stylised image of a cell produced by AI

February 2, 2023, by Helen Whitehead

Using the ChatGPT AI to create an escape game to support student learning

One way to engage students in their learning – in the sense of motivating them by providing varied and enjoyable activities – is to create an escape game. This can consolidate learning as well as providing a way to check learning as a kind of formative assessment.  Providing puzzles that rely on applying the knowledge that students have acquired about the topic can be very effective.

Lecturers and teachers don’t always find this easy, though. Not everyone is good at creating such puzzles. I have been experimenting with using AI to help create puzzles for a topic. I used ChatGPT, but you could also try other AI engines.

I asked ChatGPT to create puzzles for an escape game themed around the Krebs Cycle (citric acid cycle or TCA cycle). This is a sequence of chemical reactions, in mitochondria, by which most living cells generate energy during the process of aerobic respiration.

I asked ChatGPT “Write three puzzles for an escape game with a theme of the Krebs cycle to help students consolidate their learning”.

Riddle me AI?

First, it generated a riddle – which was dire – and actually contained the answer. I asked it to rewrite, without the answer in it, and the result was still far from perfect, but much better.

“I am the cycle that powers all living things,
I turn food into energy with my rings.
My first step starts with a burning desire,
A molecule sets my entire pyre.
I break it down, releasing energy and a gas,
And then I use that energy to build new mass.
I go round and round, never stopping my flow,
What am I?”

While a riddle about the actual subject of the game is rather too obvious, it gave me the idea to write riddle-type clues for the components of the cycle. I could ask ChatGPT to start me off with some of those:

“I am the starting point of a cycle,
The fuel that powers all life.
I am produced when glucose is broken down…”

It gave me puzzles based on a Scavenger Hunt and on a circuit board, neither of which really worked for my purposes. But it did suggest a jigsaw: I think a workable puzzle could be something involving the Krebs Cycle diagram broken up in a form in which the students would have to put together.


ChatGPT also offered me a puzzle using anagrams, but it has to be said, that its suggested anagrams do not necessarily work!

“Here are three anagrams for the terms ACETYL-COA, CARBON DIOXIDE, and ADENOSINE TRIPHOSPHATE:

ChatGPT's Bad Anagrams

In none of these puzzles is there really an answer in the form of a code or password which could be used to open a padlock or be entered into a computer (though they could be adapted to end up with that), so I asked: “Can you use a definition of the Krebs cycle as a basis for a puzzle involving finding a four digit code?”

It offered me a definition and suggested: “To solve this puzzle, players will need to look for numbers hidden within the definition by replacing certain letters with digits. For example, the letter “A” could be replaced with the number “4,” the letter “E” could be replaced with the number “3,” and so on. Once players have identified all of the numbers hidden in the definition, they can use them to form the four-digit code …” Now that’s a puzzle that could definitely work.

Steps in the cycle

My favourite puzzle was probably this one:

“Puzzle 3: The Krebs Cycle Code

“To solve this puzzle, players will need to study the steps of the Krebs cycle and use that knowledge to deduce the correct combination for the lock. For example, the combination could be based on the order of the steps in the cycle, or it could be based on the number of atoms or molecules involved in each step.”

With some adaptation I could come up with a straightforward ordering puzzle that requires students to put the elements of the cycle in the correct order. With a letter or number on each element, this would then reveal the correct sequence for a lock combination or password.

I should add that I’m a terrible typist, and gave it a number of typos, including “Kreb cycle” “studnet” and “defnition” none of which impeded ChatGPT’s ability to understand what I was asking, so points to it for that!

Posted in Learning designStudent engagementWeb-based resources