55 Handpicked DIY Escape Room Puzzle Ideas That Create Joy & Mystery
Are you foraging for escape room puzzle ideas to craft an amazing adventure? Bag the best from this year's bountiful puzzle harvest below.
So, you’re designing an epic, DIY escape adventure to entertain your friends, challenge your coworkers, or delight your kids.
Awesome! You're in the right place.
Here's the freshest haul of DIY escape room puzzle ideas you can consume at home. They're easy and cheap to craft since they've been hand-selected for first-time designers like you.
This puzzle list is Step 2 in our step-by-step blueprint for crafting your 1st escape room, so jump over there if you'd like to start at the beginning.
By the way, if you're not sure you’ve got the time (or patience!) to design a bunch of escape room puzzles? Why not grab one of our ready-to-play printable escape room kits instead. (As this youth pastor discovered, printable escape kits make for a memorable event!)
The Single Biggest Mistake DIY escape room designers make...
The most important part of your DIY escape room is not the puzzles, the theme, or even the pizza.
It's the Fun.
After all, no-one wants to head over to a mates place and do maths.
Instead, they want to have fun. They want a few good laughs with friends. And yes, they do want pizza...
This is where 99% of DIY escape room designers go wrong. They piece together a random mashup of puzzles that are not connected, and way too hard. This leads to brain drain. And brain drain leads to boredom.
But don't worry, this mistake is easy to avoid by including an equal balance of Puzzles, Tasks, and Games.
Puzzles create those fist bump the air moments where players yell out 'A-ha' and feel like an escape room ninja.
They'll require some lateral thinking to solve, and a fair bit of thinking.
When a puzzle is coupled with a task it creates that empowering Flow feeling everyone loves.
Tasks get the game moving since players immediately know how to solve them. Like a maze or jigsaw puzzle.
Additionally, they avoid the 'Stuck feeling' by giving everyone a chance.
The best way to use them is to provide players with something they'll need to solve a Puzzle.
Games transform your escape room into an Escape Party and provide much needed relief from thinking.
Like shooting zombie targets with Nerf guns, or navigating a minefield while blindfolded.
When coupled with Tasks and Puzzles they'll make your escape room unforgettably enjoyable.
Start by choosing a lock based puzzle for your escape room
Padlock some scissors shut
Simple. Yet delightful.
Players know what to do the moment they see it. The scissors just need to be for something logical like cutting out complex shapes in paper. Or, add some imagination with a label like:
Plasma Cutters. Good for any sized chain
Then have some string wrapped around a door labelled
Solid chain, you'll need something to cut me with.
Just lock a household door
Nothing says ‘escape room puzzle’ better than a good ol' fashioned steel door with keypad entry.
What?? You don’t have one of those guarding your washing machine?
Okay, okay. We can't all be Bruce Wayne.
What you probably DO have are regular doors. With a little imagination, any door can just as easily be a portal to another dimension, a hatch into an underground mine, or the gateway to fairy land!
What’s that you say? Your door doesn’t have a lock on it? No worries. Try hanging a padlock – or a picture of a padlock – on the doorknob and rely on storytelling and thematic decor to bring your challenge to life.
Use a Bike chain to simulate a locked door
Drape a bike chain around a door handle or a storage box. Or loop it through a prop your players need in order to solve another puzzle, and chain the prop to a radiator or table leg.
Sure, it's not the most authentic, but remember this is a party for mates, not a business. Add authenticity with a written label, or reference how it fits into your escape room theme during the intro.
Chain two sliding doors together
A $10 length of chain from a hardware store and a simple padlock can be used to lock two objects together (or keep the French doors on a refrigerator closed).
Why would you want to lock two objects together, you ask? Maybe your players are trapped in a biolab and need to weigh something; wrap a chain around it, so it’s too heavy to weigh until they can find a way to unlock it.
Use the humble filing cabinet
Turn your boring office furniture into lockable fun. Perfect for that escape room team building days that's coming up.
Just stash something inside and then hide the key somewhere.
A fun place is simply to put the key in the small space under the filing cabinet. Then, leave a note somewhere in the room with the message:
People place things on me. People place things in me. But you'll need what's...
Grab a briefcase or travel bag
Chances are you've got luggage in your cupboard with a combination lock built in.
This just screams escape game puzzle.
If not, you can pick a briefcase or luggage up from a 2nd-hand store pretty cheaply. Just make sure the key or combination works before you purchase one! And don't worry if it's not that sturdy. Simply tell your mates to go hard on the snacks and easy on the furniture.
Buy a cheap safe for an authentic touch
They’re a bit more expensive than briefcases, but safes can also be useful in protecting your belongings when you’re not staging epic escape games in your house!
Whether it requires a combination or a key, a safe is a great place to hide game elements, plus you can imbue your game with epic thematic mojo by using paint, chalk, stickers, or other decorative features to add character … or clues.
Turn your phone into a digital keypad code
You can turn any phone into a combination safe puzzle by changing the passcode. The way most phones work, your puzzle can be a traditional number sequence or a pattern.
A great example of a logically connected puzzle would be an old-school landline phone somewhere in the room like this.
Use a note to inform players that something is locked
Don't let a lack of fancy hardware limit your creativity.
You can always hand your players a piece of paper that tells them they’ve encountered a locked door (or safe or briefcase, etc.) and gives some clue regarding what they need to do to open it (find a key, find a four-digit code, etc.).
Use a house key lockbox
These lockboxes are designed to store a front door key, and are often used by real estate agents and Airbnb hosts. I like them as a DIY escape puzzle because they feel like a combination safe.
Use workplace lockers in your escape room
What can store objects, have numbers to identify them, exist in a fixed layout and are available in your workplace?
Throw the 2-year-old snacks out and use these instant-puzzle-boxes in your escape room at work. Just give them a clue for which one contains what's needed and a rule that if they open the wrong one they'll all need to do 10 burpees or lose some points from their score.
The riddle can be as simple or complex as you like. For example, Start at the age of the youngest team member. Then move left for the numbers of players in your team. Then up by one-sixth of the oldest players age.
Or, Save Time by printing a ready to play Escape room Kit
If you're in a hurry, save time by using a ready to play escape room kit. They download to your computer and then you just print them out and you're ready to play.
You can even customize them with your own puzzle ideas and creative flare using the game editor that comes with the download.
Next, add some more logic puzzles
Some hint ideas include:
- Provide a riddle or cipher that leads to a book title (or character or theme – this could be a great way to test students’ knowledge of recent reading assignments).
- Deliver a series of clues that lead players to the letters L-E-G-O
- Write out a poem with a hint in it, like “Roses are red, violets are blue, what other secrets can flowers tell you? ”
- If you’ve hidden something in the battery compartment of the remote control, leave a clue that players need to turn the TV on. When the remote doesn’t work, they’re likely to check the batteries and find the object.
- Scrawl “Bang 'dem nuts!” on a chalkboard or repeatedly refer to your game’s resident mad scientist as “nuts.”
A brain-teaser puzzle box. A box that’s clearly supposed to open but requires some strategic manipulation to do so can be one of the more fun (and possibly frustrating) puzzle ideas for any escape room. You can buy these online or at puzzle stores. Often they’re meant to hold money, but you can just as easily hide a key or a note inside one.
Some of these are extremely tricky to open, and you don’t want your players to be stuck trying to access a single item for too long. So make sure you’re prepared to provide hints if your players get stuck.
My Players Must Solve A Puzzle
One of these things is not like the others
A classic escape room puzzle is an object that shouldn't be there. Or should be there, but in a different way. Or is just wrong. It creates a Matrix black cat moment that players’ brains trip over until they “get it” and yell out “A-ha!”
You can draw attention to something important by providing a group of objects (or images) and having one of them not belong or fit the pattern. It's like a sign saying “Look at me!”
Once you’ve lured your players to your out-of-place object, make it significant to your players’ quest. The object itself might be the clue, or you can use it to hide information. For example, you can affix a piece of masking tape to the bottom of an object and write on it. Or you can scratch a diagram, sequence, or code into the object itself if it’s not a valuable heirloom.
This can also be a great way to draw attention to an object that has a secret compartment in it.
Arrange objects in a pattern
You can do this with small objects, like this kitchen table example, which looks normal until you see 3 chopsticks on a plate. If players spend longer looking at it, they'll notice it spells ONE.
Or you can go big and highlight a particular spatial layout that spans the entire room.
Create a lying photo
Provide a photo of your escape room, but include or remove one object. So long as it's obvious enough, players can spot that it's different, which calls attention to something.
This example, from our printable game Escape Room Z requires players to notice the zombie missing from the Polaroid, cut it out, and overlay it to read a message.
Finish the game
Set up a chess board so it appears to be mid-game. Challenge your players to checkmate their opponent in one move.
Rearrange a Unique picture
Divide a completed clue into a few different images and hang them or arrange them in the wrong order. Once players recreate the picture they'll see the completed puzzle, like in the picture.
This escape room puzzle is super fun when the image is logically connected with something else in the room. For example, this 4 digit code could be the:
- PIN to unlock a mobile phone
- Code for opening a padlock on a phone booth door
- Phone number players dial on a landline to get an audio clue
Here’s a video that shows this trick in action.
Write a message on a bathroom mirror
Did you know you can write a message on your bathroom mirror with soap or rubbing alcohol, and it will only show up when you fill the room with steam from the shower?
Put together a simple jigsaw puzzle and flip it over. Write a message on the back. Then take it apart again. You probably don’t want to make your players put the entire puzzle together again to find your note, so this one will work best if you leave them most of the puzzle completed and then hide the remaining pieces.
If you don’t have a spare jigsaw puzzle lying around, write a riddle or a numeric sequence out on a piece of paper, then cut the paper into interesting shapes (or tear it up, if that fits your theme better). You can hide the pieces around the gameplay area, or you can scan them as images and paste them in the wrong configuration onto one of your game cards, like this puzzle from The Lost Mummy. Give your players a set of scissors to cut them out and rearrange them during the game.
Write a message on paper with lemon juice
A lemon juice message will show up if your players warm the paper with a candle. Just make sure your players don’t accidentally catch their clue on fire and ruin your fun evening by setting off the smoke alarm!
Supply the wrong number of batteries
Require your players to use a flashlight to solve one puzzle and something else that uses the same-sized batteries for another. Give them only enough batteries to use one device or the other at a time.
Rearrange A Known Sequence
You can totally trip people's brains out by messing with the order of a known sequence. This draws attention to objects and can reveal an answer when sorted again.
- Swap keyboard keys. Just pry the keys off with a knife and put them back in the wrong order.
- Change the publication title on a traditional medium. For example, write out New York Times as NWE ORYK IMSET.
- Scratch off the dots on one side of six different 6-sided dice. When players arrange the dice in the correct order, they find a secret message on the reverse side.
Just make sure you use something that's mega well known to support different cultures, ages, and interests.
Flavor of … mystery
Do your players need to cure a zombie virus, poison the king, or concoct a synthetic blood substitute to appease the local vampire population? Cook up some creative puzzles in your kitchen. Require players to find the right herbs and spices solely by smell or select the correct baby food by taste.
Visual overlay code
These puzzles involve a piece of paper with a message that’s obscured by “visual noise.” When players set either a second page with strategically placed holes in it or a piece of colored acetate over the page, the “noise” is hidden, leaving the message clear.
If designing a game for children, you can always use age-appropriate mathematics equations to deliver a numeric code. In The Lost Mummy, players are given several equations to solve, followed by a riddle that reveals the correct sequence of the answers.
Drop something magnetic (a key, perhaps?) someplace where it can’t be reached (either literally or because you told your players so). Provide a magnet and a length of string or wire. Require your players to figure out that they need to combine the magnet and string to reach the key.
Too many puzzles to choose from? Download a complete escape room:
Although you can design an entire escape adventure with a set of puzzle cards and nothing else, you also have the option of incorporating some high-tech puzzles into the mix.
Here are some puzzles that require your players to manipulate a variety of devices to solve.
Fix the Fusebox
All those switches in your fuse box control different rooms in your house. This allows you to provide an electric device that isn't working as part of a multi-stage puzzle.
Make a puzzle that requires players to use an electrical device, like a laptop. For example, create a folder that’s clearly labeled with something game-related (“BIO TOXIN” or “TROOP LOCATIONS”) and include a clue inside it. Then let the laptop battery drain completely.
Next, plug the laptop into a power socket, but turn off the power to that room or outlet using your fuse box. When players go to look for the clue and the laptop doesn’t power on, they’ll need to figure out why.
Make sure it’s clear to players that the fuse box is part of the game (lead them to it with a trail of blood or put one of those red dot stickers I mentioned earlier on it).
There’s an app for that
Imagine leaving a URL lying around as a clue and requiring your players to pull their phones out and go to a website that you created to find a clue.
Sound too hard? Don't worry; with today’s online tools, this is way easier than it sounds!
Here are some ideas for creating web content for your game:
- Create a web page and include a puzzle on it or hide clues in the message. Here's an example of one that starts off a date night escape adventure.
- If you’ve got some video-making skills in your toolbox, make a YouTube video. You can use it to set the scene, or you can demonstrate a task players must accomplish, like mixing two liquids in a “science experiment.”
- Create a Facebook post or Tweet that contains a clue or a coded message.
- Provide a coded message (maybe in Braille or Morse code) and leave the link to a website that can be used to decipher it lying around.
- Email Lock Paper Scissors with your clue, and I’ll create a subpage on the website for you!
- Make a Minecraft puzzle
QR code? Whhaatt?
Relax. You know what a QR code is, even if you didn’t know what they were called.
QR codes are those weird, blocky square pictures you see on the backs of sauce bottles that nobody ever looks at. Your phone knows how to read them, even if you don’t ever feel inspired to do so. We get so used to seeing them, we don’t pay attention to them … but they make for a super epic, high-tech escape game feature. And they're heaps easier for your players to use than a long website URL they have to type in.
Basically, you can link a QR code to anything online, which makes them great if you want to “hide” clues anywhere on the internet. For example, the QR code above is from the Escape Room Z kit. It takes players to an online safe they have to crack.
Cut your QR code into puzzle pieces (test it and make sure it still works after you do so!), hide it under an objects or in a secret compartment, or leave it out in plain sight and wait for your players to ask themselves “What does this do?”
You don’t need the internet to provide clues in a digital format. Putting a clue or puzzle on a USB stick and hiding it somewhere in your escape room gives you a ridiculous number of fun options.
- An audio file of a conversation could provide a clue or puzzle (you can make one easily using the voice recorder on your phone).
- Make a short video showing a corner of the room that the players are in but include one extra object with a number on the side (again you can make the video using your phone).
- If you're making a super hard escape game, create a Word document and store an important clue or solution inside the author properties. This one won’t be at all intuitive, so give your players a hint to point them in the right direction.
My Players Must Decipher a Coded Message
Cracking a cipher is much harder than the movies make out. In fact, it could take the entire duration of your escape game just to solve one unless you provide the right hints.
Ciphers are often just too hard to be a fun escape room puzzle.
This means you'll either want to use an easier cipher or a really well-known cipher.
Or you can make one simple-to-solve message and one more difficult message for later in the game:
- The simple version will be found first to introduce players to the concept behind the cipher.
- The hard one uses the same methodology but a different look and feel. When players tackle this cipher, their experience will show them where to start.
There are so many types of ciphers, we have an entire article just on creating them! Pop over here to read all about ciphers and learn to create some really cool ones. (Also you’ll find that kids love creating and solving ciphers; next time you’re rained or snowed in, encourage your children or students to help design some cipher puzzles with you!)
Add Tasks to get the game going quickly
Give players a maze to solve, but add a twist. For example, this maze from The Disappearance of Mr. George includes random letters in pathways or at intersections. Only finding the right path through the maze will reveal the combination of letters that spells a clue.
Hide clues in logical spots
There's a trick to hiding your game clues and puzzles...
You can't just stash things around your home and hope players will find them.
This is because houses are full of junk. Like, it's everywhere.
Conversely, escape rooms are remarkably clean. Almost serial killer clean sometimes...
Therefore, you’ll need to hide things so it's painfully obvious. No joke you'll think it's too easy and everyone else will be scratching their heads stuck.
Don't let this deter you, however, since scavenging for loot is fun. The moment players find a key in an escape room, they’re filled with excitement because either they already found a lock, and they’re eager to discover whatever it’s guarding, or they now know they’ll find a lock soon.
Keys aren’t the only thing you can hide, of course. You can hide clues. You can hide multiple pieces of a larger puzzle that needs to be assembled. You can hide Easter eggs … no, wait … that’s a different game … or IS it?
- Cut a hidden compartment into the pages of an old book (or use an actual book safe).
- Build a LEGO scene, such as a house, and put something inside it.
- Slice an opening in the inner lining of an old backpack or briefcase. This is perfect for hiding documents and feels very 007.
- Get one of those fake rocks people hide keys in and … well, hide a key in it!
- Stash a small object in your TV remote control by removing the batteries from it.
- Hide little notes inside hazelnuts (fer realz!).
Under a desk. Use tape to affix something to the bottom of a desk or other piece of furniture.
Behind a painting. Tape something small to the back of a picture frame or to the wall behind it.
Inside the piano. Just make sure you don’t put anything heavy on the strings. You don’t want your roommate coming home and asking why the piano sounds like a bunch of angry cats!
In a secret compartment. Secret compartments are awesome. It’s a scientific fact.
Mark out-of-bounds areas until a task is completed
Since this isn’t a professional escape game, you can tape off areas and explain why the players can’t access them. This gives you tons of options for requiring creative problem solving to retrieve items from your out-of-bounds areas.
- A key that's 'stuck' behind a shower door, with a note saying Magically locked & won't open. Player's can immediately see that they need to find a way to get the keys without opening the door. If there's a magnet ominously left hanging from the key hook next to the front door it's quite clear what needs to happy.
- Block areas with police tap, or even masking tape, and attach a note saying how players can interact with it. For example, Quicksand pit. Can't be crossed without a surfboard.
Add fun with some party games
Remember those team building games you've done over the years? You can create an escape room puzzle by simply adding a flavorsome story and introducing the challenge.
Just set the game up and either narrate the story or stash a challenge card that explains what needs to be done somewhere in your game.
Here are some great ways to defeat foes (and amp up the energy at the end of your epic game!):
Lazer security maze
Make a string obstacle course like the laser detection systems in movies. Then it's a not-so-simple matter of getting through it.
To make it really tough, hang little bells on the pieces of string and make players go back and try again if they cause one to jingle.
Each player takes turns crossing the field blindfolded while receiving instructions from the other hallway.
The best locations, for this escape room puzzle, are a hallway or large mat with edges, so players know where the boundaries are.
You can download these cards in the Rebel Revolt escape kit.
Kids love an obstacle course - and you can make one yourself!
Set a Twister mat on the floor and challenge your players to cross it following your own creative rules. Alternatively, give players frisbees or beanbags and assign points for getting them to land on specific dots. Use your imagination to explain how this task fits in with your narrative.
Is it hot outside? Does your crew need a fun way to cool off? Maybe the final challenge in your game is to shoot down enemies (with water guns)! Or make it across the yard without getting doused by sprays of acid (intermittent lawn sprinkler). Or run through an obstacle course carrying precious alien eggs (water balloons).
Build a fort
If players can’t defeat a foe, maybe they need to protect themselves from one. Give players a collection of objects and a limited amount of time to build fortifications. Objects could be solo cups, marshmallows and pieces of spaghetti (uncooked), or playing cards.
Now Go Finish Your Game!
So, did this list inspire some brilliant ideas?
Are you ready to finish your game and offer your friends, coworkers, students, youth group, family, and team a delightful, challenging, unforgettable experience?
You’ve now completed the hardest part, so give yourself some much-deserved kudos. Then head on back to the step-by-step tutorial and finish your game!
What are you waiting for?
Go on then!