How to Beat an Escape Room: Everything You Need to Know
This is the ULTIMATE escape room guide. Level up your problem-solving skills and crush every escape room in your path by following these tried-and-true tips for a sure-fire win!
So, you’ve just died in your local escape room. You tried, but time ran out, the buzzer sounded, and the serial killer added you to his trophy case. You are left wondering how to beat an escape room.
Or maybe you escaped by the skin of your teeth. You could hear the mummy’s steps close behind but found the right code and escaped to hearty congratulations from the gamemaster. You toasted yourself after, before realizing you failed to make the top ten list.
Or maybe you just booked your first escape room (need help finding an escape room near you? Read this guide). You want to look good in front of your friends. You ask Siri for help beating the escape room near you, and she refers you to Google. You scour the web for the Holy Grail of escape room guides and end up here.
How Do You Win an Escape Room? Let Us Show You:
We enlisted the help of some of history’s most accomplished adventurers to show you how to win an escape room. Meet Joan, Huck, Alice, and Holmes, your guides to learning how to escape an escape room.
Follow their exploits step by step, from choosing their adventure through to planning the afterparty. Along the way, watch out for Joan's winning escape room tips.
Those Who Fail To Prepare, Prepare to Fail - Choose Your Team Wisely
Joan decided that the arc of her life would benefit from a smaller scale but intense campaign - an escape room! But she couldn't do this alone, she needed a crack-team she could rely on.
When planning out how to escape an escape room, the first essential step is always to look at your team. What sort of people do you work well with? Which of your friends thrives under pressure? Will your brother wet himself (again) if a zombie lunges out at him?
As Joan assembled her dossier of candidates, she paid close attention to these sorts of details:
First, all team members need to communicate well. Joan needed partners who would listen to each other and build off of the information received. Thus, they need to accept input well and clearly state why a proposed idea may take them down the wrong path.
Second, she needed people with different strengths. Just as her armies had archers, infantry, and artillery, she needed people with different types of problem-solving skills. All need insight and the ability to think clearly through problems but should approach problems in different ways. The ability to approach problems differently increases the odds of defeating all types of traps found in escape rooms (such as these devious puzzles!)
Third, they must work and play well together. Joan knew that if she wanted to win an escape room, she did not want two people on her team competing for the glory. She needed people who, while bringing different qualities to the team, would place the team’s success above their own. With only 60 minutes to successfully escape, any such disagreements significantly reduce the odds of success.
The Final Team:
With these ideas in mind, Joan whittled down her list. She finally decided upon three specialists, bringing their team to an ideal size of four. Too many more, and communication begins to get garbled and lengthy. Too fewer, and the lack of mental diversity starts becoming a serious weakness.
First, she chose Huck, whose guile and ability to escape stressful situations makes him an excellent choice.
Next, she chose Alice, who can make sense of illogical and tricky riddles.
Finally, she chose Holmes, a puzzle solver with an unequalled mind.
How to Prepare Physically - Squats and Crunches Not Required
Joan sent an email to her team the day before the big event. She was kind enough to allow us to reproduce it here verbatim:
Huck, Alice, and Holmes:
I can’t wait for tomorrow’s adventure. The descent into the Lost Mummy’s tomb will test our wits, nerves, and cohesiveness. I believe that we will function as one unit, overcome the obstacles, and find the clues that will allow us to avoid a lifetime of confinement. I offer a few final thoughts on preparing for glory.
Do not drink before the challenge. Huck, I realize that this may be challenging for you. However, alcohol dulls your wits, reducing the odds that we can successfully navigate the many puzzles we encounter. Only 40% escape this room alive, and many only with significant penalties. On a final word, the escape room will not allow any intoxicated players, further reducing our odds of successfully escaping.
Eat only lightly before the escape room. I booked us a table at Newt’s Wings, Dings, and Things after we finish. We can consume food and drinks aplenty there before waddling home. Overeating before the escape room will make you sleepy. Sleepy people exhibit reduced mental functioning, making it more challenging to solve the treacherous puzzles we will face. Failing to solve the puzzles will leave us in the mummy’s tomb, where your full belly will offer the mummy an enticing meal.
Dress appropriately. Remember that you will encounter cobwebs, dust, and possibly sand. Only wear clothes that are comfortable and wash well. Wings, Dings, and Things does not have an imposing dress code! I also recommend closed-toed shoes. If you have a regular watch - the old fashioned kind with hands - wear it. The escape room will not allow smartwatches, cell phones, or other devices capable of receiving a signal. Having an old fashioned wristwatch will help us track the time remaining to escape.
We start precisely at 7pm. Be there at 6:30pm to ensure no hassles with traffic. We will also need time to sign the required waivers and make a final trip to the loo. No restrooms exist in the escape room!
We know how to win an escape room. We can prevail over the traps that the mummy has set for us. Remember to think positive. Arrive ready to do your job, and we will escape in record time! And the sooner we defeat the escape room, the sooner we can make it to Wings, Dings, and Things!
Hey, Why Not Skip the Fuss? Play in Your Home Instead!
The Combatants Arrive
After releases are signed and valuables stowed in the locker, Joan, Huck, Holmes, and Alice sit down at a table. Ten minutes remain until the beginning of their quest.
(How long until the beginning of your quest? Let us help you get started).
Joan begins to brief the group on escape room strategy:
Joan: "Friends, if we want to ensure a swift victory, we must assign three important roles. First, we need a master of logistics. This person will be responsible for tracking all of the clues we find. We will bring the clues to you, where you will organise them, and make connections between the clues we have, and the puzzles we need to solve. You will also take charge of note-taking for the group, therefore, your handwriting will need to be neat and precise."
Alice: "I nominate Holmes. He's great at making sense of clues, so he'll be able to give us the information we need to solve tough puzzles. His handwriting is also really pretty."
Huck (chewing on a piece of straw): "Agreed. I can’t even read my own scratch. Holmes fits much better here."
Holmes: "I accept. I will endeavor to keep all information orderly and to connect you with the clues that you need."
Joan: "Huck, you’ll be the searcher. The searcher looks up and down, above and below, and anywhere a clue may hide. Pay attention to the rules at the beginning. Some things can’t or shouldn’t be moved, and you would waste your time. Bring anything you find to Holmes. Pay attention to the group discussions, so you will better understand what you need to find. And get that ridiculous piece of straw out of your mouth."
Huck (spitting straw onto the floor, to Joan’s disgust): "Alright, alright. Well, the searcher suits me just fine. I’ll have that room scoured and everything in front of Holmes before you can say Jolly Roger."
Joan: "Jolly Roger." [Huck snorts a laugh] "Now, I will be our group communicator. My role is to listen to what everyone is saying and coordinate our efforts. I'm not going to get deeply involved in the puzzles, instead, I'm going to focus on making sure that everyone has all the information they need to succeed. If you're not sure what's going on, come to me, and I'll fill you in."
Alice: "Sounds like a marvellous idea! You were born for that role... but... what about me?"
Joan: "Oh Alice, your imagination and creativity is our greatest asset. I don't want to pin you down with a specific role. Do whatever you need to. Help Huck search, work with Holmes to figure out clues, and solve puzzles you find in the room."
Alice: [starting to grin] "Alright, that sounds like fun! What's next?"
Joan: "Ok. In a couple of minutes, we will receive the intelligence briefing from the gamemaster. PAY ATTENTION! They will give us the background on the situation. It will likely contain our first clues."
"The briefing will also give us ground rules, things like where we can look and what is out of bounds. They will explain how to request help in the unlikely event that we need a clue or solution. If we are to beat the escape room, we need to take in every word of this briefing."
"Ask any questions you have in the briefing. Remember, there are no stupid questions, only people who feel stupid later for not asking questions! The briefing is our road map, our compass. As you examine the first clues, keep in mind what the gamemaster told us."
We now bring you delayed coverage of Joan and her team at work. Due to our agreement with the escape room, certain portions of the coverage are redacted.
Unfortunately, the briefing has been redacted to protect the secrets of this escape room (but you can read the thematic intro in our player guide). Fortunately, Holmes has agreed to write out his mental notes for us here in full.
"The briefing was full of flavor and charm to set the tone for the rest of the escape room. Cute, but an obvious distraction. The logical mind will filter out this facade and focus on the important information. From there, we can process the information and discover how to beat the escape room.
Mental note: Make sure to relay the relevant information to Huck. He'll probably get all wound up by the theme and forget to pay attention."
- "Our goal is to escape the Lost Mummy's tomb. Mental note: The Gamemaster mentioned that we have become lost in this tomb, so the final clue may be related to direction.
- No clues or puzzles will be hidden out of reach, so there is no need to climb on top of the furniture.
- Electrical outlets are out-of-bounds.
- Do not try and force open the props. If it doesn't move, it shouldn't move.
- Do not touch anything labelled with 'do not touch'. Mental note: keep an eye on Huck.
- Each key and clue is associated with a single puzzle. This means we will only use a clue once, so after a puzzle is solved I should discard the now irrelevant clue/key.
- We have three hints at our disposal, which we can call in via the in-room radio.
- The gamemaster mentioned our grandfather's previous work multiple times. Mental note: Keep an eye out for old writings like letters or diaries, it could be a clue."
The Game is Afoot!
The gamemaster locked the door and retreated to her observation post. She called out in a grand voice, “the Ancient Egyptian tomb lies before you. You have one hour to get in, find the Lost Mummy, and escape the tomb. Your time starts.... now!” The 60 minutes started. Holmes checked his pocket watch, noting a time of 7:04 p.m.
Huck Identifies the Main Goal
As an expert strategist, Joan realized the most important rule of an escape room: Identify your goal as quickly as possible. This helps focus the search (focusing down is a super-valuable strategy in competitive escape room games, like the one this youth group played).
She quickly looked around, then called over to her friends, “look for the exit door or the door to the next room. If we know our goal, we know what we need to achieve it, and we can avoid as many false trails as possible.”
Huck, the searcher, sprung to action. His keen eye spotted something almost immediately, "Hey! There's a secret door hidin' over here," he pointed to a discrete corner of the room. "But it looks like we'll need a four-digit code to unlock this thing..."
Alice nodded and instructed Huck to scour the room, then skipped over to explore a strange stone panel on the wall. As Holmes began inspecting the clues located by Huck, Joan filled him in on all the puzzles they had found around the room so far.
Alice’s Imagination Opens Doors
Holmes was right, the room did contain a number of loose diaries left by their adventuresome archeologist grandfather. Surely the 4-digit code had to be in there somewhere. His brain went into overdrive, "how old is this tomb? Judging by the architecture, it looked to be based around late 1300s BCE Egypt..."
In an instant, Holmes snapped his mind from the wild goose chase it was about to run on. No! The answer would be simple. Good escape room design dictates that everything they needed would be in this room with them. He was just missing something.
Meanwhile, Alice was distracted again, admiring the four pretty hieroglyphic tiles hanging on the wall. Suddenly, Joan's voice cut through her daydreams, "Remember team, we're looking for a 4-digit code." Hesitantly, Alice cocked her head and looked more closely at the hieroglyphics... what if they were more than just wall tiles? A small nudge confirmed that these tiles were loose, and could be easily removed.
Smiling, Alice skipped over and delivered the tiles to Holmes, who instantly connected the dots between these tiles and the strange stone panel on the opposite end of the room.
As they solved the puzzle, and the door swung open, Huck slapped Alice on the back, "Well I'll be! I thought those were just useless decorations!"
Alice winced, "Thanks, I'm used to thinking outside the box. It helps to look at things and think, 'what else could we do with that?' "
Leave No Stone, Bug, or Vial Unturned
As they descended the stairs into the next room, Joan turned to them and barked “loot this room. I see two obvious puzzles and a directional lock, and who knows what else is in here."
Joan realized that while red herrings may exist, every potential clue deserved scrutiny. “Huck,” she commanded, “you have an incredible gift for finding the most well-hidden items. We need you to search the room until you're sure you've cleared it of useful clues." She paused, glanced at Alice, then continued, "Listen for instructions from Alice. She may have information that lets us see new uses for items that we think are useless."
(As you search, keep an eye out for these sneaky hiding spots)
The group began turning over many of the loose items in the room. Rugs, chalices, and spellbooks were examined, opened, and flipped over. Holmes carefully organised their findings as the group scoured the room.
As they searched, Alice watched Huck snort in derision at an artistic wall-painting of hieroglyphics. Wanting to watch her friend's back, she hurried over to examine it herself. "Huck," she whispered excitedly, "did you notice that the hieroglyphics on this painting match the ones on these puzzle pieces?"
Huck broke into a bewildered smile, "Well darn Alice, you're right! Let's tell Joan and Holmes!"
Huck then reported that he had looked everywhere. “I’ve seen the underside of every table and every chair. I looked behind the doors and under every item in this room!" He pointed his finger in the air for emphasis, "You'll want to know that these jars have strange markings on the bottom. it may be a clue. The only place I skipped was the cabinet. It has a sticker that states ‘Not Part of the Game.’”
Organize, Organize, Organize!
Holmes knew that they needed to stay organized. With so many items in the room, failing to organize would lead them to drown in information. He also knew that they needed to discard used clues. Rarely would one item contain the answer to two puzzles.
He added the new clues to the previous pile, quickly realizing that one of the new clues opened a drawer in the main room. He popped open the drawer and began examining the contents. As he did, he handed Huck the old clue, telling him to add it to the 'discard pile' so that it would not confuse them later.
Joan approached Holmes and asked him to explain his thinking about the clues they had collected. Taking his advice, she informed the rest of the team of what they needed to achieve and assigned each person a puzzle to solve. Solving puzzles simultaneously ended up saving them a lot of time!
We don't want to spoil the rest of the room for you, so our coverage ends here. However, this mighty group escaped the Lost Mummy's tomb with 13 minutes and 22 seconds to spare. Victory is sweet!
Wings, Dings, and Things
After taking a proud picture in front of the escape room’s logo, the group walked joyfully into Wings, Dings, and Things. Here they ate, drank, and revelled in their victory for the remainder of the evening.
As the night grew longer, the tales grew taller. When Huck began describing how he had to scale Mt. Everest to find that last clue, Joan decided that it was time to take her full belly and waddle happily into the night.
Besides, he was chewing on straw again.
Joan’s Rules of Engagement - How to Beat an Escape Room Every Time
The next afternoon, still savoring the rush of victory, Joan sat down to write a congratulatory message to her crack-team. In it, she distilled the lessons learned from their adventure, telling them to keep the list handy. For now that they knew how to beat escape rooms, their next foray into an escape room would happen very soon. We reprint the vital part for you (leaving aside her sermons on Huck’s straw chewing).
"My fellow adventurers,
We will embark on our next adventure soon. We did not set a record for this room. But do not despair, not only did we have fun, but we can learn from these lessons to succeed in our next quest. Remember these precepts for any future escape rooms you enter:"
- Choose a strong team. The team should work well together and communicate well. Each should have strengths that the other does not. There should be only one leader (me).
- Delegate responsibilities. Know who will lead, who will search, who will communicate, and who will handle logistics.
- Be physically ready to go. Do not arrive drunk or buzzed. They may not let you in, and you will be useless if they do. Don’t overeat beforehand. You can feast after. Dress appropriately. You do not want to be held back by tight, overly-flowing, or uncomfortable clothing. At least one person needs a wrist or pocket watch.
- Be on time. Remember, you need to sign the waiver and visit the loo when you arrive.
- Arrive with a “can-do” attitude. Pessimism has no place in an escape room.
In the room:
- Listen to the briefing. Ask questions. Try to ferret out the clues you are being handed. These are free clues, earned before the clock starts.
- Identify the major goal of the room. Determine the best path to obtaining the clues you need to solve it. Remember, in a non-linear room, clues stay with you until used.
- Think outside the box. Use your imagination. While you do not need outside knowledge to prevail, you need to look at the information in different ways to determine how it works.
- When you arrive, look at everything in the room. Uncover what you can as quickly as you can.
- Make sure to follow in your teammates’ footsteps and double-check their search area. You may find a clue that they've missed in their rush.
- Look under and above everything. Escape room designers love to hide clues under things - tables, chairs, rugs, even the case you're trying to unlock! (Also make sure to check behind all the doors). If it is not marked out of the game, it is in the game. Don’t look in places marked out of bounds. This wastes time.
- Bring all clues to the logistics team member.
- Discard all previous clues. Leave used keys in locks, and all opened locks open.
- Never put anything in your pocket. Not only might you forget to use a valuable clue, but you could also leave the premises with a piece needed for the next game.
- Work on puzzles that suit your strengths. Let others work on those that do not fit your mindset.
- Unless it is the last puzzle, divide, and conquer. Having the whole team work on one puzzle is counterproductive.
- On the flipside, working in pairs often helps you solve a puzzle faster. Work with someone who has a different perspective. While great minds may think alike, different minds see all of the angles.
- Try everything you can think of short of breaking the puzzle open. Escape room designers love to surprise you with strange solutions and different puzzles. Seriously, you lose nothing by trying. If you think dancing like a chicken in front of the rooster portrait will open a secret door.... you may just be right!
- Talk. Tell everyone what you found.
- Listen. Your teammates are finding things too.
- Try to avoid loudly overtalking your teammates so that the communicator can hear all potentially useful information (plus, it's sort of hurtful when you get overtalked all the time).
When the puzzles stump you:
- Move on to something else. Let someone with a fresh perspective take over your puzzle. Unless it is the last clue, something else always needs solving.
- Ask for hints and solutions if you need them. The point is to escape. Most people need hints and solutions at some point in the game. It is no fun to spend 25 minutes on a clue and not win the game when a hint could have moved you past the puzzle in 5 minutes.
- Stay focused on the goal, and what you need in order to achieve the goal. This will help you find relevant clues and move you past red herrings.
- Keep moving forward.
Know your locks:
- Locks. Several different types exist, but these are the most common:
a. Combination locks - 3 or 4 numbers open it.
b. Word lock - 4 or 5 letters needed.
c. Dial lock - the one you used in P.E. 3 numbers needed, start by spinning clockwise.
d. Directional lock - you move it in the direction your clue suggests. Clear it by tapping the top direction twice.
e. Lockbox - Each number can be used once, and you can use them in any order.
- If you believe in your code, but cannot open the box, let someone else try. You may not be lining up the lock correctly or applying the proper pressure.
- You can always guess at the last number in a sequence, so long as you are comfortable that you have the sequence right.
Know your codes and ciphers:
- Morse code - often, the answer lies in the dots and dashes, but it can also be present in blinking lights or beeping sounds. Make sure to record these sequences.
- Don't miss the opportunity to spot Pigpen Cipher. It often looks like hieroglyphics or other strange markings.
- Groups of six dots could be a Braille key.
- People often forget that numbers make for simple code. Remember, the numbers from 1-26 could represent letters of the alphabet and vice versa.
Look for clues hidden in blocks of text:
- Bolded words or letters in a text may form a code.
- Capitalized letters may form a code, especially where they line up.
- The code may appear from determining the missing letters in a text.
- Check the first letter or word of each sentence or paragraph to see if a code exists.
Remember, nothing is quite what you expect it to be. Keep your mind and eyes open. Consider the possibilities. And above all, have fun, even when you don’t escape (which will never happen to our team)!
Yours in adventure,
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