An escape room expert who has completed more than 125 across Europe with his wife in just four years has revealed his top tips for hopefuls trying to beat the clock.
Ben Thornton, 30, and his wife Katie, 35, have enjoyed the puzzle games so much that they even set up their own version which they now run in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
And Mr Thornton has explained how communication, teamwork, searching and double checking are the four key factors to consider for those taking on the rooms.
Mr Thornton rose to fame as a child actor in 2002 post-apocalyptic film Reign of Fire as a young Christian Bale, and is still an actor nowadays – currently starring in the pantomime Cinderella in Sheffield alongside Strictly Come Dancing’s Joanne Clifton.
Ben, 30, and Katie Thornton, 35, run the Clue Cracker escape room in Tunbridge Wells, Kent
The couple have done more than 125 escape rooms – including Pressure Point in Ashford, Kent
Mr Thornton rose to fame as a child actor in 2002 film Reign of Fire as a young Christian Bale
Mr Thornton played a young Quinn, later portrayed by Bale (right) in the post-apocalyptic film
Mr Thornton has also created a successful escape room game called Clue Cracker, which has received five stars in all 120 of the reviews posted on TripAdvisor.
Mr Thornton said: ‘Katie and I have played over 125 escape games – everywhere from England, Wales, Scotland and even to the home of escape games, Budapest.
Ben Thornton’s top four tips for escape rooms
- Communication – Puzzles are often designed for more than one player to be involved so make sure you speak to each other and don’t just keep things to yourself. Four brains are better than one so share your thoughts with your teammates and you’ll be able to bounce ideas off of each other. Someone may have seen something you’ve missed so talking to each other is vital.
- Teamwork – Listen to each other and work together. There’s no point trying to do everything on your own. Bring the group together and discuss thoughts or ideas on puzzles.
- Search – Look everywhere and when you’ve finished looking, look again. There’s almost certainly something you’ll have missed the first time so go back and search the whole room thoroughly. Clues can sometimes be hidden in the strangest of places.
- Double check – When adrenaline is high and there’s a clock ticking, mistakes happen. So double check all workings out, and if someone in your team says they’ve tried something, don’t believe them – go and try it again for yourself. It’s amazing how you make the silliest of errors when you’re under pressure.
‘We went on an escaping holiday and played five games a day over there. I prefer the games with padlocks which are known in the industry as ‘first generation’ rooms. I argue that you can’t beat the feeling of opening a padlock.
‘Sometimes the New Generation games are highly technical and you can’t work out what you’ve opened with magnetic locks and electronic puzzles.’
He added that the first tip to succeeding is good communication, with puzzles often made for multiple players – so they should share their thoughts with others.
Mr Thornton also told how teamwork is very important, and groups should ‘discuss thoughts or ideas on puzzles’.
As for tip three, he said searching is vital, saying: ‘Look everywhere and when you’ve finished looking, look again – there’s almost certainly something you’ll have missed the first time, so go back and search the whole room thoroughly.’
Finally, he told of the importance of checking, saying: ‘When adrenaline is high and there’s a clock ticking, mistakes happen. So double check all workings-out and if someone in your team says they’ve tried something, don’t believe them, go and try it again for yourself.’
His favourite rooms are Ctrl Alt Escape and The Escapement in Margate, along with ‘Loot The Lanes’ at Pier Pressure in Brighton and Tulley’s Farm in Crawley.
Asked why he enjoys them, Mr Thornton added: ‘In this day and age, everyone is so attached to our phones and electronic screens that we don’t use our brains enough.
The couple pose in fancy dress after doing the Scramm escape room in Banbury, Oxfordshire
The Thorntons, who are also both actors, are pictured at The Panic Room in Gravesend, Kent
Mr Thornton (right) behind the scenes at Clue Cracker in Kent with co-owner Tom Swift
‘Playing escape games is a great way of putting your phone down and actually talking to your family or friends in the room.
How escape room video games became a reality first in Japan
Escape rooms can trace their origins back to computer games, which saw a player trapped in a room as they tried to uncover clues to get out.
One of the earliest versions was the 1988 text-based game Behind Closed Doors which saw players have to enter text commands to get out of a room.
Further graphics-based games such as Mystery of Time and Space, Viridian Room, and Myst followed – before the defining game of the genre, Crimson Room, was released in Japan in 2004.
This is considered to have inspired real-life escape rooms, which were launched in the country by Takao Kato’s company Scrap in 2007.
Players would physically play in a themed room and solve mysteries to get out within a certain time, and the games soon started to be launched across Asia before arriving in Europe.
One of the pioneering cities in Europe for the games is Budapest in Hungary, which is still a popular location for enthusiasts, before they spread to countries including Britain, France and Canada around 2013.
There are now about 1,500 escape rooms in the UK, which held the Red Bull Escape Room World Championships in Shoreditch, East London, in April.
There are estimated to be around 10,000 escape rooms across the world.
‘No distractions, just bringing your team together. It’s a fantastic way of bonding with work colleagues or having a laugh with mates.’
The Thorntons are both actors who work full-time touring the UK, and they often get to work together – recently both starring in The Very Hungry Caterpillar stage show.
Mr Thornton rose to fame as a child in the film Reign of Fire as a young Bale, and also starred in West End musicals Whistle Down The Wind and Les Miserables.
His wife, who became an actress in 2010, is the daughter of the late Tony Haygarth, who played Mick Naylor in Emmerdale and voiced Mr Tweedy in Chicken Run.
Mr and Mrs Thornton run Clue Cracker with pantomime producer Tom Swift and Ish Refet, who owns tapas and pizza restaurant The Shuffle House, where the room is based.
Asked about why he set up the escape room, Mr Thornton said: ‘We played our first escape game in January 2016, which was Hint Hunt in London.
‘We thoroughly enjoyed it and thought ‘We could do this’. We figured we could bring our knowledge of theatre into the escape game industry – we are actors by trade – to create a more immersive experience from the minute the players enter the building.
‘So, after several discussions and floating ideas around, a few months later in summer 2016, we opened our first game ‘Jail Break’ at Dreamland in Margate.
‘It ran for six weeks and we were blown away by the response. Weekends were completely sold out.
‘We then sold the game to a large UK franchise of escape games and it’s still open today in Coventry, although in a slightly different guise.
The Thorntons run Clue Cracker in Tunbridge Wells – one of 1,500 escape rooms across Britain
Clue Cracker is one of estimated 10,000 escape rooms which can be played around the world
‘Dreamland host a huge scare event over Halloween called ‘Screamland’ so we were asked to open a new pop-up game during that period which is when our second game ‘Escape From Quarantine’ was born.
‘It ran for a couple of weeks over October and was a more spooky-themed Escape Game with live actors. The buzz around the game was again incredible and people were coming from far and wide to play.’
He added that they wanted to create a new escape room with Mr Refet, who asked them about building a game in a function building at his restaurant.
Mr Thornton said: ‘We’ve reinvented Jail Break now as the industry has changed so much already in just three years. When we opened in Margate in 2016, there were just 300 escape games in the UK. Now there are about five times that amount.’
Clue Cracker escape room is based at The Shuffle House in Tunbridge Wells, Kent