Treasure Hunt – quick update

I’ve got a bunch of things backed up (Escape Plan visit, City Dash, and a mini “escape room” type thing I created for my children), four escape rooms booked for this weekend, and a couple of articles I wanted to write covering the treasure hunt that we ran today at work. By the time I get round to finishing them off, the adrenaline will have long since worn off, so I wanted to get a few notes down now about tonight’s adventures.

The background was that a couple of weeks ago someone asked me to run a treasure hunt. I knew that would just about kill me, so I said no BUT if they found someone else to run it, I’d help them. And so it was that four of us came together to run a work treasure hunt. This wasn’t just going to be a trek round the town spotting statues, buildings, adverts and plaques though. No – this was going to take the treasure hunt format and pimp it up with things we’d learned from all the experiences we’d had at escape room/geocaching/immersive theatre/puzzle game events in which we’d taken part. Truthfully we borrowed a lot of it from “A Door in a Wall“, but there was plenty of original thought in there too.

The first thing we took was the general format. We put together 18 “trails”, with 4-10 clues in each, which dragged you round a circle around 500m in radius. With almost 20 teams involved we really didn’t want them stuck following each other, so the trail system worked well to let them go and discover the game. Inevitably we did get people backing up, and were we to do it again (which I have no intention of doing!), there’s plenty I’d do differently, but overall our approach worked.

With only two hours to complete the clues, no one was going to be able to get close to getting everything, but because of some background I won’t go into, the individual teams were part of super teams, whose results were aggregated, so the teams divvied up the trails sensibly, which probably helped to spread the game out. The downside was that fewer than half the teams took part in each of the trails.

Every trail was attempted though and every clue bar two was solved (85/87?), so I’m feeling pretty happy with whole thing. Lots of amazing feedback. People were already asking me when we’d do the next one (did I mention, never?) and I had the privilege of standing outside one of the more “escapy” bits when people were blown away by one of the puzzles – watching their smiles when they realised what it would do, was just fantastic.

I don’t want this to turn into a massive post (not least because it’s been a tough couple of weeks and I need to sleep!), but I’ll tell you about my favourite puzzle, which was a clear winner with everyone who played it. Longer term I want to blog on what I learned while running the event as well as a detailed post containing all the resources so that you can steal some for yourself.

Tesla’s Teleforce Trail

So this all started because I had a laser pointer. My mum gave it to me for Christmas for reasons that are beyond me, and it’s languished in my pocket for a while without really being used. This seemed the perfect opportunity.

I immediately remembered back to a game I’d played, where they’d used a laser to target a code. That sounded a boring use of a laser, but I came up with the idea of having a map on the wall. Then the laser pointer became a laser weapon, and quickly the room became a weapons development test lab. Pointing the laser at the map was a bit dull, so I decided to get it to bounce off a mirror so that it wasn’t obvious what would happen when you pressed the button.

Next up I had to work out how to hold the pen, so I decided to take a 2×4 piece of wood, make a mitre cut, and then nail the pieces together to form a crude missile launcher shaped object. I happened to have a drill bit that precisely matched the pen diameter, and then a bit of camouflage green/brown spray paint and I had a neat looking launch vehicle, which the pen slotted into comfortably. A map drawn on the whiteboard, tape on the floor marking the exact “launchpad” position, dental mirror bluetacked to the ceiling and voila, we had a final solution.

I dropped the laser pen into a Vaultz combination box (so basically a mini briefcase with a single combination lock) that I had lying around from getting Breakout EDU’s suggested kit and I had a room which, when given the correct “access code”, would allow the players to extract the weapon, load the launch vehicle, and finally determine a city from the map. The laser was accurate to within an inch or so, but for safety we put a good 20cm between each city we drew.

The rest was just about extending the puzzle to build up to the finale. I had a bit of a brainwave when I saw our mail trays, which are arranged alphabetically and typically have spare spaces at the end – Zachary Zimmerman was born and the fortuitous timing of a City Dash game provided me with a dashing Code Red folder to contain the initial brief (thus allowing the clue sheet we handed out to just tell you your name and that you were being sent instructions in the mail).

To spin out the game, the briefing folder sent you to another location to meet an agent, where there you found a UV torch and a sheet of paper. That sent you to another location where there was a printed phone list – when you found the right agent on the list and called the number the message was from the spy, who told you that he was under surveillance but to go to the “weapons lab”. You were given a clue to look through the glass for a means of escape, and if you looked carefully you’d eventually see there was a three digit number attached to the fire escape outside (made out of “melty” beads for the hell of it). The number unlocked the box which gave you the laser and the puzzle solution.

Watching people complete the puzzle I’d created was a blast. The excitement at each step was great, and the moment when they hit the laser on the mirror and it landed on one of the cities on the map was one that I’ll treasure for a long time. People were seriously impressed. I was fortunate – I’d broken the cardinal rule with this game by not having any playtesters (just didn’t have time), so when it all came together first time I was absolutely ecstatic.

If the idea of creating an escape room for friends or colleagues appeals, but it seems like doing it properly is just way too painful, then I hope this makes you realise that you can throw something small together with relatively little work, and still give people an impressive experience. My whole puzzle consisted of a UV torch, a mini briefcase, a voicemail greeting, a laser point, a piece of wood and a couple of sheets of paper.

I’ll leave it there for now, but expect to have a much more in depth look in future posts about the puzzles we ran and what problems we hit (both in the run up and on the night itself).

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