Get a Clue

Always searching for more escape room inspiration, Katie was delighted when her mom sent her a dandy little escape challenge that fit right in the palm of her hand. Though it was small, but packed a mighty punch! Take it away, Katie!


The Cluebox “Escape Room in a Box” is produced by iDventure Machine Factory and retails for around $40 on Amazon. There are three different Clueboxes available for purchase: Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, Davy Jones Locker and Schrödinger’s Cat. The suggested age range is 14+ and the estimated playtime is 60 minutes.

I tackled Schrödinger’s Cat. The wood puzzle box is packaged in a sturdy cardboard box that is covered with images with a funky steampunk motif, including a very cool cat. Inside the packaging is an informational note (in multiple languages) briefly describing the quantum mechanics experiments conducted by Erwin Schrödinger in the 1930s. You are tasked with figuring out how to rescue his cat from inside the wood puzzle box.

The escape room itself is a robust wood box with various gears, interesting sliding tabs, and is covered in hieroglyphics that one would rightly assume will be used to solve the mystery. I took some time to carefully examine the box, looking at all the parts and pieces. It didn’t take long before I found a note on one of the tabs that read “Start,” and it had me follow a series of arrows around the sides of the box to the bottom. There, the arrows stopped near tabs that signaled the start of the room.

The informational note also clearly states that all elements of the box should open smoothly, so you don’t need to force anything and no guessing is required. There is a website link that offers hints if you get stuck and are unable to move on. I always try to solve escape rooms without hints, but I did have to get a bit of assistance with one part (more on that later).

No spoilers, I promise! I methodically worked my way through the puzzles. After about 30 minutes, I got stuck on a brainteaser that I believed involved the strange eye staring from one side of the box. I twisted, tapped, and moved everything around and could not figure out what was going on with the eye. After about 20 minutes without making any progress, I reluctantly visited the hint website to get a tiny bit of help. Turns out I was right about the eye, and after working through the final riddle, I was able to successfully release Schrödinger’s cat. My total time to solve: 72 minutes.

The iDventure’s Clueboxes are a fun addition to the realm of escape rooms. The wood box is beautifully manufactured and the puzzles are a mix of relatively easy to quite difficult. I agree with the suggested age range and feel an adult would need to assist younger children. It is definitely designed for single players, though it could be a fun party game. One aspect I really like is the box can be reset to its initial state after a person finishes the escape room, which allows for others to participate in a future challenge. The solution compartment is also big enough to hold a gift certificate or little note, so you can hide a small present inside as an added bonus for escaping the room.

Cluebox is perfect for an hour or two of individual challenging fun, and it gets my seal of escape room approval!

Myth Busters

This week, Katie challenged her Greek mythology knowledge with an at-home escape room worthy of Olympus! And given it took six hours to complete, I’m going to applaud her…shall we say…Herculean efforts (ooooo bad joke! baaaaad joke)! OK Katie, take it away!


I was gifted Escape: The Games of Olympus, which was created by Escape the Crate subscription box adventures. When you sign up for Escape the Crate, you receive a mystery in your mailbox every other month and the topics vary widely. One mission will have you attempting to get out of the sinking Titanic, another has you exploring the jungles searching for treasure in a lost Incan city, and yet another you’ll have to steer clear of America’s first serial killer at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

There are a couple of purchasing choices: you can sign up for the bi-monthly service for $30, or you can select up to 3 discounted prepay levels spanning a year. There’s a gift option, and they also offer retired boxes as one-time purchases for $40. You can pause or cancel your subscription at any time. This particular box arrived with lots of interesting contents, including a foam eyeball!

The suggested age for Escape the Crate is 10+ with adult supervision, though younger players will likely enjoy participating along with their grown-ups. Some of the themes are a bit scarier, such as murder mysteries or fighting mythological characters (as I would soon discover in The Games of Olympus), but Escape the Crate does a fantastic job alerting players to when there are darker moments. Some of the crates have very intense themes – like encountering the infamous Jack the Ripper – so those boxes actually have two games inside: one for adults and a version that is more family friendly.

Greek mythology is right up my alley, so once I secured a pen and paper for taking notes, I was ready to get started. The premise of The Games of Olympus is a false prophet is revealing and spoiling future events, and you are tasked with appeasing the prophet and restoring history to its correct path. By participating in the Games of Olympus, you outwit a Greek god or goddess and take one of their most prized possessions, and bring everything back to the prophet as an offering.

Much like the Finder Seekers kit (which I review here), Escape the Crate goes back and forth between the physical items provided inside the box and online clues and resources. The online puzzles are available in both audio and written format and the videos are all closed captioned, making it virtually ADA compliant. You have the option of timing yourself, but I decided to play for fun and not set a timer. There are very specific instructions for each section of the mythological adventure, and I was continually bouncing between the pieces in front of me as well as referencing the information provided online.

Sealed envelopes were opened and the contents solved, a wide variety of Greek heroes and villains participated in the events, and I got very good at transcribing Roman numerals to Arabic numbers. One fun twist is the inclusion of Pandora’s Box, which if you decide to open it while playing the game, the advice could either help or hinder you as you continue with the adventure (spoiler alert: Pandora did not help me AT ALL). All told, it took me nearly six hours to win the Games and appease the prophet… sweet success!

Escape the Crate provides another fantastic option for those who enjoy doing escape rooms mysteries from the comfort of their couch. The puzzle level of difficulty varies, and I found myself easily solving some and finding others quite challenging. There are hints (and even the answers) provided in case you get stuck. The graphics on all of the provided objects are really impressive, and I loved the fact that the box itself was used throughout the game. Packaging with a purpose!

In my opinion, however, Escape the Crate is designed to be played by a group of people and would be an ideal party game. I honestly believe if I had been working with others, we would have gotten through the mystery much faster. Not to say that one person can’t do it entirely on their own, it’s just much more difficult for a single player to finish.

Psst! Is there a game or at-home escape room you’ve heard about and want me to test? Send an email to zondlo@princeton.edu and let me know!

Ransom is as Ransom Does

Quick! You have 90 seconds to describe the inside of Chuck E. Cheese, using only 75 random letters. OK, how about asking your neighbor to borrow something from their kitchen? Summarize the Star Wars movies? Explain to a grocery store worker why you have a monkey with you?

Welcome to Ransom Notes (by Charty Party), an awesome word magnet game that challenges up to six players to create the best description they can…using very few words…and zero grammar!

ransom notes box 4Retailing for around $40, the game includes 840 word magnets, 6 metal player submission cards, and 255 prompt cards.

I will tell you that the game does not come out of the box ready-to-play…you have to individually separate multiple sheets of magnets. But after that, you’re ready to go!

Each player gets a metal submission card, and grabs 3 pinches of the letter tiles (about 75 tiles total). Then each player organizes their letters facing up. This process takes a WHILE. But I will say that the 2 players I played with had a good chuckle over their words, and were spontaneously stringing together funny sentences while also getting organized for game play.

The round begins when a prompt card is flipped. Players then have 60-90 seconds to come up with a response using their magnet tiles (note: I played this game with my 13 and 10 year-old, and we extended that period to 2-3 minutes). When the time’s up, everyone shares their ransom note! The results prompted much laughter. Here’s one of our rounds:

With the results revealed, a Judge is selected (and there’s a new judge every round). You can decide who judges the round, or – and I really like this – you can spin the bottom of the game box on the table. One side has “you’re the judge” printed on it, and whoever it lands facing is the Judge!

you're the judge 5 The Judge picks the winner of the round, and the winner is awarded the prompt card. The next round begins, and the game ends when one person has won five prompt cards total. The Judge can pick themselves to win a round, but the rest of the players must unanimously agree.

In summary, Ransom Note is really funny and we enjoyed it!  It’s simple to play, and there is a whole lot of creative writing happening. The prompt cards are hilarious and unusual. The game box states Ransom Note is intended for ages 17+ but that mostly refers to some of the more adult prompt cards. Those can easily be removed from the deck if you’re playing with younger kiddos. My only quibble is that the magnet words don’t always adhere to to metal game cards very well. But you only have to use them for a short amount of time, so eh…it’s fine.

Highly recommended!