How to Win at Escape Rooms

Chances are pretty good that if you haven’t enjoyed an escape room yet, you’ve at least seen them popping up all over the place. Escape rooms are one of the fastest growing retail trends in the United States, and a key contributor to the “experience economy,” defined as a marketplace where people seek out active adventures to make memories together. Room Escape Artist estimated that in 2014 there were 22 escape rooms in the US, and by the end of Q2 in 2017 there were over 1800!

US Escape Room Growth courtesy of

Escape rooms make for a versatile time out for families, dating, time with friends and even team building with co-workers. A typical escape room experience involves the players getting trapped in a room themed with a backstory that sets the mood for the game. A timer is set, and the trapped party has to use their wits solving a series of puzzles to bust out before time expires.

Certain patterns have emerged as I’ve gone through various escape rooms. Following the tips below will improve your chances at beating any escape room you encounter:

Work Together, But Apart

Escape rooms are almost always played by a group of people, and one of the most beneficial things the group can do is spread out. Typically there will be more than one puzzle that can be solved at least to some degree present in the room at one time, so make sure that people are actively working on every different thing they can. Keep in mind that may mean that a successful escape may involve some people in the group never seeing a key puzzle to solve. If everybody is huddled together trying to figure out the same thing, the clock is ticking and they’re probably just getting in each other’s way.

If You See Something, Say Something

One of the most helpful things people can do is simply call out the discoveries they make. One of the techniques escape room designers will use is to spread parts of a puzzle around the room. What may seem like a random object or bit of hidden code will often be joined with its compliment at a later time, and then the puzzle can be completed. It seems simple, but if everybody says out loud what they’re finding in the escape room, they’ll have a much better chance to…

Group Like With Like

Once all of the players are finding clues in the room that may match up with other things, it’s important to group them together. Look for simple patterns – shapes, colors, or textures that match likely are a part of something bigger. Certainly text that appears to form a comprehensive code of some kind will fit together. Help everybody to understand that they should put similar things all in one place as players explore the room.


Keep All Resources Visible and Within Reach

While all escape rooms will include some elements that help to immerse the players in the plot and theme that aren’t part of the game (and will often mark them as such), for the most part the actual objects found in the rooms will be purposeful clues. The use of the clue might not be obvious at first, but give it time. If a player finds something in a drawer, cabinet or hidden compartment, there’s a reason why it wasn’t out in the open to start. The players can’t forget about it though! Making sure that every possible clue remains in line of sight makes it easier to grab them when the time is right. Which will happen a lot, because players can…

Use the Solutions as Clues

Every escape room I’ve done has used a lot of different locks. I didn’t even know so many different locks existed before trying some escape rooms. In addition to basic locks with keys, other locks can be opened with number or letter combinations, and the coolest one I’ve come across requires a motion pattern to be entered on the lock face to unlock the clasp. Players can usually reverse engineer the type of clue they’re looking for by taking a look at the kind of lock they need to open to complete the next puzzle:

Lock with a key hole – no surprise, it needs a key, but be watchful of different sizes of keys. It’s surprising how often I’ve seen people try to open a lock with a key that couldn’t possibly fit

Number lock – requires a series of numbers. Use the number of digits shown on the lock to figure out how long the series of numbers will be as the puzzles are solved

Combination lock – requires a number pattern. Remember that the combination will need three numbers, one for each revolution on the lock

Letter lock – generally will be unlocked by entering a word associated with the room’s theme. The number of letters the lock accepts is a big clue as to what word to look for as you solve puzzles, but be careful because some letter locks allow for a blank space at the end

Pattern lock – these work like the d-pad on a video game controller. During the escape room, if a player encounters anything that resembles the Konami Code, remember the order because there’s a pretty good chance it will be used later to open a pattern lock

Don’t Overthink It

Escape rooms are meant to be fun. If something seems like it’s too difficult, it probably is, so think about a more direct way to solve the puzzle. There isn’t really time for red herrings in an escape room, so don’t worry about getting tricked. Escape rooms are made with a mass audience in mind, so every puzzle is designed to the level of reasonable intelligence that a person could do in the room – none of the puzzles will need a Baconian Cipher, for example. Also keep in mind that every clue needed to solve the escape room will be hidden in an accessible way – players that rip up furniture or tear things off of the walls aren’t playing the game, they’re just engaging in property damage. That’s not fun for anybody, and it’s just mean to the business owners.

Following these tips won’t guarantee that you’ll get out in time, but they will give you a better chance. What other tips have you found to help beat the escape rooms you’ve played? Share your wisdom in the comments below!

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