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  • Writer's pictureMike Wilson

Tip: Red Herrings

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

A red herring is a tool, puzzles, lock, or any other element that looks important but is actually useless. Red herrings are distractions.

Before the game starts, ask the game master if they intentionally put red herrings in the room. Even if they don't give you a direct answer, you'll almost always know the answer to your question by seeing how they respond to the question. If the room does have intentional red herrings, rather than beginning by working on puzzles, start by searching for locks then search for keys/codes to open those locks. This will help you avoid spending time solving pointless puzzles.

In my opinion, game designers who intentionally put red herrings in a room are focusing on the challenge instead of on entertainment. They completely miss the primary object of escape rooms. If you're going to use a red herring to steal the time of players, you might as well leave out the red herring and take time off the clock.

With that said, not all red herrings are intentional. Some red herrings are simply a bi-product of the game designer's attempt to create an immersive environment, and some red herrings simply become red herrings because paranoid players try to see clues in items that are not intended to serve as a hint. In my opinion, the best game designers work really hard to remove red herrings, but even if there are no intentional red herrings, people often get distracted by unimportant elements. It's usually easy (especially for experienced players) to tell if something is placed there by the game designers or is simply a part of the decor.

You should usually ignore:

Tags on rugs, furniture, or clothing

Power outlets

Drop ceiling tiles

Old price tags and bar codes

Scratched paint

While it's important to check to see if something has been hidden in the pages of a book, unless a clue instructs you to read a book, don't read books, magazines, or other props with a lot of text. Often books are simply a decoration that distracts many players, but when books are part of a puzzle, the players will almost always be given an instruction about where to find the important information that is in the book.

Don't play drunk. There's a limited number of escape rooms in a city, and you can really only play each once. Wasting a play while your mind is easily distractible isn't worth your time or money. You can celebrate after you complete the room in time.

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