Imagine: You’re locked in a room with no way out, and a small group of people are locked in with you. You are faced with a series of complex tasks, puzzles, and clues, all of which will lead you to a door that is your salvation. You have one hour to escape, or be locked away forever.

I have recently had the joy of experiencing two escape rooms. Both were vastly different experiences, and in one, my team narrowly missed escaping (we were about 5 minutes from solving the final clue when our time ran out), and in the other, my team narrowly escaped (we had about 25 seconds left on the clock when we found the last door and put in the code that opened it). Without giving too much away, I thought I’d share these experiences with you.

In my first escape room experience, we found ourselves recently deceased and at the gates to Heaven. St. Peter had stepped away from the gates, and we had one hour to rummage through the room and find evidence of our misdeeds in order to slip through the pearly gates and be allowed access into Heaven. The room was set up with a series of puzzles that needed to be solved (some were sequential, some were not) before the pearly gates would open, freeing us. There were word puzzles, logic puzzles, math puzzles, secret codes to decipher, and more. We did find the evidence of our misdeeds, and disposed of most of it, but our time ran out just when we realized that there was one final puzzle to solve, and that we weren’t free after all. We had so much fun, but we were all very disappointed that we didn’t escape in time. (Even the organizers were surprised we didn’t escape – they had been watching us throughout and had predicted early on that we would actually beat the course record.)

In my second escape room, we were a little better prepared. Three of us had participated in the first, and that gave us a slight edge – we knew, in some ways, what to expect. The room was different (very different), but having had the experience previously gave us a feel for the flow of the game. This room was titled “Glitch in the Matrix” and in some ways was much harder than the first. It has the lowest solve rate of all of the rooms at this particular escape room experience (#humblebrag). The room was a little mind-blowing. When you enter, you are completely taken by surprise. I won’t ruin it by telling how it was surprising, but suffice it to say, it was nothing like what any of us had expected. There were several chambers in this room and  you had to pass through each chamber to ultimately escape. The puzzles were hard, but we managed to crack the codes and freed ourselves with seconds to spare. It was great fun.

A few points of information about escape rooms:

  • No, you’re not really locked in. There’s one door that’s always unlocked, for safety and fire code reasons. People are welcome to step out to take a breather, use the restroom, or partake of the snacks in the lounge. In my first escape room, several people stepped out for various reasons, but in my second one nobody stepped out for any reason. I think this helped.
  • No, it’s not scary. It’s a little creepy (one escape room they offer is set up to resemble an abandoned asylum, for example), but never were we scared for our safety. There was one puzzle that we were a little nervous to solve, because it involved some blind faith in the organizers, but we sucked it up, and solved the puzzle. Nothing bad happened.
  • Are you in with strangers? Well, that’s a possibility. The rooms hold a maximum number of people, and if your group doesn’t buy out the tickets for a particular room, the company may sell tickets to the room to others, which means you could be working with strangers. It might be a disaster, but it might be amazing!
  • Don’t stop trying. Try everything. Try pushing, (gently) pulling, lifting, looking under. Don’t dismiss anything as unimportant. Nearly everything is a clue, and while there might be some red herrings, you can’t afford to ignore anything, at least not at first.
  • You don’t need anything with you except your brain. Some escape rooms allow cell phone usage for help on your puzzles, some do not. I don’t know of any escape rooms that allow photography or video inside the rooms – that’s just spoiling the surprises for anyone who comes after you. We frequently used our cell phones as flashlights, and in each room we looked up one puzzle – not that the answers to specific puzzles can be found on the internet, but you might look up a math formula, or the Greek alphabet, for example.
  • Work together. Teamwork is crucial. The quieter your room is (in terms of interacting with one another), the less likely you’ll escape.
  • If you have an idea, call it out, no matter how stupid or obvious you think it might be. Your teammates may be thinking of things differently, and you just might have the right idea.

In all, it was a fabulous experience. Highly recommended, 10/10, would do again. And again. And again. In fact, I’m already plotting when I can escape from the asylum.

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