Escape rooms have gotten increasingly popular over the last few years, and it’s not hard to see why.

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TeamEscape Bremen

They’re a fun and challenging activity that puts you and a group of buddies right into the middle of a situation you never thought you’d find yourself in, like a bank robbery or museum.

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Noah Nelson/Youth Radio (via NPR)

Anyone who’s done one, however, will tell you that escaping isn’t always easy. Thankfully, some of the people who build them have come out with their best tips for escaping those dreaded rooms.

Start out with urgency.

When you’ve got five minutes left in a game and think you’re close, the adrenaline kicks in and working quickly becomes easy.

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However, Bryce Anderson, the co-owner of Breakout Games, said that the teams who usually win keep this urgent mentality from the time the clock starts counting down to the time the last second runs out. An hour does initially does sound like a lot of time, but people use it as a crutch that often ends up getting them in the end.

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Speaking of crutches, don’t use those clues at the last second! They’re given to you for a reason, and you’ll wish you used them earlier when you’re only halfway through the game with 10 minutes left.

Pay attention to real-life warnings.

In many escape rooms, you might see signs that warn you away from pulling on a certain object or sticking your arm behind something. It can be easy to think that you’re being tricked, that pulling on that wall-mounted candle holder is exactly what you should do, but don’t.

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If you see a sign from the escape room employees saying to be careful handling something or not to pull on something, they’re leaving those notes so you know something isn’t part of the game.

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Oscar Dawicki, “Homage to Bruce Lee” (2003/2011) / postmasterart.com

Oh, and you should also realize that the name of the room isn’t always a hint as to how you can escape it. “At our establishment we have a room called ‘Jailbreak’ with a fake door towards the very end (it’s covered with plywood). this girl takes one look at it and says ‘jail…break….’ and charges the door full force and breaks through,” user NOTYARYP shared on Reddit.

Choose the right team size.

There are a lot of benefits when it comes to having a large team with you in an escape room.

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There are more bodies searching the room for clues, more minds there to figure things out—everyone has their own strengths, and it’s not always easy for everyone to do a math problem or work through a riddle under pressure.

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However, the downside of a team that gets too large is that more people take up more space and make the rooms cramped.

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Speaking from personal experience, it can also make it difficult to make your voice heard and share a new clue with everyone in the group.

Speaking of sharing clues…

Once someone has shared a clue, try to resist running over to that area to take a look. The people who design escape rooms call it “bunching.” Anderson actually says that seeing teams bunch too much is usually a bad sign.

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“What we see in teams that do not do a good job is that someone finds something and everyone rushes to look at it,” he said. The bottom line? You bunch, you fail.

Make sure you speak up.

One of the best ways to get through an escape room according to Anderson is essentially to just shout as you go. He said the groups who break out of the rooms the most are those who tend to have a “hive mind” and the best way to feed it is to loudly share information as you find it.

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“[When you shout out things like] ‘Alright! We’ve got three balls with hieroglyphics over here,’ you’re using the eyes and investigative skills of all six people,” he said. Those hieroglyphics might not even come into play that early in the game, but everyone will remember them when they’re needed as long as you make them aware. “If you did that, I think you would for sure break out,” Anderson said.

Not everything is a clue, either.

There will be a lot of different props in any escape room, and you really do have to take them all into consideration when you first begin the challenge. However, if something is either secured to a wall and won’t move or doesn’t have any clear use at the time, just move on until it seems like it might have a purpose—if it ever does.

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A Pup Named Scooby Doo (via YouTube)

Reddit user DMAtherton said, “I went to a space themed escape room and there was a space suit and I put it on. It didn’t help us solve anything. When we finished I asked ‘do people normally put the suit on?’ The guy said ‘it’s not against the rules but you’re the first person to do it.'”

When all else fails, think like a writer.

An escape room isn’t just a random room filled with props that you have to find your way out of. They all have a story, whether it’s that you’re a robber doing a bank heist or a prisoner trying to escape from jail.

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“We start with the story first,” Anderson said of creating the escape rooms. “We have lists of interesting stories and the general flow a game could go through.”

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If you’re truly stuck in one of the rooms, the story is something you could always fall back on to help you figure your way out. Think about what move might make the most sense from a narrative point of view and you just might discover what you need.

Or think like an engineer.

Some of the objects in an escape room might not have an obvious purpose, and doing anything with them physically won’t help. If something seems to be a piece of the puzzle but you’re stuck on how it fits in, think about things from the perspective of an engineer.

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Anderson said one of his favorite puzzles involves a hidden laser that’s tucked into the eye of a painting in the room. The painting itself doesn’t do anything, but the laser inside is activated once a set of mirrors in the room are moved into precise positions. By considering that something might work or move in a different way than you expected, you might give yourself a boost.

Remember that escape rooms are actual rooms inside real buildings.

Just like any other room anywhere else, an escape room with have real, working electrical outlets. They’ll be supplied with hot or cold air through vents. They will have normal ceiling tiles that aren’t housing any secrets or clues. Ultimately, the escape room you’re in is a real room, and it will contain the things any other room will have that aren’t part of the game.

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Language Systems

“People are unbelievably destructive,” said Reddit user gocharmanda. “I’ve seen people rip outlets out of walls (we had to warn them not to stick keys in), dismantle furniture and electronics, pull vent covers off the air ducts, physically bend back file cabinet drawers to get around the lock. They’ll write all over all the clues, even deliberately go against the rules you set because they think you were trying to trick them.”