One of the most easily recognisable and iconic Christmas films of our generation is “Home Alone”. A staple of 90s kids (that’s me!), Home Alone is about being resourceful, thinking outside the box, preparation in all situations, and most importantly a lesson not asking for directions from Donald Trump in the foyer of the Plaza Hotel. In short, just a few of life’s golden lessons. But it’s also taught me a thing or two about solving escape rooms.
The night before a festive family trip to Paris, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister is sent to sleep alone in the attic (90s, amirite?). In the morning, on missing their alarm clock, the McCallister family rushes to the airport only to leave Kevin behind. What ensues is a slapstick few days where the ‘Wet Bandits’ attempt to repeatedly break into the house, foiled each time by a kid armed only with hit wits and a selection of highly deadly materials such as tar, rusty nails, and a doorknob heating device.
So what can we learn from the film?
Lesson 1: Come Prepared
You wouldn’t walk into battle against criminals un-prepared. Neither would you start a video game without looking up the instructions, or for that matter, walk into an escape room without knowing what you’ve gotten yourself into. In Home Alone, we come to learn and love Kevin’s extensive and elaborate traps. He spends HOURS (well, I’m guessing here, it’s actually a 3 minute montage) laying them all in the name of success: protecting his life, his home and of course, saving Christmas. So the key lesson here is ‘be more like Kevin’. Make a game plan.
Lesson 2: Think Outside the Box
Taking on an escape room is like nothing else you’ll experience out there in ‘the real world’, nor will the puzzles you encounter be solvable in expected ways. To succeed, you need to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Although sidebar: In my 70 + escape rooms I’ve escaped from, I’ve never needed “brute force”, so we can take that off our list. However like Kevin, you’ll have to look at ordinary objects around you and imagine eventual scenarios that nobody else has. This could be anything from a cipher or two, lateral puzzles, logic games, creative things that require all 5 senses, or even physical activities that take advantage of your aim and speed. Almost nothing is off limits.
Lesson 3: Keep Calm
Do you think Kevin could have foiled the Wet Bandits if he’d been panic stricken by the disappearance of his family? No! Kevin had a level head at all times – and you’ll want to as well. If this is your first time taking on an escape room, it’s important to keep in mind that most are not scary and you’ll never be truly ‘locked in’. No, the key to success is to find your inner calm, look at the bigger picture and to crack on with the plot.
Lesson 4: The art of distraction
Not necessarily required for game play (no escape rooms require you to start pulling sleight of hands against the games masters), but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when attempting to solve a room. In Home Alone, Kevin casts silhouettes and plays recordings of people to simulate parties and dissuade suspicion from passers by. In an escape room, if something looks out of place or at all suspicious – it’s probably worth taking a closer look at. Don’t let the rooms beat you!
Lesson 5: Keep an eye on the clock!
You know what could have prevented LITERALLY EVERY BAD THING that happened in Home Alone? Checking the clock. But noooo, the McCallisters went to bed without so much as glancing at their unplugged alarm clocks. Again, maybe it’s a 90s thing. In an escape room not keeping an eye on the time can be disastrous (not quite as disastrous as ‘forgetting your child’, but you get the picture). The key to success is to plan your time well and be aware of how long each puzzle is taking. Sometimes asking for a clue is worth it if the alternative is wasting 10 minutes on a red herring.
Lesson 6: Fuller! Go easy on the Pepsi
There’s always one hyperactive member on the escape room team, be it ‘Cousin Fuller’ or a family member who isn’t taking the game seriously. The last thing you want to do is lose time because you drank too much soda pop right before entering the room and need to take a bathroom break. So please, go easy on the Pepsi! Moving on…
Lesson 7: Keep the change ya filthy animal!
Finally – almost all escape rooms will offer deals, so be sure to check out their social channels and any ongoing promotions before making a booking, to ensure you get the most out of your visit! Why not keep hold of that change (ya filthy animal) and spend it on a celebratory drink when you beat the clock instead?
Please note, this a repost of an article I wrote and published on LinkedIn in November 2019. You can read the original article here.
Mairi is the editor-in-chief and covers escape rooms/immersive theatre in London, play at home games, and video games.