Making of Uncle George’s Lost Tiki Cocktail Recipe

October 11, 2021


This is the second escape-room-in-a-box style game that I have made for my friends and family.

After some feed back that the theme of my first game, crotchety old-lady, was not actually a joyful topic, I went right for the heart of bliss this time: TIKI COCKTAIL BARS.

I wanted this game to be shorter and easier than my first one. No pencils required. I also wanted it to include everything possible that you would need to assemble a cocktail. Once again, an eccentric old relative has died, leaving you a mysterious puzzle.  I guess I like that set-up. I also used that for a surprise gift package for my brother in 2017.

I played a game called Witchery Spell and was captivated by how well it set a mood. During that game, you wind up playing spooky music recordings and lighting a candle over a ouija-like alter board that you build throughout the game. I wanted my Tiki game to also capture the mood of a relaxing, swanky Tiki Bar.

Don't read this post if you plan to play the game in the future, because their are spoilers!

Outer Components
  • I got the basket hamper at Odana Antiques. I was originally looking for a wooden box that would look like a small crate.  However, I just couldn’t find the right size anywhere online. Before I resorted to wood working, Jeremy and I went to the local antiques store and found lots of options. I also got the great garnish box there.
  • I selected the brown envelope with string closure from amazon, and the laser cut sign was made at Sector67.  I attached it with elastic cord so that it would hold the envelope.
  • My first test subject just removed the key from the envelope and didn’t even notice the letter, so I added a green ribbon flag.
  • The giant fish lock was added among the final things. I stumbled on it for sale on Amazon, and the price was just so low (<$20) that I couldn’t resist. I think it is helpful for keeping curious neighbors out the basket if it’s left on a doorstep.  It certainly ads from gravitas! I had one tester really struggle to get it open, which was not my intent. I enlarged the note on the keychain directing players to the EYE button.
Step One Components
  • The blank pink anodized aluminum tags came from Etsy and then were laser engraved by Chris at Sector67 (the shop was still closed for pandemic, so it was really nice of him to do that for me). I didn’t want their to be any ambiguity about the order that the containers needed to be opened, so I choose a matching tag system.
  • I originally was going to have just one candle that would be repeatedly re-lit.  But I realized that I couldn’t necessarily control if the hidden clue would be rehidden or not. It depends on how long the candle is lit. So, it was safest to use disposable tea candles so that it could be a fresh start for each player.
  • I bought 3 glass candle holders online before I finally got one that was the right size to hold a disposable tea light. I think that style of candle was not actually popular in the 1960s.
  • The candle is Coconut Cove Scent, by Shortie’s Candles
  • I bought Coco Fiber Mat to pad the delicate glass candle holder, and also to add some rustic-ness to the packaging. Both my Mom and Jeremy were convinced that people would light the coco fiber holder on fire, so you can thank them for that note instructing you not to do that.
  • I had to put a lock on the tools bag in order to force players to go to the website to play the music mix. The first time around, I just had the QR code on the box of matches, but it wasn’t strictly required to visit the site.  People didn’t visit the site! I really wanted them to play the music, so I added another lock and that 3D swivel lock image.
  • I made the STL of the lock with the 888 cut out in OpenSCAD, and then I generated the HTML to embed on the wordpress site at
  • The book of matches were a blank pack from Amazon that I stuck the printed labels on.
  • Labels were tricky. There are very few kraft-paper colored labels for sale. I tried two brands, and both of them (one and two)had the laser-printed ink fade off really quickly.  One of my early testers was unable to scan the QR code on the matches because it had faded so much already! I found a great solution: matte-spray finish. This stuff was a game changer for me.  It allowed me to use kraft-paper tags throughout the game.  I also tucked the QR code inside the box of matches, on white paper.  And I put a little rhyme on the outside to help people.  I have found that there is almost no such thing as making it TOO easy; they still get stuck.
  • Of my first 6 players, 2 of them were in locations where they didn’t feel comfortable lighting a candle. (In a sprinklered building with no-decorative candle policy and outside on a windy day). So, this seemed like a problem I needed to address.  I added a secret box with a note linking to a time lapse vide of the candle burning so that they could still appreciate the idea. I also put a small LED light in their so that they can still have their little candle.
  • The custom printed bar towel came from  I was ordering a big table cloth for myself, and since I was already paying shipping it was a small add on. It’s the same pattern I used for the background of the website, and shares elements with the blue dominoes. It is provided to add more bar-atmosphere, and also to wipe up any spills!
  • The gold jigger is from Amazon. There are not that many gold-colored jiggers out there. I really wanted to keep all the metals in the brass and gold color families.
  • The ½ cup measuring cup is just a plastic scoop that came with a bin of flour. One of my tested noted that it’s out-of-place ugliness was a weak spot in the game, so I’ve been looking for a replacement, but haven’t found anything yet.
  • The green reed mats were items I had around the house. I wanted the transform the players table surface into a Tiki Themed Bar.
  • I thought it would be delightful to include a bar snack as well.  A really good old bar will provide salty snacks. Finding the exact right size baskets was a challenge, and I have quite a few wrong-size baskets left over. The round basket came from Wish.
Step Two Components
  • I had googled, 'unusual locks for games' and found that the magnetic locks used to baby-proof kitchen cabinets were recommend. Indeed, the lock was surprisingly reliable and cheap.
  • Chris at Sector67 was kind enough to cut out the panels for the box that holds the glasses as well as the matching disk to go under the tiki totem (it was still when the makerspace was closed due to pandemic)
  • I hunted around the internet for a SMALL tiki totem so that it would fit in the packaging. Every tiki bar needs a totem statue.
  • I also had to hunt around for clear tiki glasses. Most are ceramic and opaque. But we needed to be able to see the color show. These glasses came in a really nice container, including black velvet foam, so I cut that up to reuse in my packaging.
Step Three Components
  • I sewed most of the fabric bags. I tried to order them online, but you had to order ~50, and I couldn't find all the sizes. In the end, I just bought the fabric at JoAnn's, which is shockingly expensive.
  • Originally, my informational tags throughout the game telling the user what to do at each step (ie, add 2 oz of Rum) were made of paper, with a beaded keychain on the corner so that it wouldn't get lost. However, the paper got crumpled easily, so once Sector67 was open to members again, I cut them all out of wood on the laser cutter. I have still had some trouble with the notes not being noticed, so now I have the rum note around the neck of the rum bottle by a chain.
  • I didn't want anyone to feel like they had to drink alcohol in order to play a game. Thus, it was important to include a non-alcoholic option. Seedlip was a perfect choice because the player still gets to add something to their glass at this step. The only issue is that it's quite acidic compared to rum, and also over twice the price! 😀
  • I discovered that there are essentially no letter-based combination locks on the market where all 26 letters are an option. The best I could do was this lock with 10 letters per wheel. I did not get to pick those letters, or the order that those wheels are in. I spent an entire evening trying to figure out the most tiki-themed word possible with my allowed letters. My second place option was SAND. I bought that lock on ebay because I wanted to be able to know what color I was getting.
List of failed word-lock codes
  • I tried to make as many of the puzzles as possible relate to parts of a cocktail bar. Coasters were an obvious choice. Also, I didn’t want to make a game without taking advantage of my vector design skills and the laser cutter. The first version of the coasters didn’t have the letters painted. But it seemed too tricky for my testers, so I added the bright green paint. Once again, the matte spray finish was key for sealing that paint on.
  • I didn't want ALL the pouches to be fabric, so I thought the coasters were a good chance to use another material. I found those colorful suede leather pouches for sale on Etsy. I thought the workmanship was excellent, and I hope they added a 'high quality' feel to this step.
Step Four Components
  • When inventing a color-change drink recipe, I had a number of choices for food-safe pH-sensitive dyes. I ordered and tested out Red Cabbage Powder, Red Radish Powder, and Blue Butterfly Pea Flower Powder. All were beautiful dyes, with great color changes. However, I thought the Red Cabbage was the most extreme of a color change. It was the change it’s self I was interested in, not really the particular start or end color. I also figured out quickly that rum doesn’t seem to contain that many ions at all, so it was easiest to get the pH down. (once mixers are added, it’s very acidic). Hence adding the dye directly to the booze.
  • Having a puzzle based on a lei necklace was one of my first ideas. I wanted a natural color lei to go with my particular type of tiki theme. I had a cheap white lie at home from a big family vacation  trip with my in-laws. All I needed was some Kukui Nuts. I found this kukui nut lei necklace on amazon and restrung it at home. In order to get the ribbon through the hollow nuts, I used a stringing tool that my friend made in order to construct his mask fitters.
  • I thought those little glass vials were so cute.  I really like small containers. But, on my 8th test subject, the powder started to clump together in the little vials. I think it just took a while for this reaction to happen. So, I added in some food-grade Microcrystalline Cellulose, and I hope that will help going forward.
Step Five Components
  • In Witchery Spell, there a little chemical reaction where absorbency powder absorbs water, making a gel substance.  It was cool, but I saw room for improvement. I had also tasted Empress Gin, which includes Pea Flower Extract, a PH sensitive, edible dye. It goes from purple to pink when you add anything acidic to your cocktail.  And basically, everything we drink is at least somewhat acidic. There are no alkaline drinks. (That diet fad is using that term in a non-chemistry way.). In order to make my color-change more extreme, I wanted an alkaline environment. At first I tried using baking powder, but it’s not water soluble enough. It’s slow, and weak. So, why not lye? NaOH is our go-to base in the lab when we need to get the pH down. It’s a little scary for people, but this is a game.  Maybe some fear is a good thing? I got some food-grade lye on amazon, and made it into a solution. I found out that using tap water makes some of the salts drop out, which looks bad. I considered mixing this powder in with the dye, but more color changes seemed more better!
  • In a blind taste test, my husband preferred the Calamansi juice cocktail with lye added.  It reduces the acidity some (it still has a pH way below 7). I wonder if NaOH should be considered as an ingredient in more cocktails... Currently, I think it’s quite common to try and cover acidity with sugar.  That’s fine, but not everyone like super sweet drinks. A pinch of base is a good alternate tool to have.
  • I did not sew this pouch. It was in my gift-wrap supply bin, but I think it's actually too small for a bottle of wine. This was the one step that really had no puzzle. I didn't want the game to get too long, and adding lye to a drink seemed taxing enough on my players.
Step Six Components
  • As you can imagine, there was A LOT of testing to develop this cocktail recipe. All of the ingredients had to be non-perishable items that I would be able to package in small ‘single serve’ containers. At first, I thought that it would involved coconut milk for sure, because it comes in small cans.  However, there was just something kind of gross about scoping that goop out of a can. I think you really need a blender for those drinks. I also tried soursop juice. I had tasted soursop juice in Costa Rica and just loved it. However, every form of that product I could get online here in Wisconsin was super super sweet.  Even the ‘no sugar added’ products had so much sweetener that the interesting taste of soursop was lost. Woodmans grocery store to the rescue! I crushed around the aisles just picking up random juices that came in modest-sized, non-refrigerated containers. I had never heard of Calamansi Juice, it was just another can amongst the cart of juices. It was great tasting!  It’s quite strongly tart, like lemon or lime juice. At first I thought we would need to temper it with another more mild juice. But then the role of NaOH became clear.
  • We completely bought out Woodman's supply of Calamansi juice multiple times while developing the recipe. They only had a few cans at first, and they looked kind of old and dusty. Now, Woodmans has a larger supply of this juice, and even started stocking it in the refrigerators! Once we were done working out the recipe, our consumption of this juice went way down, and I'm worried Woodman's will have to change their stocking.
  • The first game I made, (Aunt Edna) had a dominos step where you arranged the little pieces to spell out words. I had purchased those blue dominoes in bulk, so this was another chance to use them. I had played a game called Exit Sunken Treasure that used a similar idea of having little pieces form the shape of a number when they are laid out. It’s probably the most traditional puzzle in this game. I used my graphic design skills along with some inspiration from my subscription to Noun Project to make a fruit image at every domino intersection. I printed all the stickers on one sheet and stuck the dominoes down in the shape of the letters. Then I used an exacto knife to cut out the dominos from the sticker sheet. That was the only way to really get the edge-to-edge alignment of the stickers correct.  I was worried that people wouldn’t realize they should treat each color of domino separately, but that actually seems to have worked just fine. It’s hard to guess what parts are easy or hard until you try it out on test subjects.
  • I knew I wanted to include a coconut container in this game. I found that purses were the most readily available item. I thought it might have to be locked at first, so I got one with holes in the zipper tabs, but in the end I wound up putting the un-locked dominoes in there.
  • The mini treasure chest came from amazon, but I had to replace the clasp in order to make it lockable. It was a little tricky because the hardware was SO TINY. Chris at Sector helped me with that. The colors were painted on to the little black combination lock on with posca paint pens, which are a great, long-lasting product.
Step Seven Components

Ice was one drink component that I was never going to be able to include inside the kit. I looked up riddles about ice, and I thought this one was the best. I got the collapsible ice scooper at Woodmans (in order to save space).

Step Eight Components
  • Bitters were an obvious ingredient for any Tiki drink. I felt like I already more than enough locking compartments, so I needed a puzzle that was about something else. So, I decided on a riddle about how much of the ingredient to add. I hope this game doesn't have too many riddles. The actual amount of bitters you add doesn't matter that much. We went with Twelve because it doesn't have any other numbers with rhyme with it (well, until 112).
  • I had to find a smaller eye dropper bottle than what it came in so that it would all fit. I wove the netting around it while on family zoom call in order to give it an island-look. The snap-top wooden box and confetti were in my gift-wrapping supplies, left over from previous presents.
Step Nine Components
  • Garnishes are critical for a tiki drink! It was hard to find acceptable materials that were non-perishable. I really needed something green. I stumbled on the fake leaves that they put under sashimi when you get cheap sushi. I used hot glue to glue them to biodegradable straws.
  • I also stumbled upon the butterflies, and I thought those looked really nice and were inherently non-perishable.
  • Dried fruit seemed like a good way to have an edible garnish that was still non-perishable. So I stuck some on a BBQ skewer.
  • When searching for different types of locks, I saw the directional lock. I liked the idea, but it's a really large lock. In order to make it fit on a box, I had to use a adaptor-string. At first, I used some twine, but it would get caught in the lock, so eventually I got this replacement purse strap. It's still a little janky. The part of the directional lock that I don't like is that it's basic use isn't obvious. I had to add that note on the back of the lock explaining how it works. After my forth testers tried it, I could never get the lock to open again. I'm not sure what happened. I had to use a bolt cutter to cut it off and then order a new one. I hope it doesn't happen again.
  • I needed some way to tell the player to connect the lit candle from step one with the directional lock. I was going to do another paper note, but there was actually quite a bit of text needed, and because of the janky chain set-up, I thought it would take some abuse being put in- and out of the hamper. So, I found the little brass pill bottle container. It's a little weird, and maybe not a perfect fit for the game. But I hope finding the twist-off side/s to that container is a small discovery.
  • The black wooden box came from Odana Antiques, complete with the hasp. Not sure what it was used for before.
  • I wanted to test the players comprehension of the whole story, so I added a short 'quiz' at the end. I used the HD Quiz Plugin for WordPress, and paid the small fee for the styling upgrade.
  • I designed the leaves-parting animation in Adobe Animate. The rest of the website pages were put together using Brizy.

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