How to Solve Escape Room PuzzlesOct 18, 2021
If you’re struggling with how to solve escape room puzzles, you’re not alone. Worldwide, only about 41% of escape room participants complete the challenge before the clock runs out. In the U.S., it’s only 26%. But while these attractions are designed to be tough, you can walk out victorious. It’s all about understanding how the puzzles work and how to maintain a strategic advantage.
Types of Escape Room Puzzles You Might Encounter
The most common escape room puzzles and clues include:
- Hidden objects
- Logic puzzles
- Physical puzzles
- Letter and number puzzles
- Sound-based clues
- Light clues
- Visual design clues
1. Hidden Objects
Hidden objects are among the most common items found in an escape room experience. These objects can include keys, notebooks, business cards, and photographs, just to name a few examples. In many cases, you’ll need to locate these items as soon as you enter the room and before you can advance to the other puzzles in the game.
These items can appear under rugs, in hollowed-out books, behind bookshelves, inside lamp shades, in secret compartments of drawers and cabinets, and in just about any location that isn’t immediately obvious to the naked eye. Look for loose objects, and examine every square inch of the room—except for any areas specifically marked as off limits. You never know when you’ll find a book safe, a hollow flower pot, or even a false wall panel.
2. Logic Puzzles
The logic puzzles are some of the most challenging to solve in an escape room. You may be presented with seemingly incomprehensible maps, riddles, poems, symbols, books, or televised messages.
The two most important things to remember are:
- Nothing is there by accident
- Nothing is as it seems
In other words, there are no random objects in an escape room, but the significance of each object will subvert your expectations. For example, if you need to find a three-digit code to open a safe, and you notice the numbers “238” written on the door, the code to the safe is probably not 238. It’s too easy and too obvious. Those numbers, however, may serve as a clue to finding the actual code. The key is to eschew the obvious and think outside the box.
To solve a logic puzzle, solicit the perspective of everyone in your group (this is where it really helps to have a large team). Search the room for patterns, repetition, and related items or symbols. Consider all of the clues you’ve collected so far, and think of ways that they might relate to the puzzle you’re trying to solve.
3. Physical Puzzles
A physical puzzle is similar to a logic puzzle, but it requires you to physically manipulate objects. You might be required to unravel a difficult knot that’s holding cabinet doors together, or you might need to rearrange a piece of furniture or a series of puzzle pieces to unlock a secret compartment. Some of the more elaborate escape rooms will have floor tiles that you can activate, bookcases with secret entrances, and coffins and sarcophagi that you can unlock by inserting a physical object into a secret compartment.
One common mistake that people make is to move every object in the room. In most cases, the furniture is already right where it needs to be. However, if something is noticeably out of place, or if other clues are drawing your attention to a specific object, it may warrant a closer investigation.
Just remember to be mindful of the rules. If a bookcase has a sign on it that reads “Don’t touch – this is not a clue,” keep your hands off the bookcase. Those signs are there for a reason and are not red herrings.
4. Letter and Number Puzzles
Letter and number puzzles also fall under the umbrella of logic puzzles, but they require their own type of critical thinking. You don’t have to be a math wiz or wordsmith to solve these common puzzles, but it does help if you have a penchant for crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and similar puzzle games.
Sometimes the escape puzzle can be solved with no outside information. In other cases, you’ll need to search the room for additional clues in order to fill in the blanks. If it becomes clear that you have insufficient information to complete the puzzle, it might be best to set it aside until additional alphanumeric clues surface.
The puzzle may provide you with the code to a combination lock, the name of an important character within the escape room’s storyline, or a secret codeword required for advancement to the next room. In many cases, the solution to the puzzle is just a clue for an entirely different puzzle. So once you have your letter or number combination, consider how it might factor into other mysteries within the room.
5. Sound-Based Clues
Not all escape room clues are visual. Room designers love to incorporate audio clues, which can come in the form of music and even seemingly random sounds. If you hear the sound of dripping water in one corner of the room, that may be a cue to investigate. If you find a morse code decoder in a drawer, listen carefully for morse code patterns in the wall. If a record player continuously repeats the chorus of a song, consider what clues the lyrics might hold.
There are certain instances when sounds are present just to set the mood. This is common in horror rooms, where the right soundtrack can dramatically heighten the tension. But if the purpose for the sound isn’t immediately obvious, you might be on to something. As previously noted, nothing is there by accident. So if your surrounding includes any sort of auditory experience, you need to ask yourself why.
In some cases, you might be required to rely on more senses than just sight and sound. Take the Perfumer, for instance. Regarded as one of the best escape rooms in LA, it requires you to utilize all five senses, including smell. Be prepared for all types of sensory clues.
6. Light Clues
When entering an escape room, you want to look for both light and the absence of light. The presence of an isolated spotlight or other illuminated focal point can signify the location of a clue or puzzle. Conversely, if you notice a conspicuously dark area in an otherwise well-lit room, you should probably go and investigate.
There are even cases when the light itself can be part of the puzzle. For instance (and without giving too much away), some escape rooms will be equipped with objects that allow you to bend beams of light for the purpose of revealing shrouded clues or opening new passageways.
7. Visual Design Clues
Finally, consider how the design of the room itself may provide essential clues. Could that gaudy wallpaper pattern be hiding an important message? Does it look like one of the baseboards isn’t exactly flush with the wall? If the escape room is Old West-themed, why is there a renaissance painting on the wall?
When examining the room, look for any design elements that feel out of place. Look for those elements that demand your attention and also those that are trying to avoid attention—both are equally suspect.
Strategies for Conquering Any Escape Room
It’s not enough to understand the individual puzzles in escape rooms—although that is a critical component. You have a very limited period of time — often 60 minutes or less — to unravel the clues and unlock your way to victory. If you want your team’s picture on the wall of fame, you’re going to need a sound strategy.
1. Assemble Your Team
Different escape rooms have different rules regarding the number of team members allowed. The more people you can gather together, the more of an advantage you have. It’s generally recommended that you have no fewer than four people on your team, though six is even better. Your team should consist of close friends and confidants that you work well with, and it’s also a good idea to incorporate people with different skill sets. So if you have one friend who excels in math and another with impeccable observation skills, these would make good teammates.
2. Agree on a Strategy
The more people you have on your team, the more frantic the situation can get. If everyone is fighting over the same clues, or if half your team is just watching from the sidelines, you’re probably not going to make it out in time. Meet up before the big event to discuss the incidentals: How are you going to divide up the puzzles (it’s common to break up into groups of two)? Should certain types of puzzles be reserved for specific team members? How long should you toil on a single puzzle before moving on or trading with another team member? At what point in the game are you willing to ask for hints? Establish a game plan, and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
3. Listen Carefully to the Introduction
Before you enter the escape room (or immediately upon entering), you’ll be provided with some form of introduction. It may be a short video to establish the storyline, or it may be a brief introduction by your game master. These introductions often contain important clues, so do not tune out this information. Listen carefully for key details that may prove relevant later on. Even seemingly innocuous details may provide essential clues.
4. Look for the Hidden Objects First
Every minute counts, and it’s important to use your time effectively. As soon as you enter the room, you want to do a complete sweep in search of objects that may guide the rest of your adventure.
5. Keep an Open Line of Communication
If you discover something interesting, don’t keep it to yourself. Everyone in the room should be in constant communication, updating the team on their findings and sharing their theories. You never know when one of your teammates is in possession of a clue or puzzle that corresponds to something you’re working on. Talk it out.
6. Honor the Rules
In most cases, there will be items in the room that you’re not meant to touch. You may be instructed about these items in the initial introduction, or you might find signs posted on the items themselves. Always honor these rules. Messing with the wrong items isn’t just a waste of time; in some cases, it can even disrupt elaborately constructed puzzles and make your job much more difficult.
7. Watch the Timer
In most cases, you’ll have 60 to 90 minutes to crack the mysteries of the escape room. This time goes a lot faster than you think. Pay close attention to the clock, and be sure to maximize your use of time. If you get stuck on one puzzle too long, try looking for other clues. Wallowing in frustration will only kill your focus.
8. Stay Organized
Staying organized is essential for escape room success. Designate a special location for all used objects (as most objects will only be used once), and keep unused objects in a separate location so your team members can access them as needed.
9. Use Your Clues
Some escape games don’t allow you to request hints, but the vast majority of facilities both offer and encourage hints. Some escape room players are hesitant to use these hints, but you shouldn’t be. The hints are there for a reason, and they can often mean the difference between victory and defeat.
10. Avoid Guessing
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when navigating escape rooms is to guess on important clues. For example, you see a locked safe that demands a 3-digit code. So you start frantically entering 3-digit number combinations in the hopes that you can crack it on your own. This approach seldom works (there are 1,000 3-digit number combinations, for starters), and it just results in a lot of wasted time.
With a Sound Strategy, You Can Solve Any Escape Room
In 2019, there were an estimated 50,000 escape rooms worldwide, and these attractions continue to be wildly popular. They’re great for a night out with friends, they make excellent team-building exercises for businesses, and they can actually become quite addictive once you get your first taste of victory.
So if you’ve never been to an escape room or you’re tired of those bland, printable escape room kits, now is the perfect time to experience the real deal. Just make sure you have a good escape room game plan and a basic understanding of how the puzzles work. If you do your due diligence, you should have no trouble unlocking that final door.