So you’re inside the escape room, raring to unleash your inner Sherlock, and solve your way through the puzzle like a knife through butter.
But before long, you find yourself ground to a halt by a puzzle that proves frustratingly difficult to figure out.
You find yourself getting more and more conscious of the clock ticking away and feel increasingly desperate for a way through…
We’re escape room enthusiasts ourselves, and we’ve been there.
Which is why we’ve published this blog post of…
What to do if you’re stuck in an escape room
From taking a step back and asking your team members for help to working backwards, recollecting the pregame briefing, and asking the game master for hints – here are 9 things to do when you find yourself at a loss.
Take a step back
Ever heard the saying “stop trying too hard”? It’s when you’re straining yourself excessively to get an outcome that you feel is within reach – however, in reality, your efforts are simply being wasted as you’re on the wrong track.
And that – your efforts being wasted – will keep happening unless you take a step back and catch your breath.
This applies to when you’re stuck at a puzzle in an escape room as well.
We all savor the dopamine rush that happens every time we finally figure out how to solve a puzzle in an escape room.
However, if you’ve been working on the same one for some time without success, it’s time to take a break.
You aren’t throwing in the towel but simply catching a breath and refreshing your perspective.
What to do while taking a break?
A great thing to do is ask if anyone needs a hand and help whoever says yes.
Once you’ve helped them with whatever they’re working on, return to your own puzzle – only this time, you’ve got the confidence boost from having helped your teammate.
Or you can just stand a couple of steps back (literally) and clear your mind.
Think of a fresh angle from which you can approach the problem.
At some point, you’ll figure it out.
Ask your team to help
Your team would be happy to support you!
As we’ve said numerous times, escape rooms are all about working as a team. That’s also a key reason why your personal IQ doesn’t matter in escape rooms – rather, it’s the collective skill level of your group which is important.
The other folks in your group will bring in much-needed extra eyes and fresh perspectives.
It’s quite possible that a handy idea occurs to someone else instantly, which would have taken many minutes – remember, you only have 60 minutes – for you to think up or recollect.
You can switch puzzles or clues with someone else.
It’s possible they’ll be able to do your puzzle quicker while you crack their problem with ease – a classic productivity-boosting approach.
As we shall see, working backwards (i.e., figuring out what you need from a puzzle and then developing on that to solve it) is another hack for when you’re stuck in an escape room.
Asking your team for assistance can help with this.
For example, it’s possible the outcome of your puzzle will help with a cipher in a different part of the room.
Someone who’s actually seen the cipher may be able to figure out how to break your puzzle, working backwards.
Go through your found but unused clues
If you’ve got unused clues, take a minute to review if any of them are what you’re missing in your puzzle.
Think about how and where they were found, how they fit into the overall game, and what kinds of problems they would be useful with.
Could it be that the clues you were proceeding with were the wrong ones entirely?
Needless to say, going through clues will be a pain if you aren’t organized.
Make sure all your found clues are kept in one place where they can be easily seen and reviewed by anyone in the room.
If possible, keep used and unused clues separately.
Search the entire room
Ten to one, you already know exploring the room is a basic hack to beat an escape room and are wondering why we’re suggesting you search the entire room if you get stuck on a puzzle.
After all, shouldn’t you be narrowly focused on the problem at hand rather than casting your eyes all around?
Here’s the deal: The first time you explored the room, you did it on a fresh slate, with nothing particular in mind. Plus, there are so many potential things to see – remember, the entire room is specially designed – you may have missed a few.
This time around, you’re retracing your steps to catch anything you missed and maybe with an idea of what – color sequence, numeric code, and so on – you’re looking for.
From something you thought was decor but is actually a color code to a sliding panel you missed – there’s no end to what a second search of the room could unearth.
Just like with the clues, you can also look through solved puzzles to check for connections with the one at hand.
Recollect the pregame briefing
As you almost certainly know, most escape games are preceded by a briefing from the game master.
While one part of such a briefing has to do with safety guidelines, it can also have crucial information that has a bearing on your adventure.
If you find yourself stuck on a puzzle, cast your mind back to the briefing.
Think about what was revealed about the storyline.
Did you happen to meet any special characters (live actors or anything else) as you entered?
Can you draw any conclusions from the narrative?
Try to work backwords
If the head-on approach doesn’t work, try to work the puzzle backwards.
For example, if you need to release an object from a maze, try to work from the end of the maze up to the starting point.
Ask for a hint
As we keep repeating in so many of our blogs, there is no shame in asking for help!
Doesn’t it feel absolutely awesome to solve your way through an escape room without asking for any help or hints at all?
But does that mean you make it a point of pride to keep going without a hint, even at the cost of losing the game?
Remember, the game master is there to make sure you have a great time.
They’re continually monitoring your progress and understanding how well you’re doing – and they’re trained to give just enough of a hint to set you on the right track without giving the whole game away.
As we shall see in a few moments, it’s easy for frustration to set in if you’re stuck at the same puzzle for a while.
So, try out all the other steps we’ve described above.
But if they don’t work, ask the game master for a hint!
Here are two things you should know about depression.
One, it’s natural for it to start creeping in if you find yourself blocked at the same point in the game.
Two, it blurs your vision and clouds your judgment – neither of which will help you solve the puzzle and escape the room.
So, stay positive.
Reflect on the fun you’re having and on the puzzles you’ve already solved.
Swap problems with a teammate (as suggested above) and bask in the glory of cracking that problem.
And finally, remember to encourage the others in your group to remain cheerful and have fun too!
What NOT to do when you’re stuck
And now, here are 5 things that you should avoid doing, ranging from allowing depression and frustration to set in to brute-forcing the puzzle, glancing at the clock, and walking around aimlessly.
You were expecting to solve a murder like Sherlock Holmes himself or avert the alien invasion like you’re on the crew of the USS Enterprise and have been fighting aliens your whole life.
Instead, you find yourself struggling to get past one little puzzle even as the clock ticks away.
It’s natural to feel frustrated.
However, don’t let it get to you.
Keep a cool head, and focus on following the tips we’ve outlined above.
And you’ll find yourself back in the game in no time!
Argue with teammates
Arguments with teammates are rare, but they are possible.
Particularly as a defense mechanism if you’re unable to figure out how to proceed – you feel that you were deliberately assigned the toughest challenge or that you’re not being given the help you need.
Remember, that’s not true.
Your group consists of your closest family members, friends, and coworkers. Folks you trust.
So don’t give in to frustration and start arguing with teammates.
Rather, ask them if anyone would like to switch challenges with you…or just ask for help.
Try to brute-force the puzzle
When nothing seems to work, just tug at the lock till it gives way. Or start doing “0001”, “0002”… – to crack a four-digit code.
Both are approaches that suggest themselves to you when you feel desperate.
And neither are things that you should be doing in an escape room.
Keep glancing at the clock
Yes, there is a deadline. No, there’s no point obsessing over it.
Yes, your time is shrinking, and the road to victory is getting longer and longer.
But that doesn’t mean you should keep glancing at the clock – which is an entirely natural reflex under the circumstances.
Resist the urge.
In fact, we suggest having a dedicated timekeeper on your team – and let that person worry about time.
Just walk in circles
Earlier, we suggested that you should explore the entire room again if you find yourself unable to solve a puzzle. The idea is that you may spot something you missed the first time around.
However, if the search doesn’t yield anything, should you keep doing it?
Should you simply keep walking around in circles, “hoping against hope” to find something?
No, you shouldn’t.
Instead, review your unused clues, or ask for help from your team or the game master.
Ready to put your newfound knowledge to the test?
Take on an escape room armed with this knowledge.
Gather your team, choose an escape room game, and book your adventure!
Will you be able to use our suggested tips effectively if you find yourself stuck during your escape game?
Will you be able to guide your teammate who finds himself or herself stuck?
Make sure to let us know!