Wednesday, 13 January 2016

My very own escape room at home using a Breakout EDU box

Hi everyone

I am finally getting around to posting about my own Breakout EDU escape room that I designed for my escape room group (my wife and 2 friends) as my Christmas present to them.  See my earlier blog here summarising what Breakout EDU is.

Over all I think they had fun, but it was a bit of a shemozzle (due largely to factors outside of my control)…

Initially, I had planned to set up the escape room at my friends’ vacant house – they are about to embark on a house demolition and rebuild so the space would have been perfect.  However, about a week before our escape was due to take place, their house started to get demolished.  So, my plan B was to use my new house, which is currently being built.  The house is currently at the stage of being gyprocked, but there are exposed concrete floors and dust everywhere – your typical work site.

The first thing I had to come up with was the theme.  The idea that I came up with for the theme is that my 3 year old daughter was CRANKY with the 4 of us because we always leave her out of our escape room and board gaming fun.  So, she kidnapped me and took me to her “lair” – the task for my friends and wife being to locate the lair and then retrieve me.

This theme was useful because it allowed me to use her random toys and other building materials as props.  The idea was that I had been captured, but in a last ditch effort to be freed, I managed to leave “breadcrumb” puzzles for my team to solve in order to find me.

I spent probably 30+ hours in designing the puzzles.  We had a lot of puzzles and the real fun in designing your own escape room is that you can design puzzles that are specific to your group.  For example, many of my puzzles were based on board games that we all play together or on our experiences at the various escape rooms we have played together.

By far the most challenging aspect is to get the flow right and to consider the order in which puzzles will be opened.  See attached my mind map which gives you an idea of the kind of detail required to link each puzzle element and across the various different puzzles.  It’s in short hand so it probably won’t mean much to you, but it gives you an idea of the thinking that I went through in designing the escape:

The big day
I got to our site early.  It is a locked work site, but of course I have learned the useful skill of using a credit card to get in the front door (which is the same way my team would need to get into the house).

It took me a couple of hours to set up.  I also had to set up a blanket, iPad and snacks for my 3 year old captor who would hopefully sit quietly in a spare room while the escape unfolded.

I set up my video camera in the hallway so that I could record what was going on.  It was really interesting to see my team solve my puzzles. They solved them in quite a different order to the order I had expected.  

Their weakness (which is my team’s weakness is every escape room we have been to) is in the hunt and seek aspect – we always miss stuff that is right in front of our noses. I had hidden a number of puzzles and even an entire remote control car ramp/maze on the outside of the building, but they never thought to open the door or look out the window.  They breezed through most of the tricky puzzles, as they usually do.   

I included a couple of tech elements (or the closest thing I could get to tech elements in a backyard operation, having regarding to the fact that there is no electricity at my work site!).  I used QR codes that had videos of my 3 year old captor explaining her reasons for kidnapping me, I took a Street View 360 degree photo of one of the rooms in the escape with clues on the walls, which they had to use Google Cardboard to view and solve. 

I also hand-made a couple of puzzles, like a remote control car that was on the outside of the building (which they had to use communication to first free the car and then drive the car down a maze to release a key).  To solve this puzzle, they needed to use a keychain that they obtained at the very start of the escape (it’s one of those retractable key chains that holds work access cards (or in their case, a credit card to jimmy the door), which they needed to hang out the window to reach the car). 

I also had an idea of giving them snacks when they opened the main box (but before the end of the game).  Of course nothing should be as it seems, so I had put a false bottom on a can of Pringles (I had used a round lid of a tin of beans, which fit inside the Pringles container perfectly).  The tin was made of metal and beneath it was a key.  They needed to find a magnet on an extendable stick that I had hidden, empty out the Pringles container and then get the key.  They solved this one in about 2 minutes, which was impressive. 

See below some photos from the day.

My home made Breakout EDU box:

My friends and wife working away at some of the puzzles:

My daughter pretending to be "cranky" and wearing a disguise in her (subtitled) video:

The shemozzle part occurred at about the half way point.  They were almost one hour in and suddenly, a team of 3 painters walked into the house ready to paint all of the walls and ceilings.  I had bet that none of the tradies working on our house would be working on 30 December, but I was wrong!

So we needed to clear out of there fast, which was REALLY disappointing.  We then went and had lunch and given that the painters had not left by the time we came back from lunch, I decided to set up the room again at my house.  I then spent an hour completely clearing out my back room (throwing everything in the backyard) and then setting up everything again (including the remote control car maze outside). 

What I learned
Over all I think my team had fun.  It took them something like 2 hours 30 minutes to solve everything (with a couple of hints along the way, most of which were aimed at helping them hunt and seek better).   Thankfully, all of my puzzles worked and didn’t have any errors (except for a pesky test tube I had stuck to the ceiling that just wouldn’t fall when hit multiple times by a nerf gun…).

I learned from this experience that:
  • designing an escape room is a lot of hard work (and comes with a lot of self-imposed pressure to get everything right);
  • bespoke puzzles designed specifically for you are awesome;
  • trying to get a 3 year old to say her lines on video is HARD work (and editing said video also takes forever);
  • you can’t predict how teams are going to approach a room or the order in which they will decide to do puzzles;
  • it’s really FRUSTRATING watching a team trying to figure out your puzzles, knowing they are close but not quite on the right track (I had to bite my tongue so many times);
  • all escape rooms need to be beta tested by at least 30 teams in order to iron out issues (including issues which simply cannot be anticipated on day one); and
  • you don’t necessarily need high tech puzzles to have fun in an escape room.

I really enjoyed the whole process of making my little escape room in a box.  I probably won’t do it again for at least a few months (mainly because I’m about to move into our new house and the time commitment to design one of these rooms with the amount of puzzles I want to include is enormous). 

Luckily, one of my team members is designing the next escape room in a box, so I can’t wait to check it out.

Final words
The last puzzle I gave my friends was on a video via a QR code.  The gist of it was that given that my friends have had the benefit of my blog over the past 35 rooms (and me organising every one of those rooms for them), then surely they are big fans of my blog and would know the URL off the top of their head.

So, the final puzzle was to send me a text message with the URL of my blog.

They had 3 minutes to come up with the answer.  They failed…

*                               *                               *              
If anyone else has a go at designing their own escape room, I’d love to hear how you go.  There are a heap of ready-designed escape rooms on the Breakout EDU (and I understand hundreds more will soon be uploaded), so you can get your own box and start playing rooms straight away without any of the hard work involved in designing your own.



Friday, 8 January 2016

Canberra gets its first Escape Room - Riddle Room

Just before Christmas, I got an email from Chris and Jesse, the owners of Riddle Room in Canberra, letting me know about the opening of Riddle Room.

Riddle Room is the first escape room outfit to hit the Canberra market. They have just the one room so far, but have plans to open other rooms if things go well.  See below summary of their first room:

The Nightmare Room

You are contacted by the DreamWake Corp. an experimental science facility that specialise in Oneirology, the study of dreams. They have developed a new technology which can transfer a conscious mind into another's subconscious. They need your help with a particular case; a patient is trapped inside a recurring nightmare. 

The DreamWake Corp. believe that if you are able to go deep into her subconscious and find out what is causing the nightmare she’ll be able to wake up. This procedure has never been fully tested and once inside you'll only have 60 minutes before you lose your connection and become trapped inside her nightmare forever. 

Anything could happen in the Nightmare Room. 

Riddle Room is now open and ready for business.  I now finally have a reason to go and check out our nation's capital (because let's face it, what else is there to do in Canberra?!?)


Check out their website here.

Sydney's newest escape room outfit - Outlast Escape Rooms in Ashfield

Hi everyone

After doing a simple Google search on escape rooms in Sydney, I stumbled across a new room that appears to have opened recently. 

They are called Outlast Real Life Room Escape.  They are based in Ashfield in the inner west.

They have 3 rooms - Silent Hospital, The Tomb of Babel and Room 7 (although note that The Tomb of Babel apparently requires at least one team member to know how to read Chinese characters(?!?)...

No idea if they are any good or just another Room Escape/Escape Club at Kingsford. Their website doesn't read the best and I wrote an email some time ago to the owners asking them for some further information about their rooms - I still haven't had a response, which is not a good sign.

You can find their website here.

If anyone has tried out any of their rooms, please post a comment and let me know what you thought.


Break the Code Plus - Da Vinci review

This time some of my friends from my work went to Break The Code Plus to try their final room (and to use up my final Scoopon voucher).  We were a team of 4 adults – 3 relatively experienced players and one new player.  We went there in December 2015.  This was my 24th room in Sydney (and 34th room in Australia), so far...

I have had really inconsistent experiences at Break the Code Plus in the past – their Lost room was great, but their other rooms were poorly designed, lacked creative puzzles, were plagued with technical issues, etc.

After having done their Lost room most recently, I was really hopeful that Da Vinci would be a decent room. 

As for what I liked most about the Da Vinci room at Break the Code Plus:
  • the theming was pretty strong.  For the most part, the puzzles and props all suited the room (see below for the exception);
  • there was a pretty good variety of puzzles – one puzzle in particular worked flawlessly and used technology I had never seen before, which was pretty cool;
  • they have listened to earlier feedback and now use walkie talkies to communicate with players (rather than ruining the immersion by walking into the room to provide clues/guidance);
  • there was lots to do for a group of 4 people, which was good; and
  • for the most part, it was clear from the puzzles as to what we needed to do (although not always).

Now, for what I didn’t like so much:

  • ·    a couple of the puzzles were a little clunky (but not as clunky as their other rooms, like Avatar for example, which is easily their worst room) – I think the instructions could be tweaked to improve this quite easily;
  • we had a technical issue while we were there.  Without giving any spoilers, there is something out of reach which is supposed to come into reach upon solving a puzzle.  The puzzle didn’t work, but we were able to reach the certain something and we then progressed through the game (without having solved the non-working puzzle).  This needs to be fixed;
  • their standard pricing is simply too expensive for the quality of this room.  There are much better escape room outfits in Sydney that are far cheaper;
  • there is one relatively cool puzzle (again, no spoilers) but it was poorly designed – we have seen similar technology at Enigma Room which was much better designed and worked flawlessly (and very logically) – the solution to the puzzle in Da Vinci was similar but pretty illogical and poorly designed; and
  • my biggest gripe with this room by far was one particular puzzle, which is the seoncd last puzzle for the room.  We managed to get to this puzzle in about 35 minutes, so we were tracking pretty well.  However, this puzzle was simply too difficult for non-musically trained people.


It’s really hard to explain my gripes with this puzzle without going into a little more detail.  The puzzle is a laser puzzle, with each laser being a different musical note when the laser beam is disturbed.  I think there were 8 or so lasers (ie notes) in total.  In order to solve this puzzle, you had to replicate a song with the notes.  The song contained 23 notes (no, that’s not a typo). 

I recall when speaking with one of the designers at ERM in Melbourne about their original room (and the first escape room in Melbourne and Australia for that matter), they said the one puzzle that stumped most teams in their room was a musical puzzle.  That puzzle required you to replicate a 4 note pattern using 3 notes.  We got it on the first go, but the owner told me that so many people are tone deaf that it was a real problem. 

Compare that to a 23 note melody in Da Vinci.  I have some musical training (albeit a long time ago) and so did one other member of our team, but we tried for some 30 minutes on this puzzle without any luck.  We all found this puzzle incredibly frustrating –it honestly zapped all of the fun we had had up to that moment in Da Vinci.  The melody we were given to copy was really fast – you couldn’t slow it down and it seemed (at least to me) to be in a different key to the notes on the lasers – even when I heard the correct pattern, it just sounded off to me.

This laser puzzle also did not suit the theme of Da Vinci at all.  It really let down the rest of the theming, which was pretty good.  Break the Code Plus seem to throw in high tech for the sake of high tech – I would prefer a well themed, low tech room to a high tech room that doesn’t match the theme. 

A further problem with difficult musical puzzles is that there is no way to give a clue.  And indeed when we were finally given a “clue” it was effectively the answer written on pieces of laminated paper which the game master slid under the door.

This is a really poorly-designed puzzle - it requires too much musical knowledge/skill and it completely ruins the theming of this room.  When I told the game master that I thought this puzzle was simply too difficult for non-musically trained players, he said that they find that normally there is at least one musically-trained person in each team.  Needless to say I did not find this response useful or satisfactory!

I found this room to be incredibly (and entirely unnecessarily) frustrating. The first 75% was great – the last 25% was shite.

Where:                        Level 1, 741 George Street, Haymarket, NSW

Duration:                    60 minutes

Themes:                     6 themes (which will apparently change often)

Cost:                           $180 (for a team of 4) (although we had a Groupon for $80)

Overall Summary:     Requires skills not held by the average person in order to escape – avoid this room.    

More details: