The Four Types of Discovery in Escape Rooms, Part V: Discovery is Memorable

This is part 5 and the conclusion of our ongoing series on discovery in escape rooms. If you haven’t yet, you can catch up in Part 4.

Remember when we twisted the top of the box and it lit up and you realized that the pattern matched the tattoo on that lady which was only revealed when we dunked her picture in water? That was UH-MAAAZING!

-Engaged Puzzle Solver

So here’s the thing, ignoring all the little details involved in designing an escape room, writing puzzles, and the various concerns of creating an immersive experience, the bottom line is that discovery is fun. Every time something in your brain clicks into place you get that little spark of exhilaration. This is why the unexpected is used to such great effect in so many media, from films and television to music and even stand-up comedy. That feeling of discovery and sudden insight is powerful. It can motivate, excite, and leave a lasting impression on a person.

An old camera, a suitcase, and some black and white photos.

Studies in psychology and neurosciences have even shown that the act of discovery has a positive effect on memory1 and emotions2. That moment when you’re finally able to put all of the pieces together, to solve the mystery, to finally understand a puzzle (known as an Aha! or Eureka Moment), is more likely to be remembered than if you had just been given the answer. The Socratic method of learning is based on this phenomenon, posing questions to students and actively engaging their minds by allowing them to discover answers for themselves.

Four stone busts of philosophers.

Of course, not every room will use all four types of discovery I’ve described earlier in this series, nor am I suggesting that they need to. Some rooms will downplay story discovery to focus purely on puzzles. Others may choose puzzles with clear mechanics and forego discovery of the obscured. But, I would bet my proverbial hat that every single room uses at least one or two of these forms of discovery to surprise and delight their audiences. As I said before, discovery is integral to the escape room experience.

The next time you do an escape room (or design one!), keep an eye out for moments of discovery and think a little bit about how they’re being used and how they affect you. I think you’ll find that each one is accompanied by a little burst of exhilaration and that, together, they build a richer, more memorable experience.


  1. Auble, P., Franks, J., Soraci, S. (1979) “Effort toward comprehension: Elaboration or aha!?” Memory & Cognition 7, 426–434.
  2. Shen, W., Yuan, Y., Liu, C. and Luo, J. (2015), “In search of the ‘Aha!’ experience: Elucidating the emotionality of insight problem-solving.” British Journal of Psychology. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12142
2 replies
  1. Alex Dean says:

    With summer coming, I am wanting to try and find new fun activities for us to do with the kids. A friend of ours suggested that we take them to an escape room, and I was wondering if this is a good idea. I like how you said that due to the sense of discovery these rooms bring a positive effect on memory and emotions. And what mother wouldn’t want to find activities that help her kids develop more in different ways?

    Reply
    • Philip Dasler says:

      I think an escape room can be a great activity for kids! A good escape room requires quick thinking, team work, and great communication skills. And of course, rooms with a good story and set design really do feel like a grand adventure that players will continue to discuss with each other long after they’ve left.
      I would recommend, however, that you contact any room you choose to do before you go to ask two important questions: first, is the theme appropriate for children and second, is the level of challenge appropriate for children. These things will vary depending on the children in question, but it’s important to gauge these two concerns. Some games are intended to be a scary or intense experience, so if you’re children are sensitive to such things, I would advise caution. It’s also important that the puzzle difficulty is appropriate, because a major part of the fun is in overcoming these mental challenges and your adventure may be a little frustrating if you’re consistently getting stuck.
      But barring those two concerns, I would wholeheartedly recommend escape rooms for children. They are a unique and memorable experience for sure.

      Reply

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