I’ve heard this phrase at escape rooms many times, with advice not to do it. Don’t overthink the clues! Stop overthinking! But what does this really mean? You’re supposed to think, after all. So how do you know what’s thinking and what’s thinking too much?
The key is to remember that escape rooms are designed for the general public. So ask yourself this question: Am I using special knowledge that most people wouldn’t have? If so, you’re overthinking.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you encounter the outlines of California, New York, and Ohio etched above a 3 digit combo lock. That must be a code- somewhere in the room there must be a clue to tell you what number these three states stand for. But wait- you happen to have just read that California is the most populous state, New York is number four, and Ohio’s population is seventh largest. So maybe the combination to open the lock is 1,4,7! Not likely. Would most people know this? How many people would guess these populations correctly, let alone guess that state populations are the key to opening this lock? Better advice is to search the room and find the clue that must be hidden.
A close relative of this is doing something that most people wouldn’t be able to do. At Save Milwaukee we instruct our agents not to climb. This is for basic safety and also so that things don’t get broken. Let’s say there’s a very large piece of furniture that’s too high for anyone to see on top of, let alone reach. But you happen to be an NBA center, and by standing on tip toes you can see get a view. Do you think you should spend your time checking up there for clues? Of course not. An escape room would not be designed with clues that people of regular height can’t access.
Everything you need to solve escape room puzzles should be right there in the room. Don’t try to solve the puzzles with formulas you recall from college calculus or by using your yoga training to contort yourself to see around a lock. You’ll have a lot more fun if you do what the room designers undoubtedly meant for you to do- search around.