The Missing Tiger: A Sherlock Holmes Virtual Escape Room

Image from Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library: A restless tiger. Natural History Made Easy. Wood engravings by George Pickering. London: D. Carvahlo, between 1830 and 1832.

The (digital) game is afoot! Today, we present a virtual escape room for kids, designed by our resident Escape Room Queen, Katie. A tiger has escaped from the London Zoo, and Holmes needs your help to find it!

Ready to begin your investigation? Click here

We would like to thank Sydney Krawiec from the Peters Township Public Library in McMurray, Pennsylvania for her inspiration, advice and encouragement to take on this challenge. Sydney designed an AWESOME digital Harry Potter escape room. LOVE!

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!

Doors Within Doors

doors within doors

Art museums, science centers, parks, zoos, aquariums – these places share a common thread in that they are fully immersive environments that encourage individuals to follow his/ her/ their own path, exploring, discovering, and learning.

Then, Meow Wolf.

Take the concept of immersive learning and infuse it with powerful storytelling, artistic expression, unbound creativity, and fierce playfulness. Then crank it to eleven. THAT is Meow Wolf. Katie and her son recently discovered Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Take it away, Katie!


Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return. Crazy name for an art exhibit, right? Turns out it’s not only crazy, it is a hands-on, completely captivating, artist inspired, mystery to be solved, fantastical world, storytelling experience that’s *really* hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. With that said, I’m going to try to explain it, because I was absolutely blown away by this place.

meow wolf exhibit sign

Some history about Meow Wolf: it was formed in 2008 by a group of 12 artists living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who chose their name by literally pulling words out of a hat. Now operating as an art collective of nearly 200 people, they create unique art experiences for audiences of all ages, or as they so wonderfully describe their vision on their website: “Meow Wolf champions otherness, weirdness, challenging norms, radical inclusion, and the power of creativity to change the world.”

With support from Game of Thrones author and Santa Fe resident George R. R. Martin, who purchased a defunct bowling alley and leased it to the group, Meow Wolf turned the once forgotten building into a permanent art exhibit, House of Eternal Return, which opened in March 2016.

meow wolf sculptureEmployees working the House of Eternal Return ticket counter encourage you to touch everything, explore everywhere, and fully engage yourself within the over 20,000 square foot exhibit.

When you enter, you are immediately greeted by a massive two-story Victorian mansion owned by the fictional Selig family, who vanished after conducting forbidden experiments inside the home. If you look closely at the house, you’ll see small credits given to George R. R. Martin. Wolves and dragons appear in the scrawling woodwork. The front doormat reads “Beyond Here There Be Dragons.”

meow wolf houseYou start investigating the mystery of the Selig family disappearance by finding a mailbox and reading messages written on the cards inside. The cards provide hints and clues to search for while you wander through the maze of rooms and hallways.

meow wolf mailboxDeeper inside the exhibit, there’s a mechanical raven (another Game of Thrones nod, perhaps?), which occasionally flaps its wings and chatters at the visitors below.

meow wolf ravenMy son and I spent nearly four hours wandering through the House of Eternal Return. The exhibit has dozens of hidden doors and portals to unique and fascinating places, which through the story strangely connect in some weird way to each other. Crawling through the fireplace brings you to a cave where you can play music on the rib bones of a giant glowing mastodon.

meow wolf illunimated skeletonWalking through the open door of an ice machine takes you into a room full of lights and mirrors, where you push buttons to change the lights and play different notes of music.

meow wolf blue lightsGoing through the refrigerator leads you down a sterile white hallway into what appears to be a rocket ship, ready to take you to futuristic tropical destinations.

doors within doorsThere are also strange space monsters that blink their eyes at you when you walk by.

meow wolf furry alienWalls of fabric that reveal an ever-changing light show when you touch it (or floss dance between the wavy cloth).


You can also try stuffing yourself down the slide portal inside the dryer, which ends in a small room with walls completely covered in laundry. For those of you wondering, yes, I did manage to squeeze my way into the dryer, much to my son’s amusement. There is another door into (or out of) the laundry room, but my son and I couldn’t figure out where it was after leaving the room.

meow wolf dryer portalThe entire exhibit is a mystery you have to attempt to solve, but honestly, I don’t believe there is one definite solution. Visitors interpret art differently, so what one person thinks is the answer, another may believe something completely different.

I can’t say enough about the House of Eternal Return: it is a must-see place. This post barely scratches the surface with all there is to see and experience. Pictures really don’t do it justice because everywhere you look, there’s something distinctly different and jaw-dropping. It’s funky and fun, inspiring and incredible. If you are in Santa Fe and visit Meow Wolf, plan on spending many hours exploring and getting lost within this one-of-a-kind immersive art labyrinth.

I can’t WAIT to go back.