Padlock 101

By Nicole Drucker

One of the most popular puzzles you’ll find in escape rooms is one that requires you to figure out the combination to open a lock. Many different types of locks exist, and due to their popularity within escape rooms, don’t be surprised if you come across a type of lock you’ve never seen before! However, being faced with an unfamiliar type of lock can become a major setback. Even if you have the correct solution, the lock itself can inhibit you from progressing further throughout your room. In order to ensure this doesn’t happen for you, we’ve compiled a list below of the most common types of locks you may encounter, and how they work.

Vertical Lock

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iGotTech Heavy Duty Gym Lock: 4 Digit Combination Padlock


This lock is likely what you’re most familiar with. You may find this lock with either numbers or letters. The standard solution is 4 numbers or letters, but they may also come with 3. The tricky part is knowing which side of the lock to line up the solution. As you can see with the lock above to the left, there is a white line that shows us that the combination is to be entered on the front of the padlock. However, in the lock to the right there are colored windows that means the combination is to be entered to the side. There is almost always a line, arrow, or other distinguisher to help you know where your answer should go. When in doubt, try it both ways, better safe than sorry! 

Once you’re correct, gently pull down and you’re all ready for your next challenge!

Horizontal Lock

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Yet another common lock found in escape rooms. This type of lock is most commonly found with 5 numbers or letters, but may come in 6 as well. There are no lines or arrows with this lock, instead your combination should line up in the middle as precisely as possible, in the lock above the center indentation can be used as a guide.

As with most locks, once you’ve got your answer in, gently pull down and you’re good to go!

Keyed Lock

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You would think that a lock and key would be simple enough, but surprisingly they can sometimes be tricky! As you can see in the lock to the left, there is a post in the center of the keyhole that needs to go into the key correctly. If a lock is exceptionally “airy”, meaning there is a lot of space to wiggle the key around, this can make it quite tricky to open and may even break the lock! This is especially true with antique locks, so depending on your room’s theme keep an eye out for the two most common types of keyed locks above. 

Once you’ve successfully got your key inside, just a quick turn and the lock should pop right open.

Dial Combination Lock

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If you were as bad at opening your middle school locker as I was, then don’t worry, we’re here to help! The combination lock has a three digit solution, with each number ranging from 0-39, or potentially even higher depending on the size. These aren’t very common simply due to the margin of user error, but if you do encounter this type of lock this is how you can handle it: Most commonly you spin the dial 3 times or so to the right to clear it, then land on the first number. Then, turn to the left passing the first number once, and land on the second number. Then, go to the right directly to the third number. 

Gently pull down, and you’re golden! If you weren’t successful, then spinning the dial 3 times to the right will clear you to try again. There are also variations where the directions to spin are reversed, so it can’t hurt to try both if you’re certain your combination is correct. 

Directional Lock

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While we don’t use this lock anymore since our original game The Pirate’s Booty, the infamous directional lock is known by many as the trickiest lock you’ll encounter in your escape room. Here’s everything you need to know to become a master! The combination for this lock will be a series of either ups, downs, lefts, and rights, or maybe even cardinal directions such as North, South, East, and West. The length of the combination is seemingly endless, and could even end up into the 10’s and 20’s! Don’t worry too much, most solutions are less than 10. The circle in the middle acts like a joystick and you need to push it towards your desired direction to enter it successfully. 

Once the last correct direction in your sequence is entered, gently tug down like normal and you’re ready to go! However, if you’ve made a wrong entry then you simply need to push the shackle (that’s the silver loop) down into the lock a few times to clear, then you’re good to start over.

Everything Else!

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There are all kinds of unique locks out there, and each one has a unique purpose in making your room fun and challenging. Now that you understand the basics of some of the most common types, those locks don’t stand a chance against you and your team!

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