The Missing Heiress: A Dracula Escape Room

You had a shadowy sneak peek here. Today, we’ll be sharing all the details of our oh-so-Gothic Dracula escape room, which was designed by Katie, who is now officially dubbed “Queen of Escape Rooms.”

The room premise was this…American heiress Adeline Eastman (affectionately know as “Addie” to her family) is missing. Her famous father wants to keep the kidnapping out of papers, so instead of calling the police, he hires you, a team of private investigators, to find her. However, the more you uncover about her disappearance, the odder and more supernatural the crime seems. Your sources lead you to a remote room on an estate, which you suspect is a trap. It turns out it IS a trap. The door locks behind you the minute you enter the room. Your only hope is to solve the puzzles before the monstrous criminals return to permanently end your investigation!

Like our two previous escape rooms (details here and here), we ran multiple rooms every half hour. This year we ran 2 rooms, 8 kids per room, all ages 9-13. We also advertised the event with this disclaimer: “While the escape room contains no jump scares, it is suspenseful with spooky elements. Please consider this when deciding to register your child.” Oh yes, we went suspenseful, spooky, atmospheric indeed. AND we included live actresses playing the kidnapped heiress, Adeline Eastman!

That’s me and Special Collections Reference Professional Emma Sarconi, who also rocks a background in theater. We spent the day handcuffed to a radiator grates, swooning, muttering, and begging to be released. It really added an amazing edge to the room.

When the kids entered my room, I was quietly turned towards the wall, completely still. I would wait until the door closed, do a slow count to 10, then turn and start begging them to help. They were SHOCKED to find the kidnapped heiress actually in the room! It was awesome!

The kids quickly realized they had to find the key to my handcuffs to solve the room, and so the game began! Here’s Katie’s masterful escape room, with all the solutions.


For starters, there were 4 boxes on the table, 3 wood and 1 metal…

The metal box was unlocked, and buried under some glass beads was a key…

The key opened a padlock on 1 of the wood boxes. Inside was a playing card marked with a Roman numeral (there were 7 playing cards altogether).

Elsewhere in the room were 3 more playing cards:

And 1 playing card was taped to the back of a vintage photo:

To find the 6th card, kids had to solve a bat clue. Namely, matching the bats in a frame with a color code inside a little coffin, which we subtly placed in another part of the room.

That 3 digit combination unlocked the wooden box with the 6th card. The final card clue was among these framed optical illusions and old illustrations…

Specifically, this image of Dracula’s hand pointing to 3 color candles…

This corresponded to a creepy candelabra with flickering color candles…

Kids had to make the connection to the image, get the colors in the right order, and then find the numbers taped to the bottom of the candles. That combination opened the wooden box with the 7th, and final, playing card.

All this time, I had been alternatively wailing, begging, and panicking in the corner, but at times I would start swooning and repeatedly muttering “There were 7 bells…but only 1 face…then 4 candles, but they went out.” If the kids were paying attention, they would discover that the code 714 allowed them to unlock this way cool safe disguised as a book!

And inside the book safe? A UV flashlight. Which they needed to shine on the “Please help me” letter below. If they needed a little hint to find it, I started swooning again and muttering “It is written in blood…it is written in blood…”

The UV light revealed this:

An additional clue was on a bottle of (fake) blood, which sat next to a bottle of salt and a bottle of dirt.

The UV light revealed this clue:

This sent kids running over to a large map of Transylvania. There were 7 locations highlighted on the map, each labeled with Roman numerals.

Using the numbered list on the “Help Me” letter, kids found the corresponding locations on the map, then matched the Roman numeral to the playing card, and THEN used the regular number on the playing card to string together a 3 digit code.

That code unlocked a big master lock hidden behind a folding mirror on the table. The master lock contained the key to my handcuffs.

BUT WAIT! Even once I was freed, the room wasn’t over! I told the kids I wouldn’t leave with them because I didn’t know if I could trust them. They could, after all, be part of the kidnapping plan. How did I know if my family really sent them?

So the kids had to think alllll the way back to the escape room introduction, when Katie offhandedly mentioned that my family affectionately refers to me as “Addie.” If they remembered my family nickname, I would leave the room with them and they WON!

Our awesome game masters, library assistant Jess Landis and Princeton University student Amy Cho dropped hints and assisted kids in the room. And this year’s parting gift was a cool Gothic key.

I also made sure I fist-bumped all the kids and talked to them normally, so they wouldn’t think I was really that upset and panicky. I was just acting.

This escape room was FUN. I think it might have even been our BEST EVER. And even though it was Dracula-themed, you can see that we were very careful to keep it PG. There were no fangs, neck bites, or maniacal laughter. There was blood, but it was in a bottle.

The room was darkened though, and we brought in a bunch of electric votives to add to the feeling of creepiness. And having a live actress REALLY added to the thrill. Especially when I would bolt upwards and wail things like “Did you hear that? I think they’re coming! We have to escape!” Heh heh heh.

GENERAL HINTS

  • Our room was designed for ages 9-13. A maximum of 8 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 slide into the objects they’re supposed to lock.
  • 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.

SPECIFIC-TO-THE-ROOM HINTS

  • Make sure your actress knows how to read the room, and dial back on the hysterics if things are getting too overwhelming.
  • Hot glue AND tape the bottles of blood, salt, and dirt. Kids kept trying to open them, thinking the clues were inside.
  • Using a black light flashlight? Bring extra batteries!

AND TWO MAJOR ONES…!

We found that the handcuffs cut into our wrists, so please provide a fuzzy wrist band to the actress to keep her comfy.

The color candles we used were Candle Waves multi-color remote control candles (yup, you can use a remote to change the color…hilarious). They were a $2 thrift store score.

Unfortunately, the candles sometimes switched color when the kids banged them down on the table, which ruined the clue. So if you’re going to include this puzzle, buy candles with flames that stay ONE color, or candles with color pillars.

If you have any specific questions, or want to know where we found/ bought our items, or if you just want to tell Katie how awesome she is, you can e-mail her: zondlo@princeton.edu


Many thanks to Emma Sarconi for her star run as Addie Eastman. And to Jess Landis and Amy Cho for helping kids navigate the room with smiles on their faces. And to Katie…QUEEN OF ESCAPE ROOMS! Long may you reign!

Hey U!

hey uThere’s trouble at the ranch…the letters are getting mixed up and causing a word ruckus! Grab your lariat, jump up on that cow pony (with your stuffed kitty, Kiki), and let’s wrangle the alphabet ya’ll!

We read Lexie the Word Wrangler, written by Rebecca Van Slyke, and illustrated by Jessie Hartland (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017). Lexi is a word wrangler, taking little words and roping them together into bigger words. But lately, some pretty strange things have been happening at the ranch. Someone is stealing words, putting them in different places, and switching things around. The final straw comes when Lexie goes to sleep under the S-T-A-R-S and finds herself under the R-A-T-S. Looks like she’s got a word rustler to catch, but maybe, just maybe…they can be friends?

You’ll need:

  • A stick horse (more on this below)
  • A paper mâché or card stock letter (more on this below too!)
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • A long strip of poster board
  • Yarn
  • Hole punch, stapler, scissors, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

cowboy stick horse

We made our standard story time stick horse for this project…you will find the instructions for it here, in our Show Jumping post. Our only modification was to add some construction paper spots. Our cow letters were also recycled from another project…

front of cow uYou might recognize the paper mâché letters from the activity we did at our grand gallery reopening. We added paper horns, hair fringes, wiggle eyes, and a sparkle stem nose ring to our cow letters, but you can just go with markers if you like!

The 8″ letter you see above was purchased online from Consumer Crafts. At $2 each they can be a little pricey, so our alternative is to print the card stock vowel template from our Fishing for Vowels post. In order to stand the letters upright, hot glue pieces of toilet paper tube to the back.

back of cow uThe final piece of the project is the lariat, and this is very easy. Staple a 1.5″ x 28″ strip of poster board in a circle. Make the circle as wide as possible and definitely using staples, as it gives the lariat some heft when you’re tossing it. Punch a hole in the circle, then knot some yarn through it. Done!

lariatTo wrangle, place your cow letter on the floor, swing up on your stick horse, circle the lariat, then drop it over the letter! Yelling “YEEHAW!” optional.

To Blend or Not to Blend

to blend or not to blendAlways on the lookout for literary and word games, I spotted this fantastically stylish box on the shelves of JaZams, our local independently-owned toy store. The game came highly recommended by their staff, and has won several awards to boot. Did it live up to the hype? Read on!

“The Chameleon,” released by Big Potato Games, retails for around $15. It’s a card and category game for 3-8 players. But it’s also a game of deception, because the whole point is to fake out the other players when you are the “chameleon.” The game includes 40 topic cards, 14 code cards, 2 chameleon cards, 2 die, a marker and custom card, instructions, and one super awesome Big Potato Games logo sticker. Here’s a sample of the box contents:

chameleon box contentsLet’s say there are 4 people playing this round. As you can see below, there are 3 identical Code Cards, but only 1 Chameleon Card. Each player randomly chooses a card and keeps it secret from the other players.

chameleon cardsThe dealer flips over the Topic Card and rolls the yellow and blue die. Players with Code Cards quietly match the die roll results to the appropriate category of the Topic Card. So, in the case of the roll below, the secret category is “The Three Little Pigs.”

game playStarting with the dealer, each player takes a turn describing the secret category with one word. But if you are the chameleon, you are faking your little heart out, trying to come up with a word to describe a category you have NO idea about. But you can listen to the other players and wager a pretty good guess, all the while keeping a straight face.

When everyone has said a word, the players have to guess who the chameleon is.

Having played a couple rounds, I can say that this game is a LOT of fun! The creative word usage, fake outs, shifty looks, pointing fingers, and increasingly bold accusations make it low stress, non-competitive, and utterly hilarious. The more players involved, the funnier it gets. Bonus…there’s also a blank laminated Topic Card and dry erase marker to make a custom Topic Card!

chameleon blank topic cardThe game manufacturer’s recommended age range is 14 & up, but we test ran the game with the 9-12 year-olds in Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary society (we just made sure we pulled out some of the more mature Topic Cards, like ones that included the names of alcoholic beverages). After just a touch of trouble with the instructions and locating the secret category from the dice roll, the kids were off and running!

They liked the various topics, coming up with the description word, and how funny it was to both be, and try to figure out, the chameleon. As one kid so aptly put it “Something is fun about lying to your friends’ faces.” Hah!

The beautiful packaging, clever concept, interesting topics, clear instructions, and devious social nature of this game make it extremely enjoyable. 5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended!