My sister’s birthday is this week. Given that she’s stopped eating meat, sugar, dairy, alcohol and carbs, our only dining option was a vegetable garden or a glass of water. Don’t get me wrong, she looks absolutely amazing and I’m super jealous but dude, you gotta be able to indulge every so often.
But it was fine we weren’t going to stuff our pie holes with 4,000 calories and drop $200 in one night. She decided we were going to do an escape room and I was down with it. Especially because this escape room allowed it to be only your group and not other strangers.
My First Escape Room
My first escape room was at a knock-off Dave and Busters on the outskirts of Cincinnati. This is where I learned my first lesson: don’t do it with strangers. I’ll go a step further. Don’t do it with strangers under the age of 18. I’m not going to say that they’re stupid but they were. Ok, so they aren’t stupid but some of their ideas, Jesus! I would look at them and think, ‘obviously your brain hasn’t formed yet’.
This escape room resembled a third-world daycare center. There were “puzzles” scattered about that reminded me of Fisher Price toys. Players would tinker with them for 3-5 minutes, get annoyed and move on. We didn’t win and we didn’t save the world. Did I mention there was wine at least?
Escape Room Preparations
Naturally, if you want to succeed at anything, you need to prepare and learn and that’s what I did. I Googled ESCAPE ROOM TIPS and HOW TO WIN AN ESCAPE ROOM. I watched several videos twice and I took notes. There weren’t any pictures of the escape room on their website so I went on Facebook, hoping to find some. I found one and thought I had the upper hand but I would learn later, it held no value.
My next move was to send links of the videos as well as screenshots of my notes to all participants, including my sister, her boyfriend and my two sons. No one goes to an escape room hoping to lose. Why not have a leg up? No one read my notes or watched the videos. After learning that neither ungrateful son watched the videos, I played them on our way to the escape room. That’s what they get.
Escape Room Briefing
I read the bio of the owner/creator of this escape room. He sounded like a genius and I wondered why he was in Ohio and not Silicon Valley creating killer robots. What was cool about this escape room (and a little creepy) is that each room/session has a dedicated game master that watches you from another room. He/she would provide hints if asked and would occasionally nudge you if needed. When our game master came out to the lobby to meet us, he was everything you would want in a game master: long wavy hair, cargo pants, a beard and thick wire-rim glasses.
“On average, how often do you watch and laugh at their stupidity?” I asked deadpan.
He chuckled and grinned awkwardly at the question. Almost saying ALL THE TIME. Instead, he responded with, “I don’t laugh but offer hints if need be.”
The Escape Room Background
After being told not to break shit and that we can’t take our phones in (I had an entire folder downloaded on my phone of tips and tricks) we were led into a dark corridor. We were asked to watch a short video about the storyline behind our escape room: WELCOME TO THE MACHINE.
“Watch closely,” I whispered to my sister. “I bet it has clues,” I said raising my eyebrows.
“Oh yeah, good call,” she whispered back. I’m glad someone else was finally taking shit seriously.
There were no clues.
Instead, we watched one minute of the worst video ever made and I’ll do my best to describe it. It was like watching the intro to a porn. They had rented a local office building (I recognized) to serve as a “laboratory”. The mad scientist looked like a Kohl’s ad model. He wore a lab coat and busily typed on a blank computer as empty test tubes sat to his left. The next scene, a hood and gloved man sneaks into the room, knocks the scientist over and steals ALL OF HIS SECRETS! The next 30 seconds was a blaring warning alarm while the mysterious man ran down the stairs. The camera flashed from a masked man to a danger sign to broken test tubes. The showed the scientist on the floor and apparently the tussle causes constipation because that was the look on his face. I think he was attempting shock. Anyway, I kept looking at my sister to ensure she was seeing what I was seeing. She purposely didn’t look at me as that would be our undoing and we would break out in hysteria.
Welcome to the Machine
The room was dark but adequate for up to 8 players. It pretty much resembled a doomsday bunker of a crazy person. I have to say, they did a really good job. There was an old school oven and fridge on one end while a 1950s tv and various boxes on the other side. There were maps on one wall and some pipe contraptions on the other end. When the clock started, it was go time.
“Grab all the clues, throw them in the middle of the room,” I barked.
“I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to do Ange,” my sister said.
“That’s what the tips said,” I answered while grabbing 2 small drawers with keys and throwing them on the ground. “Boys, over there will be the discard pile,” I said pointing to a corner. “All used clues go there.”
For the first five minutes, we made our way around the room, familiarizing ourselves, looking for anything out of place. I was hopeful. Fifteen minutes later, my hope was despair as we had yet to find one clue.
“A hundred fuckin’ dollars to make me feel stupid,” I muttered under my breath, staring at a wall with my hands on my hips.
And Just Like That….
Then, the most beautiful sound happened. My big-brain 17-year-old cracked the first code! Holy shit! Three minutes later, my 14-year-old found a key that led us to another clue. The tide had shifted. We worked like a well-choreographed synchronized swim team. My sons were actually working as a team to crack codes. Where one lacked, the other thrived.
They don’t tell you how many codes you have to crack to escape. At about the 45-minute mark, and 8 puzzles in, something crazy happened. The back wall slid open to reveal a hidden room! In this room, red lasers shot in all directions, just like some Mission Impossible shit. They seemed to be guarding this long 8’ glass-dome chamber. In the chamber, were four cylinders, each a different color. The chamber itself was a puzzle but it also had 4 mini puzzles, one on each side. But before we could attempt the 4 mini-puzzles, we had one last thing to do.
The 8th puzzle had given us 6 marathon batons, each with a letter on it. Without touching the lasers, we had to get them to the glass dome and put them in order to spell WEAPON. If the lasers were touched we would have to start this puzzle again. I think my sons were excited about the challenge and volunteered as tribute. Each grabbed 3 cylinders and began an army crawl to the dome.
After successfully completing that and the lasers evaporated, we had just eight minutes to solve the 4 puzzles, we ran back and forth from the original room to the other. Calling out clues and calling out ideas, hoping each one was right. We didn’t think we were going to solve this but we gave it our best effort.
At just 2 minutes and 30 seconds left, we solved the 4th mini puzzle and each cylinder in the dome lit to its appropriate color. Seconds later, a villain-like voice came over the intercom:
YOU BEAT ME. YOU SAVED THE WORLD.
“Wait, what? I asked shocked. “Did we actually,” I paused. “Win?”
“Yes!” My sister answered. We were all shocked at our accomplishment. Even my sons who were typical teens and bitched about going, wore huge smiles on their faces. Seconds later our game master opened the door. He said we all worked so well together and did better than many experienced escape room junkies. In all, he had to nudge us just a few times and we didn’t ask for any hints which was great too.
Would I recommend an escape room? Absolutely! Would I say go there with dumb people? Absolutely not. We had an amazing time and I will never forget our experience!