The Candy Challenge: A Willy Wonka Escape Room

You had a sneak peek here…now it’s time for the big reveal! Katie designed a totally amazing Willy Wonka escape room for kids ages 9-14. Today, we’ll be posting all the puzzles, riddles, activities, and solutions. Hang on to your sweet tooth, here we go!

Last year’s Sherlock Holmes escape room took place in the Victorian-esque classrooms of Princeton University’s East Pyne building. But we wanted a more scientific feel for Wonka, so we headed across campus to the Computer Science Library. The big ceilings, glass walls, and funky artwork were perfect.

Like last year, we ran 3 identical rooms simultaneously, every half hour, for 5 hours. The 3 classrooms we used were lined up down a long hallway, each door marked with a different color – red, green, or blue. We also had an extra classroom to serve as a “waiting room” for kids and parents.

In between the rooms were cool displays of vintage machinery and mechanisms. Like these old record players (our Muggle Studies 101 curator would be having a field day!):

Annnnnd drumroll please! This is what the escape room looked like…

As the kids entered, a game master welcomed them to Mr. Wonka’s “Inventing Room.” She explained that there were job openings at the world-famous factory, but in order to make the cut, the team had to solve the puzzles Mr. Wonka had left for them. They had 20 minutes to find the ultimate solution. Here we go…

The 7 candy balloons each had a word written on them. String the words together, and you get the sentence: “The Invention Book May Shed Some Light.”

Next, find the black light flashlight in the pocket of a lab coat hanging nearby:

Then head over to the lab table, which had a number of objects on it, including the aforementioned Invention Book:

The book was full of recipes, ideas, diagrams, and quirky thoughts (all Roald Dahl appropriate of course, Katie really did her research):

But shine the black light on the pages, and secret messages are revealed in UV ink!

Eventually, with several directional clues like “This way,” “Go Back,” “Stop,” or “Too Far!” you end up on this most curious page:

Shine the black light on it and…

The clue leads to an inflatable kiddie pool filled with giant plastic “gumballs”

Count the balls, solve the equation, and you get the three digit code for lock #1 (we provided a calculator to help them with this calculation. It can be hard to do math under pressure):

Inside the lock’s chamber is a piece of paper requiring 3 measurements: 1) The length of a gummy bear’s leg; 2) The number of red candy cane stripes; 3) The diameter of Smartie’s candy. But, of course, nothing is QUITE the right size. The gummy bear, for example, was simply enormous:

To measure things, you have to discover that the giant lollipop is actually a measuring stick (which we hinted about here, and also share instructions on how to craft one of your own)!

The jumbo candy canes for the equation are hanging next to the lab coat…

And across the room? A giant set of Smartie’s:

When we test-piloted the room, some kids said they had trouble recalling diameter. So we snuck the information on the classroom blackboard to help out:

Once you have the 3 numbers, open lock #2, which holds a key. The key opens the pink box on the lab table, which reveals a test tube. Your instructions? Smell the tube’s contents:

The tube contained McCormick banana extract. After a good sniff, teams had to vote and select the correct flavor from a rack of test tube labeled with various fruit smells:

Once the selection was made, the game master produced a tube and said “If I add this liquid to the tube you picked…and the liquid turns purple…you WIN!” Unbeknownst to the kids, the winning “banana” test tube was filled with phenolphthalein, and the game master’s tube contained sodium carbonate. Combine them to get an awesome purple color change (sorry, the only photo I have is Katie testing it in her kitchen!):

One very important thing to note…only the game master handled the tubes with the chemicals in them. When the liquid turned purple, there was much screaming, yelling and jumping up and down. Most teams took 20 minutes to finish the room. The record that day was 12 minutes.

But wait, you say! Earlier in the post, I saw chocolate cookbooks on the lab table! Yes you did. It wouldn’t be an escape room without red herrings! The vintage cookbooks (purchased on ebay) and plastic science equipment were included in the room to throw kids off. Heh heh.

We had a game master in each room, dropping hints when needed, being encouraging, keeping time, and generally keeping kids on task. Here are our 3 amazing game masters, Princeton University students Michelle Vilarino, Amy Cho, and Jasmeene Burton.

It was a total blast. Hilarious things happened, teams rallied around one another, and one of the gummy bears was dubbed “Freddy.” Below are quick hints for running the room. If you have any specific questions, or want to know where we found/ bought our items, feel free to e-mail Katie: zondlo@princeton.edu

  • Our room was designed for ages 9-14. A maximum of 6 kids participated per room.
  • Make sure participants arrive at least 10 minutes before the game begins. We were very clear in all promotional and registration material that late arrivals would not be admitted.
  • Have a waiting area for participants, and try to keep it away from the the actual escape room so no one overhears the puzzles being solved.
  • Make sure all clues are printed. Not all kids can read cursive.
  • Test everything in advance! Make sure the locks fit on the things they’re supposed to lock to!
  • Using a black light flashlight? Bring extra batteries!
  • Make sure the game masters know the game. We ran them through the room once, and we gave them cheat sheets on event day.
  • Bring cell phone chargers. Our 20 minute game timers were our cell phones. Woe to ye who runs out of battery!

Many thanks to Michelle Vilarino, Amy Cho, and Jasmeene Burton for being such awesome game masters (and way to ROCK that blue wig Jasmeene!). Big shout out to the Cotsen Critix for pilot testing the room and giving such terrific feedback. Thank you to Dr. Kathryn Wagner for the color change chemistry assistance. And Katie…woo girl. You did it again. You are amazing.

Fantasta-licious Factory

happy ownerMove over Charlie Bucket! How would YOU like to own your very own candy factory that produces amazing candies, sweets, and chocolates?

candy line upIn addition to its fanciful decor and delectable goodies, this candy factory has a working conveyor belt. Ingredients go in, delicious candy comes out!

conveyor belt candyWe read If I Owned a Candy Factory, written by James Walker Stevenson and illustrated by James Stevenson (Greenwillow, 1989). A little boy imagines what he would do if he had a candy factory. First, he would write a letter to all his friends and ask “What kind of candy do you like best?” and “What day is your birthday?” On their birthdays, kids are invited to the factory to get their favorite kind of candy…gumdrops, red lollipops, licorace, etc. Eventually, the candy factory would open its doors so all the kids around the world could come and enjoy a treat! It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9”)
  • box cutter
  • 6 toilet paper tubes
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • 1 strip of tagboard (mine was 3.75″ x 14″)
  • 1 jumbo craft stick (mine was 1.75″)
  • factory template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • Cotton balls (I offered white, blue, yellow, and pink)
  • An assortment of pipe cleaners
  • A selection of embossed foil paper or plain foil paper
  • A selection of drinking straws
  • A selection of craft ties
  • A selection of metallic (and/or regular) ribbon
  • 1 medium square of brown stiffened felt
  • 2 small pieces of tin foil
  • wooden coffee stirrer
  • 3 small squares of self-adhesive foam – all the same color
  • 2 tiny squares of kitchen sponge
  • 1 mini pom-pom (mine was 0.5″)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Begin by using a box cutter to create openings in the short sides of the box (my openings were approximately 3″ x 4″).

sides of factoryNow use color masking tape to secure toilet paper tubes to the outside of each opening. Wrap the tape all the way around the bottom of the box to make the tubes extra secure.

belt 1Next, hot glue additional toilet paper tubes on the inside of the box. These are the “internal rollers” for the conveyor belt, and will help keep the belt steady and on track.

belt 2We will now pause this project to say a few words about the moveable conveyor belt. The belt is actually a strip of tagboard with a craft stick attached to it. The craft stick acts as the “lever” that moves the tagboard strip back and forth.

leverHere’s what the conveyor belt looks like inside the factory (minus the candies of course – we’ll get to that step later).

belt in factoryThe size and length of your conveyor belt will vary according to the size of your box (my box was 9″ long and my conveyor belt was 14″). Your conveyor belt must be long enough to make the ingredients “disappear” into the factory and reappear as finished candies on the other side. It also needs to stay on the rollers and not fall into the box.

So we played around with a few conveyor belt prototypes and here’s what we finally came up with.

First, place the belt into the factory, letting it rest on top of the toilet paper tube rollers. Now slide the belt all the way to the left until the right side of the belt reaches the beginning of the right-hand “internal roller.” Make a mark on the left side of the belt.

It was hard to get a good shot of this step, so I marked the end of the belt with purple masking tape to give it more visibility. In the photo, it sort of looks like the end of the belt and the mark are inside the box. They’re not. They’re definitely outside the box.

belt position 1Repeat on the other side. The result will look like this. A belt with two marks on it.

belt position 2Now use the box cutter to make a slit right between the two marks. The slit needs to be wide enough for your jumbo craft stick to slide into snugly.

belt position 3Make 3 “x” marks on each end of the belt. This shows kids exactly where they need to place their candy in order to get the factory illusion to work.

belt position 4Insert the jumbo craft stick into the slit. You might want to add a little hot glue at the base to make it extra secure.

craft stick in beltPlace the belt back inside the factory. The craft stick should be poking out of the place where the box’s lid tucks into the box.

belt in factoryWe noticed that the belt was still in danger of coming off the rollers (especially if you get over-enthusiastic and whip it back and forth). So we added one more security measure.

Move the craft stick all the way to the left, until you see the last “x” on the belt. Put a piece of tape to the left of the craft stick to keep it from going any further.

x mark 1Repeat on the right side.

x mark 2The belt is secure, time to decorate the factory! Color the sign and windows on the template and tape or glue them to the factory. Wrap 2 toilet paper tubes with patterned paper and hot glue them to the roof of your factory as smoke stacks.

If you’d like smoke to come out of your stacks, pull a cotton ball apart, then push a pipe cleaner through it. Tape one end of the pipe cleaner inside the smoke stack.

smokeOne artistic mother and daughter team made delicious swirl smoke using two cotton balls twined together. Is this not completely awesome?

twirly smokeOther decorative touches included foil paper “solar panels,” drinking straw pipes going in random directions, pipe cleaners for “icing” and/or candy cane flourishes, and some craft ties and ribbon. I also offered some glittery plastic cocktail stirrers (located in the paper goods section at Target).

factoryThe factory is all set. It’s finally time to manufacture some candy! We prepped all the little bits needed for this part of the project in advance, then put them in plastic cups so each kid would have everything at his/her fingertips.

Here are the cups, sitting on my trusty story time project book cart (which you might remember seeing in an oh-so-unusual format in my very first post).

prepped cupsRemember, you’re making 6 candy items for your conveyor belt. The “raw ingredient” set (pictured below on the left) and the “finished product” set (pictured on the right).

candiesCHOCOLATE BAR: For the “raw ingredients,” hot glue three tiny squares of stiffened brown felt to a small piece of tin foil. For the “finished” chocolate bar, wrap a small rectangle of stiffened brown felt with tin foil (leave a little chocolate peeking out the top). Then use patterned paper to create a label for your chocolate bar.

chocolate barLOLLIPOP: The “raw ingredients” are a square of self-adhesive foam and a small piece of a coffee stirrer. For the “finished” lollipop, cut 2 matching circles from self-adhesive foam. Peel the back off 1 circle and stick a piece of a coffee stirrer to it. Peel and stick the other circle and press it on top of the first circle. Add lollipop swirls with a Sharpie marker.

lollipopCAKE: For the “raw ingredients,” use a small square of sponge and a bit of cotton ball. For the “finished” cake, hot glue a bit of cotton ball on top of a small square of sponge, then hot glue a mini pom-pom cherry on top.

cakeAll that remains is hot gluing the candy to the conveyor belt (even though some kids decided to leave their candy loose). Remember to put the ingredients and the finished candy on the belt in the right order. We had some chocolate squares emerge as lollipops at first, but after a little trial and error, the kids worked it out.

And there you have it. You are now the proud owner of a candy factory! Just don’t eat too many sweets, or this might have to be the subject of your next story time!