Escape the Museum: Curse of Hetepheres

Escape the Museum: Curse of Hetepheres is an experience created to introduce visitors to the Harvard Semitic Museum through a playful “escape the room” style game. Twelve teams of 3-5 players entered the museum and were greeted by a curator who revealed that the museum had been placed under a curse of a mummy found by the daughter of the museum’s founder. The teams had 1.5 hours to solve as many of the puzzles as possible to break the fictional curse of Hetepheres, an actual queen of Egypt. The puzzles were split evenly between the three galleries of the museum with staff on each floor to assist and act as gatekeepers to the curse-breaking pottery sherds. Each challenge used an object in the gallery as a basis for solving the puzzle. At the end of time limit, the whole group gathered to see if anyone had collected the proper pieces to complete the curse breaking pottery.

Group gathering to see if curse had been lifted
Sign advertising event

The project was created by a three-part team – Harvard Museums of Science and Culture (HMSC – ) public focused museum staff, Harvard Semitic Museum (HSM – ) curators and scholars, and Green Door Labs ( ). Key players include:

  • Green Door Labs’ Kellian Adams brought experience with both game design as well as a custom digital platform to link the puzzles together. She spearheaded the game design, storytelling arc and directions, and running the game itself.
  • Wendy Derjue-Holzer, HMSC’s education director, and members of the museum’s Undergraduate Student Advisory Board including Andrea Takantjas and Lily Lu initiated the project, managed the connection to the student audience, promoted it to the undergraduate community, and partially staffed the event. HMSC works in concert with collecting museums such as HSM to provide public-focused exhibits and experiences.
  • Harvard Semitic Museum Director and Professor of Egyptology Peter Der Manuelian supported the program through museum resources, key content pieces, and significant enthusiasm. Assistant Curator Adam Aja provided both museum background knowledge as well as outstanding acting skills as the cursed curator.


Four iterations of Escape the Museum: Curse of Hetepheres have been run, reaching approximately 190 Harvard undergraduate students. The experience has run twice on Sunday, April 15, 2018, and twice on Friday, September 21, 2018. Opportunities to offer the event in the future also exist. Each 90-minute experience has seen students run through a full range of emotions, from frustration to delight. Less than half the teams are able to complete the full challenge but when one team wins, the whole group celebrates the successful curse removal. Anecdotal evidence from participants indicated that the majority of the participants had never stepped foot inside the museum before. Others were students of Professor Manuelian in a general education class and were eager to introduce their friends to what they had been learning, though knowledge of Egyptology was not required to successfully complete the game. We look forward to running another edition of Escape the Museum: Curse of Hetepheres to introduce even more people to the Harvard Semitic Museum in a fun and playful way.

Sample view of puzzles in Edventure builder
Participants working with ceramics puzzle
Wall sculpture with marks noting puzzle solution