For fans of the weird, the wonderful, and the utterly immersive… Something exciting is coming in 2024. From the creators of The Locksmith’s Dream comes an announcement of a new experience: The Key of Dreams.
We sat down with the two creators, Ivan and Laura, a super-team of designers and creators to find out just what The Key of Dreams is, and what can players expect.
So, what is The Key of Dreams?
Laura: The Key of Dreams is a bit tricky to categorise – maybe we need to coin a new phrase for it. It shares some DNA with escape rooms, immersive dining experiences, Secret Cinema, Punchdrunk immersive theatre and experiences like Phantom Peak, but yet isn’t directly comparable with any of these. In the most basic form it is an overnight immersive and interactive experience with an unrivalled attention to detail and a feeling of consequence.
Ivan: As part of that, guests explore a 17th Century manor house in Wales, discovering secrets that are both real history of the place and parts of the stories we weave there. There are a range of puzzles to solve, from simple trails following paths of clues to unlock boxes, narrative told in snatches of letters, journals, artworks and objects to discovering the stories of the characters of the house through interacting with the actors. The actor to guest ratio is four to one, this combined with the length of the experience means that people develop strong opinions about the characters, their trustworthiness and motives.
There are a range of puzzles to solve, from simple trails following paths of clues to unlock boxes, narrative told in snatches of letters, journals, artworks and objects to discovering the stories of the characters of the house through interacting with the actors.
Laura: Hospitality is also a huge part of the experience for us. The twenty fours hours that the experience lasts comes with all the meals you’d expect – and more. There’s an arrival lunch, an afternoon tea, a banquet dinner with stories and mysteries woven through the dishes and after dinner nibbles served in the bar where you can relax with a cocktail to celebrate your excellent sleuthing. The following day, a hearty breakfast sets you up for the final investigations.
You’ve compared it to other immersive experiences – but what else sets The Key of Dreams apart?
Ivan: At its heart, the Key of Dreams is about connection.
These can be human connections with other guests, the actors or characters in the stories. Moments of realisation provide another spark of connection, whether it happens when a puzzle clicks satisfyingly into place; when a piece of music suddenly makes everything come together and make sense; when you realise who a character is and how they were involved with one of the stories you have followed; and the friendships made along the way with other guests.
Laura: We are huge fans of weird fiction and of role playing games like Call of Cthulhu. We love the depth of description and attention to detail that helps to make the deductions, and to help us feel truly immersed in the world. While we consider the word immersive to be overused, it really is what we are trying to create here. That for the twenty four hours you exist in the house, you are part of the strange, timeless place; the outside world seems distant and less real while you are there and you happily give yourself over to the dream-like quality of the experience.
Just sitting in an ancient house, in front of a roaring fire surrounded by the ghosts of history, is an experience that cannot be translated into another medium. When you weave ‘imagined’ history through that experience, the ghosts of the real people with the imagined, factual events with the phantasmagorical, then it becomes truly extraordinary.
Meet The Collector
What was the design process like for creating an experience like this?
Laura: Much of our design process revolves around the concept of ‘apophenia’ which it turns out is a much more recent and less commonly used word than anyone who knows us might expect! Apophenia is “the human tendency to see connections and patterns that are not really there”. But in our world of course they often are!
Ivan: We take all of the details we have, historical facts, characters, places in and near the house, objects, sounds, colours, flavours and smells and then create links between them. Attention to detail is a big deal. When attending our events, we want the suspension of disbelief to happen naturally, to slowly creep over you, like the dawning realisation that comes over a character in a Lovecraft story. You won’t find any bits of paper with roleplay effects, you won’t be told how you are feeling, and you won’t be expected to believe anything is something other than it appears to be. But if we’ve done our job right, you’ll find yourself muttering over scraps of paper in a corner lit by lantern-light, pointing at some feature of the craved wall, or telling a character your deepest fear (even though you strongly suspect that by doing so you may be imperilling your mortal soul).
Laura: When we write, we become pretty deeply immersed in everything ourselves and I’m not sure how good it is for our own sanity! But apophenia works! We recently had a guest message us to say that he was convinced that we’d hidden a secret message in our website and he’d been scouring it for hours to try and work it out! And of course – he may be right…
Ivan: There’s actually a quote I love from the Sherlock Holmes reimagining Elementary that sums it up this part of the design and the experience perfectly:
“It has its cost, learning to see the puzzle in everything. They’re everywhere. Once you start looking, it’s impossible to stop. It just so happens that people, with all the deceits and illusions that inform everything they do, tend to be the most fascinating puzzles of all.”
The staircases inside the Key of Dreams
Connections between people (and things) is at the centre of this experience, could you talk more about how The Key of Dreams brings people together?
Laura: We say that our events have no ‘right way’ to experience them and it really is true. For previous events we have run, we’ve had people turn up in character and hold their role all weekend in how they interacted with the actors and other guests. We had people come along with their partner or family members who knew nothing about the experience that they were coming to, we had escape room folks who came and sped off around the house following clues, interrogating the characters and solving puzzles, and everyone loved it.
Laura: Creating an experience like this can be a bit overwhelming, by design there is far more than people can experience in one sitting. We make sure there is plenty of story to follow and we try very hard to ensure that there isn’t just one way to solve each problem. For instance, when writing trail clues, we usually have three ways to solve them: there is the ‘I’m a fan of the stories’ who has the knowledge, the ‘I’ll put in the legwork’ who can go and discover the answer from a specific place in the house and the ‘I’m a researcher’ who can find the answer in the commonplace book that they are given on entry in to the house.
Ivan: In a roleplaying game, whether of the tabletop or live action variety, if someone isn’t in character when they should be they break the social contract which makes the game less enjoyable for the other participants. We want to *invite* our guests to play a role when interacting with the actors, to believe in the stories and events, but on their own terms and at their own pace. As they get deeper into the stories and the experience it becomes easier, and all the more delightful to unexpectedly find yourself trading dark secrets with a denizen of the house, or making a connection that makes complete sense within the dream-like logic of the house.
Laura: As someone who suffers with anxiety and can easily become overwhelmed, the experience is designed to include the opportunity to be in a quiet space while still being near the flow of the action. We have puzzles in the bar and in the quiet sitting room, which develop the story, but also help people just to take some time to reset. Additionally, building in some structured activities like a house tour, or dance class with the actors, is a great way for people to learn more about the lore without feeling awkward about approaching people.
The Key of Dreams is set in the past, how does technology factor into the experience?
Ivan: While we don’t force people to have to accept that they are experiencing time travel, the house is itself out of step with the real world, even more so at night. Because of the 1920s vibe that the place has, we aim for the experience to be as diegetic as possible, from music to objects and the technology/science elements. We don’t want people to be wondering how they should be reacting to something, a speaker behind a picture might be able to play atmospheric music, but from the context it isn’t clear how you should respond to it, pretend it isn’t there, or consider who and why it was placed there.
Ivan: Our aim is for the technology to always be in service to the experience and the story, so that they contribute to that little moment of delight that the guest will remember and tell their friends about. We have some utterly delightful embedded technology planned for the Key of Dreams, which should really give a sense of magic. We aren’t ready to reveal our secrets at this time, But we have been dabbling with psychometry and spirit photography!
One of the rooms in The Key of Dreams
Finally, what do you hope people will take away from their experience at The Key of Dreams?
Ivan: A sense of magic and wonder. To be drawn into a world both familiar and unfamiliar in an extraordinary place. To have stories to tell about the little moment of delight. There are physical mementoes of course as well, from the ‘Commonplace book’ crammed with clues, and diversions that each guest will get, to other ephemera that they will get to take away.
Laura: The world we live in can be a hard one; it can be relentless and unforgiving. There is a joy to be found in letting go of that for a day, exploring a strange and mystical place, even if you’re interacting with some sinister beings and unravelling some unpleasant stories. There is a special quality to a shared experience, whether that is dining with fellow investigators, exploring a house, uncovering secrets, and plotting with (or against). There is a Lovecraft quote which captures our hopes that our guests will,
“clothe life in embroidered robes of myth and look through the ivory gates into that world of wonder which was ours before we were wise and unhappy.”
Laura: We love our growing community of cultists, investigators and enthusiasts! Your readers should have a peek at The Key of Dreams website, and if it appeals can sign-up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook or Instagram. We also have a blog on our site, which is where I get to talk about my passion for literature and we’ll talk more about the design or inspirations as they arise.
Laura: Our website has information about what you can expect and about the house and how to book. There is also a section on ‘Investigations’ that is currently rather heavily redacted which will fill up over time with teasers and snippets of lore about the world (prize for the reader that creates the best red string diagram!). Over the next few months there will be more information about the characters, societies of interest and objects of curiosity appearing – so do check back. The best way to keep up to date with everything is to come and join our mailing list. That is where the date announcements, competitions and early access to new details will be in the newsletters.
How to book The Key of Dreams?
The first two events have been announced, and will be on the 27th and 30th of April 2024.
Discount for The Escape Roomer readers! As a special treat for The Escape Roomer fans you can get a 10% Discount for all April tickets until the end of October. Just use the code APOPHENIA when you check out.
You can also book a deposit for a future 2024 event and get a 10% discount early-bird discount as well.
A few months ago, I completed the DecodeXP teambuilding day with my workplace. Throughout the day I spent quite a bit of time discussing all things escape rooms with Jamie and had such interesting discussions I knew I had to interview him! It took a few months, but we managed to grab a coffee together and he gave me a chance to pick his brains.
Hey Jamie! Great to see you again. One of the things that struck me before was your interesting background. Could you remind me about it?
I was an army officer for about six years, and I still do some things with the reserves. When I was about 25 a group of us took a trip to Budapest and we did three or four more advanced escape rooms there. It made me realise three things – firstly, the complexity of the build in Budapest was way ahead of what there was in Europe at the time, which meant there was the opportunity for the tech to be used better in the UK. Second, we picked up on the fact that the team in the escape room really reflected what we were like in real life, and I was especially interested in the dominant and less dominant characteristics coming out in that environment. Finally, the time you’re in an escape room is completely unique and personal to you, which is an incredibly powerful time that has relevance in the corporate and business world. Earning a free sample or a team photo, rather than buying it or just being handed it, is a massively profound change on the way you think about that.
Long story short we decided to test these theories and we created the first room in the UK to be built in a shipping container! It was 40ft long, called “Heist”, and it allowed us to learn how to build experiences. From there, we kind of wanted to focus on not just commercial experiences, but whether we could get brands to offer this to their people as a retention or internal marketing strategy. We tested this with Dyson, who was our first big client, and I worked with their engineers to build a room harnessing different bits of Dyson technology.
There’s a really cool YouTube video you can watch here!
I saw the video of that! I think it was amazing how you worked the Dyson technology in, and I think it was Dyson’s most popular social media campaign that year? That was pre-covid though – I imagine the pandemic affected your business quite a bit?
Yeah, during Covid we obviously couldn’t run these in-person rooms anymore, but it gave us the time to focus on creating DecodeXP. We took the best we could find in the industry and the army and brought this team of behavioural analysts together to create a product we knew would be valuable once we came out of Covid.
Your experiences are always unique. Do you have a philosophy or method for designing your rooms?
We’re continually iterating on how to make problem-solving a learned skill, rather than just something we do day-to-day but don’t practice. We basically want to focus on the needs of the client first; understanding that and then developing the experience afterwards, which is a bit different from how others maybe do it. Our Samsung room was a great example of this – the initial brief mentioned that it was for an influencer campaign, but it was only after spending time talking to Samsung that we realised the intention was to livestream the room, which meant we wanted to have lots of puzzles which were quick and easy to solve (no one wants to watch someone sat there thinking for a while), and make sure there were lots of flashy effects and wow moments that would look great on camera and make great content.
Of all the experiences you’ve created, what is the most fun or satisfying puzzle you created?
We’re about to launch an escape in the Aviation Gin distillery, which I think is unbelievable. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Ryan Reynolds, but the marketing agency had a very clear vision which we’ve replicated in the escape room. There are some really fun things in that room, like having to make a cocktail. It’s definitely the most satisfied I’ve been with a room.
Assuming you enjoy escape rooms yourself, what is your favourite trope to see?
The element of surprise. Anyone who has done a few rooms realises there’s an element of continuity, so anytime I’m genuinely surprised by an outcome it’s really cool. There are some great moments in the latest ClueQuest room that kind of completely flip what it is to be an escape room on its head. I think that’s the next stage for more traditional escape rooms – finding ways to break off the narrative. There’s a need to continually innovate now, especially in bigger towns and cities.
What would be your dream escape room to play, and what would be your dream room to design/build?
Before Covid we were talking to Darren Brown for a while. I’m also a fan of how immersive ‘The Crystal Maze’ experience is and the way the actor and set are used there. I think there’s a market for an escape room that offers multiple endings, that you can do more than once as an individual and have different outcomes. We’ve got some rough designs for this already, but I’d need to get funding for it.
Do you find there’s much difference between UK and US rooms?
I think we’re probably still slightly behind America. In America, some of the rooms we did were just next level. Not necessarily in terms of puzzles or narrative, but in terms of set design. The stuff that these guys do is awesome and really immersive. There’s no need for reliance on padlocks anymore – you can get electronic locks and even full puzzles fairly cheaply, so there’s not really any excuse anymore.
What about theme? Is there one theme you haven’t seen that you think is being missed/slept on?
I’ve not yet done a space-based room, certainly in the UK, that I can look back on and go “That was really, really cool.” So maybe a cool space room.
(We here at The Escape Roomer recommend Spacescape at Ctrl, Alt Escape. We’ve also heard there’s a new space room at Co-Decode, and although we haven’t done it their other rooms are great!)
What’s your favourite room you’ve done? Or what is a room you’d recommend?
I hate this question! I always recommend ClueQuest – they’re the only rooms I’ve done in London that have the same standard as I see elsewhere. Other rooms I’ve done in London have unique narratives but are let down by the puzzles. Galactic Warriors in Prague was unbelievable and was probably the most immersed I’ve been.
When it comes to building puzzles, is it always solution first, or do you sometimes immediately know what you want to do?
I think we always have immediate inspiration about the types of puzzles we’re going to use, but there’s a lot to be said for not pre-empting what we’re going to design. Sometimes companies already have ideas, and then we have to explain why they won’t necessary work which obviously isn’t a great foot to start on. We spend a while in the workshop and have a relatively similar structure each time, where we try to understand what the client wants and then sometimes the solution presents itself, rather than needing us to engineer it. Often requirements like certain functionality or results, or time and budget, quite quickly narrows down the options.
After running so many sessions you must have some great stories! Anything you can share?
I think we’ve had a few storm outs. I think people tend to see it as a challenge of their cognitive ability, which it really isn’t – none of the puzzles are that complex, and they’re more designed to generate teamwork, or see where the natural teamwork comes to the fore. Often, we have people inadvertently leaning against clues or completely missing something. I’m a terrible watcher though – it’s hard not to jump in and I have to force myself to be more passive. It’s also interesting seeing how a room of officer cadets might behave versus a team of accountants. The more rooms we do, the more data we get, so we’re redesigning the programme to focus more on different types of puzzles solving, so moving the escape room to later in the day and focusing on individual puzzles and escape room boxes to start with.
Has there ever been a case where someone has behaved completely differently in an escape room than you thought they would be, or afterwards seemed completely different?
We actually ran a session where my ears pricked up because one of the girls in the room had found the perfect solution but just as she was speaking someone else spoke directly over her and said “we need to go and do this”, so I started a stopwatch. They carried on and around 18 minutes later they got back together and said “we can’t solve this puzzle”, to which the girl said “yeah, here’s the solution”, and I paused the stopwatch. In the debrief session (which we always do after a room) we pointed out that she’d had the answer way before and that it had cost them 18 minutes. That sort of thing is fine in an escape room context, but you take that into a meeting room – how many times have you seen someone’s idea in a meeting spoken over and ignored? What if that’s the idea that gets you to the solution?
What’s the spark that keeps you going? What do you really love doing?
Such a good question. I really like the creative phase. I’m really selfish and like the fun bits. My brother Sam, our Operations Manager, very much deals with delivering the product, the setup, making sure the right staff are there and that everything actually works. I’m not very good at that bit, but I like taking a new concept and working out how to get to there. That’s the bit that I really enjoy.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I’d probably still be with the army, or like a manager or consultant. I don’t know – maybe I’d start another business. I like the idea of getting up and being accountable for what I do each day, and if we have a good sales meeting we go out for a nice meal, and if we have a month of bad meetings we go to McDonalds. It’s kind of fun and a more interesting way of doing our day-to-day. We’re lucky – we work with some really cool clients, on numerous different projects, and the longer we keep going the easier it gets from that side.
Who’s been your favourite client?
It has to be Dyson. We were just two guys with a shipping container and they trusted us with this massive campus and project, despite not really knowing how we were going to do it. We got to work with their comms teams, and my fondest memory has to be explaining how to engineer a puzzle to a room of 200 Dyson engineers!
What’s next for DecodeXP/Challenger escapes?
For DecodeXP we’re about to launch residentials – 48 hour-long, more immersive experiences that really test people and take them out of their comfort zones.
For Challenger escapes we’re working on a big project which I can’t talk about yet, as well as launching a video game room at ComicCon and the Aviation Gin room that I mentioned before. We’re also expanding our work with Savilles to do more building-based rooms in the next six months. I don’t know what else we’ll do, but we’ll keep going!
Earlier this year Professor Puzzle, the UK based puzzle game company, launched one of the snazziest looking escape games in-a-box we’ve seen in a while: Danger in the Deep. Set on a submarine, players are instructed to “navigate your way through the deserted sub, crack the shutdown code, disable the warheads, and locate the enemy agent. All in two hours!” You can read more about what to expect in our latest review, or head directly to Amazon to pick up a copy for yourself!
We recently had a chance to catch up with James and Elliot, two of the game’s creators to find out more about themselves and what exactly goes in to creating a game like Danger in the Deep. They’re both incredibly busy working hard on designing some fantastic looking games for the future and so we’ve tried to limit this interview to just a few key questions about their most recent game, Danger in the Deep. Though believe me, I could pick their brains for hours!
Meet James, Game Designer at Professor Puzzle
Mairi: Hey it’s so great to meet you both! Please could you introduce yourselves?
James: Ooh, shall I go first?
Elliot: Yeah, I mean I’ve never heard you say your name-
James: It’s James Smith, and we’re not just colleagues but actually long time friends as much as it pains Elliot. Haha! I’m the game designer for Danger in the Deep, so I wrote the story, designed the puzzles, and so on. I joined Professor Puzzle about two years ago, I spent the first summer tweaking a couple of their existing games, but Danger in the Deep was the first time I got to work closely with Elliot!
Elliot: I’m Elliot Humphries, a senior designer at Professor Puzzle. I’ve been with the company for over 10 years, from back when we were just a couple of guys in a room above a warehouse selling metal and wooden puzzles. But over the course of those 10 years we’ve grown from 4 or 5 people to well over 50 of us now! I’ve been involved in the design for a long time, but the escape room games only began around four years ago. That’s what I’m focusing on now. They’re pretty cool because they take the “Puzzle” part of the Professor Puzzle brand but make them a bit more relevant for the modern consumer compared to the puzzles we created 10 years ago.
Meet Elliot, Senior Designer at Professor Puzzle
Mairi: Oh wow, a long time! How did you both get into the puzzle game industry?
James: Me? Definitely not a typical trajectory. I graduated from studying Classics at university… So I’m responsible for 100% of all Greek and Roman references in Professor Puzzle! Then I worked at my local council for about 7 years, and another local council after that. I’ve always been into games, and one day Elliot suggested I come to work for Professor Puzzle. Back then the company was just beginning to focus even more on the escape room games. The thing that appealed the most was the writing aspect of it. So making something that’s not just a pick-up and play game, but a whole story you’re experiencing through the game. That’s sort of inherent in escape rooms in general and I wanted to take our boxed escape room games in that direction.
Elliot: As for me, I joined Professor Puzzle right out of university. I used to live in this small town called Shepperton and that’s where Professor Puzzle first started. The team was a five minute walk up the road, which was basically the other side of town! I started out helping with filling out invoices, helping at the warehouse, and then it became more and more about the design. I very much fell into it but it aligned so well with my sensibilities and that’s what’s kept me here for so long!
Mairi: Cool! And what kind of games inspire you both?
James: I’ve played a lot of Exit and Unlock games! They’re consistently good and very concise – I think my first one was the Pharaoh’s Tomb. But beyond escape room games I play a lot more video games than I do book or tabletop games to be honest. One of my biggest inspirations behind parts of Danger in the Deep was a fantastic video game by Lucas Pope called Return of the Obra Dinn. I think it’s the best puzzle game since Portal. Now I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but one of the puzzles in Danger in the Deep which I call the “Chain of Command” puzzle was inspired by Return of the Obra Dinn. Originally that puzzle was going to be the big finale, but as we came up with more ideas it evolved away from that and now it sits comfortably in the middle.
Mairi: How about you Elliot?
Elliot: Same actually, I’ve done a lot of the Unlock! games and I find those really fun. I do those with my wife and they’re not too hard, not too easy, nicely in the middle! Haha forgive me, I’ve got a little left over brain fog from covid, so the thought of doing one of the more difficult puzzle games out there and expending the brain power needed to solve them terrifies me!
Elliot: One game that really jumps to mind is again, like James, a video game. It’s It Takes Two – from a co-operative angle I thought that game was amazing, and I think that’s something we try to put into our games too. We want to give players stuff they can do together. We’ve even written the words “Collaborative Escape Game” on the box! As you know there’s three books in Danger in the Deep and players have to work together collaboratively as they work through all the information – someone has one piece of the puzzle and another person has another piece of the puzzle, and so solving Danger in the Deep requires a lot of collaboration and communication.
Elliot: From a design side haha, I don’t know. I’m probably the worst (or the best) at pulling inspiration from lots of places and putting strange visual references in these games and hope nobody pulls me up on it!
James: Elliot’s also got a reputation for sneaking himself into every product in the Professor Puzzle line! If you look closely you’ll probably find a photo of Elliot in there somewhere!
Elliot: Haha yeah, there’s only a small handful of games where I’m not in them in some way.
Mairi: Yeah I spotted those, are all the photos of the crew members in Danger in the Deep your colleagues?
James: Mostly! There’s one or two who were stock photos. Originally that puzzle was going to be illustrated, but then Elliot came back with a “What if we do a photoshoot?” It was unfortunately in the middle of the COVID lockdown, so we had some challenges there. The crew members you see in the game is everyone we could get into the office.
Elliot: I ordered a load of boiler suits too, all mediums and large, then two of the guys who I asked to come in are six foot four and they didn’t fit in anything!
James: In the end it was a ‘each person in front of a green screen’ sort of thing. Everyone’s a colleague except for two of them, the commander and the captain, they were stock images-
Elliot: Stock images, but they were your body! I just put an old man’s head on James’ body and no one could tell!
James: Haha, I’ve got the body of an old man!?
Danger in the Deep Puzzle Design – Before and After!
“If we put a detail into the game, there’s a reason!”
Mairi: So tell me more about Danger in the Deep! Where did the idea come from and how did you bring it to life?
Elliot: Ooh, big question! So with any new game we really start with the rough idea then start making loads of lists and ideas. We had the central idea for a submarine, so we knew we wanted a blueprints or a map, then it was a case of thinking “Ok, what is in a submarine and what can we make puzzles out of?” We come up with a quota for how many puzzles and what we want out of them.
James: We always start big and need to cut it down so that we’re left with the best stuff!
Elliot: From there we build a narrative flow diagram which is useful in allocating the story beats, such as where puzzles happen, and making sure it’s evenly paced. A flow diagram is a great visual way of telling how and when things interlink. Over time we build up these really crazy maps!
James: It can be a mess for a while but it gets better. It’s super important to establish that theme right at the start too. So it’s not just the setting. We began with ‘submarine’ but there were so many directions it could have gone. It could have been like you’re on the HMS Belfast in London and you’re stuck on it for example. The angle we went with was inspired by James Bond with a dash of The Incredibles as well. That vibe can really inform the puzzles that go in the finished game, so when you go “it’s a spy thriller on a submarine” you’re not just looking at mechanical wiring puzzles, you can have decoding puzzles, you can shutdown nukes, and use gadgets to investigate and interact with the submarine.
Elliot: From a physical standpoint as well, when we were designing Danger in the Deep we had a specific box format to work to with the internal tray fittings the same as the Starline Express and The Grand Hotel. So we thought “what can we do with this?” and started to think about all the things we could fit in and hide into the space.
James: One of the key things for us to to make sure everything has a purpose as well. That’s something we did with this game, a lot of the little details in the booklets and on the box give clues as to how to solve puzzles. There are many puzzles in there that can be approached in different ways too. One player may not pick up on all the details, but if we put a detail into the game there’s a reason. I won’t give any spoilers so let’s just say there might be more than one way to solve a puzzle!
Danger in the Deep – Behind the Scenes
Mairi: What’s coming next for Professor Puzzle?
Elliot: We finished work recently on a new game set in a Gothic castle called “Curse of the Dark“, or as I like to call it, it’s internal codename which James absolutely hates is “Spooky Castle”
James rolls his eyes and laughs.
James: So, many of our upcoming games follow a similar format, they’ll be tile based, have a scratch off symbol hint system, have a series of books, and a big centrepiece- like the blueprints. Curse of the Dark is a much bigger game. In Danger in the Deep there are 22 cards, in Curse of the Dark... Let’s think… There are about 60, 65 odd cards. So it’s big, really big! We’re really proud of it!
Mairi: When is Code Spooky Castle– haha I mean Curse of the Dark due to release?
James: We hope we’ll have the finished product back from the factory by April-May time, but it should be in stores by late May.
Mairi: Any others?
James: There’s also a kids escape room game launching this summer set in an aquarium, for ages 8 – 12, again I can’t give an exact time but very soon!
Elliot & James with their upcoming game, Curse of the Dark!
“Make games you’d want to play, make them good and be proud of them.”
Mairi: Okay final question, what advice would you give to somebody who wanted to create puzzle games like yours?
James: Big question! So I suppose we both kind of fell into this ourselves, but my biggest advice would be simple: Just make stuff!
Elliot: I’d also say it’s really important to make things you’d love, or games that you’d want to play. With Danger in the Deep we really wanted to create this game, but a few people had some uncertainty about the theme. We were like “I don’t know if this is going to be a success, but look we’ve got this really good idea and if you let us make this it may not sell well but it will be good.” As a creative person, you obviously want things to sell really well, but more importantly you want them to be good.
James: Yeah absolutely. Make games you’d want to play, make them good and be proud of them. One more thing I’d add is that our first versions of every game were on Word documents and Excel. They’re just scribbles, drawings on a whiteboard or silly cartoon people doing poses. Point being, you don’t need the best tools or funding or a factory to produce your game, your first version can be on paper and card and whatever you can find around your office. Don’t be afraid if the first version is rough. Nobody, certainly not us at Professor Puzzle get it right the first time. You go over your game with a fine-tooth comb and keep improving it.
Elliot: Yeah nobody springs into the world fully formed and makes a perfect game the first time. And if they have then they’re incredibly lucky and they probably won’t be able to replicate that effort the second time round. So yeah, just get out there and make stuff with confidence!
A huge shout out to James and Elliot for taking the time to chat to us. If you’re interested in checking out Danger in the Deep, you can head to Amazon – don’t forget to leave a review!
Here at The Escape Roomer we’re no stranger to puzzles no matter the form – room, box...or treasure hunt?
Last year Alex Horne released the fantastically titled ‘Bring Me The Head Of The Taskmaster‘ book and with it launched a global treasure hunt that has taken over hundreds of minds globally, as well as spawning a Reddit community and, naturally, a few of us here have also been obsessed.
It turns out that Alex is a very lovely man – each month he hosts a Zoom for those treasure hunters who crack the code, and has kindly allowed us to send him some questions of our own!
Hello Alex! Thank you for taking a break from a busy day of assisting to answer some eager questions from us, and congrats on your recent awards! We have been avidly following the Taskmaster Treasure hunt and would love to know how you came up with the idea?
I’ve always enjoyed treasure hunts, inspired, I think, by Easter Egg hunts as a kid. I like chocolate. A lot. I also like interactive things like Escape Rooms and The Crystal Maze. So it was a fairly short leap to get to making a Taskmaster Treasure Hunt. I must admit, however, that I didn’t know about Masquerade when I thought of the idea. I genuinely thought I was the first person to put a treasure hunt in a book!
How long did it take to create the treasure hunt?
It took about a year of lockdown. It was a useful distraction for me and, I hope, my two helpers, Dan Trelfer and Owen Powell. We would send ideas back and forth, stretching our brains and confirming if things worked or didn’t.
👆 Dan Trelfer & Alex Horne on Dan’s Vlog 👆
How did you come up with the puzzles? Are there any you’ve had to change as the hunt progressed?
I suppose I came up with the puzzles in the same way as I come up with Tasks from the show – I shut my eyes and hope for the best. There’s no plan or formula. They just sort of fall out of my brain. And ever since we left the confines of the grid in the book, we’ve been super-flexible. Readers have been far smarter than we gave them credit for so we’ve had to adapt every single time another clue is needed.
Has anything surprised you about the hunt?
I couldn’t believe how quickly people solved the 100 questions in the book. Unbelievable. I expected people to help each other on things like Reddit, but I was definitely – and pleasantly – surprised by just how far and wide the hunters would be spread. I’ve been in touch with people from every continent.
Bring Me the Head of the Taskmaster community
What’s been your favourite experience from the Treasure Hunt so far?
I host a zoom once a month for people who’ve found the details for that. It’s really fun to meet people who have invested so much time into something so silly.
Is there anything you didn’t manage to squeeze in that you wish you had?
No! It’s all there! My only regret is that I haven’t been able to film the whole thing because there have been some fantastic visual moments.
Is it too late to join the hunt?
Absolutely not! There are people joining all the time and everything is still possible to solve.
Do you have any advice for puzzle-makers out there?
Find a friend to test your puzzles on. You WILL make mistakes! You need to check and check again. Finally, be ambitious!
The hunt is quite puzzle-y, so you must also enjoy escape rooms, right?
My family and I love escape rooms. They bring the best and worst out of us, but they are always a valuable experience.
What’s the best/most enjoyable escape room experience you’ve had?
We spent a wet few days in Galway before the lockdown and the escape rooms meant it was one of our favourite ever holidays. They were simply laid out but well planned and brilliantly run. Also, we escaped (after just a couple of hints!)
If you had a magic wand (or an Assistant’s Assistant) what sort of escape room would you love to experience?
I’d like to go in an escape room set on the moon please.
You’ve just launched Taskmaster Supermax +, which is the first time a television show has essentially launched its own worldwide streaming service. Can you tell us a bit more about what to expect?
Well, it’s a curious experiment but the main idea is that it’ll be the ad-free home for all things Taskmaster. We will keep putting things up on Youtube, but EVERYTHING will eventually be on the Supermax+ platform: the international shows, extras, bespoke content and, of course, every single episode ever.
So you’ve got the Taskmaster Treasure Hunt, Taskmaster TV show, and The Horne Section…what’s coming next?
I’m literally going on holiday in 4 hours. I can’t wait – and nor can my wife!
Thank you so much for your time Alex! We hop you have a well deserved holiday! There is still time to get your hands on the book and join in the hunt, or just try out some of the challenges!
Hopefully The Escape Roomer team will soon be the owners of a silver bust… 😉
We are super pleased to announce that Karen Myers is joining The Escape Roomer as our latest escape room and features writer in London! 🙌
Karen joins us with a wealth of experience and knowledge about immersive theatre, escape rooms and more in and around London. A local escape room evangelist, there’s very few rooms she hasn’t done and we’re so excited to have her join us as a regular contributor on all things immersive puzzle games. But without further adieu, here is Karen to introduce herself:
Hey Karen, please introduce yourself!
Hello, my name’s Karen and I’m an escape room addict. I’m also a born and bred Londoner, a redhead, a travel fan who likes to go off the beaten track, a theatre addict especially if it’s immersive, a baker, a knitter and an occasional mudlarker. I do like to keep myself busy. And when I’m not indulging in one of my hobbies, to pay the bills I watch TV for a living.
How did you get into the world of escape rooms and puzzle games?
Until 2014 I didn’t even know such things as escape rooms existed! But after discovering the incredible immersive theatre production, ‘The Drowned Man’ by Punchdrunk (which totally blew my mind btw) I started searching London for similar immersive and playful experiences and somehow I stumbled on ‘Hint Hunt’ (now sadly closed). Once I realised that you could enter an imaginary world, hunt for clues, solve puzzles and answer riddles like a treasure hunt for adults I was hooked. I fell down the ER rabbit hole right there and then and I hope I never stop tumbling.
Do you have a memorable escape room story?
There’s no single story but for me there is unending joy in the discovery of a secret door in an escape room. Even when I can see the hinges by a bookcase or fireplace and I know it’s coming, that moment when a hidden door pops or pushes open is such a delight. A massive childish delight. And the first time I discovered that hidden door could be inside a wardrobe? There is almost nothing as delicious as a door in a wardrobe.
The secret book case as Breakin’
What are you most looking forward to playing?
So far I haven’t played many games outside London so I know there are some real treats out there still waiting to be explored. Because I love my immersive theatre, I’m really keen on playing games that have outstanding set designs as I like nothing better than feeling fully ‘lost’ in the game world. On this score, as well as the top notch puzzling, I’ve heard so many incredible reviews of the games at Darkmaster that they’re definitely at the top of my list of ‘must plays’. And I’m so excited to be getting my hands on the 3D table top game, Spectre and Vox, this summer (fingers crossed). Puzzle party at my place!
What sort of articles can our readers look forward to from you?
I’ve always got my eye out for something new, fresh and quirky in London so I hope I can hunt those down to share with our readers. I’m rampantly evangelical about the joys of being a grown up who finds time to ‘play’ in fun spaces, whether that’s immersive theatre, escape rooms, treasure hunts or similar. So I’d love to write articles that persuade the newbies and the nervous that getting involved in escaping, immersing or exploring is nothing to be scared of and that it absolutely can be life changing.
If you were given a blank cheque to create your dream ‘game’, what would it be like?
My absolute dream of a game would be Fireproof’s ‘The Room’ series of mobile/tablet games brought to real life by Punchdrunk. ‘The Room’s gloriously sumptuous visuals and intuitive puzzling meshed with Punchdrunk’s performative flair and world-building skills would be mind-meltingly good. And if that blank cheque can stretch to the game being housed in a glamorous villa somewhere in the Caribbean all the better.
We are super pleased to announce that Rick Porter is joining The Escape Roomer as our newest escape rooms editor in York! Rick joins us with a fantastic history of writing about the video games industry, covering guides, reviews and features for several digital and print-media publications.
Rick is also a huge board game fan, and like a lot of us here at The Escape Roomer, has “a board game cupboard in danger of falling through to the flat below“. Haha yep, I’m sure we all can relate!
We’re all looking forward to Rick’s articles, and he’ll be covering a little of everything – expect escape rooms, board games, immersive events in and around York and more! We’re so excited to have him join the team.
Keep an eye out for Rick’s features coming soon, but in the mean time here he is to introduce himself:
Hey Rick, please introduce yourself!
Hi, it’s nice to be here! Hmmm, what do you need to know about me… Well, I spent a sizable chunk of my life writing, editing and generally tending to videogame magazines and websites in Bournemouth. That was before I decided that I’d quite like my hobbies to be more hobby-like and not all-consuming, Sisyphean burdens. Due to the subject matter, I like to think that it was an industry that helped keep me young, but my 3-year-old son has already done a sterling job of reversing any possible benefit there could have been.
So I now live in York. A beautiful, walled city that – according to legend – has over 365 pubs. Many of which are apparently haunted. As well as potential ghosts, a lot of them also host pub quizzes – something else I really enjoy. I fill almost all my spare time with videogames, boardgames and puzzles and I‘m really looking forward to sharing my findings, experiences and thoughts with the Escape Roomer readers.
How did you get into the world of escape rooms and puzzle games?
I was introduced to escape rooms a fair few years ago when the first one popped up in York. The concept of escaping from a room by solving puzzles was something I’d seen plenty of in digital form, so doing it in real life against the clock really appealed to me. Unsurprisingly, I was hooked. The 18 months that followed saw me complete numerous escapes across York, Leeds, Bournemouth and London. After getting 20-30 rooms under my belt (relatively few, looking at the numbers some of the contributors here have clocked up) I started testing and providing feedback rooms for a company in York, which gave me more insight into how escape rooms are created.
The birth of my son caused an abrupt halt to my escapes, but I’m looking forward to getting back into them now he’s a bit older. I can’t wait to see how things have changed and improved while I’ve not been paying attention.
How about video games, do you have any favourites?
I could name several the usual classics here but, putting nostalgia aside for a moment, I think Portal 2 is certainly up there with the very best.
Every element of it is excellent and the mixture of ingenious puzzles, razor-sharp humour and increasingly oppressive atmosphere combine to make something truly memorable. Its predecessor, Portal, is also incredible and does a superb job of showing that games don’t need to be huge to be exceptional.
If you enjoy escaping from rooms, puzzles and disingenuous promises of cake then I can’t recommend the Portal games highly enough.
The cake is a lie!
What are you playing (…or solving) at the moment?
I’m spinning a couple of plates right now. Videogame-wise I’m gradually making my way through Horizon: Forbidden West, which I’m punctuating with slightly more arduous sessions of Elden Ring. I’m enjoying both a lot, so it’s a constant fight for my free time.
Although I’m currently taking something of a forced hiatus, my last six months have been dominated by the brilliant / daunting / frustrating / rewarding / ridiculous / surprising Taskmaster Treasure Hunt. It’s been an amazing experience so far and I’m sure there’s more in store as the final stages play out.
If you were given a blank cheque to create your dream ‘game’, what would it be like?
I’ve always thought that I’d like to put together a steampunk escape room – it’s a style I love, but it would probably take a huge amount of cash to do properly. The blank cheque would help a lot with the intricate machinery required to really set the scene.
However, now Alex Horne and his treasure hunt have showcased how versatile a book can be when combined with freely available online resources, I think I’d prefer to attempt a book project. Something that combines puzzle, story and art elements to create an experience that people can enjoy for months rather than a single hour.
We are very excited to have Rick on the team and a huge shout out to him for answering all these questions!
If you want to keep up with Rick, you can find him on Twitter.
Pine Studio are the creators of the recent smash hit “Escape Simulator” that launched a couple of months ago. We sat down with one of the studio’s four co-founders, Tomislav Podhraški, to talk all things escape rooms.
Mairi: Hey Tom, please introduce yourself!
Tom: Hey, my name is Tom, I’m based in Croatia and I founded Pine Studio back in April 2012!
It’s a funny story, I’ve been making games since middle school but we finally founded the studio from our garage when we were still in college.
Even in the early days when we were making Flash games we loved escape room games and made around 20 of those at the start –although that was such a long time ago it’s unlikely people will remember them haha!
We took a rest from the puzzles to create SEUM: Speedrunners from Hell, but after that we did the puzzle-based Birdcage and Faraway series on mobile which were super popular and spawned a bunch of fun sequels.
Mairi: So where did Escape Simulator come into this?
Tom: Well last year we decided to start doing something completely new and created Escape Simulator which came full circle back to the escape rooms we did in the past and now this.
Mairi: I’m guessing you love playing escape rooms? What are they like in Croatia?
Tom: For sure! But uh, I haven’t done that many. I’m all into designing a lot of them, and I really liked the ones I’ve played in person so far but there are still a lot I need to play.
Before my last birthday I visited a magic library room, I can’t remember the company name, but it was amazing. You enter a dark room and then turn on the lights and you see your Games Master sitting there in the middle of the room wearing a big hood and cloak haha – I’m smiling thinking about it now! Afterwards when we spoke to the Games Master she said that most teams start screaming or throwing things. It’s really funny actually.
Mairi: Has a lot changed in the video game world since you were making the early flash games to Escape Simulator now?
Tom: Well, for starters all the other escape games we made were 2D. Sure, there were some other puzzle games in 3D but they weren’t ‘escape room’ games. What we really wanted to do was focus on the ‘simulator’ part of Escape Simulator. Everything is interactable. At least for me, I don’t really like it when limitations of the game point you towards a specific solution, or you can only interact with a few objects.
So we said, “What if everything can be picked up?”, and that’s how Escape Simulator began.
Mairi: Let’s talk about the game itself! What was the inspiration behind Escape Simulator’s themed worlds?
Tom: Originally, we wanted each room to be based on different books. So each theme would be a book, but then over time we moved away from this idea but the roots stayed with us. So we created a kind of Victorian theme which could be like Sherlock Holmes, and the Ancient Egypt level is not specifically Indiana Jones or anything, but it evokes a similar feeling of adventure. Then of course the space level is like early sci-fi.
Mairi: Do you have a favourite theme?
Tom: I think I like the Egypt one the best, but we’re still working on more. We can’t share anything yet but there’s more content coming. In what form and how – that’s to be decided!
Mairi: Fair enough! I think my favourite themes are some of the amazing community escape rooms people have created!
Tom: Yeah! It’s absolutely crazy! We play the community games together as a team and I love what people come up with. I think there are around 700 community created escape rooms now.
There was one recently that was full of security cameras and there were amazing details like when you press on the door and it shakes and then it has a padlock on it. The padlock shakes through the door. And I know we didn’t do that! Someone in the community came up with that mechanic independently.
Mairi: That’s amazing! So has Escape Simulator’s launch been a big success in your eyes?
Tom: Yeah. A lot more people are playing the game than we expected.
I think a lot of it is down to the Escape Room Builder. We initially hadn’t planned to put it in the game at all – it was an experiment. We were reading news site and comment boards and people were like, “oh it would be great to have a level builder” so we thought “OK let’s do that”
But that’s just one part of the success. Another part is that its a fun escape game which you can play with your friends and we’ve got a great community now too.
Mairi: Speaking of – are you planning on growing the community even further by bringing Escape Simulator to other platforms?
Tom: We are planning a port eventually. So first we hope to do consoles, then mobile. As a studio, we’ve done some console ports before, so I think that it can be done. First step will be adding Steam controller support, then we’ll see.
We’ve also got an early prototype in AR (augmented reality) running which is huge – imagine creating an escape room within your real life room. But these are early days!
Mairi: Exciting! Any other plans for Escape Simulator in the future?
Tom: Well one of the things we really want to do is for our community. We want to add more assets for the editor, and we’re working on improvements to the menu screens such as how to feature community rooms better. Maybe some of community suggestions where like at the end of the room, like, it shows you, “oh, you should maybe play this room next”. You know, it’s like YouTube, I can go into the next without like searching again. These are our plan anyway.
It’s October, and a new month brings a new chapter of An Interview with an Enthusiast! In this series we chat to some of the UK’s (and the world’s) biggest escape room enthusiasts to talk about some of their favourite and most memorable experiences.
My name is Georgie – I’m originally from Wales, but moved to London a few years ago. By day I’m an analyst, which probably plays into my love of puzzles! I started by escape room review blog (discomlogicated.com) around room 50 – I’m now on over 120! I am also a pretty active member of the “UK escape room enthusiasts group” on Facebook, which is where I met the inimitable Mairi!
Escape Rooms, Board Games, Video Games..? What’s your poison?
I grew up on board games, dice games and card games thanks to my mum, so they’re definitely in my blood! Video games too – Monkey Island was a big favourite of mine, which I think all laid the foundation for my escape room addiction!
The million dollar question – how many escape rooms have you done?
Current count is 126. I don’t count virtual rooms because I haven’t done many…because they just don’t hit the same.
Which was your very first escape room?
My very first room was the secret agent room at Puzzlair, Bristol. It was for my 21st birthday (I’m coming up to 27 now), with a couple of friends. It still ranks quite highly for me – it had a secret room I didn’t see coming, quite a sneaky puzzle and was non-linear. It also had lots of the classic puzzles you’d expect, so was a great taste of things to come!
Looking back, the set design was extremely basic and it’s probably a below average room now given what’s on the market, but at the time it definitely ignited a spark.
And how about your favourite escape room?
For the last 5 years my favourite room was by TimeRun (if you know, you know), which also closed 5ish years ago.
However, they were recently bumped by the amazing “Locked In Edinburgh” this past summer! You can read all about it on my blog, but essentially they hit alllll the points I look for – set design, immersion, staff, and puzzles (quality, quantity and individuality). Both the rooms we did there blew me away.
I truly believe this room (The Cutting Room) is an absolute work of art with how perfectly everything fit together, and should be used as an example for other budding room designers.
What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve ever had in an escape room?
I’ve had to refer back to my list to remember, which probably isn’t a great sign! Most of mine come from either near-misses (sliding across the floor to unlock the final door when we had less than a minute left in Professor Dunstan at Co-Decode Swindon) or just walking into an amazing set for the first time (most rooms at The Panic Rooms).
I also get really excited about hidden rooms, especially ones I don’t see coming – shout out to Ctrl Alt Escape in Margate for this!
My most memorable experience was probably at Spacescape there – we’d discovered a hidden area (woo!) which had quite an exciting challenge, we had limited time left so I was rushing perhaps a little too much…and absolutely faceplanted off a couple of steep steps (imagine the stort you have to scramble up). At the time I was high on adrenaline and walked it off, but I remember my knees, elbows and chin being pretty banged up, and the GMs were very concerned!
Desk, plant pot, picture frame – which do you look under first?
Oh desk absolutely – rip those drawers right out and check the back straight away. I tend to absolutely destroy those sort of rooms.
If I gave you a blank cheque to create a dream ‘experience’, what would it be like?
I would love a vertical room, so rather than unlocking hidden rooms horizontally, maybe you discover a ladder, or a trap door. I’d also add some replay ability there – you have to make a choice at some point which locks you out of half the room.
What are you most looking forward to in the next 3 years?
Getting back to life! I’ve got a list of escape rooms across the country I want to go to, and I’ve made more friends in the community to play with. I’m also in the process of buying a flat, so looking forward to creating a home.
Can you give us a short puzzle for us (and our readers) to solve?
I’m more of a puzzle-solver than puzzle-creator, sorry! However, this is one I remember hearing when I younger (like, 10) which I think explains my sense of humour and enjoyment of puzzles:
How do you fit an elephant in your fridge?
How do you fit a giraffe in your fridge?
You’ve been invited to a party in the Savannah and all the animals will be there. You’re running late, but to get there you need to cross a river where the crocodiles live and there’s no bridge! How do you get across?
Phew! You reach the party, but someone is missing! Who is it?
Answers (Highlight to Reveal!)
Open the door, take out the food, put the elephant in and close the door.
Open the door, take out the elephant, bend the giraffes neck and put him in and close the door.
You swim – the crocodiles are already at the party
This month in An Interview with an Enthusiast, we spoke to Marissa Chan! Marissa is a recent graduate making big waves in the escape room industry as a play tester and all round escape room super fan! Presently, Marissa assists Scarlet Envelope in the planning of their games, and has also play tested for other companies, all whilst also working on her own fantastical puzzle creations on the side.
Here’s Marissa to introduce herself!
Tell me about yourself!
I’m a fresh Master’s grad, originally from Malaysia but spent 4 uni years in the UK. I studied psychology so I guess you could say I’m into all things mind-related, from understanding the way people think to brain-busting puzzles 😀
Escape Rooms, Board Games, Video Games, Theme Parks, Immersive Experiences..? What’s your poison?
Escape rooms are a classic! But I’ve recently been playing lots of boxed/subscription based puzzle & escape games and I am in love with them!
Which was your very first escape room?
I believe it was The Mysterious Room by Escape Room in Malaysia circa 2013. We didn’t escape 🙁 I was also quite new to puzzles so I didn’t have any experience going into it, but that’s where my interest in escape rooms began!
The million dollar question – how many escape rooms have you done?
Honestly, probably only around 10/11 but I plan to do more now that I’ve finished school for good and have a job! 😀
I’ve also done about 12 online & boxed puzzle games if you’d like to count those!
Desk, plant pot, picture frame – which do you look under first?
Desk for sure – although looking inside them also helps 😉
The last TV show you watched suddenly gets its own licensed escape room. Hooray, or oh no?
The last TV show I completed from start to finish was Darwin’s Game (anime) so hooray in terms of games, puzzles & objectives but big oh no in terms of the game being potentially fatal.
Can you think of a song that would make the perfect soundtrack for how you tackle an escape room?
Perry the Platypus’ theme is all I can think of right now. It’s been stuck in my head since I first saw this question, which was a few days ago (sorry).
When you’re not escaping from locked rooms, what do you like to do in your free time?
Play non-locked-room puzzle games!!
Otherwise, I’m a HUGE dog person, and a HUGE foodie! Pasta and burgers are my guilty pleasure. I like to read, journal, watch anime/TV series, play D&D. I also enjoy coming up with creative ideas like story or puzzle concepts, world & character building, physical crafts, etc.
If I gave you a blank cheque to create a dream escape room, what would it be like?
Literally just a room full of dogs or cats but the door is unlocked. Would get 5 stars on TripAdvisor.
Okay, but real talk, I really like the whole carnival/circus aesthetic so a cool story could be a visit to a circus and the ringmaster leads you into different exhibits but there are clues everywhere that lead to a darker twist and you have to solve the riddles to break a curse that has befallen the circus!
Finally.. A Fun Question! Whats Your Favourite season of the year?
WINTER!!! I love the snow and the cold and just bundling up in blankets with a hot chocolate. I’m the kind of person who wears shorts out in November/December so I’ll probably save a bunch on gas bills as well 🙂
Can you give us a short puzzle for us (and our readers) to solve?
I created this one for a team-building game and it’s based on a puzzle in a real escape room I had played many years ago, and I’m really proud of it!
(Peep the shabby photoshop skills – yikes!)
wound ecstatically, show
nought but wisps emptying
a mess of thought
ending whimsically at my frigid soul
Hint 1:You need numbers but you have to start somewhere.
Hint 2: The red dots are your starting positions. Move them one segment at a time.
Hint 3:To find your direction, you better use a compass.
Solution:Each line of the poem contains a set of directions (N,S,E,W) corresponding to each digit. Move the red dot according to the directions in the respective line to trace a number.
Hello! I’m Deb! I’m from central Scotland but when there’s not a travel ban you can usually find me over in the states visiting often.
In the world of escapes, I was first an enthusiast – fairly recent since it took time to find like-minded individuals, making friends as an adult is hard! – then I became a Games Master which I’ve been doing since the end of last year.
I’ve also helped a lot with painting and design and do digital marketing for my work so I’ve got a lot of freedom to be creative which I love! I was actually offered a job with a big company some years ago where I’d work with maintaining props and puppets but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be in the end so I’m thankful I’ve had this opportunity now in my life. Sometimes things have a funny way of working out and it’s one of the best jobs I’ve had for sure!
How have the last 2 years of your life been, global pandemic and all?
Ha. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure!
I was working in Orlando at Disney World when the pandemic happened. My program was for a year but after 6 months we were all sent back home. It was pretty heartbreaking, not just leaving my job early but also my friends and my first official escape team (Three Yees). We actually found out Disney World was closing while in an Asylum escape room. That’s some kind of cruel foreshadowing of the never-ending UK lockdown right there!
All that being said and still having not seen most of my friends or my partner face to face in well over a year now, I’ve had a lot of good things happen too – my job working as a Games Master for one! Lockdown months also gave me time to really sit and think about my future and I’m excited to be starting university in the fall to study something new and exciting!
Desk, plant pot, picture frame – which do you look under first?
Rug! Can I add a rug? We wasted a hint by not lifting a rug before!
But for those options then definitely the desk. Never take pictures out of the frames. Don’t be that guy! Haha. We glue ours closed.
Escape Rooms, Board Games, Video Games, Theme Parks, Immersive Experiences..? What’s your poison?
Oh wow… so many things I love. So, obviously Escape Rooms 🙂
I’m definitely also a gamer. I grew up with a commodore amiga (showing my age here haha) then moved onto the Sega and Playstation. Puzzles have always been a big part of my life before escape rooms were even a thing. Currently i’m still playing Zelda Breath of the Wild and I’m a completionist so I won’t stop till I find every shrine!
Theme Parks are what I vlog a lot of and visiting the states I tend to visit Disney and Universal parks often. I’ve mostly visited those in Orlando but when the travel ban is lifted I’ll be visiting those in California soon. Tokyo is also on my list to visit their Disney parks and just the city in general.
When you’re not escaping from locked rooms, what do you like to do in your free time?
When the world is more accessible and opened up I often vlog. I have made a little series of videos here in Scotland but I mostly enjoy it across the pond. The problem is a lot of events still haven’t been happening in Scotland that attend or have been happening virtually so it’s not the same experience. I’m also saving for a flight to the US as soon as the ban is lifted so I’m a bit restricted in where I can go at the moment. I have done a few reviewing some online escape rooms so if you’re interested in those or travel when it fully returns then you can find me at Deb Explores on YouTube.
During lockdown I also spent a lot of time doing jigsaws and I still do now and again. Otherwise video games, haunts when it’s spooky season, cinema… A lot of the past year has been spent on different facetime or zoom calls, I need to get back out into the world again! It’s crazy cause for the past 5 years I’ve travelled a lot or worked to make money to travel, I worked on a cruise ship for a couple years too, and suddenly it’s been such a change of lifestyle. It’ll all return though, we’re getting there in most places around the world 🙂
So which was your very first escape room that hooked you?
It was actually as part of a job interview. Years ago when escape rooms were just starting up in the UK I interviewed for a company and they invited me along after a chat to check out their rooms and see what the job entailed. I got locked in 2 of their rooms that day and I was a lot more timid back then so it was rather nerve wracking being locked in a room to solve by myself! I did it! I escaped! But I was a little underwhelmed which was partially because I’d see some online in the US that looked like something out of the crystal maze already and partially because it’s just not as fun escaping without a team to cheer with!
What are some of the most memorable escapes you’ve ever had?
Ah I have so many!
I was escaping as the Three Yees with a company where you watch the story and some safety while inside the room. You’re not meant to start solving puzzles but… you know? You have a look around… So while trying to look inconspicuous, staring forward and trying not to move my lips too much I alerted my team quietly, “Guys, there’s a puzzle behind me”. Of course, I’m constantly reminded of this to the point it’s on a reusable tumbler my friend Chloe made me. Imagine there being puzzles in an Escape Room?
Another time I was with Chloe and Dylan in an Asylum room where the staff kept turning the lights off on us if we didn’t obey certain requests of the ghost. I feel like the GMs must have had a good laugh when the lights turned off and upon coming back up, Chloe and I were holding onto each other like something from Scooby Doo. We were also not meant to put anything on a rocking chair that belonged to our ghost but of course, Dylan forgot and absolutely did to which Chloe came up whispering in my ear, “Don’t look but Dylan has put the briefcase on her chair….”.
Not an escape room, but I often go to Orlando for spooky season. On my last Halloween visit there, I was at a media event for a new haunt where I had an experience with a glowing necklace that meant scare actors could interact with me more. I had a blast! I was crawling around small spaces (RIP sunglasses) and was also locked in a cell with some pirates playing head to head playground games to win coins for a hidden bar. I can’t wait till I get to visit again for spooky season! Haunts are some of my favourite immersive events!
Can you think of a song that would make the perfect soundtrack for how you tackle an escape room?
It only works for certain rooms but I’d have to go with the Ghostbusters theme. I used to work in the Edinburgh Vaults as a Ghost Tour Guide and when closing down and locking up at night I’d always sing that to myself. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”
How would you explain escape rooms to people who have never played one before?
Have you seen the Escape Room movies?… Just kidding!
You are ‘locked’ in a room for 60 minutes (or the time allocated) where you have to find clues and solve puzzles in order to achieve your goal and escape!
If I gave you a blank cheque to create a dream escape room ‘experience’, what would it be like?
I’d probably go for something Tomb themed, think Indiana Jones with it’s crawl spaces and a full adrenaline inducing experience. Of course I’d have to have some gross aspects to it like having to search for something through ‘monkey brain soup’ or hands in holes in the walls with fake bugs or slime.
From the first room you’d progress deeper into the tomb with pressure pads set to trigger both good and not so good results…
I’d use more tech than locks to give it that full explorer feel: maglocks hiding secret cupboards, something to do with arrows in the right slots or places, maybe a directional puzzle cause we all love those hehe and possibly a knock knock or audio puzzle. I’m a fan of electronics and not GM triggers so I’d want to have the teams be able to trigger things by themselves. There’s a nice feeling when you know you’ve done something yourself. I’d definitely end it with grabbing a mysterious artifact setting off something within the tomb to leave you running from a boulder chasing you as you make your escape! Imagine the team running down a corridor towards a themed slide at the end and escaping down it to safety! Phew!
The UK health and safety guidelines would absolutely not allow much of that so I’d have to relocate because I’d want to be near it. I visited a haunt with a slide a couple of years ago and it was epic! One in an escape room would be so cool!
Can you give me a short puzzle for me (and my readers) to solve?
I’m not much of the online puzzle designer, my mind works better with tech and physical puzzles but I do do some basic ones for my work’s social media so I’ll give you one of these 👇