Part of the stress is that I had advertised two different escape rooms, but I didn't have either of them actually figured out all of the way until the Friday before they opened on Tuesday. Since I was only being paid for my time, and not for any materials, I set myself a budget of about $20 for the whole summer, and got to work. I'm pretty sure that I used less than that, but I would have needed a little more if I hadn't been able to use school resources for some of the things I did. Also, I used a reasonable amount of my down-time at work to figure this out before the summer started, which means that if you figured in the cost of my time as well, it would have been WAY over-budget-- but part of the reason I'm blogging about this is so that other people who think this sounds cool can do it without having to invest all that time.
This post will describe the escape room as the kids experienced it. The next post will go into more specifics about how I developed and implemented this escape room, with the hopes that my readers can implement these ideas for themselves if they so desire.
1. You enter the escape room
This is where I admit that I've never done a real escape room, though I have done a couple of escape room board games, which were pretty fun. But even in my ignorance, I am aware of the differences between this and a "real" escape room. For one thing, neither of my scenarios involves actually escaping from anywhere-- though this isn't actually as unusual as you might think.*
Even if it had been practical to provide a sense of being actually locked in a space (which it wasn't) I wouldn't have wanted to do it. For one thing, liability! Sheesh! And for another thing, the kids who come to summer library tend to be in upper elementary school (grades 3-5), so I felt like they would be looking for a less-intense escape room experience. And in fact, I got one third-grader who had gone to a real escape room with some older family members and had NOT enjoyed it, but when he came to ours, it was just right. Huzzah!
My boss, the main librarian, suggested that I create a sense of at least being separated from the rest of the library, though, by using our moveable wall that sometimes gets used to partition the library during testing. This wall folds like an accordion, with both ends being on wheeled platforms. Using the wall was a GREAT idea, and worked like a dream. So, when the children entered the "escape room," they went into a space defined on two sides by bookshelves, and on two other sides by this partition wall. Besides helping the teams feel like they were in an actual room, it also allowed the secrets of the escape room to be NOT discovered by a team until they actually got into the "room" itself.
So. You walk into the escape room, and either the game master explains or else you can read the opening scenario:
A more important difference between this room and most "real" escape rooms is that both of our summer library escape rooms were 100% linear-- meaning that the teams in the rooms were NOT solving multiple mysteries at once. I was (and am) aware that having multiple mysteries leading to the solution of one puzzle is the most common way to set up an escape room.**You have just put a chicken dinner on to roast when a gang of international thieves comes and steals your mother's necklace. You need to locate the gang's secret hideout, find the necklace, and get home, all before the chicken burns. Good luck!
However, since I was making this up all on my own, and couldn't quite figure out how to make multiple mysteries feed into a larger one in the amount of time I had to plan, I finally decided to be OK with it. The advantage of that approach, which I only noticed after I accepted that I would be using it, is that it's a lot easier for the kids-- which again, since my target audience is maybe the youngest that would possibly be interested in an escape room, might not be as disadvantageous as might first seem likely.
All of that is to say that when a teams walks into the escape room, the first clue is a bunch of papers which have been ripped up and are in a small, pink garbage can. Their first task is to put those pieces of paper back together, like a puzzle (tape was provided for this purpose). I took a picture of the escape room after this step had been completed:
On the backs of these sheets were math equations, which, when the children solved them, revealed four numbers. The team could then correlate these clues with numbers on the fronts of the papers to figure out the combination to the lock on the box with "top secret notes" inside:
Once they opened that, they could read the document inside-- helpfully titled "Notes from the secret meeting of our gang of thieves." These notes set out conditions for where the gang wanted their hideout to be. Luckily, the fronts of the "puzzle" pieces were "fact sheets" for various locations. Once the kids figured out which location fit the requirements, they got to go to the next step: the "blast shield shop."
2. The "blast shield shop" and "secret hideout"
Now the team moved from sitting around the table to an area just in front of an aisle between two shelves. In that aisle, we (actually, not really we-- my awesome assistant, a rising 10th grader from our local high school, did this part 100% himself, for which I was and am deeply thankful) set up a "laser maze" with 1/8 inch, metallic washi tape, thus:
At the end of the maze is a "glitter bomb"-- a jack-in-the-box stuffed with some glitter pom-poms. The team's instructions were to use these pompoms to "explode" the "doors" to the hideout so that they can get out the back way-- but the trick is, they can't get exploded themselves. So, at least one pom-pom has to touch one door, and no pom-poms can touch any team members.
And that's where the "blast shield shop" comes in. The truth is that this particular pom-pom-and-jack-in-the-box combo is not particularly explosive. It's pretty dang easy to just point it in the right direction and not get hit. But THEY don't know that, going in, so we gave them the option to get some protection before they do so. Thus:
I added the requirement for the youngest member of the party to answer the questions because I knew that several of the teams that were interested in this escape room were non-twin sibling teams, which I suspected would mean that the older sibling would be more likely to dominate during the math-equation-solving portion of the game. I turned out to be correct in that assumption, and I was really glad that I added this requirement.
Oh, and what are the blast shields? Pieces of posterboard, left over from a library project. Having to carry them through the laser maze added an enjoyable level of challenge to the whole thing.
I did also bring a dollar-store picker-upper that I already owned, from home. This turned out not to be terribly helpful-- which my trustworthy assistant correctly predicted it wouldn't-- but I pointed out to him that we didn't KNOW that it wouldn't be helpful, and that if it wasn't, it would be an interesting red herring. Which it was.
The papers you see were the two maps we used for the geography questions. More on those in a later post.
3. Find the necklace!
Astute readers will notice that unless a team has located the necklace, they have failed in the mission. The necklace I chose was an INexpensive one from home-- something from a thrift store or yard sale would have worked fine, though.
The part that was a little more expensive/elaborate in this section of the escape room, however, is that I ended up making a hollow book for it. It wasn't monetarily expensive, but it WAS pretty time-expensive. But at least now I own a hollow book, which I think is pretty awesome!!!
And the extra cool part is the fact that the particular section of library books at the end of those shelves just happened to be the 916-917 section, which covers travel guides. :)
This is what it looked like on the shelf:
Yes, I made a cover for the book. Yes, with an accurate call number as if it had been an actual book. Yes, I might have put more effort into this escape room than was strictly necessary.
So, that's it for this week! Hopefully in the next week or two I can post about how playtesting helped me refine this escape room, and suggestions for if someone wanted to copy it in detail. Yes, this is explicit permission: if you want to use this for your own home-made escape room, GO for it.*** I would be so pleased. :D
*I learned this from the following source, quoted below: Nicholson, S .(2015). Peeking behind the locked door: A survey of escape room facilities. White Paper available at http://scottnicholson.com/pubs/erfacwhite.pdf
Many narrative paths listed above do not necessarily make sense with a story element of “you are trapped in a room and must escape.” This means that to fit the escape room name, the designer must add a layer onto the game of the players being trapped in some way and needing to escape. Facilities were asked in what percentage of the games were players actually needing to escape the room as part of the narrative. Overall, about 70% of escape room games require players to actually escape the room as part of the winning condition. This means that 30% of the games in escape room facilities aren’t actually about escaping rooms. For the Asian respondents, however, this percentage was much higher – 96% of games in Asian escape rooms require players to escape a room, while in Australia and the Americas, only about 60% of escape room games are about escaping a room.
** I only figured out how to articulate what I felt like was wrong with the escape room I had come up with from reading the above-quoted Scott Nicholson paper. Even though in the end, with this round, I decided I was more than OK with the all-the-mysteries-in-a-row format, I feel like knowing how to make it more like a real escape room/more complicated will be very helpful, should I ever decide to try this sort of thing again.
*** Just, you know, be safe. I did my best to make this one as safe as I could, and indeed no one got hurt-- but in particular the size of the pom-poms as compared to the strength of the jack-in-the-box could make it not as safe, so please be careful!