Most escape rooms are a series of puzzles you and your team solves. Many of the puzzles are matching based. You see the key over on this side of the room, you find a lock on that side of the room; you see there is a note about something happening at 3pm and elsewhere you discover a clock whose arms you can move. There’s an aha moment as you match up what goes with what. (If you haven’t been, it gets more complicated than these simple examples).
But in this Empirical Escape Room (known to some as “The Escape Room That Doesn’t Make Any !*%@ Sense”, there is no discernable matching. You just have to move stuff around and sometimes it solves the puzzle and sometimes it doesn’t. Like you put the keys on the table and then the door opens. There’s nothing on the table that would ever lead you to think you should put the keys on the table but there is some kind of technology (or an employee watching from a camera) that makes the door open.
Not only is there no real clue of what you need to do, but you’re not even sure what did it because other people are doing stuff at the same time. Maybe it wasn’t the keys on the desk. Maybe it was your friend moving that chair into the corner. Who knows why the door opened? The whole experience is just brute force “try stuff”. Hit every button. Put the chair in every corner. Move everything by everyone and everything.
People who love puzzle rooms will likely hate this but other people might enjoy the randomness and the different sort of puzzle solving it requires. However it’s been shown that if people don’t think what they do matters, then they will just give up trying out of a feeling of hopelessness and learned helplessness.
So there’s a couple ways to go with this. First, you can just make the torturous and random experience I described.
But second – and this is where we put the fun back in – you can let people “undo” what they’ve done so that they can see what they did is what did it. So in my example, when the door opens your team shuts the door. Then you each try to remember what it was you did to make the door open. (Or what order).
Now we’re on to the real idea. The puzzle is not the puzzle. The puzzle is what caused the puzzle to be unpuzzled. Not only does your team have to solve all the puzzles and make it to the “end” of the room, but when they get to the end they have to state what they believe caused what.
Humans tend to think they have more effect on things than they actually do. This phenomenon factors heavily in the game. Each person will likely lean in to their own actions thinking it must have been them (because they really want it to be them). Analysis might get even hazier when puzzles are solved by a combination of actions. For example, if I move the chair into this corner and then you put the keys on the desk, the door opens. Both must be done and in that order. If the team just assumes that it’s the keys – because it is the last action – then they will have gotten that challenge wrong.
Due to the very active nature of this room I think this could make for good spectating. Perhaps this can be livestreamed to people who have already done the room.