Lock yourself in a room with a few other people (sometimes strangers), with solving puzzles as your only means of escape. Sure. Why not.
What is an escape room?
For a few years now, I’ve been taking on the challenge of escape rooms. Sometimes referred to as “escape games”, the premise is that your goal is simply to get out. (And no, you can’t just break down the door. That takes all of the fun out of it.)
Typically a fictional scenario is developed, such as a prison cell or creepy cabin, which “sets the scene”. To enhance the need to get out ASAP, often elements such as a bomb timer or limited amount of air may be factored into the backstory. There are a series of puzzles and riddles that need to be solved to achieve success. Sometimes they are numerical, picture-based, involve symbols, or manipulating letters and words. Other puzzles are simply about finding hidden objects or noticing something obvious in the decor. Typically players are given an hour to “escape”.
My First Escape Room
I had tried out my hand at online escape games. While the puzzle solving was entertaining, the process wasn’t always intuitive. Sometimes just through dumb luck, incessant clicking, or Googling a game walk-through was I able to continue on. (How was I supposed to know that I needed to lift the floorboard that looks exactly like every other one?!)
Real escape games started to emerge after the multitude of online versions gained popularity. My first non-virtual escape room was with Amazing Escape in Princeton, NJ. We met up with some college friends and gave this thing a go.
The room was office-themed. Immediately, we all spread out and started looking for clues. Some of them were out in the open and easy to find. Others required a little more effort. It’s cool to experience the different methods people approach a puzzle. I may just be focusing on a color pattern while other player notices there’s a number pattern that can be entered into a combination lock. It’s also interesting how you automatically work with every other member of your team without organizing anything. And often someone who thinks they won’t be much help actually ends up playing a larger part than they anticipated (say, an art major solving a numerical problem where a majority of the team are engineers). Yes, we made it out of that room (thanks to the previously mentioned art major, Chrissy). And now we were hooked.
I won’t give any specific details about the room. The challenge of talking about escape rooms is that you can’t talk about escape rooms. You want to leave the mystery for others in case they give that room a try. What fun is it if you know everything that’s going to happen?
Often when starting the conversation with others about escape rooms, I’m asked a lot of the same questions.
How many escape rooms have you done?
This one is asked the most often. If our calculations are correct, we’re approaching the 25 rooms attempted mark. Matthew and I have spent a number of our anniversaries doing a series of 4-5 escape rooms in a day.
Did you get out?
Proudly, I can say I’ve escaped each of my attempted rooms. However, there’s a small asterisk next to one of my successes. Matthew and I solved every puzzle correctly, with a few minutes to spare, but didn’t know how to operate the door lock combination. In reality, we did everything correctly and would have walked out the exit door if it wasn’t for knowing we needed to press the logo button before entering the numerical passcode.
How many people were in the escape room with you?
I’ve done rooms with 9 people (including a toddler) and I’ve done rooms with just my husband, Matthew. We prefer smaller groups (2-6 people). This way you can be involved in a lot of the puzzle solving and don’t miss out on everything going on. We’ve only had two escape rooms where we were grouped with other people. The first time, the other players were great, but half of the room elements didn’t function properly. The second time we worked with others was with a group of 5 middle school-aged girls that made a lot of high-pitched screams. We left with headaches after that one.
How fast did you get out?
Our times vary by the room. Most of the time we fall between the 45-55 minute range. Other times we’ve barely escaped by the skin of our teeth.
What is your favorite escape room?
It’s hard to pick just one. And this answer changes as we continue to do more rooms. One of my personal favorites was the Ravenwood Grove room at Empire Rooms in Fairfield, NJ. A variety of puzzles, hidden elements, and plenty of steps to the process made this an awesome experience. Matthew and I are also fond of the rooms from Last Minute Escape. Well-executed puzzles and expertly designed rooms immerse the players right into their scenario.
What is your next escape room?
Who knows! We’re excited to try something new in the world of escape rooms. There are rooms where the group of players are split up into two separate rooms. There are rooms where the players are handcuffed to each other. There are rooms with an actor playing a zombie that you need to avoid. I’d definitely love to venture back to Empire Rooms to try out their Mad Hatter themed room as well!
Any suggestions for escape rooms I need to try? Do you have a favorite escape room experience? Let me know in the comments below!