COVID-19 has kept many packs from escaping to camp. But in October 2020, one Colorado pack actually escaped fromcamp — albeit online. During a virtual campout that month, the members of Pack 27 in Colorado Springs did a virtual escape room activity designed by Den Leader Carrie Kelly.
The activity, which Kelly created using Google Forms, included seven puzzles that tested the Cub Scouts’ knowledge of things like the Cub Scout motto, the Six Essentials and the Outdoor Code.
“If we had been able to do a campout, those are things we would have covered,” Kelly says.
Some puzzles required fill-in-the-blank answers, but Cub Scouts also had to read a map, decode a message in pigpen cipher and solve an online jigsaw puzzle that Kelly created using a free puzzle generator. Varying the puzzle types let different kids shine at different times, much like in real escape rooms.
Hacking Google Forms
Kelly had often used Google Forms for surveys but didn’t realize the software would work for escape rooms. Then she came across several YouTube tutorials that explained the process. (Here’s one we like.)
Three features are key. First, you can have just one question appear at a time (by putting each question in a different section). Second, you can require a response to each question. Third, you can validate each response before the next question appears.
That’s not to say that Google Forms is perfect. For example, answers are case sensitive, so Kelly explained that in the instructions. If someone entered a wrong answer, this error message appeared: “Try again! Write in ALL CAPS with no punctuation.”
The Escape Room in Action
Errors like that weren’t a problem during the virtual campout, because Kelly herself typed the answers. She shared her screen on Zoom, had the Cub Scouts work together to come up with answers and then entered what they came up with.
“I think it’s something the older kids could have done on their own,” she says. “If you’re going to design something like that, you should probably have an adult handy who knows the answers.”
One of the biggest lessons Kelly learned along the way was the importance of having someone test your almost-finished product.
“Beta-test the heck out of it,” she says. “Ask other people to look at it.”
She also learned that kids’ online attention spans are short.
“If you’re going to create one, don’t make it too long, don’t make it too involved,” she says. “Whatever their normal attention span, divided it by four.”