Riddlefactory – Puzzles For Escape Rooms [Review]

Riddlefactory is a company out of Copenhagen that produces laser cut/ laser etched puzzles and props for escape rooms.

They asked if we’d be interested in writing about them, and we said “only if we can review the puzzles.” A day or two later a box filled with puzzles showed up. I’m still not clear on how they got it to us so quickly.

Spoiler warning

If you’re an escape room player, it is possible that you may see these props in an escape room at some point.

If you want to preserve the mystery, stop reading now.

General prop buying advice

When purchasing props, always think through why the item appears in your escape room. Don’t buy props and then shoehorn them into your designs.

The illuminating wood puzzle. It looks like a wooden frame around another piece of wood.

Illuminating Wood

$50

This item looks like a piece of wood held within a wooden frame. When held up to a reasonably strong light, however, it reveals a hidden message.

Animation of the Illuminating Wood puzzle with a light behind it. A hand moves it and the "CODE 5723" illuminates as the light passes by.

If you look at it on an angle, you can vaguely tell that something is weird about it, but it’s hard to see the message. This thing does its job.

Riddlefactory is able to customize this item at no additional cost; it simply adds a few days to delivery.

If I were using this in an escape room, I would produce a strong hint structure that directs players towards holding the thing up to the light. More likely, I’d mount it to a set piece where it looked inconspicuous and design an interaction to turn a light on behind it.

I think this item is a cool concept. Its effectiveness will depend on how it’s used. Think that through carefully and the Illuminating Wood puzzle could be an interesting addition to an escape room.

Transparent Digit Puzzle with all pieces stacked. It reads, "CODE 5724".

Transparent Digit Puzzle

$40

The Transparent Digit Puzzle is composed of 4 identically shaped pieces of clear acrylic. Each piece has a different portion of a code. Stack them one on top of the other to reveal the complete code.

When viewed individually, no one piece betrays the code. In the puzzle that I have, however, depending upon the pairings, it is possible to guess most of a code with 2 pieces. With any combination of 3 the code becomes pretty clear.

For escape rooms, I recommend placing the lock with that code on something that could be opened early without harming the game flow. Alternatively, I recommend giving the players the final three pieces at the same time.

This puzzle could be improved by adding a little visual noise that prevents the player from simply filling in the gaps.

Riddlefactory is able to customize this item at no additional cost.

The acrylic plastic is reasonably durable, I took these pieces to a local park and subjected each of the 4 to a different form of torture to simulate the beating they’ll take in an escape room (15 drops from 5 feet in the air onto concrete, 15 slams on the ground, 15 swift strikes against a concrete bench, and abrasive rubbing against 3 different surfaces). During the impact tests, they got roughed up a bit, but survived… I did get some funny looks from passersby. The abrasive test caused more damage; acrylic scratches badly.

A piece of the Transparent Digit Puzzle scratched badly.
Left: medium abrasive, 10 seconds. Middle: harsh abrasive 10 seconds. Right: light abrasive, 10 seconds.

If you’re designing a puzzle-centric room, and you aren’t concerned about abrasion, this could be an interesting prop. I’m having a hard time imagining these in a narrative-driven game, but if you can dream up a way to do it, the Transparent Digit Puzzle works well.

Riddlefactory - Freemason's Cipher Decoder - Closeup

Freemason’s Cipher Decoder

$35: Wood, $45: Acrylic

This one is not a puzzle; it’s a representation of the Freemason’s cipher key, also known as pigpen. It’s etched onto 4 pieces of either acrylic or wood.

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

With this prop, note the advice in Better Ways to Handle Letter Codes in Escape Rooms.

As with the previous items, Riddlefactory is able to customize this product at no additional cost, but allow a few extra few days for delivery.

Pigpen is used all too often in escape rooms where it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If I were designing an escape room set in the 1700s or built around the American Revolution or Freemasonry, I’d absolutely use pigpen and I’d consider buying these in wood; acrylic feels way too futuristic for a 200+ year-old cipher key. I would also either scramble the letter positions or make sure that the players receive the key before the cipher.

 

Sliding Lock

$45

The Sliding Lock is a mechanical puzzle. Although shaped like a lock, it is actually a semi-blind maze. You have to shift the sliding blocks around in order to slide the puzzle open and release the wooden shackle.

As a mechanical puzzle, I like the Sliding Lock. As an escape room puzzle… I can’t imagine it surviving for long under true play conditions.

The puzzle is reasonably complex. It took me a few minutes of focus to solve. It’s a one-player experience; it cannot engage a team of people.

The wooden shackle could easily be twisted and snapped. I didn’t break it (it’s too nice), but I know for certain that I can.

The body is held together by screws that I was able to open with my fingers. From there, taking the entire puzzle apart was trivial.

Sliding Lock puzzle with the screws and back removed. The intricate pieces are exposed and loose.

Of the puzzles we’ve received from Riddlefactory, this has been my favorite puzzle to hand to friends to solve (outside of a room). It’s fun, satisfying, and aesthetically pleasing. I would purchase it as gift. I cannot see the Sliding Lock lasting in an escape room.

Viking Box - Closed. This intricate metal, wood, and acrylic box looks pretty.

Viking Box

$85

The Viking Box is a complex puzzle box that measures 7 x 4.25 x 2 inches. Riddlefactory clearly states that this product is best as a lobby puzzle and I wholeheartedly agree that this should not be used in an escape room.

It took me 3 focused attempts to open this box and it would have been hell in an escape room. The Viking Box has a few deceptive attributes that require focus and attention to detail. Each time I sat down and worked at it, I realized something that I had missed the previous time. It’s clever.

It’s also breakable. The corners are beautifully laser cut to allow for rounding, but they are a physical vulnerability. Much like the Sliding Lock, the Viking Box is closed with screws that I could release with my fingers. Especially considering how challenging it is to open, I could easily see players destroying it in an escape room, which would be a tragedy.

I would use this box as a gift… or to stash a gift. I felt truly satisfied when I got it open. Please don’t put it in an escape room.

Riddlefactory

Riddlefactory has a number of additional products to explore and they offer customization. If any of this interests you, check them out.

Bottle Lock Roundup [Review]

When a friend needed to lock up liquor bottles as part of an escape room for a bachelor party, he asked us which of the 3 commonly available bottle locks would be best.

All three bottle locks laid out beside one another.

While bottle locks aren’t common in escape rooms, I could see a place for them in some games. So, here’s a roundup:

There was one clear winner both for escape room gameplay and liquor security: the Tantalus Wine and Liquor Bottle Lock.

Tantalus Wine and Liquor Bottle Lock secured perfectly over a bottle of port.

Tantalus Wine and Liquor Bottle Lock

~$15

This hard plastic spring-loaded sheath slips over the mouth and neck of a bottle. It seals shut using strong spring tension and locks shut with a key.

I was shocked at the breath of bottle necks that the Tantalus Wine and Liquor Bottle Lock fit over, both narrow and wide.

There are two downsides to this lock:

Aesthetically, it’s unattractive.

Given its plastic construction and the surprisingly strong spring tension, I suspect that it might give out with repeated use. That being said, I’ve opened and closed it a few hundred times and it’s still working like the day I removed it from the package. At $15, it’s also pretty disposable.

GOCHANGE Black Plastic Wine and Liquor Bottle Locks secured over a port bottle.

GOCHANGE Black Plastic Wine and Liquor Bottle Locks

~$9

This is another hard plastic spring-loaded sheath that slips over the mouth of a bottle… except this one is junk.

Due to its narrow diameter and exceedingly inflexible design, this lock cannot fit around most of the bottles that I attempted to secure.

When it does fit, it looks aesthetically pleasing.

It opens with a customizable 3-digit numeric combination. With the correct digits in place, it snaps opens with the push of the silver button on the top of the lock. Its operation is self-explanatory.

It feels so flimsy that I continually worried that I might have broken it while trying to put it onto a few bottles. I didn’t break it, but I wouldn’t bother with it for an escape room because it almost certainly won’t be durable enough, even at $9 per lock.

Wine or Spirit Bottle Lock - Combination Lock Bottle Stopper securing a beer bottle.
Looks aren’t everything.

Wine or Spirit Bottle Lock – Combination Lock Bottle Stopper

~$20

Now for something different… and really weird.

This metal 4 digit numeric combination lock looks good and feels great. On initial inspection, it seemed like a real winner. Then I saw how it worked:

This lock completely replaces a bottle’s existing top/ cork/ stopper.

With the correct code in place, it inserts into the mouth of a bottle like a cork or stopper. Then you start twisting the top of the lock. In doing so, it slowly expands the stopper until it fills the mouth of the bottle and cannot be removed without unwinding it.

It takes a lot of spinning to expand or contract it. This would be baffling in an escape room.

It also didn’t fit most of the bottle mouths that I attempted to close with it. The bottle mouthes were too wide and the stopper ended up distorting in shape.

This lock is clunky, weird, and decidedly user-unfriendly. Absolutely skip this thing.

A word on security

Escape rooms aside…

While locks like these could function as a deterrent to thieves lacking motivation, none of them would adequately secure liquor from a motivated thief. All of them are breakable with enough force or some basic tools.

The 3 digit lock only has 1,000 possible combinations; that wouldn’t take all that long to test.

The 4 digit lock has 10,000 possibilities, but it has some pickable weaknesses.

Tantalus Wine and Liquor Bottle Lock is pickable, but due to its heavy spring tension, it was pretty difficult to pick. It is my choice for both escape room gameplay and bottle security.

Cheers!

(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).

Escape the Crate – Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge & Escape the Colosseum [Review]

Looking for gift ideas? Check out our holiday buyer’s guide.

📦 ⚓ 📦 ⚔️

Location: at home

Date played: July 7, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 + shipping charged every other month when a new box ships

Story

In the second and third chapters from Escape the Crate, we continued to chase our villain through time to stop him from altering history by retrieving the anachronistic objects that he had left behind.

The second chapter, Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge, brought us to 1718 at the Blockade of Charles Town aboard Blackbeard’s ship.

Opened Escape the Queen Anne's Revenge crate shows brig bars with writing on them. Through the bars the ship's masts are visible.

The third chapter, Escape the Colosseum, took us back to a gladiator fight in Ancient Rome.

Escape the Colosseum opened, depicts a schedule of spectacles, a magnifying glass, and a picture of the Colosseum.

In each episode, our mission as time traveling agents was to retrieve the anachronism so that our present time would exist as it should.

Structure

Escape The Crate is a subscription service that delivers a tabletop puzzle adventure every other month.

Opting for a lower cost, higher output model, Escape the Crate packed game segments into sealed envelopes that we earned entry into by submitting puzzle solutions to a website. The website also delivered audio messages that narrated the story as well as provided guiding instructions to keep the game flowing.

The website included hint delivery as well. Each puzzle had a series of hints that escalated in detail until the final hint provided the solution.

The components of the game were generally made from paper or inexpensive fabric. There were a few props that were more tangible, but they were the exception, not the rule. At the end of the game, we were instructed to keep a few key components for use with future Escape The Crate shipments. As subscribers, we continue to build an arsenal of equipment by retaining certain items from each adventure as we chase this time-hopping villain through world history.

Puzzles

Similarly to Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress, in these subsequent chapters, Escape the Crate designed puzzles themed on the relevant historical era and location.

We needed to observe carefully and “unlock” sealed envelopes that represented different containers or rooms in each episode’s “set,” Queen Anne’s Revenge and The Colosseum, respectively. The puzzle structure mimicked a physical escape room.

While most of the puzzling was paper-based, each episode incorporated a few more interactive challenges.

Standouts

We appreciated Escape the Crate’s commitment to the historical setting of each episode. Both Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum involved thematically appropriate ciphers (although the Roman game did this better)… If you know anything about ciphers, you’ll know what to expect from Escape the Colosseum.

Escape the Crate augmented the contents of each crate with a web interface. The website provided the “locks,” hints, and narrative audio clips. It was intuitive to use – on both desktop and mobile – and didn’t detract from the game components on our table.

Overall, Escape the Crate provided generally entertaining and satisfying puzzles.

These two Escape the Crate episodes were not cookie-cutter. Each chapter included significant puzzle design or gameplay components that were unique to that episode. In Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge, one puzzle actually created the semblance of physical space. Escape the Colosseum introduced a new type of gameplay that we hadn’t seen in either tabletop or real life escape rooms.

Escape the Queen Anne’s RevengeEscape the Colosseum, and their first chapter, Escape the Confederate Spymistress, were each individual stories with narrative and episodic resolution. In addition to being entertaining and satisfying as self-contained escape rooms, they each teased the upcoming episode. Each chapter felt like a part of a larger time-traveling adventure.

Shortcomings

A critical component of Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge did not work as planned for us. Our speculation is that the box was shipped to us when it was cold and dry and we didn’t play it until it was hot and humid… We think that things may have expanded a bit. This key component became stuck and after taking a few hints that didn’t help, we resorted to “outside tools” and a bit more than “finger strength” to “solve the problem.”

A plastic bottle with a mangled mouth. A pair of wirecutters and pliers sit beside it.
It was neither pretty nor proper, but it worked.

Escape the Colosseum had a few structural flaws that caused frustration. An observant player with knowledge of ciphers can easily jump ahead, skipping other puzzles, and create a time paradox of sorts within the game. We did this and ended up having to backtrack after realizing that we’d broken the order of the game.

Additionally, while Escape the Colosseum introduced a new and exciting game mechanic, in practicality it was frustrating. It needed improved clueing and a better web interface to support it. This design mechanism had a ton of potential, but it wasn’t quite ready for primetime at the Colosseum.

While both Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum made strides in production quality, they still felt too homemade. Escape the Crate episodes would benefit from additional attention in print design and production, which could improve the quality of many game elements without a ton more effort.

Should I play Escape the Crate’s Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge & Escape the Colosseum?

We continue to be impressed by Escape the Crate’s subscription model. Their episodic at-home escape rooms work as stand-alone games and fit into a larger adventure. Furthermore, they continue to output new episodes on the promised delivery timeline. So far each chapter has included an innovative design element.

Because they continue to innovate and output at this rate, however, each episode included moments that could have used more testing and refinement.

In terms of production, Escape the Crate episodes are not polished compared to most other mass market at-home escape rooms available from larger companies. That said, they’ve designed a gameplay structure that works, complete with locking, story delivery, and hinting. In our opinion, that’s the crux of an escape room, and the folks from Escape the Crate continue to make a fun product at a fast pace and affordable price.

We recommend Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum for an hour (each) of educational, family-friendly puzzle entertainment in your own home.

Subscribe with Escape the Crate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Escape the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Escape the Colosseum are now “retired” games that you can purchase individually, outside of the subscription model. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb [Review]

Looking for gift ideas? Check out our holiday buyer’s guide.

Inexpensive & satisfying.

Location: at home

Date played: May / June, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $13 to 20 per game

Exit: The Game is series of tabletop escape games originally published in Germany by Thames & Kosmos. The Abandoned CabinThe Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb have all been adapted for an English-speaking audience.

Structure

All three Exit: The Game scenarios were destructible standalone games that operated with the same core mechanics.

In-game: A mess of cards, the decoder wheel, images of the cabin's rooms, and a book that reads, "Welcome Guests..."

We opened the box and found:

  • Journal – The 10-page color booklet had illustrations of the game’s “room” and other close-ups of things found about the space. It was essentially a hybrid map and puzzle book.
  • Decoder Wheel – The first round of answer verification, this worked exactly like the answer wheel from the ThinkFun tabletop escape games. Answer verification then had a second step involving the deck of Answer Cards.
  • “Strange Items” – These were little cardboard bits specific to each scenario.
  • Three Decks of Cards:
    • Riddle Cards – Labeled with letters on the backside and puzzles or puzzle components on the front, they became in-play after we “found” them in the room or earned access through others puzzles.
    • Answer Cards – Labeled with numbers on the backside and answer verification methodology on the front, these existed to make sure that we could not accidentally brute-force the Decoder Wheel.
    • Help Cards – Labeled with shapes on the backside and systematic hints on the front, these cards were predictable. Each puzzle had 3 hints. The first hint card explained which riddle cards, game components, and journal page(s) were necessary to complete the puzzle, along with a soft hint. The second hint card provided a heavy hint. The third hint card was a solution card.

In-game: An assortment of hint cards organized by shape, riddle cards, and answer cards.

All three games were:

  • puzzle-driven
  • light on the (ignorable) prose narrative
  • approximately the same level of difficulty
  • about an hour
  • of similar quality
  • partially destroyed during the playthrough

Story & setting

Each of the three Exit: The Game scenarios was set against an incredibly common escape room theme:

The Pharaoh’s Tomb: Egypt. Pyramid. Curse. Puzzle to safety.

The Abandoned Cabin: Car breakdown. Old cabin. Haunted. Puzzle to safety.

The Secret Lab: Experiment. Passed out. Woke up trapped. Puzzle to safety.

Each game had a range in artwork detail on the cards and in the journals. Some portions were surprisingly intricate and elegant, while others were clearly simplified to reduce red herrings. A few of the puzzle illustrations in each game were a little goofy.

Puzzles

The Abandoned CabinThe Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb were purely puzzle games. Most of the puzzles were visual and solvable with minimal manipulation of the bits and pieces in the box.

That being said, there were plenty of satisfying solves in each box. Each of the three games had 2 truly standout puzzles.

Standouts

The Abandoned CabinThe Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb were all:

  • strong puzzle games
  • sometimes surprisingly creative
  • affordable
  • easy to set up & start playing

Having played a lot of tabletop escape games, my favorite part of the Exit: The Game series was the hint system. It was useful, easy, and predictable. This straightforward system empowered us to use it as we saw fit, which has not always been the case with at-home escape games.

The story was done with a light, unobtrusive touch.

I was particularly fond of a few of the more creative puzzles in The Secret Lab & The Pharaoh’s Tomb.

Shortcomings

It occasionally seemed like we had enough components to solve a puzzle and we ended up taking a hint just to learn that we didn’t have everything we needed. [Pro tip: If you find yourself using a hint to confirm that you have all of the components, cover the bottom half of the first hint card, so that you don’t see the additional hint].

Some of the printed materials could only be used by one person at a time, which created a massive bottleneck. In each game, this was especially true of the journal booklet.

All three Exit: The Game titles were marketed as a game for up to 6 players and that’s a joke.

All three games had a broad range of print design quality. Some hokey design elements seemed out of place. Rummaging back through the boxes, I’m still a little surprised at the inconsistency.

The Abandoned Cabin’s “strange items” were hyped up throughout the game… and oh my were they anticlimactic.

The Pharaoh’s Tomb had a specific puzzle that suffered from poor print quality.

Should I play Thames & Kosmos’ The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb?

The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb were satisfying puzzle games. At roughly $15 each for an hour of gameplay, they were competitive with other professionally produced at-home escape games.

These would be great games for 2 or 3 people to share, but more than that and you will end up watching your friends solve puzzles. We played each of the games with another couple and it worked because everyone went out of their way to share. However, if Thames & Kosmos were to release another episode of Exit: The Game, I would probably just play it with Lisa.

There weren’t a lot of the puzzles in The Abandoned CabinThe Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb that require us to destroy components. There was, however, just enough destruction to make it very hard to reassemble the games. If you want to go miles out of your way to preserve these games for your friends, you can do it. That said, at this price point we didn’t mind wrecking these games.

If you’re curious… Lisa and I agreed that we liked The Pharaoh’s Tomb best. Our opinions were split over the other episodes, but we liked them both.

As with all of the at-home escape games that we’ve played, the Exit: The Game series did not replace the exhilaration of a great real life escape room. At a fraction of the cost of admission to an escape room, however, these boxes are a fun way to get your puzzle fix.

Crack open a bottle of wine and lock yourself into The Abandoned CabinThe Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb.

Full disclosure: Thames & Kosmos sent us a free reviewer’s copy of each game.

(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.)

Spin Masters – Escape Room The Game Funland & Murder Mystery Expansions [Review]

At least you can turn them into a drinking game.

Location: at home

Date played: June 2017

Team size: 3-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: ~$16 per expansion, base game is required

Structure

I described how this at-home escape room game works in detail in last year’s review of the Spin Masters’ Escape Room The Game. The Funland & Murder Mystery expansions do not change the formula at all. They play in exactly same ways but provide 2 more hour-long scenarios.

Both Funland & Murder Mystery require the original base game.

The chrono decoder, Funland cover, and game components along with a bottle of Ibuprofen.
Ibuprofen not included, but strongly recommended.

Puzzles

Funland‘s puzzling was built around traditional logic puzzles and played nearly identically to the original scenarios in the base Escape Room The Game.

Murder Mystery was the first Escape Room The Game scenario to deviate from the norm. This game attempted to cast us as detectives searching through a crime scene and using what we found to conclude whodunit. It had some puzzles, but this game focused on detailed (nitpicky) observation.

Standouts

Funland had a few puzzles that were satisfying solves.

My favorite part in Murder Mystery was solving the sort of puzzle to bring up the walkthrough on the game’s website.

Shortcomings

The price. The base version of Escape Room The Game will cost you $30 and provide 4 scenarios. These expansions cost $16 each for a single hour of play. These expansions were not of higher quality, nor did they introduce new props and tangible pieces.

The chrono decoder, hint decoder, keys and various components from Murder Mystery.
Most of what you see here came with the original game.

Escape Room The Game’s hint system was punishing and tedious. It time-released hints and more often than not, they didn’t help us. Either we had figured out the thing that was being hinted or they gave us something that added to our confusion.

Funland included an exact recreation of an old puzzle that has been circulating around the internet for years.

We misinterpreted Funland’s first puzzle and our bad answer used the same keys in the same order as a previous scenario’s first answer. The Electronic Chrono Decoder accepted it and then wouldn’t accept any of our subsequent answers. (The first correct answer you input tells the device what scenario you are playing.) I ultimately realized what had happened and restarted the game, but Electronic Chrono Decoder was a dumb machine without any sensible feedback or contextual awareness. It’s also so buggy that we legitimately couldn’t tell if the problem was it or us. Spin Masters would have been better served creating an iOS and Android app… At least they could patch bugs on a mobile app.

Murder Mystery had the most groan-inducing observation puzzle in the Escape Room The Game series. It was lame as a puzzle and it was silly in the narrative.

One puzzle in Murder Mystery had such tiny and fine details that I took a photo of the component so that I could zoom in. It’s worth noting that while my distance vision is insufficient, my reading vision is impeccable.

 

Should I play Spin Masters’s Escape Room The Game: Funland Murder Mystery?

I was lukewarm on Escape Room The Game’s base set because I thought that it had one game’s worth of good puzzles spread out over 4 scenarios. However, I did recognize that it offered a lot more value than any other at-home escape room games. It’s hard to say the same thing about Funland Murder Mystery.

Together they cost the same amount of money as the base game for a lot less material. You’re talking about spending $16 on a box with a few paper puzzles and there’s a lot of air in the box.

If you’re among the folks who truly enjoyed the original scenarios in Escape Room The Game, then you’ll probably get a kick out of Funland; it felt a lot like the original scenarios. I don’t think it’s a great value, but at $16 it won’t break the bank.

As far as Murder Mystery is concerned. I think that it’s a complete waste of money.

Thank you Amanda & Drew for sending us your copies of these two expansions.

(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.)

Rad Kwikset Key Blanks

An interesting key can make opening a mundane lock into something special. These three keys made by jeweler Erica Weiner are pretty damn nifty.

Three gold keys, one that looks like a middle finger, an all seeing eye, and a crescent moon.
These could also make for super creepy Airbnb door keys.

All three fit Kwikset (KW1) locks, which are probably the second most common door lock in the United States next to Schlage. These blanks could easily be cut by your local hardware store.

(via BoingBoing)

New York Puzzle Company – New Yorker Coffee Break [Puzzle Review]

Pour over the details.

Manufacturer: New York Puzzle Company

Puzzle Type: Jigsaw Puzzle

Price: $19.95

Puzzle Overview

Coffee Break is a 500 piece jigsaw from the New York Puzzle Company’s New Yorker line. This is an entire collection of beautiful New Yorker magazine covers, not just the illustration, but the entire cover (date, price, and magazine name).

This particular puzzle is an intricate satire of complex modern coffee brewing trends illustrated by Christoph Niemann and originally published on November 16, 2015.

Puzzle close up shows an intriacte series of pipes, and Neimann's signature.

Materials & pieces

New York Puzzle Company puzzle pieces are a thick, durable cardboard. The pieces interlock well. For the most part, it’s clear when pieces do and do not go together.

Additionally, the cardboard is 100% recycled and the inks are soy-based.

An assortment of 6 puzzle pieces flipped over so that the viewer focuses on their irregular shape.

The pieces themselves are fairly irregular, making this a less predictable puzzle to assemble.

Why this puzzle?

Having recently watched the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, I was pretty enthralled with Niemann’s episode (S1E1).

I loved the idea of having to puzzle through an almost entirely black and white jigsaw puzzle.

Should I buy the New York Puzzle Company’s Coffee Break?

Niemann’s Coffee Break illustration is incredibly intricate. Jigsaw puzzling through this image was both a beautiful and challenging experience.

Piecing this image together required me to visually interrogate every little intricacy of the illustration. By the time I was finished, I had gotten to know every reference and joke in the image.

It was challenging and occasionally frustrating because it’s essentially a black and white puzzle loaded with false leads and rapidly changing patterns. As soon as I had a handle on one section of the puzzle, it was finished… and suddenly there was a new section to learn. As a result, this took me about double the time that a 500-piece puzzle usually requires.

In the end, Coffee Break was a fun, yet fair challenge. It’s a wonderful illustration to spend some time exploring.

Buy Coffee Break today.

(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).

Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing [Book Review]

Shift by 23: Wklv xvhg wr eh plolwdub judgh hqfubswlrq.

Author: Paul B. Janeczko

Year: 2006

Page Count: 144

ISBN: 978-0763629724

Price: ~$6 in paperback

Synopsis

I had a realization that most of the ciphers, codes, and hidden messages that we see in escape rooms are essentially ancient intelligence tools that are easily appreciated by older school kids. This isn’t a judgment, but a simple fact of the escape room format. A dozen or so puzzles all designed for rapid solving creates an environment that doesn’t lend itself to complexity.

So I sought out a kid’s guide to codes and ciphers and found Paul Janeczko’s Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing.

Book cover for Top Secret, looks like a brown folder being held by a pair of black gloved hands.

It is exactly as advertised, discussing a little bit about the history and how-tos of simple encryption and decryption.

Written at about a 5th grade reading level, it’s the lightest read I’ve picked up in a long time. Top Secret is cute. It focuses on turning all of these old techniques into fairly straightforward craft projects. The information is good, if dramatically simplified.

Standouts

It’s an excellent and likely empowering book on how to make, transfer, and keep secret messages for kids.

As a light guide to ciphers for escape rooms, it’s a surprisingly solid book. I’ve read quite a lot about the history of cryptography as of late, yet there were a few basic forms of encryption covered in Top Secret that I had neither seen nor heard of.

The historian in me would have loved to see more detail in the book. However, it is likely more useful for those interested in creating escape games because it glosses over the historical context and focuses on how to create and use the basic ciphers

The table of contents is detailed and useful.

Illustrator Jenna LaReau’s art is adorable, warm, and humorous.

Book illustration for the "code breaking" chapter. A spy chopping a code book like a martial artist chopping wood.

Shortcomings

Janeczko’s writing is a little uneven. At times Top Secret is matter-of-fact, but then it can shift into a decidedly condescending tone that I think would have irked me even at age 10.

Should I read Paul B. Janeczko’s Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing?

Retailing around $6.00 and taking nearly no effort to read, Top Secret was worth both my time and money. I learned a few concepts that I hadn’t yet come across.

If you’re looking to really understand the history, intricacies, and application of cryptography from antiquity to the present, then you should read a book like Simon Singh’s The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum CryptographyTop Secret is simply too light and airy to develop a serious understanding of the subject matter.

If you are looking to create an escape room and aren’t well versed in simple codes, ciphers, and methods of hiding messages, then Top Secret might be the most useful and easy-to-read $6 reference book you’ll ever buy.

Order your copy of Paul B. Janeczko’s Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing from Amazon using this link, and a small percentage of your purchase will go towards supporting Room Escape Artist.

 

The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography [Book Review]

Yesterday’s military grade ciphers are today’s toys and puzzles.

Author: Simon Singh

Year: 2000

Page Count: 432

ISBN: 978-0385495325

Price: ~$12 in paperback, ~$10 on Kindle

Synopsis

Simon Singh writes an entertaining abridged history of cryptography (the making of ciphers) and cryptanalysis (the breaking of ciphers).

Singh shifts back and forth between careful explanation of cryptographic concepts and wonderfully entertaining historical anecdotes involving codes and ciphers.

The Code Book's cover has fine writing of assorted encodings covering it.

The anecdotes are by far the most fun aspect of the book. The story of the legendary Beale Papers is a particular standout. If someone hasn’t already turned that story into an escape room, it’s ripe for the medium. I was also quite taken by the stories of the cryptanalysts of Bletchley Park during World War II as well as the incredible efforts that went into deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Mycenaean Greek script, Linear-B.

The explanations take the reader through the most basic codes and ciphers that so regularly appear in escape rooms and puzzle games. As the complexity ramps up, The Code Book begins to explain how modern cryptography works.

The closeout is an exploration of the concept of quantum cryptography, which, while interesting and well-explained, also makes the brain explode into little tiny pieces.

Standouts

Singh clearly communicates complex concepts. His descriptions of ciphers, how they work, and how to use them were exceptional.

I was legitimately nervous as I approached the chapter on the German Enigma cipher. I knew how complex the thing was and I was jittery about my ability to comprehend its inner workings. I had to pay close attention while reading, and occasionally read a paragraph twice, but when I finished the chapter, I understood how the thing worked. That was honestly exciting.

Learning the details, history, and context of these common (and uncommon) ciphers that I play with so often in escape rooms and puzzle games was deeply satisfying.

The anecdotal tales of real-life cipher-making and -breaking gave me so many ideas for how puzzles could be used to tell stories now and in the future.

Shortcomings

While Singh has a rare talent for explaining the intricacies of codes, ciphers, cipher breaking, and mathematics, his explanations occasionally become redundant. Since each chapter is written largely as a standalone, information can become repetitive.

Singh keeps the math to a minimum. However, in the middle of the 20th century, cryptography stopped being a linguist-based profession and morphed into a mathematical craft. If you’re allergic to reading about mathematics, then you’re likely going to drop the book at the halfway mark.

Should I read Simon Singh’s The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography?

Reading The Code Book fostered a feeling of connection to the ciphers that I see in escape rooms. The more I have come to understand what those ciphers are, where they came from, and their significance throughout history, the more meaningful they have become.

The later chapters felt like reading a different, yet equally important book as they helped me achieve a deeper understanding of the crypto that makes the world we live in work. Now more than ever, I see how critical it is that we have access to strong cryptography.

Finally, this quirky realization: yesterday’s military grade crypto is today’s children’s toy. It hadn’t occurred to me that messing about with a basic shift cipher was the military intelligence equivalent to swinging a sword or firing an arrow. Those old ciphers that we play with today were a critical method of maintaining secure military communications. That understanding is wonderful.

Reading The Code Book has shifted my perspective on the world. You can’t ask any more from a book.

Order your copy of Simon Singh’s The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography from Amazon using this link, and a small percentage of your purchase will go towards supporting Room Escape Artist.

Rubik’s Triamid [Puzzle Review]

Sometime around 1992 my father returned from a business trip to Germany bearing an unusual pyramid-shaped puzzle created by Ernő Rubik, the famed creator of the Rubik’s Cube.

Rubik's Triamid assembled but color jumbled.

I lost the thing at some point. Over the years, I’ve occasionally tried to find one to no avail… until I found one at this year’s Toy Fair. The vendor thought it was a brand new puzzle and was pretty bewildered when I picked it up, took it apart, and swiftly reassembled it. Throughout this she insisted that there was no way that I had ever seen this particular puzzle before.

What’s a Rubik’s Triamid?

The 4-colored pyramid has approximately the same solution as a Rubik’s Cube: one solid color per side. The primary difference in the Rubik’s Triamid is that instead of twisting, it breaks apart and the goal is to rebuild it.

It consists of 10 colored cubes and 4 black connector pieces. These pieces snap together in a manner that is particularly satisfying.

Is it hard?

I solved the thing when I was 7 or so and it took some doing. Decades later I still remembered the key trick to it.

At this point, I cannot objectively tell you if it’s tough. However, I do find its functionality and elegant solution satisfying.

It’s also a fun response to the people who say, “I can solve a Rubik’s Cube if I take it apart.”

Get yourself a Rubik’s Triamid and relive one of my favorite childhood puzzling memories.

(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).