9 (Real) Tips For (Actually) Crushing Escape Room Records
Updated: Feb 7, 2019
I’ve heard some pretty ridiculous suggestions for getting escape room records lately, so I feel like it’s my duty to you, dear reader, to provide some ACTUAL tips that will help you climb the leaderboard of your local escape room.
Above is proof we finished the game in 20 minutes. Ignore that our record is being broken by the gang at Inferno Escape Room.
1) Know your odds
When you’ve got three digits to put in a lock, but you’re not sure of the order, there’s only 6 possible combinations. Once you add a fourth digit, you’ve got 24 possible combinations. Think about how many times you’re willing to put a wrong combination into a lock before you hit pay dirt. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes you’d do better to look for some clue as to the order.
1.5) Have a system
When you’ve decided it’s time for brute-force, things will go a lot more smoothly if you follow a process for inputting combinations. I like to start with the lowest number and work my way up. That makes it easy to remember which combinations you’ve tried, and it reduces the number of dials you’ll have to spin.
2) Get to Know your designer
When someone designs a room, they bring an inherent set of biases into the design. Those biases create patterns, and patterns can help you solve puzzles! You should note things like whether the designer of your room likes to use actual words in letter locks, or just jumbled letters. This knowledge will let you do a quick spot-check of any answers that you come up with during your game. And sometimes a lucky guess is all you’ll need to move along.
3) Do the last part first
Whenever you’re decoding something, it’s probably worth it to start at the end and move towards the beginning. Some designers think that you should work for your answers, so they’ll give you a bunch of encoded flavor text and only then give you an answer. As soon as you get something that looks like an answer, have one of your teammates start looking for a place to try that. And here’s the important part: while they’re looking for the lock to your answer, you should keep decoding.
4) Never watch someone perform a simple decoding
For some reason it seems like a lot of designers don’t recognize how big of a bottleneck a large chunk of decoding is. When your team comes across it, you could all gather round and stare at the person doing the work, or you could work on the rest of the room. Even if you just tidy up a little, your effort is better spent elsewhere.
5) Get familiar with the shape of number words
Lots of codes are numbers, but it turns out that numbers are composed of only a handful of letters that you can easily pick out of a lineup. When you see an encoded word that might be a number, ask yourself what number(s) it could be. For example, when you see a 5-letter word that might be a number, it’s almost certainly going to be “Three” or “Seven” or “Eight”. You can narrow this down even further by noting that “Three” is the only one with double letters on the end, and “Seven” has a repeated letter, but not next to each other. Once you get that, you can start plugging letters into the other possible number words and get that combination sorted out right quick!
6) Don’t be afraid of "breaking" the game
If you see a whiteboard or chalkboard, erase it! Find a prop that seems to be the same shape as a hole in a wall? Put that thing in that hole! It’s your job to not be destructive of property, but it’s the designer’s job to make sure that you can’t break the game. Almost any idea is a good one in an escape room, so try things that you might not ordinarily do. CAVEAT: Sometimes you think you should do something that might actually destroy property within the game. That’s why you have a game master. If you think you might cause some actual damage, you should pause, announce loudly what you want to do and give the game master plenty of time to stop you.
7) Follow in the footsteps of previous players
It’s likely that a lot of people have played any given room before you. They’ve probably left evidence of their escape attempts. It’s kind of lame/gross, but you can look for fingerprints on glass, scuffs on furniture, or basically any other sign of wear for subtle clues as to what things you need to interact with. Hopefully the business keeps an eye on these sorts of things and keeps their room relatively clean, but sometimes you can get a helpful message direct from the ghosts of escapers past.
8) Ask for that hint
Sometimes you get stuck, and there’s absolutely nothing that will get you unstuck, except for a hint. Maybe it’s bad design, or maybe you’re just missing that key that’s hidden too well, but strategic use of your hints is almost definitely going to improve your time.
9) Stop caring
This is supposed to be fun! If you’re too tense, or you’re worried about times, you’re going to find it a lot harder to get in the brain space that’s going to get you a record.