No this is not a post about escaping from your children... it is about escaping with your children (although there are some days when that first one might come in handy).
A few weeks ago, my family and I went to our first escape room. Long story short, we are completely hooked!
I was shocked at how much fun an escape room could be!
When I first heard of this new form of entertainment, I immediately thought it wouldn't be for me let alone my 10 year old daughter and 12 year old son. You see... I am a complete scaredy cat. No I mean a real wuss. I am such a baby that I can't even watch scary movies. If my kids ever asked me to take them to a haunted house around Halloween, I would have to fake an illness or conjure up a work emergency that would save me from being terrified by teenagers in cheesy masks. I still have to turn on the light when I get a drink of water in the middle of the night so I can verify that there is not a monster standing behind me. I think you get the point.
When I heard "escape room", I immediately imagined a dark haunted house combined with impossible puzzles to solve in order to "escape" to the horrifying room. Paralyzed by fear, I figured I would have wet my pants long before I was able to clear my head long enough to solve a puzzle (unless the puzzle was to activate a trap door switch with liquid. I could pull that off real quick). It sounded more like torture than a fun family activity.
Why would I pay to go there let alone subject my family to it?
Then I started to hear from friends that it wasn't like that at all. Most escape rooms are very family friendly and you are never truly "trapped". You can leave at any time... but what fun would that be?
I am sure there are some that are more adult themed... but I'll leave those to the adults.
My kids may have been ok with the skeletons... but I would have peed my pants.
The escape room we attended relied heavily on different kinds of locks with a variety of ways to open them. Some had number or letter combinations, others opened via keys, some were directional locks that involved moving the sliding dial in the proper sequence of directions in order to open it. These locks all kept clues hidden away from us.
The escape room consisted of two rooms. In the first room, we had to solve a series of mental puzzles in order to find keys or combinations to locks. Once we found all of the clues in this first room, a final clue revealed a way to open a secret passage into a second room. After we solved all the required puzzles in that second room, we opened a door that lead to... victory!
Without giving too much away (many escape rooms have similarities) in order to solve the puzzles you must examine everything in the room. There are many physical props included that look like every day objects. Some of these are useful and you need to use them in special ways in order to solve puzzles. Other are there to distract you. In order to examine everything, you basically have to tear apart the entire room. You can move or turn over everything that isn't nailed or glued down. (My kids LOVED this part).
Flip over the chairs! There has to be something under one of them!
As you tear apart the room, you may find hidden riddles or clues. Answers to these riddles often give you combinations to some of the locks in the room. For example if the answer to a riddle is a four letter word (no not that kind!) it is probably the combination for the letter activated combination lock.
Once you remove a lock and look inside what it was protecting, you usually find another riddle or clue. Often times, a clue will call on you to go back and examine objects in the room again. Sometimes one action causes a previously examined object to change (like a blackboard flipping around to reveal new information).
The game master is always watching. If you get really stuck you can ask for a clue. The game master will provide you a clue via a video monitor in the room. I also discovered that the game master will help if you do something really stupid like put your mouth on an object that possibly hundreds of other people have (yes I did that).
Some of the puzzles or riddles are very difficult and required my wife and I to solve. However, there were also times when both my son and daughter were able to give valuable input.
My daughter was awesome at this!
In addition, there are physical "challenges" involved. These included directing objects through mazes, shining special lights on certain objects to reveal clues, and rearranging images to create a pattern. We assigned these tasks to our kids so they always felt involved. When one family member was working on one puzzle, all three of the others were searching for more clues or completing tasks. The fact that it was a true team effort enhanced the fun.
The escape room we attended engaged all of your senses. This too made it especially fun for our kids.
Different rooms have their own parameters and requirement. There is always a time limit and the game master will tell you the record time (without hints) to aim for. Our game had a 60 minute limit and a record of 30 minutes. Although we did not come close to the record, we did finish in 50 minutes... thanks to a couple of big hints.
If you go with adults or you know your kids will not get too frustrated by losing, you can ask them not to give you any hints. We chose to receive just enough hints in order to keep the game moving and fun. Perhaps as we get more experienced, we will try a game without any hints.
Not sure if the tall guy is part of the group or the game.. but they all look like they had fun!
Needless to say, I highly recommend taking your family to an escape room. Although the game only lasted 50 minutes, we talked about it for hours afterwards. We all recounted how someone on the team had done something really well in order to help us win. We also asked each other questions about how we solved a certain riddle or puzzle. In addition, we shared some of our frustrations. Most importantly, we laughed. We laughed a lot at some of our "failures". We laughed at how we were convinced a completely meaningless hat was the lynchpin to the entire mystery. We laughed at how dad got scared when a secret panel opened above his head. We laughed at how mom scolded everyone to be quiet so she could listen to an essential clue on a prop phone... which turned out to be a joke about 867-5309. We laughed.
The only downside is the price. They listed a price of $30 per person for the hour... but don't pay that. There seem to be tons of coupons floating around for these places. If you can't find one, call the location and ask if there is a promotional code. We found out that most of these places are run by fans of the game. They want to make you a fan of the game. Also, make sure to reserve your time online or call for an appointment. That way you won't have to wait.
If you are going to take your kids, make sure the room is family friendly.
Some of them are very scary.
In addition to being great family fun, I would imagine this would be a GREAT date activity or group outing with friends. My wife and I plan to attempt one with a couple of friends of ours ASAP. We will attempt to complete it without any hints.
Wish us luck!
Although, I bet a little wine beforehand will increase my mental capacity.
Only one way to find out...