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Escape rooms are a lot of fun, but they can be tricky to get into when you’re starting out. When you’re caught up in an exciting new experience, you might find yourself a little overwhelmed. Important clues may go unnoticed as you hone in on one part of a puzzle. Don’t worry! Everybody makes mistakes when they try something new. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide for escape room beginners. Take a look at the most common beginner mistakes and learn how you can avoid them when you play your first escape room.

A collection of old-school alarm clocks sitting on a shelf. Losing track of time is a common escape room beginner mistake.

Losing track of time

A fundamental rule of escape rooms is that players have a limited amount of time. From the moment the lights turn on, the clock is counting down. Escape room beginners might be surprised by just how quickly the time can fly by. A complex puzzle might take longer than you realized to solve. A well-hidden clue might not reveal itself until much later than expected. You might end up back-tracking just in case you missed something important, not realizing how late in the game you are.

Even in our longest escape room, you can find yourself scrambling at the last minute to find the solution. Losing track of time is an easy mistake to make! We want to make the most of our time and do everything we can.

How do you avoid this mistake?

Keeping track of the time is one of those things that sounds simple, but it can be tricky to implement. Anyone that’s worked on a large project can probably understand. You can set yourself up with a schedule, making deadlines that should work in theory. Unfortunately, the moment you get started, your intense focus blocks out everything around you. Suddenly, the clock hits 00:00 and there’s nothing else you can do. How is anyone supposed to keep an eye on the clock while also focusing on the puzzle or game? (This question also applies to those large projects and deadlines. It’s so easy to get sucked into what you’re doing!)

Our advice to escape room beginners is to pay attention to the clock. However, it’s important to balance this with actually getting through the game. The last thing you want is to worry so much about the time limit that you can’t enjoy the puzzle. One easy habit to develop is to look at the clock after finishing a puzzle. This will help you assess how long it takes to solve a puzzle and make sure you’re moving at a good pace. If you find that you spent 10 minutes on one part of the escape room, you may want to pick up the speed for the next one or ask for a hint.

Players solving puzzles inside At Odds With The Gods.

Misinterpreting clues

Sometimes, in an escape room, you’ll find a set of clues. You’re certain that these clues go with this puzzle. The solution is obvious! But, when you input the code, nothing happens. The lock doesn’t open, you don’t find a hidden drawer. What happened? Was the combination entered wrong or did you miss a step? What are you supposed to do next? Your teammates double-check your work and find that you were doing something completely wrong. These clues were for that puzzle, not this one. Now you have to figure out the correct path and solve it all over again.

It’s a rough feeling to realize that the obvious solution was actually not the answer at all. It’s made even worse if it turns out that your clues were for a completely different puzzle. Escape room beginners sometimes mix up one puzzle’s clues for another’s, which can throw everybody off their game. Once the confusion is cleared up, it usually doesn’t take long to get back on track. Unfortunately, you can’t get back the time spent going in the wrong direction.

How do you avoid this mistake?

There’s a reason why this mistake is so common for escape room beginners to make: clues are often vague by design. Escape rooms generally don’t intend to mislead people into going down Route A when Route B is correct. However, they also don’t want to tell everyone exactly what to do and how to do it. Some aspects of the puzzles also include figuring out what type of puzzle it is. Is this a cipher? Are the colors a factor? Do the types of flowers matter or only how many there are? If you get the starting point wrong, the rest of the puzzle won’t work even if it seems to make sense.

Sometimes, the mistake only becomes clear in hindsight for escape room beginners. In order to avoid misinterpreting a clue, take a moment to assess what clues and locks you have. Clues will often contain details that reference the puzzle that they match, such as colors, shapes, and numbers. You may be able to pair some clues to other locks fairly easily. If you find one puzzle that doesn’t seem to have anything that matches it, see if there’s also a clue that doesn’t have a pair. You might find that the clue requires an extra step or two before it can answer that puzzle.

Player holding a lantern and looking around the castle corner.

Overlooking the obvious

When you’re matching puzzles and clues and locks, trying to figure out what goes where, you have to focus on a lot of small details. This can often lead to escape room beginners missing the bigger picture. You may not see the chessboard sitting in the corner when trying to solve a puzzle with black and white objects. Players don’t notice the large shapes on the wall at first because they match the decorations. Things like that provide large, obvious clues that often go overlooked because they’re too obvious. There’s no way the combination to a lock could be painted right on the wall, is there?

The answer, surprisingly, is “Yes.” Sometimes, escape rooms will hide clues and answers in plain sight. Mixing more obvious clues with others that are more carefully hidden is part of how we keep players guessing. When players see the range of things that could hide clues, they realize that anything could be important. It encourages them to look more closely. The side effect of players looking closely is that escape room beginners can miss the unexpected.

How do you avoid this mistake?

To avoid overlooking obvious clues or answers, the most important thing is to take a step back, sometimes literally. Look around the room and get a feel for how it was decorated. Understanding the basic design will help you identify things what’s important. Look for anything that might be out of place or arranged in an odd shape. If you’re an escape room beginner, it might take little while to learn what to look for, but you’ll get used to it. Before long, you’ll develop a keen eye.

“Obvious” clues don’t always mean “big” clues, so you won’t always need to focus on large items. Look for blatant patterns, or blatantly broken patterns. If there are multiple picture frames in a row, see if anything is off. Maybe there’s a clean spot where a picture frame is supposed to be. Take another look at those ancient Greek temple walls and see if you recognize anything. If something looks conspicuous, it might be part of a puzzle.

Three members of a team all independently examine a paintings.

Focusing on the wrong thing

Stepping back to look at the big picture is an important trick for escape room beginners. However, it’s important to differentiate the actual clues from things that only look like clues. That book on the desk looks like it has some pen marks. What if there’s a note on one of the 250 pages inside? Is that picture frame supposed to move? Does the crack in the desk mean there’s a hidden compartment that you need to access?

Escape rooms have a lot of props scattered around them, and it’s a lot of fun to look through everything to see what’s important. An escape room beginner can easily get caught up in searching for puzzles and secrets in every corner of the room. However, sometimes a book is just a book. Anything could be a clue, but that does not mean everything is. It’s important not to spend all of your time looking at the wrong thing.

How do you avoid this mistake?

Some things are pretty easy for escape room beginners to tell from actual clues or secrets. As a general rule, if something doesn’t move easily in the escape room, you don’t need to move it at all. Books or decorations are often glued in place on desks and shelves to keep them secure. Some large props will be bracketed to walls. Picture frames might be screwed into the wall as well. If something is fixed in place like that, you don’t need to move it.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t ever use it at all; sometimes, an item is meant to move or open after a puzzle is solved. What it does mean is that it might not be the thing you need to start the puzzle with.

Once in a while, you’ll find a prop or clue that seems like it’s related to a puzzle. Maybe it’s the right color or shape. Maybe the solution to the puzzle took you in that direction. If that’s the case, but using the item doesn’t actually do anything, set it aside. It could be the wrong item or it could be something that you get back to later. Either way, trying to force it will probably not work.

A photograph of a silhouette inspecting a noticeboard with magic show tour names on.

Forgetting what you’ve done

A lot goes on in an escape room. Under the pressure of time, you can find yourself in a mad scramble to find everything that you need to win. When you’re backstage in an old theater or a rifling through papers in a Victorian study, there’s no telling what you’ll find. You might end up rifling through a pile of papers or digging through numerous desk drawers. As you go through puzzles, locks, and hidden compartments, it’s easy to lose track of where you’ve been.

Escape room beginners might find themselves making is trying to solve what they already solved. If you lose your place, backtracking too far too often will cause you to run out of time. The last thing you want to do is solve puzzles twice without making it to the end.

How do you avoid this mistake?

Organization is important! The best way to avoid accidental backtracking is for your team to have an organization system. Some teams put everything that’s “done” into a single pile in a designated location. Other teams will make piles for different types of props and locks just in case they need to come back to it. Another common trick that players will use is to put locks that they’ve opened back where they’re found. For example, a padlock on a door will be looped around its hook (but not locked) after the door is opened. This keeps players from wondering if the door had a puzzle.

If you’re an escape room beginner and you haven’t developed a system yet, take a look around the escape room before you play. See if there’s an empty space where you can set things aside. In most escape rooms, clues will only be used once, so a “used” and “unused” pile is a good starting point. As you gain more experience, your team will likely find a system that suits your play style. With good organization, you don’t have to worry about accidentally wasting time on puzzles that you already solved.

The players investigate the items on the desk for clues.

Not sharing what you’ve learned

Escape rooms are group activities, but some puzzles can be solved by a single person. Other escape rooms, like A Knight To Escape, are designed around the idea of teamwork and communication. In either case, one of the biggest mistakes that escape room beginners can make is not sharing information with the rest of the team. If the team doesn’t know what’s happening, they might not realize that a puzzle was solved and try solving it again. They may have a clue that someone else needs but, because nobody said anything, that puzzle remains unsolved.

If information isn’t shared, the entire team is held back. Escape room beginners and enthusiasts alike can fall into the trap of not communicating well. That’s a dangerous thing to do when you’re racing against the clock!

How do you avoid this mistake?

The best thing for an escape room beginner to do is to make a point of communicating what you find. If you find a lock, tell your team where it is and what type of code or key it needs. If you find a suspicious item on the desk, let everyone know. By telling them what you find, you give everyone an idea of what sort of things you’re looking for. Multiple sets of eyes are more likely to find the missing pieces quickly.

This also applies to when you solve a puzzle. Tell your team what you solved! If you open a lock, let them know what code or key opened it. Let them know what puzzles are already solved to keep the game on track. When the team knows what’s been done, you can set any related puzzle pieces aside since they likely won’t be necessary anymore. Communication and organization work hand-in-hand this way!

A player presses the host button to request a hint.

Not asking for help

One of the biggest mistakes that escape room beginners can make is not asking for a hint when they’re stuck on a puzzle. It’s understandable in places that have hint limits; many escape room venues only allow three hints. While The Escape Effect does not limit the amount of hints a team can get, some teams still don’t ask for any. This is perfectly fine as long as the team has fun, but there are times when players get stuck.

If your team gets stuck on a puzzle and doesn’t ask for a hint, you might end up losing a lot of game time. There’s a chance that you might get sudden inspiration and find the solution, but the longer it takes, the less likely it is that your team will get through the game.

How do you avoid this mistake?

To avoid getting stuck like that, you need to learn when you to ask for help. This might be hard to tell if you’re an escape room beginner, especially since every team is different. Your team’s limit might depend on how you play and whether or not you have a hint limit, but there are a few signs to look out for. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How long have you spent on this one puzzle (or looking for where to begin)? The clock is still ticking. If it’s been 5 to 10 minutes since you made any progress, it might be worth thinking about a hint.
  • Is your team starting to get antsy? If some of your teammates are starting to get frustrated, consider asking if they want to get a hint. Nobody likes standing around doing nothing when they’re supposed to be having fun.
  • Have you repeatedly tried what you think is the right answer, but with no success? If you’ve been working on one puzzle that you think should be solved, it may be time to ask for a hint.

Your team might have other points where they decide they need a hint. Over time, you’ll learn the limits and get more comfortable asking for help. Some escape room hosts will give you a nudge if you’re missing something, but not all do. Don’t be afraid to get a hint! It’s better to use your hints and progress than to get stuck and miss out on the rest of the game.

A group of players celebrate at The Escape Effect.

Remember to have fun!

The most important thing to remember, whether you’re an escape room beginner or a seasoned enthusiast, is to have fun! Escape rooms are meant to be fun games to play with your friends and family. You can bring a few of your friends or a large group of coworkers. Whoever you play with, it should be an engaging experience. Laugh, make jokes, tease your friends, and solve puzzles.

Making a small mistake here and there, or maybe even a lot of times, is perfectly fine! Don’t get so focused on playing a perfect game that you stop having fun. If you find yourself getting a little frustrated, take a minute to step back. Remember that you’re an escape room beginner. Catch your breath and relax before trying again. Winning or losing isn’t what matters. What matters is having a good time with your friends.

We welcome all escape room beginners!

Whether you’re a first-time player or an expert escape room enthusiast, come join us at The Escape Effect. To book a room, call (855) 426-3372 or book online today.


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