Escape rooms are an ever-growing phenomenon, and as the industry expands, so does the number of terms associated with it. Some familiar phrases have taken on escape room-specific meanings, while others have been coined specifically to describe things often found in escape room venues. Because this vocabulary can be new or confusing, this escape room glossary is here to help you figure out what these terms mean!
We’ve organized the glossary alphabetically and by topic, such as puzzle and lock types, to help you find what you’re looking for.
Table Of Contents
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Escape room terms
These are terms that are most closely linked to escape rooms, referring to both the industry as a whole and the games themselves. A lot of phrases exist to help describe escape rooms, so we’ll cover them here.
Booking: “Booking” has two common meanings for escape rooms. It can refer to the process by which someone reserves an escape room, or it can refer to the reservation itself.
Clue: Not to be confused with hint. A clue is a part of the game, often a prop, that offers information that players can use to solve a puzzle.
Difficulty Rating: A difficulty rating is a way to describe the challenge level of an escape room. This is often displayed on a scale of 1–5 or 1–10, though different systems, such as star ratings, are also used.
Escape Rate: The escape rate is the percentage of players that have successfully completed a particular game out of everyone that has played that room. This can be used together with the difficulty rating to assess the overall challenge of a room. The lower the escape rate, the harder the room!
Escape Room: Also known as escape game, puzzle room, or escape-the-room game. This is a room that contains puzzles and challenges for people to solve in order to “escape” a given scenario.
Game Flow: Game flow describes the transition from puzzle to puzzle during the course of a game. It can also be used to refer to the level of engagement in the game.
Game Host: Also known as a game master, a game host is the person that helps players through the game. The type of help offered can differ between venues, but it typically involves giving hints to players.
Hint: Not to be confused with clue. A hint is assistance given by the game host, rather than something that might be found in the game itself.
Leaderboard: A leaderboard is a scoreboard that displays the fastest times achieved by players that beat an escape room. These are often displayed with the amount of time remaining when the players escaped, rather than the amount of time they spent playing. The more time remaining, the better the score!
Linear Game: A linear game is a game whose game flow follows a streamlined path from puzzle to puzzle. Solving one puzzle provides a clue to solve the next. Compare to a non-linear game.
Player Limit: Also known as maximum players, the player limit is the maximum amount of players that can fit into a game. If a group goes over the player limit, the room might be too cramped to comfortably enjoy the game. See also: minimum players.
Private Game: A private game is an escape room booking that only allows members of the same group to play together, rather than allowing other players to join. Some escape room centers offer public games as well as private games, but The Escape Effect’s games are always private.
Public Game: A public game is an escape room booking that allows strangers from different groups to play the same game together, up to the maximum allowed in the room.
Minimum Players: The minimum players defines the fewest people required in order to book an escape room. At The Escape Effect, for example, the minimum players for most games is 2, meaning that a group needs at least two players to book here. The exception to this is A Knight To Escape, which requires at least four people due to the nature of puzzles within the game. See also: player limit.
Non-Linear Game: A non-linear game is a game whose game flow follows a branching path from puzzle-to-puzzle. Multiple puzzles may be solvable at the same time, and solving one does not necessarily lead directly into another. Compare to a linear game.
Reset: This refers to setting an escape room back to its original status before the next team plays. Game resets often include re-hiding props or clues, re-locking doors, and restarting electronics.
Room: In an escape room context, “room” can either refer to one game at a particular location or an individual room within a game.
Split Room: Also referred to as a split-start, this is a form of escape room where teams are split up and begin the game in different rooms. Usually, the goal is to reunite.
Time Limit: This is the total amount of time that players have in order to beat an escape room. The most common time limit is 60 minutes, though shorter and longer games exist. The Escape Effect, for example, has time limits ranging from 75 minutes to 2 hours long.
Virtual Escape Room: Also referred to as an online escape room, a virtual escape room is an escape room that is played online. Virtual escape rooms often feature hosts to help guide the experience.
Waiver: A waiver is a legal form that players are required to sign in some countries before they can play their game. A waiver will typically include information about the experience, as well as informing players if they will be recorded for the purpose of monitoring the game.
Lock and key terms
We’ve written about the most common locks in escape rooms before, so we’ll just cover the basics here. For more details about locks and how to open them, see the other article.
Barrel Lock: Also known as a combination lock. This lock features a series of dials (usually between 3 and 5) that rotate in order to input the correct combination.
Direction Lock: A lock that uses a slider that can be moved in four directions (up, down, left, and right). Putting in the right sequence of directions will open it.
Luggage Lock: A smaller variant of a combination lock, often used to secure bags.
Push-Button Lock: A lock that uses a grid of buttons rather than dials or keys.
Padlock: A basic lock that opens with a matching key.
For those looking to understand the inner workings of escape rooms, this section is for you. Here, we’ll cover common words and phrases that are associated with the technology behind escape rooms.
Arduino: Arduino is an open-source platform for programming electronics. Some people also use the term to refer to the Arduino circuit boards (for example, calling the boards “Arduinos”). In escape rooms, these boards are often used to create small electronic devices that trigger effects when puzzles are solved, or to reveal clues.
Black Light: A black light is a light that emits ultraviolet light. Because ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye, black lights often also shine a blue light to indicate when it’s turned on. When used on an item with UV paint, black lights can reveal hidden messages.
Keypad: A keypad is an electronic board with a set of buttons. The most common keypads, featuring the numbers 1–9, are often used for locks. Many different styles of keypads exist, with different combinations of buttons, and these can be programmed for different effects.
LED: Short for light-emitting diode, an LED is a small diode that can come in many sizes and forms, such as rope lights or small indicators.
Mag Lock: Short for magnetic lock, a mag lock is an electromagnet used to hold a door or other compartment closed. Mag locks are often used to create hidden compartments that release when a puzzle is solved.
One-Way Mirror: A one-way mirror is a special type of mirror that is reflective on one side, but transparent when looking through the other side.
Reed Switch: A reed switch is is an electromagnetic switch that can be triggered by a magnet. These can be used in electronics to trigger effects or sound when a puzzle is solved. The Escape Effect also uses them to sense when a door has been opened.
RFID: Short for “radio-frequency identification,” RFID is a technology that uses electromagnetic radiation to identify and track RFID tags. This can be used for items like ID cards. A common use in escape rooms is to use the tags to trigger effects when the correct prop is put in a specific location.
Other common terms
While not necessarily related to escape rooms, some phrases tend to come up a lot when escape room players talk about their games. This section lists some of the most common ones.
Brute Force: There are two definitions that are commonly used, even outside of escape rooms.
- Excessive physical force. In the context of escape rooms, brute force can cause damage to the props and set.
- Testing every possible solution to a puzzle one-by-one instead of solving it the intended way. This is most commonly done with combination locks, especially when there are only one or two numbers left to solve for. This can be done in situations like escape rooms and video games.
Easter Egg: “Easter egg” is common phrase related to video games and movies. An Easter egg is a small hidden message or reference that doesn’t relate directly to the subject of piece of media it is embedded in. In escape rooms, an Easter egg might be a code that references a popular video game, or a poster related to a movie.
Enthusiasts: Enthusiasts are engaged fans. While the term can apply to anyone, in the context of escape rooms, this refers to the community of escape room enthusiasts that love to play games.
Jump-Scare: A jump-scare is anything that jumps out with the intention of surprising and scaring a person. This is a common tactic in many forms of horror media, including video games and movies. Some horror-themed escape rooms use jump-scares like loud noises to frighten players that venture into dark rooms.
Live Actor: A live actor is any actor that is physically present within an attraction (as opposed to actors that you might find in a video). They’re more common in haunted houses and similar venues, but some escape rooms have started featuring them as well.
Spoiler: A spoiler is anything that reveals an ending or secret in advance. When unsolicited, this can ruin the impact of a surprise or plot twist. This is a common term used when referring to any form of media, from books to video games. For escape rooms, a spoiler might include revealing the solution to a puzzle before the players can solve it themselves.