Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story

💵💵💵💵💵💵🚽

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 25, 2018

Team size: 4-11; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: from $40 per ticket for teams of 4 to $30 per ticket for teams of 11

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Stash House told an exciting, humorous, and memorable crime story through experiential design and puzzles. From the moment we arrived, we entered a fully realized world that almost entirely nailed the details.

When we started tackling the gameplay, we found a traditional escape room presented on a grand scale and filled with layers of puzzling that fit with the narrative and were justified through internal logic.

If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles and are fine with the adult themes of drug use and drug distribution and some light sexual themes, Stash House is a must play.

In-game: the Stash House apartment.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who think that Stringer Bell is one of TV’s greatest characters

Why play?

  • Immersive storytelling and cohesive world from start to finish
  • Strong puzzles
  • Fantastic small-group puzzling moments
  • Memorable ending

Story

Our meeting with local entrepreneur Ray Jones had taken a turn for the shady when Jones revealed to us that he was conscripting us into his organization. He had turned a seemingly normal Los Angeles apartment into a test to prove our smarts and knowledge of his products. With each challenge we would earn a baggie of coke. If we could finish his test and flush all of the drugs down the toilet before the police arrived, we’d have a place in his operation. If we failed, we were the police’s problem.

In-game: a large Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics poster hanging on the wall.
Accurate.

Setting

Stash House was built as a nice, functional, and large apartment. It looked and felt like a place where a human with an identifiable personality lived. It was larger than our actual apartment. If they installed a shower, I’d live there.

There were secrets, of course, but spoiling them would do a disservice to the player experience.

In-game: the lobby/ lounge of Stash House.

Gameplay

Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with an amusing character via text message.

In-game: a dining table in an apartment.

Analysis

+ The introduction to the escape room was so smart. It was entertaining and justified the game, established stakes, and made it clear why we needed to succeed.

+ Stash House established clear goals and provided a means of tracking progress that never felt like a scoreboard or some other artificial game construct.

+ Stash House felt like a fully realized world. It maintained its internal logic throughout the entire experience. As a result, we bought into some story elements that weren’t grounded in reality, but absolutely worked within this fiction.

+ The puzzles were great. Many were layered and structured such that we built mastery over the course of completion.

+ Even Stash House’s process puzzles were engaging. They used either satisfying mechanisms or humor to counterbalance the repetition.

– One puzzle dragged and didn’t lend itself to group solving. Another late game puzzle obscured critical information and slowed momentum at the wrong time.

+ The humor in Stash House served the narrative.

– Some of the humor required a lot of reading in dim light.

+ The hint system worked as a game-balancing tool. It could provide puzzle assistance, story, nuance, and humor all at once. It could be easily adjusted to any given team’s needs and it never felt overbearing.

? Some of Stash House’s finest moments happened in confined spaces for small groups. This meant that seeing one segment meant missing other great puzzles and interactions. I could see some players choosing to play Stash House again, at least in part.

– The “grill” in Stash House wasn’t even close to looking like a grill. I’m no expert on the subject… but my brother is.

+ We don’t often get excited to play in an apartment setting; it usually feels like a copout. That was not the case with Stash House. There was depth to this environment. It was large and interesting. It had secrets.

– One segment of the gamespace felt underdeveloped.

+ Stash House was a 90-minute escape room that filled the entire 90 minutes with intrigue. It never dragged.

+ The conclusion was brilliant.

In-game: a glowing set of lights that read "STASHHOUSE"

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • You need to be able to climb stairs to fully enjoy this game.
  • For decadent desserts, we recommend Milk Tavern.

Book your hour with Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story comped our tickets for this game.

Palace Games – The Edison Escape Room [Review]

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Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 20, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: $410 per team

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Palace Games succeeded in blurring the lines between real life and video game.

The Edison Escape Room was a brilliant display of technology in escape room design. The detailed set was phenomenal. The gameplay ranged from well-executed standard puzzles to wholly unorthodox challenges in the physical environment, all of which leaned into teamwork. Palace Games stitched these elements together with technology that brightened each element individually and energized the interconnected experience. The Edison Escape Room was as impressive as it was fun.

This escape room was a commitment. At 100 minutes there might have even have been too many challenges. A few too many of these felt like the final puzzle leading to an unnecessary anti-climax. Palace Games packed a lot of different twists into The Edison Room. 

Palace Games’ latest creation is a wonder of the escape room world.

It is worth traveling a distance to visit The Edison Escape Room.

In-game: an incandescent lightbulb labeled

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technology fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Brilliant puzzles
  • Radiant set design
  • Dramatic reveals
  • Unusual teamwork mechanics
  • The room reacts to the players
  • Incredible feat of technology in escape room design

Story

Thomas Edison had maintained a secret study in the Palace of Fine Arts during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, the World’s Fair held in San Francisco, California, in 1915. When the Palace Games team unearthed a telegram confirming the existence of this study, they did indeed uncover the space.

This study hid a secret: Since Edison had deemed his children unsuitable heirs to his businesses, he had crafted a series of challenges into his study in an attempt to find an acceptable heir. If we could solve all his challenges, we could earn the right to lead Edison’s businesses.

In-game: Promotional image of Edison's 1915 World's Fair Tower of Jewels, rainbow iridescent tower.

Setting

Edison maintained a small wall-papered study with a wooden desk, phonograph, and some wall hangings. A display of lightbulbs featured prominently on one wall. It was cozy and welcoming.

This classic study was a facade. The more exciting and dramatic elements of his challenges were yet to come, if we were bright enough to enter his lab.

In-game: an old phonograph on Edison's desk.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room began as a standard escape room and evolved to deliver highly interactive atypical sequences.

The Edison Escape Room offered a high level of difficulty. This difficultly, however, was adaptive. If a team wasn’t up to the level of challenge, the room would adjust to the give the players a better experience.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and working together.

In-game: an unusual room lined with lights, wheels, and gauges.

Analysis

+ The Edison Escape Room delivered phenomenal reveals. It was exciting, dramatic, and invigorating.

+ The set was delightful. There was always more to take in. A close look illuminated disguised jokes and puns. I spent a few minutes puzzling through these humorous tidbits that were entirely irrelevant to the larger puzzle game. I enjoyed every second of this time.

+ The puzzle design encouraged both parallel puzzling and group solves. The branching came back together repeatedly in interactive and entertaining group challenges.

In-game: A period appropriate Periodic Table of the Elements.

+ We enjoyed so many of the puzzles in The Edison Escape Room. These included more typical escape room style puzzles as well as more atypical, interactive group maneuvering.

– One of the late-game puzzles felt under-clued. Witnessing it play-out, we liked the concept, but it seemed as if the game was dragging us through it rather lighting a path of clues that we could follow.

+/- The Edison Escape Room provided audible feedback to confirm that we’d correctly solved a puzzle. Some of the choices of confirmation tone seemed oddly out of place and immersion-breaking in an experienced grounded in 1915… even when they were amusing.

In-game: a grid of incandescent light bulbs all labeled with different words.

+ Palace Games intertwined gamespace and puzzle seamlessly; for much of the escape room these were interconnected on a level far beyond what we’ve come to expect from escape room design.

+ The gamespace responded to our actions. Furthermore, it adapted to the team’s ability. It was impressive.

+ The Edison Escape Room encouraged us to build mastery of the gamespace and the props within. We welcomed Palace Games’ unambiguous approach to prop reuse. It furthered our engagement with the gamespace. The props were enticing and we were eager to see them recalled and reimagined as the game progressed.

-The Edison Escape Room didn’t need to be 100 minutes long. Some of the late-game content became overly repetitive. On multiple different occasions, we thought we’d solved the final puzzle… and then Edison tossed us another challenge. Considering how much time we spend in escape rooms, it’s strange to say that this was too much escape room, but by the end, that’s how we felt. The energy of the space dimmed.

– The final puzzle – the actual final puzzle – wasn’t as climactic as some of the culminating puzzles that came before it. This contributed to the petering out.

In-game: An old 6 lever Winchester lock.

+ The technology driving The Edison Escape Room was impressive. We were in awe that it worked. While we don’t believe escape rooms need technology to be great, Palace Games incorporated this technology brilliantly to bring the elements of escape room design together.

+ The Edison Escape Room provided a continual sense of new discovery. In a gamespace as elaborate and interesting as this, discovery was invigorating. This was a ton of fun. I still can’t believe that this thing exists.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive to the back of The Palace of Fine Arts. There is parking.
  • For food we recommend Super Duper Burgers.
  • Accessibility: If you have mobility concerns, speak with Palace Games about adaptations to accommodate for these. The Edison Escape Room is highly adaptable.

Book your hour with Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

11 Principles of Tabletop Escape Game Design

We’ve played a ton of tabletop escape games over the past few years. Some were play-at-home escape games. Others were framed up as subscription mysteries. We’ve also played self-service puzzles games with narratives.

However the creator frames and markets these games, there are a few basics to abide by.

We see the same few mistakes entirely too often. Here are some of the biggest categories of problems. We’d love to see these permanently banished from our table.

An abstract, Picaso-esque image of red/blue 3d glasses, a cipher coin, and a joker playing card.

1 – Inventory

Each package should contain an itemized list of what’s included so that I can verify that everything arrived.

This list should be functional, not cute. Without any knowledge of the game, I should be able to compare the list of items to what I see in the box and quickly ascertain that everything has arrived.

This list should be exhaustive. If there are 9 items on the list, I should count 9 items in the box. No more, no less.

A missing item in a tabletop puzzle game is like a bad reset in an escape room with a derelict gamemaster.

2 – Case Sensitivity

CaSe mAttERs in self-administered puzzle games, especially when digitally inputting solutions.

If a puzzle resolves to a URL, depending upon how the site is built, the case may matter in the URL. We’ve played games where a puzzle resolved to an answer like “NASA” and we had to drop it at the end of a web address, but it only worked if we input it lower case even though the puzzle itself spit out uppercase letters. “/NASA” & “/nasa” aren’t the same thing.

The same thing goes for password inputs.

Ideally create software such that case sensitivity doesn’t matter at all. Either force all letters into a particular case or write the application to disregard case.

If I derive the word “Sherlock” as a password, the following should all work for this password: “Sherlock,” “sherlock,” and “SHERLOCK.” If they don’t, I might accidentally discard a correct answer… which sucks.

3 – Hint Systems

In my experience, the fun of a tabletop puzzle game can die in the hint system.

Crowdsourced Hints

Web forums or slack chats where players are supposed to help one another are a lazy and terrible idea. They lead to chaotic situations where I’m constantly receiving too much or too little information, if I can even find what I am looking for.

As a player, when I use forums I run a high risk of seeing hints and discussions about things that I don’t want to see.

Also, I bought your product; I’m not your %^&*ing customer service rep. Hint your own puzzles.

Email

I totally respect that you or one of your employees has to sit at a computer writing back stock hints. This can be fantastic if you’re sitting at your computer responding in realtime. If you aren’t there, however, needing a hint means my night of puzzling with your game has come to an unexpected and unwanted end.

Email is critical for problems that extend beyond a structured, self-service hint system (broken/ missing components or other critical failures). Email is subpar and a lot of work for run-of-the-mill hinting.

A small treasure chest with coins inside.

Structured, Self-Service

My favorite hint systems are structured and self-service. I can access the hints for a particular puzzle and get a series of progressively more detailed hints that set me straight. The more layers, the better:

  • Early hints should ask me basic questions that gently push me in the right direction or make sure that I have solved the prerequisite components.
  • Moderate hints should ask me questions about critical components and direct my attention at the nuance that I am missing.
  • Late hints should provide me with a foundation to finish the puzzle and provide as many granular hints as needed to provide coverage of every step of the puzzle.
  • Solutions should be the last resort. Solutions should explain how the puzzle was supposed to work.

The hint system’s goal is to nudge me just enough to make me self sufficient and get me puzzling again.

Similarly, the hint system should have as many steps as needed to provide nudges, regardless of where I am stuck. I hate it when I have solved 95% of a puzzle, but need to take a solution (especially one that isn’t explained) to finish out the puzzle. This is kind of heartbreaking.

The hint system can be printed and included in the game or it can be made available via a website. Either can work well.

I’ve already paid for your product. Let me experience it on my own terms.

PostCurious did this magnificently. If you’re making tabletop puzzle games, I’d suggest checking it out. 

4 – Tchotchkes & Other Junk

Why do so many play-at-home puzzle games add meaningless, cheap, junky props into their games?

If it doesn’t add to a puzzle or substantially embellish the narrative, cut it.

I’m always amazed when we receive a paper-based game in a cardboard box just so that the packaging can accommodate a piece of 1/2 cent plastic that added no value to the game. It boggles the mind that a garbage toy traveled halfway across the world on a journey that cost more than its own creation just so that I can be confused about whether it’s a clue or not.

The same goes for your branded pencils and other stuff.

We played a game where everything seemed relevant. When we received a pencil, we spent a stupid amount of time slowly sharpening the thing into a nub to make sure that no messages were somehow hidden in the wood. Boring.

5 – Auto-Responder Response Time

It’s pretty nifty when we email a “character” and receive an immediate automated in-character email response.

You know what’s not cool? Getting that response 20 minutes later after we’ve sat around staring at an email client and chomping on pretzels.

It’s ok to abandon some realism for expedited storytelling and gameflow. It’s lame when I send a character information for them to “act on” and then get a message saying, “I’m going to do that… It will take me about 20 minutes to get there” and then literally have to wait for that 20-minute timer to get more information.

6 – Assumed Gear

There are plenty of things that you can assume your players have access to:

  • Writing implements (pens, pencils, markers)
  • Calculator
  • Straight edge
  • Computer or mobile phone
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Glue

You are absolutely free to go more outlandish, but do so knowing that it might be a major strain on your players. The farther out of my way I need to go to acquire additional gear, the higher my expectations will be for the interaction.

Black & white image of a cassette tape on a map of the US.

For example, if you want me to get a cassette or record player, I am going to feel pretty peeved if there was no practical reason why I couldn’t just get a digital recording other than the “purity of your vision.”

My preference is to be able to open the box and puzzle without having to stop because I need to go to the store or borrow something from a friend. If I truly need special gear, I’d sure be appreciative if y’all just said so up front.

7 – Responsive Web Design

If you’re incorporating a website into the game, please, for the love of puzzle, make sure that there is 100% parity between the desktop and mobile versions.

As of February 2018, 20% of Americans only access the internet via mobile phone from home (Pew). Maybe none of them are puzzlers, but that number is significant.

Pro Tip: This means that you cannot rely on mouse hovers for anything. They are garbage on mobile.

8 – Expectation Setting

A lot of these boxed puzzle games are shockingly opaque.

  • How long should I allocate to play?
  • Should I play in one or multiple sessions?
  • How much table space do I need to play?
  • Do I need an internet-connected device? If I do, how much do I need it? (Just for hints or for most everything?)
  • How many people should I play with? And I don’t mean, “how many people can I play with?” I want to know how many people the game was designed for.
  • Will I need any puzzle or craft supplies that I am unlikely to have on hand?

9 – Legacy (answer tracking, backtracking)

If your game spans more than one session… please, please, please tell me up front if I need to track all of my work and previous answers.

While we’re at it, make it clear if I need to retain certain items from earlier episodes for backtracking.

Also… please don’t make backtracking a hellish slog. Flag items that I’ll need multiple times or clue me directly to the thing that I need.

The longer a game runs, the more there is to backtrack through. It can become a nightmare to manage it.

A glowing handheld blacklight.

10 – Blacklight

While we’re on the subject of backtracking… let’s talk about how cruel a blacklight can be in a sprawling, multi-month game.

I’ve played games where after a few months, we received a blacklight in the mail. Upon receiving it, I had to search every inch of every component that I had received prior to that mailing just to be sure that something hadn’t been hidden in past components.

Similarly, once you’ve sent me a blacklight, I have to assume that every item moving forward must be illuminated to verify that nothing is hidden. (Because the one time I don’t do this, something will be hidden in blacklight.)

If you’re using blacklight, please provide direct cluing as to its purpose and use. If you don’t need it, consider dropping it. It’s clichĂ© and overused.

11 – Make Something Special

Entirely too many tabletop puzzle games look or play like garbage… and cost too much money to justify the purchase.

If I want to play a collection of puzzles, I can crack open one of the many past Puzzled Pints for free. If I don’t want that, I can buy a ton of puzzle books for less money.

If your game is basically a puzzle book in loose-leaf form, that’s fine as long as it doesn’t cost that much and sets clear expectations.

Save your pricey subscription for a puzzle game that offers something special.

Lisa & David on the Up The Game Podcast

This past spring, Anna-Maria Giannattasio interviewed us on the show floor at Up The Game.

Anna-Maria Giannattasio recording at Up The Game.

We had a fantastic conversation about escape rooms, Up The Game, Room Escape Artist, and how Lisa and I work together.

Pretty much every question that Anna-Maria asked was a question that no one else has ever asked.

I hope it’s as fun to listen to as it was to record.

All of the episodes recorded at Up The Game are available via Podcast Profs.

Vote for Escape Rooms with 10Best

For the third year is a row, USA Today has opened the voting for their Readers’ Choice 10Best escape rooms.

We see USA Today’s 10Best as an opportunity for newbies to start out playing a great room, and hopefully get hooked. As such, we did our best to nominate geographically dispersed companies as candidates for their 10Best list.

10 of our nominees are included in this year’s vote. No, we will not say which ones.

USA Today 10Best Readers Choice 2018 logo

10Best Travel Lists

USA Today publishes 10Best lists to help travelers make the most out of their trips. The 10Best lists cover food, lodging, destinations, travel gear, things to do, etc. Experts select the nominees and the readers vote on their favorites.

According to USA Today, across the different categories, 10Best is read by 5 million travelers per month.

California

8 of this year’s nominees are in California. Most of these are in and around Los Angeles.

This speaks to the strength of the Los Angeles market (and that most of the reviewers consulted have spent a lot of time in California escape rooms). There are a lot of companies creating incredible experiences there.

We recently spent a week enjoying escape rooms in California. We’re looking forward to sharing reviews from that trip in the upcoming weeks. We’ll be publishing reviews of some of the companies on this list and others that we can’t wait to tell you about.

Louisiana

3 of this year’s nominees are in Louisiana. While this is a smaller market than California, it’s no less impressive. The scale of some of these experiences is mind boggling.

We were thrilled to showcase many of these games at Escape Immerse Explore New Orleans.

Promoting Escape Rooms

A vote for your favorite escape room is a vote that promotes escape rooms to travelers.

Escape rooms are competing with museums, tours, amusement parks, theater, and all sorts of other entertainment.

While California and Louisiana may have emerged as destinations for escape room tourism, there are phenomenal escape room companies all over the country. The 2018 10Best nominees include companies in 7 other states. You can travel to so many different cities and find outstanding escape rooms. Help other travelers find these – and other – escape rooms.

Cast your vote for escape rooms!

 

DAEDALUS – Competitive Digital Escape Room [Players Needed]

If you like escape rooms, you might like to participate in this competitive digital escape room.

Details

  • Who (Organizer): Game designers and researchers from Northeastern University
  • What: An escape room called DAEDALUS as part of a study
  • When: Accepting signups on a rolling basis
  • Where: The internet… and Boston*
  • Why: To study the impact of individual differences on group performance

Teams race against each other to finish the game in the shortest time. Teams that complete the game in time will win a cash prize.

*Eligibility: Players must be 18+ and permanent U.S. residents or citizens. Teams can be spread out all over the world, but teams must have a minimum of 2 players in the Boston area. Some challenges involve performing actions in physical locations in Boston.

Sign Up!

Teaser Image says,

Disclaimer: We are not affiliated with this escape room and we are not participating in the competition. 

ERban Dictionary: Escape Room Glossary

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

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

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

Escape Room Glossary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A visual braille alphabetic guide.
Created by Kosuke Takahashi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Rate – (noun, singular)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visual guide to the semaphore alphabet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro – Murfree’s Manor [Review]

Grandma’s got a cool clock.

Location: Murfreesboro, TN

Date Played: July 26, 2018

Team size: 4-#; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro stepped it up in their latest creation, Murfree’s Manor. This puzzle-centric company leaned into their strengths and produced a wonderful collection of themed mental challenges in an environment that truly captured the vibe of a Midwestern grandmother’s home. They snuck in a few surprises that added drama to an otherwise low-key theme.

If you’re anywhere nearby and love a strong puzzle game, give Murfree’s Manor a shot.

In-game: A view through a dark wood passthrough with pink walls into an old living room.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A strikingly believable set
  • Strong puzzle-centric design
  • The clock

Story

In-game: The front door of a home and a flier for an estate sale.

Setting

Murfree’s Manor looked convincingly like a midwestern grandma’s home. The furniture, woodwork, and color palette were decades out of date. It all came together in one homey and buyable package.

Murfree’s Manor nailed the aesthetic that it needed to pull off this theme and hid quite a bit of detail that honestly surprised us.

In-game: An old kitchen and dinette. The refrigerator has letter magnets arranged as "REA."

Gameplay

Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro’s Murfree’s Manor was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: an old record player beside a strange and ornate wooden grandfather clock.

Analysis

+ Murfree’s Manor nailed the grandma aesthetic with the decor.

+ That grandfather clock. It continued to impress us throughout the escape game.

+ The gamespace felt much larger than it was. Considering the layout and the distinctly decorated rooms, Murfree’s Manor felt far more expansive than it should have given the square footage.

– There was a backstory, but the story didn’t have much bearing on the puzzles or gameplay. It also didn’t make a ton of sense as a premise for the experience.

+ Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro created some honestly challenging puzzles out of simple cupboard odds and ends.

– We encountered a number of combination locks with similar digit structures. We recommend additional cluing between locks and puzzles so that players don’t have to run all over the house trying combinations.

– We played Murfree’s Manor before it was officially open, but one reveal was already wearing poorly.

+ The layered final puzzle sequence was varied, tangible, and exciting. It was a fantastic conclusion.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is parking out front.
  • We enjoyed the muffins (and other delicacies) at Mimi’s Cafe.
  • To fully enjoy Murfree’s Manor, you need to be comfortable climbing stairs with an irregular rise. As long as a couple of teammates can climb the stairs, you’ll be able to play.

Book your hour with Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro’s Murfree’s Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Locked: Escape Game Murfreesboro comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Game – Playground [Review]

Game on!

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: July 25, 2018

Team size: 4-12; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Playground was a joyful escape room. The Escape Game captured the elementary school vibe with a bright and ever-so-slightly cartoonish take that made this relatable space entirely delightful to revisit (and one of the rare games to justify fluorescent tube lighting).

While the puzzling was at times chaotic, we could track our collective progress with a giant glowing report card, and the teamwork-centric gameplay kept us all engaged.

If you’re anywhere near Nashville or one of the other The Escape Game locations, Playground is absolutely worth visiting.

In-game: a bright and colorful jungle gym on green turf.

Who is this for?

  • Kids & kids at heart
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The playground
  • From a puzzling standpoint, there was something for everyone
  • It was joyful

Story

It was the last day of 4th grade and the start of the annual Summer Kickoff Kickball Tournament. We were set to play against our rivals, the 5th graders. If we couldn’t complete all of our assignments before the start of the game, however, we would be forced to forfeit… and that was an unacceptable option.

In-game: A pair of classroom desks with strange projects resting on top of them.

Setting

Playground let us loose in an elementary school classroom and adjacent playground. Both segments struck a fantastic balance of realism and bright fantastic fiction. It looked almost realistic, but better, in a Hollywood sort of way.

It was a joyous environment. We all took a turn wandering away from the gameplay to simply enjoying the wonderful gamespace with childlike glee.

In-game: A red apple sitting on the teachers desk in front of the classroom.

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Playground was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty and a lot of content.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, dexterity, and puzzling.

In-game: The exterior of the school building with a PA and American flag.

Analysis

+ From the moment we entered the gamespace, we felt like excited children on the last day of school. When the gamespace opened up to a playground, we were positively giddy as we explored the set.

+ The set felt overly bright, but authentically so: elementary school meets Disney.

+ This was one of the rare games where fluorescent lighting felt appropriate.

+ If we didn’t know our teammates, introductions were built in, and stayed right up on the wall… as they would all year in the classroom.

In-game: A wall poster with balloons where each player (student) wrote their name.

+ The storyline was both ridiculous and relatable. This escape room didn’t take itself seriously, in a good way.

+ The introductory video was hilarious.

+ We could track our progression through Playground with our report card. This gave us a pretty good sense of how much longer we’d be in class before we escaped to summer break.

– The subjects were a bit abstract and we often had no idea what subject any given puzzle belonged to. One in particular only revealed its true colors upon completion.

In-game: the game's report card, featuring an A+ in every subject.

+ Playground included gamified dexterity challenges, which made sense on a playground.

+ Many of the puzzles required collaboration. These were some of our favorite challenges.

– When I graphed the data from this game, it became clear that one puzzle overstayed its welcome.

– Nobody wants to do math on the playground.

– One of the larger set pieces didn’t contribute to anything. It seemed like there should have been a puzzle climb.

In-game: a bookshelf, ant farm, and hamster cage.

? We opened up most of the gamespace pretty early in our playthrough. This immediately upped the group energy level. That said, it caused us some confusion as to where to focus our energy, even with the report card’s guidance.

+ The Escape Game created a sweet moment that filled us with a bit of unease, then cracked us up.

+ Throughout Playground, solves resolved to a variety of exciting reveals.

+ This was a low-stress escape room and a joyous experience.

Tips for Visiting

  • Playground is at The Escape Game’s East Iris location.
  • There is a parking lot nearby.
  • Check out the map on the wall in the lobby.
  • At least 2 players need to be able to step over, climb up, sit down, crawl… and generally play on a playground.

Book your hour with The Escape Game’s Playground, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

Light Bleed, Seams, & Trap Doors [Escape Room Design]

Trap doors are one of the great joys of escape rooms.

The more unique, unusual, and unexpected a trap door is, the better the unveiling is.

Sadly, too many otherwise brilliant trap doors are betrayed by obvious seams or light bleed.

Surprise Matters

This should go without saying: the point of a trap door is that it’s hidden and surprising. If it’s neither hidden nor surprising… then it’s just a door.

Dana opening her refrigerator, a warm otherworldly light glows from within.

This Ghostbusters scene with Dana opening her refrigerator and finding another world within wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well if the fridge had been glowing before she approached.

Unfortunately, it is pretty normal to see a glowing perimeters around trap doors in escape rooms.

Light Bleed & Seam Consequences

Aside from betraying a great reveal, trap doors with obvious seams and light bleed also take an extra beating from well-meaning players.

I’ve absolutely noticed unopened trap doors and given them a push or a tug. I am certain from seeing some of the wear and tear on these doors that other less knowledgeable or less considerate players have been much rougher on them.

If as players we don’t see the door, we won’t be as hard on it.

Using Light Bleed For Effect

While I’ve seen a lot of unintentional light bleed, I haven’t seen anyone deliberately use light bleed as an in-game event or effect.

Dana slowly turning and noticing a strange light emanating from around a closed door.

When done deliberately, I am certain that light bleed around a previously hidden passageway, or even a recently unlocked door, could be badass.

As with all design decisions, being deliberate matters.

Some Potential Fixes

Because every trap door is unique, the engineering needs will vary. With that in mind there are a few methods that consistently work well:

  • Build the facade of the door large than the frame.
  • Build an oversized frame that covers the edge of the door.
  • Tack up some weather stripping around the door.
  • Turn off the lights behind the trap door until after it has been opened.

Whatever you choose to do, protect your big reveal.