Murder mystery in a box

Student Maiko van Putten makes murder mysteries in wooden boxes. His ingenious escape room puzzles are extremely popular, especially in Japan. ‘Redlocked Puzzles’, the company he set up for a minor, is serious business.

Maiko leans back in his chair and turns the gears of a small wooden box. In the background you can hear the screeching of saws and laser cutters. “This is one of the first puzzles I made,” says the third-year Industrial Design Engineering student proudly as he opens the box. A small wooden maze of keys and slides appears on the inside. In 2021, Maiko designed his first puzzle, he has now sold more than two thousand puzzles and more than 150.000 parts have passed through his hands.

Small escape room

“This opens the puzzle,” says Maiko as he takes a wooden key from the box. “Think of it as a small escape room. Only the goal is not to escape, but to get to the inside of the box.” The box has three parts. Once you have cracked the codes on the front and back of the puzzle, the box will open and you will find new clues inside, which will help you progress until you have also solved the inner part of the puzzle.

The puzzle follows the storyline of a murder mystery. Clues lead to videos that decipher the murder piece by piece. Based on the videos, the player finds codes with which he can, among other things, open the combination locks of the puzzle. For those who have cracked the first puzzle box, a continuation of the story awaits in a second puzzle box. Are you curious how the story ends? Then you have to buy a new puzzle. “That keeps it exciting and works great from a marketing perspective,” says Maiko. He is currently working on a second puzzle.

Trial and error

“I started with barely any money,” laughs Maiko. “In the beginning I didn’t have a coin in my pocket. I used the laser cutters at school and occasionally received some wood from teachers.” It took a while for Maiko to find his way. “I’m quite chaotic, so everything went wrong in the beginning. It took me six months to make my first puzzle and it immediately fell apart.” After a lot of trial and error, I managed to create sturdy and working puzzles. But they weren’t nearly good enough to sell. They were still covered in burn marks from the laser cutter. Maiko points to black marks on the light wood inside the puzzle. In the meantime, he knows which materials and techniques to use to make a salable puzzle.

Big in Japan

Maiko beams when he talks about his first sale. “It was four o’clock at night when I put the first puzzles online. With a beer in hand, I stayed awake to see what happened. At a quarter past six that morning the first sale was made. That was a really cool moment!”

It didn’t take long before a Japanese company showed interest. Few people in the Netherlands know about escape room boxes, but they are extremely popular in Asia. “I sold pallets full of puzzles to the Japanese company. It suddenly happened very quickly. The small company I once set up for a minor started to become a serious business.”

Maiko now not only makes puzzles, he also has a laser cutting company: 123-laser. He also sells wooden charcuterie boards and coasters with his company ‘Lila’. Friends and acquaintances help him with this. “We are receiving increasingly larger orders. Some time ago we made training kits for the National Police for anti-stalking training. That was a really cool thing to do. We also make attributes for escape rooms, for example. Think of wooden letters and boxes.”


“As a child I wanted to be famous,” laughs Maiko. He started a musical education, but ultimately decided that it did not suit him. “I wanted to do something with better job opportunities and more freedom.” That is why he switched to Industrial Design Engineering at Windesheim. In the meantime, he tried many jobs, of which testing escape rooms was by far the most fun. But he preferred to be in control himself. “I was extremely motivated to get started and come up with my own mysteries.”

How Maiko combines his studies with his companies? “Not,” he laughs. “That’s really difficult. My work is my priority now. I am doing my internship at my own company, so I do get credits for what I do, but it takes a lot of work to complete everything for my studies. That doesn’t always work out well either.”

A real escape room

Once Maiko has his diploma, he wants to fully focus on his companies. It gives him energy when people are happy with something he made himself. “It’s wonderful to come up with traps to mislead people. When they find out that they have fallen into a trap, their world is turned upside down for a moment.”

In the future, Maiko wants to use these traps on a larger scale. “My dream is to build a real escape room, but at the highest level. I immediately want to create one of the best in the Netherlands. I am already carefully working on this behind the scenes.”

Text: Yara Mellink
Photos: Herman Engbers

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