different configurations of a 2 by 3 grid of raised dots.

A visual braille alphabetic guide.
Created by Kosuke Takahashi

Breakage – (noun, singular) any prop that no longer functions as intended due to malfunction, poor design, wear, reckless players, or vandalism.

Brute-Force / Guess – (verb) the act of plugging numbers into a lock until it pops. This term can be confusing in escape rooms as it is sometimes used to mean “excessive physical force.”

Bypass / Circumvent – (verb) to skip over a game element. This can be intentional or unintentional. It can result from hints, guesswork, lock exploitation, game design flaws, or faulty game resets.

Caesar Cipher / Caesarian Shift – (noun, singular) an encryption technique made famous by Julius Caesar, using a substitution cipher in which each letter in the plaintext is replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions down the alphabet.

Cipher / Cryptogram – (noun, singular) a text written in code.

Clue – (noun, singular) a detail or component within the game that the players should interpret, combine, and solve in order to escape. This term can be confusing as it is sometimes also used to refer to a hint (see below).

Combination Lock – (noun, singular) a lock that opens when the correct numeric, alphabetic, or symbolic password is input.

A 5 letter WordLock closed, the word "Spell" appearing.

Communication Puzzle – (noun, singular) a type of escape room challenge that requires at least two parties to exchange information.

Cryptex – (noun, singular) a tube with a combination letter lock built in as a self-locking mechanism. The concept originated in the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code and was turned into a tangible product by Justin Nevins.

Nevins Cryptex / Real Cryptex / Good Cryptex – (noun, singular) a high quality Cryptex handmade by Justin Nevins.

Locked cryptex beside a $10 bill for size reference, it's a few inches longer and a little wider.

Dark Room – (noun, singular) an escape room played in complete darkness. This is not to be confused with dimly lit rooms.

Decor – (noun, singular) the furnishing and decoration of a room to provide ambiance. This is not to be confused with red herrings.

Destructible Puzzle – (noun, singular) a puzzle that requires the players to irreparably break a prop to achieve the solution.

Difficulty by Darkness – (noun, singular) a type of escape room made intentionally more challenging (and frustrating) by dim lighting. This is not to be confused with a dark room (see above.)

Do Not Touch Sticker – (noun, singular) a sticker or piece of tape affixed to props and set pieces that are “out of play.” The definition of “out of play” varies by escape room.

Drag – (verb) to feed a team so many hints as a gamemaster that the team no longer feels they were responsible for the win. This tends to be the result of an incompetent team and/or an incompetent game.

Easter Egg – (noun, singular) an unexpected or undocumented feature in an escape room included as a joke or a bonus.

Errol – (verb) to take off one’s shoes in an escape room for both comfort and attention.

Escake – (noun, singular) a celebratory delicacy used to mark the completion of a milestone escape room, traditionally cake. The concept of escake originates with the prolific UK-based “S2” escape room duo of Sera Dodd and Sharan Gill.

Escape Rate – (noun, singular)

For players: the win/loss percentage of an individual escape room player or team out of their total games played.

For rooms: the percentage of teams that escape the room in the time allotted. This is often ballparked or blatantly misreported.

Escape Room Logic – (noun, singular) a puzzle solution that makes sense in the context of solving puzzles within the game, but not within a game’s narrative. E.g. You’re a fugitive on the run from the police hunting for the information that will clear your name. Why are you counting the cups in a cabinet to get a lock combination?

Filler / Junk / Noise / Fluff – (noun, plural) subpar escape room content (puzzles, interactions, props, or story content) that is included for the purpose of lengthening the experience.

Frontsolve / Forward Solve– (verb) to solve a puzzle as the designer intended.

Game Clock – (noun, singular) the official countdown timer. This is frequently displayed within the game.

Game Flow – (noun, singular) the connective tissue between puzzles or game elements. Game flow describes the whole experience, how one puzzle branches out into others or funnels into a meta-puzzle. Game flow be mapped as a visual representation of the escape room.

Gamemaster / Host / Guide / Game Guide / Cluemaster – (noun, singular) the person responsible for overseeing the in-game experience, providing hints, and delivering and enforcing rules.

Gamespace / Set – (noun, singular) the gaming environment.

Generation / Gen – (adjective) refers to a taxonomy for differentiating games according to their technology usage.  e.g. Gen 1, Gen 2, etc. Note that technology is not inherently good or bad in escape rooms. It is one of many tools for creating experiences.

Ghost Puzzle – (noun, singular) remnants of a previous iteration of a puzzle that has since become irrelevant to the game, but is still lingering among the clues and confusing the hell out of the players.

Glyph – (noun, singular) a symbol that (should) mean something.

Head to Head / Competitive Games – (adjective) describes two identical escape rooms that can be played simultaneously as a race. Teams competing in head to head escape rooms to can sometimes interact during the game.

Hint – (noun, singular) an additional piece of information from outside of regular gameplay delivered by the gamemaster to assist a team in forward progress. This concept can sometimes be referred to as a clue (see above).

Hint Penalty / Clue Penalty – (noun, singular) The punishment for needing an additional piece of information from outside of regular gameplay. It is commonly extra “time” added to the escape time whereby if a team escapes in 55 minutes but used a hint, it’s counted as if they escaped in 58 minutes. It can also be an in-game action, such as dancing, that the team must do to receive the necessary outside information.

Hint System – (noun, singular) the method by which hints are delivered.

Human Circuit – (adjective) describes a puzzle that requires players to form a human chain between metal props to complete a circuit to trigger an event.

Immersive – (adjectives) describes an escape room that creates such a compelling fiction that as a player, you feel that you are a part of it and forget the world outside the escape room.

Individual Role / Individual Goal – (noun, singular) a type of escape room where players are each assigned characters and/or objectives outside of the team objective. This can put the players in competition with one another, but it doesn’t have to.

Inescapable Room with a Margin of Error – (noun, singular) an escape room with a less than 5% escape rate.

Informed Choice – (noun, singular) an interaction where players have to make a decision (frequently an ethical decision) based on enough information that they can understand the context of their choice

Interaction – (noun, singular) a designed action within the game.

Jump Scare – (noun, singular) a technique often used in horror escape rooms (and horror films) intended to scare the players by surprising them with an abrupt change to their environment.

Key – (noun, singular) a small piece of shaped metal with incisions cut to fit the wards of a particular lock that can be inserted into the lock and turned to open or close the lock.

Key for Key – (noun, singular) a key locked up behind a key lock.

Kimmy Schmidt Crank – (noun, singular) a crank that must be regularly turned to keep the power on.

Linear – (adjective) describes a game that follows a rigid puzzle structure wherein each puzzle leads to the next. All escape rooms have some degree of linearity.

Live – (adjective) describes an element that you know will move or open in the future.

Lock Guy / Lock Girl / Locksmith – (noun, singular) the one teammate who always wants to input the combination or open the lock. This is sometimes a player who doesn’t feel they can contribute to actually solving the puzzles and opening things makes them feel like the hero.

Lock Whisperer – (noun, singular)  the teammate who can always get the locks to open. They just have the special touch.

Lockout Safe – (noun, singular) a box or cabinet with a combination locking mechanism that will shut down for a period of time if multiple incorrect combinations are input. Lockout safes are generally frowned upon by escape room players.

Image of a safe with a digital keypad on the front.

Lock Picking / Lock Exploiting – (verb) Using a design flaw within a locking mechanism to open the lock without solving the corresponding puzzle.

Logic Leap – (noun, singular) a tenuous connection between a clue and a puzzle solution.

Mag Lock / Magnetic Lock / Sensor-driven Lock – (noun, singular) an electromagnet used to secure a door or compartment. These locks are opened when they receive a signal from a button, sensor, or other controlling electronics.

Magnet Maze – (noun, singular) a common escape room prop where a small object (frequently a key) is behind a barrier and must be navigated out with a magnet.

Meta Puzzle – (noun, singular) a puzzle that unites several puzzles that feed into it. A meta puzzle is usually set late in the game and players must complete a series of other puzzles before they can tackle the meta puzzle.

Morse Code – (noun, singular) a code in which letters are represented by combinations of long and short signals of light or sound. Morse Code was originally designed for long-distance communication rather than obscuring messages.

A morse code visualization that shows the layout of the alphabet in a branching tree structure.

Muggles / Rookies / Newbies / First-time Players – (noun, plural) the previously uninitiated.

Non-Binary Win Condition – (noun, singular) a type of escape room that doesn’t result in simply win or lose; it has different degrees or types of winning.

Non-Linear – (adjective) describes a game that does not follow a rigid puzzle structure wherein each puzzle leads to the next. Multiple puzzles can be completed at one time. Different teams can tackle puzzles in different orders.

Number Soup – (noun, singular) an escape room with so many numbers and combination locks and lack of correlation between the numbers and the locks… that your brain feels like a soup.

One-time Use – (adjective) describes props that will only contribute to one puzzle solution.

On-ramp – (noun, singular) the first puzzle in the escape room. It should stand out and be easily approachable.

Order Preservation – (adjective) describes puzzles that can no longer be solved if players move certain items from their original state.

Outside Knowledge – (noun, singular) understanding derived from outside the gamespace that contributes to puzzle solving within the escape room. What exactly falls into this category is controversial. e.g. Roman numerals (especially large numbers).

Over-locked / Lock Orgy – (adjective / noun) describes a single item that is shut with many (too many!) locks.

Padlock – (noun, singular) a portable key- or combination-activated lock.

Paper Puzzle / Homework Puzzle – (noun, singular) a puzzle that does not require the gamespace and could be solved anywhere.

Parallel Puzzle – (verb) to complete multiple puzzles at once with different teammates working on each concurrently. Some escape room design allows this. This can refer to teammates working in parallel in the same gamespace or in different gamespaces as part of the same escape room.

Physical Force – (noun, singular) physical strength used to open things. This is usually in violation of game rules and may result in breakage. Note that some escape rooms require physical force.

Pigpen / Masonic Cypher – (noun, singular) an 18th-century substitution cipher created by the freemasons that exchanges letters for geometric symbols that are fragments of a grid.

All 4 pieces of the Riddle Factory Freemason's Cipher key.

Pipeline / High Throughput Model – (noun, singular) a type of escape room where multiple teams are in the experience at the same time, but in separate rooms, always moving forward through the experience, never backtracking, and never running into other teams. This is the 5 Wits style.

Plaintext – (noun, singular) any text that is not encoded.

Play the Blame Game – (verb) to blame a failed escape on puzzles that make sense to 99% of players just because one is salty about not escaping.

Private (Ticketing) – (adjective) refers to a ticketing model where an entire group experience is purchased at once. This eliminates the possibility of strangers sharing the same experience. It is the most common ticketing model outside of the United States.

Process Puzzle / Taskwork  – (noun, singular) a type of puzzle where after you understand a previously incomprehensible concept, you must complete the work to derive the solution to the puzzle.

Prop – (noun, singular) an in-game item. It can be part of a puzzle or a red herring.

“Psychic” – (noun, singular) a player who stands or crouches in front of one lock for the entire game trying to guess the combination instead of playing the game. The psychic never actually guesses the combination.

Public (Ticketing) – (adjective) refers to a ticketing model where admission is purchased by each individual player, thus allowing for the possibility of strangers sharing the same experience. This is a common ticketing model in the United States.

Puppet – (verb) to act as an additional set of hands in an escape room you already know how to solve. This is a technique by which a solo player or small team can complete an experience designed for more people. Most often, a gamemaster puppets by coming into room and following the player’s instructions to help them complete the multiplayer challenge.

Puzzle – (noun, singular) anything that the team solves to advance through the escape room.

Puzzle Snatching / Puzzle Yanking – (verb) To take or steal a puzzle or component of a puzzle from another player, generally considered poor form.

Randoms – (noun, plural) strangers with whom you are teamed up in an escape room due to a public ticketing booking system (see above).

Recap / Thought Journey – (noun, singular) a mid-game or late-game explanation to teammates of how a puzzle or series of puzzles has resolved in order to get the entire team in sync again.

Red Herring – (noun, singular) an in-game item or piece of information that does not contribute to a puzzle solution, but could potentially lead players to waste time thinking it would be involved in the puzzle solving process. It may be intentional or unintentional. It may also be the result of wear, breakage, or vandalism. See Ghost Puzzle and Decor for additional information.

Reset

(verb) to revert an escape room to its starting position whereby a new team can begin. e.g. “I need to reset the room for the next team.”

(noun, singular) – the act of reverting the escape room to its starting position. e.g. “We experienced a faulty reset.”

Reset Fail – (noun, singular) an improper reset where not every aspect of the escape room is reverted back to the correct starting position thereby adversely affecting the room play.

Resting Puzzle Face – (noun, singular) a look of concentration while solving puzzles that is easily mistaken for discontent.

RFID – (noun, singular) an automatic identification technology that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to identify objects carrying tags when they come close to a reader. RFID is frequently used in escape rooms to release mag locks or trigger other events, often feeling magical.

Runbook – (noun, singular) a prop that outlines all or many of the steps that the team must complete in order to escape.

Safe – (noun, singular) a box or cabinet with a keyed or combination locking mechanism.

Sandbag – (verb) to hold back in an escape room as an experienced player to maximize the enjoyment of muggles or randoms.

Search / Hunt / Scavenge – (verb) to look for hidden clues within the gamespace.

Search Fail – (noun, singular) failure to find a hidden clue within the gamespace.

Seizure mode – (noun, singular) a handheld flashlight state where the light flashes incessantly. Some flashlight have this mode. This should not be confused with a weak and flickering flashlight.

Self-resetting / Automatically-resetting – (adjective) describes an escape room that is ready to play again immediately. Players do not have to wait for a gamemaster to reset the experience. This is usually associated with pipelines.

Semaphore – (noun, singular) – a system of sending messages by holding two arms or two flags in certain positions that correspond to an alphabetic code. Semaphore is used as a cipher in escape rooms.

Visual guide to the semaphore alphabet.

Set Piece – (noun, singular) a self-contained segment of the gamespace.

Signpost – (verb) to direct players to what they’re meant to be working on through subtle in-game cluing

Spin – (verb) to stall in an escape rooms and take the clues in all sorts of ridiculous directions instead of taking a hint.

Split Team – (adjective) a style of escape room where the team is separated into different gamespaces for some or all of the experience. Split team design is most commonly used as the starting situation, with the team coming together later in the experience.

Strategic Hint – (noun, singular) a hint used because of gamesmanship in order to speed up the team’s performance.

Sudden Death – (adjective) describes an escape room where you can take an action that results in losing before the game clock runs out. e.g. cutting the wrong wire on the bomb.

Surprise Satanism – (noun, singular) a genre of escape room where the initial gamespace is comfortable and welcoming, but a later gamespace reveals blood, guts, and pentagrams… or anything unexpectedly sinister.

Tech – (noun, singular) something that runs on electricity that the player cannot control completely with an on/off switch.

Trap Door / Hidden Door/ Hatch – (noun, singular) a hidden or obscured doorway.

Used Pile / Done Pile / Discard Pile – (noun, singular) a pile of single use props that have already been used. Used piles are created by players to keep organized.

Vouched-for Randoms  – (noun, plural) randoms whom you haven’t actually met, but you are less wary about playing with due to their connections to the escape room community.

Walkthrough – (noun) a post-game overview of the puzzles and game flow delivered by the gamemaster after a team has completed the escape room (win or lose).

Wear – (noun, singular) marks or changes to a prop as a result of regular use or handling. Wear frequently exposes solutions. e.g. “There is wear on Boston on this map. It must be the answer.”

Locks as External Memory [Player Tip]

Here’s a simple yet advanced escape room player tip for remembering letters and numbers in games that don’t provide note-taking materials.

Two word locks. One reads "MORE" the other "BRAIN."

The Problem

You’re playing an escape room that requires you to derive letters or numbers one at a time and then recall them for a code. To make matters worse, you aren’t even sure what order these digits will go in.

You haven’t been provided with note-taking materials.

You’ve got digits and you know they are important, but for some reason the game designer believes that this puzzle should also be a memory test.

The Solution

Grab a discarded lock and input the digits that you need to remember. Now you have a portable external memory device. Tote it around with you until the problem is solved.

If you don’t have a used lock, save the digits on an active lock. However, keep these few things in mind if you’re using an active lock as external memory:

  • Communicate to your team what you’re doing. Active locks tend to get shuffled.
  • Remember that the active lock might get solved before the puzzle you’re attempting to save the digits for.

How Often is this Useful?

I can’t say that I have had to do this all that often in the three or so years that this trick has been in my back pocket. However, it’s been especially useful when playing escape rooms with fewer people than the recommended team size.

Earlier this year, Lisa and I played a game where we had to derive a series of 9 digits to input into a keypad. To get to these digits, Lisa solved a logic puzzle and correlated her answers to items spread across a large space. There might have been other steps. I put the first 5 digits in a lock and brought that over to the keypad. After I punched these in, she only had to recite the last 4 digits for me. We were in!

It may not be an every-game trick, but I’ve always been happy to have it when I’ve needed it.

Locks as External Memory is one escape room tactic. For more tips, check out our Player Tips section.

Facebook’s Newsfeed Changes & Escape Rooms

I’m not the guy who complains about every little change that every tech platform makes. I’ve been designing complex software for years and I get the complexity.

When I say that the latest Facebook Newsfeed updates are terrible, I mean it.

They are a disaster for small businesses like escape rooms.

Painting of a man holding an iPhone to his head like a gun, and social media icons shooting out the other side like blood, bone and brains.
I saw this hanging in Berlin, Germany’s Final Escape.

What’s Going On?

Mark Zuckerberg did his 50 states tour and decided that Facebook needed to focus on creating “meaningful interaction.”

He said, “We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people.”

As a result, the newsfeed now supposedly emphasizes “friends and family” (NYTimes).

In practicality, this means:

  • Content posted by your family should appear more readily in your feed.
  • Content from Facebook Pages of companies that you’ve liked will appear less frequently.
  • News content will appear more often… so long as it’s been posted by a friend.
  • Content from Facebook groups you’ve joined will show up all over your feed.

For me personally, this means that my Facebook feed consists of humorless political postings from the people that I know, discussions from the various escape room-related Facebook groups that I’m a member of… and lots and lots and lots and lots of escape room post-game photos.

This means that I’m looking at Facebook a whole lot less. So maybe this is a good thing?

Back to the point.

What Does This Mean For Escape Rooms & Players?

Organic Reach

The organic reach of Facebook pages has been slashed.

This means that the Facebook content posted by businesses will surface naturally at a much lower rate.

Facebook wants businesses to pay to have their content surfaced. This isn’t new. While they’ve been operating this way for years, they’ve kept the organic numbers at least reasonable while regularly pummeling the page-owner with notifications about the treasures that will come if and only if they give Facebook some money to promote their content.

To me, these notifications always read like Nigerian Prince emails without the charm.

Update 11:45AM – This is a high performing post! Facebook wants money to make more people see it.

An email from the Facebook ads team suggesting that this post is high performing and that we should pay to boost its presence in Facebook.
This is not a joke.

The Effect

The Facebook user clicks “like” on pages of interest. The user is literally asking for the content. Facebook, however, algorithmically withholds it because it’s an easy chokepoint to generate revenue.

For players this means that when your favorite local escape room business announces that it has a new room, you won’t see this unless the escape room pays enough money that Facebook chooses to grace your eyeballs with the announcement.

It means that if you follow Room Escape Artist or other blogs through Facebook, you will see our content less frequently.

More importantly, it means that your local escape room businesses will likely have to spend a lot more money with Facebook to get the results that they need to operate. This will dramatically favor larger businesses who can more easily absorb the added cost.

What Can I Do About It?

You – as a player, a fan of escape rooms, and a reader of this site – have a few options to limit the damage that this shift will create:

  • Use your web browser as a browser and favorite your local escape room companies and Room Escape Artist.  Click over to them from time to time. Visit on your own terms, not because an algorithm selected the content for you.
  • Subscribe to emails. A good portion of our readership subscribes to receive emails when we publish content. Just about every escape room company out there sends out promotions and information via email.
  • If you can’t kick the Facebook habit, and believe me, I get that too… click “like,” leave a comment, or share content that you support. Boosting the signal helps.
  • Another option for those committed to Facebook is to use their oddly buried subscription feature to make sure that content is served up:

When you like a page’s content, go to the page and next to the “Like” button you’ll find the “Following” button. Click that and update your setting to “See First.”

Facebook's following dropdown, set to "Default" with "See First" highlighted.

Advice For Owners

So far, we haven’t seen a significant dip in traffic as a result of this because we’ve never put a heavy emphasis on Facebook as a distribution platform. Our feeling is that we distribute to all sensible channels and let our readers decide how they will interact with us. Facebook happens to be one channel.

Our site is built on open source technology. We distribute easily to RSS and our email subscription is simple. Our preference is that people use the website as a website because that’s the only thing we can control.

We’ve taken this approach because we don’t trust Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, and others to put our interests first. We’ll use them, but we won’t count on them.

Advertising and marketing is a lot of work. Make a conscious strategy. Don’t rely on one platform. Measure your results and refocus on the things that work. Don’t let yourself get lulled into a false sense of security with a single platform.

If one thing is certain about tech companies, it’s the promise of endless change… which may or may not be in your favor.

Contact Information: Escape Room Corporate

So, you’re trying to find the people in charge of all of these escape rooms that seem to be popping up all over the place?

You’re looking for a contact form, phone number or email address because you want to:

  • buy an escape room franchise
  • compliment the fantastic gamemaster who oversaw your escape game
  • reserve space for a large corporate group
  • file a complaint about the poor customer service that you received while visiting an escape room
  • ask whether you can bring your children to an escape room
  • determine whether an escape room facility is handicapped accessible

Well, you’ve come to the right place because I’m going to help you out.

There is no “escape room corporate.”

Vibrant filtered image of a Polycom telephone resting on a wood and leather desk.

Escape Rooms Businesses

Escape rooms are a worldwide phenomenon. A handful of chains notwithstanding, escape rooms are largely independent ventures.

There are over 2,000 escape room facilities in the United States alone. The overwhelming majority of them are independently owned, designed, and operated… even if a lot of them have remarkably similar names.

No company or individual solely created the concept, nor does anyone own the idea and name “escape room.” I explained the history of escape rooms a while back.

We Can’t Solve Your Issues

We’ve been writing about the escape room industry, reviewing games, and tracking the growth of the movement since the fall of 2014. For nearly as long, we’ve received regular emails and social media communication from people who think that we’re in charge of escape rooms.

We receive a lot of corporate booking requests… and a whole lot of customer service issues. As interesting as these messages are, we usually can’t help out. (One time we knew an answer and provided it, CCing the owner of the company in question.)

Contacting Escape Room Companies

To contact an escape room, find the website of the individual company that you will visit or have visited. It should have an email address, contact form, social media link, or phone number.

Good Time / Bad Time?

If you had a miserable time in an escape room, trust us that there are better ones out there. Please don’t give up on the concept because you happened upon a dud. This we can help with: Contact us for an escape room recommendation.

If you played an escape room and enjoyed it, there are so many more fantastic ones out there. This we help with: We have a map & spreadsheet of them.

Good luck and have fun.