Red Herrings

The term “red herring” gets thrown around quite a bit in the escape room (ER) business, and, like pornography, everyone seems to have a different definition and opinion of it. The history of the term red herring is quite old; internet legend claims when our early settlers hunted, they would leave red herring along their trail because the strong smell would confuse wolves, hence creating “a false trail.”

Today, the term gets bandied about in ER circles, both by players and owners. This creates some confusion, as opinions vary considerably as to what is – and isn’t – a red herring. We have players who, upon completing a room, point to various objects and items and say “This was just a red herring, wasn’t it?”. And while the answer is no, the polite answer is “not really”. A true red herring is something intentionally created to mislead, and we have never been a fan of that approach. The rooms are challenging enough without trying to make them exasperating. Think “decor”, not red herring.

We have had players tell us about their ER experiences (almost always from another state, not Connecticut) with some outlandish, time wasting tasks. One was a chest that was locked, and when the players finally were able to figure out the code to open it, found it to be empty! Another was a room full of gym lockers, each with a built in combination lock. There were codes scattered throughout the room, and through trial-and-error, each locker was opened. The catch was, almost all of the lockers were empty, save a few. Those, we feel, fall into the category of red herring.

Now, if a player finds him or herself in a well-decorated, immersive room, where the decor is theme appropriate, that is not the same as having a room full of red herrings. Think how stark (not to mention simple) a room or rooms would be if they only contained clues to the game. Bland, unattractive, unimaginative and cheap are some of the words we would expect to hear in players’ feedback.

In contrast, one does not want to walk into a room that looks like a flea market either. Balance is the key, as it is to most things in life. Too little decoration, and the room is drab and uninspiring; too much, and it is overwhelming and laborious. At Quandary – An Escape Room Experience, we strive to hit that “sweet middle”, not too much of this, or too little of that, but just right.

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