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Pet Peeves – Things That Detract from a Great Escape Room Experience

There are little things that can make or break an escape room experience. As an escape room addict, I’ve seen a lot of ways to spoil the fun for the customers. Here are some things that can annoy us escapees:

1. Your time is not shown in the escape room

The big challenge is to solve the room and escape within an hour, right?  So one of the most frustrating things that an escape room can do is not show you the time remaining. In some rooms, I’ve had to call out to the game master for a status, or they give you an update on how much time you have left every 15 minutes, but it’s not as good as seeing the actual time. There are lots of good ways to to this. For instance, all of our rooms at Timed Out display the remaining time on at least one screen in the room. At the end of the day, the pressure should come from time and the game, not from ambiguity about game mechanics.

2. Walkie-talkies

escape room walkie talkieSo Walkie-talkies were fun when we were 8.  But I have no desire to do a “breaker, breaker good buddy” when I’m trying to figure out a puzzle in an escape room.  There are a number of reasons why they fall short:

1) They are hard to understand on both ends of the connection.  When I can’t understand my game master and she can’t understand me, it is not conducive to “fun”.

2) Only one person can serve as the connection point with the game master; if the game master cannot hear the rest of the team, it doesn’t empower her to be as effective at ensuring everyone is enjoying the experience.

3) Someone has to remember to carry it around. Playing “where’d I leave the walkie?” while my time is expiring can be maddening!

4) Batteries.  Enough said.

I swear the next time I have to use a walkie-talkie, I’ll turn the tables and start talking like the Swedish chef from the muppets.

3. Confusing or vague clues

Hey, I’m a Game Master – so I appreciate how tough it can be to give a great clue that can help a team advance without giving away a puzzle. But as a player, I have to say that bad clues can really negatively impact a game.  Overly complicated clues are the worst. When you want a clue, you want it to help, not confuse you even more. Also, please don’t “cross puzzles” on me – if I’m asking about extracting the dinosaur bone, don’t tell me how to open the hidden passage to the meteor.  The worst, though, is the Game Master who is asleep at the wheel and either doesn’t respond to your request or responds with something I’ve already solved.  A bad Game Master can change the whole mood of the escape room experience, so read some reviews before booking a room.

4. Having limited clues

Another frustration with clues is when the team is only allowed to get three (or some arbitrary set number of) clues.  After you use your three clues, then you may see time deducted if you need to use more. Or even worse, some places try to charge you for more hints! I think that is crazy. Escape rooms are made for the public to enjoy, not to be stressed with limitations. As an experienced player, I don’t typically need a ton of clues, but many teams – especially first timers – need a bit more help.  Why would we limit their fun by putting an arbitrary limit in place?

5. Not having somewhere to write

escape room puzzleNothing is more annoying than an escape room that challenges me with a complex, multi-step puzzle, but provides no writing surface.  Is it challenging to remember the 20-character code sequence?  Maybe. But it is certainly more annoying than challenging.  Especially when deciphering puzzles or calculating logic/numeric puzzles, it’s hard to keep everything straight in your head. If a room features a puzzle like that, it better provide some paper or a whiteboard and pen to figure things out and collaborate.

6. Badly lit escape rooms

Trying to figure out a lock combination should be a challenge.  Trying to enter, or read the combination that you are entering is not supposed to be a challenge.  Unfortunately, many escape rooms have lighting that is so low that it detracts from the actual game play.  Half of the challenge is actually finding the puzzle in the dark. I understand that darkness can help set a mood and add to the drama in the room. However, if darkness is the challenge, you’ll lose me quickly.  Unless it is expressly part of the theme and room, customers should not have to use a flashlight when running an escape room.

7. Trying, retrying, then retrying a code again

Usually, there should be a linkage that helps the player know which code goes in what lock or puzzle. However, when I solve a puzzle and get a code and it isn’t clear where I should put it – I will quickly become irritated.  It is not fun, instead it is quite annoying to enter a code 5-7 different times in different locks just to see if it works. It can be subtle, but aligning codes and locks should be part of the game.

8. Wait – is it solved?

One of the most fun and rewarding moments of any escape room is solving a puzzle to reveal the hidden compartment or open the next door.  However, all too often my team solves a puzzle, and then… nothing.  When a puzzle, mostly electronic ones, doesn’t clearly indicate that it is solved, it takes away that satisfaction.  Also, if a puzzle opens a compartment, but the compartment isn’t somewhere that I’ll see it opened, find some way in the escape room to tell me!

9. Dealing with long process puzzles

When the puzzle has a long output, like 36 letters or numbers, those can get frustrating. Having to punch in a long string of a code is just not fun and very tedious. One mess up and you have to do it over again. Puzzles are made to be fun not exhausting.  The challenge should be getting to the “ah ha!” about how to solve a puzzle, not the execution of the solution.  If you have a long process, make sure that I can recover from a mistake before I spend 10 minutes to get to an incorrect end.  Reward me for figuring out the escape room puzzle. Don’t penalize me for failing to turn knob 17c counterclockwise and make me start all over!

I’m happy to say that at Timed Out Escape, we strive to veer away from any of these frustrations. We want our customers to have fun and enjoy their time here. But if something in one of our escape rooms annoys you, let us know!  We are always open to suggestions to make our rooms even better for you guys. 

Works for Timed Out Escape as Game Master, Audio Designer, and Writer