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…

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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.




  1. Wow! What a lot of work! I hope your wife and friends had some fun!

    1. They seemed to have fun (and they tell me they did), so I think it was worth all of the effort!