Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Battle of the Bands Escape Room for Tweens and Teens

This post is written by Jennifer Johnson, my current programming blog intern. Find all of her posts here.

Happy summer! I hope that everyone’s summer reading programs are off to a great start! Like most libraries, we are absolutely loving the music theme this year with Libraries Rock! And like most libraries, escape rooms are hugely popular with our patrons at the moment. Up until this summer, we had used pre-made games from BreakoutEdu for our escape room programs, but we just couldn’t find one that struck the right chord (pun totally intended) with our music theme. Thus, we embarked into the unknown territory of writing our own games!

Battle of the Bands Escape Room promotional poster
These helpful templates from BreakoutEdu were released after we had already written our games, but they are great resources to help you organize your thoughts. My process was to come up with my story first, build clues around that, then think about the order I wanted the clues to be solved in a very linear way. Once you’ve determined how you sort of want the game to play out, then you can add distractions, red herrings, and figure out the physical design of the room. It’s a fun process all the way through and I will share the plans for my room with you here. Feel free to use it or adapt it to fit your needs! (My room is designed to be a family room for all ages, so there are lots of hidden things that the younger kids can find, as well as some harder clues to challenge the older kids and adults. Our adult and teen librarians also wrote rooms for their respective age groups, which I’m sure they would be happy to share if you’d like. I’ll share my contact information at the end of this post so you can get in touch.)
The Story
The premise of my escape room is as follows: “Your band, The Atomic Unicorns, is pumped about participating in this year’s Battle of the Bands! Unfortunately, your rival band, The Notorious Stoats, doesn’t want you to compete because they know you will knock the competition’s socks off. To keep you from competing and winning the Battle, The Notorious Stoats have hidden your instruments and locked you in your dressing room! You have forty-five minutes before you have to take the stage or you will forfeit your chances of competing and winning the Battle of the Bands!”
I knew from the beginning that I wanted this to be a Battle of the Bands rivalry type of thing (think Jem and the Holograms meets School of Rock). I asked my coworkers to send me band names to use in the room, which was a fun brain break for them and also a hilarious email thread for me. I chose my favorites for the two rival bands in the story and used some of the rejected (but still totally awesome) band names on a Battle of the Bands lineup poster in the room. One coworker shared this great Reddit thread of band names, and I did pull some from here although it took a while to find several that were family-friendly.
The Clues
The kit that we have from BreakoutEdu (which can be purchased here) comes with a key lock, a three-digit lock, a four-digit lock, a five-letter lock, and a directional lock. Knowing which locks I had to work with made it easier to figure out what kinds of clues I wanted to have. One thing to remember is that it’s good to give the group at least one or two locks that are a little bit quicker and easier to crack so that they feel empowered by making that progress early on.
For the three-digit lock clue, I found free clipart online of two different guitars and a drum set, blew them up, printed them out on ledger size paper, and laminated them for durability. I put one digit for the three-digit combination on the back of each instrument and hid all the instruments around the room in various places. There was no further clue as to the order of the digits, but since it’s a three-digit lock, it doesn’t take them too long to try all the possible combinations until they hit the right one. The numbers I chose were completely arbitrary (I decided on 103 simply because my wedding anniversary is October third), so you can use any three numbers you want for this clue.
For the five-letter lock, things got interesting. I have two Makey Makeys that I knew I wanted to incorporate into the room somehow. If you don’t have a Makey Makey, I am sure there would be a much more straightforward way to come up with a five-letter clue, but if you have a Makey Makey, it provides a great time-consuming distraction by itself before they ever even realize that it’s part of a clue. (Just make sure to stress beforehand that they do not need to remove any of the wires from it; otherwise the clue will be destroyed.) If you aren’t sure what exactly a Makey Makey is, you can find more information here.
I decided to use the Guitar Hero-esque game to be a lead into the five-letter clue. There’s a tutorial that comes with the Makey Makey on how to make a cardboard guitar that functions as part of a circuit, but there are also several great ideas online. The game has each “button” on the guitar representing a different letter on the screen (ASDFG). The Makey Makey comes with connector wires in various colors, so I decided to be very intentional with the order of my wires. The colors of the wires corresponded with the colors of highlighted words in a ransom note placed elsewhere in the room. The order the colors appear in the ransom note gives you the order of the five letters needed to solve the five-letter lock clue. So to solve the clue, someone needs to be playing the Makey Makey guitar to be able to see which letters correspond with which color wires while another person figures out which order the colors occur in the ransom note and which letters they represent. This was by far the most difficult clue to figure out because it took them a long time to figure out that the highlighted colors in the ransom note were the same colors as the wires on the Makey Makey. Again, you could put the letter combination in any order depending on which keys you attach which color wires to. Just make sure that it corresponds to the order of the highlighted words in the ransom note.
Pink key-tar made out of cardboard attached to a switchboard

For the directional lock, I knew I wanted to incorporate directional words into some song titles that I would then put into a setlist. I asked for song title names with directional words (up, right, down, left) from my coworkers (again). I also found a great song name generator to fill in the rest of the setlist. I picked the five directional word song titles I liked best,  randomly inserted them into the setlist in between the other randomly generated song titles, and set the directional lock to fit the order of those words. I then circled the track numbers of the songs with directional words in invisible ink which is only discovered once the team finds the UV flashlight hidden in the room. It’s possible that they might figure out that the directional words mean something without seeing the invisible ink, but not likely. In fact, at first they thought that the track numbers were significant rather than the song names themselves, which was a great unintentional distraction.
The four-digit lock took me a long time to come up with a clue for, and I ended up consulting with my teen/adult counterparts. They suggested making a recorded beat demo and having the number of beats represent the numbers for the four-digit lock, so I borrowed a drum and recorded it on our laptop. I’ll attach the file so that you can hear what it sounds like. I said a few things at the beginning referencing a song on the setlist, which the participants also got hung up on before they realized it was the beats themselves that were important. I kept it simple and only made them count the number of beats which produced the combination 1, 1, 1, 2. There are a lot of other ways you could code this, but it’s important to keep it as simple as possible and not assume that your audience has a ton of musical knowledge to be able to do more than just count the beats as they sound.
Room setup (aka “How many different ways can I distract or misdirect you?”)
Finding props and dressing up your room is my favorite part! We have a large meeting room in our library with a partition wall that can cut it in half, and I only use half of the room to make a more closed-in escape room setting. I max out my attendance for the rooms at twenty people. Any more than that and it is just chaos (even twenty is pushing it).
For any of my escape rooms, I always have a table at the front of the room that is the game master’s table. It’s where I keep my notes in case I need to consult them for hints (the groups are allowed two hints during the course of a forty-five minute game; majority has to agree to use them) and I also have a laptop set up there that’s connected to our large tv screen displaying the timer (I usually use the BreakoutEdu timer unless there’s a better one on YouTube that fits my theme).
For this room in particular, I have one large rectangular table set up in the center of the room. On this table I put the large breakout box which contains a note inside congratulating the group on their escape, as well as two karaoke microphones that I purchased on clearance at Wal-Mart. The large box has a hasp on it and the four-digit lock, five-letter lock, directional lock, and key lock are all attached to the hasp. I also print out a lock parking lot from BreakoutEdu and place this next to the large breakout box. Once the locks are off the box, they are to go in the lock parking lot and are not to be moved or fiddled with afterwards. Also on this center table are the two hint cards that can be used at any time during the game, blank paper and a cup of pencils, a basket full of fake fruit with the key to the key lock hidden inside (a gimme lock if they are looking hard enough), a vase of fake flowers, and the ransom note and Battle of the Bands lineup (as a distraction on the lineup, I put a big X over The Atomic Unicorns with the word “Boo!” and a frowny face and circled The Notorious Stoats and wrote next to it *We will win!* This is absolutely nothing to any of the clues, but people convince themselves that it’s important. Distractions are good and I love them. Mwahaha.)
On one side of the room, I pulled in a couch from our meeting room lobby, but this could easily just be chairs or whatever you have available. I wanted to add it for that loungey dressing room feel. I hid one of the laminated guitars with one of the numbers for the three-digit lock down under the cushion, but you could tape it underneath a regular chair if need be.
In the back corner of the room, I used two rectangular tables to form a sort of L-shaped desk area with chairs. This is where I set up my laptop with the Makey Makey guitar. As an added distraction, I set up a second laptop with a Makey Makey keyboard. Again, the keyboard has nothing to do with any of the clues, but since it has arrows on it, participants tend to think it somehow leads to solution for the directional lock (also, I used the same wire color configuration on both Makey Makeys as an extra red herring. I get straight up evil when planning these games.)
Also, on this L-shaped desk configuration, I put a boom box with a CD of 80’s hits from our collection playing, along with an assortment of donated instruments and props like records, wigs, etc. that our staff graciously brought from home for me to use. Underneath one of the tables, I taped the drum set with one of the numbers for the three-digit clue.
Next to the desk area, I created a small “dressing” area. I brought in a dress form I had at home and threw a dress and some scarves I was going to get rid of on it. I also brought a floor length mirror from home and taped the guitar with the final number for the three-digit clue to the back of it. I had a small rolling clothes rack that I brought and hung some of the tackiest, most rock-and-roll looking clothes I had in my closet from it. I hid the UV flashlight in the pocket of my husband’s Billy Idol vest which everyone that I work with now wants to steal. =)
I also brought in my axe bass prop from my Marceline cosplay (Adventure Time for the win!) and our teen librarian loaned me her guitar case, in which I hid the small breakout box. The small breakout box contained the setlist with the directional song lyrics highlighted in invisible ink and the flash drive that contains the recording of the beat demo that leads to the four-digit lock clue. Just to add a little more flavor, I created some fake Battle of the Bands promo posters and put a few up on the walls around the room.
Finally, I made some signs to take pictures when the participants broke out (or if they didn’t).
Additional resources

Here is a link to all the documents I created for this escape room, as well as some photos from the setup, and please feel free to use them and give me any feedback on how your room went! This is my first foray into creating my own game, so if you find things that work better, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to contact me at jennifer dot johnson at jcpl dot net to share your successes or if you have any questions!

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