The Birthday Squishmallow Escape Room

We recently celebrated my daughter's 9 year old birthday party by having a group of her school friends come over to her house. She wanted a Squishmallow theme and an Escape Room activity as part of the party. While my wife took on most of the party planning load and really knocked it out of the park, I decided to build out the Escape Room activity.

If you are not yet familiar with them, Squishmallows are a current toy craze. Basically a round cozy stuffed animal that comes in hundreds of sizes and varieties.

I began by asking ChatGPT for ideas for a 9 year old's Squishmallow party with an Escape Room to get some ideas flowing.

With some follow-up questions, I got a few ideas from the response and in addition to doing some googling around birthday party escape room concepts had a list of ideas.

I decided there would be a bunch of Squishmallows that had gone missing and our party guests/adventures would be tasked to find and save them. It would follow a treasure hunt format with a series of puzzles that reveal a clue as to where the next puzzle was located. At each location would be a few sentences progressing a story. At the end would be a box of mini Squishmallows that each guest could then get to keep as a take home party favor.

Puzzle #1 - Word Search

Welcome to the land of Squishmallows, adventurers! Please help us - there is an emergency! The Squishmallows have all gone missing and the only thing here is a mysterious puzzle… Will you help find the Squishmallows, adventurers?!

To begin the hunt I created a hidden message in a Word Search puzzle. The ideas is that the kids needed to find a list of words and any remaining letters would spell out where to look next. I tried several online tools to generate those and finally found the fantastic Word Search Maker. This tool let me type in a set of words around the party theme including my daughter's favorite Squishmallow characters. Most importantly the tool lets you edit the letters after the puzzle is generated so for each letter that was not used by my word list I spelled out: "LOOK UNDER THE TABLE".

Finally, to make it a little more fun, I asked Midjourney for a fun background:

squishmallow decorations for party paper --tile

None of the result looked exactly like squishmallows, but one was close enough and had the right happy party vibe.

After throwing it together with the puzzle in Photoshop I got the final result:

Puzzle #2 - Transmission Decoder

Taped under the table I placed a note:

You have proven yourselves as noble adventurers and have earned your next clue! Hurry, the Squishmallows need your help!

You will “piece together” your next clue on the... XZ9PS9=Q ]YZZ...

...transmission garbled.. Find the transmitter to decode message...

Next to our playroom door (within sight of the kitchen table) I taped a sign "Transmitter Room".

For the transmitter room I decided to build an interactive puzzle on the computer. I created a bare bones web page that I pre-loaded and left on the laptop sitting on a table in the room. The webpage just said "Transmitter Decoder" with a message "waiting key input..."

I coded up some Javascript so that if the kids pressed one of the letters in the garbled part of the message an object in the room would flash up for half a second.. For example if they typed "X" the screen would display "Blue Block" very briefly and then disappear. If they pressed a key not contained in the message, the screen would print a random string of 32 characters. The kids would then need to go find a blue block somewhere in the room and attached to it would be the correct letter to replace that character of the message.

The page was fun to write, I asked ChatGPT to code it for me and that gave me a boilerplate to quickly start from. All of my work was then finding and applying a fun Google Font (Press Start 2P), styling the layout, and finding enough hiding spots to use.

I also asked ChatGPT to code up a flicker effect so tweaking what it gave me I added a visual effect that made the web page flicker very quickly on and off a few times every 7 seconds to give it a glitching out feel.

I really wanted to add some sci-fi themed sound effects but just ran out of time for that!

After finding all the letters around the room, the kids were able to complete the garbled transmission.. "CLIMBING WALL"...

Puzzle #3 - A Puzzle

We have a simple climbing wall down in our basement so I hid 16 puzzle pieces in the holds across the wall.. The kids had to find all the pieces and assemble the puzzle to get their next clue.

To create the jigsaw puzzle, I at first tried asking Midjourney for a collage of squishmallows but wasn't getting results that looked close enough. A quick google image search though and I found exactly what I was looking for.

I also googled a 4x4 puzzle template and combined it with the image in Photoshop, printed it out and cut out all the pieces.. Following the puzzle lines with a scissors was by far the most difficult task of this whole project.

After assembling the pieces, the next clue was revealed: "Look for your next clues in a pool that is full but not of water".

Puzzle #4 - The Emoji Cipher

We have an old plastic kiddie pool filled with colored plastic balls in our basement.. Hidden under those balls was cipher message where each character was replaced with an emoji, and a message:

You have come so far adventurers! I sense the Squishmallows are getting ever closer!

But can you find the Secret Decoder and figure out the secret cipher to continue your quest?!

But where could it be?? I wish I could be more helpful, but I feel as useful as a BRICK WALL.

We also have stored in our basement a pile of cardboard bricks and between two of those bricks I hid the solution key showing what each emoji translates to.

Solving that cipher produced: "LOOK IN THE BACKYARD"

Puzzle #5 - Math Problems

Hurry Adventurers before it is too late! Solve these mysteries and you will be heroes!!

For the final puzzle I hid a set of basic arithmetic math problems on the back patio. At the bottom of the page was a collection of numbers mapping to words and as they solved each math equation the final clue was revealed.. "GO TO THE KITCHEN ISLAND"


Waiting at the end was a congratulatory message and a box of mini squishmallows for everybody to take home.

This project was a blast and appeared to be a big hit with the kids. Some of the kids really liked solving ciphers. They got through the whole thing in about 35 minutes. Was probably even more fun for me though to build and watch :)