Lock, Stock & barricade.
Nothing says Escape Room better than a good ol' fashion steel door with keypad entry. However, unless you're Batman, you probably don't have one guarding your washing machine...
That's ok, we can't all be Batman.
Instead, just realise your mates will use their imagination to fill in the blanks. This means you'll need to design your escape game with a strong theme and storyline and explain it at the beginning.
For example, in a fantasy escape room, a simple combination padlock could be a Magic circle that will teleport the team home again.
It will require some creativity and imagination but remember you're not making a big $$ game as a business - you're just chilling with mates or trying something fresh for team building
Bike chain keypad
The easiest number padlock you can do is draping a bike chain around a door handle.
Sure. It's not the most authentic, but remember this is a party for mates, not a business.
Just add authenticity with a written label or reference how it fits into your escape room theme during the intro.
Bike chain lock box
This trick turns any container into a locked chest. Again, add some authenticity using a label or reference the chest in your story.
The combination can be numbers or letters, so they bring a lot of flexibility.
Just don't be cruel and tie your toilet seat shut until your mates solve it...
2nd hand briefcase
Briefcases fit into so many escape room themes. You'll need to hunt through a few 2nd hand stores but it's totally worth it.
Just ensure the key, or inbuilt combination lock, work before buying.
Don't worry if it's not that sturdy. Simply tell your mates not to force puzzles open.
Old school classic
One of the most versatile puzzles in any home escape room.
Some come with numbers, others letters, still others even have a key as a secondary means of opening.
Outdoor lock box
Designed to store a front door key, you might have seen these locked around a fence.
I like them as a DIY escape puzzle because they feel like a combination safe.
Phone lock screen
You can turn any phone into a combination safe by changing the passcode. Your puzzle can be a traditional number sequence or a pattern that shows the order.
A great example of a logically connected puzzle would be an old-school landline phone somewhere in the room like this.
All chained up
A $10 length of chain, from a hardware store, gives you heaps of options for your padlocks. For example,
- Locking 2 sliding doors.
- Anchoring an object that needs to be weighed using kitchen scales. Players will need to release it before it's usable.
Don't let a lack of fancy hardware limit your creativity. You can turn any puzzle into a lock. This one's from Escape Room Z and takes players to a website where they enter a passphrase.
Just make your puzzle and hook it over a door along with a note that it's locked until solved.
Trust me. Mates will love it.
Umm.. Door key?
This might seem obvious but it's super easy to forget: your house already has lockable doors!
Just grab the key and make it a reward for solving another puzzle.
Is simple. Is good.
Grab a cheap safe
Ok, so this one costs more than 10 bucks but it's super cool.
For about $50 you can get a safe with a keypad.
They not only add epic mojo but can be painted, chalked, or drawn on to make into an all-in-one puzzle.
Matrix Black Cat Puzzles
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 your brain trips over until players realize and yell out 'Aha!;.
They work best for:
- Short answers like padlock combinations.
- Hiding something in a very difficult location because players will inspect the strange object in detail.
- Patterns or a specific sequence.
Make Something 'Not Belong'
You can draw attention to something important by just making something not below. It's like a sign saying Look at me.
The kitchen table example looks normal until you see 3 chopsticks on a plate. If players spend longer looking at it they'll notice it spells ONE.
What you draw attention to is up to you:
- A box with a hidden compartment that might be missed.
- Scratch a diagram, sequence or code on the bottom of an object.
- Highlight a particular spatial layout that spans the entire room, like a larger version of the kitchen table puzzle.
Rearrange a Unique picture
Divide a completed clue into a few different images and hang them in in the wrong order. Once players recreate the picture they'll see the completed puzzle like in the picture.
This puzzle's 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.
Rearrange A Know Sequence
You can totally trip people's brings out by messing with the order of a known sequence.
It draws attention to objects and can reveal an answer when sorted again. Such as:
- Swapping keyboard keys. Just pry the keys off with a knife and put them back in the wrong order.
- A publications title on a traditional medium, like the New York Times written as NWE ORYK IMSET, can be easier to solve and result in a pattern of some kind.
- 6 dice that all have different sides scratched off (1-6). When placed in the correct order they reveal a letter or color on the reverse side.
Just ensure you use something that's mega well known to support different cultures, ages, and interests.
Create a lying photo
Include a photo of your setup 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.
Download a printable escape kit:
Ciphers, Codes, & Cracking
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.
This means you'll either want to use the easier ciphers below or make and basic and hard version:
- The basic version will be found first and introduces 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.
I'd still recommend one of the easy ones below for most Escape Rooms:
Substitution cipher (easy)
These ciphers are super common in escape games because they connect two different objects for one goal, and are unsolvable without players making the connection.
In effect, you're making a new alphabet.
To make the message readable, players use a look-up table showing which symbol represents what. For this reason, ensure the message and lookup table logically connected, such as a hammer and toolbox.
Some common examples include:
- Morse code
- Egyptian hieroglyphics
- Random symbols like a Pigpen cipher.
- Here's some more.
Substitution Cipher Variant: Whole words
Translating individual letters long message gets excruciatingly tedious. Fast.. This variant of substitution ciphers swaps out whole words for symbols. are often better because they feel less tedious and often don't need to be completely solved before players can work out what to do next.
Instead, try this variant of the substitution cipher which swaps out whole words for symbols. Players will feel like they're making faster progress and will sometimes be able to continue before they translate the entire message.
Some good options:
- Pictures: Use country flags or pictures of fruit to represent whole words.
- Patterns: A sequence of colors, shapes, or sizes works great. These can take time for players to sort through the lookup table; like in the light bulbs pic.
Hidden Sequence Cipher
Just hide something in plain sight.
Just take a message or clue, and spread it out across a bigger body of text. In this example, from Hack the Room, all the letters just need to be appended to form a sentence.
Other easy ideas are:
- Underline letters in a newspaper article which form a sentence when combined.
- Write a message backwards, that's readable in a mirror. This puzzle's super common in escape rooms so classify it as an easy challenge that supports a bigger one.
- The first letter of each word in a sentence. In the prior line, this rule creates TFLOEWIAS. As you can see, this takes some wordsmithing.
- Follow a number sequence like 2, 4, 6, 8, which you can give to players as a clue. In this sentence, that would be OWECWIAC (again, you'll need to do some wordsmithing)
- Swap two letters in random words that players highlight. When they combine these together they get a phrase.
Caesar cipher (easy)
The classic A=1, B=2 cipher is too easy, unless you're designing and escape room for kids.
So, go one level harder and make a Caesar Cipher instead. This is where the alphabet is 'shifted' left a certain number of character.
For example, with a Shift of 1 the letter B would be replaced with D like in the bottom row of the picture above.
Book code (hard)
Book codes are caked in so much old-school awesomeness they're practically moldy! The resulting ciphertext just looks like a random miss-match of numbers and without the original text is literally unbreakable!
All you have to do is replace each word in your message with the number that corresponds to that position in your book.
Vigenere Cipher (Super hard)
This code's a great puzzle for the Master Challenge in your escape room. It's not easy to understand but if the players can work it out it's epic fun!
We're going to use a grid of 26 different caesar ciphers and look up XY coordinates on that grid to encode our text. It's kinda like playing that board game Battleships where you destroy your opponents ships by guessing X and Y coordinates.
Here's a guide, and template, to make a Vigenere Cipher.
You either love these or hate them.
If they're not your thing, just skip down to the impossible boxes below. Otherwise here's some ways to turn them into easy escape room puzzles:
- Attach a key to one of the pieces and tie them to something fixed. When players separate the parts they can use the key in a locked door. If your puzzle doesn't fit a key, just tie it to one of the parts using string and a note saying 'Can't use until separate.' After all, you're doing this for mates, not as an escape business.
- Use the weight of one of the pieces as a passcode or combination. Just leave the combined puzzle on some digital kitchen scales next to the lock. Players will get the idea.
- Invent a story and expect players to use some imagination. For example, Separate these to open the portal. A simple note, with an optional prop, is all that's required, and it gives you a super easy DIY puzzle.
Or DIY an Impossible box
A box that doesn't open is one of the more fun (and possibly frustrating) puzzle ideas for any escape room.
But if you don't make them too hard, or too easy, they're super fun! You'll probably need to buy these unless you're good with woodwork or Lego.
Since puzzle boxes require no external objects to solve they'll always be 1 player that just keeps trying until they get it. Use this to your advantage by placing the missing piece of another puzzle inside.
Party games & challenges
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 then either narrate the story or stash a Challange card that explains what needs to be done somewhere in your game. Here are some fun team puzzles:
Make a string obstacle course like the laser detection systems in movies. Then it's a not-so-simple matter of getting through it.
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 hall way or large mat with edges, so players know what's involved.
You can download these cards in the Rebel Revolt escape kit.
Tech, Gadgets & Sci-fi
You don't have to limit your escape room to being non-digital just because it's not on your iPad. Here are some super easy ways to add epic intrigue and electrifying mystery:
Putting a digital 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 that gives a clue or puzzle (you can make one easily using the voice recorder on your phone).
- A short video showing a corner of the room that the players are in. However, it shows 1 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 section of. To view it players will need to look at the file properties so give them a hint to point them in the right direction.
Fix the Fusebox
All those switches in your fuse box control different rooms in your house. This allows you to have an electric device, that isn't working, as part of a multi-stage puzzle.
Make a puzzle that requires a particular electrical device to be working like a laptop. Leave the puzzle, or clue, on the laptop and let the battery totally drain.
Next, plug it into the power socket to charge but turn that power point off using your fuse box.
This way it won't turn on until players solve the initial puzzle so leave a clue, like blood drops, that guides them there.
Leave an online clue
Imagine your players getting their phone out and going to a website that you made just to give them a clue. Sound too hard? Don't worry, it's easy.
You can make a free website in 10 minutes using a service called Blogger. It's made by Google and as easy to set up as an email account.
Just log in, create a new page, and add your clue there. Here's an example of one that starts off a date night escape adventure.
Some alternatives include making a YouTube video, sending players to an online tool that solves a particular cipher type, or linking to a Facebook post. Whichever tech you choose make it easy for players to access by using making a QR code (see the next puzzle).
QR code? Whhaatt?
It's one of those square pictures you see on the back of sauce bottles that no-one uses. They are totally day to day but are super epic for designing your own escape game.
Basically, they can link to anything online which makes them great for escape puzzles. You can cut them into puzzle pieces, hide them under objects, or take players to a Youtube video. For example, the QR code above is from the Escape Room Z kit and takes players to an online safe they try to crack.
Also, they're just heaps easier to use than typing in a long website URL.
Make a Minecraft puzzle
The Minecraft game allows you to make, well, anything...
Including escape room puzzles:
- Simple: a sequence of colors, words written on a wall, or pattern made from different sized block piles.
- Advanced: make a vault, with 'password' entry like in the video below.
- Insane: craft a whole puzzle room that augments your real life escape room like this one.
Here's a good example.
Make secret compartments
These can be one of the best 'aha' moments in your escape room.
They can also be the most frustrating stuck point ever created.
So, leave a vague hint that points players towards your if your secret compartment. Something like:
- I'm orange on the outside, hidden on the inside
- Bang 'dem nuts!
- Roses are red, Violets are blue, there's something stashed with flowers too.
Some other easy DIY hidden boxes are:
- Make a hidden compartment inside a book, or grab one of these pre-made ones that come with a bonus key to open.
- Make a small LEGO scene, such as a house, and put something inside the building.
- Slice an opening in the inner lining of an old backpack or briefcase. This is perfect for hiding documents and feels very 007.
- Stash a small object in your TV remote control by removing the batteries from it. A great clue is leaving the remote in a prominent place, so players know it's important. Then, leave a clue that they need to turn the TV on. When they check the batteries in the remote they'll find the object by accident.
Shadow cast puzzle
paintings in colour order
dice with a clue of 'opposite'