In escape rooms, the puzzles are the main attraction and main source of all the fun! That’s why here we're looking at an ancient type of puzzle that's found all over the planet and throughout history: codes and ciphers. So, from two-thousand-year-old codes to codes that took centuries to crack, to codes that weren’t even meant to be codes at all, let’s dive right in!
The Caesar Cipher
As you may be able to guess from the name of this cipher, this particular coding method was made popular by the Roman general and statesman, Julius Caesar. He used it when sending messages about his military forces. The Caesar Shift is one of the most common and easiest ciphers to use, and is even still used today. It works by simply moving a set number of letters down the alphabet! Caesar’s preferred amount was three letters to the left, making his name JULIUS become MXOLXV.
A handy tip is to try and find the most common letter in the English language E, and work from there!
The Enigma Machine
Featured in the famous film The Imitation Game (2014), the Enigma code was cracked by mathematician Alan Turing and his team during the second World War. The Enigma was a cyphering machine used by Nazi Germany’s military force during the war, and was difficult to crack as it made an entirely new code daily! Not only that, the different rotor and plugboard positions meant that they were over 158 quintillion settings.
A top-secret base was set up in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire and Turing, along with his team of code-breakers, developed a counter-cyphering machine called the Bombe. The Bombe deciphered German Navy messages, and this meant that the allied forces could know where U-Boats were positioned in the Atlantic and avoid being intercepted.
The word hieroglyphs translate to ‘sacred carvings’ in Greek, and was the main form of writing for religious texts and in Ancient Egypt tombs over five thousand years ago! Not meaning to be a code or cipher at all, historians struggled to understand this written language for hundreds of years due to it being so different to any other modern alphabet. It took them centuries to crack, with it only being understood around two hundred years ago.
Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer who became famous for his macabre poetry and short stories. However, less well known about him is the fact that he loved solving codes! In 1840, Poe published an article asking the public to send him coded messages and promised prizes to those that sent any he couldn't crack. Poe then published two coded messages from a 'Mr W.B. Tyler', which many historians believe to have been a pseudonym for Poe himself, claiming that he could not crack them and asking the public for help. These messages were only cracked in the '90's, and even now it is unknown what the true meaning of the messages is. See if you can have a go at solving the message below:
These are some of Exit Newcastle's favourite historical codes. If you have any fun facts or interesting codes to crack, feel free to send them in to us! And if you love solving puzzles as much as we do, book an escape game with us here.
Our Favourite Escape Rooms in…Edinburgh
As you may have guessed we love escape rooms, and for purely research purposes, we’ve played loads of games. One of our favourite places to visit for puzzling is Edinburgh! It’s not too far away from Newcastle and has a fantastic range of escape rooms. In no particular order here are some of our favourites:
Padlox wasn’t an escape room we’d heard too much about before visiting. All we knew really was that it was slightly out of town in Leith and that we were doing an Olympic themed game called Going for Gold. The story for Going for Gold is really unique, the year is 2028 and the nation of Nova Patria has just competed in its first Olympics. They’ve done extremely well…suspiciously well in fact. Your job is to uncover the truth about their incredible results. You work your way through the world anti-doping lab, and see if you can uncover the truth behind the fledgeling nation’s remarkable performance.
We really enjoyed this game; there were some unique puzzles, a lovely system of keeping you on track and the story really is unique. The ending was really satisfying as all the pieces come together and open the final box. Although it’s out of the centre of Edinburgh, we’d definitely make the trip out to Padlox and we’re excited to see what game they come out with next!
Not exactly a surprise pick, LockedIn has been voted the #1 Escape Room in Europe and even the 13th best in the world. We believe all the rooms at LockedIn are well worth a visit! First of all Summerhall (the building the games are set in) is a wonderful building to visit on its own. It’s a huge location spanning a couple of postcodes, with plenty of history and some interesting exhibits to visit too.
But obviously the main reason you’re there are the exciting escape rooms. The attention to detail throughout the 3 rooms is incredible, and these games certainly have some of our favourite sets and props. Jackie and Heidi are great at putting in props that are only relevant to that game. For example in the Secret Lab (our favourite), you are locked in a (you guessed it) Secret Lab from the 1970s. Everything in the room is, therefore, fitting for a lab, and most importantly technology available in the 1970s. You won’t find a HD monitor in here, and this helps to make the game that little bit more immersive. The clue system, for example, is a dot-matrix printer which ticks away if you need any assistance.
There are loads of puzzles to solve in the secret lab so we’d definitely recommend taking a slightly larger team than normal, but it should keep you occupied for the full hour.
Another game, The Cutting Room has some of the best set design we’ve seen in an escape room, with really high-quality props and a couple of surprises along the way. Set in the same fictional world as the Secret Lab, the story is in-depth and engaging. We found some of the puzzles really tricky, and some which we probably made too difficult – but if you’ve got a few escape rooms under your belt you should be fine!
Their third escape room, the Distillery room is an exact replica of the Pickering’s Gin distillery that is also located in Summerhall. There are obviously a few extra padlocks thrown in, and sadly no actual gin but the authentic set makes for a really engaging escape room.
Overall, LockedIn’s attention to detail is second to none, and this leads to truly immersive and exciting escape rooms.
If you enjoy escape rooms then we’d certainly recommend a pilgrimage up to Edinburgh! We haven’t played all the escape rooms up there so let us know if there are any we should check out!
The Greatest Escapes
We have passion for everything escape related, so we decided to take a look at some of the greatest escapes from history for some inspiration and to share some fascinating tales!
In 1962 three convicts set out to escape from the notorious Alcatraz prison in San Francisco. Alcatraz was world-famous, not just for the prisoners it contained, but also for the high level of security and the isolation of the facility. It even served as inspiration for Azkaban, the wizard prison in the Harry Potter books. Alcatraz was a former military prison set on an island in the San Francisco bay. The jail was converted to a civilian prison in 1934 after work to further fortify and secure the island.
The idea behind Alcatraz was to house criminals with a history of escaping other prisons. The prison also housed convicts who continued with their criminal activity behind bars (this is why Al Capone was moved to Alcatraz). With the extra security and isolation, it was said to be impossible to escape and perfect for securely keeping prisoners who tended to go wandering.
Despite these inescapable (sorry we couldn’t resist) claims, 36 men attempted to make it off the island prison. Most caught and the rest failed to survive the attempt. That was until 1962, when 3 men successfully made it off the island – but their fate after that is still unknown.
The three were, John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris. Serving time for armed robbery, the trio spent months planning their daring escape. The first task was to use tools that they made themselves to dig through the walls of their cells. They decided the easiest place to dig through would be around the air vents on the back walls from the cells. After breaking through they found that the air vents led to an unused service corridor.
The trio weren’t done here however! Although they’d found a path to escape, the prisoners realised that they would need help to make it to the mainland. They stole over 50 raincoats to make a life raft. The prisoners even managed to develop make-shift life-preserving vests. Another ingenious idea was to create dummy heads to put in their beds and the guards off. Although we’re not sure how convincing these were (see the picture below) you can’t say the escapees didn’t go to any effort. They stole real human hair from the prison barbershop to make them as convincing as possible.
After leaving their cells, they passed through the service corridor and proceeded to the prison roof. Here, they had hidden the equipment they’d made to aid their escape. Once the escapees had gathered all their resources, they continued along the roof, shimmied down the bakery chimney, and over the prison’s fence to freedom! At the island’s shoreline they inflated their raft and ventured out into the ice-cold water. After this point, nobody is 100% sure what happened to the men.
The FBI still maintains that the prisoners couldn’t have survived. They believe that with cold waters and strong tides, it would have been impossible to cross the bay. The odds were further stacked against them when you consider they had to navigate the sea at night.
The FBI’s informant also stated that once the trio reached land the plan was to steal clothes and a car, yet no such thefts were reported that night. Finally, according to authorities, there was no credible evidence to suggest that the men were still alive whether in the US or overseas.
Fans of the escape believe that not only was it possible for the group to have survived, but evidence exists to prove that they did. Letters sent to the mother of the Anglin brothers every Christmas, hint at the group’s possible survival. There was also several reported sightings of the brothers including recounts of two strange looking women, wearing a lot of make up, attending the funeral of the mother and leaving very soon after.
The mystery behind the escape is worth your time to read deeper into. Whatever became of the trio still provokes a great deal of speculation but what is certain is that this escape remains one of the most ingenious and daring.
What list of escapes would be complete without the amazing story of the Great Escape? We’re sure everyone’s familiar with the famous Steve McQueen movie, but some dramatic license was taken by Hollywood, so it’s worth discovering the true story. Although there are no motorbike stunts here, don’t worry! The heroic escape is nearly as thrilling as the film it inspired.
The real escape took place in 1944 from the Stalag Luft III POW camp, located just 35km inside Poland. The location was selected after the Nazi’s believed the sandy soil would make an escape via tunnelling impossible!
However, they didn’t count on the grit and determination of the inmates, particularly English Squadron leader, Roger Bushell. Despite it being “impossible” to dig a tunnel in the sandy soil he devised an incredible plan to escape the Polish camp, they’d dig 3 tunnels, with the hope of evacuating over 200 airmen from the prison in a single night.
Considering the German’s believed a tunnel escape impossible, the 3 tunnel plan was as ambitious as it was ingenious. Why 3 tunnels? Bushel believed that 3 provided the prisoners with a few different protections. Firstly, if one tunnel was found by the guards, they would never suspect that any more tunnels were being dug. It also meant if one tunnel collapsed it wasn’t the end of their escape, they had 2 more to work on!
The tunnels were dug in the utmost secrecy, with each one being given a top-secret code name. The tunnels were christened, quite humorously, “Tom”, “Dick” and “Harry” to avoid arousing suspicion. The prisoners took this secrecy so seriously that it was deemed a court-martial offence to use the word tunnel, rather than the names given to them!
What happened to the tunnels? Well, “Tom” was discovered by the German guards and was quickly destroyed before there was a chance to escape. “Dick” was sadly abandoned, after the prison camp started building work on the where the tunnel would surface. However, “Dick” wasn’t dug entirely in vain! It served as the ideal place to hide soil dug up from “Harry” (the final escape tunnel) and doubled up as a workshop to produce tools and equipment for the final escape attempt.
In the end, over 600 people, both inmates and sympathetic guards, were involved in the escape plan. And, after a year of digging, forging and planning, the prisoners decided to escape on the evening of the 24th March 1944.
On the cold Friday evening, only 76 of the planned 200 POW’s managed to escape. Their journey to escape took them along a 335 foot, make-shift railway track (see below) built in the tunnel and towards the escape hatch. To help ensure safety, the tunnel had been reinforced by the wooden bed boards from the prisoner’s rooms, and fresh air was pumped along from the surface.
Unfortunately, the escape didn’t go as smoothly as planned and ran into several problems. First, the tunnel was dug slightly short of the forest they had planned to emerge into, this meant that it was easy for guards to spot prisoners coming out of the hole. The cold weather on the night also meant that the escape hatch had been frozen solid, and escapees spent half an hour trying to get it to force it open. There was further delay when a nearby air-raid cut all the power to the tunnel.
At 4:55 am the 77th prisoner to escape was spotted by the guards emerging from the tunnel, starting a camp-wide search for the entrance. With the guards on high alert, any other prisoners were prevented from escaping. A countrywide search mission was assembled to track down the 76 who had successfully escaped the camp and sadly proved extremely successful. Only 3 prisoners managed to escape into freedom, with the other 73 being found by German forces.
50 of the prisoners involved in the escape were shot by the Gestapo under direct orders from Hitler, a breach of the Geneva convention. The remaining survivors were returned to other POW camps, or even to concentration camps.
The story is fascinating and as we’ve only been able to cover it briefly we recommend reading about it in the book “The Great Escape”, the film of the same name is worth a watch but it’s worth remembering that Hollywood took a few liberties with the tale.
Geronimo was a native American warrior and shaman who was famous for his attacks on Mexican and American settlements. He spent much of his life defending native American lands from both Mexico and the United States and was captured many times. However, his most incredible feat occurred when he was 60.
On 17th May 1885, Geronimo fled the San Carlos reservation in Arizona with several of his followers. Originally around 300 US troops were involved in trying to finding the Apache. Geronimo’s group used their freedom to conduct raids on civilians, including other Native Americas, stealing horses from other settlements across a wide area. The Apache also led the group from Mexico back over the border into the US and conducted “breakouts” on their reservation to release more of his kin.
At beginning of 1886 Geronimo’s camp was discovered, his horses were captured and any supplies stolen. He agreed to surrender on the 29th March, 1886. However, after being informed that he was to be killed by the US troops he escaped yet again with 37 of his followers.
By the Summer of 1886, Geronimo and the 37 others were being pursued by 5000 US soldiers (around a quarter of the enlisted army) and over 3000 Mexican soldiers. For over 5 months Geronimo and his troop evaded capture, travelling through the mountains and canyons between the US and Mexico. In September, Geronimo decided to surrender after it became too hard to live on the run against the resources of the US army, turning himself in near Skelton Canyon.
He spent the last 23 years of his life as a prisoner of war and wrote an autobiography covering his life, after approval from Theodore Roosevelt. The fact that he managed to evade capture for over 5 months with 8000 soldiers looking for him is incredible and earns him a well-earned mention in this list.
The famous French general and emperor was known to have one or two tricks up his sleeve on the battlefield, but one of his best-laid plans was his escape from exile on the Island of Elba.
After defeat in the war of 6 coalitions, Napoleon abdicated in 1814. He negotiated his imprisonment and in typical Napoleon fashion, arranging to be emperor of the island of Elba, just off the coast of Italy. He kept himself busy and transformed the picturesque island, renewing its mines, reforming the economic system, and generating a small army. However despite this, and the fact that Elba seems a lovely place to be imprisoned, he focused his energies on escaping after learning the British planned to move him to the island of St. Helena, even further away from the continent.
On top of this, he was refused the money offered to him during his abdication which meant he was very close to living in poverty. Seeing an opportunity on the 26th February 1815, he assembled a small fleet of ships and hatched a plan to escape. He painted his vessel, the “Inconstant”, in British colours to avoid capture and set sail with about 1,150 soldiers for mainland France. Evading the fleet of French and British ships around the island, he landed in Golfe-Juan near Cannes.
Napoleon had one goal from here, and set off immediately for Paris. Louis XVIII (the man named ruler after Napoleon) panicked and ordered that Napoleon be captured before reaching the French capital. However, Louis severely underestimated Napoleon. Napoleon was first met by the 5th Infantry Regiment at Grenoble, where he and his troops fired no shot in their defence and persuaded the enemy regiment to join the cause. In Laffrey, 6000 troops were stationed to stop Napoleon however again he evaded capture. Legend says he stepped in front of his army opened his coat and shouted “If any of you will shoot his Emperor, here I am”, it was met by shouts of “Vive L’Empreuer”. Unbelievably they joined his army and Napoleon marched, now unopposed and with a much larger force than before, all the way to Paris.
Louis XVIII (Napoleon’s successor) fled, and the diminutive general regained power. By June he was as powerful as ever and had 200 000 troops at his disposal. His second reign came to a halt after being defeated by Wellington and Prince Blucher of Prussia at the famous battle of Waterloo.
There are 2 amazing parts to this escape, that he was able to leave Elba in the first place despite being surrounded by ships, and that he was able to use his charisma and standing with the French people to not only avoid a battle but to convert the soldiers to his side.
We think you’ll agree that these escapes are fascinating stories from history that show incredible courage and ingenuity. Sadly most of the escapes were short-lived, and despite their best efforts most were unable to evade capture afterwards.
If you’ve been inspired or excited by any of these stories then take a look at our Live Escape Rooms! Fortunately, they only require an hour of your time and it’s much less likely that you’ll be recaptured!