I got very excited when someone brought up the idea of turning the library into an escape room as part of our mystery-themed Orem Reads programming. I’ve never actually gone into an escape room, but from the experiences of some friends and from what I had read, it seemed like a ton of fun. Cracking codes, looking for clues, using team work and rushing against time to figure out a mystery? Sign me up. And if you’re going to be locked up anywhere, let’s be honest, the library would be the best place.
After looking up various resources online and seeing what other libraries had done, I was even more excited but nervous about coming up with an escape room theme and plot that would fit the Orem Library. It needed to be low-cost (or better yet, cost-free), and an experience that families with small and older kids or teenagers could still enjoy. It needed to be long and complicated enough that there was something for everyone to be doing, but short and simple enough that kids could do it and that we could run it several times that night with a short re-set. I also really wanted there to be a short story/theme that we could use to set a mysterious/creepy mood.
What I ended up coming up with was the following scenario:
You and everyone with you came to the library because you saw a flier to join an Edgar Allan Poe book club. As soon as you were all in the room, however, the doors closed and locked!
When people entered the room, they found:
a) two locked storage containers with clues written on them to open them (one box was a red herring – when you opened it, there was a coded paper that said “Gotcha!”).
b) a board with two of Poe’s poems, a short biography of Poe taken from Wikipedia, and notes from the librarian in the room.
c) several tools–magnifying glass, mirror, blacklight, a globe, a kid-friendly puzzle I had laying around at home, etc.–for people to collect and use later in the game.
d) a “Poe-tion” on the podium (or “Poe-dium,” if you’re feeling hilarious) which you found out the Librarian had drunk and which made the Librarian unable to speak.
e) a flier announcing the Poe book club which, when combined with a highlighted sheet of paper, told people there was a clue hidden inside a pen.
f) There were also a few red herring clues signed by the Raven that led people on the wrong track, and a note from the Librarian written in mirror writing telling people not to trust the Raven and to look for important clues/tools by finding the books around the room.
We also had a countdown timer with 20 minutes projected on the wall and a soundtrack of creepy Halloween noises playing to set the mood, which the kids really seemed to enjoy.
To get out of the room, players had to find notes hidden in the books that told them to look in a different spot in the room, where there was a tiny piece of paper with an excerpt from “The Tell-Tale Heart” in very small print. Hidden in the print were three secret words which completed the questions on the correct locked box, which were:
- How many “t”s are in the capital of Georgia? (the answer was 1 for Tblisi, not 2 for Atlanta, referring to the country of Georgia rather than the state)
- What month did Poe die? (the answer was 10 for October)
- How many carrots are in the puzzle? (the answer was 2)
The players then had to put the three numbers into a secret math equation, which resulted in the correct number to unlock the container and find the key and antidote to the Poe-tion.
All but two of the teams made it out in under 20 minutes, and we had a photo booth and a “We Escaped!” sign set up outside the room. Upstairs we had a sign-up sheet with ten slots per session (all but one session had more than ten people–our largest had 16 or 17, which was difficult because the groups had issues with communication, so I’d recommend trying to keep the group size down as much as possible). We also set up board games and a movie in the Storytelling Wing to keep people occupied while they waited.
Overall, this was a great program. Kids, teens, and adults alike enjoyed it, and once we set it up, it was easy to run and re-set. We saw a lot of new faces at the library, and everyone liked the hands-on, interactive, creative experience aspect of the program. We were asked multiple times when we would do it again. And our favorite quote of the night? “I feel like Sherlock Holmes, only less intelligent.”