Player Tips

Basic Tips

Searching Around

  • Get into the habit of methodically sorting through room items. Anything that looks like a key, a code or a hint, you can pile up in an easily accessible spot, near the middle of the room, easily within reach. Any lockbox or other small locked item? Why not lump them in a second pile? Whenever you've successfully used a clue, move it to yet another pile. Same thing with open boxes. With keys, though, you have the option of leaving them in their lock - whoever cleans up after you will be grateful. 😇
  • Keep the basic search techniques in mind. Did you check the bottom of every drawer? Did you search every corner? Did you pull every rope and string? Did you (gently, of course) pushed & pulled every object to confirm it doesn't hide something?
    • If the introduction directives explicitly mention that you'll have to search around, it might be a subtle pointer than there might be more hidden stuff than in your typical room. Get ready to crawl on your knees, look behind every piece of furniture, and so on.
    • Always take the time to ensure that every envelope, every box has been properly emptied. Nothing more annoying than spending a hint and then realize that you've left a coin wedged into a safe box. 😝
    • Same idea when you search a piece of clothing: make sure you've actually searched every pocket. I know it sounds obvious, but I ended up hurriedly twisting and turning a coat in my hands, missing an inside pocket. Instead, I suggest you lay out the piece of clothing flat on the floor, to get a proper overview of all of its folds and pockets.
    • I know I keep repeating myself, but all that previous advice also applies to special viewing tools such as goggles, black lights, and the like. Have you looked at everything with them? Really? Are you sure you haven't skipped a few obvious places just because it was getting tedious? Don't let your brain play tricks on you.
  • Finding large items in a container might draw your attention away from smaller ones. Having found a large tool in a cupboard, we felt pretty smug when we quickly figured where to use it. However, we lost a lot of time not noticing a tiny component we definitely needed, also in that cupboard.
  • Keep in mind that a thematic accessory might not be just for flavor, and can provide an actual clue. You've been blindfolded? Those blindfolds might hide something. In an episode of "Race to Escape" with a hair salon theme, players started off wearing hairdressing capes with clues written underneath.
  • In one room I've played, we were told to "step back and watch". This is actually a pretty good piece of advice in many situations. I've seen many cases where people took forever to see a hint written on a HUMONGOUS BANNER. If you think your solution should work, take a step back and see what you might have missed.
  • Paying attention to details also means noticing all those "Don't Touch" stickers and warnings. For instance: one room had a box with a special mechanism, and another box used by the attendants to reset that same mechanism. On two distinct occasions, I had to point out to a fellow player that the reset box was "clearly" (cough) marked as something players shouldn't interact with. The lengthy explanations taped on it were easy to misunderstand in a hurry, and the much clearer "Don't Touch" sticker wasn't taped in an obvious spot.
  • Are you fed up of listening to my rants about searches? Well too bad! 😎 Every part of a room should be searched by at least two different people, preferably three. And ideally not all together at the same time. First player A, then player B, and later (if stuck) player C. It's amazing the amount of obvious stuff that two people can manage to miss.
  • Be ready to use all of senses if need be. Are you smelling something weird? It might be an olfactory puzzle. Hearing something odd? Could be a hidden clue.

Solving Puzzles - Handling Components

  • When dealing with material that's slightly older (such as an old briefcase), make sure that you're not giving up too fast. You might have the right code and merely need to "wiggle" a bit more...
  • Likewise, if you've managed to find something that really kinda look like a knob and something that really kinda looks like a knob hole, it might be worth trying to match them more than once before requesting a hint. Wiggle around a bit, you know? Just be careful not to break it.
  • When a vertical combination lock is placed in an horizontal manner, the code opening it might be entered from left-to-right or right-to-left, depending on the viewpoint of whoever put it there. Check how the digits are placed on the lock. That might be a hint... or not. 😎
  • Should you need to "spread out" all your clues over a flat surface, in order to properly figure it out, just make sure that you're not covering the exact thing that your clues are pointing to. 😱
  • How infuriating can it be when you're looking for some special markings, and you have a bunch of objects, and you look and everyone concludes "these don't have special markings, right?", and then you ask for a hint, and the attendant comes and says: "see, there are special markings on these"? 😩 Take your time. If it makes sense for some objects to have something special about them, keep looking!

Solving Puzzles - Figuring Things Out

  • Even if, in a perfect world, your group of players would be splitting every long task equally, you shouldn't hesitate to switch tasks around if things aren't going well. Players might be missing out on an important detail that others will notice.
  • If you believe you've found the proper clue allowing you to solve a puzzle, and yet that clue is only a perfect match for part of the puzzle, the rest not quite... Perhaps you've only found part of that clue? Perhaps it's not yet complete?
    • For that same reason, don't be to quick to drop a lead, as multiple hints will sometimes help with the same puzzle. After finding one clue, and thinking "Oh, maybe X can be used to figure out Y, but it just seems way too complicated...", and then later getting clue Z which definitely point to Y, but is a bit obtuse... Might be time to think about X once again.
  • We get used to clues matching the type of lock being used - letters for a letter-based combination lock, digits for a dial pad, etc. It doesn't have to be, though. Letters can be used for directions ("N", "S") or for digits ("T-W-O"). Symbols can be mapped to numbers. Digits can actually be letters ("505" -> "SOS"). And so on.
  • You often have to sort letters or digits in order, to form a code word or a combination. When that happens, avoid making wrong assumptions when sorting them out. It's a humbling experience to stubbornly sort documents in chronological order, only to notice that each document has a number written at the bottom of it.
    • Likewise, when you find repeated elements (like colored pebbles, for instance), keep in mind that a tally might actually indicate an order (1 black pebble, 2 blue ones, 3 red...)
  • If you discover two identical framed pictures that don't show the kind of stuff one typically frames, it might be because you have to find the difference between both pictures. You've been staring at both forever, and you've come to the conclusion that they're both 100% identical? Time to ask somebody else.
  • If you're fairly confident that you have the right clue for a certain lock, but that the code you enter won't work (even after "wiggling" like I always suggest), it could be that you're considering the right angle of that clue. Are some letters highlighted differently? Are using the digits that are circled, or those which aren't?
  • If you have to run tallies and make computations based on items found inside the room, you should double-check that you do have all of them. If your calculations don't work, it could be because you're still missing something, not because you made a mistake. If things get desperate, you can even try multiple calculations, accounting for one missing item or another...
  • You might take advantage of a rushed electrical wiring to figure out a puzzle. By spotting wires connected to specific spots under a table, we once made our job a lot simpler.
  • Keep in mind that brute force remains a viable options in some situations. That being said, taking that route won't ever provide the same satisfaction as properly figuring everything out. Only use this technique as a last resort, and warn the other players that you're about to do it.
    • For those who aren't familiar with the term "brute force", let's make it clear - we're definitely not talking about property damage. 😀 The term is used to describe someone systematically trying every possible combination of a lock, or every setting on a device. Under normal circumstances, this would take way too long and wouldn't be worth the effort, but if you've acquired enough knowledge to reduce the number of attempts, the idea becomes a lot more appealing. Do you have every digit of a combination lock but one? Do you need to plug a cable in the right socket, knowing there are only a dozen options left? In such cases, brute force might very well be the fastest way out of the problem.
  • Whenever you stumble upon a dozens of keys, or dozens of codes, it might seem obvious than one of them will end up being useful to open something. And I guess I can't blame you for trying - hey, what the heck - if you have plenty of time left, and no idea what to do next. But be aware that any good puzzle master will provide clear clues that make "brute force" irrelevant.
  • If you stumble upon a "value calculation puzzle", make sure that everything you're summing up use the same units. A simple trick in the layout can prevent you from noticing that a bunch of prices are in cents, while another is in dollars.
  • If you need to solve an equation using some special symbols, you'd better start off by transcribing them into something very legible, ideally converting them into letters instead. I once spent a lot of time getting nowhere because I was mixing-up symbols and digits.
  • If a game comes with an introduction speech, and that speech explicitly states a number of things you should do, you'd better be paying attention, and keep those in mind.
    • Likewise, when receiving a set of instructions, don't try to cut around corners. If explicitly told to "wait until the end", do so.
  • Don't let your drawbacks sink your morale. Studies have shown that failure can affect your self-esteem enough to hinder future successes. Keep that in mind, focus on your successes, and go get 'em!

Getting Help

  • Don't hesitate to use the clues being offered to you. One might be tempted to "do things the hard way" and solve every puzzle without help, but carefully weight the pros and cons - does the "shame" of asking for help (which most people do anyway) compare to the sheer frustration of spending loooong minutes pondering whether or not you are the dumbest person on Earth? IMHO, I think that if you have but one hint, it should ideally be used when about 60% of the time has gone by, and if you have two of them, I'd go with 40% and 70% respectively. Of course, it's up to you to assess how stuck you are - an early hint might give you some insight into the designer's mind...
  • When asking for a hint, try to be as clear as possible as to what your current status is. "So we've open this and that, we still can't open that nor this, and we've been looking at these numbers here..." You want to minimize the risk of getting the wrong clue at the wrong time.
  • If you were handled (or found) a walkie-talkie for your team, make sure that someone keeps it with him/her at all time. Once, my son accidentally locked us all in a side room, with the walkie-talkie remaining outside. 😱 Fortunately, we were actively being watched and heard, so the attendant quickly came to free us. In some other rooms out there, the walkie-talkie is the only way to quickly grab someone's attention, so don't leave it just lying somewhere.
  • If you reach a point where you suspect a technical problem is occurring, ask whether the attendant could take quick check (without that counting as a hint).

Playing As A Team

  • Just accept that you can't always be your team's MVP. Even if you're used to be the Puzzle-Solving King or the Sultan of Searches, circumstances might rob you of your opportunity to shine. Well, tough luck, right? As long as you remain part of this adventure, be ready to let someone else grab the spotlight every now & then.
  • Don't assume that a smaller room will make communication easier. On the contrary, there will be several of you all trying to talk at the same time, and you'll have to make sure that you grab the whole group's attention before sharing crucial knowledge.
  • If you find yourself standing in a halfway-done room, and everyone else is just running around and solving everything, while you're just standing there idle because you weren't lucky enough to be around when the first puzzles were found, it's perfectly okay to voice it out. If your group puts the emphasis on fun over performance (as I keep advocating), they'll be more than happy to recruit you on their current task or suggest a place that could be searched in more depth. After all, what kind of team win is it, if you're missing on all the fun?
  • You will likely end up arguing a bit now & then - it's almost unavoidable. In spite of that, you must be able to drop the topic and move on. The puzzle did get solved? Good, let's talk about it further once you're out. The damage is done? Too bad, let's talk about it further once you're out. In any case, you'll be in a better talking mood if you do escape in time, and to escape you must focus ahead.

Miscellaneous

  • When booking a room, make sure that you got confirmed attendance from all your players, but that you also have a steady list of backup players in case of a last-minute cancellation. In more than one occasion I came dangerously close to running short on escape buddies, after having paid for a Groupon out of my pocket. I thought I knew enough people that I could book first and confirm later. Let's just say I don't do that anymore. 😇
  • Make sure to be both mentally and physically ready. Even though there are certain spices I can't handle well, I once made the mistake of going to a restaurant right before playing. I ended up having to leave the room in a hurry and spend about 10 minutes in the washroom. 😳 They fortunately allowed me to come back in afterwards. In that same mindset, I'm always surprised to hear about teams of half-drunk players who show up and expect to solve puzzles. Doesn't that border on masochism? 😲
  • Even if you're certain that a given task (completing a jigsaw puzzle, building a tool, filling a form...) is meant to be completed later down the road, it shouldn't prevent you from getting as much ahead on it as you currently can.
  • If you end up in a "treasure hunt" setup, where the answer found in location A will be reused at location B, consider writing down your alternate answers whenever you have doubts. "Alright folks, so if we've got this right last time, the next clue should be a 7. But if the right answer was actually "Red", then it would be a... 4." Better keep track of multiple sequences than having to backtrack.
  • Know that kids can, without a doubt, enjoy escape games. The older ones can actively contribute, while the younger ones might simply enjoy the idea of thoroughly searching a place for clues.
    • When playing with a younger crowd, be ready to dial down your competitiveness one notch. I'm not saying you shouldn't try to win - as I've said before, youngsters can be incredibly resourceful, and might desire to win even more than you do. I'm only reminding you that losing isn't the end of the world. Try to make this experience the best it can be for the kids, by putting the emphasis on the fun of exploration and puzzle-solving. Make sure everyone contributes, too. It'll help turning them into the room-solvers of tomorrow.
  • Don't give up too soon. Even if you might think there are too many things to do and not enough time left, things can something turn around very quickly.

Advanced Tips

Searching Around

  • In spite of what I said above, you shouldn't be too quick to dismiss objects after use. You see, even though any puzzle designer will only use a clue once, some devious ones will hide more than one clue onto the same object. For instance, a picture frame could have a clue on each side. And what if a key you've already used had a clue on its keyring?
  • Let me tell you about a strange affliction I was told about, and ended up experiencing myself. You see, it seems that the more experienced you become at solving Escape Room puzzles, the worse you become at searching things. Yes, I know it sounds weird, and of course the truth is more complicated than that. When people play their first few rooms, everything feels quite fresh. They're not sure what is a clue and what isn't, so they look everywhere carefully. But the more they play, the more accustomed they become to puzzle patterns, and they unconsciously become more sloppy because they want to skip to "the good parts". In one particular room, we got stuck twice for failing to properly search the furniture. Plus, I lost a couple minutes looking for a keyhole that I had previously spotted (and even called out loud) 30 minutes before.
  • Another ailment you must try to avoid is "over abstraction". I had a bad case of it while playing a room. Seeing an "Evacuation Plan" under the name of the venue, I immediately took for granted that it was a real thing, and my brain started ignoring it completely. The plan didn't have a "Out of Game" sticker on it, but my mind diligently ignored it nonetheless. It was much, much later that I understood that the make-believe company we were stealing from happened to share the name of the venue...
  • Speaking of maps, if you get your hands on a map of the area, take the time to thoroughly examine every detail of it. Any single line, any tiny mark could reveal a crucial detail.
  • I'm starting to lose track of the numerous times when we tried a UV lamp "absolutely everywhere"... except on the very obvious spot we had to. In order, I suggest you try: every item, every bit of furniture (including doors), every decor piece that stands out, and finally each wall, ceiling and floor.

Solving Puzzles

  • Most of the rooms out there have an explicit "one key, one lock" rule, which often leads to an implicit "one clue, one puzzle" system. Don't be too complacent with this notion! Sometimes a clue can serve more than one purpose, and it can be done in a fair manner.
  • If you find a switch or a button and you aren't sure whether or not it does something (at this point), it's probably a good idea to ask your whole group for a few seconds of their time, and have everyone look around the room as the button gets pushed / the switch flipped. "Someone was standing between me and the light" is a pretty lame excuse when you've just lost several minutes...
  • It's a good idea to put more than one set of eyes on a puzzle, especially if the first attempts to solve it have failed. However, you should ensure that each player sees the puzzle as a whole, and not just a part of it. In this case, there was four of us trying to find an object with specific characteristic among a whole bunch, and even though the right object was in the lot, we failed to find it. I have to assume that one of us discarded it by mistake, and then none of the others double-checked.
  • Likewise, whenever multiple people start tinkering over the same puzzle, make sure that players aren't actually wrecking each other's ideas. For instance, we once had to place objects in a very specific manner, and then leaving that as-is for a few seconds. However, since there always were two (or more) players moving stuff around, fidgeting with the objects one way or another, the proper solution wouldn't ever trigger. We thought we were considering several theories, but in fact we weren't really testing any of them...
  • If you're trying to figure which part of a room you should put your efforts on, it might help to picture yourself solving the room in reverse order. "Alright, the exit door unlocks with a small key, that key is probably in that small box on the wall, and it's the only thing in here with a directional lock, and since we already found 2 cards with directions on them in the personal drawer of two of the three crooks, we must be missing one more... That means we probably need to open the locked cupboard to get what we need to open that third drawer." Since every lock in the game has to be opened, you can use your imagination to figure out the next lock(s) in line.
  • Beware the propagation of disinformation. Since players will be constantly sharing knowledge out loud (as they should), they need to make sure they don't waste time due to a misunderstanding. "Alright guys, we need to find a yellow square, then green, then blue..." "There's a red square here!" "Nope. We need yellow, then green..." "I see a blue square here, we need that right?" "Yeah, yellow, green..." "There's yellow! So we've got yellow, red, blue, I think I've seen..." "No wait, we don't need red, it's yellow, green..." "Oh hey, there's red! We need red right?" It's really easy to fall into such a pattern - try to listen to what everyone says, and ask for the group to briefly stop talking if need be.
  • Should you be confronted to a proper riddle during your explorations, it might be tempting to think about it while doing something else - while searching through the room, for instance. By doing so, you're strongly at risk of never finding the answer simply because your mind isn't really into it. This happened to me once as my team encountered a riddle written on a wall. The answer immediately jumped to my mind... on our way back, in the car, as I really thought about it for the first time.
  • If you find yourself in a bilingual room offering both versions (English & French) of every clue, you might as well check them both. If one version has a translation error, you'll notice right away. It can also be more subtle - a turn of phrase might make some instructions more clear, a recorded message might be easier to hear, and so on.

Getting Help

  • If you come to the conclusion that you've been shortchanged by a faulty experience (a broken clue, a malfunctioning piece of equipment), don't hesitate to immediately point it out to the attendants, and to request some form of in-game compensation (like a few extra minutes or an extra hint). It's still possible you end up getting some compensation after the fact (a rebate on your next game?) but it won't compare to the thrill of escaping that darn room.

Playing As A Team

  • As someone pointed out to me, one weird thing about Escape Rooms is that the better you are at them, the less you end up getting for your money. 😁 That tongue-in-cheek statement has a bit of truth to it. The more players you have (and the more gifted they are), the shorter your game experience is likely to be. This also means that the more successful your group is, the more likely it is that players will miss out on what the others have been doing. That's another reason why communication is so important. Be ready to quickly brief one another on what clues were used to solve what, otherwise some players might lose a few minutes wasting time on solved problems.
  • I already said a lot about the importance of communication. But for once let's talk about the right to remain silent. 😉 Should you find yourself unable to share something that you figured out, simply because others are already solving a puzzle out loud, and you just can't grab anyone's attention, no need to get mad, nor do you have to wait to work on the puzzle. In a case like that, just get going. You'll have time to explain later. Just make sure you do so, though - we don't want to waste anyone's time as they look at used-up clues.
  • Don't ever forget that communication goes both ways. We once played a game in which players were split in 2, with one team mostly asking questions and another team mostly answering them. However, the "asking" team also had access to a lot of useful info (lock codes and such) but spent most of their time focusing on getting their answers, leaving the "answering" team wondering about all those locks, yet not thinking about bringing them up to the "askers" either.
  • If you start off the game being split in groups that are within earshot of one another, you might end up drowning each other's voice in the general confusion. Better to have a single person officially in charge of communicating with the other team, while the others make sure not to speak too loud.
  • Even when your group is used to collaboration, it remains easy to be sidetracked by a task at hand. At one point we had 3 players working on a task. Player A was manipulating content but couldn't see the result. Player B, holding a notepad, saw the results but not what A was doing. Player C struggled to switch from A to B, passing info & instructions around, although in the end A and B pretty much tried to solve everything on their end. This lasted for a couple minutes (and it wasn't doing great) until another player, watching this whole thing, pointed out that B should get close enough to talk to A directly, that they should just try to get all on the useful info on the notepad first, and then bring the notepad to where A was. It's interesting because everyone involved was doing "the right thing", collaborating and trying to solve the task. But they were so busy doing this that they overlooked better ways to proceed.
    • Would you happen to have a few minutes to spare? In-game minutes, that is. Like I just said, that the more players you have with you, the more likely you'll end up missing on a number of cool puzzles. Some players might even feel that they're being completely left out of the puzzle-solving business. Well, if things are going really, really well, why not take a few minutes to explain to the players who missed it, what just happened, and how? Not only will it help everyone knowing which hints and keys have already been used, but it might also make players feeling more involved in the game. After all, it's not just about winning, is it? 😇
    • Now here's the mirrored advice: try to see as much as possible. When 4 other people huddle around a puzzle, it's tempting to leave them to it - in fact it makes a lot of sense. But if that puzzle doesn't get solved, make sure to ask to have a look at the puzzle. This is even more important if you're physically unable to reach some of the puzzles. Don't hesitate to ask players to move aside from a second or two, just in case you happen to see something they don't.

Miscellaneous

  • Pay close attention to any detail that might be given to you during preparation. Of course, safety instructions are important, but I mean you should also listen carefully to the background story being provided to you - there might be valuable hints in there as well. Likewise, learn to "listen between the lines". If you're being told you shouldn't bother to look at X nor Y, it might mean you should look at Z more closely...
  • Given the choice between extra time or one extra hint, what should you choose? I suggest to compute the relative gain. For instance, getting one extra hint when being allowed 3 would mean a 33% gain, while getting 10 extra minutes on a 45-min room would give you 22% extra.

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