We’d never done an escape room before. But we are so ready. We have a passing acquaintance with morse code, we’ve bought a book on number puzzles (unread) and we’ve seen the whole of Cube, except for the scary bits where we merely listened.
Stood in the Cluequest waiting room, in a traditional spy pose (leaning on the windowsill, gazing sharply at the objects in the room) we try to remember anything we have heard about escape rooms. A group of four to five people are locked in a room or series of rooms with a number of hidden objects and puzzles. They are given a time limit to escape. These games are a growing craze, with people trying to escape from rooms as far away as Asia and Australia.
We have already decided that we are going to be amazing at this. Despite our complete lack of experience or preparation, we are going to tear the place apart until we find a leader’s board and then eat it. While laughing.
But when we first enter the room we spend a fair few minutes simply opening things and rattling locks in a frenzy of over stimulation. There is a LOT happening in an escape room. Although high energy is never wasted, it quickly occurs to us that we are going to have to think about the objects we are seeing, rather than fluttering about like hyperactive starlings.
One member of our team stands in the centre of the room with their head on one side, idly playing with some of the objects in the room while the rest of us run around in circles, opening things dramatically and glaring seriously at padlocks like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2. Why isn’t she helping? Why is she just standing there? And then she points out something, a clue that all of us have missed utilising a variety of unlikely objects and unlocking something critical.
Because this is a thinking game, not a running game.
Escape rooms offer a different kind of game than we, and perhaps you have played before. You do not have to sprint across a field in order to steal the blue teams pineapple. If you don’t have the ability to simultaneously climb through a shaft while using a radio and firing a nerf gun, zombies will not eat your brains.
Escape rooms are about puzzles, and brainwork. You will have to solve riddles, avoid red herrings and think laterally in order to win. Nothing you see can be taken for granted, and nothing can immediately be ruled out. But the puzzles can be solved. There is a radio in the room with you, and the controller will offer hints, if it looks as though you are struggling.
But the pressure is still very real. With a clock on the wall ticking away the hour, it’s hard to think clearly. Let me rephrase that. In the last ten minutes of an escape room, it’s hard to think clearly about anything, let alone well enough to work out the answers to puzzles. By minute 54 your thoughts resemble those of a person half way down a bottle of gin;
“Blue block, fit into red block? No! Perhaps block is tiny radio! Or alien! Aaah! 6 minutes! Escape room!”
But this is part of the thrill. Making your brain work against the clock.
clueQuest is modulated to perfection, tripping you up in exactly the right places and offering you an answer only to reveal a nest of questions. It can be solved in the time. But you’ll have to work for it.
We manage it. We escape the room, pouring back out into the main building, dishevelled, wild eyed and not at all the cocky secret agent ninja’s who swaggered in fifty minutes before. And we almost immediately want to go back. That is the one catch of escape rooms. You can only do them once. Fortunately, clueQuest have another room, for those who are brave enough to come back for a second attempt...