What if you were stuck in a room full of strangers and had to figure a way out together? It may sound a lot like jury duty — and it is, sort of, but like the fun kind you see on TV, where everyone leaves as friends. Since it opened earlier this year, people have been lining up to get locked into Escape the Room, an interactive game in New York City.
How it works: Your group gets locked in a room (depending on which you choose, groups are either six, eight or 10 players) and is given one hour to piece together clues that will lead to your escape. Anything not nailed down is fair game, and the intel you need could be anywhere. A puzzle administrator watches your progress from a hidden cam and offers cryptic hints on a monitor as needed, Big Brother style. Still, only one in five groups breaks free before the clock runs out.
As my friend and I sat in the waiting room, we heard cheers as a group from the previous round made their escape — we’ve got this, I thought. Two girls across from us sat fiddling with the Rubik’s-cube-like puzzles we were given to pass the time. A clever-looking lesbian couple, I considered them our secret weapon. Another pair soon arrived completing our group of six. Straight sweethearts with blond hair and matching tans, they were our wild cards, I thought.
Before being ushered into “The Home,” a Victorian themed study and our room of choice, we were given one simple rule: Nothing should require too much force — if something seems too firmly held down or put together, it’s not for us to break shit. An alarm will sound if we overstep this rule. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes.
As soon as the door closed behind us, we scattered around the space (about the size of a decent New York living room) and started picking things up, turning things over and reading aloud any written clues to the group. Several drawers and cabinets were guarded with locks of various digit combinations, a sure sign we needed to get them open somehow.
Always the English nerd, I went straight for the books on a shelf near the door — are we expected to actually read through these? As my fellow captives crawled around the floor, peered under the desk and focused on looking for lock combos, I put the books down feeling off-track — maybe later?
Clues began to surface and a harried dynamic emerged that I hadn’t felt since the days of middle school group projects. Everyone seemed to have what they thought were important ideas, which invariably sounded silly once said out loud. As the game went on, individual strengths became clear — one of the girls was particularly dexterous with small objects, while the other male captive generally took care of any assembly required. I stayed focused on written messages: on the desk, in the books, and behind eventually undone locks.
Still, since we’d come in pairs, we were generally more inclined to listen to our plus-one’s two cents than to tidbits from another player of unknown intelligence. Even as people proved themselves useful, our group energy felt somewhat scattered —despite the efforts of our own Miss Congeniality, who gave positive reinforcement regardless of whether we succeeded or failed (“Nice try, honey, way to think!” “Great job you guys, yeah!”). While each success brought us together, our minds then went their separate ways in an effort to divide and conquer.
Even our biggest cheerleader felt the wind go out of her sails as we got stuck on the final step to escape with just minutes left on the clock. I would say if my group had only listened to me 10 minutes earlier, we might have gotten out — but that would so disregard the team-building point of it all that I’ll refrain from blame placing and/or credit taking. The thing to remember is that we came “So close, y’all!” — and despite our sad, sad failure, our friendly captors freed us and invited us to return for another go (in a different room, of course).
We waited for the elevator together, feeling pleasantly relieved yet also ashamed. When it didn’t arrive after a few minutes, my friend and I ditched the others and descended 11 flights of stairs to the street. I’ll be different next time, I thought, less afraid of messing up or venturing down the wrong path, more open minded, bold and oh, so very clever, well spoken and generous to others. And all it took was an hour of lock-up.