So I’ve always been a fan of puzzles. Even when I was a kid I loved working on jigsaw puzzles, trying to figure out riddles and struggling with the handheld puzzles made up of little blocks of wood and metal. I’ve always been inquisitive and wanted to know how things worked. I think that’s why I ended up working with computers as my full time job.
The Puzzle of Computers
I wanted to look under the covers and see how this “puzzle” of a computer actually worked. I wanted to understand what bits and bytes were and how the computer understood that when I pressed the “h” key, the letter “h” showed up on the screen. I was the kid that painstakingly copied the code from the pages of computing magazines and crossed his fingers for it to compile (nerd alert). But doing this and looking behind the screen lead me to a whole new world of pieces to fit together. It wasn’t long before I moved on and learned new programming languages, ultimately landing on PHP as a solid foundation. It was where I wanted to be: light, easy to learn and web-focused. I’d found my career path and was following it full-force.
That was around 12 years ago now. A few years back, however, I realized I needed something different and a slightly different focus on things. I didn’t stray too far and ended up going in the direction of application security instead of just straight up programming. I took on this challenge and read everything possible, learning how different security controls worked (more puzzles!) and how they fit together to make a cohesive whole. I shared this experience back out to the world through tutorials and conference speaking, hoping to make the puzzle a little easier for others trying to find their way.
I love puzzles, especially ones that are challenging in new ways and so I think that’s why I feel drawn to escape rooms.
Can’t Escape the Rooms
My love of the rooms started a few years ago when I attended a work-related event where an escape room was one of the “team building” exercises. I’d never done one before that and, while the idea sounded interesting, hadn’t really pursued it. After, however, I was hooked. I loved everything about it — the concept of each room is a different challenge, the props and mechanisms involved in solving the puzzles and, of course, the feeling when you solve that final puzzle and you reach your goal.
I’ve been researching them ever since, reading what I can get my hands on, listening to podcasts about them and researching ones in my area. In more recent weeks I’ve been taking the next step in combining my own love of puzzles with the idea of escape rooms: I’ve started to make my own.
Now, I’m not talking about full-fledged rooms complete with props and physical spaces. I’m talking about putting together a series of puzzles that lead toward an ultimate goal. I’m starting small, creating an experience for my kids to participate in and enjoy. I’ve only really put one together (working on another one!) and put it on for them to try out. While the younger of my kids had a bit of a tough time with it, the older one fully embraced it and worked hard at solving the puzzles. There’s something satisfying about seeing a participant really enjoy what you’ve made, even if it’s mostly paper props and printed out pictures.
Taking it to the next level
Before you jump to conclusions, no — I’m not talking about starting up my own escape room business here. What I am talking about, though, is really putting the effort into creating these experiences using what I have around (okay, so I may have gotten some new locks from Amazon) to complete the experience.
I’m no game designer and I don’t claim to be but there’s a wealth of information out on the internet from people that have been doing these rooms for a while now and have some very helpful tips. Based on some of these and some of my own storytelling, my kids were secret agents helping a fellow agent locate the enemy base. It was my first attempt and, based on how quickly they finished, a little short. I’ve been inspired by this, though, to work up something more complex for the next round.
I know it’s not exactly kosher to share the solutions to a room in public, so if you’re curious you can reach out to me and I’m happy to share. There were several different puzzles to solve including a solving a picture puzzle, finding a lockbox, discovering the pin and locating the final letter with the location of the enemy base.
So, wish me luck on the next “level” of this experience. It’s definitely a learning process but in my eyes, it’s yet another puzzle to solve — how to make something engaging, memorable and entertaining enough to spend around an hour solving!