My favourite program ideas come directly from kids. After completing a class trip to the library where they learned about 3D printing and completed a zombie themed escape room, a girl came up to me. She said “next time you should do a 3D printer themed escape room.” After thinking about it for approximately 0.5 seconds, I agreed, and started planning later that afternoon. Community-led programming at it’s most direct. Of course, my first thought was: kids will have to 3D print a key, and of course I made it happen. After some research I concluded that no other resources exist for 3D Printer Escape Rooms (is this the first one?! Maybe!) and I decided to design it completely from scratch.
I have run several escape rooms in the past: some in partnership with escape room businesses, and many from Breakout. This was my first fully original escape room, and I am hooked! Because of the customization allowed with 3D printing, this room can be tweaked to match any difficulty level. It also exposes kids and teens to your makerspace, and the capabilities of 3D printing.
Read below, or download the full program outline here: 3D Printer Escape Room Program Outline
You and your friends are about to start a tour of 3D Tech Labs when you find out that Professor Maker has a surprising secret. She has 3D printed a lock with a button inside. If the button is not pressed in exactly 45 minutes, a jail cell will be 3d printed all the way around the library, and you’ll be stuck inside! You’ll have to work together to solve the clues and 3D print the key.
Time: 45 minutes
Ages: 8 – 99 (could be run as a children’s program, teen program, or adult program)
Difficulty: More difficult than any of the Breakout Boxes we’ve run. Less difficult than most professional escape rooms.
You will need to print a lot of 3D files to make this happen. Below are links to the thingiverse models that I used:
- Tiny Secret Book by nullgel I printed 5 of these – the pages in white and the covers in red. (Creative Commons – Attribution – Non-Commercial)
- Low Poly Bear by spryde (Creative Commons – Attribution – Share Alike)
- Fully Printable Padlock by ttsalo NOTE: This model requires some sanding before it is fully functional. (Creative Commons – Attribution)
- The arrow file from Reddit Upvote/Downvote Button Enclosure by TheNewHobbyist . I printed 5 of these at 0.5 scale in the following colours: orange, red, blue, green, and purple. (Creative Commons – Attribution – Non-Commercial)
All of the above are used under the licenses indicated, and the creator retains copyright of the items. I am extremely grateful to the generous 3D model artists who upload their work to thingiverse.
You will also need to print many copies of the Number clues model. I created this using tinkercad.com, and you are free to use it.
- Numbers 0 – 9 by me. I printed this model 10 times in 10 different colours. Then I removed the 4, 7, and 8 from the green set (the colour doesn’t matter, as long as every set is a unique colour)
I used some of the hardware from my Breakout.edu kit, but if you don’t have one, all of the locks could be purchased from a hardware store. Here are the non-3d-printed materials you’ll need:
- 4 digit number lock
- 3 digit number lock
- 5 letter combination lock
- 5 arrow combination lock
- lock and key (in addition to the 3d printed one)
- usb key
- uv flashlight
- a 3d printer and computer with printer software (internet disabled)
- 2 boxes that can be locked with the clasp / the lock and key
- Key Riddle printed out
- 5 small glass jars
- any random 3d models for decoration
- 15 chairs are set up facing the front of the room
- 3D printed padlock is locked and sitting on a table at front of the room
- A computer displays a 45 minute timer
- A screen at the front of the room shows the time lapse video on loop
- 3d printer and computer are set up on a table in the room
- large box is set up on a table in the room
- small box is hidden the room
- Directional lock: up, down, up, up, down
- 3 digit lock: 478
- 4 digit lock: 9845
- 5 letter lock: BEARS
- key lock: key hidden in the room (could be taped inside of a 3d pritned model)
- 3D printing padlock: key must be 3d printed to escape
Small Zippered Box
- locked with the key lock
- contains uv flashlight, riddle note, and 15 printed Low Poly Bears.
- secured with the clasp and the following locks:
- Directional lock
- 5 letter lock
- 3 digit lock
- 4 digit lock
- Contains the USB stick, nothing else.
- Loaded with 5 stl files named:
- “In case of emergency: Turn machine off and on again”
- This text can be changed, as it is just a distraction
- In UV ink, OR in yellow highlighter on yellow paper, the following code should be written:
Secret Books and Arrows
- You will need to glue the arrows into the secret compartment of the 3D printed books. Use super glue or a hot glue gun, and position them in the following order:
- red – up
- orange – down
- green – up
- blue – up
- purple – down
- OPTIONAL: the arrow model prints 2 arrows of each colour. You can glue the second arrow of each colour to a piece of cardstock, all facing towards random diagonals. Write the text “FIND ME” on the cardstock.
- You should have 10 sets of numbers 0 – 9, each in a different colour. Pick one set, and remove the numbers 4, 7, and 8. Make sure these 3 digits are not in the room. You can recycle them.
- Take 5 small jars, and number the lids 1 – 5 with permanent marker.
- Divide the numbers randomly in the 5 jars, mixing up sets. Ideally, each jar would have some of each set inside.
- Place jar #5 on a desk in the room, and hide the rest in different places around the room.
- You could tape them under tables or chairs, put them inside different drawers, behind some books, etc
3D Printer and Computer
- Your 3D printer should be set up and turned on in the room, ready to print
- A computer should be connected to the printer, with the software open and ready to print
- I recommend disabling the internet on the computer so that players can’t search thingiverse for the model (or find THIS webpage with the detailed instructions on how to escape!)
A time-lapse video will need to be projected onto the wall, or playing on a tv or computer screen. The video is available here on YouTube.
I’ve created a script to set the stage for the escape room: 3D Printer Escape Room Script
Every time I’ve run an escape room, I’ve wished that it started with a short skit with characters setting the scene, really immersing the players in the game, which is why I wrote one for this escape room. My goal is for kids to feel as though they are participating in an exciting story, not just solving puzzles.
You need 2 characters for this to work: one zany “mad scientist” professor type, and one exaggerated straight-laced type. The zany one will leave the room after the skit is over, and the serious character will stay in the room, taking notes on their clipboard, and giving up to 2 hints.
You could modify the script if you only have one staff member available for the room. They could play the zany professor, and simply stay in the room to provide clues. However, I think this is a really great opportunity to reach out to volunteers in your community, or even a local theatre group! When I did it, I played the straight-laced character and a volunteer played the zany professor. Kids and parents loved it, and I highly recommend adding at least a little drama to any escape room.
How to Escape
Now that we’ve spent hours printing models, memorizing our lines, and setting everything up – how are players supposed to escape!? Here are the steps that players will need to complete in order to escape:
- Find the key and unlock the small box.
- this will reveal the bears, the uv flashlight, and the note
- Find all 5 jars and organize the numbers into sets
- this will reveal the missing 4, 7, 8, which is the code for the 3 digit lock
- Watch the time lapse video and notice the numbers in file names in the corner of the screen.
- This will reveal the 4 digit code: 9845
- Find the secret books and the arrows inside.
- Use the UV flashlight to find the code on the poster: Red, orange, green, blue, purple
- match up the directions of the arrows with the order of the colours
- Reveals the code for the directional lock: up, down, up, up, down
- Examine the models inside of the small box.
- Reveals the 5 letter code: BEARS
- This one is deceptively simple. I have ideas for more difficult ways to create this hint, but I thought it would be hilarious to have one ridiculously simple clue, while the rest are so intricate.
- After opening the large box, they will find the USB stick
- Plug the USB into the 3d printer computer and reveal 5 stl file
- Each title is a word with the letters rearranged: air, fire, water, earth, and time
- Use the riddle on the note to find the answer “time”
- Send the “time” model to the 3d printer
- Use the key to open the 3d printed padlock
- The end! You did it!
- Plug the USB into the 3d printer computer and reveal 5 stl file
- Have a sign in your makerspace advertising this event a couple weeks in advance. We have so many kids asking about the 3D printer, and directing them to this program was a great fit.
- Have a takeaway prize for everyone who escapes: a 3d printed bookmark, or a button that says “Library Escape Room Survivor!” Feel free to use my button images here:
- Have a “waiting room” with board games and video games for before and after the room.
- Because of the huge demand, I run my escape rooms as a first-come-first-serve event. But I run them 5 or 6 times throughout the day. Day of, people can sign in at the “registration desk” for the time slot they’d like to attend. When promoting the event we recommend that people show up 15 minutes before their preferred time slot.
- Wear costumes! if you’re the zany professor wear a wacky wig and a lab coat! If you’re the serious professor wear a wig and giant exaggerated glasses. Don’t break character. Have fun and the players will too.
- Add decorations to the room! Pull all the 3D printing and robotics books and display them. Scatter your coolest 3d models around the room. Make fake 3d tech labs flyers and posters.
- Give clues. I always stay in the room the entire time and give up to 2 “official” clues. However, this escape room is fairly difficult if you’re doing it with kids. For example, 3 out of 5 groups had examined the 3D printed books and didn’t realize they had secret compartments inside. So I said to the group “I forgot to mention something about 3D printing. Sometimes 3D models can have secret compartments inside.” Every kid dropped what they were doing and immediately ran around to every object.
Why Escape Rooms?
When I was interviewed by American Libraries Magazine back in 2016 about the merits of escape rooms, “Alcox wanted all participants to emerge successfully and feel like ‘genius escape artist spies.'”
Being quoted in a magazine saying “genius escape artist spies,” is easily one of the proudest moments of my library career, but it’s also extremely true. I want kids to feel completely immersed in the experience. I want them to feel tremendous joy when they unlock the final lock. I want them to feel like “genius escape artist spies,” and to remember that feeling forever.
From an education point of view, escape rooms encourage teamwork, critical thinking skills, and they can present math in a fun way. Escape rooms are experiential inquiry-based learning that doesn’t feel like learning. It feels like the most exciting game you’ve ever played.
That’s why details are so important. Starting off with a skit is immersive and exciting. So is staying in character, wearing a wig, creating decorations to make the room look more like a lab. Go all out! It makes a difference.
Why are you sharing all of this with us?
I get asked this question all the time. I believe that public libraries are one of the best parts of modern society, and I want every library to thrive in their community. Every librarian has a different skill set, and I want to share mine with the library world, so that you in turn can share these resources with your community.
I regularly get tweets, e-mails, and comments from librarians who have put their own spin on a program that I posted about – I love that. By putting my ideas and resources on this site, I know they will continue to evolve and improve as they get passed from library to library.
If you use this 3D printer escape room, or if this post inspires you to create one of your own, please let me know! I love to see what other libraries are doing, and if we keep inspiring and helping each other, we’ll only grow stronger.
Download the full program outline here: 3D Printer Escape Room Program Outline
Are you running a 3D Printer Escape Room at your school or library? Leave a comment or e-mail me to let me know!