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!

A Piranesi-Inspired Picnic

No need for a basket, this little picnic folds right up into a book! Unfurl your picnic blanket, pull your food from the built-in pockets, and you have yourself a feast with friends!

The inspiration for this project comes from a rather unusual source – a Princeton University Library Special Collections exhibit entitled “Piranesi on the Page.” It details the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the foremost printmaker in 18th-century Europe. Originally seeking to be an architect, Piranesi eventually turned to printmaking and experimented with the architecture of books, innovating on the concept of what a book can be.

An example of this is Ichographia, Campo Marzio dell’antica Roma, created in Rome in 1762. Below you can see a huge map of the Campo Marzio, the ancient district of Rome used as a military training ground.

But what you can’t see at first glance is that this map is also part of a book! The photo was difficult to capture what we me crouching, the low lighting, and a highly reflective case, but hopefully you can see the open book below and how the map extends from it!

Amazing, right? It got me thinking of a huge page unfolding from a book…maps…the great outdoors…picnics…picnic blankets…aha! Today, we bring you…the picnic book!

You’ll need:

  • 1 sheet of posterboard
  • Wrapping paper
  • 1 craft tie or pipe cleaner
  • A set of picnic set templates, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ cardstock
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

First, prepare the cover of your book. Fold an 11″ x 36″ piece of posterboard in half to create a cover, then tape or glue two, 4.5″ x 7.5″ pockets to the inside.

Now for the picnic blanket page! Begin with a 25″ x 31.5″ piece of wrapping paper, laid out flat, design side up…

Fold the right and left sides of the wrapping paper inwards, meeting in the center (apologies for the masking tape rolls…the wrapping paper wouldn’t stay flat for the photo!).

Next fold the top and bottom upwards and downwards, meeting in the center.

Finally, fold the wrapping paper in half, to the right, so it fits inside the book’s cover like a page…

To attach the page to the book cover, use scissors to cut 2 small slits, each about 1″ from the top and bottom of the cover. Make sure to cut through both the cover and the pages!

Now unfold the picnic page, located the slits, and thread the ends of a craft tie or pipe cleaner through both.

Refold the picnic page, close the cover, and locate the two ends of the craft tie. Tab them sharply to the spine of the book cover, and reinforce the connection with tape.

Print as many picnic place settings as you would like from the template, then color and cut them out. Slide them into the pockets of your book.

Add a title to the front of your book, tuck it under you arm, and head out for a picnic with your favorite friends or stuffed animals!

If you’re feeling extra creative and Piranesi-inspired, instead of having a picnic blanket with a wrapping paper design, flip it over to the blank side and draw a map leading to your favorite picnic spot or literary landscape!

Lifestyles of the Rich & Noble

Don’t be sooooo 12th century. Get with the times whilst also enjoying this complementary copy of Medieval Vogue! Katie designed this gorgeous little mag for a massive Robin Hood shindig my library hosted some years ago. If you’d like to browse Medieval Vogue for the newest trends in poulaines this season, here is part 1 and part 2 *. For more about the event, read on!

Robin Hood was the book du jour for Princyclopedia, an annual large-scale event that involved bringing a book to life from all sorts of angles – history, science, music, art, food, performances, live animals, you name it! Each table had either a demo, a hands-on activity, or something cool to take home. The 2-sided event map showed you all the table activities and also matched relevant book quotes or historical blurbs to them.

Medieval Vogue was a free take-home at the “Lifestyles of the Rich & Noble” table. Here, we were delighted to be joined by Rose Fox and Kim Hanley from Medieval Scenarios and Recreation.They brought TONS of clothes and costumes for kids to look at and try on, and answered questions about fashion from this time period.

At another table, we had a different take on wearables. Namely, the armor of Sir John Williams (right) and friend (left), two knights who professionally joust at Renaissance Fairs! They brought all their gear and expertise and were simply amazing.

We had a TON of other activities as well…the chemistry of alchemy, venison chili, musical performances on period instruments, live hawks, the science of stained glass, actual longbows with a kid-safe shooting range, illuminated art, the math of taxation, a big play space with multiple cardboard castles, the science of stained glass, herbal amulets, siege engines, gargoyle sculpting, nature tracking, professional stage fight demos, forest conservation, two free roving court jesters, and more! And yes…a table on all the Medieval jobs you DON’T want.

Another fantastic component of the event is that it was a food drive. Families were invited to bring can and box goods to the event to benefit the Arm in Arm food pantry (formally the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County). We donated almost 500lbs of food!

I’ll finish today’s post by sharing the literacy-based table the Princeton Public Library hosted. Since literacy was uncommon during the Middle Ages, shops typically featured pictures of their goods and/or services on their signs. So we designed a game! First, we selected a bunch of images of Medieval signs. Then, we asked kids to guess what the signs represented. Rothenburg, Germany has some fantastic signs currently in use (it being an actual historic Medieval town, wow!).

Image source Wikipedia

We also wanted kids to make a personal connection, so Katie and I photographed a few local shops. We photoshopped out any words, then asked kids to guess what the signs represented. They were tickled to recognize signs they saw everyday and make a Medieval literacy connection!


* Images used for Medieval Vogue may be subject to copyright. Please contact danas@princeton.edu if you are the author of one or more of images used here and have objection in such a use.