T. L. Williams shares her top tips for creating the most imaginative ‘Stranger Things’ DIY Escape Room:
Firstly, let’s just clear something up – I will not actually be locking kids in a room – despite the temptation for an hour’s peace I am fairly sure that that is illegal! However, having exhausted all the escape rooms in our local city centre with my kids and having a 12th birthday coming up, I thought back to not long ago when a friend put this idea in my head. I could probably make my own escape room.
I’ve done some creative stuff before, mainly out of wanting a little side project and having a desire to be the cool mum but each year the ideas seem to get more extreme. It turns out that kids’ ambitions and expectations grow as they do!
Heads up – considering that these little people have been in the world for a mere twelve years they are pretty crafty (and I don’t mean in the arty way!). Having moved home this year with a new determination to be house proud I insisted that there would be no more parties! That rule apparently didn’t even last past the first birthday in the new home. In fact, it failed miraculously being that I am not only having other people’s kids round but I am leaving them semi-unattended to shuffle through stuff on a glorified treasure trail!
Fear not though – this is where the genius comes into it and how this escape hunt will be successful, low budget and hopefully fun!
‘Stranger Things’: Intro
For those who don’t know of the hit Netflix Series ‘Stranger Things’, to outline: it basically follows a group of kids in the 80’s obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons (D’n’D) and tech – yes, they’re nerds, but they’re cool nerds.
One of the kids goes missing on the way home from a D’n’D campaign leading to a massive search. A girl with superpowers, government cover ups, and the discovery of a dark, mirror dimension, all feature in a town where nothing ever happens!
Even if you don’t know the story line you will surely be familiar with the famous associated fairy lights on the alphabet wall. In the story this acts as a communication method between our world and the mirror dimension (the Upside Down). Clearly, that was a starting point for my escape room!
Start the Hunt
Materials & Accessories
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on the project, especially if I wasn’t going to use some of the materials again. It seemed expensive and wasteful when there are always so many perfectly good things lying about!
I don’t possess any particular artistic skills either. The challenge was not finding and using materials but working out how to link them together. To my relief, once I sat down and started noting ideas, linking small clues to each other I was then able to create a larger link to create the entire sequence and a storyline.
For instance, I already had a number combination lockbox in the toolbox. I knew I just had to create something that would reveal the number. I thought about my theme and what would fit, then came up with using playing cards. We have a couple of decks that we don’t use. I salvaged one selecting a card from each suit to create the number from the lock code.
To give away the order of the cards that the kids will need, I wrote down a phrase using a couple of lines on each card in order. The phrase is from the series, but also conveniently written down (amongst other red herrings) in a hidden notebook. The cards will be hidden too – some in the pack, some in slightly less obvious places. (For instance behind a photo frame with a photo of the characters in).
Alphabet lit backdrop
To start the hunt, I simply made a handwritten note (from one of the characters). Written almost all in lower case, with the exception of capitalised letters throughout which will spell: ‘LOOK AT THE LIGHTS’. I am not an electrician; I just happen to have some old colourful fairy lights which look pretty good over an alphabet decorated backdrop to create the aforementioned alphabet light wall!
On the day of the hunt, I will place stickers under the relevant letters on the backdrop. The stickers are Morse Code symbols for the word ‘notebook’. (There will be a printed key to help them figure out the letters. Really all they need to do is notice that there is something under each relevant letter on the backdrop. Then they can then note these down and un-muddle the anagram). They will then know to look for the notebook and so on.
It is worth mentioning that I will be watching them from our serving hatch, but you could set up a live feed via video chat or skype. I am also placing an old telephone in the room which I can ring from my mobile and visa versa. (My mobile number is written on the phone under ‘Hawkins Police Dept’. Of course I will communicate in character and guide them when they need pointers)!
DIY Clues: Lock & Key
Another DIY idea I opted for involved printing some missing posters and recreating a drawing from the show to place around the room. The posters, if put together in the correct order, spell ‘Right Drawer’. This gives the kids permission to check in one of the drawers in our front room. (We only have a pair of drawers so this shouldn’t go too wrong!).
In the drawer will be a petty cash lock box, to which they will have to find the key. The key will be sellotaped under the table, under a drawing called ‘the flea and the acrobat’. (A character in the show unknowingly explains how the Upside Down could exist).
I have also drawn this very simple image on the back of an inflatable boombox. – The kids know way too much about Stranger Things so I don’t think it will take them long to figure out that they just need to look on the Upside Down of something (the table!).
Once they find the key, they will unlock the box which will hold a couple of puzzle pieces. For under £2 (inc P+P) online I purchased a set of 2 blank puzzles – (one I shall keep for another day). I used one to write a password on – the password to an old tablet which is also hidden. The kids will hopefully work out that they just need to locate the other pieces of the puzzle to find the password. They know this is their mission as detailed in the initial note.
Map to Locate a Live Feed: VHS Tapes
Following the 80’s theme, I have included blank VHS tapes (which a friend kindly gave me). These point (by way of paper clues hidden in tapes) to the location of the tablet. The clues reveal the location when the tapes are arranged in the correct order, according to the TV guide. They can finally unlock the tablet and open the video player to watch a video.
Or in this case, a live feed to the Upside Down. (The filming of probably led the neighbours to assume I am crazy after going in the garden after dark with a Bluetooth player streaming sound effects and a blue disco light!). They have achieved their objective to locate a live feed to help the other characters locate the missing boy, Will!
Having completed the DIY Stranger Things Escape Room the kids can now sit down with pizza and pudding waffles (another nod to the show). They’ll play the Stranger Things D’n’D before I send them off with their brown paper party favour bags endorsed with their names and favourite characters.
I’ve filled these with some homemade (credit card sized and Stranger Things decorated) certificates. Of course I couldn’t resist including chocolate, Stranger Things Stickers, Keyrings and Badges. – Which probably cost more than preparing the escape room!
The day will end with a cork popping off of a bottle of fizz which I shall enjoy as I wade in my success, whilst fearing what the next birthday celebration will require of me!
Just remember, keep it simple. Create a couple of small links which tie together to make a sequence. Stick to a theme – it will make it fun to plan and to play.
If you have tried this out – or have any other ideas you want us to feature don’t forget to share with us @theplayexperts .This article was written by guest ‘play expert’ T.L Williams