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How to design an Escape Room: Part 5: Two Step Puzzles

If you missed the previous entry about one-step puzzles, you can check it out here. Now on to another staple of Escape Room design, the two-step puzzle.

Much like the one-step puzzle, the two-step puzzle is a relatively simple puzzle where there are two solutions or at least partial solutions that have to be put together to make a final solution. I break down the types into three.

1.       The linear two-step puzzle.

2.       The independent two-step puzzle.

3.       The codependent two-step puzzle.

An example of a linear two-step puzzle:

This is the first element. It’s solution must be worked out before the second part can be solved. The second part could be using that number to look up a page in a book to get the final solution, or it could be used to do something more like a task, for instance, finding a key with that number on it. In both cases, we need the first solution to be worked out before we can solve the second element and finish the puzzle.

An example of the independent two-step puzzle:

The two parts of the puzzle needn’t be connected in an obvious way. The player could discover one element and then use that element with something else to complete that puzzle.

For instance, a common puzzle you’ll find in an Escape Room is a puzzle where the cracking of a code gives you a code, but you have to scavenge to find the place to use the code. This type of puzzle allows for players to work on it simultaneously. For instance, getting a three digit code from solving Triangle Circle Square. Here this forms a three digit code where the number of sides makes each number so the answer is 314. You could then use this code in a lockbox that is hidden under a couch. Players could solve the code or discover the lockbox independent of each other.

An example of the codependent two-step puzzle:

Here the puzzle is tricky. Neither of the two elements make any sense without the other. In other words, the two elements of the puzzle have no obvious relationship together, and can in fact have a counterintuitive relationship to each other.

Imagine a set of objects (say balls) which each have a microcontroller in them. These objects all look the same. Once collected and brought together they do nothing at first. In another part of the room, you find a paper with a bunch of shapes on it and an X. The paper is actually an overhead drawing of the room you are in. If you realize that it is a map of the room you are in and go to the X with all the balls in hand, a recording plays of a code you need.

There is no obvious relationship between the paper map and the balls, and one can’t really “solve” either part independent of the other. The mystery of the use of the elements is half the battle. The other half is the realization that the two parts are related.

The advantage of two-step puzzles is the puzzles can be more complicated than a one-step puzzle and in some cases that they can be worked on simultaneously with each other. The potential drawback is that in contrast to a one-step puzzle, the puzzle doesn’t need to define what it involves. Tricky!

Have you played or designed a two-step puzzle? What did you like (or hate) about it?

Brian Hacker, a codependent puzzle, has been in the games industry for over 20 years, first as a professional Magic player. He went on to become a professional poker player and game designer. In an effort to understand obscure technologies and lose what remaining free time he had, he opened Enigma HQ!