And many more! – The Birthday Room @ Cluenliffe HQ Liverpool

Birthday room photo

The man of the hour (or 15 minutes in this case)

Back in November, Animals team member Paul turned 30. To mark the occasion we (the rest of the team) wanted to do something escapey for him. But as his celebrations were a meal and drinks in town we were a little limited in what we could do. We produced a little lock-box thing with some maths-based puzzles (everyone’s favourite!) drawing on numbers from his life. It was fun, it was fine. Fast forward to late May and we approach Richard1’s 30th. This time the party would be at his house which gave us a lot more scope. And, conveniently, his house is only two doors away from Paul’s, so we could set up in secret. We began work on a plan to create an actual escape room there.

Rather than make a generic room we decided to design it around the birthday boy. The ‘story’ was that we’d created a mood room to help us think of the perfect present, which had now been purchased and safely locked away using a code from the room. The challenge, rather unsurprisingly, would be to find that code in order to claim his present. Opening the exit from the room would be necessary in order to find the code so we avoided any clumsy ‘…and then escape’ requirement.

Each of us took on a different role. Paul, as the owner of the location and a dab hand with AV stuff, took on ‘fixtures & fittings’. We discussed a number of options on where to base the room, finally settling on his conservatory. This had the obvious advantage of being a room, having a roof, and, weather-permitting, the windows would allow people to watch from outside while shouting in assistance (and occasional abuse) Crystal Maze style. Paul installed a trial version of some Escape Room Builder software on his laptop (I didn’t get chance to use it. The comments from others were that it was fiddly but effective) and rigged up an external monitor and speakers which would be in the conservatory while the hosts were in the lounge. We intended to use a video camera on top of the monitor to see what was happening in the room, but with that and the software running the laptop came grinding to a halt, so we had to make do with looking through the partially drawn blinds. We set up a GoPro in the room to get a better view of what was going on and record the action. Unfortunately the device failed to start recording and then crashed a few minutes later, so we don’t have a good recording of everything. Lesson learnt: we’d probably kill two problems with one stone when doing this again. If the weather had been against us we also had a video camera (/baby monitor) available which would have streamed pictures inside for people to watch. Thankfully this wasn’t required.

Richard2 was in charge of videos and branding. Let’s give it some made up title like ‘visuals’. We didn’t have a name at this stage, but when he suggested it be called Cluenliffe HQ (Richard’s surname is Cunliffe) we knew we couldn’t beat it. From there it was pretty obvious we had to rip off pay homage to Clue HQ‘s style. We don’t spoil anything and we’re some of their best customers so I hope a little IP-infringement is okay! Next came a logo, and what room would be complete without some ‘do not touch’ stickers (yes, lots of them, but that was a rhetorical question)? Finally Richard2 proposed making an intro video. I have to admit that at first I was a bit sceptical, but the finished product blew me away. If you’ve never been to Clue HQ I think you’ll still enjoy it, but if you have you can fully appreciate:

That video was played in Richard1’s house as the introductory/rules video before being led to the room. But one excellent video wasn’t enough, so once in the room this video explained the story:

I was in charge of ‘design’ both for the overall room flow and the individual puzzles. As the trial version of the software was time-bound, and we didn’t want to takeover his party all day, we decided 15 minutes was an appropriate length. From that I proposed four puzzles/tasks as being about the right length. As you’ve already seen from the videos, Richard1 has some quite eclectic tastes in hobbies and interests, so that gave me plenty of interesting starting points. We had puzzles on darts, chickens and eggs, Germany and its language, and cycling. Throughout those we tried to incorporate as many ER cliches as possible; information was concealed on the inside of the exit door once it was opened; the key from the cycling task opened a box that simply contained another key, for that classic ‘key for a key’ disappointment; and there were a couple of items in the room that did nothing because, of course, you must have red herrings to make it harder. I originally proposed an open flow to the room, but on further consideration thought that would be too difficult for a single person on a short time limit, so rejigged it to be linear. You may have picked up on the not so subtle hints in the briefing video that the darts puzzle should come first. What you probably didn’t pick up on, in both of the videos, was the subtle use of colours cycling in accordance with the rainbow, which was a hint to how that puzzle worked (although it was easily solvable without picking up that bit up). From there each answer was unique so that you were guided between puzzles e.g. a single five-letter answer, four-digit answer, three-digit answer, padlock key and door key. Because having to try numbers in multiple locks isn’t fun.

James was the ‘logistics’ guy, sourcing a lot of the items we needed for the room, as well as keeping us on track.

On the day almost everything went perfectly (apart from the GoPro). We arrived at Paul’s early in order to get set up without Richard1 knowing. It took us about three hours, though much of that was breaking off to watch Australia vs. England in the rugby (I think 60 minutes would be more than sufficient normally). We got to the party on time and played it cool for most of the afternoon. There were some occasional showers which caused us some consternation but as things brightened up we made our move. We asked everyone to join us in the lounge while we watched the rules video. A rather startled Richard1 was then led to Paul’s while the rest of us tried to explain to the other guests what was going on. Richard2 and I took our place as Game Masters while everyone else crowded round outside. The story video played and away we went. 14 minutes later (with a few clues) Richard1 became the first and so far only escaper from Cluenliffe HQ, and claimed his present. The final twist was that the room itself was the present, and the final container just contained a few bits to remember it by (there were other presents as well, of course).

The onlookers that had grasped what was going on were amazed by how well it played out. As for the player, he said “I definitely wasn’t expecting it, was massively impressed with the production quality of the video and the room setup was unique and challenging. Best present ever (just don’t tell the wife)!” And we never will.

From my perspective, this was one of the most fun project I’ve ever been a part of. Designing puzzles for a particular reason, rather than just to be a good puzzle, was incredibly rewarding. Getting the components together and making it all work was so satisfying. Prepping on the day and dealing with last minute issues was a challenge not a chore. And finally the appreciation of it coming off made it all worth while. I guess for many of you reading, this is similar to what you feel when creating a new room. And it’s incredibly addictive. I can’t wait to do it again. Richard2 has already ‘booked us in’ for his 30th next year, but I would love the chance to do something before then. If you have a project in mind please get in touch.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.