Class notes: How-to

How to Problem-Solve as a Group

Dominic Luongo, BA ’05, Co-owner, Queen City Escape Room

Interview by Rebecca Rudell


Dominic Luongo, 34, has always loved games. When asked when his interest began, he says, “When did Tetris come out?” (The answer is 1984—when he was 2—so we imagine he probably started playing a few years later.)

As an adult, Luongo still loves games. His fiancée, Sara Manzella, is an avid gamer too. Among their favorites are virtual escape-room games, so when they discovered a live-action version in New York City, they were hooked. They started designing their vacations around escape rooms, visiting locations throughout North America. They eventually decided Buffalo needed one for itself, and opened Queen City Escape Room in November 2015.

An escape room is pretty much what you’d imagine it is. Participants—friends, co-workers, even strangers—are placed in a “locked” room together. Once the timer starts, the team has 60 minutes to solve puzzles that lead them to a special code, which opens the door. (Doors aren’t actually locked in case of an emergency.) It’s quite a challenge—only 40 percent of Queen City players make it out in time.

Luongo is intrigued by gamification—that is, making work fun by turning it into a game. “Playing a game dissolves the boring aspects of problem-solving, eliminates egos and even reveals things about people,” he says. “Like, who will take a leadership position? Will cliques form? Will some players hide information from others?”

Given his experience seeing teams of people escape—and others getting stuck—we asked Luongo for tips on how to work together toward a common goal.

Think out loud
Don’t keep ideas in your head—the more you share, the more you’ll solve. The only bad thought is the one you keep to yourself.

Pose questions
When you ask questions, you leave the forum open to problem-solve, rather than throwing out half-baked solutions that may lead to dead ends.

Know team members’ strengths (and weaknesses)
Everyone on the team has skills. Rely on the innate talents of each person, rather than wasting time making people do what may not be their strongest suit.

Be organized

If you have multiple problems to solve (or even multiple parts of one large problem), break them down and tackle them one at a time. As issues get worked out, place them on the “solved” list, then move on to the next one.

Divide and conquer

If you have enough teammates to do so, split up and work on multiple challenges simultaneously. Be sure to stick to your part, and don’t get distracted by what others are doing.