Escape Room Ideas

There are so many kinds of escape rooms!  Below we include some ideas and further reading to get you started, with a focus on libraries.
Poster from the Pierce County Library System

Imagine this possible implementation: A group of high school students create and host a Saturday event, “Escape the Library.” Community members (ages 10-150) are able to sign up in teams of 3-5. Anyone can participate… but who can finish the fastest?

Why use technology / Hive Mechanic?

Pure analog versions are great, and sometimes simpler. So what can the digital add? We have seen deep satisfaction in secret codes that are sent by text message, or a historic photo that is sent to each participant’s phone, or the coordination of teams. Using digital infrastructure can also make it easier to host and reset escape rooms from the library’s perspective.

Specific features of Hive Mechanic that work well with escape rooms:
American Libraries Magazine, “A Place of Their Own”, September 1, 2016.
  • Progressive hints for a wider range of ages and skill levels. When players get the answer wrong, Hive Mechanic’s progressive hints can make the experience much more accessible. Each request for a hint (or a failed answer) can give a more specific clue.
  • Hive Mechanic can be used to assign each player to a team. This can be done randomly, or manually if pre-formed teams come to the event.
  • You can use Hive Mechanic to pace the teams, so that each team starts with a different set of clues and is less likely to steal answers by overhearing what others say.
  • Easily integrate digitized images of local archival material as clues, so you do not have to make many paper copies for a one night event
  • Creates an easy way to reset the clues for new players if you are running multiple sessions in a day

General Escape Room Tactics

Hint: Include some tactile elements
National Archives

A purely virtual escape room can leave a player wanting more. Using locks and self-made boxes out of card stock and yarn as the obstacle to overcome can be more engaging than simply texting back and forth various clues. There are different types of locks as well; some feature number combinations, 3-4 letter words, directional patterns, and more.

Other physical elements could include…

  • Hiding clues on bookmarks in specific books and using Hive Mechanic to guide the player to that book.
  • Choosing specific phrases from a page in a book the players need to find.
  • Printing out photos with lots of small details to examine.
  • Placing additional lock boxes the player needs to solve to unlock a key.

Prince George’s County Library System, Hyattsville Branch

Hint: Use physical space and objects

You do not need to restrict players to a specific area of the library for the game. Games can be even more engaging if clues are hidden around the building and if clues are created based off what is in / around the building. The escape room can be a great opportunity to showcase areas of the library which connect to the local area, events, and creators. Some possibilities are…

  • Interesting architecture surrounding or inside the library
  • local art or historical items kept in display cases
  • local authors section

Hint: Spur some healthy competition (optional)

One way to get people engaged in the escape room is to create the sense of competition, such as:

  • Time each team, with a leaderboard for the fastest teams so far, and prizes/recognition for the fastest few teams at the end of the day.
  • Try a fixed time limit for teams to race against the clock to see if they can solve it.
  • Have teams submit creative prompts (including as picture messages to Hive Mechanic), then judges or “audience choice” awards can go to teams that have come up with clever names, slogans, drawings (etc.) as part of escaping the library.

Hint: Create a wacky scenario

Mott Library in Michigan created this scenario for a virtual escape room

Absurd situations or themes for the escape room can be a draw factor for folks who want to attend the event. Some potential sources of themes can be based around…

  • Local folklore
  • Unsolved mysteries of the area
  • Prominent buildings in the area
  • Historical events

Other Inspirations and Resources