For the last decade of my life, I’ve been trying incredibly hard to justify the fact that I spent my childhood playing video games and watching Legends of the Hidden Temple. There have been virtually no scenarios to apply my near-limitless passion for opening lockboxes and screaming “I FOUND A CLUE!!!!” at the nearest group of people… that is until a good friend became my best friend by introducing me to room escapes.
The most literal definition of an escape room is a “game which requires a player to escape from imprisonment by exploiting their surroundings.” The most practical definition: You can pay someone money to lock you in a room and have the funnest 60 minutes of your damn life.
You’re trapped in a room with a perceived threat looming just beyond a giant ticking clock. If you can solve all of the puzzles, find all of the secret items, and locate the key before the alarm goes off, your parents congratulate you and take you to Pizza Hut. If you don’t, you’re murdered.
If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because — historically — escape rooms were an outcropping of those point-and-click adventure games people play on websites whenever their boss’s office door is closed. Their explosive popularity (because everyone fantasizes about Olmec, right?) eventually led to this sub-genre graduating to full-blown genre in 2006 when a bunch of Silicon Valley programmers decided to turn Agatha Christie into an interactive tourist attraction.
Soon, Hong Kong jumped on the bandwagon, using it to train students to solve complex environmental problems as a team. Since then, people have been willfully relinquishing their basic human rights all over the world. We’ve got the Japanese locking people in prisons, the Lithuanians facilitating Jack the Ripper’s return, and all of Hungary creating entire experiences around clowns from the 1980s.
Not all escape rooms are terrifying, though. Some just find creative ways to idiot-shame groups that can’t manage to master a few dozen Mensa-level puzzles while being screamed at by strangers.
Speaking of… ever since my friend gave my life actual meaning, I’ve done a few (read: ton) of escape rooms and now consider myself an expert at just about anything that involves opening a door. The best “escape experiences” I’ve had usually include crazy production value, intelligent puzzles, and a stupid fun theme. For example: Exit Game in Monterey Park, CA has you chasing an alien through an Area-51-esque facility with rubber guns and flashlights (also, lasers!). The Basement LA sees you bagged and thrown into a bloody basement. And Trapped in a Room with a Zombie has you trapped in a room with an actual zombie*.
In every instance, you must work together as a team (or as one person, impatiently bossing around a group of everyone else) to communicate, solve, and escape. I dare you to find one thing that’s not awesome about opening a lockbox and finding a receipt for a painting that you pull off the wall to find a USB drive that you then plug into a laptop to identify the serial killer so you can alert the police and steal the diamonds.
The best part is that you probably only live a stone’s throw away from an escape room, so there’s really no excuse to not cross it off your bucket list. Check out an escape room directory online to find one that suits your proclivities (I recommend anything with lasers), grab some friends you wouldn’t mind making feel intellectually inferior, and see if you can beat the record while living out every single one of your wildest dreams.
Oh, and if you happen to come across any exceptional room escapes, share the wealth.
* not an actual zombie