Excel Breakout Puzzles!

Are you aware of the Escape Room trend, or the similar breakout logic puzzles that teachers use in classrooms? Here is the basic idea of the escape room. You and some friends or colleagues go to a company that has created an escape room. Like, in the real world, physically, you go to a place.

Each escape room typically has a theme, like an apartment, library, or bank vault, and is decorated accordingly. You get locked into the room, and the timer starts. Before the timer goes off, you must gather clues and solve puzzles to obtain the code to the lock in order to leave the room, or escape. There are typically several codes and padlocks. So, you look around the room, and solve a puzzle to get a code. You enter the code into a padlock on a drawer, small safe, or lockbox, to open it. Inside, you’ll find clues that help you get the next code, which opens another lockbox, and so on, until you ultimately figure out the code that allows you to escape the room. It is totally fun, and my family loves these (photo of me and my son Jason after breaking out of a room).

A similar version is played in schools as well, typically in math or STEM classes. The teacher will create breakout puzzles around the classroom. Students must find clues to figure out the codes. Entering the correct code unlocks a box. The puzzles require a bit of math and logic to get the code. It is a great learning activity, and helps the students stay engaged and have a bit of fun while applying what they learned.

Well, I was telling my son, Jason, that I wanted to create something similar for my Excel courses. So, I’ve created a bunch of Excel Breakout Puzzles…how fun is that! You must use the Excel skills presented in the course to solve the puzzle and enter the code. Basically, I hide the code somewhere in the Excel workbook, and you have to use what you learned to reveal the code.

These Excel breakout puzzles are debuted in the Excel University Graduate Certification program. I’ll send along more information about the certification program in my next blog post.

But, in the meantime, I wanted to give you an idea of what one of my Excel breakout puzzles is like, so, I figured I’d give one to you now.

Want to play?

Download the Excel file below, and see if you can find the 4-digit numeric code I’ve hidden in the workbook. If you figure out the code, enter it into the comments below.

Excel Breakout Puzzle Workbook.xlsx

Hope you have fun!


Solution Video

Here is a video that walks through the solution to the Excel breakout puzzle.


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Jeff Lenning

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  1. Laszlo Sandor on July 27, 2017 at 3:18 am

    Nice puzzle, thanks! 1021

  2. Laszlo Sandor on July 27, 2017 at 3:21 am

    Will develop it further definitely – you may have initiated an excel-breakout trend 🙂

    • Jeff Lenning on July 27, 2017 at 3:36 am

      I hope so… I think they are a fun learning activity 🙂

  3. SABRINA on July 27, 2017 at 3:59 am


  4. Willijan on July 27, 2017 at 4:26 am


  5. Matt on July 27, 2017 at 5:01 am


  6. Christopher Migala on July 27, 2017 at 5:15 am


  7. Jason Snowden on July 27, 2017 at 5:40 am


  8. Victoria Lenhardt on July 27, 2017 at 5:41 am

    That was fun. The code is 1021.

  9. Robyn Fain on July 27, 2017 at 6:21 am


  10. Jenny on July 27, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I guess I thought about it a little too hard. I didn’t expect to just look at the 5 and copy the letters.

    • Jeff Lenning on July 27, 2017 at 6:50 am

      Hi Jenny! This first breakout puzzle was an easy skill level, just to get started. But, don’t worry, I have others that are more complex 🙂

    • Li on July 27, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Me too! I thought the order matters, and was trying to find clues how to arrange the 5 letters…

      • Jeff Lenning on July 27, 2017 at 10:30 am

        Ah, yes…I just wanted to use an easy starter puzzle for the intro 🙂

      • Ronak Mehta on December 30, 2019 at 5:46 am

        Did you mean to have a total of 8 #7 digits in your example? I did a countif on the number of digits and clearly over complicated the question by focusing on that. But if that wasn’t an intentional red herring, you may want to correct the count of the #7 digits to save any future over thinkers from going insane for 5 mins. 🙂

        Nice use of conditional formatting too.

  11. Melinda Evans on July 27, 2017 at 6:53 am


  12. Deborah Hall on July 27, 2017 at 7:38 am


  13. Myla on July 27, 2017 at 7:47 am


  14. Kathleen Shannon on July 27, 2017 at 8:09 am

    1021 is the code

  15. Adina on July 27, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Really fun….I enjoy these kind of problems !
    Thank you

  16. Eric on July 27, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Fun, you should have scrambled up the numbers. This would lead you to want to filter or sort the data. Otherwise, why not scroll down to the 5 and copy and paste without even adding filters.

    • Jeff Lenning on July 27, 2017 at 10:45 am

      Ah, yes…that would have been better 🙂

  17. Meri on July 27, 2017 at 10:46 am


  18. Holly on July 27, 2017 at 12:19 pm


  19. Gail on July 27, 2017 at 1:34 pm


  20. Barry Thistlethwaite on July 27, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    It took me a while because it was so simple! 1021

  21. Joan Hauff on July 31, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    That was fun. I also learned from your solution video that data doesn’t have to start in Row 1 or Row 2 (with heading) to be filtered. I had always removed miscellaneous rows and columns before filtering. Fun + learning = a great day :).

  22. gordon on August 10, 2017 at 12:56 am

    the code is 1021!

  23. Farooq Baddi on August 19, 2017 at 5:08 am

    Nice puzzle, to figure out the solution video. Was using countif function instead of filter, hence failed.
    Unique use of conditional formatting, thoroughly enjoyed.
    All The Best!


    • Jeff Lenning on August 19, 2017 at 5:36 am

      Thanks 🙂

  24. Adrian Cristea on August 22, 2017 at 2:02 am

    Absolutely brilliant, loved it. Me too, as others, was thinking too hard when the solution was simple. But nonetheless, once I realised it was a wow moment. Cheers, Jeff!

  25. takbir bhuiya on February 11, 2019 at 6:29 am

    1021…. thanks….. for the nice riddle….

  26. Garlak on August 1, 2020 at 9:28 am

    How did you create the step 2 sheet? I notice it is not case sensitive as well as I can type the 5 letter code in lower or upper case and the letter gets selected in the jumbled letters table below.

  27. niall Brabazon on February 9, 2021 at 8:54 am

    1021…thanks you. Looks like great fun

  28. David McKinney on December 7, 2022 at 9:58 am

    Hate to be “that guy”…..but a “key made up of 5 letters” cannot be a “5-digit key”. Digits are not letters and vice versa.

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