The Lowdown on Locks

For brand new escape room owners it can be tough to know where to start with room design. Before jumping into to high tech puzzles, it might be wise to start with the basics.

The vast majority of escape rooms rely on locks. Fortunately, locks go way beyond the one from your school locker. Below are some of the different locks you can incorporate into your escape room and how they work:

Key Locks. These locks are exactly what the name implies—they require a physical key to disengage the locking mechanism. Key locks are a great way to make players search your escape room thoroughly, because you can hide small keys almost anywhere. One of my favorites was using a magnet to fish the key out of a fish tank!


School Locks. As you will remember from your school days, these locks require you to spin the center dial around and stop on the appropriate number. They typically have three-digit codes and require you to spin the dial in clockwise and counterclockwise. These types of locks are commonly used in escape rooms, for various types of three-digit combinations.


Number Combination Locks. These combo locks require players to input a series of numbers in the correct sequence before the lock will open. Combination locks work for a variety of puzzles. One of my favorite puzzles used a poem with numbers hidden inside—-One (1) girl ate (8) an apple, but her friend wanted some too (2).


Letter Combination Locks. These combo locks require players to input a series of letters, or in most cases a word, to open the lock. Many escape room puzzles include anagrams or hidden words, and players need to find the word with the correct number of letters.


Colored Combination Locks. These combo locks have a different color for each number that needs to be entered. They are perfect for color-pattern puzzles or ones that require players need to count the number of colored objects. For example, their search of the room may end up with players finding 3 bananas, 5 apples, 1 blueberry, and 7 green grapes.


Directional Locks. These locks open once you have pushed the center dial in the right series of up/down/left/right directions. They are commonly used in conjunction with map puzzles. For example a traveling West, East, South, South, West would force players to move the dial left, right, down, down, and left.


Electronic Combination Locks. These locks require you to enter the correct code into an electronic keypad. Many of these locks are designed to lock you out for a period of time if you input too many incorrect codes.



Decorative Locks. Most decorative/themed locks use a simple key mechanism. The old fashioned styles or shapes can enhance the immersive experience of your escape room. For example, a medieval lock would look much better in a castle-themed room than one from a school locker.


  • Ed Owen

    August 23, 2018

    Nice article. I’ve been a locksmith for thirty years and have worked on everything under the sun. Two cautions I would offer: 1. Most padlocks use keys made of brass which is a non-ferrous metal. That’s a fancy way of saying they won’t stick to a magnet. If you want to fish it out with a magnet, make sure you put it on a small metal ring. BTW, stainless steel is also non magnetic.
    2. Try not to have too many of the same type of lock. It gets very boring especially for more experienced players.

    Here’s a cool slide bolt I found on Amazon: Combi-Bolt CB2000-CHR 4-Dial Combination Sliding Bolt Latch With Chrome Finish

    I already have a place for it in the room I’m designing.


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