Rewatching the Escape Room movie reminded us of the time we went to an in-person escape room in the city. It was an experience like no other, and we couldn’t wait to redo it all again. But then the pandemic set in, and we switched over to a virtual escape room along with other team-building games.
Though it might still not be the best idea to get back to an actual escape room center, we came up with ways to recreate the experience in the confines of our offices or homes.
So, if you are looking for DIY or free Escape Room puzzle ideas for your next team outing or weekend get-together, you have come to the right place. Read on for some great ideas –
1. What is an Escape Room?
For the uninitiated, let us first look at what an Escape Room is.
An escape game is a team game where players are confined to an enclosed space or rooms filled with clues on how to get out. They have to discover these clues, solve puzzles, accomplish tasks, and find the “key” to unlock the door to exit the room. All this within a limited period, which is usually 60 minutes. The players work together to solve the clues, and the game ends at the 60-minute mark. So, if the team has not found the final key by then, they are locked in forever (metaphorically)!
This is heavily communication-intensive as well as food for the brain. In fact, a study shows that escape room games involve teamwork, communication, delegation, critical & lateral thinking and attention to detail. These skills help to build organizational, analytical, observational and active listening skills. It can be played by people of all ages, experience, and agility. So, any time you notice the slightest signs of burnout in your teammates or have had a bad week, this will be a great activity to wind down and recharge.
Here are some tips to create your free escape room puzzle ideas.
2 How do you make Escape Room puzzles?
2.1. Select your theme
Heist, jungle, alien planet – this will bring your game to life almost immediately. We have given you more ideas on themes at the end of this article.
2.2. Prepare your story
What is the scintillating backstory behind how the players got trapped in this escape room? Prepare a brief speech that you / the host can deliver to the participants before they enter. Along with the backstory, it can include the game guide and the rules.
2.3. Take care of the clues
The hidden clues are the most important part of the project. So make sure they are well hidden. The below list will give you some snazzy ideas.
2.4. Add the final touches
Make sure the theme, the room decorations, and the clues all go well with each other. Escape Room Puzzles are all about discoveries. The clues should not stand out and must blend in well, even the ones hidden in plain sight.
3 Top 20 Free Escape Room Puzzle Ideas
3.1. Escape room ideas #1-3: Hidden Objects
One of the fundamental puzzles in any escape rooms is to find the hidden object that is a clue. This is a classic escape room puzzle idea that you cannot do without.
Some ideas on how to hide the clues as hidden objects –
- Hiding transparent objects in water – like clear glass or a couple of clear jelly water beads. The container can hold the clue.
- Hiding key in a hard to ‘dig out’ place – like hard soil with no digging tools or a makeshift “garbage can”.
- Hide a clue inside a book – this can mean carving out the pages to hold the actual key/clue (apologies to the book lovers), or a particular page in the book can lead you to the clue.
3.2. Escape room ideas #4-5: “Team-Building” escapes
The best free escape room puzzle ideas for those teams looking to renew the bond between the members or break the ice within a newly formed team. Communication and teamwork are key here as they focus on team building.
- Work from different rooms – Have the players in separate rooms, and the key to unlocking one’s room is in another, and everyone has to guide each other to unlock all doors and reach the center/specific room.
- Blind leads the see-er – Blindfold half the players and feed them with audio clues. Then, they have to guide the other half in uncovering them.
3.3. Escape room ideas #6-8: Throw some light
Light can be used in numerous ways in an Escape Room Puzzle. It can help amplify your theme and hide or reveal clues. But be wary of how well a particular light will go with the game’s theme–for example, a strobe light will look out of place in a pirate-themed room.
- Use a black light to reveal clues – Hide a clue by writing or sticking it on the wall that will be revealed only by a blacklight.
- Take help of shadows – Leave the players in a completely dark room. And ask them to find the keys and their way out.
- Arrange objects in a frame to be viewed only from a certain angle – Like random pieces arranged at a distance from one another, but when you shine a torch through them from a certain angle, it reveals a clue.
3.4. Escape room ideas #9-10: Hide it in plain sight
Frustrate your players with this – We remember one of us screaming, “I hate this and love this at the same time,” after literally standing in front of a clue that was just there on the table.
- Weigh objects to reveal clue – Place a weighing machine and a set of objects to be weighed. The end weight is the code to escape the room.
- Hang keys to the next room in plain sight – Or have a player with a specific foot size step on a pair of footprints on the floor for the door to open.
3.5. Escape room ideas #11-13: Unusual is the new usual
Prompt the players to use a common item in an unusual way to reveal a clue or key. You can also hide the clue as to a pattern among many similar items that can be revealed only by your brainpower. Here are a couple of examples –
- Dial phone works as a calculator – or vice versa. Use them to pop out a key when the correct set of numbers are keyed in.
- Screw that drawer open – Place a screw somewhere, and that has to be used to open a drawer that holds the key
- Plastic cards are the key – The good ol’ fashioned style of breaking in. Use a credit card or similar plastic card to slide between the door and latch to open it.
3.6. Escape room idea #14: Pictionary
Well, not technically. You don’t have to ask the players to play Pictionary with each other. Instead, they have to decipher pictorial clues around the room to escape from it – like encode clues in a map, hide a clue within hieroglyphics, or have the image of someone famous that they will have to identify to use later in the game.
3.7. Escape room ideas #15-17: 3-D Assembly
Scatter the pieces of a puzzle or object across the room, and the players need to find the parts, assemble them to reveal the next clue. You can hide some in plain sight, some below more puzzles
- Add coins found around the room – all these put together can reveal the next clue. The coins can be all from the same year, or they need to be added to a coin counting machine to reveal a code.
- Place toy cars on a map to reveal the next location – The cars can be hidden across the room, as well as the clues to find the cities on the map.
- Good ol’ jigsaw – This one is hard as is. Hide the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to frustrate the players. The scene that emerges once the jigsaw completes is the next clue. Or you can go Manchester’s Escape Room style, add an extra piece that should be used elsewhere or is the next clue.
3.8. Escape room idea #18: Riddle me away
Any riddle under the sun would be a great test of teamwork to escape the room. You can give mathematical, logical reasoning, and even pattern identification can be included. This site has a great collection of riddles that you can take inspiration from.
3.9. Escape room ideas #19-23: Use your senses
Escape room puzzles give you the best opportunities to use your sixth sense. So, why not employ the other senses too?
19. Sounds – Play a melody that needs to be replayed on a toy keyboard. Or play parts of a message to players in different rooms, and when all parts read together denote a clue.
20. Hand-Eye coordination – Stop a moving image exactly within the border. Or even the simple game of throwing darts
21. Touch – Players need to touch an object inside a sealed box through a hole to identify it. Go the extra mile and set up multiple points across the room that has to be pushed/pressed in a sequence to reveal the clue or open the door.
22. Smell – Two objects smelling the same should be combined to reveal a clue. Or they need to arrange scented cards in order to reveal a sequence or hint.
23. Taste – Taste is rarely used in Escape Room Puzzles for fear of triggering allergies or playing up to someone’s food preferences and dislikes. Play it safe and stick to familiar tastes – Line up a few glasses of clear drinks with some cues on each. The one with lime soda reveals the clue. Or go full-on Squid Game and hide a key in a Dalgona candy that they cannot break to retrieve.
3.10. Escape room idea #24: Agility to the rescue
If you have fit team members, this is the best escape room puzzle for them. They can navigate a laser maze, crawl through the space below the floorboard, or climb up to an attic using a knotted rope to reach a clue.
3.11. Escape room idea #25: Temper your way to the clue
This is tricky and might take your players a long time to figure it out (it did for us). Write out a clue using invisible ink that can be revealed over warmth like a candle. Or hide a key inside wax that needs to be melted. You can even hide a key in water, but you cannot touch the water – they need to freeze the water then break it.
3.12. Bonus Escape room idea! Add your ‘spy’ to distract/lead the players
Add in your own player, or make a teammate a spy who will keep attempting to distract the players with wrong clues. But make sure you inform it during your initial briefing, so the players are aware. Or go the other way round, morph your “guide hints” into a person and have them stationed in the room. The players can ask them for three hints anytime during the game.
4 Escape room puzzle themes
Decorating the rooms in specific themes always gives an immersive experience in escape room puzzles. Here are some of the most popular ideas –
- Movies, esp a horror movie
- Gangster scene
- Forest (Jumanji style)
- Murder scene
- Game-ception – Game within a game. Win against the computer or your player for the key
- Gambling den
5.1. What are good DIY puzzles for escape rooms?
Creating your clues is a great DIY free escape room puzzle idea. You can catch hold of household items and turn them into clues. You can also print off clues from the internet and make the players solve them. Creating an escape room puzzle is as much a mind-bending experience as it is to play them. So go ahead, squeeze your brain juice!
5.2. What is the best free escape room app?
The above article gives ideas to create your in-person escape room idea for your team. If you prefer to play them individually, here are 3 of our favorite websites –
- Lockhouse – A collection of escape room games with varying levels of difficulties and price points
- Gamesgames – A wide range of games for free, if you can manage to play past the innumerable ads
- Hogwarts Digital Escape Room – For the Sheldon Cooper aficionados who want to play an escape room via Google Docs.
If you are looking for a mobile app, then both Android and Apple stores provide a wide array of choices.
5.3. Free printable escape room for adults
The internet is filled with free escape room puzzle printable ideas. Here are some of the ones we liked –
- Team Building – free printable templates and tips on how to use them as clues. Best for first timers looking to create their own escape room game.
- Big Escape Rooms – Extensive layout and printable clues for creating your own escape room game
Escape Room Geeks – Themed escape room kits available for purchase and print.