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How to Make Your Own Escape Room

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by Serena (subscribe)
Just a girl spreading the word about all the fun (and probably nerdy) things to do!
Published August 16th 2015
Make it as puzzling or simple as you like
Although there are many escape rooms available there is a benefit to making your own. One is that you can alter the theme and puzzle difficulty to suit different audiences, particularly for younger children.

For all escape rooms you should have some way of locking boxes or rooms, puzzles and a theme. Of course the more elaborate you want your room to be the more items you'll need (like backstory, clues, mood music).

So first things first, locked rooms and boxes
The whole objective of an escape room is to open secret boxes and find clues to escape, now if you're lucky enough to have access to rooms that have locks already or have any filing cabinets that are lockable this will make your job a whole lot easier.

escape room, locks
Of course you need the keys to go with these locks for the game to work

Now if you don't happen to have any of these, or if you're worried that the keys may be too small and fiddly for little children, what you can do is simply hide old boxes such as shoe boxes or buy a few coloured ones from a $2 store and hide them around the place. If you want to keep the fun of having to find the keys to "open" the boxes, you can have the boxes in a central area (guarded by you) and have them be colour coded and associated with a coloured toy key hidden around the house.

escape room, toy key
Toy keys that aren't as easy to lose as real ones

Of course, you could always skip the keys all together, and create clues for the children to find specific objects around the house and bring them back to open their boxes, so that each box has a clue on top to find a specific object and once they bring back that object they can open the box.
Such as:
"I have lots to say but never speak,
I open but you cannot walk through me,
I have a spine but no bones.
What am I?"

Answer: A Book, so the game players would bring you a book in order to open the box

Which leads me onto our second point puzzles!
So puzzles really are the heart and soul of the game, and of course a simple puzzle to do is a whole lot of riddles, and you can find MANY riddles on the internet for any situation.

Now riddles are fun, but there are many other puzzles you can do if you are really adventurous. One of my favourites is completing a jigsaw puzzle to find some clue, and a really fantastic thing is that you can actually make your own jigsaw puzzles. There are a range of places to do this online such as Create Jigsaw Puzzles and Printer's Studio but probably by far the most convenient place is your local Big W where you can create your puzzles either online or in store in a range of sizes and shapes.

escape room, puzzle
A screenshot from the Big W Photo website

Another type of puzzle that is very common in escape rooms is the use of numbers and letters, usually in order to open up combination locks, which you can buy once again from $2 stores such as Daiso (where everything in store is $2.80) or hopefully you already have some from going on vacation. You could possibly even include some old suitcases with combination locks into your game (you could use it to hold costumes as the first or last puzzle for everyone to dress up in).

escape room combination lock
It can be any type of combination lock you like

For number combination puzzles you could set out simple maths problems for people to find the numbers (or complicated maths puzzles if you're feeling up to it). You can also hide numbers around the rooms (this is usually accompanied by having either coloured numbers OR the numbers on coloured things). Then someplace else in the room the colour sequence is revealed, thus also revealing the order of the numbers (but this may be a bit too tricky for younger players).

If you want to use words with numbers, a really easy way to do this is to simply use a dictionary and have the words correspond with page numbers (and hence you've gone between words and numbers). This can be done many ways; you could have a passage with certain words underlined (and a dictionary provided), or you could have a mathematical equation using words instead of numbers (once again with a dictionary on hand) or you could use "put the words in the right order" exercises and have them pick "the third word in the sentence".
Such as:
To open the lock, use the first page number for the third word in each correctly ordered sentence:
1. is teacher today ? Who the
2. ? the Can you answer question
3. ocean by live I the

(For use on a three number combination lock)

Third the clues
Being able to give clues is vital to your game because you really don't want people being too stumped. There are many ways you can do this. You can have pre-determined and written out clues on pieces of paper so that you can simply hand them out if they're asked for or if people seem stuck.

You could also use a set of walkie talkies, or a phone so that people can call and ask for help if they need to. This is uesful if you're staying out of the room while people hunt and solve because you're scared your face will give away some of the answers (I know mine would!).

A really nice thing about living in this technological day and age is that you could really nicely incorporate Skype or video messages and clues into your game where you could have recorded clues or have them call you over Skype. This may also be a good way of monitoring how they're going without actually being in the room, by simply having a one-way Skype call watching the room (with consent of course).

A computer also provides a lot of other little features you can add in order to give your escape room a little more kick. A really important thing would be some sort of clock or countdown timer. An easy thing to do is simply have a computer screen on with a site such as Online Stopwatch or the pre-set ones on an iPad (preferably something big and easy to see) or otherwise you could just use an ordinary clock.

escape room countdown
Online Stopwatch - even has custom setting

Lastly, a theme
Which although is non-essential to the plot it really makes it so much more fun!
Examples could be:
- A deadly virus has been released in the building and you must escape
- You have been kidnapped and you must get out
- You are a criminal or a pirate and you must make a daring escape from jail

More kid based themes include:
- You are a spy escaping an evil villain's lair (you could take inspiration from the Alex Rider or CHERUB books)
- There's a bully at school and he's locked you in a room, you need to stop him before he pranks the school
- You need to escape detention

Themed music
It is honestly surprising how much more intense your game becomes with themed music. I highly suggest creating a playlist beforehand and having it run through a computer (which could be doubling as your clock) or a surround sound system). You could work this in a few ways, where you can have music playing randomly in the background to intensify the mood (I for one like using some of the theme music from Dr Who) of course you can just look on youtube and find "intense music" "dramatic music" such as here (which is already 1hr long). But if you want to go all out, you can custom make your own playlist, and if you do I highly suggest that you arrange it so that it starts off fairly slow and easy (or silent and spooky) at the beginning, and right near the end when the time is ticking down you really pick up the tempo so it puts people in a frenzy as the mad dash towards the end picks up. I think this extra bit of mood music will intensify your game by wonders.

Themed introduction
If you have the time and energy, and a lot of will power, you could even make themed introduction videos, where at the beginning of your game, (for example a deadly virus theme) you could pretend that you are a scientist and you have left behind this video to help anyone who has survived make it out, and that you will provide "clues" as you can and any information they need. Clues could be you telling people how to start the game, they could be video files for people to open or you could even make one long video, with snippets of yourself, say every 20 minutes, with an "update" and a blank screen playing your background music in between that would simply run in the background of the game.
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Why? It's fun, and less scary for younger children
Your Comment
The filing cabinet's great inspiration Serena.

Another fun one you can do at home is using kitchen scales to weigh objects. The weight corresponds to a code or sequence. You can combo this with one of those logic puzzles where you need to separate 2 seemingly impossible pieces to result in just 1 piece

Cheers for the ideas!
by ellio (score: 0|4) 2361 days ago
Hi Serena,

We are working on a DIY escape room platform that can be suitable for DIY game designer. Feel free to visit our website here if you are interested. We think that this can be a good complementary to your own escape room.
by Jack Pham (score: 0|2) 2206 days ago
I like using a jigsaw puzzle with a message on the back. Also use other puzzle type games to give a clue (scrabble, chess).
by Andy Murray (score: 0|2) 1909 days ago
Thank you, you have many interesting ideas.
And I know who is doing the escape room professionally -
Cool puzzles, and not only. Makes everything for rooms turn-key worldwide.
by info (score: 0|2) 1855 days ago
thanks for the idea
by kaypp (score: 0|2) 1620 days ago
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