Escape rooms have been popular for a while now. They began to open in fixed locations in Asian countries, then spread to North America and Europe. The physical game involves players solving a series of riddles, puzzles, and combination locks using clues, hints, and objects to reach the final objective. In most cases that is to escape the room, hence the name of the game. There is a time limit to the game, usually 60 minutes. Themes are also a large part of the game. Some of the most popular are dungeons, cells, hospitals, and spaceships. All the puzzles, locks, and riddles follow the theme of the room as well.
Escape rooms began as an online virtual game, where clicks revealed hidden clues. They have also recently entered the educational realm as Break Out EDU. This version combines the clue solving aspect of Escape Rooms, but infuses the game with curriculum content. The game is basically a series of boxes and locks, but it allows teachers to design the game mechanics around a particular subject. This game doesn't neccesarily require the atmospherical aspect that the Escape Room does. An Escape Room surrounds the players in the theme and connects them to the real world. Break Out EDU game comes also in a digital format. Here again, the digital game lacks the total atmospheric quality of the physical game
The benefits of Escape Rooms for students are numerous. Even without the direct connection to a curriculum through subject based questions, the game reinforces skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. By keeping the focus on physical objects and their connections that involve numbers, colors, and codes, the game requires students to use fast pace cognitive thinking.
My Own Experience
Ironically, putting an escape room together for my students involved many of those same skills that I was interested in reinforcing in them. I found myself problem solving a lot. I needed to set up at least 2 escape rooms for students to experience in groups of 7-10 students at a time for the entire school. I couldn’t use a classroom as the escape room itself because they would all be in use at that same time. However, I needed the containment that four walls could give me.
To solve this problem, I needed a temperary structure that could hold the game. I thought of using a tent. I knew I could rent them relatively cheaply and easily. I also knew I could order them with "walls" on all four sides with an opening (slit) on one side. I could also have them set up inside so I wouldn’t have to deal with rain, which was constant at the time.
With the problem of "where and how" solved, the problem of "what" was next, as in what would the theme be if I used tents? Safari would be the natural choice. I easily wrote a narrative that would tie it all together. It involved a safari expedition in British colonial India. As the story goes, the main character ,Monty, went into town to purchase more supplies, but has forgotten his safe key. The object of the game then becomes to find the key for him. This narrative is also a good opportunity for a wide variety of lessons in geography, history, and even science.
The Escape Flow
The only thing left was to work out the series of clues, riddles and locks that I call the "escape flow.” I set up an escape flow that would involve colors, numbers, riddles, and even a decypher. I worked out how each would lead into the other by sketching out the flow. It revolved around three lock boxes, with the last one holding the final key that would let the players escape. Many searches on Amazon led me to many items that gave me options in how to deliver the clues. Items that were included gave players clues in the form of colors, numbers, letters, and codes.
Escape Flow Sketch:
This is the flow in list form:
1. Eggs give the players number and colors, each egg has a specific number and color inside.
2. Plant pot has colored stripes that give the sequence of numbers for the number combination lock. The colors and numbers in each egg correspond to the stripes.
3. Using the above eggs and stripes on the plant base, the players will be able to open the combination lock on the box. In the box, they will find the UV flashlight and the note with instructions on how to use the decipher (written to fit the theme)
4. The UV light can be used on the letter they will find sticking slightly out of the pages of a book. The light will highlight the word "RISK" in the letter.
5. "RISK" will open the word lock on the second box. That box contains the decipher and a riddle that will direct them to look for letters that they will use on the decipher. Those letters are on the corner of the box. Once they decode those letters on the decipher, they will get the 3 number code that will open the last box.
6. The last box is a book safe that they will find among other real books. Once open, they will find the key with the note that congratulates them for winning the game!
The Letters & Notes
The "RISK" letter
The decipher instructions note
The decipher code riddle note
This being a game that requires the players to become immersed in the atmosphere of the theme, decorations play a huge part of it. Before you buy anything, first see what you have at home, or what you can borrow from family and friends. Googling "safari" rooms can give you lots of ideas on what might be in a safari tent. Avoid using kitschy decor meant for the home, and focus on what would be used in Colonial India.
I had to deal with elaborate carpeting because I set up the rooms in a banquet hall my school has access to. Obviously, that is not something you will find on safari, so I had to mask it in order to keep within the theme. If you're setting the tent outside, you needn't worry about this. A grassy field serves as the perfect flooring. If you have the same issue I did, then consider buying a 8X8 carpet of faux grass. That will run you about $40 to $50 dollars. I had budget constraints, so I purchased a really low pile cheap grey rug from Home Depot for about $20. It only measured 6X8, but it did the job.
Sounds & Music
Audio is an important part of setting the theme and mood of the room. In my case it involved playing jungle sounds. I simply downloaded one of the many Youtube videos available on the site that gave me the sounds I wanted. The videos go from 1 to 12 hours in length. I downloaded the video instead of playing it from the site because I didn't have internet access at the location. I just connected my laptop to speakers to get great atmospheric sound and kept all the equipment out of sight behind the tent.
Here is the video I used for the audio:
Rules are important in any game. In Escape Rooms, this is particularly important especially if its the player's first time. It's important to stress that this is not "hide and go seek" rather, its a problem solving exercise. Emphasize that there is no need to lift heavy objects. Clues should be accessible. They could be hidden under objects or tucked amongst them, but they should be able to get to them with little effort.
I posted this sign (poster size) outside the tent and made sure I reviewed it with them before they entered. It's always best to get across your expectations and what they can expect from the game.
Here is a gallery of pictures I took of one of the rooms and then a short video: