If you've listened to the podcast you know that we love escape rooms and utilize them in our programing in the Georgetown County Library System. I’ll be posting our puzzles here and in our facebook group Library Escape Room Enthusiasts. The first batch of puzzles I’ll be introducing are from The Gray Man, a Local History Escape created for the ALA Escape to the Library Preconference. Today I’m talking about the Cube Puzzle.
According to the fine folks at Monticello Thomas Jefferson created a Wheel Cipher designed to encode and decode messages. Inspired by that, but limited by a modest budget, I created code cubes as a puzzle for our local history escape that would open a word lock.
The cubes had holes going through two opposite sides, so they could be placed on a rod, then images of period relevant items, opposite each other on two other sides, and then letters on the two other remaining sides. To obtain the answer they would need to stack the cubes on the rod in the correct orientation and then spell out the appropriate word.
For an extra twist I put two words on the cubes to highlight some of South Carolina’s agricultural history. This puzzle was crafted to make the connection about the way indigo and rice were used as complimentary cash crops in SC, because they required work during different seasons. The images were thematic flourishes, which I'd change to be more agriculturally related if I were re building the puzzle.
Because this puzzle was crafted for a 20 minute escape experience the letters for the two relevant words, INDIGO and RICE were each in their own color, with indigo in blue and rice in yellow. Perhaps because of the boldness of the blue, most participants tried putting indigo in the lock first but found it was too long, and then discovered that rice was too short. Further examination of the puzzle revealed that by spelling out indigo on one side, and flipping the cubes over, the cubes would reveal that there was a blank side after the world RICE and a picture of rice before it. (Yellow was especially appropriate because it very closely matched the color of the Carolina Gold strain of rice.) The solution to open the lock was RICE_, with a blank after the word.
This puzzle was much easier to solve for novice escape room participants just based on how it was presented; all of the cubes were discovered in the same place. The post cubes stack on was glued into the first cube with a little wood chit on the end to hide the hole, while the last cube also had a chit indicating that it had to be the last piece. To create a longer escape room experience the difficulty/time-required could be increased by scattering the cubes through other puzzles, not color coding the words, or adding extra blank/ornamental cubes at the two ends of the post so participants would be unsure about which letter or was first and which was last.
In all I’d consider the cube puzzle reasonably successful. It was tactile, theme relevant, very versatile, and the puzzle pieces felt like they could have been setting appropriate. The best way to improve this kind of puzzle would probably by having the solution word be of the correct length without any blanks, but as long as you know how to signal that there is a blank on the word lock it is not a deal breaker.
Let me know if you use this crafty little puzzle, and how you improve on the design.