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.

Sneak Peek: Willy Wonka Escape Room

giant lollipopNow that’s a large lollipop! Tomorrow, our library is hosting an original Willy Wonka escape room, designed by the same genius (i.e. Katie) who brought you our Sherlock Holmes escape room last year. And I must say, she’s outdone herself this time.

The premise is thus: there’s a job opening in Willy Wonka’s top secret Inventing Room, but in order to make the cut, teams of 6 kids will have to solve the puzzles he’s left behind. And this isn’t your ordinary lab, of course. For one thing, the candies are unusual sizes, including this humongous lollipop, which we hope will measure up to the escape room challenge (heh heh, that’s a hint!).

We’ll have a complete breakdown of the escape room puzzles and solutions for you next Friday (and here it is!). But today, here’s how we made this giant lolly!

You’ll need:

  • 1 pool noodle
  • 1 large wooden dowel
  • Clear cellophane
  • Ribbon
  • Scissors and a box cutter for construction
  • Hot glue

This project starts with a pool noodle, which are the long, Styrofoam tubes you can find for a couple bucks in pool toys section of Target, or even at the Dollar Store during the summer months. We bought ours bulk from Oriental Trading company, because we plan to use them for another event. Our noodles were 46″ long, with a 2.5″ diameter.

pool noodlesStart by cutting a pool noodle in half. Katie used a box cutter and scissors. She found that neither tool was ideal, but the scissors worked a little better for her. Both methods, however, resulted in shredding, so definitely work over a trash can.

To create the spiral head of the lollipop, glob a bunch of hot glue on the end of a pool noodle half, then roll it inward. Keep globbing and rolling, and Katie advises LOTS of hand pressure to make sure the glue really adheres.

rolling the pop When you get to the end of the first noodle half, glue on the second half and keep rolling! Note: there will be a gap where the two halves meet, but it’s not too bad:

gap in noodleWhen the lollipop head is finished, use a box cutter and scissors to create a small hole in the bottom of the spiral (about 1.5″ deep), for the lollipop’s stick. We used 36″ wooden dowel that was .75″ in diameter. I found them at Michael’s Craft store for $1.60 a piece. Insert the stick, and glob a ton of hot glue in and around the hole to secure the stick in place. Katie’s also used color masking tape to reinforce the perimeter of the lollipop spiral.

lollipop stickFinally, use clear cellophane and a ribbon to wrap your lollipop head. Here’s our finished lollipop…the final length was a whopping 46″. I included a marker to show you the size ratio. Notice the measurement notches along the stick? Shhhh! It’s a clue!

finished lollipopAnd just in case you’re wondering, yes, it is a lot of fun to run around the office wielding giant lollipops. Definitely recommend it.

A Box of Puzzles…and Ducks

contents of boxInside this box are a number of tantalizing puzzles, mazes, optical illusions, images of unusual hotel rooms, building projects, and…ducks. Can all of these things be some how related? The answer is mostly definitely yes.

This project was part of To Be Continued, our story time program for children ages 6-8. Typically, we do the projects during the program. But unfortunately, the timing on this particular day only gave me five minutes to present the project. To further confound things, it was also the eve of a one month programming hiatus. So I needed something the kids could grab, take home, and discover for themselves. Not unlike the main character in the book!

We read Floors by Patrick Carman (Scholastic, 2011). Ten-year-old Leo Fillmore and his father are the maintenance crew at the Whippet Hotel. But the Whippet isn’t an ordinary hotel. It has a room that’s a giant pinball machine, a roller coaster elevator called the Double Helix, a roof-top duck pond, a Cake Room, a Robot Room, a Pond & Caves room, and a shark head named Daisy. The Whippet is the brainchild of Merganzer D. Whippet, inventor, engineer, architect, and eccentric. Unfortunately, Mr. Whippet has gone missing, the hotel is going haywire, and two mysterious men have been making nefarious inquiries. But things take a turn for the strange when Leo finds a mysterious purple box. Inside is a letter from a lawyer and a clue that can only be from Mr. Whippet. Now Leo, his friend Remi, a duck named Betty, and a talkative robot named Blop have just two days to solve the clues, find more puzzle boxes, explore some of the hotel’s strangest rooms, and save the Whippet.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box
  • Different color printer paper
  • Puzzle box templates (located at the bottom of this post)
  • A piece of curling ribbon
  • Scissors for construction
  • 1 rubber mini-duckie (optional)

Any old box will do, but I decided to splurge and purchase these super-sturdy papier-mâché treasure boxes from Discount School Supply (a set of 12 is $21). My idea was that once kids were done with the activities inside the box, they could decorate the outside with art supplies at home. Here’s what my boxes looked like:

exterior of boxThe tag says “Always bring a duck if you can. They are more useful than you know.” That’s a quote from the book. It’s a very valuable piece of advice given to Leo when he finds the first box. Here’s an image of the full contents of the box:

contents of boxIn the book, Leo and his friend Remi have to follow cryptic clues, solve a number of riddles, and learn that things are not always as they seem. To replicate this experience for the story time kids, I grabbed mazes, optical illusions, and riddles from the internet.

mazes, optical illusions, riddlesI also scanned some Thinklers (i.e. visual riddles) from the book Thinklers! by Kevin Brougher (Missing Piece Press, 2000).

thinklersSince Merganzer engineered the Whippet himself, I included suggestions for a couple building projects involving things like gumdrops, marshmallows, toothpicks, toilet paper tubes, and card stock.

building activitiesThe rooms at the Whippet Hotel are fantastical and amazing. So I did a Google search for unusual real-life hotel rooms. And I found them. Oh yes I did. You must check out the ICEHOTEL in Sweden. Wow.

unique hotel roomsMr. Whippet is obsessed with ducks, and Betty the duck saves the day more than once. So I rounded up some duck jokes, duck memes, and other miscellaneous duck items.

duck memes, jokesI topped everything off with a rubber mini-duck. I found these on Amazon (12 for $6.87).

ducksReady to put together a box? Here are the templates you’ll need to reproduce everything.

The box tag template for the exterior of the box (you’ll need a hole punch too).

The box contents template 1 consists of 3 pages of duck memes, building activities, optical illusions, and images of unique hotel rooms. Since the images are in color, print them on white paper (card stock works great).

The box contents template 2 consists of 4 pages of Thinklers, mazes, riddles and duck jokes. I recommend printing each page on a different color paper. Also, to economize a little, I repeated the duck jokes and riddles twice on a single page.

Have fun! And may the duck be with you, always.