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Stuck solving an escape room puzzle

9 Common Escape Room Challenges That You Should Look Out For

Need ideas to beat your next escape room? This guide will help you avoid those classic pitfalls you'll find in every escape room.
Then, read more tips here
Shirley watson puzzle master
Look out! These challenges will haunt you at every turn unless you deal with them! Here's how you'll do it...

Sound familiar?

You have style, taste, and flair. That’s why you love escape rooms! But they just keep tripping you up...

No worries. I'm here as your friendly expert to get great escape room ideas to increase your odds of winning. We’ll help you overcome the most common challenges in escape rooms.

If you've played escape rooms before, you'll probably recognize some of these challenges. You may see some of these pop up in future escape rooms too. Whatever the case, we'll equip you with the fancy know-how to sail through those puzzles and out the escape room door!

Then after you've digested these handy tips, you can head over to our full guide to crush every escape room!

Let's get started.
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Your Escape Room Ideas Fall On Deaf Ears

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You’ve found it! You have the combination to the lock to open King Tut’s tomb. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel! But when you run over to your teammates, tugging at sleeves like Tiny Tim, no one seems to listen. Unless you can get their attention, you’re stuck here forever.

Before you go MMA on your friends and pin them to the floor, try these tactics.

Are you the quiet one in the group? At dinner, do you make your first remark during dessert? Grab the loud mouth. Every group has at least one. Pull them to the side and sell them on your plan. They may steal your thunder — let them have it. You know that you pushed the team through the exit door.

Assign roles before the game (more info here). Make one person a team leader. Make another the Executive Director of the Evidence. The Executive Director will hold all of the clues found for later use. When you find your clue, run to either the leader or the Executive Director. They should listen and send the clue where it needs to go. If they don’t, fire them!

The Stubborn Absent Clue

Are you lacking the one piece of information you need to solve the clue? They’re two reasons why you might not have this piece:
  • You have it, and you are overlooking it.
  • You don’t have it, because you haven't searched everywhere yet.

Now that we’ve overwhelmed you with our amazing intelligence, here are the solutions.

First, go through the assembled clues. Look at them in a different light. Could those four numbers correspond to the letters you need for the alphabet lock? Do you have the map backward? Did you forget to look at that piece of paper under the book? Most often, you have the clues that you need. Relax, take a deep breath, and reevaluate the clues.

When you first enter a room, your team should spread out like ants at a picnic. Gather every potential clue and bring it to a central location. This saves you from searching the room for ideas to solve escape room clues when time is running short in the game.

If you determine that you don’t have the clue, don’t panic. Search the room, looking for areas you missed. Did you look in that urn? Was there a paper taped to the back of the drawer? If you did a good search in the beginning, you should find the clue quickly now.
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You’re Drowning In Clues

Kids working together to solve the Lost Mummy
You probably feel like you’re reading Goldilocks and the Three Escape Room Puzzles. First, there were too few clues. Then, there were too many clues. Don’t despair. We’ll show you how to get the clues just right!

One typical technique designers use is information overload. They bury you in useless information to make it more challenging to find valuable information. Common tactics include stocking the rooms with a bunch of books or posters on the walls.

Skim through these. Open the book. Does anything fall out? Are any of the pages dog-eared? If not, put it aside. You may return to it later with a clue pointing to a specific page.

Don’t fall into these time-consuming traps. Designers know that you only have an hour to put together all of your escape room ideas to escape. You should be able to decode the clues without spending too much time reading.

Beware the Evil Red Herring (Not to be Confused With Red Lobster)

Designers of escape rooms like to throw you off the scent. They’ll put a few “clues” into the game that lead nowhere. If you waste too much time on these clues, they win! At heart, designers are evil troll-like beings. They revel in your misery.

These are what's called 'red herrings', and they're a controversial topic. I'm personally of the opinion that they're a grievous sin against game design.

Of course, some red herrings are accidents of design. The wall poster that looks like it has a secret code may be just that, a wall poster. The fact that there are seven vases on one shelf and six on another may just mean that the designer ran out of vases.

Red herrings can be hard to ignore. But you should keep in mind the current goal. If the solution requires 5 letters to open the lock, ignore all clues that don’t result in uncovering 5 letters. Those other clues may or may not be useful later, but you don’t need them now. Only focus on those clues making sense at the moment.
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The Locks You Wished You Had In High School — Directional Locks

Playing an escape room at school
As escape room locks go, directional locks are close to the top! They allow the designer a wide range of possible clues.

Directional locks have a button that moves up, down, left, and right. Therefore, the clues could be anything. They could be arrows, navigation directions, or a word puzzle. Keep your mind open to variations on the clues. For example, something telling you to go straight may direct you to push up on the lock. Reverse may mean to push down on the lock.

Dates and Calendars

Make sure you keep track of any dates on clues. Some puzzles will have dates on different clues, requiring you to assemble them to discover a combination or code.

Typically, if dates will go together in a puzzle, they will appear in a similar format. For instance, multiple dates may appear in one letter, or you may have four dated letters. You may see posters on the wall with dates for fairs or other events. This is a clue that information may be present (don’t forget the evil red herrings). You generally will not combine letters with posters or other objects to solve a clue.

Don’t worry if you aren’t good with dates. You don’t have to know that Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. or Will Smith erupted in 2022 to solve a puzzle. Everything should be right in front of you.
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Clocks May Tell More Than Time

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Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If you want to escape, you should!

Throw out the old adage that a broken clock is right twice a day. In an escape room, broken clocks are important!

You may find three types of clocks in an escape room — broken, working, and countdown. The countdown clock tells you how long you have before the zombies arrive to eat your apparently non-functioning brain!

Working clocks likely provide no information. With escape games running 8-10 hours a day, the designers could not develop a good escape room idea to work a running clock into the game. However, while the time on the clock has no meaning, there may be clues on the face of the clock.

Broken clocks may hold clues. If the time on the clock is 25 or 6 to 4, you may be stuck in a Chicago song! Or you may have stumbled onto the clue that will pop open the three or four-number combination lock! Give it a try!

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again — Callbacks

Designers must ensure that clues logically fit together. They may spread the clues all over the room. They may hide clues in lock boxes. But the clues should connect smoothly, like legos crunching together under your feet, no matter how they are separated.

If you come across a shape, symbol, or phrase that reminds you of a previous clue, check to see if the clues fit together. The relationship is likely intentional. If one room has a World’s Fair poster from 1904 and the next room has one from 1984, there could be a connection. That odd set of shapes on paper may make sense once you open the lock box to find the solution inside.

Keep in mind that some games are linear, and some are non-linear. In a linear game, once you leave one room, you won’t return to it to get clues. In a non-linear room, you may go back and forth between rooms. Save time by knowing what type of room you’re playing.
Playing Escape Room Z at home, zombie escape room kit

Be A CodeBreaker

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Codes make great escape room puzzles. Codes can be anything — morse code, ciphers, or the mysterious beeping that keeps repeating. Codes allow the designer to hide a solution in plain sight while you search for the key.

No, you don’t need to take an advanced CIA course in codebreaking to play an escape game (although our code-breaking guide will probably help). The designer knows that not everyone will know every code and will provide a key. The key may reside in a locked drawer or lock box, but it is there! Once you break the code, you’ll feel like James Bond or even Scooby-Doo! Great work! Have a Scooby snack!

Congrats. You’ve Graduated!

Now you have the solutions to the most common escape room challenges! These challenges leave players locked in an asylum or lost in a swamp for eternity. 

But not you! With the keys to these escape room ideas firmly in your grasp, you’ll have no trouble escaping from your next game. Now, what are you waiting for? Get to the escape room now!

...unless you're still feeling lost? No worries, we've got even more tips for you in this article. Why not take a look?
Winning at Escape Room Z

You Don't Need To Wait. Grab A Game To Test Your Skills Tonight!

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