Wouldn’t it be fun to get locked in a room with nine of your co-workers for the night? No, probably not. But what if it also involved solving cryptic clues to try and secure your freedom? Now you’ve got a game.
Escape the room” games have been a sensation in Japan and China for years, but New York City has only embraced the craze this year — and now it’s taking off. Obviously, Metro had to round up a group of volunteers to try it out.
We visited Escape the Room NYC, run by the mysterious Victor Blake, a math major who went on to work in finance before giving up his career to pursue the world of real-life gaming. Blake has several rooms running at any given time, suitable for various group sizes, with multiple themes, all regularly updated to keep things fresh.
Our group consisted of 10 people, a mix of friends and colleagues and their dates. Blake tells us that it’s better to have a “self-selecting crowd,” since corporate team-building events usually include “that one guy sulking because he voted for karaoke (again) and was outnumbered (again).” In fact, Blake reveals, it’s even better when the groups comprise random ticket-buyers. “Friends have power dynamics established,” Blake tells us. “People listen more when they don’t know each other.”
Once we arrived at the nondescript address we were assigned, we went upstairs to meet up with the gamekeepers, who took most of our possessions for safe-keeping (and lack of distraction). Then we were locked inside of a small office space with only one door leading to the outside world. Once we were inside, that door was locked and the clock started. Our group had one hour to riddle our way to freedom — or not.
We can’t describe too many of the challenges that we faced, since that might give away too much. Our team immediately began tearing into the props, furniture and very structure of the room to find answers that will lead to a key — “everything is a clue,” the gamekeeper tells us. A simple coat rack is subject to suspicion; every drawer is opened, every rug is overturned. Logic skills are necessary to see patterns and solve puzzles, but complex math or other special skills don't (necessarily) come into play. A little geographical or historical trivia may crop up, but the game smartly incorporates ways to figure the clues out independently, so it's a fair playground for all.
When we went, the moderator sat in the room to oversee the game play. He also had the answers to two clues that the group can use at any time during the game. “Clues are a safety valve to get you through,” Blake reveals. It helps to keep the momentum going in case the players hit a wall. Today, Blake tells us, an automated countdown clock and interactive camera replace the live moderator, providing players with a little more intimacy and less oversight.
We did end up needing both of our clues, but we did end up getting out of the room — seconds away from our deadline. (Try putting a group of journalists up against a deadline and magic will happen, somehow.) We came in at 59:45 in a room with a record time of 46:13. There’s about a 15 percent escape rate, Blake tells us. But failing to get the key in time shouldn’t be a detriment to those who want to try the game for themselves. Just playing the game with your friends is an adrenaline rush that you will be reminiscing about for a very long time. Any frustration you walk away with will only fuel your passion to come back and try again.
To answer a few common questions: The game is perfectly safe (moderated and adhering to fire code) and not at all scary (you're not in a dark, windowless room with booby traps). So ignore any campfire rumors that a few early players are still in there today, trying to get out. We’re just looking forward to getting back in, as soon as possible.
You can choose from a few themes in either Downtown or Midtown Manhattan: Downtown hosts The Theater (10 players) and The Apartment (12 players); Midtown hosts The Office (a workplace setting for up to 10 players), The Agency (a spy thriller for up to eight players) and The Home (a Sherlock Holmes-inspired mystery for six players). Tickets are $28 and can be purchased at Escape the Room NYC.