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A Comprehensive Dictionary To The Escape Room Industry

escape room dictionary word definition make your escape old words

Do you speak escape room?

Over the past decade, the escape room industry has developed its own language. While some escape room vocabulary is company-specific, the best terms and definitions catch on quickly, and are adopted by different escape room companies all over the world.

We’ve put together a comprehensive glossary of escape room words, names, and expressions that every escape room employee or game fanatic should know. Now you can impress your date! Or your dad, for once. Or maybe you’re an aspiring game master, searching for escape room jobs. Study this handy reference, and you can swagger into the interview fully fluent in escape room lingo.

Like any living language, escape room language continues to grow and change, reflecting the industry’s constant state of evolution. This dictionary will too—so keep checking back for updates!

Essential escape room terms

clueA helpful lead or tip players find in the game area.
hintA lead or tip the game master gives players through a kiosk or microphone.
puzzleAn item that is essential to the game flow and experience, which players must solve before they can advance in the game. 
propTypically a decorative item not essential to game flow, though sometimes used as a broad term for both puzzles and decorative items.
game flowThe plot of the game experience that players partake in. It describes the way individual puzzles and game elements are connected to each other. Also known as “game plot”, but game flow is now the industry standard term.
groupA group of people who arrive together.
team A team of people who play a room together.
red herring An in-game item or prop that seems helpful, but actually leads players astray.
linear A game flow in which puzzles are chronological: one leads to the next, following each other in a straight line. An overly linear game flow limits the surprise factor, which can be boring and predictable for players. Even when a game isn’t linear overall, it might include linear both non-linear elements, or two “lines” that can be worked on simultaneously. Note: linearity is more of spectrum than a binary.
non-linearA game flow in which puzzles don’t follow a linear structure. Different people or groups can work on multiple puzzles at the same time.
bypassAn intentional modification to the game flow in order to skip a puzzle, made by the game master. It can be as simple as swapping padlocks. In more advanced escape rooms, players might not even notice a bypass. 
skip (a puzzle)When players must forgo a puzzle and move onto the next, usually due to malfunction or poor room design.
reset (a room)Reverting and reorganizing an escape room back to playable condition after a group has finished.
reset errorA mistake made while resetting the room.
walkthroughA post-game overview of the experience given by a game master. (Note: in escape room design & manufacturing departments, a “walkthrough” means a video walkthrough of an escape room after the room has been fully produced, usually filmed and live-narrated by manufacturing staff in the factory.)
outside knowledgeInformation from the outside world (not found inside the game area).
central / main puzzleA puzzle into which more puzzles connect; hard to bypass.
guessing / brute forceComing up with the last missing bit of information to open a lock or solve a puzzle, by chance or at random. 
immersionDeep mental involvement in an activity (similar to a “flow state”) and the sense of authenticity of its environment. The goal of an escape room experience is to immerse players in the story and game play.
rulesCompany- or game-specific regulations and principles that govern procedure inside the escape rooms, delivered to players by the game master or host before the game. They usually include safety guidelines and general information about the games such as length, how to ask for help, etc.
escape timeHow long it took a group to escape the room or complete the mission. 
escape rate (of a room)The percentage of groups that successfully escape in time.
rebookingBooking another game after the group just played.
reschedulingMoving a game to another date and/or time.
malfunction or breakageWhen something doesn’t work as intended. Can be a structural, electrical, connection, or unknown issue.
vandalismIntentional damage done to a room.
production qualityThe quality of an escape room’s production: how immersive, elaborate, creative, technologically advanced, etc. 
physical force or extreme force (sometimes “excessive force”)Physical strength used to break items. This is usually in violation of game rules. While some rooms do require physical force, excessive force is definitely against the rules.
logic leapWhen the connection between two items lacks logic or common sense, or is very hard to justify.
mission, objective, or questIn mission-based games, the goal of the game or what players need to accomplish.
themeAn escape room’s setting and scenery, designed to immerse players in a particular place, time, environment, etc.
replayabilityWhether a game can be played again by the same group or person.
exit game reviewShowing the room to players right after they’ve finished.
spoilerA description of an important part of an escape room; if previously known, it might reduce surprise or suspense for a first-time player.
jump scareTo have an element in the room that creates a shocking or scary moment while playing.

Types of games & booking

public gameA game with open booking, in which players are potentially mixed with strangers. For example, if a group books a game for three players and chooses the public option, the remaining slots can be booked by other people.
private gameA game limited to the initial group who books it. The same group might be able to add more players if capacity allows, but the game is closed to strangers.
split-team gameAn escape room style where the team is split into multiple groups, who are physically separated in different spaces when the game begins. The groups typically reunite later in the game.
game with actorAn escape room with an actor in the room. Sometimes the actor is present during the whole game, and sometimes they appear periodically. Sometimes the actor has storytelling or clue/hint-giving roles, and sometimes they’re just there for effect.
single-room gameAn escape room game that consists of only one room.
multi-room gameAn escape room game that consists of multiple rooms.
escape room stylesVarieties of escape rooms from different parts of the world. Over the past 8 years, the escape room boom in the United States has led styles to intertwine.
European-style escape roomOriginating in Hungary, European-style rooms had smaller groups (up to 7 players) and didn’t mix strangers. They usually had a coherent storyline and some kind of immersion factor. 
Asian-style escape roomAsian-style rooms hosted larger groups (more than 12 players), often mixing strangers in an environment without an immersive story or theme.
bookingAn escape room reservation. Can be for one player or multiple players.
online bookingA reservation made online by a customer.
walk-in bookingA reservation made at the door by a customer, without prior booking.
mission-based escape roomImmersive rooms in which players must accomplish a more elaborate task or quest, like obtaining a special item or solving a mystery.
escape-based escape roomThe original type of escape room, in which the primary goal is to escape some kind of predicament.

Escape room technology

kioskAn interactive computer display in a game room used to provide hints, used as a countdown timer and communication device between players and the game master.
RFIDA touchless proximity sensor technology that can be programmed to unlock locks or activate sensors. Multiple unique tags can be used (unlike reed switch, below).
reed switchAn electrical switch operated by an applied magnetic field.
latchA metal bar with a catch and lever, used for fastening a door or a box with a padlock or combination lock. Sometimes called a hasp.
padlock or combination lockPadlocks are portable locks engaged by a shackle passed through an opening. They can be operated with a key or a code. A combination lock is a padlock that can be unlocked by a word or number combination.
word lockA combination lock that has letters on its dials instead of numbers.
directional lockA combination lock that has arrows on its dial and opens through directional movements.
maglockAlso called an electromagnetic lock or magnetic lock, a maglock is a locking device that consists of an electromagnet and an armature plate. There are two main types of electric locking devices: “fail safe” and “fail secure”. A fail-secure locking device remains locked when power is lost, while fail-safe locking devices are unlocked when de-energized. Like all safely designed escape rooms, PanIQ Room only uses fail-safe maglocks.
keypadA set of buttons for operating an electronic lock. Usually numerical, but can also be customized with symbols, letters, etc.
countdown timerA timer that shows players the time remaining in the game. Can be incorporated into Kiosks, or a separate device on the wall. 
First generation escape rooms, “GEN1”The original iteration of escape rooms, mostly consisting of a boxlike room secured by basic locks. Players solved puzzles in order to escape. Few props or decorations, and the story, if any, was simplistic.
Second generation escape rooms, “GEN2”The second iteration of escape rooms. As their popularity grew, they increased in complexity, utilizing new tech like reed switches and IR tech, more elaborate puzzles with fancier locks, and integration of special effects. Set design became more immersive, and games sometimes included passageways or second rooms.
Third generation escape rooms, “GEN3”The third iteration of escape rooms. Focus on imaginative storylines and immersive settings, with much more game master interaction. Much more complex systems with interconnected puzzles, tech like RFID sensors, sound detectors, lasers, etc. Dynamic expansion
Fourth generation escape rooms, “GEN4”“Smart rooms” that reset themselves, and storylines are more deeply connected to gameplay than in earlier generations. Some groundbreaking tech like digital games, smart-home type environment controls, augmented reality or high quality special effects might be integrated.

Job positions (escape room staff) & roles involved in escape room creations

Game master (or gamemaster)A person who works at an escape room facility. The role varies from company to company and even among locations, but usually involves overseeing the whole experience: greeting customers, briefing the rules, running the games, and resetting the games. In larger escape room operations, the role is sometimes limited to monitoring games and delivering help to players.
Game hostIn larger escape room operations, the game host greets groups, briefs them on the rules, and resets games. They do not monitor games.
Escape room techA maintenance person or engineer who maintains and upkeeps an escape room. Can fix structural damage, electronic issues, regular wear and tear, etc. Sometimes the same person builds props for escape rooms, or the entire rooms.
Escape room engineerA person who builds and designs electronic systems for escape rooms and can maintain the more sophisticated issues at the facility.
Escape room designer An individual who conceptualizes and crafts complete escape room experiences, skillfully weaving together a thematic narrative and integrating pre-existing or newly created puzzles into a cohesive game flow.
Prop designerA person who designs individual props and puzzles for escape rooms.
Prop manufacturer or prop makerA person, shop, or company that fabricates escape room elements, from furnishings to the puzzles themselves. This could be an individual working from home or a large-scale operation such as a factory.
Theming specialistAn individual or company that specializes in creating immersive and authentic themed environments. Typically, they are highly-skilled creative professionals or contractors.
Escape room visual designerA professional with interior design expertise, specifically adapted to the nuances and requirements of escape room aesthetics and functionality.”

Types of hints & hint related terms

hint systemPlatforms or devices used to deliver hints to players, such as walkie-talkies, Kiosk hint systems, a TV in the room, etc.
hint penaltyA punishment for asking for a hint, or for too many hints. Usually a time penalty.
[PanIQ Room does not apply any hint penalties.]
leading hintA hint provided without a request in order to lead the team in the correct direction. Leading hints are typically given when a team seems lost, frustrated, or has spent significant time attempting to solve a puzzle, and should be simple without containing a solution. They can also be provided to newer players or those who request excessive hints.
[PanIQ Room’s standard procedure is to send a leading hint if a group indicates they want one (by either verbally agreeing, or if the game master “reads the room” (body language, conversation, etc.).  The ability to read the room and provide a leading hint before the group formally pushes the button is a skill all great game masters should possess.]
requested hintA hint the team asks for during the game. Requested hints are pre-set in the system and should be granted until that particular puzzle has been solved.
video hintA hint on the kiosk screen displaying a video of a solution.
voiceover hintAn auditory hint read in the voice of the room narrator.
picture hintA hint on the kiosk screen displaying a picture for visual aid.
custom hintA personalized hint on the kiosk that is typed live by the game master.
microphone hintHints given by the game master via microphone.
excessive hintsWhen players request an excessive amount of hints, because they’re inexperienced, lost in the room, etc. 
hint levelsLevel 1:  A very light hint. The least amount of help possible, offering a bit of guidance on where players should focus.
Example: “Somebody ought to repair those clocks, don’t you think?”

Level 2: A light hint. Provides a nudge in the right direction, as well as some observation. 
Example: “I’m not sure what those clocks over there are trying to tell us, but it’s certainly not the time!”

Level 3: A medium hint. Usually helps an average group to solve the puzzle.
Example: “Do you think, my friends, that the hands of those clocks are forming letters? It certainly looks that way to me.”

Level 4: A hard hint. Usually helps a group of beginners to solve the puzzle, but stops short of providing the whole solution.
Example: “Those clocks seem to be spelling out letters. If you look at all of the four clocks together when they pause, they seem to be forming the letter “K”.”

Level 5: The solution, or a significant part of the solution that makes it easy for players to come up with the complete solution.

Types of escape room puzzles

skill puzzlePuzzles requiring manual dexterity and/or physical skills.
illusion, perspective, or visual design gamesPuzzles that must be viewed from a specific angle, or require focused attention to be seen, because they’re incorporated into the room’s setting, props, or background scenery. 
maze gamesEither a prop containing a maze players must solve, or an actual maze that players must go through themselves.
logic puzzlePuzzles requiring logic: deciphering, etc.
hidden itemsClassic “search and find” games.
connected puzzlesTwo puzzles that are connected to each other, either electronically or by logic.

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