The Search for Gold: A Treasure Island Virtual Escape Room

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Avast mateys! The Dread Pirate Katie has developed a new virtual escape room. It begins with a discovery in the attic, and where does it lead? TREASURE me hearties!

Adventures awaits! Click here!

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!

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.