Some of the most joyous moments in escape rooms come when the rules that had been previously established rules get shifted. Thinking back to the first time I had ever tried an escape room, the most exciting part of the whole room was when we opened the secret room in back. Seriously, that caused more joy than when we actually solved the puzzle.
There’s something exciting when you discover that the world you’ve found yourself in is bigger than you thought it was. Everything that came before still matters, but now you’re forced to look at it in a new light. It’s like a satisfying twist in a movie.
Of course, now that I’ve done a few escape rooms I’ve come to expect the second room. I’d be left a little deflated if it wasn’t there. You’d have to do something truly unexpected to get the same kind of glee again. Which is why I was so excited by the twist that Mink Ette came up with her “Rabbit hole” escape room in the lecture we watched this week (er, um… last week).
I found that so example so exciting because it was playing with the very nature of the rules of the game that everyone had agreed to. Everyone entered into the room with a certain explicit rules that they knew about escape rooms, as well as implicit rules about how to behave in a gaming environment. Don’t break things, don’t use the same clue more than once, don’t steal things from the space, those were all explicit rules of the game. Other rules, like that the game would be centered around one table, or that zip-tied astro-turf carpet around the legs of the table probably means you shouldn’t go under it, were more implicit.
When she directs the players to go under the table, the players found that the whole rules of the game had shifted. The artifice, conflict, and quantifiable outcomes stay the same while the rules shift ever so slightly. The magic circle didn’t disappear, it just had a different shape than previously thought.
I’m not totally sure that our mid-project twist has the same impact (and I’m not even sure that the players of the above-mentioned escape room found the twist as clever as I did), but I’m hoping we can do something unexpected. I’m hoping that, given our small space, players won’t expect the kind of two-tiered multi-linear path that we’re attempting here. Small things like sending in “stagehands” to change out clues while the players are in our time machine will hopefully add in an additional unexpected element: did they really come in and change the room around? I haven’t seen that in any escape room I’ve done.
Who knows how effective any of this will be, but being able to toy with people’s expectations is an exciting opportunity.
We were hoping to nail down the story and the fundamentals of how our puzzles will work. For the most part, we accomplished that this week. We know what the first half of our room will be, and we have some interesting puzzles for the second half. Unfortunately, we still don’t quite know how to end this thing.
One of the puzzles that we’re most excited about involves having newspaper stories appearing on a webpage. I wrote out the stories below, and the group made edits and posted them online. The stories will have hints for puzzles, and will help to tell the larger story of the room.
We also have some cool glasses with red-tinted lenses. When the glasses are put on, they will block out a set of numbers to reveal a code.
Our third puzzle for the first half of the room will be an academic paper that will have pieces highlighted, leading you to a clue. I think this is a fun, original way to deliver story and puzzles as well.
Which leads us to the first meta-puzzle. Each of the first three puzzles will unlock a physical piece which will fit into a box in the corner of the room. The pieces will each complete a circuit, and the time-machine sequence will start. We’re not totally sure how this will work yet, but we think that we might have the players pull a curtain around themselves which can be projected on. We can make cool sci-fi noises and the lights in the room can dim.
As this is happening, we can set the room for the second half. We’ll clean up whatever mess has been left, and plant new clues. The monitor with the newspaper will update.
After that, we’re still a little lost. We can give a new set of glasses that will reveal a different code (even if it’s from the same board), and the second newspaper story can lead to a clue hidden in a notebook.
Unfortunately, we still don’t quite have a satisfying end to the narrative. The goal here is to prevent the murder that’s been implied in the first half, but we don’t have a clever way to do that. We could possibly bring some sort of letter back with us warning the professor about what’s about to happen, but I don’t know exactly how that fits in with a puzzle room.
Tuesday 13 May, 2053
FAMED RESEARCHER REPORTED MISSING
Nobel-prize winning scientist Dr. Maria Sanchez was reported yesterday, according to her colleagues at the Mathematical Academy for Advancing Technology, a branch of the Institute for Corporate Research.
The head of the institute, Dr. Samwell Connors, gave a statement yesterday evening. “Of course, we are saddened by the loss of Dr. Sanchez. She was one of the world’s brilliant minds, and the world won’t forget her.”
When reminded by a reporter that Dr. Sanchez hadn’t been reported dead yet, Dr. Connors responded, “Yes, yes, of course. Uh… well, we’re certainly hoping she’ll turn up.”
Dr. Sanchez, who won a Nobel Prize for her pioneering work on the potential implications of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity for the possibility of time travel, had been working on a secretive project at the time of her disappearance.
Sanchez had been a vocal opponent of the recent hostile takeover of the Mathematical Academy for the Advancement of Technology by the Institute for Corporate Research. Authorities say that her disappearance does not appear to be related to her activism.
Friends had noted that Dr. Sanchez had been behaving strangely for the past few weeks. We talked to one neighbor, who noted “She had been screaming up and down the halls of our building at night. ‘Calcium and Lithium!’ she would scream. The whole night just ‘Calcium and Lithium!’ It was really annoying.”
At press time, none of her research team could be reached for comment.
Saturday 10 May, 2053
ELITE UNIVERSITY POISED FOR CORPORATE TAKEOVER
The Mathematical Academy for the Advancement of Technology, a long-standing elite public university, is now poised to become a branch of the Institute for Corporate Research. The controversial deal had been delayed pending a decision from the US Department of Education, which in recent years has adopted a controversial policy of allowing corporations to purchase universities.
“It’s a great day for ICR, and it’s a great day for America,” said Institute for Corporate Research CEO Samwell Connors at a press conference yesterday evening, “all students deserve a chance for a first-class education.” ICR has purchased over 50 universities in the past decade, and has garnered some controversy for raising tuition and claiming up to 80% of all graduates’ future earnings.
One of the most vocal opponents to the deal has been celebrated physicist Dr. Maria Sanchez. “I can never let them find it,” Dr. Sanchez was heard muttering in her office on Friday, adding “they’ll use it for evil. I’ll have to break it into pieces.” Sources have yet to confirm what that could possibly mean.
Last Sunday I went to an escape room. My roommate had some friends in from out of town, so we all went as a group. I didn’t know how familiar with escape rooms the rest of the crew was, so I figured I’d go with one that was of moderate difficulty, and not too scary. We settled on the Frankenstein room from Komnata quest.
The experience started with the four of us in a small section of the room with nearly all of the lights out. They had taken our phones at the door, so we couldn’t see the whole room. The only light source was coming from a switch near the bottom of the grate that was holding us in. Our first puzzle was literally turning on a light.
Which sounds basic, but it was honestly my favorite moment in the whole room. Once the lights turned on, I felt the limitations of the actual room. The room was decked out in steampunky décor, which felt appropriate enough for a Frankenstein story. His monster was lying down behind a glass case. As we found clues, we were able to activate switches for “head”, “body”, “arms” and “legs”, and each part moved as we through the switches. His eyes lit up as his head moved. It looked a bit like something from a Halloween store.
We wound up solving it in a little over a half an hour. Komnata quest had some scarier, more involved rooms, and I kind of which I had done one of those.