Escape Room Glossary [Wiki]

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Aha! Puzzle / Insight Puzzle - A puzzle primarily solved through sudden insight or “Eureka moments”. Classic insight puzzles include riddles, anagrams, pattern discovery, rebus puzzles, and uncovering abstracted connections.

Assembly Puzzles - Disparate components (such as blocks or flat shapes) must be assembled to fit into a certain space, create a shape, or reveal a pattern. Tangram puzzles are popular variant.

ARG / Alternate Reality Game - A narrative focused game that takes place across multiple mediums in the real world e.g. live actors, phone calls, fax machines, websites, and video chat.

Atmosphere - The combination of narrative, game mechanics, aesthetics, sounds, smells, and more to instill a certain feeling in the player.

Beta Testing - Running players through a game near completion but before opening to work out the kinks. See Playtesting.

Braille - A writing system intended for the visually impaired, consisting of tactile dots in specific configurations to represent letters, numbers, and punctuation.

Brute Force - An inelegant solution to a problem that could otherwise be completed elegantly; generally involves chance and trial & error e.g. you have uncovered all 4 numbers for a keypad lock but not their correct entry order yet, so you try all possible combinations till it works.

Budapest - Mecca

Cipher - A set of instructions for encrypting or decrypting a individual letters or small groups of letters. See Code.

Ciphertext - Information as transformed by a cipher. A cipher key must be used to translate it back to plaintext.

Closed booking - A room where the customers are guaranteed exclusive use of the room for their party. Any booking on a closed booking room prevents additional bookings being made for that time slot. The price may (and usually does) still vary by the number of players.

Code - 1. The key to an alphanumeric lock. 2. A set of instructions for decoding or encoding individual words or phrases.

Codebook - A lookup table (sometimes the size of a book) for encoding and decoding codes.

Codetext / Coded Message / Encoded Info - Information as transformed by a code. A codebook must be used to decode it back to plaintext.

Countdown Clock / Tension Timer - A representation of the dwindling time left to complete the game or a task. Usually a digital clock on a monitor located in the room, but could take many forms, such as an hourglass, PA announcement, change in music tempo, or meter showing oxygen depletion.

Cryptarithm - An equation whose numbers are represented by letters (alphametic), different numbers (digimetic), or other symbols.

Cryptogram - Encrypted text, generally decrypted with a cipher.

Dexterity Game / Skill Challenge - Where careful movements trump cleverness e.g. fishing a key out of a barrel or navigating a marble through a maze.

Directional lock - Right out of Hell itself and the product of Satan Security Industries, Inc., this implement of torture requires one or more directions to be entered (up/down/left/right) before the lock will open, or in reality get stuck, so you think you’ve put the wrong combination in, and then you jiggle it about a bit, get another team member to help, and suddenly have burnt five minutes already.

Disentanglement Puzzle - A key item must be removed from another e.g. a number of interconnected keychains on a stiff wire.

Encrypted Info - Information as transformed by a cipher, code, or some other process for the purpose of concealment.

Escape Room / Escape Game - A type of real-life adventure gaming where players find clues and solve puzzles to reach some goal (which, according to the game narrative, is often to “escape” some predicament).

ER - “Escape Room”. Confuses Americans where it stands for “Emergency Room”.

Errol - When a player decides to take off their shoes and relax during the game.

Escake - A celebratory milestone cake for playing a notable number of games - generally around 100, 200, and 500.

Escape Rate / Win Rate - The reported percentage of players who complete the given game successfully.

External Knowledge - Information not available within the game that’s required to complete it.

Flow - When the game’s difficulty precisely ramps with the player’s increasing skill from one task to the next. When skill is low and the task is difficult, the player experiences anxiety. When the player’s skill is high and the task is easy, the player becomes bored.

Fold Puzzle - Folding the puzzle (such as a tapestry or map) reconfigures the printing/graphic to provide more information.

Folded Game Design - Areas are used more than once but with different layers of puzzles that build off the first.

Game Master - Person running your game. They generally explain the game rules, monitor your progress, provide hints, and reset the game when you’re done.

Gamey / Gaminess - When puzzles and game mechanics don’t fit the world created by the game e.g. you’ve been locked in a kitchen by a gangster but setting the cooktop knobs to a certain temperature will unlock the door.

Gen [X] Room - Term created and used by Escape Games Canada to describe the level of digital technology integrated into the games they sell. The terms have been adopted by other escape game designers as useful shorthands, though not without some controversy around their implied hierarchy of quality.

Gen 1 Room / Fully Mechanical - A Gen 1 room describes the level of gameplay technology in an escape game as generally simple and human powered.

Gen 2 Room / Relay Based - Describes the level of gameplay technology in an escape game as generally simple electronics - dumb relays, magnetic latches, and more basic dynamic lighting and sound systems.

Gen 3 Room / Logic Based - Describes the level of gameplay technology in an escape game as generally computerized - logic-based and somewhat adaptable to player progress.

Gen 4 Room / Fully Automated - Describes the level of gameplay technology in an escape game as fully automated entirely through to reset - uses complex systems that are fully adaptable to player progress and skill level.

Immersion - The sense that a player is physically present in a game’s fictional narrative scenario. Generally fostered by a combination of scenery, audio/visual effects, acting, scenario-appropriate gameplay, and related techniques.

Leaderboard - A listing of the facility’s top-performing players; those with the fastest escape times.

Linear Path - A game where, for the most part, puzzles and tasks (or very small sets of puzzles and tasks) must be completed sequentially to make progress. Linear games benefit from potentially tighter narrative pacing, but can also result in players waiting for something to do.

Lockout - A device for entering a code which, after some number of incorrect entries, will refuse to accept further attempts for a period of time. Usually found on a digital safe.

Logic Maze - A Logic Puzzle where the correct path through the “maze” is revealed not through trial and error traversal but by rules of logic e.g. a pawn must traverse a chess board based on the equations on each square.

Logic Puzzle / Process Puzzle - A puzzle primarily solved through deductive reasoning rather than sudden insight (See Aha! Puzzle). Examples include Sudoku and the Towers of Hanoi puzzle.

Ludonarrative Dissonance - When the gameplay and the game narrative conflict e.g. you are a team of biomedical scientists - but must defuse a dirty bomb.

Maritime Signal Flags / Nautical Flags - A collection of flags used by ships to communicate with each other. Each flag’s simple geometric design can represent either an alphanumeric character or a standardized message e.g. the orange and yellow flag for the letter O, by itself, means “man overboard”.

Metapuzzle - A puzzle whose solution comes from elements of other solved puzzles.

Morse Code - A representation of letters and numbers through a combination of long and short units, such as long and short pulses of light, dots and dashes on paper, or most commonly, long and short beeps of audio.

NPC / Non-Player Character - A character in the game world who is not a player e.g. the zombie in Trapped in a Room with a Zombie.

Obfuscation - Purposefully making something unclear or obscure.

Open booking - A room where tickets are sold on a per-person basis, and if fewer tickets than the room’s designated capacity are sold, the remaining tickets stay on sale such that you can be joined by randoms (q.v.). Antonym: Closed booking

Open Path - A game structure where players are generally not confined to one puzzle/task or small set of puzzles/tasks before gaining access to others.

Pigpen / Masonic Cipher - A common simple-substitution cipher popularized by the Freemasons where shapes and dots in the code correspond to fragments of the lettered-grid key.

Playtesting - Having players work through prototypes of a game or prototypes of parts of a game to improve the design process.

Private Booking - Games that block out a time slot for you and your group exclusively. The most common form of booking around the world.

Public / Open Booking - Games that allow anyone i.e. Randoms to book into a time slot. The most common form of booking in the United States, but seemingly uncommon in most countries.

Puzzle - Any game element designed to test player knowledge or ingenuity.

Puzzle Box - A Disassembly Puzzle in which the contents of a box can only be reached by solving a puzzle embedded in the box e.g. sliding a series of a panels in the correct order or finding a trick door.

Rabbit Trail - An erroneous tangent of reasoning for solving a puzzle due to too little information or too many potential solutions. For example, the clue to the answer is “The Capital of Our Government”, which leads you to try various capital cities or the capitalized letter from those cities, but not the financial capital of the government listed in a nearby journal.

Randos / Randoms - Strangers you play with in games that use open public booking.

Red Herring - An element of the game that is not really part of the game. An unnecessary, distracting time waster e.g. a riddle is painted on the wall whose answer has nothing to do with completing any other puzzle.

Replay Value - The value in replaying the game. Most escape rooms have zero replay value, but some offer multiple endings, points-based scoring rather than win-lose scenarios, and completely different puzzle paths within the same space.

Scytale - A cipher consisting of a cylinder and a flexible strip of cloth/leather/parchment/etc that spirals around it. The flexible strip has writing on it so that when wrapped correctly, the writing on at least one side of the cylinder will provide a code or message.

Searching - A game task where players collect (often hidden) information from the environment e.g. finding a key on a shelf or noting a date circled on a calendar.

Semaphore - A system of communicating alphanumeric information through a series of visual signals generally represented by the position of two flags (“flag semaphore”), but paddles and even mechanical systems have also been used.

Sequential Move / Combination Puzzle - Starting with a scrambled configuration, players must rearrange the game elements into the correct combination.

Set Design / Environmental Design - The aesthetic and technical qualities of the physical environment the game takes place in; both its ability to properly direct and immerse its players.

Sliding Block Puzzle - A Sequential Move Puzzle were players must rearrange blocks in a certain way but the objects have limited movement and can not be lifted.

Spot-the-Difference/Visual Comparison Puzzle - Two seemingly identical items have hidden differences.

Task-Based Challenges / Game Tasks - Game actions needing little insight or knowledge to accomplish. Common tasks for most players include dexterity challenges, searching, item disentanglement, or decoding with a known cipher.

Time-Gating - Elements of the game (generally, a key object or area) are only accessible after a certain amount of time has passed, and sometimes only within a certain window of time. For example, the 2nd room can only be accessed between 10 and 20 minutes after the game starts; how soon being determined by how quickly the team solves the prerequisite puzzles. Not solving the puzzles at all may still give access to the 2nd room at the 20 minute mark, but with some sort of penalty for failing the first room. This is most often put into practice at facilities that run multiple groups through the same game at once, ensuring the groups are separated and don’t overlap.

Trailhead - The first artifact that draws players into the puzzle path.

Trial & Error Puzzle - With no clues but a limited set of possible solutions, the only way to solve the puzzle is to randomly try whatever inputs can be accepted. For example, three buttons must be pushed in the correct order, but no clue to the order is provided.

Trick Lock / Lock Puzzle - A lock (generally a padlock) that cannot be opened simply by turning the key; there is a hidden trick to it. In fact, it may not even require a key at all.

Wild-Goose Chase - A lengthy pursuit of something that doesn’t exist or is unattainable. For example, you find three items each with the numbers 1, 2, or appearing on them somewhere. You search for an item with the number 3 on it, but it does not exist as the numbers on the other items were coincidental and unrelated to the game.

Win State / Lose State - The falling action, in a narrative sense, when the players can make no further progress due to either winning or losing the game e.g. after successfully completing the final puzzle, a scientist congratulates your team on finding the cure to a widespread virus.


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