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Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Stranger Things themed Escape Room

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

 

TPiB: Build an Escape Room by Michelle Biwer

tpibEscape rooms and breakout rooms are a buzzworthy program in librarian world of late. I tried building my first escape room in the fall, and recently finished my second one! Here is my strategy:

Steps for Building an Escape Room

1. Pick a general theme! Murder Mystery? Based on a book? Science?

2. Who is your audience?

How many people are you expecting? How many people do you want to be able to go through the room at once? What kinds of stories might interest them? What is the age range? All of these factors will affect what choices you make when you design your escape room game.

Because I want to maximize participation I do not make teens sign up in advance for escape room events. I just block out a 2 hour chunk of time where I can run the game as many times as I need to. I also design my escape rooms to be adaptable so that they can be played by varying numbers of players in different time limits.

3. Storytime: Why are people locked in a room?

How can they escape? Is escaping their only goal? This part is important,  as when I was fielding suggestions from teens they had awesome ideas like “build the trash compactor from Star Wars.” But it doesn’t make a ton of sense that they would have to unravel clues in that situation. We ended up going with the room being an abandoned spaceship and their goal was to escape AND to get the coordinates for their destination.

4. Think about design.

What space are you going to use? A conference room or the whole library? What materials do you need to turn your library or conference room into this place? A coworker and I recently put together a box of supplies for escape room programs that will be shared systemwide. The most important material is different colors of masking tape! It is amazing what teens can design with just tape. There are also props for mystery and sci-fi theming in the box

5. Time to build the set!

Don’t worry about the clues at this point. Just give your TAB teens or volunteers all of the decorating supplies, tell them the theme and what the room is supposed to be, and set them loose. Anything they think up will be cooler than what you could make on your own.

6. Plan the clues, then plant the clues.

Base this on your answer to the story question. For inspiration look at Breakout EDU’s example games. It can be as simple as hiding keys and lock combos in various places. It can also be as complicated as hiding clues in VR environments, in Minecraft, or having multiple goals in order to escape the room. I recommend doing this after the space is decorated because you will have a better sense of where you can hide things, plus the decorators can still participate in the program because they don’t know what the clues are.

7. Write everything down!

If you get more than a few teens for your program you will want to run the escape room multiple times so having a record of where everything is hidden and what clues lead where is important! You can adapt Breakout EDU’s brainstorming worksheet for this purpose.

Here is my chart from my latest escape room:

Theme: Star Wars

Story: You are a team of rebels assigned to a mission on the planet Tatooine. Your mission has gone awry and Stormtroopers are chasing after you. You have found this abandoned rebel ship. To escape on this ship from Tatooine you must:

  1. Find location of closest rebel base.
  2. Find launch codes for primary, secondary, and tertiary control panels.
Purpose What Will They Do With It? Where Will it Lead?
Mini Safe with Combo(on top of utility shelf) Conceal location of closet rebel base Open it-(password hidden under random chair in room) Location of Yavin 4, closest rebel base (on flash drive)
Numeric Lock 1 Lock up box Open box-(key hidden underneath red lightsaber) Secondary systems control launch code
Numeric Lock 2 Lock up box Open box-(key inside Darth helmet) Primary systems control launch code
Alpha Lock 1 Lock up kitchen cabinet Unlock-Password hidden under safe (password set to DOAY, anagram of Yoda) Tertiary systems control launch code

See Also:

TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an escape room program

TPiB: Escape Room The Game, a review

All About Escape Rooms | School Library Journal

TPiB: Escape Room The Game, a review

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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

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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.