Ask Anything to Escape This Podcast!

We’re entering the final phase of our evil plans to take over Escape This Podcast… well… for one episode.

We’ll be taking over hosting duties for a unique bonus episode of Escape This Podcast where we all learn a bit more about the genius Australian duo behind this podcast: Dani and Bill.

The Escape This Podcast labyrinth microphone logo

Now in its 6th season, Escape This Podcast has given escape room players tons of audio escape rooms that they can play alongside entertaining guests.

We enjoyed guest starring on the Season 2 Finale and the Season 6 Premier. Escape this Podcast has hosted The Room Escape Divas, The Wild Optimists (Escape Room in a Box), REA Hivemind Reviewer and Survivor legend Peih-Gee Law, and even Neil Patrick Harris.

Ask Your Questions

We’re planning to cover a lot of ground with the duo, and we’re looking for your help to dig deep into their process, hopes, dreams, and aspirations for their growing podcasting business.

We will absolutely be covering:

  • Designing story arcs across episodes and guests
  • Creating puzzles to be presented entirely over audio
  • Giving guidance without feeding guests answers
  • Talking to famous people
  • Australian escape rooms
  • And Neil Patrick Harris

This is a great opportunity to learn more about Dani and Bill. Please send us your questions.

Submitting your Question

We’re making this super easy by providing 4 simple options for you:

  • Write your question in the comments on this post.
  • Drop it in our Facebook post.
  • Reply to our Tweet.
  • Email it to

You’ll get your question in the queue through whichever option floats your boat.

How’s This Q&A Gonna Work?

In a unique episode of Escape This Podcast, David and Lisa will ask Dani and Bill your questions, and we’ll all find out the answers together. You’ll be able to find the episode on any channel where you listen to Escape This Podcast.

We will share the piece too.

Cards Against Humanity & Escape Rooms?

Last year we played and reviewed The Last Defender at the end of its run in Denver, Colorado. We absolutely loved it and awarded it a Golden Lock Award.

Promotional art for The Last Defender.

The Last Defender blended elements of escape rooms, puzzle hunts, and immersive theater into one 16-person game. Exploring Cold War nuclear deterrence and the notion of mutually assured destruction (M.A.D.), The Last Defender was as challenging as it was grimly hilarious.

One of the most impressive aspects of The Last Defender was that while we played it in late 2019, it debuted in 2016. We had been hearing about it for years. It was clearly ahead of its time.

In-game: 3 players in orange flightsuits working at the Operations cabinet.

After we published the review we learned that The Last Defender was returning home to Chicago, and the team behind it was launching a new game – Nova To Lodestar, and both of these games were going to live inside of a board games cafe funded by Cards Against Humanity.

We recently spoke with the folks behind this incredible collaboration:

  • Nathan Allen, Writer & Director
  • Sandor Weisz, Puzzle Designer
  • Max Temkin, Cards Against Humanity co-founder

Cards Against Humanity’s Board Game Cafe’s Intentions

Temkin: “The board game cafe is Cards Against Humanity’s ambitious plan to provide a community center of sorts for Chicago’s gaming community,”

Tables at the beautiful Chicago Game Cafe

The venue has everything that you’d expect from a board game cafe plus a small event space for talks, learn-to-plays, and other gatherings… and it has room for 2 permanent escape rooms by The House Theatre.

The Last Defender’s Success Wasn’t Overnight

Allen: “House Theatre has its name because ‘the house’ is the audience and we were trying to find ways to make the experience of being an audience member more vital and exciting. We were called immersive long before immersive theater was a thing.”

In-game: a character in a black rabbit costume standing before a multi-colored world map.

The Last Defender’s Goals & Ambitions Drove Its Success

The House Theatre’s aspirations when creating their first foray into escape rooms were to:

  • Translate narrative into game design.
  • Build empathy through characters and story.
  • Make the players themselves the protagonists, so they relate to one another.

Cards Against Humanity Wanted To Collaborate With Theatre People

Temkin: “We went to SCRAP in 2012. I had just been chasing after escape rooms. I felt like escape rooms needed theatre people because they bring in sound, light, actor, narrative, and prop design. They understand that this is really about story.”

Nova to Lodestar is a Response to the Lessons of The Last Defender

Weisz:The Last Defender was my first attempt at building something that immersive and complex. I’m really happy with where we landed, because while the puzzles on the whole are difficult, I feel like the puzzle design is elegant, which is the quality I value most.”

“As we approached Nova to Lodestar, we both wanted to stretch the bounds of what we know an immersive game to be, and to focus less on any kind of conventional puzzle format. With every design decision, we’re asking ourselves how this affects the emotional stakes and emotional payoff. Everything is in service of that.”

Nova to Lodestar preview poster art depicts a doomed space crew.

Allen:Nova to Lodestar is a response to what we learned. To further deepen the connection of the player and their agency.”

“We’re doing things like eliminating the clock, I hate clocks in games. It is inherently destructive to didactic feeling. In The Last Defender, skilled players race the clock, rather than trying to prevent the missiles from launching. In Nova to Lodestar, you can’t see the clock – it’s resource management that is the time limit, but you’re never confronted with time. The clock is a resource of ore – which keeps the players in a constant state of decision making – not just winning or losing. Nova to Lodestar is also less puzzle-based and more focused on a broader notion of gameplay.”

“We’ve turned the game from tactical to strategic. It should feel very different in the way you play.”

The House Theatre Is Avoiding Binary Win/ Lose Conditions

Allen: “I want to make experiences that aren’t so binary. Did you get out?”

Initially The Last Defender had binary win/ lose scenarios, but they added a third in-between scenario and it made the game far more interesting. We didn’t experience this particular conclusion, but I personally loved the threat of it while playing.

The Last Defender May Continue to Tour

I cannot confirm particular locations, but The House Theatre is hoping to tour The Last Defender to different parts of the country with Chicago as its home base.

Cards Against Humanity is Far More Than A Board Game Company

Temkin:Cards is weird as a company and a game. None of us are game designers, I dabbled in it but never thought that it would be a career. Our goal isn’t to make a lot of board games, our goal is to make people laugh. Not gamers, just people. A lot of Cards Against Humanity is just sitting around with your friends laughing and not on your phones.”

“We aren’t always thinking that we need to make another comedy card game to create that feeling.”

Cards is a catharsis of laughing at something you aren’t supposed to laugh at… and The Last Defender is the same way.”

Back in 2016, Cards Against Humanity made a 6,000 person month-long escape room/ ARG… is that happening again?

Weisz: “When that game ended, I was so high on the goodwill of this little community we had built that I couldn’t imagine not doing it again and keeping that community going. But it turns out it didn’t need me; it kept itself going on its own. The Slack communities from that game are active to this day!”

“I’ve since built another ARG — for Field Notes — that was smaller in scale but had the exact same effect: a really lovely, and loving, community of solvers, who are still friends today. To me that’s the best possible outcome of an ARG game like that.”

“I love making ARGs and definitely want to do it again. It’s just really hard to start one up on my own. I have no idea if there’s a model there where I can charge people to participate. If I get enough encouragement from the community, maybe I’ll give it a shot.”

Closing Thoughts

Speaking with these guys, I felt a strong connection to their goals and approaches.

I’ve always seen the rise of escape rooms and tabletop gaming as part of an equal and opposite reaction to the shift of socialization largely happening on a screen.

Additionally, their theatrical approach to game design is completely in line with our larger vision for the future of escape rooms and immersive gaming. The ideas that we talked about are among the many concepts that are underpinning the RECON, the Reality Escape Convention that we’re hosting in Boston this August. I hope that you come join us and help build a stronger community and future for escape rooms and immersive games.

Learn More

Where To Get Custom Jigsaw Puzzles

A great gift for a jigsaw puzzler is a one-of-a-kind puzzle. I know this because I’ve given a few of these gifts and they are always a hit.

I’ve found 2 different companies that do a wonderful job at this, depending upon the price point and level of quality that you’re seeking.

Traditional Jigsaw Puzzles from Ravensburger

Ravensburger makes some of the nicest traditional jigsaw puzzles on the market. They vary their piece shapes, use good card stock, and have less puzzle dust than most of the jigsaw puzzles that have crossed my table. Also, I really like their trademark blue backings.

If you’d like to have Ravensburger make a custom puzzle for you, it’s easy.

Closeup of Ravensburger puzzle pieces in the box.

They call them Custom Photo Puzzles. All that you have to do is:

  • Take a good photo that is jigsaw puzzle-worthy. (I’ll talk about that at the bottom of this post.)
  • Upload a photograph that’s at least 150 dpi to their website
  • Select a size
    • $27.92: 100-300 pieces, 19.5″ x 14.25″
    • $31.92: 500 pieces, 19.5″ x 14.25″
    • $35.92: 1000 pieces, 27″ x 20″
    • $39.92: 1500 pieces, 31.5″ x 23.6″
  • Pay and wait 1 to 2 weeks
Custom Ravensburger 500 piece puzzle of Love Locks

The final product arrives in a beautiful tin with a sticker of the image on the outside.

Laser Cut Wood Puzzles from Liberty Puzzles

If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, Liberty Puzzles, the makers of fine laser-cut wood puzzles, also offers custom jigsaw puzzles… and they are gorgeous.

Image of an intricate wooden jugsaw puzzle depicting art from the San Francisco World's Fair. "The Jewel City" shows a tower with lights matching teh colors of the rainbow emerging from it.
I made this for our dear friends Amanda & Drew as a memento of one of their favorite escape games.

Like Ravensburger, Liberty Puzzles is easy to work with. All you have to do is:

  • Take a quality, jigsaw puzzle worthy image
  • Upload it as a jpg or gif (and I’d suggest 150 dpi as a minimum starting place for quality)
  • Select a size:
    • $130: Small – 9 x 13in., 225-250 pieces
    • $160: Large – 13 x 17in.,  425-500 pieces
  • Pay and wait for delivery. Remember that Liberty Puzzles is a small business and they can become overrun during busy seasons. (This year they stopped selling custom puzzles in the middle of November, which is why this wasn’t on our 2019 holiday buyer’s guide.)
Close up of the intricately shaped Liberty Puzzle pieces assembled.
Liberty Puzzles don’t come in sealed boxes… so I might have assembled it before giving it to them. Don’t judge me. I never claimed that I was a perfect person.

The final product looks just like any other puzzle from Liberty Puzzles. It will arrive in an elegant navy blue box with a sticker of the image. Within, you’ll find the wooden pieces neatly wrapped in tissue paper and smelling of burnt wood.

What Makes a Good Jigsaw Puzzle Image?

A few things come to mind:

  • A good variety of colors and textures
  • Sharp imagery. Blurriness isn’t great in a puzzle.
  • Depth is really cool (if you can get it without too much blurriness). A pronounced foreground, middle, and background makes the puzzling experience far more interesting
  • You own the image. The companies will send you packing if you submit an obviously copyrighted image. (The Jewel City art was in the public domain.)
  • The image matters to the person who’s receiving it as a gift.

I usually use my own photography to create a custom puzzle. In one instance I used an illustration that’s in the public domain.

Whether you choose Ravensburger or Liberty Puzzle, you’ll be giving a quality, personalized product.

2020 Escape Game Wishlist

At the beginning of last year I wrote a lengthy aspirational list of games that we hoped to play in 2019. At the request of one of our Patreon supporters, I’m going to take a look back at that list, see what kind of dent we put into it, and add new games that are on our radar.

The genie lamp from Aladdin high up on a pedistal.

How’d We Do in 2019?

Of the 11 new games from companies that we’ve visited in the past, we visited 3:

We were supposed to play 13th Gate’s Asylum… but a hurricane thwarted our plans. Sigh.

Of the 14 unfamiliar companies on the list, we visited 4:

At two of these companies, we played Golden Lock Award-winning games!

In all cases, we played all of the most highly recommended games at the companies… no regrets!

Of the 4 new countries that we were hoping to visit in 2019… we visited exactly zero of them.

2020 Wishlist

I’m going to use the same breakdown as last year, and include all of the games and places that we didn’t visit. New 2020 additions will appear in bold.

New Games, Familiar Companies

Unfamiliar Companies

  • Bewilder Box – Brighton, UK
  • Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space – Urbana, IL
  • Clue IQ – Frederick, MD
  • Crime Runners – Vienna, Austria
  • Cyber Racoon – Falls Church, VA (how great is that name?)
  • Edge of Escape – Zion, IL
  • Enter The Imaginarium – Pittsburgh, PA
  • Enter/Locked – Jackson, MS
  • Escape Room Herndon – Herndon, VA
  • Immersia – Montreal, Canada
  • Locked In Edinburgh – Edinburgh, UK
  • Maine Escape Games – Portland, ME
  • MindTrap Escape Rooms – Murrieta, CA
  • Myss Tic Rooms – New York, NY (if they are able to reopen)
  • Mystery Mansion Escape – Little Rock, AR
  • Nick of Time Escapes – Swain, NY
  • Olde City Escape Games – Philadelphia, PA
  • Paradox Project – Athens, Greece
  • Pier Pressure – Brighton, UK
  • Ravenchase Adventures – Richmond, VA
  • The Chamber – Prague, Czech Republic
  • The Sanctuary – Oklahoma City, OK
  • Xscapes – Binghamton, NY (to play their licensed Twilight Zone room)

New Travel Destinations

  • Athens, Greece
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Beijing & Shanghai, China
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Paris, France
  • Taipei, Taiwan
  • Tel Aviv, Israel

Recommendations Welcome

If you have additional recommendations that should be on this list, please add them in the comments! (Please note if you’re recommending your own game.)

Coming Soon: Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award 2019

Tune in this Saturday, December 21, at 1pm PST / 4pm EST / 9pm GMT / 10pm CET / 11pm EET / 8am Sunday AEDT for the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award (TERPECA) 2019 winners!

Top Room Escape Project Enthusiasts' Choice Awards 2019 logo.

All the Time Zones

The Top Escape Rooms Project is an attempt to find the best escape rooms in the world by leveraging the rankings of the most experienced escape room enthusiasts in the world… and to do so, the team behind TERPECA reached out to escape room players from across the globe.

In phase 1, the most experienced players (over 200 games played) nominated their top 20 escape rooms. In phase 2, highly experienced players (over 50 games played) ranked these rooms. And then TERPECA creator Rich Bragg did lots of black magic complex math to bring you the winners.

TERPECA is not a Room Escape Artist project; however David and I are on the advisory committee. We’re excited about this announcement! We’ve seen the results and we’ll be publishing an analysis after they are made public.


Follow the TERPECA Facebook Page for updates and details on how to watch the livestream.

Following the livestream, the results will be published on the TERPECA website.

More Information

Learn more about TERPECA in this earlier announcement calling for nominators and voters.

This is the second year of Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award. Read about last year’s winners here.

To reiterate, this award is not produced by Room Escape Artist. It is not the same as our Golden Lock Award, our award for our favorite rooms we played in any given calendar year. Our 2019 Golden Lock Award livestream and announcement will take place on Saturday, January 4, 2020.