Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Cindy Crushes Programming with a Live Action Donner Dinner Party Game

Today, Cindy Shutts discusses how she played a live action Donner Dinner Party game with her teens.


My teens, like most teens, are very interested in true crime and mysteries.  Last year I made a life size board game version of the old classic video game of the Oregon Trail. It was very popular with the teens that had learned about the tabletop game version now available. This year I decided to do something different and a bit darker.  So I decided to do a program about the Donner Dinner Party.

First, I realized it had to be much harder than the Oregon Trail. I did some research in The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis and I had previously read the Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale about the actual events. I learned there were a lot more members of the Donner party than I had thought there were.  These sources gave me a lot of ideas.

Getting Started:

  • Set up a square game board on your floor with 40 spaces. Spaces are described below. You will want to use a large meeting room for this.
  • See resources at the end of this post for additional supplies discussed in the post.
  • Dice

Divide your teens into groups of 4. I made supply cards that included water, food, medicine, and spare parts (below in resources). Every team gets two of each supply cards to begin with.

The game board that is located on the floor includes forty spaces. The corner spaces of the board are tasks they have to accomplish and the General Store. Corner spaces are: General Store, Pick a Fish, Pick a Berry, Knot Tying

Players begin the game on the corner with the General Store. Teams will roll a dice to move from space to space on the board.

Every space on the board had a different card on them. Here are a few examples “Grandma died! Lose a turn as you bury her!” “Find an Empty Wagon, Take Parts card!” “Oops— Snake! Your oldest player has died! “The spaces get progressively worse for the player as the game continues much as the real Donner Dinner Party continued to go downhill. (See resources)

The teams’ first corner task is to pick a fish. I had a bunch of fish cut out and turned over. All they had to do was pick a fish and not a skeleton fish. If they picked a skeleton fish, they would lose a food card.

Another corner games space was pick a berry and see if it is it edible. I did research on different berries and had a picture of the berry on one side and the other side had the name of the plant and if it was edible or poisonous. If they picked a poison plant, one of the people in wagon passes away.

The final corner is knot tying. This gives teens a chance to learn a valuable skill.

After this game, we played one more Donner game. There is a game version of the Donner Dinner Party called Donner Dinner Party a Rowdy Gamer of Frontier Cannibalism. This is a fun mafia style game where you can either be a cannibal or a pioneer.  If you are a pioneer you try to successfully make it through a game round and get enough food to eat. If you are a cannibal, you try to ruin the pioneers’ attempts to gather food.

Thoughts: This program super fun and the teens loved it. They may have not survived, but they loved having an adventure and also learned about history.

Support Materials:

Donner Party Supply Cards

donner party fish

Donner Cards

Donner berry game


Cindy Crushes Programming: Light the Night with Fandom Themed Fairy Jars


I love making crafts with the library teens and get ideas from a lot of sources. I recently saw a video about making lighted fairy jars on YouTube and recreated it with my library teens. It was very popular, but I had some issues. First, it was very expensive because I had to special order woodcut fairies. Second, the directions said to use superglue to glue the fairy in the jar, which meant many people glued their figures together. So I made some adjustments and found a program that works! The twist here is that we’re going to create “fairy light” jars that celebrate our favorite fandoms, so we’ve personalized this craft and taken it to the next level.

I realized while I liked the outcome, but I did not like the process. I have found my own process for making lighted jars.


Supplies Needed:

  • Clear jars, clean and dry
  • Cardstock
  • A Silhouette Cameo is helpful though not necessary
  • Glue or glue dots
  • Glitter glue or Mod Podge
  • Small paint brush
  • Tissue paper
  • Scissors
  • Embellishments such as string/yarn/ribbon, buttons, etc
  • LED lights or candles to place inside the jar (battery operated works best). Glow sticks also work.

Here are some instructions from another source for an overview

Step 1: Cut your shape to place inside the jar

I wanted to do this craft again but not with fairies. I was lucky my library had just purchased a cameo silhouette machine which allowed me to use cardstock and cut out different shapes I have found online. If you don’t have access to a Silhouette machine, you can cut out silhouettes using scissors or exacto knives.

My first lighted Fandom Jar was Beauty and the Beast. I use Pinterest and Google image search to find silhouettes that worked for my program.  I printed them off the cameo machine and that made life easier and you do not have to order silhouettes.

I believe in either using tape or glue dots to place the image in the jar as it makes things easier to fix for teens and teen librarians who make mistakes. I do not recommend using superglue; I lost a layer of skin that first time I tried it to fix the teens projects, plus it is just messy.

Karen’s Note: You can use the free software GIMP to turn a teen photo into a silhouette, which would be fun for this craft. There is also a free silhouette app that you can download for a mobile device.

Step 2: Cover the outside of the jar

I used tissue paper to cover the jar. I like to paint a layer of Elmer’s glue on the jar and the gently place the tissue paper around the jar. Trim off any extra. I am very careful about making sure the silhouette in the jar is not covered by the over fold of the tissue paper. I like to use as light a color of tissue paper as possible. Dark tissue paper will not work. I learned this when I tried to use golden tissue paper for my Hamilton lighted jars.  I then have the teens wait and add another layer of glue on top of the tissue paper. This helps smooth it out and makes it easier to see.

WikiHow: 4 Way to Make Faeries in a Jar

Step 3: Embellish your jar


I let them pick out what the want to do next, whether they want toput a layer of glitter glue over it. Add accents. I enjoy tying a ribbon around the jars. I have a button box that I let them look through. I try to find objects that work with the theme such as I found rose buttons for Beauty and the beast or stars for Hamilton Jars.  I make it clear this is their jar they get the final say in what it looks like.

Things to Consider

I am very careful when getting the jars. I saved up coupons and also asked for jars as donations from staff and patrons. Spaghetti sauce jars work out very well as do some pickle jars. Couponing makes this craft affordable since I can use all the supplies the next time if I have leftovers.

Karen’s Note: To up the “making” quotient of this craft, you can make your own LED rope lights in a variety of ways. One set of instructions can be found here. This will significantly increase the cost of this activity.

Thoughts: This craft is always a winner and can be adjusted to different fandoms. As long as the jars are cheap this program works out nicely.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Take 5: Table Top Games Teens Will Love to Play


The Teen, The Bestie, their friends and I are going through a big table tops game playing stage. And because everything I do somehow becomes about work, every new game we play is reviewed to determine whether or not it would be a good game to play in the library with teens. In fact, at my new library, at least at my branch, the teen room is in fact a separate room where game playing is very accessible and they even keep games out for teens to come in and grab off the shelf and play. So here’s a look at some of the games we’ve been playing.

1. Exploding Kittens


Of all the games we’ve been playing, this is hands down one of our favorites. It’s a card game with an absurd premise, but there is also a lot of strategy involved. The goal is simple: get your opponents to draw an exploding kitten card so they are out and try to stay alive. You achieve this goal by taking their cards, shuffling the deck, and if all goes well – you get a coveted alter the future card so you can put the Exploding Kitten cards in strategic locations within the deck.

The cards themselves are absurd, which is part of the fun. They have asburd titles, fun illustrations and pretty weird directions. Be very careful, there is a Not Safe for Work (NSFW) pack that you do not want to put in the hands of teens. You will get fired!


Like I said, this is a strategy game and you have to pay attention. Each player starts out with 1 defuse card which allows you to draw an exploding kitten and survive. So you have to pay attention to who has a defuse card and who doesn’t. Many of the cards allow you to draw a card from another player’s hand and you want to try and get the other player’s defuse cards, it’s a coveted card worth more than gold in this game. Pay attention to has played a defuse card and don’t draw from them. At the same time, you want to try and protect your defuse card from being picked by another player. During one game I had 2 defuse cards and I made sure that my hand stayed full of cards because I didn’t want other players to be able to draw a card from my hand and take my precious defuse cards. At one point I kept passing my turn and not playing any cards and the reason was simple: strategy. The more cards I had in my hand, the less likely it was that someone would draw the defuse card from me.

During another game, The Mr. blitzed me with every card he had to make me empty my hand of cards, then he put an exploding kitten card right where I would draw it and have no defense. I went out of that game quickly and yes, I’m still bitter. He’s still sleeping on the couch.

If you’re going to play this game with a large group of teens, I recommend buying the party pack, which is $30.00. I also recommend buying the two expansion packs – Imploding Kittens and Streaking Kittens – which ups your price by another $17.00 but adds even more fun nonsense cards and allows for an additional two more players. Like many games, this investment isn’t cheap, but if you have the budget for it then I recommend adding it to your game collection.

2. Imagine


This game is a game of visual charades. You set up a circle of symbol cards provided and when it’s your turn, you can layer or use the cards in any way you like to try and get people to guess the word on your card. So it instead of acting out your clues as in charade or drawing your clues like in Pictionary, you can only use the images already provided. It’s challenging but fun.


Take a look at some of our examples and tell me, what do you think they might be?

games9 games8 games6


This game is not easy! But it is fun. It also takes the most amount of table space because you have to set up the large circle of cards for players to see what’s available to make their pictures from.

3. Smash the Avocado


This is a card game that combines the ideas behind War and Snap. All the cards are dealt and then one by one you go around the table and turn over your first card. Each player counts 1 through 15 as they turn over their card. So the first person would turn over their card and say, “1 avocado” and then the next player would do the same saying, “2 avocado”, etc. Whenever you turn over the same number as is being spoken aloud or whenever the same number is played twice in a row, you want to “smash” the avocado by putting your hand on top of the pile of cards. There are also cards that say “smash” and you once again smash the avocado when these cards come up as well. As in UNO, there are reverse cards that changes the direction of play AND you then have to start counting backwards from 15. The last person to put their hand in, the hand that is on top, has to take the pile of cards. In this case that’s bad, because the first person to go out of cards wins. This is a fast and fun game, but it’s loud because everyone is yelling smash and there is lots of laughing and yelling involved. However, this game is pretty inexpensive so that’s a plus. I highly recommend this game, but in more of a program setting in a remote meeting room space than in the general library space.

4. Skribble Head




Head Skribbles combines the games Hedbandz and Pictionary. The person who is “it” draws a card with a word on it and their goal is to get someone to guess what that word is by drawing a picture that represents the word. The twist is that you are drawing your clues on a white board that is attached to your head – so you can’t see what you’re drawing and no matter how well you think you are doing, you’re really not because drawing at that weird angle without seeing what you’re doing produces nothing but hilarious results. By the way, that’s obviously a snowman up above.

5. Charades App


Charades is an app that you can download onto a device, a smaller device like a phone works best, and basically play the game Hedbandz on. Once you start you hold the phone up to your head and the person you are playing with gives you clues to try and get you to guess the word on display. You are trying to guess as many words correctly as possible in the short amount of time to up your score. You can play in teams competing against one another or you can play with 2 people just for fun. I have busted out this quick game often when in a room with bored teens. It’s pretty fun to sit around playing and guessing without being competitive. And although this is a teen librarian blog, I feel the need to mention that this is a great way to distract kids in long car rides or waiting rooms as well. Really, it’s very multi-purpose. The best part is this app is FREE!!!

As I often do, I also think about inexpensive ways we can expand on the games we’re playing. For example, with the Imagine game you can make additional cards by using old overhead projector sheets cut to size and drawing additional cards to add to your ring of cards. You can use dry erase cards to make your own Exploding Kittens cards. For any of the games where you need to guess words it would be pretty easy to print, cut and add your own words to the deck. So in almost all of the games above, you can find ways to get teens adding and adapting the games to expand on the fun. You can find information about dry erase game cards and more in this post on DIY Games.

I highly recommend every one of these games. None of these games are quiet, so choose your play time and space accordingly. I have played them multiple times with teens and we’ve always had fun.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Teen Improv Night


I am going to be very honest. I have very little acting experience, so when one of my teens asked for an improv night I was nervous.  Improv stands for improvisational theater. I decided to a lot of research. I wanted the teens to know it is okay to make mistakes and they do not have to be perfect.

I began to look for beginning acting exercises that the group could perform. One game I found was counting to twenty. The group gathers in a circle and they all count to 20 as a team, but no one knows who is going to count next and if two people say the same number they have to start over.

The next activity I found was called Unfortunate/Fortunate.  It is an activity where one person gives the unfortunate news and another give the fortunate news.

Example: Unfortunately you ran out of candy, but fortunately you have snacks. Unfortunately they are expired, fortunately you did not like them anyway.

The next exercise I planned to do is Headlines. In Headlines someone gives another person a headline and the next person makes their own headline using the last word of the previous headline.

Example:  Headline 1: Cocker Spaniel starts his own rock band.  Headline 2: Band candy sale starts today. Teachers beware!


Flock Dance: This activity is a dance exercise that I hoped would be popular since I have noticed Fortnight has led to teens being more excited about dancing.

The activity starts with a leader who the group follows in a 10-15 second dance. The teens have to do everything the leader is doing. This seems like a fun and easy game.


We did an activity from the show Whose Line Is It Anyway?  The activity is called Scene from a Hat. They have to act out various scenes that are in the hat such as—“Snapchat Gone Wrong.”

I added my own improv game called it Librarian and Patron. I had them act like a librarian and the patron that needed help. This was super fun because they got to be me. I had them do impressions of me and they really enjoyed that.

The last activity was an easy round of Telephone which most teens know as the game where you tell one person one thing and you keep going around the room to see to see how it ends.


Thoughts:  The program was not highly attended but we had a lot of fun. The teens that came were excited and did all the games and they wanted to try this again. I would have had two more back up games if I were planning to do this again.

Links on improv





Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Stranger Things themed Escape Room

Today we are debuting a new regular column that focuses on teen programming with a new TLT contributor: Cindy Shutts. She’ll be joining us on the first and third Wednesday of each month to talk teen programming. Today Cindy is sharing the basic framework for hosting a Stranger Things themed Escape Room. We’re going to assume you are familiar with the basics of Stranger Things to host this Escape Room, if not you can check it out on Netflix. Please note, there are some Stranger Things based novels coming out soon.


To learn more about the basics of hosting an Escape Room, please check out Breakout Edu as they have basic kits that you can use as a foundation. You can also read a couple of previous posts on Escape Rooms here at TLT:

TPiB: Build an Escape Room by Michelle Biwer – Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an Escape Room by Heather Booth

Basic program premise . . .

Your teens will be “locked” in the library and in order to escape, they must unravel a mystery, find the secret codes, and “unlock” the boxes to survive or meet your end goal. Most escape rooms give participants an hour to escape.


Plot:  Tonight is the Hawkins Middle School Halloween Dance. The gang must save Dart’s Son and return him to the upside-down before anything bad happens in Hawkins.


Supplies List:

You could use the Breakout Edu kit

4 number lock

3 number lock

Word lock

Key lock

Two lock boxes

Stuffed Demi Gordon or printed picture

Stranger thing Christmas light blanket or picture

Box of 80’s toys

Dungeons and Dragon character sheets and D and D dice

President Reagan picture

Old Halloween records

For any documents I used the courier font since it is similar to a typewriter font.

Instructions: I made sure I read the prompt so everyone knew what was going on. I also let them know they had two hints. I am prepared to always add one more hint later on if they need it.

Red Herrings:  I hung a picture of President Ronald Reagan like many schools would have had hanging up in classrooms in the 1980’s.  I had the Dungeons and Dragons items that mean nothing.



Word Lock: I used the word “Spell” because it is one of the easy words you can use for the lock. I used the color code that went along with the stranger thing Christmas light blanket. Colored pieces of paper will be hidden in the room. This lock was placed on the large box.ccp5

4 Number Lock: I put some old records together and made a playlist and the order of the songs are on the records is the lock code. I ripped the printed copy so it looks like there might be more songs, but I only used these four.  This list was in the small box. The lock was placed on the large box.

Hawkins Middle School Dance Music List

  1. Witches’ Brew
  2. Monster’s Three Wishes
  3. Counting Is Wonderful
  4. The Count’s Weather Report

Code: 1437

3 Number Lock: I made secret memo from the US Department of Energy in Hawkins. I put the memo in the toys box. This lock was placed on the small box.



US Department of Energy: Hawkins Laboratory Memo

October 15, 1985

Top Secret

Subject three is missing. We do not know where it is. It must be eliminated before it can cause damage in the town. We cannot risk any more mistakes. Nine soldiers are hunting it down. We need zero mistakes on this mission.

Code: 390


Key Lock: The key lock was placed on the larger box. The key was placed in the small box.

Results: This was one of my most successful escape rooms. The program completely filled up and I had great feedback from the teens. I ran two sessions of it.

For Stranger Things read-alikes, check out these lists:


Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

TPiB: Easy Peasy DIY Jack-O-Lanterns

So I got a Silhouette Cameo and I was trying to figure out how to use it, and how to use it with teens, when I stumbled across an easy and fun craft idea. You can do it with or without a Silhouette Cameo, it’s easily adaptable. I made my examples using the Silhouette Cameo.


What You’ll Need:


  • Clear plastic craft bulb/ornaments
  • Orange acrylic paint
  • Styrofoam or plastic cups
  • Black markers/stickers/or vinyl if using a Silhouette Cameo
  • OR black paper and a sticker making machine
  • Hemp cord or twine for hanging

Step 1: Painting Your Ornament Orange

You are going to be painting the inside of your ornament, not the outside. Start by saying that before anyone gets all excited and starts painting the outside, not that this has happened to me. Nope, not once.

Take the top off of your ornament and fill it with a few drops of orange paint. You’ll want to roll the ornament around a bit to make sure you completely cover the inside with paint. Place your ornament opening down into a cup to let the excess paint drip out and let it dry. It will dry quicker if you don’t use too much paint, so use paint sparingly.


Step 2: Making Your Face

While your ornament is drying, think about what you want you Jack-O-Lantern face to look like. You then need to make your elements, which you can do in several ways.

Paper: Cut out your face elements using a template you download or hand draw. You can use glue or a sticker making machine to turn your paper into stickers and place them onto your dried ornament.

Sihouette Cameo: Download a design or make your own design, cut using Oracal 651 permanent vinyl, and place on your dried ornament.

Getting Creative:

This doesn’t just have to be Jack-O-Lanterns. You can do ghosts, monsters, robots and more. And it doesn’t have to just be Halloween, you can do a variety of animals, for example. You can also do school colors and logos, sports teams, interests and more. Or, better yet, have teens make an ornament that represents their favorite books and see what they come up with. See also, our annual Great Ornament Hack.

TPiB: Ollie Robot Challenges for Teens by Michelle Biwer


At my library we have a few Ollie robots and the SpheroEdu app which controls the robots installed on our programming iPads. I purchased the Ollie robots for a few reasons:

  • Special tires so robots can also be used for fun, outdoor programming
  • Move up to 14 mph, much more impressive to most teens these days than something with a lot of functionality but slow like Lego Mindstorms
  • Can be driven easily with an app or can be programmed with text and block based coding (fun and educational!)
  • Access to a large collection of educator activity plans and coding, which can be easily edited to suit your needs

ollieAt the beginning of my last teen robotics event, I used a “Get to Know Ollie” program from Sphero’s database. This code programs Ollie to narrate all its functionality, from user control over lights to the accelerometer and sensors. Playing this demo code gave the teens an idea of what they would be able to control when programming their robots, and introduced them to the block based code system used by the SpheroEdu app.

I asked the teens whether they had experience with Scratch or any kind of block based coding. They were all familiar with Scratch so I skipped going over the basics of writing your own code. I assigned them their first robot challenge, to program the Ollies to move in the shape of their choice. I handed over the iPads with a basic code for movement preloaded so that they would only have to edit the code and not start from the beginning. I was delighted to see that not only did they successfully manage to make the Ollies move in their preferred shape, but they also programmed their robots to change color and say hilarious shaped-based jokes.

For their next activity I asked the teens to program Ollie to dance to their favorite song by changing the robot’s color and moving it to the music. I showed them this awesome Imperial March dance code as an example of what they could program. They really enjoyed this challenge and were most proud of finishing this activity. Since only middle schoolers attended the program they made sure to grab their parents before they left the library to show off their robot dance!

Teen made Ollie dance to Shooting Star!

Completing these two activities ended up taking us an hour to complete, so we ran out of time for the last activity. I was going to ask the teens to create an obstacle course for their robots to race. Instead I have scheduled that as a separate challenge for another day.

– Michelle Biwer

TPiB: Wonder Woman Amazon Training Academy for Free Comic Book Day, a guest post by Liz Gotauco

This past weekend, Wonder Woman broke box office records – yay! Today we are excited to share a great Wonder Woman themed program from YA librarian Liz Gotauco.


As a comics reader and ardent Wonder Woman fan, I’ve enjoyed hosting Free Comic Book Day events at libraries for the past five years. But despite my devotion to the fandom, I hadn’t yet actually done a program focused on my favorite superhero.  With the first Wonder Woman movie coming out this summer, I knew I had to plan something special to honor Diana.  While I am the Teen Services Coordinator at my library, I wanted to host an activity that would work for a wider age range.  It fit in well with Free Comic Book Day as both Wonder Woman and DC Superhero Girls had titles available to give away. So the Amazon Training Academy was born.

The Amazon Training Academy worked similarly to many themed programs you’ve probably done before, with patrons taking on challenges inspired by Wonder Woman and her stories. Wonder Woman has a 75+ year history so there was a lot to choose from – maybe too much! So I focused on her most iconic characteristics.

Her strength and agility: In a million-dollar world, the Amazon Training Academy would have been like the set of that ‘90s TV Show American Gladiator, but for me I just picked one of those activities – Gladiator Jousting.  If you have a bit of money lying around, you can rent an inflatable jousting unit, with pedestals that competitors stand on and soft jousting sticks to push opponents and a bouncy-house floor.  I didn’t have said pile of money, but Google led me to a version a camp had done with gymnast mats and pool noodles.  Our middle school leant us the mats and I created large jousting sticks with the pool noodles and duct tape.  Shoving your friend with a pool noodle turned out to be a universal amusement. Parents and friends spotted each other and once in a while I had to step in to make sure pairs were evenly matched. But it turned out to be our most popular activity in the Training Academy.

Bullet-proof bracelets Another activity that we all know goes over well is target practice, whether you’re Katniss shooting an arrow or aiming for a zombie’s head with a Nerf Blaster.  Wonder Woman provides a unique spin on this activity with her bullet-proof bracelets. So I borrowed some safety goggles from our maintenance staff, purchased a Nerf blaster with darts, and assembled some goofy oversized silver cuffs out of toilet paper rolls and more duct tape. Pairs stood across the room from each other (to counter-act how fast those darts fly) and the person in cuffs and goggles tried deflecting darts with their wrists.


Lasso of Truth For this I created a simple ring toss with gold rope hoops and Wonder Woman colored poles. This activity scaled the youngest but could be adapted for older ages.  If I did a program like this again, I would love to have a local talent come in to teach rope-throwing, but that seemed like it could be its own program and would take more time and space than the passive activities I was looking to run. But what fun that would be!

Wonder Woman Trivia Lastly, patrons could test their own truth-seeking skills with a simple True/False trivia board, sharing some of the interesting history behind Wonder Woman and her creators. My assistant created a colorful presentation board with lift-the-flap questions and answers, and it made for good pastime while patrons waited for the jousting to open up or stood in line for their free comic books.


Other ideas I had that didn’t make the cut but might work at your library: a twist on “Two Truths and a Lie” for the Lasso/Truth-telling element, an obstacle course with a Greek theme, creating Diana’s accessories at a make-and-take station, bringing in a local fencing instructor (since the movie has popularized the image of her with a sword and shield), teamwork challenges in the spirit of Amazon kinship, or a screening of the Lynda Carter TV show if you’ve got the right license.  Hopefully the new movie will only increase the popularity of Diana and other woman superheroes, so give the Amazon Training Academy a whirl for your next comic book event!

Meet Our Guest Blogger


Liz Gotauco is the Teen Services Coordinator at the Cumberland Public Library in Cumberland, RI.  She has worked in children and teen library services for almost ten years.  Prior to that, she worked with youth in theatre education with the Rhode Island Youth Theatre.  When she’s not at the library, Liz can be found singing with her cover band Overdue!, sewing a new cosplay, baking, or scouting out fashion exhibits at a local museum.  You can find her at Goodreads and on Litsy and Twitter @lizgotauco.

TPiB: Escape Room The Game, a review


Today’s Teen Program in a Box literally came in a box – that I bought at the store. This weekend my family, friends and I gathered together to play this Escape Room game so that I can see if it would work well as a teen program at the library. The short answer is: no.

The longer answer. . .

Escape Room the Game has four Escape Room scenarios inside for you to play and I purchased mine for around $35.00. My family thought it was a really high price to pay for a game, but those of us who do teen programming know that this is not a high price to pay for a teen program. Scratch that, it’s not a high price to pay for a successful teen program. This would not, I believe, make a successful teen program. Not the idea of an escape room, that I think the teens would love. I just think that this game would not translate into a successful teen program.

The first escape room scenario is titled Prison Break and you are asked to break out of prison. The game comes with a timer in which you must insert a series of 4 keys in the proper sequence if you want to break the code. Each scenario has 3 challenges within, so you have to insert the correct sequence of codes in 3 times if you want to escape.

Readers, we did not escape. As I write this I am still theoretically stuck in prison somewhere. Please send me a cake with a file in it. I am not cut out for prison life.

The biggest flaw with this game is that many of the items and clues are literally too small and difficult to read. It doesn’t come with a magnifying glass, but you’ll want to have one on hand. Our youngest player was 11 and our oldest was in their 60s, all agreed that parts of the clues were virtually unreadable.

Also, it’s not an escape room in the truest sense of the word. It is, quite literally, a board game. Now I do think if you wanted to go all out you could adapt it to a more traditional escape room, but you would have to play each scenario first in order to figure out how to adapt and set up your space to make it into a live play escape room as opposed to a board game.

But good luck reading the clues. Did I mention they are really small and hard to read? Yeah, I can not emphasize this enough.

This game has timed hints that you can reveal as you play the game. This turned out to be imperative for us because the clues were not as intuitive as I think the game makers thought they might be. At some point, the hint cards actually gives you the answers. They literally give you the answers, and we still failed to solve the game puzzles because we couldn’t read the game pieces themselves.

Here’s How it Works


Each game scenario is played in 3 parts. You open the envelope for part 1 and try to find the first sequence of keys to place in the decoder. If you are correct, it makes a happy sound and you know that you can go to part 2. If incorrect, it cusses you out in buzzer form and you lose a couple of minutes off of your time.

We got the first sequence of keys correct all by ourselves, but upon reading the answers in a walkthrough (I talk more about this below), it turns out we got the correct answer for the wrong reason. Basically, we got lucky. I shall now hang my head in shame.

You then proceed to part 2. Part 2 was a floor layout of a prison cell. It was chock full of clues that, you guessed it, we literally couldn’t see to read. They also involved math. I’m not opposed to math, but math when you can’t see what you’re supposed to be mathing is somewhat more difficult. Once you get the correct sequence of keys here – and we did but only because the final hint card for this round basically told us the answer – you can proceed to part 3 of the game.

Here you get a smaller picture of a laundry room in a prison. Once you understand the clues for this part, they certainly make more sense then everything that happened in part 2.

The time clock is called a Chrono Decoder by the way and it has some ciphers on the side which are helpful in playing the game. This review, which I found after playing the game as I was looking for a walk through to explain what had just happened, mentions what types of ciphers they are. The official page of the game actually has a really good walkthrough which I consulted after playing to explain what had happened. After playing it the information as explained in the walk through all makes sense, but I don’t know that we would have figured it all out on our own. The hint cards were completely necessary for us. Also, you’ll notice in the review I just shared that they also mention how small and difficult to read many of the clues were. It’s a real thing.

Although I have only seen this one in stores near me, there are apparently a few other escape room board games that you can try:

3 Best Escape Room Board Games of 2017

I do not recommend doing this board game, at home or as a library program. It didn’t give us the experience we were hoping to have, it was fairly inaccessible, and it was ultimately disappointing. But fear not, our own Heather Booth has already written about successfully hosting an Escape Room with teens in the library and you can find that information here:

TPiB: Locked in the Library!

Give this game a hard pass and do what Heather did. That’s my best advice to you.

Getting Ready for May the Fourth: Some Star Wars STEAM Ideas

Our weekly STEM program for 3 to 18 year old patrons took a turn for the galactic yesterday as we focused on Star Wars. None of the ideas I’m about to link to are my own, but I will tell you how well they worked for us and give you some tips for success.

81r2wmJ1JxL_SL1500_Our first activity was releasing Lego Star Wars figures from ‘carbonite.’ You can find the original post here. We used a combination of baking soda and water to freeze the minifigs into ice cubes. First hot tip – they don’t fit in standard ice cube trays. Luckily, I actually had some Star Wars themed jello molds (don’t ask) and they fit in those. We used vinegar to dissolve the ‘carbonite,’ but unlike the original post, I had the kids use pipettes to wash the baking soda away gradually. It really depends on your level of patience, but I think they had fun. Your mileage may vary.

Next we moved on to this activity – creating light saber cards. This was probably my favorite activity and the one I would consider the most teachable moment. If you scroll down in the post, you can find links to all the necessary materials, which were surprisingly affordable. There are also free printables to make the cards themselves. The blogger created one version for ‘May the Fourth’ and one for ‘May the Force,’ so you can use it year round.

We made balloon hovercrafts as detailed here. I’m sure you have some old CDs or DVDs and balloons around, and who doesn’t have a hot glue gun? Unfortunately, the other necessary piece (a pop up bottle lid) is much more difficult to find these days. Almost all of the items that used to have them, such as dish soap and sports water bottles, have switched to the new flip top model. I found them from some online vendors, but you either had to purchase thousands of them or pay exorbitant shipping fees. My best advice is to make friends with people who polish their hardwood floors – all of those containers still use the pop up lids, as does dish soap from the Mrs. Meyer’s company. It’s not ideal, but it is doable if you plan ahead (or have lots of friends with hardwood floors.)

We made these light saber sensory bottles, as well. The post recommends using VOS water bottles, which are quite expensive. We used the large Smart Water bottles because it is what I like to drink. I would recommend going with a smaller bottle, though.

Finally, we made some origami Millennium Falcons. There are many different versions of the instructions online, but the one I found easiest to follow is here.

Happy Star Wars day preparations to all!