About RussBuilds

RussBuilds is an independent escape game designer. Here, he is writing on video games and escape rooms in the middle of the UK.

Top Escape Rooms: Rockstar Swan Song | Review


Top Escape Rooms: Swan Song Review | Dean Waylon is the front man of the band – Us, Them, Or Dean. Tonight, they will be performing the kick-off show of their concert run at the Colosseum Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Checking in Dean’s dressing room, his manager finds Dean’s personal belongings, but no sign of Dean. Find the clues and solve the puzzles as you retrace the career of Dean Waylon. If you’re quick, you can get the scoop on his disappearance before security catches you.

Completion Time: 59:00
Date Played: 8th October 2022
Party Size: 3

About Top Escape Rooms

Rockstar Swan Song is one of five escape rooms provided Top Escape Rooms in Holt Heath, Worcestershire. The room is based on the touring band Us, Them Or Dean and their frontman called…. *checks notes* Dean; whom has gone missing before a Las Vegas show and we need to locate him!

This was supposed to be a party size of 4. However one of the party was ill, therefore 3 of us had to take to the stage instead!

Poster (c) Top Escape Rooms

Before We Begin…

The party consisted of myself and 2 friends who all share two things in common… our love of the Netflix series Cobra Kai and that we are all current/former music professionals.

Another thing… my teamies had never done an escape room before. As an escape room ambassador, I’ve got to get this right and not scare them off! When I saw this music-themed room advertised I booked it post-haste.

Poster (c) Top Escape Rooms

I’ve Lost My Frontman…

Our GM was welcoming and friendly. He explained that the game was linear, allowing us to fully focus on the task in hand. We then passed round a directional lock (see below) for familiarity, giving us a practice go on them to get a tactile feel of how they work. This was great, especially as my two teamies had not used one before.

The GM then spoke about his own background of working in the music industry. This was interesting in itself and I didn’t even realise the fluid change into the backstory of the game; until it actually happened(!) Next thing we know, we have been tasked with finding his frontman Dean, as the show was to begin in one hour.

We were given our backstage/dressing room passes, alongside a digital notepad and the timer starts to tick away!

Pay Attention Russ…

Mental Note. Don’t steamroll the room. I had to make myself not get too involved and at times, stand back to allow my teamies to experience as much escape room fun as they possibly could…. otherwise the escape room gods would never forgive me.

This Felt Too Familiar…

I’ve been there before. About to go on stage and a band member (usually the frontperson!) has gone for a walk without telling anyone. The rest of the band now sweating bullets and arguing about who is going to sing in their place…

The dressing room was very thematic; there was that feeling of a bare room being dressed-up for it’s specific habitant at the time, ready for it to be changed for the next performer in minimal turnaround time. On one wall, were three very distinctive touring posters of the band from years past. Each one, telling a story (and a puzzle) of what happened and what is to come.

All but one of the puzzles were padlock based. The one, was an electronic-based, fader/mixer type puzzle with an amplifier. It looked incredibly authentic and had the biggest wow factor. I personally would like to have seen more electronic-based puzzles, especially considering how much electronics are used in a musician’s day-to-day life! The types of puzzles included, but not limited to; map-reading, wordplay, maths, light-based and musical.

I’ve Never Heard “Helpful” And “Stage Manager” Put In a Sentence Together…

When we were stuck and needed a hint, an electric guitar chord would strike and the stage manager would leave us a tailored message under the countdown clock. The hints were useful and relevant, however in some cases; unsolicited. There were times, I feel, if the stage manager had let us have another moment or so to reflect, we would have solved the focussed set-piece on our own.

My suggestion would be to Top Escape Rooms for all their games; to ask how much input the hint-giver should provide to the team before the game begins.

*Internally Panics*

With around 12 minutes to go, I felt we were doing rather well….

Until we opened a padlock to a second room.

At this point, I internally panicked.

“We have 12 minutes to solve another room?!”

Well, it was two puzzles total. However, that revelation turned me from a semi-seasoned escaper, into a fumbling idiot. The majority of work for the last two set pieces was done by my teamies, who once again, had never done an escape room before. (Well done Russ, you’re letting the whole escape room industry down here….)

To their credit however, they pulled us (me) through with one minute to spare.

As much as the first room was thematically and immersivity beautiful, the second room felt bare in comparison. Firstly, because there were only two puzzles, it felt unbalanced from a weighting perspective. Secondly, the walls were blank with one poster, that didn’t really add to the theming or immersion in any way; it lacked the personality the first room had. It wasn’t a complete deal-breaker, but the overall experience was certainly reduced because of this.

As you can see, my music career was short-lived, based on the way I held a guitar…

For The Music Dreamer Or Virtuoso?

My escape newbie teamies found the room not too easy and not too difficult. Therefore, this would be a perfect choice for someone who hasn’t played an escape room before. More seasoned players however, might find (particularly the first few) aspects of the room, to not be challenging enough.

The puzzle designs (again, particularly with the first few) are almost-all quite common and have been often used in already existing escape rooms. There are also two maths-based puzzles. There is a calculator in the room, however if you are really adverse to them, the second of the two may cause frustration…

The music based puzzle however, was very innovative. That being said, we collectively agreed that it may completely stump a team with zero musical intuition.

Unfortunately however, this room is now retired! We were the very last team to play it!

Touring Is Expensive!

For a party of 4 as we intended, this room cost £17.50 per person. This is a solid price point, however big thanks to Top Escape Rooms for handing me a £10 voucher to use for a future game in light of our poorly 4th player. This kind of customer service is greatly appreciated and I have already booked two further rooms here in the upcoming months as a result of this gesture.


Overall, Top Escape Rooms have a solid room in Rockstar Swan Song. It is a great one for beginners, with its linear design and organic learning curve. The second room falls a little bit flat, however the first room has a strong thematic and authentic take on the dressing room of an actual touring musician, which was a welcome sight for us as a team of musicians.

My teamies both enjoyed themselves and are looking to do another escape room closer to Christmas time. I’m counting that as a mission successful from an ambassador point of view!

Top Escape Rooms’s Rockstar Swan Song is now retired, but their other games can be booked by heading to their website here.

Treasure Trails: Kidderminster | Review


Treasure Trails: Kidderminster Review | Police intelligence has discovered a plot by international carpet thieves to target a unique collection of extremely valuable carpets secured for a charity event. The Midlands Crime Agency has put together a list of suspect volunteers… they need YOU, our best detectives to help catch the Carpetbaggers!

Kidderminster? Where’s That?

I can already hear you asking that question. First off, Kidderminster is my hometown. It is located in the West Midlands approximately 25 miles south-west of Birmingham.

More importantly however, the history and heritage. Kidderminster is historically known for two main things: carpet factories and Rowland Hill, the creator of the first ever postage stamp; The Penny Black.

Today, I have been tasked with undertaking Treasure Trails: Kidderminster. As a Kidderminster native, I have brought a friend (Alakazam) along, who is not from Kidderminster to help me. Is this a good idea? We shall find out!

One more thing… I made sure I was suitably dressed!



What’s Inside a Treasure Trails Booklet?

The adventure trail is formed as a nice, tidy, A5 size booklet. The first two pages have the introduction, briefing and safety notes, alongside the hint system for when you get stuck.

The objective is to deduct clue-by-clue, who is the Carpetbaggers insider and what weapon they used during the heist. On the back of the booklet are a list of suspects and potential weapons to eliminate.

The hint/answer system is text message based. Each clue in the booklet has a unique reference number to send. There, you receive the answer (up to a maximum of 3) with the details of where the answer lies.

There is also a bonus A3 activity sheet for children to fill in and play with outside of the trail itself, which is a welcome addition; what kid doesn’t like free stuff?!



The booklet also includes where to begin and where to park your car (if you arrived via car!).

Off we go to clue 1!


…Are We Going The Right Way?

Right off the bat with the first clue, we came across a stumbling block. We couldn’t access the area where the answer lay due to the building being cornered off by metal grate fencing. Not to worry we thought, we can at least look through the grating and see if we can find the answer we are looking for…

Again no sadly. The answer was covered by a large amount of wild foliage, it took our eyes to squint really hard to find the answer. See below: I’m not one for giving answers away but this one is nigh impossible to find without using the answer system at this point in time.



Moving on to clue 2, we had another stumbling block. Namely, this sign.



Ok so we weren’t drivers per se, but it did make be feel nervous passing this sign to get to the next clue. The answer to clue 2 was a little difficult to find due to erosion, however once we found what we needed we swiftly returned to the public pathway!


A Shaky Start But Uphill From Here!

From clue 3 onwards, its was mostly enjoyable. Clues involved walking around Kidderminster’s largest church site (and finding lush greenery round the back that I had never seen before!), walking along a canal and seeing Kidderminster’s oldest secular building. More importantly, both the old carpet factories and Rowland Hill are referenced towards the last half of the trail. In terms of theming and historical research, I can’t fault it. Furthermore, it gave me the gift of standing still and truly taking in the wonderful architectural designs and nuances of Kidderminster’s industrial history.  

The puzzles themselves are primarily observational (sharp eyes are required due to some erosion), alongside code-cracking. These are ideal for families as per the recommendation on the front of the booklet. The route that the trail takes you is mostly linear with the exception of the end…


The Last Leg Of The Trail

For the final four clues, the trail changed from being completely linear to more criss-cross. As a result of this, we struggled with where to go/what to look for and used up 2 of our 3 clue/answer limit. I feel that the last four clues could have been rearranged to be completed in a linear fashion and it wouldn’t have caused any problems with the endgame.



For The Kidderminster Native Or Newbie?

As it says on the trail’s booklet, this is perfect for families to do. It has a small learning curve, you just need to be ok with a look of looking around and occasionally, checking your phone online for some bits of outside knowledge. Furthermore, because there is a competition to win £100 in a monthly prize draw if you submit the correct suspect and weapon, the maximum amount of answers you can get from the clue system is 3. To get around this, I would suggest taking 2 (or more) phones with you to get more answers if required. This is especially important if obstacles like for clues 1 and 2 become more apparent.

As mentioned in the booklet also, please be advised that the trail has accessibility issues and is not recommended for wheelchair or pram/buggy users.

The trail is priced at £9.99 for approximately 2 hours of activity time plus the additional activity sheet included. This is a good price point overall.



The Verdict

Whilst I wholly appreciate the input of the trail’s design (ie: setting up the clues, using actual Kidderminster historical information and turning it into clues), there are some sustainability issues that will naturally occur in this town (or any for that matter) where routes can become blocked off, over the course of time. That being said, it is on the whole, a great way to spend 2 hours around a town with a rich depth of heritage.


If you want to play the Kidderminster Treasure Trail, head to their website here.

Please Note: We received this experience for free in exchange for an honest review.

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 5


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.


In part 4, we have our basic countdown timer product. Part 5 will look at potential bonus features you can add to your product to make it even better!

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE
A power adapter for the Arduino Uno (see part 1 for guidance)
4x male to female dupont cables (1x red, 1x black, 1x yellow, 1x blue)
2x male to male dupont cables (1x black, 1x brown)

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)
1x Emergency stop button with locking mechanism when pressed – (Look here for examples)

Extra Feature #1 – Stop & Reset Button

Picture this. You’ve got 5 seconds left on the clock in an escape room, and you’re about to stop the clock just in time by hitting a big red switch. Sounds amazing right? Let’s make it.

Red – 5V -> VCC
Black – GND -> GND (Timer)
Yellow – Pin 2 -> CLK
Blue – Pin 3 -> DIO
Black – GND -> Button Pin
Brown – RESET -> Button Pin

If this diagram looks unfamiliar to you, please revert to the original one in part 4. This is merely an addition to that. Depending on which type of emergency stop button you have purchased, it might have either 2 or 4 pins to connect. This will be a case of trial and error; swapping the dupont cables to different pins to achieve the desired result.

The desired result will be the timer freezing once the button is pressed and subsequently, locked in (again I stress, buy a locking mechanism button!), and when the button is twisted to unlock, the timer should reset back to 60:00.

Extra Feature #2 – LOSE At The End Of The Countdown

Picture this. (This one isn’t so fun). You’ve got 5 seconds left on the clock in an escape room and you’re about to stop the clock just in time by hitting a big red switch… but you don’t make it quick enough and in place of the timer, you see LOSE. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Sounds um, less amazing…right? Let’s still make it.

Included in the <TM1637Display.h> library which we are already using for our timer, you can add up to 4 characters on the display before or after the countdown.

Here, I will show you how to show LOSE, once the countdown has reached 00:00.

Above, is a diagram of the 7 segments a single display character can hold, alongside a letter (A-G).
First off, we need to work out what segments we need to display the word LOSE. Feel free to work it out yourself, or look below for the solution.

L = Segments D, E & F
O = Segments A, B, C, D, E & F
S = Segments A, C, D, F & G
E = Segments A, D, E, F & G

Now that we have our segments worked out per character, we need to:

  • Declare these in the code we already have
  • Create a function called void lose()
  • Add a condition for it to show once the display shows 00:00

Declaring The Segments

Add this code in your // Display function:

const byte LOSE[] = {



void lose()

In between the void setup() and void loop() functions, add the following:

void lose() {

delay(1000000000) – holds the LOSE message on display for approximately 277 hours, when activated – ie: long enough!

Adding The LOSE Condition

In your void loop() function, add the following after the first of 3 right curly braces (}):


Test Your Code

Now is time to check your code is error free. Click on the tick in the IDE. If that is error free, now click the right facing arrow button (with your Arduino Uno connected to your computer) to load your updated code in. You may want to temporarily change your timeLimit to 10 seconds for swifter testing.

If you receive an error at any point, please use my troubleshooting tips in part 4 as a starting place to fix your bug.

If you are feeling brave, you could even try to change LOSE to show a different set of characters – eg: STOP.

If you are feeling even more brave, try putting a 4 character message before the countdown begins.

End Of Part 5

That’s all for now, for the time being. I hope this has been fun for you to build! I’ll return later this year with a new project, but for now, take care!

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 4


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.


In part 3, we created real code out of our pseudocode and placed it into our IDE. Part 4 will involve testing both the code and the connections between the Arduino Uno and the TM1637 timer component.

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE
A power adapter for the Arduino Uno (see part 1 for guidance)
4x male to female dupont cables (1x red, 1x black, 1x yellow, 1x blue)

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)

So Far…

  • We have planned our objective:

We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

  • We have designed our coding workspace (IDE) to have 4 functions or ‘containers’.

Library, Display, void setup() and void loop().

  • We have written our code in the workspace.

Next, we will connect our hardware components, power up and test the artefact!

Setting Up The Hardware

Go ahead and use your dupont cables to connect the Arduino Uno and the TM1637 display timer like so.

Red – 5V -> VCC
Black – GND -> GND
Yellow – Pin 2 -> CLK
Blue – Pin 3 -> DIO

Make sure the dupont cables are snug when connecting. Next, take your USB connector and connect the one end to the Arduino Uno and the other into your computer. The power on should light up on the Arduino Uno; the computer may take a few minutes to download any required drivers, and should let you know when it is done.

Testing The Code

Open up your IDE with your code from part 3, and go to
Tools > Board > Arduino/Genuino Uno
Tools > Port > COMx (Arduino/Genuino Uno) – The x will be a number of the Arduino’s choice.

Next, click the tick button, right below the file option. This will check the code for any errors.
If you have any errors, you will need to troubleshoot them. Two good starts to this would be:

  • Checking that your code is identical to that presented in part 3.
  • Pasting the error description into google and see if any of the forums have already answered/resolved the issue you have.

Should the code be error free, it should show a message starting

Sketch uses x bytes (x%) of program storage…

Once you see that message, go ahead and click the right-pointing arrow button, next to the tick button. This will transfer the code to the Arduino Uno and subsequently, the TM1637 display timer.

Should this be successful, the TM1637 timer should light up and start counting down!

Testing The Countdown

One other thing I suggest testing, is if the countdown stays at 00:00, when counted down entirely; ie: no further counting, or no counting up for that matter!

There are two ways you can do this. The easiest but far longest way is to wait until the timer has counted down from 60:00 then check its status. The better way is to temporarily change the timeLimit to 10 seconds, then check. How to do that however, I’ll leave for you to figure out.

Remember, if anything isn’t doing what it should be doing, try my two suggestions for troubleshooting above.

Testing The Power Adapter

Whilst the USB connection powers the Arduino Uno perfectly well, it is highly unpractical to have the artefact permanently connected to a potentially large and bulky computer. Here would be a good time to plug your power adapter (remember to take out the USB connection!) into the Arduino Uno and see if the desired results are the same.

End Of Part 4

At its most basic (but certainly useable), you have your escape game countdown timer artefact programmed and working! Nicely done! Part 5 will look at bonus features you can add to the countdown timer for further usability.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 3


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.


In part 2, I spoke about the Arduino Uno microcontroller and getting to grips with the IDE. Part 3 focusses upon evolving our psuedocode into real code.

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)

So Far…

  • We have planned our objective:

We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

  • We have designed our coding workspace (IDE) to have 4 functions or ‘containers’.

Library, Display, void setup() and void loop().

Next we will look at what each of these functions will contribute to the objective, alongside adding some real C++ code to it!


Libraries are files embedded to the IDE that add more functionality and ease of use. For our objective, we will be using just one library file; the TM1637Display.h by Avishay Orpaz. This file includes a series of commands that we will use in our code, to allow the Arduino Uno tell the TM1637 display timer what to display in real time.

First off, we need to pull the file into our workspace. We can do this by selecting

Tools > Manage Libraries…

Next, we need to install the latest version (v1.20), make sure you choose the correct file, I’ve highlighted below to help you navigate.

Because I’ve already installed it, there is no install button for me. One for you, should appear in the right hand corner once you hover your mouse over. Once this has installed, we need to return to our workspace and under the // Library comment, type in:

#include <TM1637Display.h>

This now sets us up ready, to tell the Arduino Uno (and subsequently the display timer), what to do.


There are 2 things we need to set up in this Display function.

  • Declaring the clock and data in-out (DIO) pins.
  • Declaring the length of the timer (60:00 minutes).

If you look on the back of your TM1637 display timer, you will notice that you will have 4 pins to connect via dupont cables, to the Arduino Uno; CLK, DIO, VCC and GND.

CLK = Clock, DIO = Data in-out, VCC = Power, GND = Ground

Power and ground pins don’t need to be declared, just the clock and DIO pins. In other words, we need to tell the Arduino Uno what number pins on the digital side (see The Arduino Uno from part 2) of the microcontroller will be connected, to the CLK and the DIO. As a rule of thumb, we don’t use pins 0 and 1; they are for transmitting and receiving signals, and is best not to interfere with them.

For this exercise, we are going to declare pin 2 as the CLK and pin 3 as the DIO. Return to your workspace and under the // Display comment, type in:

const int clkPin = 2;
const int dioPin = 3;

TM1637Display display(clkPin, dioPin);

const = Constant, ie: non-changing
int = integer, the number of the pin (eg: 2)

Now that you have successfully declared your CLK and DIO pins, next; we will declare the length of the timer. It is to be pointed out that whilst the timer will display in minutes and seconds, the length of time in the IDE must be declared in milliseconds.

Return to your workspace, and underneath your CLK and DIO declarations, type in;

unsigned long timeLimit = 3601000;

unsigned = positive value numbers only, prevents the timer from going past 00:00
long = a number with a large value

3601000 milliseconds = 60 minutes and 1 second. The reason for the additional second is that it takes 1 second for the TM1637 display to power up after the Arduino Uno does.

void setup()

There is only one thing to set up in the void setup() function; brightness of the TM1637 display.

Within the void setup() curly brackets, type in:


void loop()

Finally, we will add the code to operate the meat of the artefact; the countdown mechanism.
This will be fairly larger in volume, compared to our current codebase.

Within the void loop() curly brackets, type in:

unsigned long timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();

while(timeRemaining > 0) {
int seconds = (timeRemaining / 1000) % 60;
int minutes = timeRemaining / 60000;
display.showNumberDecEx(seconds, 0, true, 2, 2);
display.showNumberDecEx(minutes, 0b01000000, true, 2, 0);

if(millis() < timeLimit) {
timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();

I appreciate that this may look confusing and alienating, so I’m going to do my best here to relay that code into pseudocode.

unsigned long timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();
This is declaring a large, non-negative, real-time number called timeRemaining which is equal to the timeLimit (which we’ve already declared) minus the time passed. Ie: The value of timeRemaining will reduce by one second, every second and will show on the display.

while(timeRemaining > 0) {
Whilst the timeRemaining figure is larger than 0

int seconds = (timeRemaining / 1000) % 60;
This is declaring the seconds part of the timer as an integer and is equal to timeRemaining divided by 1000 milliseconds (1 second). The % 60 prevents the timer from using a number in the seconds part of the display that is equal to or larger than 60.

int minutes = timeRemaining / 60000;
This is declaring the minutes part of the timer as an integer and is equal to timeRemaining divided by 60000 milliseconds (1 minute).

display.showNumberDecEx(seconds, 0, true, 2, 2);
display.showNumberDecEx(minutes, 0b01000000, true, 2, 0);
These are commands to tell the TM1637 display how to show the timer to us humans in a way that is readable.

if(millis() < timeLimit) {
timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();
If there is more than 00:00 on the display, remove 1 second off the timer, per second.

End Of Part 3

Next time, we will be connecting the Arduino Uno to our TM1637 display timer and testing out our code!

See you next time and thanks for reading!



Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 2


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.



In part 1, I spoke about the fundamental equipment required to create your own escape game artefacts. Part 2 focusses upon the Arduino Uno microcontroller and getting to grips with the IDE; ready for creating an automated countdown timer.


You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE 


The Arduino Uno

Above is a diagram of the Arduino Uno with three rails and a button in the top left-hand corner. The rails consist of a set of pins that can have dupont cables inserted into them.

Red – Power – This rail powers any components that are connected to the microcontroller, such as a LCD display or an electronic lock. Power can be distributed either via 5V or a lesser 3.3V depending on the component you are using. GND or ground is also important. In its simplest term, the 5V/3.3V pins are positive and the GND pins are negative, you need both for a component to power up.

Yellow – Digital – These are signal ports and via user code in the IDE, determines what they do for a component. For example, an LCD display would usually need two digital pins; one to display the clock numbers and one to process data in and out (DIO) via the microcontroller. This will be covered further in part 3. There is also a spare GND port on this rail should you need it; serving the exact same function as the GNDs on the power rail.

Blue – Analog – These can be substituted as spare digital pins and will work just as well. Their main use however, are for components that have more complex actions than just on and off. For example, a radio dial which could have multiple potential outputs, compared to an on/off switch, would be more appropriate for it to be patched into the analog rail. For the time being however, we will not be using this rail for our countdown timer.

Green – Reset – Probably the most important feature on the microcontroller. Pressing it resets the board and starts the code from its beginning. The equivalent of turning it on and off again without killing the power source. 




As mentioned in part 1, the IDE is your workspace to tell the microcontroller exactly what you want it (and any connected components) to do. A new file will always show two functions: 

void setup() – a place to put any code, to run once at the beginning of power up.

void loop() – a place to put the main code, ie: what the microcontroller (plus components) will do.

These two functions will be the crux for our countdown timer artefact. Furthermore however, there are two more functions that we will be adding to complete the codebase; a library function and a display function.


Pseudocode First, Real Code Second

Before we start coding anything, we need to create a plan of what we want to code, then we can decide how we are going to do it. The what is best done as pseudocode first, in other words; plain English. We need to write down in clear sentences/bullet points, what our objective is and then, how we plan to do it. This step is extremely important, as it prevents misleading into unknown or unrequired territory, alongside saving time in the long run. 

First question is: what is our objective? Easy, I’ll provide this.

Objective: We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

Next, we need to consider what functions we are going to use in our code.
If you look in The IDE section of this part, you should find them.

Functions to use: library
                            void setup()
                            void loop() 

Think of these four functions as containers. We need to fill these four containers with code correctly to achieve our objective. 

Now, we can provide space for those four functions in our IDE workspace. 


Commenting Code

In your IDE workspace above void setup(), type // Library – you will notice that the text Library has gone grey. The // has “commented” any words after it. This means that the Arduino IDE compiler will ignore this code when loading it into the Arduino Uno. Commenting code is a super useful way to leave notes for yourself or other developers when planning and explaining parts of your code. 

Next, add a few lines using enter, and then type // Display – it should look like this:



This is a great start, you now have a clear template thanks to planning via pseudocode. 


End Of Part 2

In part 3, we will expand upon our template with real code, to automate the countdown of the timer.

See you next time and thanks for reading!



Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 1


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.


Why am I known as RussBuilds? Because I like to build things; particularly electronics, that lead to creating an escape game artefact; an object that can be held or handled, to solve and is usually hiding something like a key or a secret message to progress further.

I made 4 games over the course of the lockdown period, each involving multiple escape game artefacts, and Mairi right here at The Escape Roomer, reviewed 3 of them. (ENDGAME, AIRLOCK and CITIZEN if you are interested).

I discontinued these games in June 2021, however I would love to pass on some skills and insight into anyone who is considering making their own physical escape games, but doesn’t know where to start.



Part 1: Fundamental Equipment

What do I mean by fundamental equipment?

Later on in the series, I’ll be showing you how to build an escape game artefact. Fundamental equipment is the absolute basics you need for all artefact building; without these components you won’t get very far!

So without further a-do, let’s begin.



A microcontroller is the brain of any artefact. It receives power and transmits signals to components, telling them to perform an action eg: unlock an electronic lock, show a message to the player etc. There are many microcontrollers out there, but the one I shall reference in this series, is the Arduino Uno.



Why this one? It’s the most popular one in the world, has tons of technical support for it and most importantly, is an open-source design. This means that the design of the Arduino Uno can be replicated by anyone. The Arduino Uno retails at around £20 per unit and this can get pricey, if you want to build multiple artefacts.

However! There are plenty of open-source copies out there that are up to a fifth of the price, making a project like this, much more accessible.



Also don’t forget to buy an Arduino USB connector, sometimes they are included but always check; you need one to connect it to a computer!


Power Adapter

You need a power adapter to power the microcontroller. The Arduino Uno outputs a maximum of 5 volts (V) to anything connected to it that requires power eg: an electronic lock or an LCD display. I personally use, power adapters that are rated between 5V and 9V and have an ampere (A) rating between 500mA and 1A. Combining these two figures (V x A) creates power, also known as Watts (W). If the power is too low, the microcontroller won’t be able power output components. If the power is too high however, you risk overheating/hot-to-touch components and very possibly; even frying the electronics inside…or worse causing an injury to yourself or others.

I do stress, that my usage of power adapters is merely what I personally use. I strongly suggest that you do your own research on what power adapter(s) you should use. Checking the Arduino Forums, may be a good start of information.


Laptop & IDE

For Arduino microcontrollers, you will need a laptop (or desktop computer) to connect and tell what you want it to do. The one I use for these projects, is a 10 year-old Samsung with 4GB RAM and an Intel dual core i5 processor. In other words, not fancy, in the slightest. If you have an old laptop lying around and you can power it up, give it a go, you may have given it a lease of new life!

Secondly, you will need to download the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment) – this will be your workspace where you will tell the microcontroller what you want it to do, using C++ coding language. (Before you start panicking, yes there will be an entry in this series on introductory coding).



The Arduino IDE has regular updates and is supported on PC, iOS and Linux systems.


Dupont Connectors

Dupont connectors, connect the microcontroller to any outputs. The great thing about dupont connectors? They are cheap and easy to use. There are 3 types of dupont connectors that you will need;

  • Male to Male
  • Female to Female
  • Male to Female


Depending on what is connected to the microcontroller, it is best to have all 3 types handy, for all eventualities. Get assorted colours too eg: some red, some black etc; it’ll be easier to troubleshoot hardware errors later.


Connector Blocks

Connector blocks are plastic or rubber covered and are ideal for either extending or joining several dupont connectors together. If you are using radio frequency tags for example, connector blocks are vital, as radio frequency modules have multiple inputs that do different things. Connector blocks are usually bought in rows of 12 and can be easily cut down if you only need a few at a time.

You’ll also need a small philips or flat blade screwdriver to adjust the tightness of the blocks when the connectors are placed in.



End Of Part 1

Those are your fundamentals that you need before you can start creating your escape game artefacts. In part 2 we will look at the Arduino Uno in detail, alongside the IDE and some common coding syntax, you will use for a countdown timer artefact.

Read Part 2 Here

Thanks for reading!


Escape Advent Calendars: The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots | Review


The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots Review | Solve the mystery of the half-eaten carrots. The store has been raided. Question the reindeer; one of them must be the greedy culprit!

Date Played: 26th February 2022
Number Of Players: 2 (+1 cat)
Difficulty: Easy
Time Taken: 1 Hour

But It’s Not Christmas….

Yes alright, I know. But when Mairi offers up an escape game to review with the promise of free chocolate, I’m not going to pass this up, Christmas themed or otherwise.

Plus who loves chocolate more than I do? My wife; and who am I to deprive her of delicious chocolate treats for solving puzzles? Not me I assure you.

Let’s Get Started

We have a copy of the advent calendar. The product is of good quality, is attractive inside and out. It’s nicely compact and everything that is required to complete the entire contents, is either on or in the product itself. The back of the calendar gives simple instructions to get you started; alongside pigpen, braille and tap-code ciphers.

Finally, there is a clue to direct you to which reindeer should be interrogated first. Should you be correct, a chocolate with the number 1 (in flashy art deco font) will appear and another clue will point in the direction of the next reindeer to interrogate. Rinse and repeat this process to interrogate all reindeers in the right order, thus receiving the chocolates numerically and most importantly, success in playing.

Do I Feel Christmassy?

It’s a good question to ask, especially during the end of February. Theming wise, this advent calendar ticks all the boxes. Fun holiday theme ✅, chocolate in Santa-red-and-gold wrapping ✅, more reindeers than you can shake a stick at ✅. Not much else to say, top marks for this section!

Let’s Interrogate Some Reindeers!

In terms of puzzles, the functionality and logic of them are all sound. The hints system is nicely considered on the Escape Advent Calendars website; each of the 25 puzzles has a good number of progressive hints before the solution is revealed. My only qualm however is that to access the hints, you have to sign up for an account on the website. I’m not sure about the prospect of giving my personal data to access some hints for an escape game that accumulatively lasts around an hour. Maybe a purchase code to unlock the hints (and thus, proving purchase) might be more suitable?

Regarding innovation, the concept behind the game is certainly original. It’s really great to see companies like Escape Advent Calendars, breathing new life into the standard advent calendar. The puzzles I feel, are not that innovative however. Almost all of the puzzles I have seen countless times, in some variation or another in conventional escape games. Puzzle types include but are not limited to; code decipher, directional, colour-coding and observation.

Nelson Strikes Again…

You know who had fun? Nelson my cat. As you can see below, she was very happy rolling around with the puzzle components whilst we did the hard work! In all seriousness, this was a light-hearted and fun way to spend a Saturday evening. Yes, we completed the product unconventionally; I.E.: not doing one puzzle a day, for 25 days, but it didn’t dampen the fun at all.

How Many Carrots To Buy?

The recommended retail price is at £19.99. Considering the overall accumulative time spent playing and the puzzles presented, I feel that this price point is a little too high. I’d recommend looking out for a sale price on The Panic Room Online (where we purchased this copy) or another retail supplier to capitalise on the value.

For The Advent Apprentice Or Expert?

I’d recommend this to families with children and adults who aren’t necessarily into puzzles. The very small learning curve and overall accessibility would be perfect for these player demographics. Based on the price however, I’m not sure if escape room enthusiasts will get enough out of this in terms of challenge.


Overall this is a suitable and accessible escape-room-advent-calendar which can be enjoyed, especially by families with children. What it lacks in puzzle innovation and the steeper end of sale prices, makes up in overall holiday theming, fun and good quality. If you can find it on sale, out of season, I’d snap it right up ready for the upcoming holiday period… or right now if you prefer!

The Mystery of the Half Eaten Carrots can be purchased for £20 from The Panic Room’s website here.

Wordle & The Paradox Of Language In Escape Games


Disclaimer! This is from Wordle 235, dated 09/02/22 and is not a spoiler.

I’m sure the majority of readers have come across Wordle, a 5 letter puzzle game where a word is presented daily to guess in 6 attempts. Then, once you find the word (or not), you can show your achievement of how few attempts it took on all social medias; with a pretty, spoiler-free “footprint” image of your playing history to boot.

A Quick History

Wordle was created by Josh Wardle, an American citizen, and subsequently has been bought by the New York Times as part of their games suite. Despite this, it is currently a huge hit in the UK. I am one of many who enjoys the daily challenge it presents. If you look at my Twitter page, the only things I presently post, are TER news and reviews (usually mine!) and Wordle results. Even my family, have a Whatsapp group called ‘Wordle Nerds’ where we post our results religiously and compare accordingly.

Wordle 235

On Wednesday, this week just passed, we British Wordle users were stopped in our tracks. As the answer to Wordle 235 was a 5 letter word in US English, but a 6 letter word in UK English. Cue twitter enragements. Including myself and my fellow writer Nick.

It was so poorly received, that a “British” version of the game; called Wourdle, was born; with its first word being, you guessed it, the 6 letter word in question. Even the British embassy in the US had their say!

There Is A Point To This I Swear

Ok… rant over. Some readers are probably thinking; “its an American-born game, just suck it up and move on”. But I disagree. If a game is so popular in the UK, surely the chooser of the daily word should be more mindful of our language differences? Also, according to his wikipedia page, Josh Wardle is UK born and spent time studying at university here.

Back in February, a similar issue occured with Wordle 207, however between then and Wordle 235, UK engagement has rapidly increased, hence the larger volume in outcry compared to previous.

My point is, that as game designers, we need to be considerate and respectful of the complexity of the English language when designing word-based puzzles and conundrums. I myself will hold my hands up in failing to acknowledge this, in my previous escape game AIRLOCK.

One of the puzzles designed, included a horoscope page from a newspaper that had letters circled, spelling out the phrase:

“Ten and three, focus on the tears and the spaces you see”.

Pages ten and three in the clue document; given to the team at the start in the game, had rips in them, highlighting the tears in the sentence above. The problem is, tears can be pronounced as tairs, as intended… or tee-ars; as in the tears of someone crying.

Guess what around 90% of teams initially prounounced it as…

Then, guess how long on average it took players to realise to pronounce it differently… about 7 minutes per team on average of a 60 minute timed game, lost on a pronounciation trap.

Whilst designing the game, I never considered the double pronounciation of the word. Now looking retrospecively, I feel it should have been signposted better, to evade the inevitable trap. Or alternatively, scrap the puzzle entirely.

In Conclusion

I feel as game designers, we need to cater to our audience fairly and not provide them with pitfalls to fall in, that can make them feel silly; intentional or otherwise. Hopefully the Wordle team have taken this on board; due to the reaction from Wordle 235, and as a result; create an experience that is universally fair, for all users of the confusing and goal-post-shifting English language.

Overboard! | Review


Overboard! Review | Overboard! is a whodunnit where you’re the one whodunnit. You have just eight hours to cover the evidence, mislead the witnesses, frame another suspect and escape … if you can!

Developer: inkle
Console Played On: Switch
Number Of Players: 1
Touchscreen Compatible: Yes

Do you like murder mysteries? Check ✅

Do you find pre-war dramatic irony; amusing? Check ✅

Do the tactics of dirt-flinging journalists excite you? Check ✅

Well if so, this whodunnit game might be for you.

(Overboard! is not to be confused with the 1997 PS1 Adventure game of the same name :D)


The Clock Is Ticking

July, 1935. Wealthy Malcolm Villensey’s fortune has been wiped out overnight. He and his starlet wife, Veronica, have escaped aboard the SS Hook for a new life in America—but Mrs. Villensey has other plans. And one little push is all it takes.

As Veronica, the game begins swiftly, by throwing you straight into the action. You push your husband off the SS Hook at night. You return to your cabin and wake up at 8am the next morning realising it wasn’t a dream. You have 8 hours before you arrive at New York to cover your tracks and convince the rest of the personnel on the ship that you are innocent.



No Crime Is Perfect

Finally! A game has come along where you play not as the detective of the whodunnit, but instead as the perpetrator. The core game loop involves either making decisions on either actions to take or choosing what is the best thing to say to whichever person you encounter depending on the time and where you are on the ship. There is a plethora of variables because of this, which creates a game that can be enjoyed in short-sharp bursts. You can complete the core game loop for the first time, in as quickly as 5 minutes; however the beauty lies in trying and trying again, looking for patterns to obtain a better or different ending that provides even more information for even further gameplay.



No One Is Innocent

Speaking of which, there are multiple scenarios that fall into 5 different ending types; 2 unsuccessful and 3 successful. But even if you find the most successful ending (which on its own, involves a large amount of research and playing finesse), that doesn’t necessarily mean your Overboard! journey ends there. The other characters on boat might have sordid secrets of their own that they are trying to hide(!), providing even more incentive to continue playing.

It all adds up in creating a robust package that has much, much more life to it; than initially meets the eye. The stellar script writing and character design creates a strong element of immersion and further invests the player into playing the core game loop multiple times. Many a time I was open-mouthed when I found a secret of an NPC that was juicy and scandalous.

The controls are at the base, a single action button and directional to choose where you go or what you say. It’s all it needs and it’s superb. There is touchscreen compatibility too for the Switch version, for further accessibility.



Jumping Overboard Isn’t Enough

Overboard! is priced at £11.39 on both Switch and Steam. For this I’d estimate somewhere around 20-50 plays, each clocking in between 5 and 30 minutes. Therefore, this could keep you occupied for anywhere between 2 and 10+ hours. It’s a large variance I appreciate, especially when you also consider the completionism factor, should you wish to see every scenario…or not. The game is easy to play, easy to put down, then pick back up. It also sucks you in super quickly, therefore I could very easily see many people ending up on the further end of my estimate spectrum. With all of this in mind, I’d argue that this price point is very good value for money.



For The Seasoned Starlet Or The Up-And-Coming Artist?

I can easily recommend this game to almost anyone of all playing experiences. It’s simple enough to get started with for beginner and even non-puzzler/escape room enthusiast types (the green text signposting after a first playthrough attempt, is a welcome feature), and enough underneath the surface to keep the seasoned escaper coming back for more.

Two warnings; firstly, this does have adult themes therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under 18. Secondly, whilst the learning curve is balanced and accessible from the off, to be wholly successful in Overboard!; requires a lot of attention, multiple trials and most importantly time management. Thankfully, the ability to rewind a scene or start again from the beginning if a mistake is made during a run, proves all the more how accessible Overboard! is.


In the present day, where there’s an abundance of choice, when it comes to what to play; alongside a finite amount of time and money to take a risk on a purchase, Overboard! provides a low risk option that pulls you straight in and pays dividends, the more and more it’s played. I highly recommend it for its fantastic script writing, accessibility, striking, era-appropriate visuals and innovative mechanics on an old, tired theme that is in timely need of a change. Because of all of its merits, I am hereby awarding this whodunnit the Best In Genre badge.

Buy it and enjoy the ride.

Please Note: We received this experience for free in exchange for an honest review.