The Four Types of Discovery in Escape Rooms, Part III: Realizing a Solution

This is part 3 of our ongoing series on discovery types in escape rooms.  If you haven’t yet, you can catch up in Part 2.

“What Is The Answer?”

Two artist's mannequins attempting to put together a wooden cube packing puzzle.

The third form of discovery is what is generally thought of as “solving a puzzle” once you’ve figured out how the puzzle works.  For many classic puzzles such as Sudoku, crossword puzzles, etc., you already understand the mechanics.  You don’t need to learn how they work, you just need to find the unique answer. This is by far the most common type of puzzle seen in escape rooms today because it gives room designers ultimate control of the outcome, allowing a puzzle to convey necessary information like, for example, a padlock combination.  They’re easier to design and are less prone to unintended consequences than open-ended puzzles.

Open-ended puzzles are ones in which a player must invent their own solution.  In this type of puzzle the players are presented with some problem or task that can be solved in many ways.  For example, we once created a puzzle where a series of electrical contacts on opposite sides of a room needed to be connected.  This could be done by using some or all of several objects in the room or even with a chain of players holding hands. We didn’t have a particular solution in mind, but instead wanted our players to feel clever by inventing their own.  Happily, each team at the event ended up solving the puzzle in a unique way; no two solutions were the same! As usual, players get to feel clever for solving the puzzle, but they also have some pride in ownership, as the solution was one that came from them rather than from us.

Two artist's mannequins high-five after correctly putting together a wooden cube packing puzzle.

For either of these types of puzzles, the important thing to remember is that what’s fun is discovering the solution on your own. The manner in which we write and deliver hints becomes very important in light of this fact. Hints should facilitate the player’s ability to discover the answer on their own and not just feed them the answer outright. Doing so robs them of this very enjoyable form of discovery.  Of course, how to provide hints that neither give away too much or too little is a fine line to walk and a subject that will have to wait for another time.

This series is continued in Part 4: Unraveling the Mystery.

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