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Escape Room 101: How to Solve Your First Locked Room Puzzle Game

Escape Rooms are popping up all over. Halifax has four, and Enter the Bunker is bringing the wildly popular interactive experience to Colchester County. Escape Rooms have become a staple group activity, up there with dancing, bowling, and board games in the night-out roster. With our War Games Escape Rooms NOW OPEN, we thought it was a good time to give our regular readers a few tips.

But first:

What are escape rooms?

An escape room (also known as a trapped room game, or a puzzle room, or a room escape game) is an interactive experience where the players solve clues in order to reach a goal in a set amount of time. The standard goal is “escape the room” – hence esape rooms! – but with so many creative minds in the business, the goals can be anything from “locate the secret treasure” to “save the world from the zombie virus.” The key is the time trial element. Usually a game lasts up to one hour – make it out in 60 minutes or less, and you win! But take too long, and you’re never seen again!

light leaks through a door, open just a crack

We’re just kidding.


You will never actually be locked in our escape rooms (some rooms have locked patrons inside for extra motivation, but that practice is generally frowned upon for safety reasons). The doors close, but we will never bolt them shut on you. You can leave any time you like! But trust us: you won’t want to.


Before the rooms

Before you enter you’ll be briefed on a few things, including the storyline. What makes an escape room truly immersive is the plot. You won’t be thrown into a set with no context – we’ll fill you in on who you are, what you want to accomplish, and how long you have to get it.


For example, you might be informed that you are a group of intrepid detective adventurers who travel the country in your van looking for mysteries to solve, when you stumble across an old mansion locals claim is haunted! Your goal is to find out whether the mansion is really haunted, or if it’s someone getting into mischief

a single light on the second story of a distant house illuminates thick fog in a dark forest

Then the games begin

Once you enter the room, the clock starts, and the puzzling begins. Using just what’s available in the room, you have to solve a series of puzzles and follow clues, collecting keys and other pieces to unlock more clues and keys, eventually locating the final puzzle and – hopefully – getting out. If you fail, your team is defeated by the scary ghost. If you win, you unmask the villain and prove it was old man Jenkins all along!

a creepy clown in handcuffs
I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you puzzling kids!

So now that you know what an Escape Room is, here are five tips to help you solve your first puzzles like a pro.

5. Everything you need is in the room

Plenty of people go into escape rooms thinking they’re going to need to know all kinds of trivia. What year was Canada founded? When did the Berlin wall come down? How do you say “watercress” in Morse code? How do you tie a devil’s tongue knot?

a ball of twine
What do you mean that's not a real knot?? Who's Lemony Snicket???

Relax. Any good escape room will provide you with all you need to solve the puzzles and escape. The only thing we ask is that you investigate every corner, and use your brain to recognize some patterns and make logical conclusions.


If you notice something that seems like you would need to know, say, Braille, or sign language, to solve it, look around. There’s bound to be another part of this puzzle, like a legend or a cypher key, to help you crack the code.


4. Don't force it

You will never have to force anything in an escape room. So if you find something you think is part of a clue, but it isn’t coming apart, leave it. It’s probably a red herring, or even part of the building. If you do force something you risk damaging the room or props, not to mention you’re wasting your precious time!


Most game masters will let you know if there’s something in the room that can get a bit sticky. Trust your game master to help you through those parts of the puzzles. It’s their job!


3. Know your locks

Escape rooms can use a lot of different locks. Pay attention before your game so you recognize how to operate all of them. Your game master will likely run you through a demonstration of the locks you’ll find in the room and how they operate.  

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different kinds of locks you may encounter:

classic vertical combination lock
Classic combination locks
dial combination lock
Dial combination locks
classic padlock and key
Classic key locks
deadbolt lock
magnetic lock
Mag locks
directional lock
Directional locks
letter combination lock
Letter combination locks
alphanumeric combination lock
Alphanumeric locks
keypad on door
Key pads

And more!

The best thing about escape rooms is that they are infinitely creative! The set design can be on par with Disney World experiences. Anything could be part of a puzzle, and anything could be interactive. Have you pulled every book off the shelf yet? One could open a secret entrance! There could also be locks you’ve never even heard of, let alone seen.

If you’re having trouble with a lock, and you’re sure you have the right combination, but it just won’t open, don’t panic. And don’t force it! Make sure all the dials are aligned correctly to the notch, and make sure you’re resetting the lock properly, if need be. If that doesn’t work, you probably have the wrong combination. It happens!


2. Investigate everything

If it’s your first time in an escape room, you might understandably be a bit hesitant to really get into every corner. After all, we’ve already told you not to force anything! You don’t want to break anything!

While some escape rooms can look like a person’s private home, it’s important not to be shy. Pick things up! Leaf through those books and albums! What’s under the coffee cup? What’s in it? Open every drawer, every cupboard, every box, chest, and closet you come across. Look over, under, in, and behind.

Get into it!


1. Don't take it too seriously

At the end of the day, this is a game ,nothing more. 

The number one problem we see with first-time players is they’re too smart. Relax! It’s great to be immersed in the game, we work very hard as designers and writers to make the experience so engaging you forget it isn’t real, but the stakes aren’t so high. You don’t need to panic!

a tense woman grimaces at a room full of complex looking machinery
Deep breaths

A lot of players get into their own head, overthinking every move, trying to predict what will happen 3, 4 steps down the line. While there is a lot of clever thinking and puzzle solving in an escape room, it isn’t the same as a game of chess. You aren’t playing alone! So work together with your teammates, communicate, and don’t be afraid to just try something. The solution could be simpler than you think.


Now that we’ve given you these five key hints, get out there and get puzzling! Our escape rooms are opening soon – stay tuned for the exact dates. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram and be the first to know when our rooms open to the public.

See you all next week! 


escape room 101: everything you need to know to solve your first puzzle escape game!
USA and USSR flags

War Games Escape Rooms

Can you keep the Cold War from heating up? 

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© Enter the Bunker, 2019

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