Could You Survive In A Sealed Escape Room?

2022.05.12.

It seems to be a staple on the menu of virtually every escape room game where you trapped somewhere, and the air will run out within 60 minutes, unless you manage to escape. This can be escaping from a submarine or if you're locked in the safe room of a house. Or even as a crew member of a space station which is slowly leaking oxygen. We would suggest that this premise is so familiar that almost every escape room player knows the drill. Still, it's an interesting premise in itseIf. Especially if we want to take it to its morbid conclusion. Just how long could you actually survived in a sealed room? Well today let's have a look at the science and some numbers.

How Many People Are Trapped?

On the whole, when people are playing an escape room game, they're doing so as part of a team. So you'll rarely going to be alone. But the more people you have using up oxygen, then the less the time you'll all have to live. Now we could start by saying that you’ll have just one other person sharing the escape room with you. Obviously a small child or your elderly grandma are going to consume oxygen at quite different rates. But at the same time, it’s probably better that you absolutely maximize your chances of escaping by having more people present. After all, more brains to solve the puzzles is going to improve your chances of escaping faster. So, for the sake of this example, let’s say that you’ve invited 9 friends to play. Meaning that there are 10 of you slowly suffocating in the room.

The Escape Room Size

Obviously, the size of the room and the number of cubic meters of breathable air it can hold are an important part of our equation. Let's assumed that for all ten players to be comfortable, the room measures 3m by 4m, with a ceiling height of 2.5m. This gives us a total room volume of 30 cubic meters. To be more accurate we have to assume that an average person has a volume of 0.1 cubic meters. As there are 10 of us, then we should minus 1 meter cubed. So that leaves us as 29 cubic meters of air once everyone is crammed in the room together.

How Much Oxygen In The Room?

The actual quantity of oxygen and breathable air within the room is going to be very dependent on where you are in the world, as well as at what altitude. So as to make our calculations easier, we're going to assume that the average percentage of oxygen is 21%. Now in our room of 29,000 cubic meters of air, we can see that 6,090 of these will be oxygen. If we can note just how much a relaxed person consumes over 24 hour period, we can say that they will use 550 L of oxygen per day.

Here Comes The Math

There’s a common formula you can use for this: (total oxygen consumption rate) = (volume of oxygen consumed) / (total time elapsed)

Or to get more technical…

nC = {Vr – nVp}{Li – Lf}/t

Where:

t = time lapsed from initial time to time of loss of consciousness (s)

Vr = volume of enclosure (m3)

Vp = volume of a person (about 0.1 m3)

Li = initial oxygen concentration (21% or 0.21)

Lf = final oxygen concentration (12% or 0.12)

n = number of people in enclosure

C = per capita rate of oxygen consumption (3.33 10-6 m3 s-1)

And Now With Less Numbers

I fit was a single escape room, then things aren't looking so bad for your team of 10 players. After all, they have 24 hours before they run out of oxygen. But we should remember that many people will pass out once the oxygen level reaches less than 10%. From this we can assume that the players have around 21 hours and 41 minutes to solve the problem of the leaking spacecraft or sinking submarine.

The Unseen problem Of Carbon Dioxide

Unfortunately it's not enough to just look at the oxygen content of the air. Obviously as players breathe out, they are using the oxygen just to stay alive. But at the same time, they are producing more carbon dioxide. You should keep in mind that the carbon dioxide levels will kill the team players well before the low oxygen levels will. Looking into this in more detail, we can see that with each breath we will breath in 0.04% of carbon dioxide, yet exhale 4%. As you're probably aware, carbon dioxide is poisonous. As soon as the air in the room reaches a 4% carbon dioxide limit, then our players are going to be in deep doo-doo. So in spite of saying that they have enough oxygen for 21 hours, the truth of the matter is that the 4% carbon dioxide level will be reached in just 2 and 1/2 hours. That's quite a sobering change!

Whatever You Do, Don’t Panic!

With assumptions being the mother of all problems, it's easy to see that our calculations are still going to be a long way off. That's because we're assuming that these 10 people are relaxed and standing nearly perfectly still. But as you well know, after playing an escape room game yourself, no one stays still for even one second. If you're all trapped in a room facing certain death as the clock ticks down to their time limit, then everyone would be rushing around like crazy. If you consider that, with the carbon dioxide levels rising, you only have 2.5 hours to escape, then you can see that many players would actually be in some form of panic mode. This would deplete the oxygen levels much faster, as well as increasing the levels of carbon dioxide to fatal levels. In the scenario of blind panic, then after just a couple of minutes, the players would start to feel a headache. Once an hour has passed they will feel weak at the knees, clammy and nauseous. At around the 2 hour mark, the players will become exhausted. Just half an hour later, and everyone will be passed out.

The Final Answer Is Not Good

Probably the most realistic answer to such a dire scenario is that 10 players could last around 2.5 hours in a small escape room. Keep in mind that the players will die of carbon dioxide poisoning well before they actually run out of oxygen. So the next time you find yourself trapped in a sunken submarine or onboard a space station that's slowly leaking oxygen, then we suggest you try and make your escape as quick as possible. But keep in mind that you can live longer if there are less other players. In which case you should start looking for a weaponised heavy object or a knife!
 

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