Updated: Aug 20, 2021
This post will discuss:
Before you enter a room, you should have an idea of what you want the mood of the experience to be. Many teams don't really care if they win or lose. Their goal is to laugh, flirt, or just have a good time. These are the teams who usually fail to complete rooms, and for many of them, that's ok. I'm too competitive and cheap to spend that much money and time away from my kids for a simple laugh.
Some people are naturally competitive enough to push the team forward. Other people are perfectionists who spend too much time focused on an element. Every team needs at least one person who will consistently push the team forward. In most escape rooms, you get one hour to complete all of the puzzles, and that may sound like a lot of time, but a one hour escape room goes very quickly. One hour is long enough for some people to experience a false sense of calm, but good teams consistently remind themselves the importance of urgency.
That's why it's important to take hints early and often. Taking a hint quickly when you hit a roadblock is a key to success. You don’t have time to be stuck. Don’t set arbitrary time intervals when you will take a hint. There’s no point in waiting to take a hint if the team is not moving forward. I have seen many teams take too few hints, but I almost never see teams take hints too quickly. Maybe my friends are just more conservative than I think, but I believe good players admit they need help when they get stuck. They don't let their pride or frustration with a difficult puzzle keep them from continuing. Momentum in an escape room is very important. Don't allow a difficult puzzle stop your momentum. In fact, I think it’s a good idea to tell your game master that you really want to finish the room, and ask him/her to be generous with the hints.
There is however a serious danger in excessive hurry. This danger is usually realized when teams overlook a poster on the wall, fail to search the drawers in a desk, or any other mistake that is caused because people failed to spend enough time on the important inventory step. Urgency is also excessive when it removes the fun from the room. If the stress and pressure of a room are removing the fun, it’s time to slow down, enjoy the room, and allow yourself to be more immersed in the story of the room.
The balance here is somewhere between
being late to work because you overslept and needing to leave the restaurant because they are about to close. When you rush to get dressed in the morning because you woke up late, there a good chance to you'll forget to put a shirt on your kid. When you find out the restaurant is closing but you just got your food, you'll know that it is their job to feed you and finish your meal before you leave.
Occam's razor says the simplest solution is usually the right solution, and that is definitely true in escape room. Don't overthink puzzles. Escape rooms are meant to be challenging, but they are designed to be completed by the average person. If you've worked on a puzzle for five minutes, there's a chance that you don't yet have all the information you need to solve the puzzle. You can come back to it later. If there's some historical information in the room, the designer wouldn't be a good designer if he/she expected you to have previous knowledge about that period in history. The solution you're looking for probably won't require you to remember the details of a war you learned about in junior high. It will probably have something to do with some words in the puzzle that are obviously misspelled, underlined, or lined up on the left side of the page. If you find a clue written in German, you won't have to know German to solve it.
Show Up Early
Arrive at the location at least fifteen minutes before your booked time slot. Before you start the room, you'll need to sign a waver, use the restroom, and ask the game host some questions.
Nothing can throw off a team quite like someone having to use the restroom in the middle of a game. If you try to hold it, you'll rush and miss things. If you leave the room, it will throw off you and possibly your whole team for the rest of the time.
There's also a list of questions that I ask game masters/hosts before every game. Those questions are:
Does this room have red herrings (intentional distractions)?
Will we ever use the same key or access code twice?
How many hints can we take? Is there a penalty if we take more than the allowed hints?
Will we need to move any furniture?
Are we allowed to use our cell phones?
I then tell the game master that we would really like to complete the room and that we really appreciate generous hints.