Thursday, December 13, 2018

FULL WALK-THROUGH: Our Harry Potter Escape Room!

Instead of a house-wide scavenger hunt for this year's party, John and I upgraded to a Potter-themed Escape Room - and we're never going back.  MWUAHAHAAAAA!

Yep, this thing was a blast to build and a huge hit with our guests. I'm already excited to start on next year's!

We used John's Game Room to set up, and limited ourselves to about half a dozen puzzles to keep the time limit manageable. We had nearly 20 teams to get through the room, so we aimed for a challenge that only lasted about 15 minutes.

Looking back, my only regret is limiting the team sizes, since it seemed like the larger teams of 3-4 had the most fun. (We suggested going in pairs.) These are definitely best done with a group, where you can shout and laugh together!

We put together a video to show you all the cool stuff, ready to see?

Now let me walk you through all the details! I'll also show you how we built everything, and link to some of the key products we used, in case you want to make your own. (Which you totally should.)

 Room overview. This space is only 10X10, so it's quite tiny!

(I know the theming is a little...meh... but we were more focused on the puzzle aspects. Next year I'll do better!)
 The other side of the room.

John built a slide-in shelf to cover our large screen TV in the middle of the wall unit:

This meant no video games for the final month while we finished prepping the room. :(   
We really sacrificed for this party, you guys.
 I had a lot of fun decorating the shelves. Everything here we already had around the house; I just gathered up everything shiny, old, or "wizardy."

Some of these decorations were already here, so that helped:

(This was a happy coincidence: all the artists of these pieces were at the party! House owls by Dennis Hansbury - who just made House-themed BATS, ermergerh. Papercut owl in the back by Charles Thurston, Sirius Black by Bonnie Wong, and the tiny badger figurine by Christie Cox.)

The rest of the stuff I packed up and replaced with more magical themed goodies:

I really like how this lower desk turned out:

That gold box was completely handmade by John, and is my favorite element in the room.

Here's a peek at the inner guts of its construction, see if you can figure out how it works:

John used leftover scraps of wood and trim he had in the garage to make the whole thing.

Ok, on to the first clue!

This logic puzzle is fairly simple, to lull players into a false sense of confidence. ::evil grin:: 

  The Founder portraits are printouts glued to squares of plywood, with twisted wire hangers hot-glued to the back. They're hanging from square-headed nails.

The Clue tells players that the portraits will reveal the code to the first chest... but it doesn't say how
Players had to look closely to spot the hidden numbers in each portrait.

Only one chest in the room has a number lock, so there was only one place for that 5 digit code:

John found this funky table at a thrift store for a few dollars. All the chests came from Ross or Home Goods, and then we fitted them with hasps from the hardware store so we could attach locks.

Here comes my next favorite thing in the room: this chest. 
It's full of ash and red feathers, and directions to find a guide to this "Fantastic Beast."

Again, pretty simple.

The book started as a plain craft box, which I customized with a red leather paint finish and some printed out graphics:

Inside is my hot-glue wand, which you might remember from several updates ago:

What I didn't show too closely in that update was the magnetic end to the wand.

If you watched the video you already know what happens, so I can tell you the "ash" in the box is really a pile of iron shavings, which react to the strong magnet built into the wand:

This effect is ridiculously cool and SO FUN to play with. Our first test victim - a non-geek neighbor who was HIGHLY skeptical of reciting a magic spell -  was so startled when the "ash" started to move, it was fabulous. :D

To make the box, John built a false bottom in this chest to raise it up:

Then he added more spacers and a sheet of plexiglass. We bought the iron shavings here on Amazon; a big 12 oz bottle is less than $10.

This next box used to be a cheap paper Pirate chest. We painted it, added a decorative clasp, and then John made this awesome label:

John concocted an entire back story for that label, about how Nymphadora Tonk's family used to be in business with Mundungus Fletcher's family, then they had a falling out, and that's why she doesn't like him in the movies. Ha! John modified a real antique label he found online, so it has that authentic feel to it. (Then I tore it up and grunged the edges.)

Here's the word lock we used, btw, it's less than $9 on Amazon.

Enter the solution to the riddle ("Floo") into the word lock, open it up, and you see this:

This tiny copper lantern is an antique we've had in the laundry room as decoration for years, so imagine our delight when we discovered it not only still works (and is battery operated!), but that John could modify it to work with a black light bulb!

Then I added a flowered metal filigree thing behind the bulb to make it look cool. I doubt anyone noticed that part, but I love it. It looks like a glowing flower when it's turned on!

The bulb came from this $10 black light marker kit. Those are also the markers we used to write all the glowing clues, so you can't beat the price.

The black light text reads "Find these things." And on the bottom: "Let this lantern light the way." (We added the second line  - and the arrow pointing up - when our first test subjects were too timid to  actually pick up the lantern.)

As you find each listed item and shine the lantern at it, more clues:

If you've never played with black light ink before, let me tell ya: this stuff makes you feel like a little kid again. SO FUN.

Now here comes the hard part: players had to realize that some of the runes on the potion bottles around the room matched these new glowing symbols.

They also had to realize there were numbers on the long box in front of them:

Put the correctly labeled potions on the correct numbers, and you get this:

This potion combination unlocks the inner dowel through a series of magnets, but one thing we didn't mention in the video: if you put the wrong bottle on the #3 slot, you can accidentally lock the box instead of opening it. {EVIL LAUGH}

This was an added fail safe to prevent people from just finding bottles with magnets in them and plunking them down on the box, since you can feel the magnets grabbing when you place the bottles. We fooled at least two teams this way - two teams that locked the box on accident and had to ask for help - which fills my heart with glee, mwuahahaa.

In reality only 2 of the 3 magnet slots on the box require magnetic bottles, so you really do have to get that order right!

And yes, I couldn't resist making a rainbow with the bottles. I don't think anyone noticed until they're already solved it, though.

There are two identical handles on sides of the box, and once the proper potions are in place, this one slides out:

Players had to fiddle around a bit to realize this leather flap in the end of the dowel hides the final key.

A moment of appreciation for my pretty matching lock and key, please:

 I sanded off the words, painted both flat black, then glued on some stamped filigree bits.

This chest was another Ross find, but the whole thing was disco-ball silver when we bought it:

I grunged it up with a lot of black, then painted all the straps black, too. And like the other chests, we had to add the hasp for the lock.

Our prizes came together so last minute that I completely forgot to get a photo of the chest filled with them, but here are about three quarters of the ones we made:

The Huffle Bumble Pygmy Puffs!

They started as a joke: a tongue twister I came up with at 3AM while we were working on something else. Then the idea just sprang from there. They were a right pain to make, but I'll show you that whole process - and better photos -  later, in another post.

Inside the chest I stacked these boxes I put together for the Puffs:

 I included instructions: if the winning team wanted a Puff, they should write its name on the box and take it with them, so no one else would see the prizes before solving the room themselves.

I honestly didn't think that many people WOULD want a Puff, but oops, they did. So much so that we ran out, and I have to make more, ha. We do still have our first crappy test Puff, though, so we stuck that one in the chest with our Triwizard Cup when my parents played the room a few days later:

 Ta daaaa.

(Imagine a lot more Puffs in there; that's what our Party Players saw.)

That scroll inside is the Room Reset instructions. Since John and I couldn't monitor the Escape Room during the party, we trusted everyone to follow our list and set everything back the way they found it for the next team - which actually worked!

So that's our first ever Harry Potter Escape Room, peeps. I hope it made you smile!

I also hope this inspires more homemade Escape Rooms out there, because it really was SO MUCH FUN to make. John and I were inspired after playing our first real Escape Room just a few months ago, and from just that one experience we had soooo many ideas, so many things we want to try to build and experiment with. So yeah, I think this will be a new Party Tradition!


  1. WOW. I.Am.In.Awe.

    Make me wish I lived over there wo I could sneak/bribe/steal/wangle an invite ;-)

    1. I'm with you! I'd fly over from the West Coast for this kick ass party!

    2. So do I! But flying over from Norway may be a bit too far to go ;P

  2. Absolutely fabulous! I would love an escape room like this!

  3. BRILLIANT. I gasped out loud at the black light numbers. And the iron shavings thing. And the potion bottle bit. Ok, really the whole thing. Amazing.

  4. OMG, that is incredible. I love everything! And weren't you super ill during the lead up to all of this?!

    1. Yes, haha. I blame that, too, for my less than stellar decorating in the Puzzle Room. :D

  5. This is brilliant! Those Pygmy Puffs are adorable! I'd totally want to take one home, too.

  6. I never understood the big deal with escape rooms. I GET IT NOW! And want one. I wonder if I could modify this for D&D.

    1. Absolutely! Any of these could be changed to fit D&D!

    2. The local Escape Room business near me has a Christmas themed escape room for the holidays.

      So I think it's safe to say that ANYTHING can be an escape room! :)

    3. *sees comment about D&D* This is an awesome idea!!! Husband is about to run a short campagin and this would be a great idea. Even if it was just the puzzles. We meet in a local game shop. Thank you Arthemise for the idea!!

  7. Love Love Love!!! I'm not a Harry Potter fan (I know, practically un-American)but this is great!
    Merry Christmas!!

  8. This is SO freaking cool!! I will fly to Florida just for your next party!

  9. That is AMAZING. I mean, your party decor and plans are always awe-inspiring, but this is next level.

  10. AMAZING! You guys are so creative! J.K. Rowling really needs to see all the stuff you two have come up with! :)

  11. This is so crazy amazing!!! And I'm totally not showing this to my son until after his Harry Potter themed party on Sunday...

  12. This is INCREDIBLE and I am in awe!!! My son would love this!!

  13. You two are simply amazing. And inspiring. Thanks for sharing with us all!

  14. So great! Incredible! Love it all!

  15. -sheepishly raises hand-
    I was in one of the groups that triggered the fail safe.

    It took us a few moments to find the phoenix book too, because we thought that maybe there was a magnet under the tiny Monster Book of Monsters, so we tried waving its cage over the "ashes."

    And John had to come in and be like "Did you read the clues right?" after hearing us shouting "WHERE IS THE GREMLIN?" (We totally meant Goblin...)

    Great job on the escape room!! We loved it!! It was just the right level of difficulty!

    1. We also went for the twee little monster book of monsters first. ;)

    2. Oooh, I had no idea anyone went for the Monster Book of Monsters! Unintentional fake-out FOR THE WIN, ha!

  16. This was my first escape room of any type, and it was a BLAST... in hindsight. During the play-through I was getting so stressed but by the time it ended and we had Puffernickle safely boxed away, I was calm and so glad we persevered through! This is easily the second best thing I remember about the party, only behind all the lovely company. I think 3-4 instead of pairs is a great idea for next year. Thanks for all the loving labors you put in to this!

    1. Aww, sorry it was getting stressful; I think you're right, having more people on the teams will bring down the urgency level and made the whole thing a lot more fun!

  17. Not enough heart emojis in the world for this!! Love it!

  18. This makes me so happy! I’m so glad it turned out the way you wanted. Now I have to borrow some ideas from you!

  19. This looks so fun! I've been toying with a small escape room for our annual Harry Potter birthday party. You've inspired me to actually do it.

  20. You both are amazing on so many levels! I would never have figured out the puzzles, but would love to just be in the room looking at/touching all the things... :-D

  21. Any chance we're going to get a tutorial on how John built the potion box? I think this is beyond amazing, and my brain isn't used to figuring out power tools yet. lol

    1. A chance, yes! Now that we know it works I'm hoping to convince John to build another version that opens like a regular box, because I see SO MANY POSSIBILITIES there. So yes, if that happens, you'll get all the details, maybe even some blueprints?

  22. Yep. I need to do something like this. Once I find time. And not so many things on the "I'm an adult with a kiddo who's trying to sell a house and buy another one" to do list. :)

  23. brilliant and amazing as always! I have done an escape room just once and it was very fun. your HP themed one is so great.

  24. This is the most amazing house party I’ve ever heard of in my entire life.

  25. Seriously AMAZING!! You never cease to surprise me. <3

  26. That was amazing! You two are incredibly talented and imaginative! Thanks for sharing with all of us.💖

  27. So awesome, as always! I'm also highly envious that you have the Occamy Funko POP. :)

  28. I am in awe! So much thought, effort and craftiness went into this creation. It feels as much like an artwork as it does a room of puzzles. Thanks so much for sharing the walk through and the behind-the-scenes work.

  29. When are you guys opening up the Harry Potter Escape Room on I-Drive? :)

  30. I love it!!! The blacklight clues are such a fun idea. I've set up two puzzle rooms for birthday parties and it's such a kick to watch people try to solve them :)

  31. So freaking awesome! I've played two escape rooms, and had a blast both times. Now this is giving me ideas.

  32. I would really like to understand how the box works. possible to have a little more information?

  33. Waaaah, why didn't I think to write you for ideas and help when I had to create/construct that Harry Potter Escape Room for the Big Brother Big Sisters event this past spring? This is amazing and twenty billion times more amazing than anything I did. I'm in awe and bow before you, saying that I fully get the difficulty having done it myself. ;-) You two are brilliant.

  34. Wow, major respect!! You guys really outdid yourselves! It looks just as great as some actual escape rooms I've seen. Again, wow.

  35. This looks so good! I did an HP escape room for my book club about two years ago, and yours is much simpler and,more elegant than my was. I'm super impressed. I also did a Disney one for a friend's bachelorette party this summer, but that was harder, because Disney covers so much information- I'd love to see how you would do one.

  36. Is it possible to get the details of your clues and constructions so that I can recreate it at my school, here in Indiana?

    1. I think almost everything for the clues is pictured here - the only one missing is the complete text for the first logic puzzle, which we can send you no problem, just e-mail me. The construction for the magnetic potion bottle box is much trickier, but if you ask John in your e-mail I'm sure he can explain the gist of it to you! Hopefully the rest you can put together from this walk-through, but feel free to ask for specifics on anything I'm missing.

    2. by testing it myself, I managed to redo the box.
      Say thank you to John for me

  37. Umm, how do you get an invite to this shindig?! I live so close, yet am so far! lol!

  38. Please convince him! I would absolutely love to recreate the potion puzzle! <3


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