Escape rooms have gotten massively popular, and they’re a unique experience, standing out from outings at the movies or museums. They can be an amazing time, but the expectation that you’ll have to solve some puzzles can make them intimidating if you’ve never tried one before. And because the puzzles are meant to be secret, it can be hard to prepare beforehand.
But I’m here to help. I cannot stress how much I love escape rooms. Any trip I go on, I make an effort to try out a new room in the area. My partner and I mark everything from birthdays, to anniversary dinners, to normal Tuesdays with escape room visits. We’ve done dozens together, making it such a big part of our relationship that we got engaged in one. I told you I love them.
So whether you’re an escape room newbie or a hardened veteran, I’ve got tips for players of all levels.
1. Think about who’s in your party
Who you’re playing with is a massive part of how your time in an escape room will go. I fully believe just about any group can secure a win, but you might not jump at the chance to invite that one annoying person who can’t take direction.
It’s also important to be mindful of who will be around when deciding what room to lock yourself into. For instance, not every room is appropriate for children, though most escape room sites will specify age ranges. While it’s a small minority, I’ve been in escape rooms that require crawling in small spaces, a small bit of climbing, or sliding into another room. Players with disabilities might not be able to tackle each offering, or the business might need to prep accommodations ahead of time. Neurodivergent players may also want to think about possible sensory issues. For example, some rooms have a sound that plays every 10 minutes to keep track of time. There are also rooms that have flashing lights. Most often, rooms feel inclusive or should at least be able to make small changes to be accommodating, but this is definitely something to think about.
2. Don’t overlook the theme of the room
Some rooms are scary, some aren’t scary at all, and a lot fall somewhere in between. If you’re not into horror or being frightened, I would avoid this type of room if you don’t have many escapes under your belt. For others, myself included, this will be a major plus.
I would also strongly advise you to keep an open mind when it comes to general theming. Some escape room spots lean heavily into modelling a room after some kind of IP. I’ve seen Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Resident Evil, and a ton of horror movie room themes. Initially, I was wary about signing up for games based around a show or franchise I either wasn’t familiar with or didn’t enjoy. But I’ve found that these are just window dressing, and my lack of interest in a property has done nothing to lessen my enjoyment. If I do like whatever the room is nodding to, however, it’s just an extra bonus. Rooms are meant to be approachable for everyone, not a test of fandom, so all are welcome.
3. Check reviews with purpose
Yes, of course, we’re all trained to look at reviews of things before trying. But I think you should go deeper than that when it comes to escape rooms. I scour people’s opinions with purpose. For example, if you’re playing with kids, you might want to see what other groups with children had to say to give you a better idea beyond the general age guidelines. If you’re worried about something being too scary, see what others say. If it’s your first time, look at other escape room virgins’ reviews. And if you’re like me and have a full-blown escape room addiction, be on the lookout for reviews from other veterans. They’ll be more likely to tell you how a game compares to others in quality or difficulty.
And if you leave a review of your own, please don’t spoil any of the puzzles.
4. When in doubt, ask
Escape rooms want you to have a good time, so they’ll often tell you whatever you need to know ahead of time to make sure you enjoy yourself (short of giving away the answers, of course). This is the best way to clarify what disability accommodations might be needed. But they can also clarify things like whether a game’s difficulty level is based on the puzzles being harder than normal or if there are just a ton of things to solve. That way you can determine what size group you might need or figure out how to pace yourself.
It’s also important to note that some games have physical restraints. Every room allows you to get out of these freely, but you can also ask to skip this part altogether.
5. Start with a room sweep
Once you’re inside and you’ve heard the spiel, go through the whole room and check what’s around. Make note of any locks and what inputs they take and be on the lookout for symbols, anything that looks out of place, or anything flashing. We’ll get more into the types of puzzles that are common in escape rooms in a bit.
Being dropped into a room, you start out with nothing. You’ll want to get your bearings as quickly as possible to know what puzzles need to be solved and what to look for to make the best use of your time. Just keep in mind that you might not be able to solve everything in view right away.
6. Keep used items in one spot
More escape room items are one-and-done, meaning once you’ve used them you won’t need them again. To avoid confusion and keep your working space clutter-free, move anything you’ll already used out of the way and keep those items together.
If you do, however, need to return to an item, this means you’ll know exactly where to find it.
7. Get familiar with escape room tricks
After you’ve done a few escape rooms, you’ll quickly notice that many follow the same puzzle patterns, though I would argue that the best ones deviate from the norm as much as possible. A few things to make note of if you spot them are any three- or four-digit codes, sequences of colours or colours that look out of place, Morse code, or braille. You won’t need to be familiar with anything like Morse code, braille, or decryption though. Everything you need to solve the puzzles will be locked in the room with you.
Some common puzzle types include:
- Combination locks (arguably the most common puzzle)
- Key locks
- Inputting code (codes can be made up of numbers, letters, or symbols, and you’ll often use a keypad, keyboard, or physical buttons to punch them in)
- Standing or sitting in a spot (this is less common but forgetting that it’s an option might mean wasting time on any easy riddle)
- Magnetism (either to drag a magnet or magnetic item or to place an item in a magnetized spot, which will often trigger the next step)
- Pulling, pushing, or fishing to retrieve an item
- Light patterns (often to specify order or to provide a numeric code where one flash is the number one, there’s a pause, two flashes dictate the number two, and so on)
- And my least favourite: auditory patterns (this more often means matching based on the sound an item makes or trying to repeat a series of sounds by pressing buttons in the right order)
8. Don’t be afraid to take a different perspective (literally)
Sometimes, a puzzle only give you the answer when you look at it from a bit farther away. You might create a pattern that spells out numbers or letters, or you might need to look at something with glasses that make the answer appear. Either way, changing your perspective can be helpful.
In the same vein, there may be times when you’ve gotten 90 per cent of a puzzle figured out, but you’re missing the proper execution. Taking a beat and thinking about how else to come at the problem you’re facing is always a good idea in those cases.
9. Be smart about asking for hints
Lots of places offer a certain number of hints or let you choose how many you get for yourself. That said, they’re probably not going to leave you high and dry if you’ve used your allotted number and are truly stuck. Still, you’ll probably want to minimise the number of clues you get for your own satisfaction. After all, what’s the point of an escape room if they just give you all the answers? Regardless, you want to know when to swallow your pride and ask for some advice. If you’re ever stuck on a puzzle and it’s turning into a timesink, just ask for help. Time is your most precious resource in an escape game.
10. Keep track of the clock
On that note, please keep track of time. You’ll have an actual countdown in just about every room, though I’ve seen very few that only give you time markers like a sound that plays every 10 minutes. No matter how you do it, you’ll want to know where you’re at in terms of your total playtime. I would say the majority of games have two to three rooms. In my experience, the third tends to be smaller. If the first room you’re in seems small, has any door besides the one you came in, or looks like it might lead somewhere else, chances are high you’re headed for a second location. Always aim to be in the second spot by the halfway point.
11. And finally, don’t break the rules
This feels obvious, and they’ll tell you this every single time you play, but don’t climb on stuff, jump around, force things open, or pick up furniture. If you really think any of that is needed, you can speak to your escape room guide and ask. There are a few exceptions I’ve encountered. A playground-themed room had a jungle gym about two feet up that you would climb on. Another spot asked you to put a cane through a poster. In both cases, we asked before doing something out of the ordinary and continued on with the game. That’s a far better deal than getting kicked out.
And you would be shocked at what some players get up to. After all, if they’re telling you all those things you can’t or shouldn’t do, well, someone must have tried it.
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