If you’re like most people, spending an hour trying to get out of a locked room might not sound like your cup of tea.
Of course, twist this event into an immersive, puzzle-based race against the clock with some of your best friends, and things get a little more exciting. Given their fast-paced thrill, the success of escape rooms is a bit of a no-brainer. Though many of the nation’s 2,300 escape rooms open in 2019 had to shut their doors during the pandemic, virtual counterparts quickly sprang up to take their place.
Today, the escape room market is booming in the wake of COVID-19—and for good reason. Not only are these immersive experiences fun and thought-provoking, but they’re ideal for everything from family-friendly events to team-building exercises.
Of course, “fun” doesn’t always mean “easy,” and most beginners find their first runs to be a bit of a challenge. Making the most of every second you have is crucial, and it helps to have a loose plan of attack. No matter what kind of escape room you’re be walking into, here are some tried-and-tested strategies to keep in mind.
1. Choose the Right Team
The single best way to boost your chances at solving an escape room is to choose the right group. After all, no one wants to revisit those frustrating school group projects where one person was pulling the whole team!
How Many People to Bring
Find out how many people your chosen escape room company recommends. Most often, you’ll need anywhere from two to six people, though some rooms call for even more.
Note that you might want to cut a recommendation for a large number of people down. Four is often the sweet spot, and having a smaller group of people can make the experience run smoothly.
Choose Based on Enthusiasm and Strengths
First and foremost, find people who are excited about heading to an escape room! When your group is united by enthusiasm and determination, it makes you much more likely to work together well.
Don’t forget to also get to know your team’s strengths. Some people may be better at puzzles or mental math, while others are great with spatial reasoning or wordplay. Identifying these skills in advance can give you a leg up when the clock is running.
2. Prepare Your Team
There isn’t much you’ll need to do in advance of your upcoming challenge, but it can help to go over a few basic escape room strategies like the ones on this list to make sure everyone’s on the same page. In addition, don’t forget a few physical and mental preparations:
Dress for Fun
Escape rooms are fun additions to any event planning opportunity, from office team-building to bachelorette parties. However, if this challenge is a small part of a larger event, make sure you’re dressing the part!
You don’t need to have any special clothes, but you should wear something you can move around in with ease. You might find yourself crouching through secret doorways, kneeling or sitting on the floor, and jumping for joy when you reach the end!
Once you have your team ready to go, make sure to designate roles in advance. You’ll want a few main categories:
- Leader: This person delegates tasks, and other team members report their findings to them
- Seeker: This person focuses on searching every inch of the room to bring hidden items to the team
- Organizer: This person organizes items into categories and looks for patterns
- Timekeeper: This person keeps track of time and makes sure the team stays on track
Everyone should have at least one role, though roles can overlap in small teams. Don’t forget, there’s no room for spectators in an escape room!
3. Pick the Right Escape Room
Now that you’ve gathered a winning team, it’s time to match your group to the right escape room options.
As a general rule of thumb, try to find a room that resonates with every member of your group. You don’t need to have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, but being engaged from the start is a great way to spark curiosity and keep on task.
The flip side of that, of course, is that you’ll want to avoid rooms that aren’t suitable for everyone in your group. Post-apocalyptic or murder mystery escape room themes, for example, might not be best for younger or more fearful team members!
In addition, don’t forget to do some research into the difficulty levels. Younger or less experienced teams should stick to beginner puzzles, while veteran escape room enthusiasts might want to branch out. Don’t get tempted into trying an escape room that’s too far beyond your expertise!
When in doubt, be sure to check with your escape room of choice for details on suitability. Most major companies like The Great Escape Room Minneapolis offer several rooms for all ages and experience levels.
4. Listen to the Setup
Before you enter the escape room for the first time, your game master will explain the basics of your upcoming experience. This initial setup will give you crucial details on the mission you’re setting out to accomplish. Whether you’ll be pulling off a bank heist, escaping from an Egyptian tomb, or surviving a séance gone wrong, it’s important to get into the right mindset for the story.
In addition, this setup may offer essential clues about what’s to come—at least for the clever listener. As you might expect, it’s a pretty good idea to pay attention!
Most importantly, the setup can help save you valuable time during your quest. Your game master may indicate things you won’t need to do while searching, such as climbing to look overhead or moving heavy furniture.
This is also a key moment to ask questions: are you facing a linear or non-linear puzzle? Are there red herrings? Can you ask for hints, and is there a limit on how many you can request?
5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Escape rooms are a mess of images, gadgets, props, and clues—making it easy for your team to get overwhelmed. That’s why communication is key for teams of any size.
From the start, begin identifying your objectives aloud, whether you notice an obvious lock or a keypad with strange symbols. From there, try to shout out clues and think aloud as you progress, as this can help spark ideas and solutions from other players.
You’d be surprised how many teams fail escape rooms because some players are wasting time solving puzzles their teammates have already solved. Communication makes sure you’re all on the same page about your objectives, clues, and progression.
6. Do a Thorough Search
Check the room from top to bottom for any possible clues. If you’re a beginner, you’ll likely find obvious items by rummaging around the room.
However, don’t forget to look for objects, fixtures, and even parts of the wall or floor that seem out of place. Worn-out items, different colored paint, circled letters on a note, or a strange detail in a painting can be possible clues.
In essence, if you see something in an escape room that doesn’t make sense, it’s likely because solving a puzzle will bring meaning to it later.
7. Put Items You Need in One Place
As you begin to find physical objects, make sure to keep them all within one centralized location. This is true even if you aren’t yet sure how the object will be used, or if it’s part of the puzzle at all.
As mentioned above, make sure everyone is aware of each object you find, especially if they’re distracted with solving other puzzles in the room. The person you’ve decided will be your organizer should start looking through the items for patterns and connections.
8. Change Up Your Strategy
Although perseverance will get you through most situations in life, it won’t open a lock in an escape room when you don’t yet have the right tools.
If you can’t seem to work out a puzzle no matter how hard you try, the chances are good that there’s something you’ve missed elsewhere in the room, or that the game designers mean for you to solve this puzzle once your team has progressed further. You aren’t meant to use every item you find right away, so if there’s no obvious use for it, put it back in your centralized location.
9. Remember Occam’s Razor
We all expect puzzles to be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that they should be grueling. If you read too far into the items available to you, you might make simple clues more complicated by accident.
Remember Occam’s razor, or the idea that the simplest and most obvious answer is often the right one.
In addition, don’t forget that you should need no outside knowledge to solve the puzzles in an escape room, unless your game master has told you otherwise. You may need to know how to use military time, have an understanding of basic ciphers, or remember the order of the planets, but you won’t have to be an expert in any given subject area.
10. Listen to the Game Master or Facilitator
Your game master will be a professional actor who may be present in the room for all or part of your journey, either as a guide or a character. If they aren’t present, they’ll often watch your experience via a camera feed. Because they’ll have seen countless teams work through the puzzles you’ll be facing, they’re an invaluable resource for success!
Depending on the escape room, your game master may give pointers when you’re getting off track, offer strategic insights when you reach a certain point, or even refresh you on parts of the setup you’ve forgotten.
If your game master starts speaking, always stop and listen to them.
This is true even if they’re offering information about a puzzle you aren’t currently working on. In many cases, this information may be a clue that you’re working on the puzzles in the wrong order! Trust their knowledge and expertise.
11. Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Hints
Some teams—especially those with ultra-competitive members—might try to refrain from asking for hints. After all, can you really say you’ve solved a puzzle if someone had to help you through it?
While there’s nothing wrong with this philosophy, it may not work for all teams. If you’d rather escape in the allotted time than fail to get out at all, don’t be afraid to ask your game master for hints! Often, teams beat escape rooms with only minutes or seconds to spare, meaning that a well-timed hint may mean the difference between winning and losing.
If your team feels divided about requesting hints, try to come up with guidelines for these requests in advance.
For example, a good rule of thumb is to ask for a hint anytime everyone in your team has been standing around with nothing to do for a full minute. This is true whether you’re five minutes into the game or you’re running down to the wire. Requesting a hint may hurt your pride now, but it’ll hurt less than failing altogether.
Get More Out of Your Escape Room Adventure
Jumping into escape rooms can be both thrilling and overwhelming, and it’s easy to lose your way among the wealth of clues and props. However, if you want to come out a winner, you’ll have to have the right strategies in place.
Following the tips above can be a great way to both prepare in advance and keep your head in the game during your experience. With these key tactics, you’ll have no problem beating even the hardest escape room!
Want additional tips to get more out of your games and entertainment? Be sure to take a look at our other content for more insights.