Maya Hirsch THE STORYTELLHER Blog Top Secret

TOP SECRET

“G-E-T  O-U-T  O-F  M-Y  R-O-O-M!!”

For the first time in 11 years, it was me who was doing the screaming. But this time, instead of a door slam following the invective, I could hear an excited giggle and a door quietly closed behind the intruder.

It’s that time of the year! The beginning of the 3-month period in which my study turns into my laboratory, my brain steams with ideas, and my Amazon cart grows by the minute—the birthday extravaganza! The girls were born during the months of June and September, and my birthday is in June as well, so the house is quite busy from early May until mid-September.

I loved working on N’s birthday party this year. Well, let’s face it, I love working on her birthday parties every year, but this year got my creative juices running even faster. 

It was her first birthday in our new home, with new friends and a preteen spirit, so I knew that this one had to be the one for the books!

I wanted her to choose the activity and the friends she wanted to invite, but after that I was taking the lead. I strongly believe that the party girl should also get to enjoy the activity at her party, so I put on my Top Secret sign on the study door and kept everything under the radar from that moment on.

Party Theme: Escape room

Location: Her bedroom

Participants: 5 friends from class + the party girl + O (her younger sister).

Ages: 8-11 

Time: Saturday morning

Duration: 2 hours (including activity, treats, cake, and fashionably late arrivals). 

Equipment: 2 Laptops, 2 iPads, 4 four-digit padlocks, 2 keyed padlocks, 1 word combination padlock, UV light pen, 6 boxes, balloons.

ESCAPE ROOM

A successful escape room is measured by how good of a story it contains. And, for an 11-year-old girl, what’s a better story to tell than a story about her? Just kidding (not really), but with our new situation, I also knew that N’s friends might not know a lot about her (being the new girl in class), so this idea helped me in two ways. First, I was able to include a surprise from her friends back in the US and make the birthday girl very happy. Second, the clues and riddles hidden in the room would be tricky for the girls to solve but easy for me to write :).

We prepared two rooms in the house for the escape room. The first was N’s room, where the game actually took place. The second was my study, which was transformed into a control room.

We had a laptop and an iPad in each room. The iPads were in FaceTime mode. We blocked the sound and view from the control room, but this way we were able to see what was going on in the room and, if needed, provide assistance. The laptop in the escape room played the opening video for the game and then had a countdown clock on it, so the group could know how much time they had left. I controlled the laptop via TeamViewer from the laptop in the control room. 

Maya Hirsch THE STORYTELLHER Blog Top Secret

LET THE GAMES BEGIN…

The group entered the room, and we locked the door behind them. At that point, I played the video on the laptop. It was a message from N’s American BFFs telling her that despite the fact that they couldn’t celebrate with her, they wouldn’t allow her to celebrate with anyone else. They locked the group in the room and arranged for a car to come to pick them up and take them home in one hour. The countdown began.

The first clue was hidden in a balloon, but since there were 11 scattered around the room, it took some time for the girls to even think about looking in the balloons. Then, it took more time for them to find the one that had the clue in it. 

I used everything I could in her room. I numbered the shelves on her bookcase and wrote a clue constructed from heroes in her books. When finding the right books on the shelves according to the clue, the shelf numbers created one of the codes for the padlocks.

Maya Hirsch THE STORYTELLHER Blog Top Secret 2

I wrote a secret message with an invisible pen on her bulletin board. This clue wasn’t visible to the eye, but once the girls found the UV light in one of the locked boxes (a different clue led to that), they could see the message through the light. 

One of my new favorite craft gadgets this particular year was scratch stickers (I’ve already written about them here), and I knew I had to use them in the room as well. So, I created a scratch card out of 16 stickers that revealed 4 identical objects that were a part of a segregated clue (3 other clues were needed to solve one major riddle).

Maya Hirsch THE STORYTELLHER Blog Top Secret 3

I used playing cards (the As) and Bananarama tiles when I needed to write something in letters.

Some clues led to a code to open a box, while others led to useful objects or were part of a bigger riddle that needed to be solved. However, all of the clues were about N’s life. This way her new friends proved that they knew her well enough to solve the riddles, escape the room in time, and celebrate her birthday with her.

They all had a blast, but I think I enjoyed it the most :).

IMPORTANT TIPS WHEN PLANNING AN ESCAPE ROOM ACTIVITY:

  • Rules are important! Before entering the room, make sure you explain all of the rules to the participants, even the ones you take for granted. For instance, my rules included safety rules and instructions about the clues (each clue resolves only one riddle), but I did not say anything about cheating, so when one of the girls (my younger one) was able to open a box without figuring out the code on the lock, it was difficult to prevent it without stopping the game. So, make sure you consider EVERYTHING that might not work according to your plan.
  • Codes matter! Since I couldn’t build hidden drawers or secret chambers in the rooms, there weren’t a lot of good hiding places for the clues. Thus, some of the clues were not hidden but locked with a four-digit padlock. This was the easiest way to add clues and make them “trickier” to solve. I recommend trying to write as many code clues as possible (birthday, address, height, phone number, etc.).
  • If you actually lock the room, make sure that the key to open the door is found via the last clue the participants can answer. Also, make sure that you have an extra key to open the door if they couldn’t figure out the clue (actually, it should be the one you used to lock the door in the first place).
  • Make sure you have a way to communicate with the participants in the room and to monitor their progress (Playing Big Brother from my impromptu control room was my favorite part!).
  • Use the magic of tech. I’m not a very techy person, but I really didn’t have to be in order to make some magic happen. And trust me, the effect is magnified through the eyes of the kids, and it was well worth the trouble. So, don’t be too scared to use it (the remote-operated laptop was a big hit).
  • Create a map of the room and a list of the clues to keep with you in the control room. Make sure that you know what each clue leads to and that there is no way for the participants to get to the final clue that opens the door without solving the rest of the clues first. Have the list with you so that you can help guide them to the next clue in case no one finds it.
  • Make sure your final riddle is not easy to figure out without the proper clues. Our last riddle was my daughter’s name, and her sister figured it out too soon, so she opened the box to the room key, and we had to stop her (see tip #1).
Maya Hirsch THE STORYTELLHER Blog Top Secret 4

Planning this escape room was a culmination of all of my favorites – writing a good story, planning, and problem-solving. I know I would have loved to participate in this kind of activity, so what can be better than that?

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Maya Hirsch | THE STORYTELLHER | מיה הירש

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