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How to build a puzzle room

29th April 2015

When planning our recent Innovation Week, we knew it would be vital to transform our office. We needed the place to have a theme that would really get the creative juices flowing, and not let innovators be led wayward by ‘ordinary’ work. Inspired by an early theme idea of the Crystal Maze (a childhood TV favourite of ours) and the escape room craze currently sweeping Europe, we created the Innovation Week Puzzle Room!

Puzzle Room

No puzzle is complete without maths

The Puzzle Problem

Coming up with the individual puzzles was the easy bit. We had all the classics; use of a magnet to retrieve a metal item from a bottle, a UV torch revealing hidden messages and plenty of keys and 4-digit codes. We also added a bit of flair of our own with some hexadecimal-based arithmetic, a phone number you actually had to call and a laser! The hard part was stringing them all together to form a robust series of tasks, some of which could be tackled in parallel but all of which had to be solved to achieve victory.

Puzzle Room

UV lights and laser pointers for the win

The Equipment Enigma

Equipment acquired and puzzles planned, the next step was to blackout a meeting room to create a tense atmosphere inside and intrigue from passers-by on the outside. A carefully curated brooding soundtrack did much to enhance the increasing sense of panic as the timer ticked on. We kept promotion of the puzzle room to the company at a minimum, preferring to rely on posters and word of mouth to spread the word and maintain an air of mystery. Setting up the puzzles was a time-consuming process; fixing a laser to reflect off two mirrors onto a precise spot in such a way that participants could not disrupt was a challenge that almost defeated us. We never knew there were so many different kinds of tape!

puzzle room teamThe Operations Obscurity

On arrival at the puzzle room, teams were briefed with a few rules:

  • Brains over brawn
  • Don’t move anything taped down
  • The iPad playing Spotify is not part of the game
  • The time limit is 15 minutes

and a simple challenge to complete: open the chest of drawers inside the room and receive a prize!

Giving clues is all part of the fun (for both the participants and us!) so we needed a way we could observe the room remotely and also communicate with those inside. For this, we set up a Google hangout with a computer in the room and screen shared a text file and a timer from our laptop in a nearby room. When we felt a little guidance was required (and we soon got a feeling for how long each puzzle should take for a good chance of a successful run), we’d ping the machine inside the room and send an often cryptic and hopefully humorous hint.

Puzzle Room

The winning team

The Concluding Conundrum

Some stats from a week of puzzling…

  • 78 people tried to solve the room in 21 teams
  • 7 teams completed the room, a 33% success rate
  • The fastest time was 12:38.
  • Strength in numbers: no team with fewer than 4 members completed the room
Puzzle Room

By the end of the week, a crowd had gathered to watch the live stream

And a few things we learned…

You will never be able to predict all the amazing(ly wrong) ways teams will try to solve your puzzles. For example – ‘There’s something in this bottle. Let’s tip the table over!’

Your puzzle room is almost certainly too hard. Our initial testing team took over double the time limit to complete the room and we continued to refine the puzzles throughout the first batch of challengers.

Make a to do list of how to reset the room. Horrified looks and awkward situations ensue if you forget anything!

The Belligerent Bottle Lock. Be wary of using cheap locks that no one has ever seen before as fiddling about with a dodgy padlock isn’t fun!

Any idea how one of these works or why you’d need one? Us, neither!

And finally…people watching is fascinating!

Adam and Tom

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Puzzle Room prize

Once the teams cracked the code, they won prizes (chocolate)


One response to “How to build a puzzle room”

  1. Brandon O'Berry says:

    Would love to see a video of the group(s)!

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