Escape rooms are wildly popular because they cross the barrier between theater, reality show, and real life. Players flex their wits to solve puzzles and gather evidence to solve a mystery or finish an exciting story. This allows them to experience suspenseful immersion, with no real risk of danger or injury, making it fun for all ages.
One challenge that escape room creators have is making puzzles that are challenging enough to provide ample suspense for the players without frustrating them with failure. Also, because escape rooms are most often completed by groups, there should be a fair number of puzzles that require group cooperation to solve. Here are 35 escape room puzzle ideas that can be mixed and matched to increase difficulty and variation.
Of course, this is a staple for every escape room scenario because objects can be hidden anywhere, and the hiding places are unique to each escape room and each object. Here are a few hiding places that you may not have considered, that you could use in your escape room design.
Make your players find a small blacklight flashlight. This flashlight can be used to reveal clues to objects hidden in the room. For instance, the blacklight can illuminate a small rune that reveals the loose floor board.
Players must use clues to find a hidden wall switch to turn on a clue-revealing light bulb. This light bulb could be a blacklight. For easy play, it can be switched on revealing a clue written on the wall in invisible blacklight paint.
To make it harder, the blacklight does not reveal anything at first. Players must leave the blacklight on, and then begin hunting for documents and objects in the room that have secret clues that are revealed in the blacklight.
This type of puzzle requires that one or more players provide electricity to power a puzzle console or the light to solve a puzzle. For example, a stationary bike could be used to provide power to a small light bulb by which other players solve a difficult puzzle. When the player stops pedaling the light goes out.
Alternatively, the puzzle itself is electronic, and powered by the stationary bicycle. For additional difficulty, the puzzle resets if the electricity feed stops, causing the entire group to lose time by starting over.
In this scenario, an old computer console sits in the room, but it will not boot up. Players must disable a weapon or power up a security system from this console. They find an old EPROM to install on the motherboard.
Alternatively, they are required to use an old boot disk and DOS operating system to work the computer. For most players, this is exciting ancient technology and very difficult to do. They will need a manual and some teamwork to boot the computer.
Obtain or make a sugar glass window or another object that must be broken to retrieve a clue from behind. Give the players an object suitable to safely break the glass. The players will see the obvious need to break the glass to obtain the clue or object, but it will be very difficult for most to bring themselves to do it.
Make the puzzle visible only in the mirror. Players have to place objects in a certain order to obtain a clue, but the order must be from the perspective of the mirror. This means that teamwork is needed for one person to view the activity in the mirror and give directions as team members work to solve the puzzle.
A piece of writing can be supplied with random-looking backward letters. These letters become clear when the piece of writing is viewed in the mirror. Many players will skip over the backward letters, aiming to get red herring clues from the writing.
Make a small room or closet that is big enough for only one player to fit inside. Inside this tiny room are the clues or steps needed to solve a larger puzzle that is outside this room.
The door must be shut to see the clues, so the player must communicate with other players using a speaking tube, walkie-talkies, or a tiny door flap.
This type of puzzle is good for linking two game rooms together. The two rooms are connected by a tunnel that is only large enough for a single player to pass through. The end of the tunnel passage has a puzzle that must be solved before the door of the tunnel unlocks, allowing single-file passage into the next large room.
You can make a single-player solved puzzle that resets after each failed attempt, or you can make a puzzle that must be solved by the group in turns. This type of solution could allow a single player to pass through at a time, or require that each person take a turn in the tunnel to build the puzzle solution before the door is unlocked to the next room.
A decorative mobile hanging in the room does not look like much until it is viewed from exactly the right angle. Then it makes a shape, letter, or number that is a linchpin clue to a puzzle, or even the final clue in the room.
Create a piece of wall art that can shapeshift revealing a subtle variation in the art that contains the needed clue.
This can be accomplished by simply creating overlapping strips that shift from left to right revealing two different pictures, or it can be done with rotating triangles that reveal three variations of the picture. A three variation piece of art could supply two clues, or a red herring and a real clue.
Still going with perspective clues, these clues could be scratched into a table or chair, on top or underneath, in such a way that the clue is only revealed when it is viewed from a certain angle.
The nice part about these types of clues is that often when something is made obvious when players enter the room, they immediately dismiss it as not being vital to the objective.
Begin with players inside a room seated on chairs. This could be done with a single player in a chair, or all the players seated around a table. This very act can conceal clues in the open because players automatically assume that the setting they are placed in can not be part of the game.
In this way, clues can be scratched on furniture in an obscure way, for instance, that players will ignore for a long time before going back to the initial starting place of the escape room and reanalyzing things that they have already seen.
Players encounter a large number of objects like marbles, coins, or stones. Various clues in the room make it plain that there is a certain marble, coin, or stone that is needed to solve a puzzle. The problem is, which one? There is no time to try them all.
Players must then find a UV light, or flip a UV switch on, that reveals a single coin, marble, or stone that is painted with blacklight paint, revealing the object that they need to solve the puzzle.
In this puzzle, the skeleton’s ribs are musical. They can be made of tuned metallic strips, or they can be electronic keys that are wired to a small speaker inside the skeleton. Players must find a piece of paper that describes a tune. This could be musical notes or picture tablature.
There are no instruments in the room, so they then have to discover that they must play the tune on the ribcage of the skeleton to solve a puzzle or uncover a clue.
Playing on common phobias is a great way to intensify the illusion of danger in an escape room. A very common phobia is spiders of all kinds. In this puzzle, the clue or object is visible hidden in the funnel of a spider’s web.
The spider is guarding the object. Players must figure out how to lure the spider away and reach in to get the object. Place a powerful magnet in the spider, and give players magnetized bugs or a more macabre object like a bat or rat that they can place in the web and use to “lure” the spider out of the way.
Players love mixing games and mad-scientist-style puzzles. Incorporate blacklight-sensitive dyes into your test tube puzzles. In this type of puzzle, one idea is that players must mix liquids to achieve a certain color to retrieve the correct number for a combination lock.
Another idea is that players must fill test tubes to a certain height to make them sound notes. Then they play the notes in the correct order to play a tune that unlocks a door containing a clue or object. Add some blacklight fun to this puzzle too.
There are shadows of objects on a shelf or table. Players must first locate the objects that would make such shadows in the room. Then they must place them in the right order and the right places on the table or shelf. Finally, they must position a light so that the shadows match exactly to discover a hidden clue.
This puzzle is reversed from shadow play. In this puzzle, there is a series of numbers visible on the wall. You have painted over certain numbers with blacklight paint. To make this puzzle even harder, players have two flashlights to use. A UV blacklight flashlight and a regular flashlight as well as various lamps and lights. Do not make it obvious that they need to use the blacklight to uncover the right numbers.
In this puzzle, the players must locate the proper objects in the room, place them in the correct order on the table or shelf, and then illuminate them with the blacklight so that the shadows fall in exactly the right spot. This causes the shadows to block out certain numbers, but also the flashlight reveals that only certain visible numbers are clues.
Players are given objects such as particular chairs, colored drinking glasses, or books with different titles. As they read through a diary or a letter, they read an entry describing a certain event that describes these certain objects being in a particular order. When they find these objects and place them in the right order they receive a clue or form a clue with the objects.
Require team members to work together to move a heavy object or piece of furniture to activate a pressure switch. This should not be excessively heavy or easy to drop, but heavy enough to require teamwork. For instance, a heavy sea chest with six sets of handles could be moved to a pressure switch on the floor that unlocks a secret floor compartment that had been hidden under the chest.
Provide a full bookcase of intriguing books. Too many to look through. Then provide a clue to a certain book title. Finally, provide a separate clue to a page or series of pages in the book.
When the player finds these pages they could discover underlined letters that spell another clue, blacklight paint letters that reveal a clue, or a slip of paper that leads to other clues in different books.
Another idea would be to have one book hold the letter clues to the title of a separate book. When the player pulls the second book it releases a trigger that allows the bookcase to be pulled back, revealing a hidden safe, tunnel passage, or another puzzle behind the bookcase.
Finally, the bookcase could swing out to reveal nothing but an ordinary-looking ventilation cover. Players must unscrew the ventilation cover and remove it to reveal an object or clue.
Put a very light layer of oil on your finger. Write a clue on a windowpane or mirror. This could be numbers, letters, or a rune. Players will reveal the clue by steaming up the glass by simply blowing on the glass.
These types of puzzles can be incorporated into artwork that is on the walls of the room. These puzzles usually contain the numbers needed to solve a combination lock, in no particular order. For example, the picture could be a variety of jelly beans, various colors of fish, or a series of classic cars that, when counted, reveal combination lock numbers.
This type of puzzle is great to use when you are on a budget because it can be adapted to any style of escape room, using runes or objects that fit with the theme of the room. Also, you can simply find a large object poster that will work, frame it, and hang it up, then set your combination lock to work with the numbers on the poster.
This type of puzzle requires that players retrieve objects that have been lost or dropped out of reach. For instance, an iron key that is needed to unlock a door. Players must construct a pole or find a string that is long enough, and attach a magnetic end to retrieve the key and unlock the door.
Players must put together a puzzle to reveal a clue. To make this more difficult, the clue is on the back of the pieces. Provide a glass table for assembling the puzzle. When players finish the puzzle and view it from underneath, they see the clue on the back.
Escape rooms often do not provide enough time for players to solve a jigsaw puzzle. Instead, provide a tangram that must be put together in a certain shape and then viewed from underneath to reveal the clue or combination.
In this type of puzzle, the players find keys everywhere. Too many keys. They have two or three locks, but dozens of keys. Too many to try by trial and error. This puzzle is especially good if you reserve it until the end when they are nearly out of time.
The correct key must be identified by matching it to a tracing found elsewhere, or matching it to a rune that was found earlier in the gameplay. The correct key can be narrowed down faster if the style of the key is pronounced, or it is an unusual size.
This can be done in two ways. Firstly, an old radio can be playing softly in the background. Players will ignore this radio. You can set it up to play a loop that contains clues such as keywords, numbers, or compass directions disguised as news stories or written into song lyrics.
Alternately, the radio can be broken, and players must reassemble it in some way to get it to turn on and begin giving them the needed clues.
Depending on the theme of your escape room, you can create or purchase a simple two-ring decoding ring or a stone with a ring around it. Players rotate the rings to match two given symbols, which gives them the code needed to decipher the rest of the message.
As players work through the room, they hear tapping. It is very quiet at first, but it gets louder. They receive clues that enable them to unlock a morse codebook to solve the code and get the clue.
Alternatively, they trigger a switch that activates a morse code tapping loop. If you have the funds and electrical know-how, then set up a ghostly telegraph machine in the room. Let the players trigger it so it taps a ghostly message.
Give players a tune that they must recreate on a piano in the room to unlock a clue. To make this more difficult, provide the tune on an object that they must first get in working order, such as winding up a broken music box, to hear the correct tune.
RFID sensor tags can step up your puzzles to the next level, with minimal effort once you get them set up. This technology allows you to take very ordinary objects and make them into puzzles that seem magical for users.
For instance, you can use RFID tags to create puzzles where objects such as vases must be placed in a certain order to trigger a sound clue or open a latched door.
Another idea is to place an RFID lock onto an invisible door puzzle box, for example. When the player places the right shell onto the box, the invisible door pops open.
These are great team play puzzles because the boards can be made very large. They move on three axes, making play very tricky. The labyrinth can be played with a heavy steel ball that drops onto a latch popping open a door underneath the labyrinth, revealing an object.
Use multiple pressure switches throughout the room that must be pressed and held in the correct order to activate a switch. For groups with many players, this can all be done with bodyweight. For groups with fewer players, provide objects that are heavy enough to trigger the switches and can be moved around to complete the puzzle.
Straight from the spy action movies, this puzzle will be relatively quick and easy to solve but is guaranteed to deliver delight to all players. Set up a series of laser lights and mirrors. This is a great first puzzle and can be made relatively simple to boost confidence for players.
Players must figure out how to use the mirrors to keep the laser beams connected to the receivers, or an alarm will sound. For even more fun, provide a small bag of dusting powder to let them illuminate the web of beams.
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