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

See the source image
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

See the source image

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

See the source image
See the source image


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

See the source image

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

See the source image

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!

Image result for fun types of padlocks
See the source image
Image result for fun types of padlocks
Image result for unique padlocks

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!

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and the Art of Room Escaping

By Philip Lyons

Most every semi-serious historian has likely heard of the book The Art of War by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist. The book was put to paper sometime around 500 BCE, and is often cited as a way to succeed not just in warfare but also politics, business, and even personal improvement. Now, this book’s wisdom can be used to help you escape!

Yes, Sun Tzu has been dead for well over two millennia. Yes, escape rooms are a relatively new phenomenon. But even so, the ideas he wrote about overcoming the enemy are just as applicable to overcoming the puzzles and obstacles of an escape room as they are to succeeding in a battle, a campaign, or even an entire war.

Let’s examine his ideas and how they can help you and your friends and allies who like to pit yourselves against the cunning of an escape room.

First, you should assemble a team to play with. Sun Tzu had an important idea on what sort of folks should be on your team: “He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks…”. Bring people who want to play. Don’t drag along a reluctant friend; they will probably end up bored and that hurts everyone’s fun. When everyone is engaged and enjoying themselves, your chances of winning actually increase; and even if you don’t make it, you will still win via the fun factor. 

So let us say you and this group of enthusiastic friends have found yourself in a fresh escape room. The first issue you’ll find yourself facing is the time limit, so you’ll need to proceed strategically and prioritize. Sun Tzu points out that: “All warfare is based on deception,”. A room may be set up to obscure the solution to the puzzles within. To find the answers, you will have to pull away this veil of deception, first by finding what answers you need (code words, keys, or other solutions), and then seeking out clues that will help you deduce these. Look around and tell your comrades about what odd things you are finding, and look for patterns of how those objects could interact.

Once you have determined what puzzle elements are in the room, another of Sun Tzu’s principles comes to mind: “By discovering the enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy’s must be divided,”. The escape room puzzles are naturally spread across the whole room, so you must learn what is there so you can assemble all the elements together to be able to solve them. This is most easily done if the group doing the room separates into sub-teams of two or three players each. Ultimately, once you have found all the elements, the team as a whole can focus on solving them. If you missed any puzzles, don’t hesitate to ask your Gamemaster for a walk-through at the end!

    You should make sure everyone in your team is engaged and focused on the goal. “In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns,”. This seems really obvious, but folks sometimes get sidetracked by events from outside the escape room. Yes, it’s nice Sally is going to have a baby and that Jake is marrying his sweetheart Helena, but if you want to win the game, I suggest you talk about that in the pub post-match while also toasting your victory… or the odds are good all you’ll have to talk about in the pub is is how you *just missed* winning the game. 

The greatest victory is one that requires no battle. “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Tough puzzles can be frustrating. Sometimes forcing them – and breaking them – seems the only solution. But that’s not the best way. Not only are you cheating yourself of the satisfaction of a true victory, but you may miss fun or exciting elements of game play.

I hope you find these ideas useful the next time you approach a new escape room. Until then, though, I bid you good luck!