Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 3

Commit Sudoku.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 5, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run, Box 3 followed in the style of On the Run, Box 2. It was a narrative-driven, puzzle-focused game. Compared to the previous boxes, we liked a few of the puzzles a lot less, and we enjoyed other puzzles a whole lot more. The box was a mixed bag.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The puzzles are tied to the narrative.
  • You can play at home.

Story

Box 3 continued Dispatch’s On the Run Box narrative, taking us to Japan to continue our investigation into the murder of our best friend’s wife. While this chapter provided some additional clues to our main narrative, we found ourselves focusing most of our energy on a fire in a local hotel.

An assortment of documents and items from Dispatch Box 3.

Setup

Box 3 looked similar to Box 2.

We were given an assortment of largely paper-based items that were printed on various types of paper stock and in a wide variety of styles. These paper components were augmented by a couple of more tangible props.

Gameplay

In addition to looking similar to the Box 2, Box 3 also played similarly. The gameplay was derived from exploring documents, websites, and props, identifying the thematically relevant puzzles, and working through them.

Box 3 concluded with a video that both indicated the end of the box’s puzzles and recapped everything that we were supposed to have uncovered.

Standouts

Box 3 contained the rarely seen thematically- and narratively-appropriate Sudoku puzzle, and Dispatch put a fun twist on this.

Box 3 continued the trajectory established by Box 2 and provided an even more interesting series of puzzles that fit the story and setting of the game.

This was a good team game, as there were ample opportunities to parallel puzzle.

Shortcomings

There was another lengthy and tedious process puzzle that dramatically overstayed its welcome. It was complicated by ambiguous cluing and functionality. We were counting the minutes until we could end this task. Plus, we’re pretty sure that there was a typo that confused the conclusion of this puzzle.

We struggled to fully connect the events of this box back to the overall narrative.

Between the typo and struggling to get started with the aforementioned process puzzle, we found ourselves wishing that Dispatch had a better self-service hint system. They have Slack channels where players can discuss the puzzles, but it was a clumsy tool and once there, it was filled with spoilers that we couldn’t avoid or unsee.

Tips for Playing

  • Box 2 items were required for resolving Box 3.
  • Box 3 ramped up the difficulty.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

60 Minute Escape – Pharaoh’s Chamber [Review]

A ball of light in a dark tomb.

Location: Murfreesboro, TN

Date Played: February 10, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per ticket

REA Reaction

Pharaoh’s Chamber was an understatement. 60 Minute Escape built an expansive explorable environment. The scale of this set and its interactions dwarfed chamber expectations. While not every puzzle flowed quite cleanly, they were interesting, interactive, and memorable.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • Players with a little agility

Why play?

  • The set
  • The interactions
  • The exciting moments
  • The finale

Story

We had been exchanging letters with an old friend and fellow archeologist as he excavated the ancient Egyptian tomb of the Scarab King until without warning, his letters stopped. We had set out to explore his dig site and find him when upon entering the tomb, we found ourselves sealed in. Could we find our friend, uncover the Jewel of the Scarab King, and escape with our lives?

In-game: a scarab painted on the stone wall of an Egyptian tomb.

Setting

Pharaoh’s Chamber was an intense ancient Egyptian tomb loaded with details and tangible interactions. While the lighting was a bit low, the depth and nuance of the design made this an especially fun setting for an escape room adventure.

In-game: a lantern illuminating the stone walls of an Egyptian tomb.

Gameplay

Pharaoh’s Chamber mixed typical search-and-puzzle escape room play with exploration and a bit of physicality. While the core of the room escape was built around discovering details and solving puzzles, it was augmented with light physical challenges and obstacles that made Pharaoh’s Chamber feel like an adventure.

In-game: the stone walls of an Egyptian tomb, there are compartments carved out of the walls.

Standouts

The set of Pharaoh’s Chamber was incredible. It was artistic. It was also expansive and the detail extended throughout the space. It was a beautiful playground for puzzlers.

60 Minute Escape constructed large-scale, team-centric interactions.

The finale was dramatic and complex. This last sequence built excitement.

Pharaoh’s Chamber was packed with memorable moments.

Shortcomings

We couldn’t always tell which action had solved which puzzle.

Early on we found a prop that suggested that the game was linear. We quickly discovered that it wasn’t linear… although we eventually reached a point where it was. This inconsistency was frustrating and contributed to choppy flow.

One puzzle needed additional gating. We wasted a long time trying to complete the action in different ways because it hadn’t appeared to unlock anything. Later, it turned out we’d completed this correctly the first time, but we didn’t yet have access to its reveal.

We absolutely loved the most physical sequence in this escape room, but it’s not instantaneous to complete. We recommend that 60 Minute Escape make it clear in-game at the start of this sequence that if any player doesn’t want to participate in this, an alternative path will be revealed, and adjust signage so that this path is revealed as quickly as possible.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is parking out front.
  • We enjoyed the muffins (and other delicacies) at Mimi’s Cafe.
  • At least a few players need to be relatively agile and surefooted.

Book your hour with 60 Minute Escape’s Pharaoh’s Chamber, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Nashville, TN from July 27-29, 2018. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Franklin to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

 

Amazon Alexa – Escape the Room [Review]

“Alexa play escape room.” 🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶

Location: at home on an Amazon Alexa

Date Played: March 4, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend 1-4

Duration: as long as it takes (They took us 10-20 minutes each.)

Price: free to enable

REA Reaction

Escape The Room on Alexa was an escape room in our own heads. While the interface was clunky, and the puzzle quality varied, it engaged the entire group for the entire time. It was entertaining and it cost nothing.

We recommend that you play a few real-world escape rooms before trying Escape The Room on Alexa.

An Amazon Echo Dot.

Who is this for?

  • Families
  • People with an imagination
  • People who speak clearly
  • Players with at least a little experience in physical escape rooms

Why play?

  • Free
  • Interesting and different
  • Engaging small-group, at-home activity

Story

Escape The Room on Alexa presented 4 straightforward escape room scenarios:

  • The Office
  • The Car
  • The Jail Cell
  • The Garage

In each scenario, for reasons unknown, we were locked in the location and had to escape.

Setting

We sat around an Alexa. Once we entered a scenario, we were given a verbal description of the space and presented with the different directions that we could look. When we chose a direction, we were given a description of the items and scenery in that part of the game.

For all intents and purposes, these escape rooms existed in our own minds.

Escape The Room - Alexa logo

Gameplay

Escape The Room on Alexa was a shockingly by-the-numbers escape room game. In order to escape, we had to search the room, identify clues, input codes, and discover other interactions.

The key difference: this escape room was entirely spoken.

We observed and manipulated the environment by speaking basic commands. Fair warning: there was a learning curve on the commands.

Beyond that, we took a few notes, and Lisa drew a map of each space as we explored it.

Standouts

The voice interface. If you have Alexa, you don’t need anything else to play this escape room. (Pencil and paper were helpful, but not necessary.)

We were able to play collaboratively as a larger group. Because it lacked a physical interface, we could all play simultaneously. The game existed in all of our heads. We took turns talking to Alexa and building off each other’s ideas. While we could only speak one at a time, we could all play the entire time.

The staging was lighthearted and amusing. Alexa’s script included a few jokes. As we tried to get Alexa to do our bidding, we had a lot of laughs.

The gameplay worked well. We applied our knowledge of the physical world to these imaginary gamespaces. Tools worked as we intended. It was exciting to make these connections and hear the reveals. Through these interactions, the puzzles flowed.

Hints were published on a website. They were easy to access and straightforward.

Shortcomings

Getting started was bumpy. It took some time to get used to how the verbal interface worked with the gamespace. We got frustrated when Alexa wouldn’t let us search where we wanted to search, for example, try as we might to direct her. It took time to understand how to speak to her and what types of interactions would move the game forward. It would have been helpful to play through a tutorial before beginning one of the escape rooms.

Even once we got the hang of it, the verbal interface was clunky. It was rigidly structured. We couldn’t speak or explore naturally. We had to work around its idiosyncrasies.

At times, Alexa spoke a lot of information too quickly for a listening player to puzzle through it. When we missed the information, we had to go back through an entire branch of the tree to get back to it.

The solution to one of the four games seemed a bit far fetched when compared with the rest of the scenarios, which were fairly grounded.

The puzzles quality and logical soundness was inconsistent.

Alexa kept trying to quit the game. This grew old fast.

Tips for Playing

  • Speak clearly.
  • Say “Alexa, open Escape the Room” to begin the game. If you try another phrasing, you’ll hear this song.
  • You must be facing an item to observe or interact with it.
  • There are no objects behind you. Backwards is not an available direction.
  • If Alexa asks you if you’d like to exit the game, you must answer “no” to continue playing.
  • Alexa does not understand synonyms. Use the exact words she uses to describe in-game objects.
  • Play The Car last. It was by far the most challenging.

Ask Alexa to open Escape the Room, and tell her that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 2

Ya gotta dumpster dive, and then you solve away.

Location: at home

Date Played: February 20, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run, Box 2 provided more puzzles and less narrative than On the Run, Box 1. It was only recognizable as the sequel in so far as it was part of the same story. While we didn’t enjoy all the puzzles equally, we appreciated how they generally tied into the fiction.

If you are on the fence after the first box, this ones plays really differently. Try it.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The puzzles are tied to the narrative.
  • You can play at home.

Story

After the events in On the Run, Box 1, we were following a lead in South America and exploring additional evidence in the mysterious murder of our best friend’s wife.

An assortment of documents and items from Dispatch Box 2.

Setup

Where the bulk of the Prelude involved reading a journal, this time we focused on smaller, less exposition-y pieces of evidence. We had some garbage to explore as well as other mysterious items and documents.

Most of the items in Box 2 were paper based with varying paper stock and printing style. There was one beautiful metal item. As with Box 1, we needed a web browser to access key content and interactions.

Everything helped us learn more about the conspiracy underpinning the murder.

Gameplay

Box 2 used the story established in Box 1 as a backdrop for a more puzzle-focused installment. This was a considerably more tangible and puzzley box to play through.

The shift in gameplay was a significant improvement over the first box.

The chapter concluded with a video that both indicated the end of the box’s puzzles and recapped everything that we were supposed to have uncovered.

Standouts

Box 2 was a lot more tangible and interactive than Box 1, which was almost entirely exposition.

The puzzles felt like puzzles.

Box 2 advanced the story, while adding to the mystery.

The items and interactions seemed like they belonged in the story.

Shortcomings

While all the puzzles came together and made sense, and we enjoyed ourselves, it also felt tedious. Most of the key interactions were process puzzles. Once we had the aha moment, we had a lot of work to grind through in order to complete the objective.

Tips for Playing

  • Box 1 items were required for resolving Box 2.
  • You will need scotch tape.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

WordLock – All Possible 4 & 5 Letter Words

I recently published an analysis on the Master Lock 4 letter combination locks. They have an unusual letter distribution and I was curious how many English words could be generated with those locks. It turned out that those Master Locks could create a lot more words than I had anticipated.

In light of the popularity of that post I once again worked with Rich Bragg of ClueKeeper to run the same analysis on the popular WordLock PL-004 5-Dial.

This lock seems to have fewer clichéd words, but there are a few that pop up a little too often including:

  • LASER
  • DEATH
  • FELON
  • BOOK(S)

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

Letter Distribution

This analysis is focused on the most current 5 disk WordLock model, the PL-004. There are 3 older models with somewhat different letter distributions and WordLock has other 4 disk products. 

The fixed-disk WordLock uses the following letter configuration:

Disk 1: L S W B P F M D T A

Disk 2: A P O R I L C E T N

Disk 3: S E R I L A N U T O

Disk 4: E L D A O S K N R T

Disk 5: R L S N T H Y D _ E

There are two particularly interesting things about this letter distribution.

First, the blank spot on the fifth disk (represented above with an underscore) cleverly allows the WordLock to represent 4 or 5 letter words.

Second, the lock has asymmetrical disks that, when all aligned, defaults 7 of the 10 lines of the lock into words:

  • WORDS
  • SPELL
  • LASER
  • BRIAN … if you consider a name to be a word
  • PILOT
  • FLASH
  • ANOTE … while it does have a definition, this more looks like a word than is a word

While the remaining three lines are gibberish, it’s still a nifty and thoughtful feature as the lock looks cool with all of those words on its face.

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

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

Here’s the spreadsheet. The left-most column contains 1,652 core English words. These are the best words that the analysis found. The further right you move, the less useful the words generally are (and the farthest right is mostly nonsense).

Analysis Methodology & Column Explanation

Absolutely everything about this analysis and its outputs conforms to the same information presented in the last letter lock analysis, so I won’t rehash it. It’s on the Master Lock post if you’re interested.

Odd Letter Distribution Hypothesis

After publishing the last analysis some members of the room escape community proposed a hypothesis about the odd letter distribution on those Master Locks:

It seemed like Master Lock may have been trying to make it impossible to spell curse words.

This seems like a valid answer for both Master Lock and WordLock’s letter selection. I cannot prove this one way or another, but you cannot generate the most popular American English swear words with these locks… so that’s probably not a coincidence.

Nevertheless, sifting through the wordlist revealed a few “vulgar” or degrading words… and I’m including them because my inner 10 year-old thinks this list is hilarious:

Vulgar Words: Proceed With Caution

ANAL, ANUS, BALLS, BONER, DORK, PANSY, SISSY, and PENAL (That last one isn’t at all vulgar, but it sure feels like it should be.) You can also generate the word MOIST… which apparently is a word that a lot of people hate.

[collapse]

There are also TONS of innuendo-y words that I didn’t include… because I’m an adult.

WordLock Word List

Lockbox Mysteries – Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade [Review]

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” -Sherlock Holmes

Location: at home (in our case, a hotel) in Salt Lake City, UT

Date Played: January 5, 2018

Team size: 1-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Price: $45 per crate for a 24-hour rental; plus a $50.00 fully refundable deposit (per crate)

REA Reaction

Lockbox Mysteries crammed a ton of gameplay into a crate and briefcase. We’re always a little cautious when approaching a new game format, and Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade made us believers. While we wished that the props felt just a little more of the era, Lockbox Mysteries delivered excellent puzzle content. We loved playing this game from the comfort of our own home hotel room and the price could not be beat.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You can play from the comfort of your own home
  • It’s affordable
  • A lot of puzzling content
  • A smart final puzzle sequence

Story

It was 1910 and Scotland Yard was stumped. With a dead woman and no leads, they hired the greatest detective in history, Sherlock Holmes, to crack the case. Wearing the hat of Mr. Holmes, we explored evidence and interrogated the behavior of a number of suspects, puzzling and deducing our way to a conclusion.

A locked brief case sitting on a large plastic crate in a hotel room.

Setting

We drove out to a Salt Lake City suburb and retrieved a large box and a briefcase and brought them back to our hotel room.

The plastic crate open revealing an assortment of lock boxes, an envelope labeled "confidential" and a binder that says, "Read First."

When we opened the box we were greeted by a binder that explained the game in careful detail. This included everything from what an escape game is, to the hint system, to basic lock functionality.

Inside of the binder, a hint booklet, timer, and an envelope of extra parts.

We started the included timer and investigated the initially available evidence. From there on it was all puzzles and locks.

Gameplay

Our Lockbox Mysteries experience essentially played like a low-tech escape room without the set. There were lots of locks sealing all sorts of boxes and bags shut. There were even more puzzles.

A pile of locked boxes, and a locked purse.
There was plenty more where this came from.

We needed to deduce the particulars of the murder case before us and rule out suspects. Each suspect had their own branch of puzzles that provided a piece of the overall picture.

Photos and names of 7 suspects and the victim.

All of this culminated in a final deduction puzzle that emphatically punctuated the game with a challenging, creative, and elegant conclusion.

Standouts

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade played like an escape room. It was less immersive than (most) on-site escape rooms, but more physically interactive than (most) at-home escape rooms that come in the mail. It straddled these subgenres. More importantly, it played well.

Lockbox Mysteries surprised us. With each open, we uncovered substantial game pieces… and more puzzles.

Play money fanned out, a passport, and makeup.

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade had a lot of puzzle content and the puzzles flowed well. They also broke into parallel plot threads. There was a lot of game and it branched such that it could keep a large group entertained.

The hint system worked. It didn’t give away too much, unless we wanted to get to the solution. Then we could see the solution.

We understood the characters, story, and mystery without working at it. We took it in by way of solving the puzzles. Consequently, the puzzles felt purposeful and the sleuthing felt natural.

The mystery wanted to be solved. It didn’t resolve to some crazy unforeseeable twist. We could play along like detectives, making hypotheses and working towards a conclusion.

Everything was self-contained. We didn’t need an internet-connected device to facilitate the game.

Shortcomings

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade leaned heavily on decipherments. A few of these overstayed their welcome. Long after the aha moment, we were still deciphering the information.

While we appreciated the many tangible locks in this play-at-home escape room, we would have liked more varied digit structure. At times we’d derive a code that could have unlocked any one of a number of locked items.

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade was aesthetically uneven. Some props felt of the era, while others felt far too modern or geographically incorrect.

Tips for Playing

  • You do not need a computer, phone, internet connection, or any outside tools for this play-at-home escape room.
  • You will need to pick up the game near Salt Lake City, and return it the next day. Mass transit will not be an option for the travel.
  • If you can, cook up a meal and really make an evening of the game.

Book your rental with Lockbox Mysteries’ Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockbox Mysteries provided a media discounted rate for this game.

 

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures [Review]

The Sherlock Holmes game we deserve.

Location: at home

Date Played: 2017 / 2018

Team size: 1-8; we recommend 1-4

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $40 for 10 cases

REA Reaction

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures was the finest tabletop mystery game we’ve played to date. It was easy to get into, but an intellectual commitment to complete. It was seriously challenging, but still lighthearted and humorous. We wished the scoring system felt more sensible, but it didn’t really matter as we could judge our own improvement. If you’re seeking a difficult tabletop mystery series, this is the game to play.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Couch detectives
  • People who enjoy reading
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fantastic writing
  • Interactive storytelling
  • Clever mysteries
  • Easy to learn
  • Easy to setup
  • Challenging yet fair

Story

Each chapter cast us as members of the Baker Street Irregulars, child informants working for and learning from Sherlock Holmes. We would team up with a familiar character from Holmes’ canon like Wiggins (the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars) or Dr. Watson.

Each episode presented us with a case. We followed the leads wherever they took us in order to solve the case… and any other mysteries that arose along the way.

Beautiful Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective box art featuring a pipe, and a magnifying glass over a letter that reads, "From Hell."

Setup

The game components were impressively simple and streamlined. They included:

Rulebook / Informant Information

The rulebook was especially lean and the game easy to learn. Once we knew how to play, there wasn’t any reason to return to the rules. The rules weren’t nuanced.

The back of the rulebook listed recurring informants whom we could visit during gameplay for records, investigative details, rumors, and the like. These characters were important for solving cases and added continuity to the world.

The game's map, a case book, a newspaper, the informants list, and the London Directory laid out on the table.
Full game setup.

10 Case Books

(4 Books for the Jack the Ripper campaign and 6 Individual Cases)

Each case book provided:

  • Introduction
  • Narratives for all relevant locations in London (tied to location codes)
  • End-game questions
  • End-game answers
  • Pompous Sherlock Holmes monologue explaining the case

The 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign had a unique game map, special informants, and a connected narrative.

Every other episode stood alone.

A Newspaper from September 19, 1898.

10 Newspapers

Each case had a corresponding newspaper filled with assorted information including obviously relevant tidbits, well-hidden details, and plenty of color.

Map 

The map of London was divided into districts with each building and block numbered. The map allowed us to understand the proximity of places. It also occasionally allowed us to make deductions regarding leads as well.

The London Directory, Informants list, and London map.

London Directory

The directory was the interface. It listed every citizen and legal business in London with corresponding codes to look them up in the case books.

Gameplay

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was a prose-based mystery adventure. With the exception of the map, all components were written… and well written at that.

One player would read the introduction, while another would take notes on people, places, and evidence.

The Hotels directory.

From there, we took turns deciding where we’d visit next. We’d look the location up on the map and in the directory, find the corresponding passage in the case book, and read what happened upon our arrival, taking notes all along the way.

We repeated this process until we either felt confident in what happened with the case or the trail went cold and we decided to see how much of the mystery we had solved.

After answering the questions at the back of the book, we’d read the Holmes’ monologue to determine what had happened and how he solved the case.

Standouts

The stories were interesting and unexpected. They twisted in odd directions, but the twists felt grounded.

The cases didn’t feel like a mediocre version of Sherlock Holmes, or a kids’ edition, or dumbed down deduction. The mysteries were smart, challenging, and well written.

By casting us as the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective spared us one of the common storytelling problems in many Holmes-themed escape rooms: who the hell are we supposed to be? Are we collectively Holmes, or Watson, or some random friend? This character choice allowed us to be us and not some hive-mind Watson.

We were allowed to use any information in the game or in our own heads to solve puzzles. Our knowledge of the world was relevant. My favorite example of this was in the Seventh Case, A Question of Identity. At the start of the game, Lisa was reading the newspaper and mentioned to me that there was a column of personals. Without having seen that newspaper I asked, “Is one of them enciphered?” She looked up at me surprised and asked, “How did you know?” It was a little fact that I had picked up about communication in the 1890s from having read The Code Book.

The 5WC location description from a case book: "The cabs don't have anything useful information today. We're almost angry with ourselves for believing they might."

The more we played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and inhabited that London, the more the world felt natural and real. We got a handle on who the informants were and when we should go to them.

The materials felt great. The paper stock was varied and of high quality.

The game was easy to learn and quick to setup. When we decided that we want to play a case of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, setting up the game took one of us roughly the same amount of time that the other needed to pour a couple of glasses of port.

While the individual cases were not replayable, the box contained 10 different cases and absolutely no reason to write on or otherwise destroy any of the materials. You’re free to share them with friends.

There’s a massive 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was challenging but fair. This game pushed us harder intellectually than any escape game (real life or tabletop). When we nailed the facts of a case we felt incredibly accomplished. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective had no gimmes.

Shortcomings

The cases weren’t of equal quality. Some of them left us feeling unfulfilled, like they weren’t quite complete.

The scoring system was kind of a joke. We mostly ignored it. We acquired points for correctly answering questions about the case. We lost points for each additional lead we followed beyond the laughably low number that Holmes needed. We disliked this scoring system because it discouraged exploring the world and thoroughly investigating the crimes… which just felt wrong.

We found the limited amount of information Holmes ultimately worked with dubious at best. This contributed to our dislike of the scoring system. I worked for a prosecutor’s office for a couple of years and I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking Holmes’ lack of evidence to court. I know he’s essentially a superhero, but when we read Holmes’ deduction process at the conclusion of each case, it felt like a weak and silly conclusion that’s best acknowledged, but not taken to heart.

Tips for Playing

  • Reserve a couple of hours for gameplay.
  • Be ready to tackle a lot of reading, and out-loud reading if you’re playing as a group.
  • Have snacks, drinks, and whatever else that will add to the vibe of the mystery.
  • Play for yourself, not for the scoring system.
  • Take good notes and revisit them.
  • This is the third edition of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective; other versions offer different cases.

Buy your copy of Asmodee’s Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures.

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a free reviewer copy of this 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.)

Master Lock: All Possible 4 Letter Words

Master Lock has many different word combination locks and cable bike locks on the market that have fixed disks. (You cannot swap the order of the disks.)

In the escape room community, the three best known fixed-disk locks are:

Master Lock Model No. 1535DWD

Master Lock letter lock 1235DWD with the word "BOOK" appearing as the combination.

Master Lock Model No. 643DWD

Master Lock letter lock 643DWD with the word "MOCK" appearing as the combination.

Master Lock Model No. 175DWD

Master Lock letter lock 175DWD with the word "TEAR" appearing as the combination.

All of these fixed-disk letter locks have the exact same letter distribution, which made me wonder:

How many 4-letter words can these Master Locks create?

I hope to see more variation in solutions used on these locks in escape rooms. The same half-dozen words show up a whole lot. (I’m looking at you BURY, STAR, & SAND).

Three Master Lock letter locks with the combinations entered as sand, star, and bury.

Letter Distribution

Each fixed-disk letter Master Lock uses the following configuration:

Disk 1: L N B D M J P R S T

Disk 2: O U Y R T L H A E I

Disk 3: C D E O R S T L N A

Disk 4: K Y R S T L N E D H

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

I asked Rich Bragg of ClueKeeper how he’d determine all the words these locks could generate. A few minutes later he sent me back a spreadsheet filled with words.

Column Explanation

There is no way to generate a single answer to the question “how many English words can this lock create?” English is a constantly evolving language. Words are created, usage shifts, and words fall into disuse.

Column A is the common English word list. This is by far the most useful column. It has 695 words.

Column B is the “ENABLE” word list. These are still words, but they are obscure or old English.

The next three columns are decreasing useful, with the fifth column being words from Wikipedia (which includes acronyms, initialisms and the like).

Each list omits the words found in the previous lists.

I’ve included all of the columns in the spreadsheet because even the less useful columns have some interesting entries… They are just few and far between.

Analysis Methodology

Bragg used TEA Crossword Helper, which is anagramming software on steroids. This is the kind of software that you use if you’re really serious about winning a major puzzle hunt.

From the TEA website:

“TEA comes with a database of over 6 million words and phrases including the title index for the English version of Wikipedia. These answers are classified by their familiarity, so you always see the most likely ones first. You can look up the meanings in the integrated dictionary/thesaurus or on the Internet. TEA is faster and more convenient than word lists in book form such as crossword completers, crossword dictionaries and crossword keys.”

Is There A Better Distribution?

The letters on each disk are pretty curious, especially when you notice oddities like the “J” in the first disk or the “Y” in the second disk.

From a letter frequency standpoint, these are not great letters to drop in those positions.

I reached out to Master Lock to ask how they chose this letter distribution, but they could not be reached for comment.

I suspect that there are more effective letter distributions possible that would generate even more words, but after a quick attempt at doing better, I fell a bit short. If you find one, I’d be curious to see it.

However, whether or not there is a better distribution, this is the one we have on these locks. It’s a lot of options. Feel free to use this list as a tool.

Master Lock Letter Lock Word List

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment – The Mattel Edition

This is the third edition of this game to arrive in the mail.

We wrote about the first one in February 2016. It was a prototype, sent to us in the hopes that we would promote the Kickstarter. Spoiler: we did.

We wrote about the second one in October 2017. We’d backed the Kickstarter and now we could play the game that Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin had created.

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment's black, white, and yellow box.

Now Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment has arrived yet again. This time, it’s manufactured by Mattel and available on Amazon for $29.99.

What’s the difference?

Price

At $30, the new Mattel edition is $15 – $30 less expensive.

In-game: The initial opening of the box, a number of components are obscured by a piece of paper that reads, "Keep out."

Components

The Mattel edition has a new aesthetic. It’s still playful, but its color pallet shift leans a little more brown.

In-game: a green biohazard box locked with a plastic 3 digit lock, a gold plastic warded lock, and art depciting a female werewolf.

Most noticeably, from my vantage point, the locks – combination and key – were made from plastic. Typing this, it sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t. The locks work well. They don’t need to be durable; they aren’t security devices.

Mattel swapped out a few props for new items. This was for ease of manufacturing and to eliminate the destructible element.

In-game: a pad of paper and a pencil.

Puzzle Variation

A few of the puzzles in the new edition are different from the original. Some changes are minor improvements; some are a minor downgrade. Either way, nothing has changed enough that it’s worth buying a new one if you’ve already played the old one (unless you want some plastic locks).

A close up of many components, "Start your timer now!" scarwled

Should I Buy Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment?

Three editions in, we stand by both our previous reviews of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment. If you’ve already played the Kickstarter version, you’ve seen what this game has to offer. We still think that it’s the best that the play-at-home escape room market has to date.

If you haven’t played Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, it’s now available at a fraction of the price and with 2-day delivery.

Learn More About The Making of this Product

We interviewed the duo behind this game in late 2017. The creators of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Juliana and Ariel, gave a ton of interesting insights into the marathon that was bringing this game to market.

(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.)

The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book on Kickstarter

Roy Leban’s The Librarian’s Almanaq is a puzzle book that many trusted puzzler friends highly recommend. We haven’t played through it yet, but it is literally sitting on our table waiting for us to dive in. We’ll get to it soon and a review will follow.

Based on its reputation, we’re also backing The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book.

The Conjurer's Almanaq: Escape This Book cover.

The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book

Leban’s latest Kickstarter has a few days remaining. It has already raised three times its funding goal and activated half a dozen stretch goals.

This sequel is another imaginative puzzle book designed for 1-3 players.

While there will also be a scaled back black & white print edition available, the Kickstarter one will use higher quality materials and contain extra puzzle content. If that sounds enticing to you, consider backing them… or wait for our review and the black & white edition when that comes to market.

Back the Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book on Kickstarter while you still can.

(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.)